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I can’t say it enough: I love meat. The pink, the red, the white stuff, I’ll devour it all. If I grew up in China, IF, I’d probably eat dogs, too. Then again, I was born and raised in Europe and yet never ate a horse (at least not to my knowledge). Though horse meat was readily available to its enthusiasts (were they?), it just never sounded good. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, when I was in my teens, my room was plastered, floor to ceiling, with posters of horses, plus an occasional image of Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson (the real life mad man turns out) tucked in between.

Maybe Mel Gibson ate horses? Or dogs??

Here is another thing I not only am crazy about, but also can’t live without. So can’t you. The thing is the Earth with its abundance of life forms, with its breathtaking beauty, with its mind-boggling complexity, with its mighty power of creation…

 

I watched this video today, made by a very cool organization called GOOD, where I heard it again: meat production creates three times the green house gas emission as veggies, eggs, grains, or fish. The video is not a dooming project, it’s educational. See what small changes you can adopt in your every day living that will help not only to save you BIG BUCKS but also contribute to global energy savings and thus help protect our motherland.

 

 

When you go grocery shopping this weekend, plan your menu for your next Meatless Monday. You’ll find countless ideas for satisfying and nutrient-dense meals made with no meat on the pages of yours truly (ONE MORE BITE). For a quick reference, however, I’ll throw in another one today.

This is one of those dishes I actually don’t plan for. Funny enough, the only ones I do are those meat-heavy platters. Every week I get a variety of vegetables, whatever calls my name and with no agenda. Around 4 PM on a mid week day I enter the kitchen and poke my head into the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Slowly, one by one, I begin to pull out various greens and land them on the kitchen counter. Next, I go through the pantry cabinet and look for grains or pastas, beans, nuts, dried fruit, canned anchovies, tomato paste, etc. From a basket in the corner I grab an onion or a couple of shallots, a head of garlic, maybe a couple of potatoes. At this point, while I may look calm and relaxed on the outside, in my head I undergo a violent and calorie-consuming brainstorm.

Within minutes my kitchen turns into a mad scientist’s lab with lights blinking, cupboard doors slamming, windows shattering, and other inexplicable explosions visible on the horizon. Half an hour or so later I come out, as if nothing ever happened, with a complete dinner, plated and all.

It’s as easy as cooking rice and adding to it a handful of frozen edamame beans minutes before its done. It’s as easy as finely chopping a shallot, garlic and chili pepper and tossing them together on a hot pan with a touch of olive oil and a handful of almonds. It’s as easy as parboiling string beans and florets of broccoli in salted water and then adding those guys to the pan with the nuts. Drop in a handful of sweat peas, drizzle with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or lime juice, even a touch of honey. Serve over the rice, garnish with fresh herbs and sprouts of any kind, and ENJOY immediately. I guarantee, you won’t even notice there was no meat on the plate.

Some days, when a special someone, like my friend Tamara who also happens to be an incredibly knowledgable and skilled acupuncturist (she’s funny, too!), comes over for dinner, I think things through and prep ahead. She follows what I call a relaxed vegan diet. Her household is free of animal products, however when out and about she will occasionally enjoy a piece of cheese, or pastry. She lives her life labels-free, thus allowing herself to be mostly content with what is, rather than stressed out with what’s not. I admire that quality in her as it’s not as easy to attain as it is to write about it.

We ate together last night, and I wanted to celebrate her joy de vivre by creating a dish bursting with flavors, textures, and colors, while respecting her vegan preference. Hence, I juxtaposed dark Mahogany rice with roasted peanuts and basil oil (all sunk in) against white and raw celeriac salad with walnuts and creamy sunflower seed vinaigrette. On a bed of bright orange sweet potato mash I laid green zucchini and bok choy, plus a handful of garbanzo beans made Southern style (meaning fried). To add texture I sprinkled nutty hemp seeds over the rice and red teardrops of pomegranate seeds all over the plate. A couple of edamame beans delivered another building block of protein, and made the meal complete.

Cooking is fun, especially when you think outside of the box and keep reinventing yourself. Mother Nature gifted us with thousands of incredible varieties of edible plants. Whether you like them raw, cooked, dehydrated, even fried (however rarely), chances are you’ll never get bored with them. So get jiggy with it!

Guess what, no animal was harmed in the process of writing this post. On the contrary, Cosmo napped on my lap all along with my left hand scratching his ear while the right one typed each letter  o n e   b y   o n e.

Also, for the record, I would never EVER bite a dog. Not even a hot-dog.

