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I can’t believe I haven’t been here in so long. I can’t believe you’ve been coming back and checking in all this time. I can’t believe you haven’t given up on me. I bow to you in gratitude while applauding your clearly divine patience.

What’s been going on is delicious and note worthy. December was cooked into a gourmet month in its entirety. Suddenly my name was passed from mouth to mouth and I landed catering gigs and other fun events of sorts that kept me tied to my stove.

To keep the long story short, I’m attaching a few photos from the above mentioned moments of what later turned out to be a great success:

Beef skewers with sweet potato, grape and chimichurri sauce.

Coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate and polished for the party.

One of my brilliant helpers, Molly, working my Goat Cheese Tarts like she means it.

The #1 Crowd Pleaser: Beef Sliders w/ Balsamic Shallots

One bites: Cherry Tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

Those are just the few snapshots I was able to take in the midst of the festivities. As soon as all the parties were over with, I was home in a bath tub filled with hot waters and enhanced with silky oils. The bath was mandatory if I were to get up early the following morning and pack for our trip East.

There, as in Texas, we entered virgin (to me) territories of disc golfing. Having successfully scattered all my discs all over the four adjacent fields, and that’s not what I were to aim for, I decided at last to let the others do the work while I laid in the grass to contemplate. Things seemed to look more interesting from that angle.

Three Musketeers of disc golfing at it.

Also, it was cold. Cold it was. Have I mentioned it was really, really cold out there?

The more so we enjoyed getting back into the warmth of the Harkins’ family’s house right in time for Christmas celebrations. Santa lost his marbles this year, clearly, as the mountain of presents that built up around the tree was making me dizzy just by looking at it. It could only be compared, I imagine, to the impression Uluru Mountain in Australia made on Oprah on her recent trip to Australia. All we wanted to do at the sight of our holy hill of presents was to close our eyes and meditate over its natural beauty.

Not for long. The children soon arrived and the mass destruction began. Neatly wrapped boxes proceeded to fly across the room, ribbons got ripped impatiently, and the wrapping paper torn into confetti.

Don’t be fooled by the innocent faces of those two little munchkins. They know their game, trust me.

It all stil looks neat and sane, doesn’t it? Just wait.

Heavy duty trash bags and oxygen masks were required to bring this war zone back to civilized conditions.

Then, suddenly I realized Cosmo went missing. How could he have not really? My instant reaction was to scream:

FREEZE! NOBODY MOVES. EMPTY THE TRASH BAG RIGHT NOW.

I did it with my inside voice, thank god. I had put that family through enough already with my shopping cart rides across their local Walmart, and then again by asking for vibrators at their local BEST BUY when the nice salesman offered to help us with any electronics we may be in need of. It’s a small town, by the way. I’ll say no more.

At the peak of my panic, I glanced just below my feet (the monkey in me climbed up the couch to take a few shots of the surrounding madness) and saw Cosmo tucked between the cushions… those of the sofa itself and those belonging to Jason’s mom…

I feel like I should end this ramble-o-thon right about now, but then it wouldn’t be complete without Paula Dean, would it?

The Queen of Southern Coking opened the Rose Bowl Parade herself, and Jason and I were there on the crisp morning of the New Year in Pasadena, and our asses we froze, and off the bucket list we took part taking in the thing forever. Alleluia.

Though we also snapped a big bucket of photos, I think I’ve exhausted my audience, my blog space, and my own self with this vomit of stories. Please, forgive my erratic behavior on these pages. I’m just a girl… who likes to cook and then write about it. I can’t control everything else that falls in between.

Happy New Year, Everybody. I’m excited to go through it with you again. Cheers!

February has come unnoticed, and perched quietly on a tree branch outside our bedroom. It’s the Month of Lovers, Juliets and Romeos, Juliets and Julies, Romeos and Ramons, Suitors and Darlings, Cavaliers and Sweethearts. What about FOOD LOVERS? When do we get chocolate hearts with booze filling and free tickets to WICKED? If there is a FOOD LOVERS’ DAY, can someone please pass on the memo?? Because I didn’t get it.

One month ago today we were sitting in a car with Jason moving steadily along I-10 heading west. We were driving back from Texas after the holiday break and Cosmo was still wearing his Santa costume. The drive, as I’ve mentioned before, takes two full days (in other words 24 hours plus a one night stand in a roadside motel), hence we stacked the car with books, magazines and monkey tricks to keep each other entertained.

