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I stole food from my dog.

I am out of control.

Since I got that call about that job on that show for HBO, the one you know nothing about as it’s not yet on, it’s been raining almost consistently here in LA. That last piece of information is relevant to my story only thanks to the drip-drip soundtrack that torrential tempest provides as I type these words.

So, I’ve been working on HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA … the show, and quite literally, in life. There’s no glamour in the services I provide here, but I feel at ease and no longer experience the yearning for recognition and appreciation for my work in a corporate setting. It brings an unspoken amount of relief to have finally discovered a passion in life, which for me, aside from exploiting my life on the Internet, is defined by cooking. I have developed a skill I can offer to the world now. The minute I’m done with my current duties on the show, I’ll walk back to my kitchen, or into my clients’ kitchens and will make a living by stirring, blanching, and shocking vegetables.

In the meantime, I share offices with editors and their assistants who work hard gluing and stitching together the show you’ll be able to watch on HBO in a few short weeks. Since the office space is rather congested, everybody can hear the dialog, music score, and any other sound effects present in a given scene the editors are currently working on. Today moaning and gasping fills the air around, as the sex scenes are being patched together. I can’t help giggling under my nose as if I were 12 and caught my uncle and auntie DOING IT.

While I’ve been enjoying the on-screen sex at work, my loyal ol’ pooch goes through separation anxiety.

It must be it. How else to explain he’d gotten sick FOUR times since I left home? There’s nothing new about the wholesome dog food we’ve been feeding him forever. He’s not lethargic or sad when I come home. On the contrary, the minute I open the door he jumps at me from whichever corner of the house he’s been laying in wait and nails me straight to the wall behind me and bombards me with a shower of kisses. What that really means is that he licks my face inside out with a boy scout’s zeal and precision of a robot on Adderall. When he gets back on his fours at last, the joy dance begins and Cosmo spins right round until I get dizzy. I say he’s fine.

Still, my heart sank every time I saw my baby throw up and all this past week. It was time for me to take action. It was time to employ some drastic measures. Cosmo was about to learn of that brilliant witch that his mommy was.

I entered the kitchen, swoosh, pulled out a pot, clink, and mounted it on the stove, bang. Inside went diced pancetta, a handful, and sizzled until its fat rendered. Rice (half a cup) was next along with a tablespoon of crushed dry marjoram. Mixed with the pork juices, the rice toasted evenly just in time for a cup of grated carrots that landed right in the pot. Then I drowned it all in organic, low sodium chicken stock, because my dog deserves the best. It didn’t end there. For color, I tossed in sweet peas, then seasoned the dish with salt, and plunked a bay leaf to top that field of savory yumness.

You think dogs don’t like parsley? Just watch Cosmo.

Photo – courtesy of Laurent Dambies and his MACRO lens. The parsley was mine.

Thus enlivened, Cosmo’s breakfast/dinner combo for the next 4 days was officially completed. Except, I tasted it. BIG MISTAKE. The food was beyond awesome, its flavor so simple and comforting, and yet robust and indisputable. I took another bite. EVEN BIGGER MISTAKE. An electric current of paramount pleasure torpedoed down my spine. My hair stood upright. ALL HAIR. Everywhere. Next thing I knew, half of the pot was empty and the wooden spatula I used to stir the goods was shoved fist-deep into my throat. I was out of control stealing my sick puppy’s meal. Suddenly, I caught his terrified look with the corner of my eye, as if he was saying: “MA! WTF?!” The spoon slipped out of my hand and dropped to the floor. The sound of it was like a slap to my unconscious self, thump. When I realized the level of devastation the hungry monster within caused I was startled. The little bit that was saved was barely enough for two doggie meals.

Cosmo sat right by my feet throughout the cooking process and the incident of mindless food absorption. He was hungry. He KNEW I was fixing food for him. I don’t know how, but he knew. I saw a shade of panic in those deeply dark eyes, not yet a full on attack, but a growing anxiety of upcoming loss. You know what I’m talking about? I could see it all in the look he gave me.

Without a word, I grabbed a box of quinoa, 4 more carrots, a parsnip, and made a new batch of food for my pooch. This time I knew better than adding salt, bay leaves, and fresh parsley in the end. A tablespoon of lard is all any dog needs in their food to get their undivided attention. And enough to avert mine.

You don’t have a dog? What’s the problem? More food for you!

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How many times have I told you to cook with love? Really, how often do I mention within these posts the importance of sprinkling your food with fairy dust and passion crystals? There exists a direct correlation between your success in the kitchen and the amount of love spells dissolved in that pot on your stove. I stressed it enough over the months for you to think I would know better than to step into my cooking chambers all bitter, and with electric current of fury streaming through my spine.