At first, you sit with your eyes wide open and the jaw hanging by your ankles mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of images thrown at you. You desperately want to understand what it is that you’re witnessing, but the scenery on the screen changes at such rate you just sink deeper into your couch more perplexed and confused. Only a few minutes passes when you get put off by the steady current of F**Ks and BLOODY H**Ls flowing out of the TV monitor with the might of a mountain stream in springtime. Next, you see a few pots thrown in the air followed by commands with a Cockney accent (get excited):

HOT SKILLET.

OIL.

SEASON.

TOSS.

MARINADE.

CHILL.

BAKE.

REST.

DONE.

That in a nutshell is Gordon Ramsay’s show THE F WORD that I’ve discovered recently on BBC.

There’s so much happening on the show, it took me a few full episodes to understand the concept behind each one. Gordon brings in a team of four people to cook at his kitchen. The patrons are the judges as they have the right not to pay for food they dislike. In between the bits of the competition Gordon travels to the end of the world, and then along the Milky Way searching for various delicacies. While he’s hog hunting, his colleague tries to convince the entire United Kingdom to eat veal and domestic beef rather than imported meat from such dubious locations as Turkey, POLAND, and Portugal. (Why the meat from my homeland is a NO-NO beats me, but that’s their show. I’m still alive and kicking despite the fact that I grew up consuming embarrassing amounts of Polish meat. Unless… they care about their carbon print. Aha! Me likey.)

Despite all the above I got hooked. I tivo and watch every episode. Sometimes more than once. Not only have I grown to like Gordon, and I mean I really really like him, but also I find myself snapping the back of my right hand against my left palm when making a point. Call me Ramsay.

Clearly, I had to share my enthusiasm with someone. Hence I force-fed Jason THE F WORD (f for food, hopefully). After initial strong resistance, finally he also admitted chef Ramsay was highly entertaining.

The show is different. It is British after all. What I like the most, however, are Gordon Ramsay’s recipes he shares on the screen. All of you who have been following me on these pages know I don’t cook much red meat or pork. The consumption of meat especially in this country is through the roof these days severely affecting the balance in Nature and more directly our health. I do use pancetta; little bits and pieces of that Italian bacon are enough to add a depth of flavor to any given dish without the need to eat half a pig at one sitting.

This may have been the third time over two years that I cooked pork for dinner. It only shows you how enticing the food made by chef Ramsay is. Below, I retraced the steps Gordon commanded me to take when making his pork chops with crashed sweet potatoes. My twist are the roasted beets and carrots. Voila!

SPICED PORK CHOPS WITH ROASTED BEET ROOTS & CARROTS

Begin with a marinade. Crash coriander seeds (about 1 tsp) with star anise (4-5) in a pestle and mortar. Toss the powder into a bowl and add the following:

–       1 tsp chili powder

–       1 tsp smoked paprika

–       2 tsp fresh thyme

–       2 cloves of garlic, minced

–       kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, generous pinches

–       2-3 tbsp olive oil

Mix all the components and spread all over the pork chops. (When buying the meat, choose the kind on the bone. Ask the butcher to expose the bone for you. Not only the pork chop has a more dramatic effect when plated, but also baking meat on the bone assures for a moist and flavorful dish.) Cover that with a plastic wrap and chill in a refrigerator for minimum 2 hours. When ready, take the pork chops out, heat a little olive oil in an ovenproof skillet and add your meat. You want to color the chops on each side and then bring the whole skillet to a preheated (400°) oven for 8-10 minutes. Take the meat out and rest for 10-15 minutes in order to let all the juices get back inside the meat. If you were to cut it right away, all that nectar would seep out onto your plate leaving the chops dry and utterly depressed.

While the pork chops relax on the side, into the same hot oven slide a tray with peeled and quartered beets. Make sure that they are seasoned with salt and pepper and moistened with olive oil before you sent them in! Half an hour to 40 minutes should do the trick.

You can add spice to your meal by adding a drizzle of Balsamic Vinaigrette, or Basil Vinaigrette. Let the flavors and colors of fresh produce bring your dish to live. If it looks appetizing, followed by a great taste, even your child (or your sister’s) will devour the veggies just as fast as the meat. In other words, no one’s safe around GOOD & HEALTHY FOOD. Eating habits, limitations, mental blocks dissipate when one’s nostrils get teased with the meal’s aroma. A beautiful arrangement of elements on a plate tempts the eyes. The hands will resist no longer and bring a bite to the deprived mouth. There’s no turning back from here.

Welcome to my Heaven. Make yourself at home, my friend.

I don’t even know where to start.

It was a long holiday weekend with a rainbow of flavors and events from the Pork Loin Wrapped In Bacon, to Experimental Mashed Rutabaga & Cauliflower, to Butternut Squash Ravioli, to couples’ massages in Ojai, to the golden sunset over an orange orchard, to my virgin Lucky Devil’s Kobe Burger, to a kaleidoscope of hungry friends taking turns in our dining room, to the beheaded pigeon in the courtyard of our building. Need I say more?

