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Last week I made a salad for my clients. Tuscan Lentil Salad. They asked me for protein-rich, healthy, and low-carb meals.

Since I cook for each client once a week (for the most part), I have to come up with a practical menu where the food is easy to eat straight from the container (on a lunch break at work), and most importantly – easy to reheat later in the week. Usually I put some kind of soup on the menu, like Tomato Bisque with Quinoa, or Creamy Cauliflower Soup with chunks of the veg floating joyfully inside, or another health miracle, my Beet Soup, also known as a liver cleanser. Most of the soups I make are loaded with variety of good stuff while staying very light in the calorie department.

It’s very important that there are fresh vegetables on the menu, but a regular green salad lasts a day. Hence, for my clients I opt for hearty salads that will stay fresh for up to three days. I play with grains like a 6-year old with LEGO blocks. One day it’s Wheat Berry mix, another Quinoa blend, Barley, Farro, you name it. Last week, however, I used a recipe by Julie Daniluk, a Canadian nutritionist and the host of Healthy Gourmet (a TV show) simply because it looked divine.

Photo credit: Julie Daniluk

Click on the photo above to get to the recipe itself.

When I was mixing all the ingredients at my clients’ kitchen, they both peeked over my shoulder and instantly requested a taste of the wonder. Let me just say that it didn’t end on a simple one bite tasting. An entire portion planned for one of the meals later in the week disappeared from the counter. A few minutes later, the husband returned to the kitchen with an empty container in hand, still licking his mouth.

“THAT WAS DELICIOUS.”

The wife only said:

“CAN WE PLEASE HAVE THIS SALAD EVERY WEEK?”

Your wish is my command. The salad became a staple on their menu. I also tested it on Jason and he loved every bite. Well, not the olive bite. I tried so hard to sneak some succulent, delicious olives into his bowl, but his olive detector would not be fooled. There are only few edible things Jason is on non-speaking terms with, and olives just happen to be one of those misfortunate bastards.

Since the Lentil Salad was such a success, I had to give credit where it was due. Julie Daniluk is a walking encyclopedia of food knowledge. Put any type of produce, nut, meat, you name it in front of her eyes and she begins to recite all the attributes of the food like a poem.

I will have you know also that Oprah Winfrey got a whiff of the Healthy Gourmet show, and with no avail had her people load all the goodies up on her new network’s website. Aha, just look at the web address when you visit the show’s web page.

I’ve studied nutrition for my own benefit over the years. However, I never went to school to bring that knowledge up to more comprehensive and organized level. Julie is the reason I started looking into various nutrition programs around the country that offer either the traditional, thus purely scientific approach, or more holistic one that produces life coaches. Keep your fingers crossed!  I’m very excited about this project.

Pst, one more thing. It occurs to me that I have more in common with Julie beyond the affection for healthy and whole foods. Me thinks there’s Polish blood flowing in her veins…

To Be Investigated!

This morning, it wasn’t even 6 yet, I woke up to a strange screeching noise outside our window. At first I thought the stray cats that live around the building are in the middle of another turf war, since it’s a little early for their mating season. A series of whimpers got me confused. Are these quarreling squirrels? Before the sunrise?? They seem too loud and too persistent, unless… they sense an earthquake coming!! That got me out of bed, and with my eyes resenting to open I felt my way to the bathroom.

That’s when Jason’s alarm clock went off and I couldn’t believe it was already 6 AM. I had just fallen asleep, I thought, while those shameless critters are trying to take it away from me. I immediately exchanged notes with Jason on what he thought was making the noise.

“IT’S EITHER SQUIRRELS OR BIRDS. NOT CATS. THEY’RE EITHER FIGHTING OF FUCKING.”

Huh. Birds? How do birds fuck, I wondered, and decided I wasn’t ready to think just yet. Back under the covers I dove, two pillows over my head, and boy, did I try hard to ignore the whinnying and purring that continued outside.

Around 7 o’clock Jason crawled over the bed to kiss me good-bye as he was heading out to work.

