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I wish. To travel along the rebel who knows food like nobody I know in person, I wish. To learn about carta di piano from the mothers and grandmothers of a Sardinian village while raising a toast with wine made locally, I wish. To walk among golden fields of wheat and rye, to sink my teeth in a tomato bursting with flavors and straight off its vine, I wish.
I’ve been watching lots of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. Can you tell? I guess it’s only fair that I mention I’m a fan of the show on Facebook as well, so that I can get their updates and feeds about the upcoming episodes like:
As if it wasn’t alarming already, I follow the guy on twitter, too, because, well, he’s there and clearly wants to be cyber stalked.
Alright. I get it that it’s not quite Tony himself. It’s the producers, the marketing team, the network even, who the cracker knows. Tony is some other place every time a new twit appears online. Duh.
Have you noticed how familiar I got with Mr. Bourdain? It’s because his book “Kitchen Confidential” is sitting on my night-stand supported by no other than the most recent of his penned bricks “Medium Raw”. He’s everywhere I turn my eyes whenever the lights are on. I feel like I KNOW the guy in person. If he happened to be strutting down Sunset Boulevard right in my neighborhood, I would merely throw at him…
… without so much as a wink, and keep walking Cosmo hoping for a rapid poop, so we can turn around and go home finally. Man, that dog takes FOREVER to empty his bowels! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PATCH OF GRASS??
I don’t even know how it all began, that boyfriend-approved affair with another man. Jason hasn’t shown any signs of jealously in fact since I took a break from watching “Dog Whisperer”. Back then he would ask me biweekly at least…
“ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR CESAR MILLAN?”
…I haven’t heard that phrase in a long, long time.
I will take my assumption even further. I am convinced Jason would not reject an offer of some sort of a ménage a trois, if we were given an opportunity to shlep along chef Bourdain across Europe for example. I mean it in a professional sense, of course, where our job would be to attend any finger-licking tastings and youth-reviving feasts. In such a setting I would gladly share a seat with Mrs. Bourdain, with their offspring gleefully hopping on Jason’s lap. Think sequel to “European Vacation”.
In my tribute to Tony (Yes, we go WAY back!), I’ll be writing today about PORK. My sweet Ms. Piggy in a flurry of crispy bibb lettuce and a nest of pea shoots resting right on thy head, make yourself at home.
No recipe is needed for this pink perfection. Simply season the loin with salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil and maybe fresh thyme as well; place it in a roasting pan, add a cup of white wine or chicken stock and shove all into a preheated oven (at 350°) for 35-40 minutes total. Take it out, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes. While the meat is gathering its juices, you make a glaze: 1/2 cup of port wine + 1-2 tbsp of honey in a small sauce pan. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer away until reduced two-thirds or so. When the liquid gets thicker and sticky-er, pour it over the slices of your roasted pork loin.
You know how I am–always chicken this, chicken that (the happy, organic kind of course). However, pork tenderloin is lean and healthy, rich in vitamins of the B family, then zinc and of course protein. Since it’s also referred to as the other white meat, I no longer feel like a cheater, well, because… how much chicken can I eat for my ass’ sake?
I made this dashing, juicy, bursting with flavors PORK LOIN last week and fell for its tender and oink pink flesh instantly. So did Jason. Now, guess who’s coming to dinner this week? The red carpet is ready for you, my dear Ms. Piggy.
Last week Jason and I took five days and four nights out of our schedules in order to get out of Los Angeles. Four nights and five days for what seemed was just a minute.
We packed a cooler, a change of underwear, our camera, an ipod worth a decade of continuous music, Cosmo’s squeaky toy, and a liplube, and off we drove to New Mexico.
There, Jason’s best pal, his soul brother, his BFF Paul welcomed us at his log cabin hidden amongst sky-reaching pine trees on top of a mountain. Fourteen glowing eyes, twenty-eight legs and six tails total, all of which belonged to Paul’s cats, froze motionless behind his back at the threshold of the house upon our arrival.
If you’re quickly doing the math in your head, and 2 plus 2 just won’t make 4, know that one of the seven felines was a Manx. Ah… six tails indeed.
And then Cosmo appeared. Out of the car he sprang and around the house he span sniffing the ground and learning about his new circumstances. He spotted a cat, one of the seven that had dispersed in the darkness, and set his aim. Little did he know, the cat (all of them) moved with the speed of light (from his perspective) and flew through four bedrooms, the kitchen, and a vast living room in the same time poor Cosmo was still trying to find a way out of the first room alone. The three of us stood there, the speechless spectators, and quickly came to a conclusion that no intervention was required. Cosmo would never catch up with any of the kitties, hence no threat was posed.
