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Some years ago, one sunny Sunday Jason was strolling down Melrose Avenue heading to a record store. Since he lived in the vicinity, he left his car at home that morning and walked up a few blocks to the destination. A 7-foot tall Indian man with crystal blue eyes, wearing a perfectly fitted grey suit and a white turban, approached him on the street, gently asked whether he could speak with Jason for a moment, and began to tell him things. Things about Jason, his life, his family, and challenges he was facing, all in great detail.

The accuracy of the stranger’s words was mind-boggling. The man warned Jason not to drive his red truck to get the haircut the following Saturday. How did he know??? Later that day, astonished Jason obeyed and cancelled the appointment he had scheduled at his friend’s hair salon in Malibu for that coming weekend.

Then the man said:


I realize it sounds very general for all of you. Unless you know my Jason. He’s one of the most responsible, organized, hardworking and disciplined people I know. And yet, getting him out of bed in the morning is one tricky process. It takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and always involves me waking up beforehand in order to help Jason open his eyes and shake hands with each new day. As a child Jason was also diagnosed with a sleeping disorder that prevents him from getting a full night’s rest no matter how long he stays in his dreamland.

Bottom line is, getting up in the morning is difficult for Jason not because he’s lazy, but because it is acutely painful.

I’ve heard the story of the encounter on Melrose Avenue a few times over the last couple of years. I even tried to push Jason here and there to take the challenge and see what happens. Every time, however, my enthusiasm was met by my mate’s strong resistance. I brought it up again when we were in Europe last month, realizing that the upcoming jet-lag was going to play in our favor. We were going to wake up early in the morning quite naturally for the first few days anyways. Why not to stretch it into a 6-week period?

Jason took the bate. Hook, line, and sinker!

We’re three weeks deep into the life-changing exercise. My alarm clock is set for 6 AM Monday through Sunday and back. The first few days were AWE-AWE-AWE-SOME!!! I woke up chirping like a bird, loving the surrounding silence, the quiet, the stillness. As the jet-lag started to wear off, so did my joie de vivre at dawn. I walk around like a zombie, yawning till I get dizzy, with madness tinkering in the corners of my eyes.

My HONEY, on the other hand, the guy who used to speak in TONGUES when woken up before 9 o’clock, is now up and running by 7 AM and on his way to the gym. I look at him envious and bewildered…


Now throw our meatless diet on top of it and stand in my shoes! Though I think I’m over the edge and the worst is behind me. The experiment turned out to be a great creative challenge, and I can’t say that I failed. Over the last three weeks we’ve had a different meal every night, each one nutritionally dense, flavorful, and full of protein, like my PAPPARDELLE WITH WILD MUSHROOM SAUCE OVER SAUTEED KALE AND GREEN BEANS.

I have tons of wild mushrooms stored away, handpicked by my mother, cleaned and dried by her husband. I used some last week to make mushroom broth, of which a few ladlefuls went into the sauce you see above.

As usual, I improvised. I let the broth reduce in the saucepan, allowing for the mushroom flavor to intensify. Next, I added about a tablespoon of butter and a handful of previously soaked wild mushrooms. I dropped in a whole shallot and one bay leaf.

In the meantime, I brought a pot of water to a boil, seasoned generously with salt and cooked some pappardelle pasta (my favorite kind of pasta in the world!).

Back to my sauce, I lowered the heat to minimum, added a drizzle or two of heavy cream, a bunch of fresh dill, salt, pepper, and a touch of nutmeg. Stirred, once, twice, turn the heat off, discarded the shallot and the bay leaf, and voila. The sauce was ready.

So was the pasta. I drained it and tossed it back into its pot. I crumbled some goat cheese all over the steaming noodles, shoveled it around till the cheese melted, and poured my mushroom sauce all over that gorgeous meal. It rested with dignity over the bed of greens that I sauteed with garlic just minutes before.

Even though I still think of meat with a tear welling up in my eye, dinners like the one above sooth my torn nerves just fine. I wrap myself in that comfort and calmly count the days down…

Till Sunday!

Remember that scene in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING where the aunt learns that the groom is a vegetarian? No? Here you go, refresh your memory and realize that a carnivorous diet is not only a Greek sentiment.