Yes, making a hit show that “The Good Wife” is requires both the creative talents of the writers as well as hard work and personal sacrifices of the production and post production team. Jason, being the head of the latter, carries an incredible load of responsibility on his shoulders. And he does not take it lightly.

He headed towards the door, and silence followed. I waited for a few seconds for the sounds of the closing doors behind him. Instead, I heard him tip toe back to the bedroom and whisper:

“BABY, COME. QUICK! SHHH…”

“CAN YOU SEE THEM?” I instantly was on board to find out what was messing with my sleep at this ungodly hour.

“OH, YEAH!”

“ARE THOSE SQUIRRELS?” I breathed out as we approached the wide open door facing our backyard. My eyes scanned the ground, and saw nothing out of ordinary.

“LOOK UP” Jason pointed at the little roof above our neighbor’s Rachel’s front door across the yard from us.

Freezing my half naked self, I glanced in the direction given and was instantly awaken by the view that opened in front of my eyes…

After my initial stupefaction, I collected myself and ran for the camera. The raccoons were fully at it with surprising stamina after about two hours of continuous shagging. They considered us for a moment without losing a beat and went back to their task at hand clearly not impressed by their new audience.

The power of marketing, I thought! When Hallmark announces February The Month of Love, even raccoons comply.

I planned on posting a new recipe today, but suddenly found myself in a pickle. How do I segue from the furry bandits’ forbidden urban loving to my… FORBIDDEN RICE SALAD?  The common ground could be the fact that both myself and the fellow raccoon is an omnivore, and we both find immense pleasure in munching on either berries and greens, or a succulent thigh of a smaller animal, for example.

One of my ever strong guilty pleasures are hearty salads that are obvious for lunch, and brilliant for dinner in the place of heavy meals weighing one down before bed time. Any grain will work here. From quinoa to barley to wheat berries to rice, the sky is the limit. Whether you add greens to the grain, or grain to the greens is up to you. Clearly, the more rice, the more carbs in your plate, but if you’re an active, high-energy creature, you may want to refuel appropriately. We’re all different.

Once in a while I create new dishes from leftovers in my refrigerator. Since, I’ve had a container of cooked wheat berries in my ice-box over the last few days, that’s what I’ve been using in my salads this week. Another time, I pulled out a box of leftover forbidden rice and pondered how to utilize the goods. There was a ripe avocado smiling at me from the counter. Mr. Tomato was no less charming. Skinny cucumber was bored out of its mind in the produce drawer, and spinach threatened to wilt on the spot if not occupied at this instance.

There was no reason to fight, so I gathered the party in a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with good olive oil (the extra virgin kind), and squeezed that sour smile of the lemon’s face all over the bunch. Toss, again, and once more. And get at it.

You’ll love the medley of textures in your mouth. From crunchy rice kernels to creamy avocado bits it all comes together into the most satiating, health-reviving, energy-boosting, and joy-awakening meal. And its simplicity should be encouraging even to the laziest of us. It’s easy to eat right. It’s just a matter of making one’s mind.

Right, Mr. Raccoon?

Bon Appetit!

Last night I made a pot of lentil soup and added so much dill in the end that I pushed my lentils over the edge into a full on identity crisis. WHAT ARE WE? A LENTIL SOUP OR A DILL SOUP, DAMMIT! Jason loved it despite the boycott in the bowl. The rebel however continued within his intestines and made itself heard throughout the evening.

I wasn’t spared either. The anger of the lentils caught up with me this morning, and let me just say I’m glad the Earth shook in Baja two days ago, and not today. Otherwise I would have to take the responsibility. The only one I had to give personal apologies to this morning was Cosmo, who at some point lifted himself from his third nap today, gave me—let’s call it—a disappointed look, and rushed to the other room to pack his bags. I’M OUTTA HERE!

Cosmo napping. Or else anesthetized.

I think I’ll stick to the simple greens today.