One of the magazines was Rolling Stone; at the end of the trip the most ragged one, as Jason is fiercely passionate about music. His bond with music is legendary and of such magnitude I have all the reasons to be jealous. Let’s put it this way: if our house was on fire (knock-knock), and Jason had to choose between pulling my naked body from underneath the satin sheets we don’t have (but could have, as it’s a hypothetical scenario) and packing up his collection of vinyls, turn tables, and his iTunes library, I’m afraid he’d have gone for the latter.

Jason is a walking music encyclopedia. He knows not only the names of all albums of his favorite bands (and those go by the dozen), songs on those albums, all band members’ names along with their shoe sizes and childbirth marks on their asses. I know I tend to exaggerate occasionally, just a little tiny bit. Trust me, it’s not the case today. He loves to dig through the Internet for hours (when that luxury is available) sniffing out facts, news, interviews, music videos, logs of the creative process and predictions.

When he read Rolling Stone’s summary of the past decade in music epithets started floating inside the chamber of our car. Pepe we named it. The car, I mean. Jason disagreed with most of the magazine’s choices for their Top Ten Albums of the Decade.

Why don’t you make your own list?

I challenged him.

Why I will then.

He responded and took the nearest exit off the road in El Paso, where we stopped to feed the horses. At a Mexican restaurant I chased after a waiter and with my broken Spanish I asked for a napkin and a pen so Jason could vent his frustration with the magazine and lay it all out on the paper.

Pardon, me homie, el papel por favor.

The man with a thick mustache and a sombrero nodded with a smirk, which did not escape my attention, and started heading back to the kitchen. As the gap between us grew, I realized I forgot to ask about the pencil, and so I yelled at the top of my lungs:

Y uno mass, corazon – el lapiz un poquito por favor. Gracias, me hombre guapo.

The waiter froze, turned around on a ball of his foot and looked me deep in the eyes from across the room. He took a breath and threw back at me with the sweetest smile:

Si senora loca.

I loved that man.

Jason didn’t waste time and quickly scribbled his first choices. However, it took another month for him to have a moment to finish assigning each album it’s rightful place on his Top Ten. Inevitably some changes occurred.

Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present you with the final version of

JASON’S TOP 10 OF THE DACADE:

10.  LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – The Sound of Silver

9.  PORTISHEAD – 3rd

8.  GIRL TALK – Night Ripper

7.  WILCO – Yankee Foxtrot Hotel

6.  RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows

5.  THE WHITE STRIPES – Elephant

4.  TV ON THE RADIO – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

3.  SIGUR ROS – Agaetis Byrjun

2.  ARCADE FIRE – Funeral

1.  RADIOHEAD – Kid A

Have I mentioned Jason is a little nutso about Radiohead? If Thom Yorke farts, Jason knows about it, not to mention any other of his creative endeavors.

Around the same time, just hours after we stepped back into our cosy abode, I also challenged myself with one of Ina Garten’s recipes for NOODLE SALAD WITH PEANUT SAUCE. I have tweaked it (hello!) by switching to organic and whole-wheat noodles as well as almond oil for canola oil, and agave nectar for honey. And then, of course, I changed proportions of some of the sauce ingredients, as the one made by Ina seemed way too oily for my liking.

Here’s my concoction:

-       0.5 cup of almond oil

-       3 tbsp rice vinegar

-       4 tbsp soy sauce, low sodium

-       3 tbsp toasted sesame oil

-       2 tbsp agave nectar

-       3 tbsp peanut butter

-       2 cloves of garlic, minced

-       1 tbsp grated ginger

Whisk all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Cook your pasta (whole box), drain, plunge into a large bowl, and pour the PEANUT SAUCE all over it while it’s still hot. The temperature will help the noodles absorb all those wonderful flavors like a sponge.

Blanch sugar snap peas (about 8 oz) for 1-2 minutes tops and shock them in an ice-bath. Drain the green bunch and toss in with the noodles. Julienne (cut in super thin strips) one small red bell pepper and into the bowl they go. Roughly chop a bunch of scallions and fresh flat-leaf parsley, and bang on top of that mountain of noodles. Sprinkle sesame seeds all over and mix it all together.

You can enjoy it right away, or cover with plastic and store in a refrigerator for later. The peppers and sugar snap peas give it a fun crunchy texture, while the PEANUT SAUCE wraps it all together like your lover’s arms on Valentine’s Day.