I grew up eating meat, all kinds of meat, from kielbasa, to ham, to pork chops, to beef goulash. In fact, as a child meat was my favorite type of candy. I was quite proud of my affection towards cooked animal flesh, and many a time I showed off in front of family members by sinking my teeth into a chicken thigh like a hungry Barbarian. I saw approval and joy in my mother’s eyes as between her two kids I was the one who loved to eat. My older brother apparently was on a hunger strike till the day I was born (five years of his life). Then he saw me glued to my mother’s tit like a roll of adhesive tape, and then to anything else that happened to get too close to my mouth, and realized he had to follow the laws of a jungle in order to survive. He learnt to not only chew, but actually to swallow his food.

Later in life, when I began to carve my own judgment about the surrounding world and my position in it, I decided I didn’t like myself, from the way I looked to the way I felt. One thing led to another and suddenly I spent my entire 20s battling eating disorders and fighting my own demons. The struggle was extreme, painful beyond verbal expression, acutely lonely, but also purposeful. I have no regrets for I have found my answers, peace, and balance in life.

It was during that decade when I progressively started to eliminate certain foods from my diet, beginning with sweets and bread, then meat, followed by dairy, and eventually going completely raw.  Traveling to Poland was a torture, as I craved all the foods of my childhood with the intensity of a concentration camp’s survivor. My body was starved for years. And yet my brain would stand guard in front of the plate and forbid me from stealing even a bite. The physical torture I had put upon myself was meant to cover the emotional pains I dealt with. I get that now. It was for me to discover, however, and no one could have done the homework for me.

It is quite clear I was a vegetarian, and then a vegan for all the wrong reasons. My healthy self enjoys meat as much as a leafy vegetable.

Now imagine my enthusiasm and childish joy when I come home to my mom’s culinary fireworks, a fraction of which I described in my previous entry. I forget myself in the pleasure that fills my mouth upon each nibble. I don’t OVER DO it either. I get just enough.

One thing, Jason and I both felt we OD-ed, was meat while traveling through Europe. While such a meat-heavy diet makes a perfect sense in Poland, and other European lands due to their cooler climate, it does not feel natural in Southern California (where we live), which by definition is warm, sunny and abundant with fresh produce. Hence, in order to bring our digestive tracks back to the summer schedule, we chose to go meat free for a month upon returning to Los Angeles.

It’s been almost a week, and thus far I have not had a single meat craving. For a few days we munched on a quinoa salad with orange lentils, peppers, and scallions for lunch. I made a gigantic pot of hearty vegetable soup with white beans and whole-wheat fussily pasta, which is just as satiating as if it contained chunks of chicken. Between the meals, we graze on the grass from the outside lawn and fight over nuts with local squirrels. Then, one rainy morning, I thought of making STUFFED PEPPERS, a novelty in my repertoire.

Before I tell you what and how I did it, I must plug in a disclaimer: I was totally and utterly IMPROVISING. If you decide to follow me, you’re doing it at your own risk.

Here’s what happened. I cooked a cup of wild rice, adding some frozen organic corn towards the end, a whole can of pinto beans (washed and rinsed off), a whole bunch of freshly chopped herbs (dill, parsley, what-have-you), and maybe a half-a-cup of grated Gruyere cheese. I made sure there was enough salt and pepper in it, and then I twisted the flavor with a touch of cayenne, sweet paprika, and ground nutmeg. Why not?

In the meantime, I washed my bell peppers, cut off the tops, emptied their bellies, and turned the oven on at 400°.

You know what happened next. I stuffed the peppers with my rice filling, drizzled the tops with a little bit of olive oil, and shoved the guys into my hot oven. They baked for about 30 minutes until the peppers got slightly wrinkled and softened. However, they were not overcooked and thus kept their shapes.

Two stuffed beauties per capita were MORE than enough for us, and not once did we think of getting a burger for dinner the following day. Also, since it was my virgin STUFFED PEPPER, now I also know that the red one is THE ONE. The best complement to your dish would be a bowl of mixed greens with a lemony dressing, bringing healthy freshness and balancing the heavier tones of the meal.

Bon appétit!

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