The pigeon incident was not only utterly sad, but also eerie. Last night I was leafing through the Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie at Home”, looking for dinner inspirations for the upcoming week. There’s a whole section on feathered game in the book, and I happened to put my finger on the page 262 with the recipe for an Asian-style crispy pigeon with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. It was so outside of my culinary box, I handed the book over to Jason asking for his impressions, and thinking to myself “How does one even go about getting a pigeon?” This morning I found one, lifeless, headless, footless, right outside our kitchen window. It was heartbreaking and creepy all at once. I have chills rushing down my spine even now, as I’m typing these words. Urgh! Those wild cats that roam the streets of the city at night! Then again, there’s no reason to reason with Nature about the shape and form of the food chain established over the millions of years of evolution.

Happy thoughts, happy images, quick, take me to my happy place…Now!

(As seen from our moving car:)

We drove to Ojai to steal a day outside of LA (I’m such a poet). We left to catch a breath of fresh air and to remember why we had chosen to live in California. After each of us got a bottle of body oil rubbed into their skin from heads to toes (just like the herbal and honey-mustard mixture I massaged into the piece of pig we ate on Thanksgiving), we cruised the outskirts of that little town, surrounded by orange trees pregnant with fruit and kissed good-night by the last rays of sun. There was silence in the air, and we could feel the heartbeat of the Earth beneath our feet. The living painting all around us was simply astounding. The Earth… the Mother, the Miracle, the Might, the Beauty… Let’s not destroy it… please.

Speaking of miracles, I mummified our 2-pound Pork Loin with the following Honey-Mustard and Herbal Rub:

–       2 tbsp of Dijon mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of whole grain mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of honey

–       2 garlic cloves, minced

–       2 tbsp of fresh thyme

–       2 tbsp of fresh sage, chopped

If you are aching for baking… a little pork, here’s what needs to be done for this dish. Mix all the above listed ingredients in a bowl and set the sauce aside. Heat the oven to 350˚. Cut three pieces of kitchen twine, long enough to wrap around your pork loin and tie. Lay them across your baking pan, and set the meat on top of the strings. Sprinkle salt and pepper all around it, but gently. Using a spoon spread the honey-mustard mixture all around the chunk of pork. Now, take two bacon strips at a time and overlap them as you cover the whole piece of pig in the dish. Tie the kitchen twine, and shove it al into your preheated oven for about an hour.

Here’s the before and after shot of the beauty:

When you take the meat out, wrap it with a sheet of tin foil and give it 20 minutes to let the pork get to its happy place. You never want to cut into the meat instantly after cooking. Let it rest. The juices will then distribute within the chunk, thus keeping it moist and utterly flavorful.

Our pig was really happy, particularly because we served it with a side of simple green beans. I’ll give you a few tips on how to make the beans exciting and bursting with life. Toss your green beans into a pot with salted boiling water and let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then whisk them out and throw them directly into a bowl of ice water. In other words, shock them! There’s no need (nor reason) to hide and then jump and scream “Surprise!” while at the task. The ice water will do the trick. Basically, you want to stop the cooking process, and also allow the beans to retain their vibrant color. Drain the veg and now toss it onto a hot skillet with a tablespoon or so of melted butter, add a couple of roughly chopped garlic cloves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe a few red pepper flakes for that extra kick, and toss everybody around for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat.

Another miracle of the day was my Experimental Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower. It was a truly unexpected success. I will tell you all about it in my next installment. Stay tuned.

Cheers!

All conceivable circumstances considered, this is the most important article I have and ever will write. And if I were never to write again (Although, I really hope I will!), I would be content knowing this piece was my last. The significance of the matter is stupendous, and -frankly – intimidates me. Who am I to tell you how to live your life? How to go about your days? How to evaluate your priorities? How to step out of your comfort zone and see past the conveniences of every day living? And yet, here I am…

Last night, we took Cosmo for a long walk down Sunset Boulevard. The night was warm, and traffic slowed down. While treading back to our nest, we decided to stop by Blockbuster and pick up a movie since we had nothing else planned for the evening. While I counted cracks in the pavement outside of the movie gallery and kept Cosmo company, Jason rummaged through the countless shelves inside the labyrinth of isles until he suddenly stumbled upon a movie called “Home”.

home_filmplakat

It’s creator – Yann Arthus-Bertrand – first became a household name, I think, when his photographic exhibition “Earth from Above” traveled around the world and was seen in over 100 countries. Jason was one of the millions awed by his magnificent art, and has been a fan ever since. Hence, choosing a movie became a no-brainer for my man.

The description on the back cover didn’t reveal much, and so all we expected to see was some spectacular footage of Earth seen from a bird’s eye view. And indeed we did.