Sequestered within the heart of the forest, wild coyotes crying in the distance, we set by the fireplace and exercised our brains talking for hours on about life and humanity, ecology, the origin of Homo Sapiens, Terence McKenna, fire fighters, the stars above and the volcano nearby. At sunset, we drove to the peak of the mountain and watched the sky.
We walked through the woods for hours, down to the river and up, by the Aspen girls. Then, in complete darkness we found the way out onto the highway and back to the house.
We cooked all meals, from breakfast through dinner. Well, I cooked, but always surrounded by eager and willing helpers. All it took was a hundred dollars that we stretched between four people and three meals a day over the July 4th weekend.
Five days away from home, from my kitchen, and from my computer turned into a full week of catching up. Not only did I not have time to write, but also I had to gear up for a whole lot of cooking for my upcoming Lunch Deliveries.
Before I withdraw back into my kitchen chambers, I want to share with you a dinner idea. Something different. It’s a simple peasant food with a smoky twist I put together one day recently–ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH SMOKED MACKEREL.
There’s such a colorful and flavorful variety of root vegetables you can make this dish every time anew. Pick three veggies at a time and reinvent the meal over and over again. You could do carrots, turnips and kohlrabi. Add potatoes for extra body. Next time try diced rutabaga, parsnip, and squash. Add Brussels sprouts for color. Then you still have beets in various colors, same as carrots, plus a celery root, and a fennel bulb to twist it all together. Roasted onion never disappoints either.
To roast your medley, first preheat the oven to 400ºF. Wash, peel and dice all veg keeping them all more or less same size. Toss the bunch into a roasting pan, sprinkle with olive oil, add a bunch of fresh thyme (leaves picked or whole brunches scattered around), half a spring of fresh rosemary (or leaves picked and scattered around), a few crushed garlic cloves, and 1-2 bay leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix everything about making sure all pieces have been treated justly. Pour 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of veg or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan, and slide the dish into the hot oven. Roast for 30-45 minutes (depending on your veg and the dice size). Half way through, dive in with a long spoon and toss the medley about.
When finished, scoop as much as your hungry soul desires onto thy plate, top with chunks of smoked mackerel (that you had previously scraped with a fork from the fish itself, leaving the bones and skin behind), and freshly picked dill. Treat the fish with just a few drops of lemon juice, sprinkling from up high. That simple touch thus turns the meal automagically into a hedonistic thrill.
I can’t even describe the pleasures you are to experience upon the first nibble. The creamy flesh of the oily fish melts together with the savory vegetables producing a carnival of joy in your mouth. Don’t just take my word for it. Try it at home, I dare you.
Today marks two weeks since we returned from Europe, the continent where people eat whatever they want (for the most part) and seldom exercise the idea of a dietary restriction. Mother Nature is still the biggest supplier of food there, and no one questions that order. I choose to believe that based on the quality of ingredients that had built our meals while in Poland, and then in France.
When we first arrived back in Los Angeles, Jason and myself decided we needed a break from eating meat, as it was such a fundamental part of our diet when still on the Old Continent. The first week went swimmingly well. I whistled cheerfully as I cooked away quinoa, made meals with a variety of beans, various grains (e.g. barley), then lentils, and greens rich in protein (like broccoli). Last but not least nuts were all around us, all day long. And I don’t mean just because we live in Hollywood. Each morning I began with a whole-grain toasted muffin, topped with a layer of almond butter and slices of fresh strawberries. Jason snacked on a mixture of raw nuts and dried fruits in between the meals. Roasted pine nuts or walnuts ended up in fresh salads. Toasted pepitas served as a base for my vinaigrette.
About three days ago I realized I was …hungry. Sixty minutes after I finished breakfast I was ready to eat again. The first craving hit me right between the eyes leaving a black-eye the size of a fist. No matter how versatile menu I prepared for the day and how much flavor I incorporated into each dish, it all began to taste …boring. Every time I inserted a fresh bite of food into my mouth, from the start I knew it was missing one ingredient–meat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. If I could I would sprinkle pancetta bits into my whole-grain cereal with blueberries and a sliced banana. A temporary comfort I found in hard-boiled eggs, and cheese sandwiches.
Now, I know that all protein is equal. It doesn’t matter, from a scientific point of view, whether you get your amino acids (which are the molecules of the protein) from an animal or a plant, as our bodies are dexterous engineers and can put together a complete protein out of those building blocks. As long as you provide your system with those standard 22 amino acids it requires to form the protein we need. That’s the reason all nutritionists of the world emphasize the need for a versatile diet, in particular for the vegetarians walking amongst us.