Countdown to the premiere of IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMETRI MARTIN is on. Tune in on Thursday at 10 PM on Comedy Central.

Visiting Jason’s folks always makes me nostalgic about country living. Even though their town is not quite rural, still they wake up to a view of rolling hills and a medley of trees centuries old.

I got really excited about all the walks we could take while here, in Texas. Yesterday, after all the Christmas commotion settled like dust on the electric snowman, we finally wrapped ourselves up in layers of T-shirts and flip-flops we brought from California, and entered THE COLD. I know what you’re thinking. “You’re from Poland! You should be used to winter chill.” Oh, bullocks! Living in SoCal for more than one winter erases any memory of cold, hence your endurance to temperatures below 50° is no longer and your inner WIMP is revealed.

With trembling hands and clicking teeth, while freezing winds shook up my insides, I pulled out a camera and bravely marched ahead. Here’s what we came across on our walk in the neighborhood.

Buffalo.

Cosmo discovered he really is a Sheppard and not a Shih-tzu dog.

Dead Santa. Drunk maybe?

After such a REFRESHING walk, nothing is more comforting than a hot shower, a fuzzy blanket over my body, Jason right beside me, and a book in hand. I started reading the one I gave Jason for Christmas, “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo”. After a few pages I paused perplexed and looked at the name of the author:

“Stieg Larsson is a guy’s name. Hm. The book reads as if it was a woman writing as a male character. Strange.”

Jason put down his read, looked at me, and said:

“Hm. He’s dead, the author.”

“He was still a man before he died, right?”

“Probably. (pause) I never saw his penis or anything.”

“Have you seen his face??”

“Nope.”

“His rear end?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So you wouldn’t recognize it anyways, even if you saw it now, walking down the street for example.”

“Probably not.”

“And now, that the guy’s dead, chances are rather slim you would ever come across his ass anyways.”

“Yeah, it’s highly unlikely me thinks.”

“But you never know.”

“True, you don’t.”

And we both got back to reading.

I owe you a recipe for the MUSHROOM SOUP WITH BARLEY I made for our Christmas dinner. As far as appliances go, all you need is a big pot, a food processor, a sharp knife to chop your veggies, and a cutting board (for obvious reasons).

The soup INGREDIENTS are as follows:

-       1 celery root (or 4 celery stalks)

-       4 carrots

-       2 parsnips

-       1 med leek

-       1 onion

-       3-4 dry bay leaves

-       7-10 whole peppercorns

-       1-1.5 cup of dry wild mushrooms (medley)

-       4 cups low sodium chicken stock

-       2 cups water

-       3/4 to 1 cup barley

-       1 tbsp of dry marjoram

-       1-2 tsp nutmeg

-       1-2 tsp cumin

-       2-3 tbsp heavy cream

-       handful of fresh parsley or dill, chopped

-       1-2 tbsp of olive oil

-       kosher salt + ground black OR white pepper to taste (about 2 tbsp each total)

Start with soaking the mushrooms in lukewarm water for at least 45 minutes before you even begin prepping your meal. Wash and peel all the vegetables, with a special emphasis on cleaning the leek. Roughly chop all the carrots, parsnips, celery, leek and onion.

Drizzle olive oil in the pot and heat it up. Toss the onions and leeks inside the pot, sprinkle with crushed marjoram, season with salt and pepper, and mix everything well. Sautè the veggies until they get translucent over low heat (5-10 minutes). Add the rest of the vegetables, and season with more salt and pepper. Let them get comfy for another 10 minutes. Now, pour the mushrooms into the pot along with the water they were soaking in. Stir and increase the flame to medium. Cover with a lid and let everything cook for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat off and scoop the content of the pot into the food processor. Blend the veggies into a coherent mass and bring back to the pot. Add the chicken stock and water and turn the heat on medium-high. Throw in the bay leaves and peppercorns, season with nutmeg, cumin, more salt and pepper and stir. Add barley, stir again, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with the lid, and let the soup become a soup for about an hour. Check on the dish every so often and stir again.

The soup is ready pretty much when the barley is fully cooked. It will soak up a lot of water, thus making the dish deliciously hearty and thick. It’s up to you if you want to add more water, or leave it as is. Just make sure to taste the soup before feeding your peeps and add more salt/pepper if needed.

Right before serving, pour a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into the pot and toss a bunch of chopped fresh parsley or dill. Stir and serve. Y.U.M.