My passion for edible weeds makes even more sense when you look into my family history. My mother back in her teenage days was a fearless daredevil. Let’s see. For a bar of chocolate she:

-       climbed a 3-storey building up its lightening-rod only to be later rescued by fire marshals as she was too terrified to repel;

-       walked across a cemetery at midnight, while her guy friends (“Those idiots!”) hid behind the graves only to appear in their ghostly, white bed sheets in front of my chocolate-driven teenage mother;

-       wrote 24 different essays for her classmates thus fulfilling their home work; (The teacher was no fool—she got an F for cheating and an A for creativity and hard work.)

-       played goats with her friend where they roamed a green meadow on all fours while grazing and chewing on juicy grass and wild flowers.

Come to think of it, all this could explain way more then merely my ecological sentiments. However, one thing must be clarified. My dear mother was growing up in post-war Poland (in the 50’s and 60’s). Hence, her chocolate bar then was your safe Toyota today, just as hard to come about.

Anyways, my battered insides are fully functional again and asking for a fresh, non-lentil food supply. Come and check out my refrigerator to see what we’re having for lunch:

-       Mixed greens (duh)

-       Shredded white cabbage

-       Micro greens

-       Scallions

-       Fresh dill

-       Fresh basil

-       Half of an avocado

-       Green Apple

-       Walnuts (toasted)

Brilliant. Let’s quickly whisk simple vinaigrette: extra virgin olive oil (3 parts), apple cider vinegar (1 part), Dijon mustard (1 tsp), honey (1 tbsp), and a reasonable amount of sea salt and pepper. Taste, approve, and pour over all the GREEN MEADOW of your bowl. Please, make sure you chop the stuff before tossing into the dish, OK? We are making a GREEN APPLE SALAD after all.

Green Apple Salad for my Goat

Happy grazing everybody. I have lunch plans with my fellow goat. BBBLLEEEAAATT!

We had a little falling out with the sun here in Los Angeles for the last few weeks. Or so it seemed. In my three-and-a-half years in LA I haven’t experienced that much rain. Plus it was my first winter in California that I needed to cover my chest with more than a bikini top, and wear shoes covering my toenails. Yup, it was pretty nippy here, and not in a good way. I brought it all on myself, I realize, with my bitching about the long and hot summer we had last year. Imagine, I had the nerve! I should really shut up in that instant before one of you on the East Coast, or up North, stretches your vindictive hand across the entire United States and slap me on my face.

Luckily, the sun came back, shiny and perky as if nothing ever happened, teasing and schmoozing to get out and bask in its rays. Hence, I invited my fellow blogger and a kindred spirit, Alisa, to come over for lunch along with her 2-year old and their pup. That dog, by the way, is the most non-mean and non-vicious Chihuahua I’ve ever come across in my life. On the contrary, the little Bean is just as sweet as my Caramelized Pears with Whip Cream.

We sat ourselves outside in the midst of the quasi-jungle in our backyard, munched away some Quinoa Salad and another one with Greens, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Toasted Pine Nuts, and sipped my ICE TEA.

I poured boiling hot water over a bag of Sweet & Spicy Herbal Tea accompanied by one bag of Organic Chamomile Herbal Tea, let them seep together for 10-15 minutes, and then transferred that herbal essence into a jar filled with ice cubes and juice of half of a lemon. That was it. I dressed it up with a few lemon slices and we were ready to chill.

Here’s a twist I applied to the second batch after Alisa left – I added a pinch of cayenne pepper. If you’re familiar with the Master Cleanse, you’ll understand. If not, I’m afraid you’ll think I’m nutso.

Trust me, that little heat will do wonders to your body. Not only does cayenne help remove fat cells from your digestive track (that you can later use as a part of your fertilizer… if you want, but no pressure), but also combined with fresh lemon juice the concoction acts as a brush to your system – it helps clean it from the toxins we accumulate every day. To top it all, the heat helps break a sweat, which is your body’s natural cooling mechanism. It’s not serendipity that people who live in tropical climates tend to eat hot and spicy food.