Why, you wonder?

If you miss your best friend’s birthday extravaganza because your mate’s left part of the brain has grown twice in size over the course of one week due to work overload, and on top of that he’s drying out of hunger and thus turning into a pile of dust on a desk in his office as we speak, and you must forgo obeying the law while flying through all red lights of the streets of City of Angels rushing to him with a meal that will save his life, and you call your friend from the car with no headset (oops, another violation!) to let her know of the extraordinary circumstances causing your absence at the party, promising to make it up to her in the next few days, she should understand, right?

She didn’t. She was all “I get that Jason was stuck at work, but you could have shown your face at least”. Oh, Mother, when I heard that, a yellow puff of anger mixed with hurt snuck out of my wide open mouth. Really? I was so pissed that she didn’t give me the credit of the doubt, knowing how fiercely loyal I am, and understand that I must have had a damn good excuse to miss her Celebration Of Aging. And frankly, I don’t need to wait for her birthday to raise a toast for the three new wrinkles she’s developed, and the gray hair she’s grown …on her leg, way up there. And she also should know that the minute her boobs get soggy and her butt widens out of her mind so that she has to buy TWO airplane tickets to fly anywhere, and she gets stretch marks after her first childbirth that will resemble the fjords of Norway, I’ll be the first one to make her a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH FRESH RASPBERRY SAUCE, and stick candles in it no matter the date. Because that’s the kind of friend I am.

In such a frame of mind, I crossed the threshold of our kitchen to make dinner – a pot of hearty soup, one of my favorites, the soup that Jason’s parents loved so much they took the recipe down and entered a soup contest with it in TEXAS. In all modesty, I must say that if there is anything I know about cooking, soup is IT. That’s my forte.

I started peeling my carrots and parsnips all the while thinking of my dear friend, that itzy-bitzy little thing with a big mouth, enormous heart, and a really dirty mind. I crisped some pancetta and sautéed chopped leeks with an onion in a big pot. I tossed all the veggies in along with a few lightning bolts of anger and a dash of salt and pepper. I added two legs of chicken, a handful of spices, and completely engaged in the dialog in my head. From that point on, I have no recollection of the events that took place in my kitchen. I was so busy picturing myself as an old(er) woman with a handful of grandkids parked on the floor around my rocking chair, while telling them the story of a beautiful friendship wasted over …nothing.

The soup was done, and ready to serve. I took a spoonful to taste, and almost spat it back into the pot. It was absolutely disgusting. It was the most repelling thing I ever made. My poor soup, it took it all in – all the bitterness that I got out of my system, and dumped into the pot along with the veggies et al. There was no way to fix it. All I could do was to flush that sour and bitter mixture down the toilet, and drive to see my girlfriend to hug the hell out of her, and give her the birthday gift we both worked on with Jason, and tell her how much I wished I had been there to help her blow the candles, dozens and dozens of them. So many in fact, that the fire marshals arrived, the real ones this time, and not the touring Chippendales in disguise.

When we hugged it all out, I gasped “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Are you still upset?” She quickly cut me off “Don’t even sweat it. I was PMS-ing”.

I know PMS. You don’t mess with a woman who is PMSing, period. (No pun intended.) And you definitely don’t want to mess with a woman that is PMSing ON HER BIRTHDAY.

Long story short, I have no recipe to share with you today, as I used it all up during my ANGER MANAGEMENT session with self.

Cooking is therapeutic, have I not told you?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VERONICA!

By the time you read these words, we’ll have been to our Halloween Party, gotten stupid drunk, laughed our asses off just by looking at each other and the other CRAZIES surrounding us, schlepped back home, scared the hell out of Cosmo and homeless cats, had sex, sobered up, taken wigs and fake eyelashes off, had sex, and flipped a few pancakes up under the kitchen ceiling.

Right now, however, I’m lounging on our bed and looking pretty. That’s all I’m doing in the anticipation of THE NIGHT OF THE UNHINGED. Jason, on the other hand, is fulfilling his New Year’s resolution a little prematurely by organizing all the crap in our “office”.

The costumes are resting in the closet, their elements perfectly matched and hand picked during our Insane Halloween Spree last weekend. Many ideas were brought to life as we brainstormed costume options. One thing was clear – we were going as a couple and our outfits were to indicate as such. To spice things up, we excluded famous characters, and instead focused on two-word phrases, like:

–       Whipped Cream

–       Pocket Knife

–       Double Door

–       Body Lotion

–       Plastic Surgery

–       Good-Bye, etc.

We settled on Jason’s PEAS & CARROTS, as not only this idea was REALISTIC to execute, but also the phrase itself was charged with happiness and a promise of lasting forever.