The soup is very low on fat, and yet highly nutritious and comforting. Jason likes to soak some bread in his bowl, while for me the soup itself is plenty of food at one sitting.

Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves and peppercorns before serving the dish!

What happened? Where am I? What day is it? Sunday? How did that happen???

We were just packing for our two-day road trip to east Texas, and leaving LA to drive right along thousands of other Holiday commuters, when suddenly I saw a cop right behind me blinding me with those scary blue and red lights. The Police officer pulled us over, asked for my driving papers and warned us of the upcoming snow blizzard. He also suggested we stop in the nearby town over night to wait it out. The next thing I knew I was holding a citation ticket for speeding worth almost $300. Merry Christmas!

Once we got over the 300 bucks assault, we chose to keep on driving for as long as we could. We did reach the southern tip of the blizzard and were faced with only two options: to either stay over night in a motel off the highway, or to change the route while adding minimum 5 hours to our journey. We chose the latter despite horrible driving conditions and directly related skyrocketing stress level. After a close to 20-hour day on the road, we finally arrived at Jason’s parents house at 1 am.

Then the fun part began!

Among the MILLION of Christmas gifts laying under the tree at  Dr. Jimmy and Linda Harkins’ house, Cosmo instantly found the one meant for him. His nose never fails. He started sniffing a little box containing his brand new balls and sat by its side ever since like the Queen’s Guard in front of Buckingham Palace.

Minutes before we destroyed the boxes so neatly dressed in seasonal colors, Dr. Jimmy Harkins set the mood with a few Christmas songs he played on the piano. What he really did, unbeknownst to him, he saved his family from going deaf when Agi decided to try her dubious and long forgotten skills when trying to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (or something) on the piano. Yes, I sat down on the bench, stretched my arms, cracked my fingers, cleared my throat, and hit the first note. It was instantly apparent I had no clue how to operate the instrument in front of me. Jason’s father took over, bless his heart, in an attempt to show me a few things. Everyone present sighed with relief.

Jason’s 3-year old nephew, Connor, along with his younger brother are both going through the Spiderman phase. Everything in their world, and I mean EVERYTHING, is about Spiderman. You should see Connor’s underpants he’s wearing under those cute jeans.

The box with the new balls is right behind that fuzzy white ass. “I ain’t moving ANYWHERE until somebody opens that damn box already!”

It took many hours and lots of stamina to go through all the packages stuck under the tree. Despite how generous and well informed Santa Claus was, I could be distracted for only so long. My stomach wanted food!  Starved and exhausted by RECEIVING PRESENTS, we sat at the dining table at last and stuffed our faces with Christmas delicacies. There was Smoked Turkey with Dressing and Gravy, a Strawberry Jello Salad, Green Beans, Devil Eggs, Cajun Chicken, Pasta Salad, Biscuits, and my Polish contribution – Mushroom Soup.

Food coma prevented me from taking photos of the commotion around the kitchen counter that served as a buffet and consequently the Christmas feast. Additionally, I only have so much time this morning to report on the events of the last few days before the rest of the gang wakes up and the circus starts all over again. To give you an idea of the energy level in the house let me just say that last night, after sniffing all the new people and places around, then guarding his gift under the tree, then chasing his new balls, then being chased by two munchkins, then chasing his new balls again, and responding to everyone calling his name, finally Cosmo crashed and burned like I’ve never seen him before. He snored louder then Jason and his mother together. Jason’s mom slept at the lake house some 10 miles away mind you.

I hope to be back here with the Mushroom Soup recipe tomorrow.

Ho-ho-ho!

There’s this thing on a certain social networking site, known as Facebook, where one writes up 25 things about themselves and sends the list to 25 people. The idea is to share intimate, less known facts about yourself with people of your choice. Instead of writing down my 25 things and posting it on the above mentioned website, I thought I’d toss them here and make a salad out of it.

1. Almost every morning, as I dress up my bottom, I glance in the mirror and smile with approval at the sight of my profile.

2. The more I cook, the more appreciation I gain for my mother’s culinary talents. I didn’t realize how good of a cook she was until I tried the trade myself. The goal is NOT to be able to make a few dishes I can later alternate when making dinners for my family. Instead, I cook to free my soul and go to heaven for having discovered and exploited my potential.