Think about it. Summer is around the corner.

I will sound like a broken record but what in the world is going on with the Wednesday Shopping Fever? Unless you have a Batmobile, don’t even bother looking for a spot at the parking lot in front of our local grocery store. Not on Wednesday at least. Instead, I propose you leave that stinky car in the garage, arm your pockets with shopping bags, and march ahead to the store. You’ll thank me later when you’ll have come back with a healthy blush on your face licked by the sun and with the Lance Armstrong’s heart rate when he’s asleep. That man is a power horse, and we have got to start somewhere.

Speaking of eco-friendly commute, have you ever dreamed of time traveling? My accountant has afforded me such trip the other day and I wasn’t sure if I were dreaming or we really went back to 1954. I met the guy last year when doing my taxes. Jason has been a client for a number of years and swore by him. This time we went together. When Jason’s finances of 2009 were sorted, the CPA reached out to my pile to organize that pathetic proof of my income. To call it an INCOME is a solid exaggeration. Nevertheless, he put the numbers into his columns and I peppered him with questions regarding starting my own business. Since, as you all know, I recently began working as a personal chef, I wanted to learn about the expected proper behavior of a responsible taxpayer when self-employed.

And that’s when I heard this deafening squeak as if a giant wheel was turned. Lightening cut through the skies, a sinister horn sounded off in the distance, the ground shook beneath our feet, lights in the room went off and icy wind swirled around me causing my nipples to stand up in full alert. I didn’t fully comprehend we were back in the early 50’s until I realized the CPA completely ignored me and began to answer all MY questions regarding MY business directly to Jason, all the while referring to me (yes, I was acknowledged) as a SHE.

“She should open a separate account, and she should use it for all business related transactions”…

I sat there dumbfounded with my eyebrows slowly rising and pushing my hairline dangerously close to the tip of my head, while my nipples completely deflated.

“I’m here. And I CAN hear you.”

I uttered at last throwing the accountant completely off track. He looked at me confused and then with a bleak smile he turned his attention back to Jason as if he were asking his fellow penis:

“What does she mean, mate?”

It’s been 48 hours since the incident. I am still trying to shake that off. The crazy part is that the dude is MAYBE ten years older than me, if that. Who are his parents? Where has he come from? Was he an Amish offspring that had escaped the regime too late to recover and absorb the rules of the Western culture? At least he didn’t have a knee-long beard. Ok, I’m done.

That same night we set off the clock once more with the movie of my youth based on the books I read back in my days of innocence – “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I was all in tears within the first five minutes of the film, the sentiment being stronger than any reason.

“You know it’s a three hour long movie. Are you going to cry the whole time?”

Jason was quickly learning that night about the role Anne has played in my life. It is a series of books about a redhead orphan child that I had devoured one after another, multiple times (the books, and NOT orphans). My mother was the one who introduced me to Anne Shirley, and we would read those stories together alternating the tomes.

The movie is as girly as they come, and yet Anne is such a delightful and amusing character that even Jason was quickly engaged in the story and sat through the entire 3 hours and 15 minutes of the film with me, enjoying every minute of it.

If I were to complement the charm and charisma of Anne of Green Gables with food, I would choose something fresh and bright, and yet complex in flavor and texture. Something oozing with comfort and yet elegant and authentic. One thing comes to mind – SALADE NICOISE.

The salad is a beautiful arrangement of tuna, cherry tomatoes, soft-boiled eggs, green beans, new potatoes, olives and often times anchovies on a bed of butter lettuce. All the vegetables are drizzled with vinaigrette and thus complement the lightly seared tuna steak on a plate. It truly is a painting and you are the artist. Salad Nicoise is a French classic you can make your own by adding your own twist through the presentation, a choice of vinaigrette, or the method of serving tuna.

Here’s mine:

Be inventive, be creative, and let your own personality shine through any dish you prepare. You are the cook. Your knife is a paintbrush, the plate is your canvas. You are the artist.

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