Peas&Carrots

Time to put the wig back in the closet and leave Halloween behind. One thing that may still remind you of the weekend festivities is the lingering hangover, or sugar rush, and/or heartburn spasms from those “juicy” and perfectly greasy grilled sausages from street vendors that one just must have at 3 AM when leaving a party. Thank god for my Carrot who steered me away from those. Instead, we devoured a homemade breakfast at 4 AM consisting of scrambled eggs with sausage, tomatoes and basil + a turkey mustard sandwich with pickles and CARROTS. Going to bed at 4:30 AM with my stomach FULL is a dream I wish to live out more often… NOT.

To let your intestines breathe (and I mean it literally), I propose a fresh salad that not only has the ability to wipe all food debris from the previous night out of your system, but shockingly also tastes delicious! Let’s make some LEEK SALAD, shall we.

The VIP list of ingredients should read:

–       2 medium to large leeks

–       4 small to medium carrots

–       2 ripe avocados

–       1 cup of fresh dill, chopped

–       1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)

–       2 tbsp of lemon juice (the fresh stuff, from the actual fruit)

–       sea salt, 1-2 tsp – ish

–       black pepper, freshly ground, lots of it

The leeks are tricky, especially if you haven’t used them before. They grow in dirt, they like it, and so they carry it along wherever they go. When you hold your leek, cut off the roots and the dark leaf tops. Those are hard and bitter. However, the light green and white part contains all the flavors you want to preserve. Grab a sharp paring knife and cut the leek length wise, opening it like a fan. Don’t make the mistake of cutting it through. You want to be able to keep it all together while letting cold running water wash out all the residual dirt from between the leaves. Does that make sense?

I hope you’ll find THIS helpful – a quick tutorial I’ve found on youtube on how to prepare leeks. You’re welcome.

Once you’re past the dirty job, cut the leek all the way though, yes, length wise, then each half  – again in half. Hold the bunch together (that thick ponytail of leek strips) and chop it as finely as your talent allows. Drop the shreds into a large bowl and move on to the carrots.

Jason Carrot

You want them peeled clean and grated. Into the bowl they go. Chop the dill and fedex it into the same ol’ bowl. Avocados – same story: cube them finely and scoop out on top of the veggie pile. Add salt, black pepper (lots of it), lemon juice, olive oil, and swirl around the dish letting everybody mingle and show off what they do best.

The LEEK SALAD, as is the case with other hard vegetables salads (see the CELERY ROOT SALAD for example), benefits and really reaches its potential only after it sits for an hour or so in a closed container, in the back corner of your refrigerator, away from all the gossip and commotion. The salt and acid from the lemon help break the fiber enough to soften the leek, and help it release a few tears of juice.

Leek Salad

The avocado serves as a binder in this salad. However, you could use sour cream instead, add 1 tsp of sugar, and make it a completely different foodie experience. Try it with grated green apples, or slivers of red bell pepper to add some blush to your dish.

LET ME NOT limit your creative flow. And LET ME hear back from you once you’ve tested and tasted your masterpiece!

Before we met, both Jason and I were dining out most of the time. Jason had memorized all the taco, burger, and sushi joints on Ventura Blvd and beyond, while I was hooked on Whole Foods and their salad and hot foods bar.  Needless to say, we were spending a fortune on our meals – in our world it translated into eating away a medium-sized car a year. One day we did the math, and between the two of us we were trashing about $1800 a month on the “fuel for our bodies”. Multiply this by 12 months and you have just burped a brand new Honda Civic with a built-in GPS and Satellite Radio.

Many people ask me how old I was when I started cooking. While I made a few simple dinners here and there as a teenager to give mama a hand, the whole love affair with pots and pans bloomed when I started dating Jason. Our courtship period was marked with his long and romantic letters text messages while traveling solo in Guatemala, homemade salads, and a barley-mushroom soup I’d make after his return. It wasn’t until a few months into our romance when we collected all our receipts to calculate our food expenses that the alarm bells began to ring. Our jaws dropped, broke into a million pieces, and scattered all over the floor when we saw the mind-blowing amount of almost two grand on the calculator.

That was our “Aha! Moment”. That was a turning point toward our future lives. More importantly, it was the time of my creative liberation when the cooking beast within was unleashed.

We started a regimen of regular escapades to the local Trader Joe’s for a weekly supply of groceries. Week after week the tab was coming to about $100. Another $20-$40 smackers were dropped at a Farmers’ Market in exchange for organic carrots, leeks, seasonal fruit and veggies along with a variety of aromatic, fresh herbage. Next, we invested in a pair of twin lunch boxes (It’s sickening sometimes how cute we are!), a set of good knives, pots and pans, and our love boat set sail.