Enough with the lecturing. I know that I had enough protein in my diet over the last two weeks not to NEED any meat. Though I realize now the source of my misery. It is all in my head. My cravings for a juicy steak, and beef stew, or a tender chicken thigh have everything to do with the fact that I can’t have it right now, for I do not appreciate restriction. It goes deeper than that. I refuse to be pressured. If there is a movie coming out that the entire planet can’t shut up about, and 70 million people go see it on the opening night, you can be sure Agi won’t participate in the mass hysteria. For example, I have never seen “Titanic” nor “The Da Vinci Code”. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. You know what else I have not watched, nor read? The entire “Harry Potter” series. Sure, we can argue whether I am better or worse for that, but it is not the point of this discourse.
Despite that fact that my diet over the last two weeks was nutritionally dense, I began to notice feeling weaker and weaker. I was no longer able to lift words and put them down on paper. At the gym, when requested by Jason to do abdominal crunches, I didn’t even stomp my foot on the ground anymore. I fought him just for a moment when he made me get down on the ground and throw my legs in the air, but only because resistance to a voluntary pain application is a part of my psychological make-up. Then I got a hair cut, as those two extra inches of hair made a whole lot of difference when washing it. Saving energy became my motto.
I am facing another two meatless weeks, which in my head translates into a form of mind slavery. It is my brain that has to make an effort to relax and breathe knowing it will be OK.
Agi, let me introduce you to DISCIPLINE. I hope you shall become fast friends.
I’m still having dreams of the Parisian life we licked for a few days on the way back to LA from Poland. Those chocolate croissants for breakfast in bed, coffee, and I mean COFFEE after the meal (and never during), the loose scarf sitting tight around Jason’s neck and trying hard to make itself home despite his protests…
And the Louvre… We spent a day and a half meandering the hallways, the Royal chambers, and the dim basements of the castle. We could have stayed two weeks, and that would not have been enough. We were armed with a mini computer with headphones dangling from our necks, while a deep, male voice told us about every sculpture we paused in front of, every painting that caught our attention, and hundreds of other exhibits that helped us better understand who we are, and to see that the history really does repeat itself over and over.
Paris was also a meeting point, where we caught up with a bunch of old friends I know from way back, our ole New York days.
Laurent, my buddy, Lolo as we call him behind the scenes, realized he was slowly losing his marbles in the South of France where he was anchored for the past 12 months or so. He felt an itch again, that tickle in his butt that makes him move from one corner of the word to another every so often, and so he packed his backpack and flew himself to Malaysia.
From his most recent report I know he’s getting cozy in Asia. The lifestyle does sound quite appealing, particularly for a single man. Rent and food are cheap. A casual crawl in the swimming pool follows a tropical breakfast. Then there’s time for a massage. The kind one can get on every street corner, apparently. Or at the mall down the street from one’s flat. You know, the Malaysian massage.
Meanwhile, we’re back home, trying to get a grip on our life on this side of the world while fighting that instant nostalgia for Europe, and still not eating meat. Hence, my dish du jour:
4 large zucchinis, washed and grated
1/2 red onion, chopped and sautéed
6-8 tbsp whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp of potato starch
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup Fontina cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
handful of fresh dill, chopped (What? I’m Polish.)
When sautéing an onion I like to sprinkle it with a nice amount of dried marjoram, and watch the magic happen. The herb hits the hot oil thus releasing an aroma that simply knocks me out, while my socks stand up right next to my feet. I mean it in a GOOD way. That divine smell drifts through the kitchen and out into the courtyard making the wild cats from the hood hold the fire and suspend their everlasting turf wars. One day I shall record their CRYYYING OUUUT LOUDDD at 4 o’clock in the morning, right outside our window, and let that serve as evidence in my case.
The pancakes. Let the onion cool off a tad and then mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, making sure all the flour is evenly incorporated. I can’t really tell you how much flour to use exactly. The consistency of your batter will depend on so many factors, I don’t even know where to begin: how much water your zucchinis brought, how humid the air is in your neck of the wood, the weather, the stock market, global warming, and the current phase of the moon. In other words, test-drive your pancakes. Throw a spoonful on hot oil in your pan, and let it fry for a couple of minutes. Now flip it. Did it fall apart? Then you need more flour. Got it? Great.
What’s there left to say? Good luck! The wild Felis catus will soon be sending you Thank You cards.