3. There’s something about Jason’s nipples I cannot simply resist.

4. I am on non-speaking terms with Starbucks for their new line of VIA Ready Brew. While the world screams “RECYCLE! USE LESS PACKAGING! STOP CUTTING DOWN THE AMAZON!” they come up with those tiny coffee sachets worth 1 cup each. Hello! Have you not heard of global warming and The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas?? These Starbucks people are bananas! Argh!

5. The awesome thing about the holidays is that Jason can’t stop me from making peanut butter and chocolate brownies, or a shit load of chocolate cookies, or even a brownie pie!

6. My favorite candy store? Sur la Table for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

7. My favorite day of the week? The bra-free day. I like to keep my girls free and give them all the play-time they want before I get them to work for food when I get pregnant next year.

8. Hey, Mister! Have you not noticed your car has built-in blinkers? Nooo, these are not Christmas ornaments. You ought to use blinkers all year round dammit. Oh, yeah, that’s a huge pet-peeve of mine.

9. I grew up surrounded by books. Love ‘em to the last page. However, since I started this blog, I’ve been mostly purging words rather then inhaling them. I miss that.

10. Cosmo is a four-legged Pelè in disguise.

11. I have a vivid imagination. In my head, I see pictures of myself and/or people close to my heart in extremely catastrophic scenarios. Those images come to me randomly and out of the blue. Often they are so realistic I start to cry. I am unaware of the origin of this condition. I don’t know how to overcome it either.

12. Beauty moves me. It fills up my chest till it hurts and I start to cry. Again.

13. I secretly fart.

14. I haven’t used a hairbrush in six months, since I cut my hair short.

15. I was a witch in one of my previous incarnations, who lived in the woods and brewed herbal concoctions for various ailments.

16. – 24. Last night I made a salad, a twist on Coleslaw, that was so good the world stopped spinning for a moment. It was so fantastic in fact it’s worth 9 points of the 25 Important Things From Agnieszka Graczyk’s Life. Here’s how I did it…

I bought a package of shredded cabbage. I’d have gotten a whole head if the store offered one, as you know how I feel about the unnecessary packaging, etc. They didn’t carry the veg in its natural form. Back in my kitchen, I emptied the bag into a large bowl and added shredded Granny Smith Apple along with a bunch of chopped scallions. In the meantime, I toasted maybe a 1/2 a cup if raw walnuts, let them cool, and then roughly chopped them into small boulders of brain nuts.

Don’t they totally look like brains? The truth is they are really good for your brain, so it’s a clever tip to remember. The smurfs that write on Whole Foods web pages made my life easier for describing in detail the nuts’ magic:

Walnuts have often been thought of as a “brain food,” not only because of the wrinkled brain-like appearance of their shells, but because of their high concentration of omega-3 fats. Your brain is more than 60% structural fat. For your brain cells to function properly, this structural fat needs to be primarily the omega-3 fats found in walnuts, flaxseed and cold-water fish. This is because the membranes of all our cells, including our brain cells or neurons, are primarily composed of fats. Cell membranes are the gatekeepers of the cell. Anything that wants to get into or out of a cell must pass through the cell’s outer membrane. And omega-3 fats, which are especially fluid and flexible, make this process a whole lot easier, thus maximizing the cell’s ability to usher in nutrients while eliminating wastes–definitely a good idea, especially when the cell in question is in your brain.

The salad would not be complete without the dressing I quickly whipped up in our Magic Bullet. These were the components:

-       freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon

-       1 tbsp of honey

-       2 tbsp of heavy cream

-       3 tbsp of olive oil (the whole nine yards – organic, extra virgin, first cold pressing, etc.)

-       2 tsp of sea salt

-       1 tsp of black pepper.

Everybody in the bowl (the cabbage, scallions, apples, and nuts) got coated evenly with the silky dressing, then chilled in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes before consumption time. Then I took a bite, and with it I heard music and saw fireworks on a horizon. It was amazing, beyond delicious. There was the tartness from the apples and the dressing, but instantly the nut took off the edge and spread comfort and bliss in my mouth.

I didn’t need anything else for dinner. That was my delight of the day. For Jason, however, I reheated leftover penne over pancetta and garlic, and grilled three chicken tenders. Just like that. Nevertheless, the salad still took the Guest of Honor’s seat, and got a round of applause. Pure brilliance on a plate.

25. I am madly and uncontrollably in love with that white boy from Texas named Jason Blaine. Moreover, I am madly and uncontrollably loved by that white boy from Texas named Jason Blaine. He loves me just the way I am.

Gobble, gobble…!

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