Lunch Boxes

Are you following? Are you breaking your fingers trying to add it all up? Are you smashing those beads on your granny’s abacus? No, you’re not crazy. We cut down our food expenses by 2/3rds! So now, even though we don’t eat out as much anymore, and meat shows up on a plate no more than 3 times a week, we haven’t seen the same meal on our dinner menu in a few months.

Having said that, I will admit we’re a part of that lucky, sun-burnt whassup-dude-nation of Southern California. Not only do we have 70-degree weather all year round on average (which allows for a variety of fresh, organic produce), but we also have Trader Joe’s – the main source of affordable, healthy and organic yummers. It seems the guys are scrambling though to bring the goods to more Americans. You can check here if your city has also been blessed with its own TJ store.

A few days ago, I found a new “delicacy” within the depths of the store’s freezers. It is an extreme rarity to catch me using any pre-made frozen dinner thingies so abundant in every grocery store in America, but after having scouted the frozen Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons, a bulb lit in my head. “What if I take the leftover roasted root vegetables from last night’s dinner, use them to make a soup, and dump the frozen wontons inside…?”

TJ Wontons

And so she did.

WHAT I USED FOR THE DISH:

–       roasted root vegetables (see below for details)

–       1 medium leek (only the while and light green part, thoroughly cleaned – muy importante!), chopped

–       1 medium onion, diced

–       garlic (CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH?! Ok, 6 or 7 cloves)

–       4 oz package of diced pancetta (from Trader Joe’s)

–       1 carton of low sodium chicken broth (also fathered by TJ)

–       2-3 dry bay leaves (remove before serving!)

–       5-6 whole peppercorns (same here, out before serving)

–       1-2 tsp of dry marjoram

–       2 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar

–       half a bag of fresh arugula

–       handful of fresh dill, roughly chopped

–       spices (eyeballed…sorry): red curry powder, garam masala, cumin, nutmeg

–       kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

First, I diced a peeled onion and chopped my CLEAN (I can’t emphasize it enough) leek. Into a hot pan I threw a handful of diced pancetta, let the fat melt and the meat get crispy, then fished the cracklings out and set them on a plate for later. Into the greased pan I threw the onion and leek, and let them sauté for about 5-7 minutes. Next went chopped garlic, salt, dry marjoram and black pepper.

At this point, a neighbor passed by our open back door and shouted: “Mmmm, something surely smells GOOD!”

My roasted veggies got really excited and all jumped into the pot at once. To help everyone inside bond, I poured about a half cup of chicken broth, stirred the party around collecting all the flavors from across the dance floor, then turned off the heat – time to get serious. I emptied the content of the pot into a food processor, and… pushed the ON button.

The whirlwind of events that followed is too graphic to describe. Know that at the end of the night, I was left with a creamy and smooth veggie mass, which was returned to the pot. To turn it into a soup, I added the rest of the chicken broth from a box, the bay leaves, peppercorns, more salt and pepper, a touch or two of red curry powder, garam masala, cumin and nutmeg. The lemon gave its juice. The cracklings were also ready to get back in the game. I left it all to simmer for about 30 minutes, covered with a lid.

Half an hour later the wontons were ready to join the party. I emptied the bag into the soup to let everybody mingle and phone numbers were exchanged. Next, I turned the heat off and added the arugula, which instantly wilted in the temperature of the goods it swam in. The final touch was a dust of chopped dill sprinkled over a serving of Roasted Vegetables Soup with Chicken Wontons.  God, bless its soul, for it was heavenly! Jason had two helpings.

Chicken Wontons

Hmm… where was I? Oh, right, the mere memory of the dish throws me off track. Before I move on to the roasted root vegetables part of my story, let me just take a deep breath and compose myself again.

Alright.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED:

–       3 medium to large parsnips

–       4 medium to large carrots

–       1 celery root

–       kosher salt + black pepper

–       Herbs de Provence

–       Extra virgin olive oil

Wash and peel your veggies, cut in 1/4” strips and spread on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with olive oil, herbs and seasoning. Using your hands, massage the goods into the veggies, and thus prepared, throw them into a 400˚ oven for about 30 minutes. THAT’S IT!

Just make sure the veggies are soft before you allow them out for some fresh air. Each oven is different, so you may need 5 minutes less, or 10 minutes more to turn your root vegetables into that beautiful and delicious patchwork of roasted carrots, parsnips, and celery root.

The sky is the limit – or the ground rather – when it comes to vegetables you could be roasting: butternut squash, acorn squash, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets, garlic – I’ve done them all. Don’t limit yourself. Be bold. Experiment. Follow your instincts. The pleasure received from such trials will be that much greater!

Amen.

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