The photographer took us on a whirlwind tour of the globe, showcasing its most beautiful areas – the magnificent patchwork of the blue and green and orange and yellow and red – the marvelous painting that is, Earth. The music score was brilliant – moody and taunting tunes interlaced, followed by ethnic pride and elegance all captured in one woman’s voice. The combination of the breathtaking images with the accompanying music was a concert on viewers’ emotions. It was a concert that the director played as skillfully as a virtuoso operates his Stradivarius. Our chests filled with awe; our eyes – overwhelmed by the beauty – glossed over with tears.

Earth

Glenn Close narrated. Led by her calm voice, we traveled back to the origins of life, to the beginnings of evolution. We were reminded of the most tedious work committed by Earth over 4 billion years. It took baby steps, millions of years apart, to have eventually allowed for the birth of Homo sapiens, circa 200,000 years ago. (And really just a wink, when you grasp the Earth’s perspective of time.)

While images of ever moving blue waters, and sky-reaching green tree tops, and herds of wild animals pressing through dry savannas, and the earliest human villages flashed in front of our eyes, Glen Close retold the story of the human genius. Over those 200,000 years, we humans learnt how to hunt and gather, then plant and collect crop. Next we built cities around organized agriculture, and thus we became civilized.

Flash forward to the 20th century that marked the technological revolution in our history. The images kept coming, more familiar, more recent, but the music changed forecasting severe weather, and hinted pain and sorrow. Suddenly, Jason and I were bombarded with numbers that terrified us and dropped such weight on our shoulders that we fell short of breath.

In only six decades since 1950, the world population has nearly tripled. Mass food production has been taken to a new level, and yet nearly 1 billion people around the world goes hungry every day. In the US, a population of 300 million, there are only 3 million farmers left, but collectively they produce enough food to feed 2 billion people. Over 50% of it, however, goes into the creation of bio-fuels and meat production. (To get a better understanding of the food industry in the USA you should watch the recently released “Food, Inc”.)

“Home” took the whole of humanity under a microscope and pointed out the hasty exploitation of non-renewable resources and their reckless expenditure.

Dubai was profiled in the movie as the most visible example of that waste – a city with artificially created islands and skyscrapers highest in the whole world, all paid for with oil money, the city with such abundance of sunlight and not a single solar panel. Las Vegas, with its millions of inhabitants, is one of the largest consumers of water in the world. It all screams EXCESS!

The air pollution is catastrophic. Ice cap is thinner by 40% than it was 40 years ago. Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted. 13 million hectares of forests are cut down every year. 40% of the total arable soil of the planet is damaged.

As Glen Close continued to list the scars we caused to the Earth, Yann Arthus-Bertrand fed us images of eroded hills of Madagascar that looked as if they were bleeding.

Mountain

Next, we were taken to cities like Shengzhen that just within just 40 years grew from a small fishing village to a multi-million population. In Shanghai there were 3000 towers and skyscrapers built in 20 years. Hundreds more are under construction today.

Lands depleted of water, plants, and animals forced their farmers away in search of food and survival. Over 2 billion people have migrated from villages and countryside to urbanized world. In consequence, the overcrowded megacities became plagued with poverty, more hunger, and diseases.

The natural balance between humanity and the planet has been disrupted. It’s been estimated we have only 10 years left to reverse the trend causing the climate change before we enter the darkest era for the humanity. We have the knowledge and solutions. We know what to do. Now it’s just the matter of doing it.

The Sun

Those of you familiar with Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi” (which in Hopi Indian language means “Life out of balance”) will probably agree with my Jason that “Home” is the same cry for help on behalf of Earth, another plea to our consciousness to stop the greedy madness and destructive exploitation of the planet. “Home” is just more vocal and armed with most recent numbers and statistics.

We thought we’d picked up a movie highlighting a talent of our favorite artist. We hoped for a little creative stimulus before bed and food for the soul in the form of photographic exhibition on film. It turned out the movie we chose, by pure chance, was a story about us – you, me, our siblings, neighbors, your children, my grandkids, and all people within any degree of separation.

When the movie was over, I was so overwhelmed by sadness I cried. I couldn’t sleep feeling as if I was wasting time.

Al Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth” may have shaken millions of people. And it wasn’t the first time we heard about global warming and pollution, hunger and poverty, and the overall devastating effects on the planet our oil-dependent society has wrought. But how many of us still remember to turn the lights off behind us, and to shut the water off while brushing our teeth, and unplug chargers that continue to eat up the energy while not in use?

Please, allow yourself to be moved again! Watch “Home” and be reminded once more, if that’s what it takes, that you are part of the BIG PICTURE. What you do matters. Please watch it and then tell all of your friends. Talk to your neighbor about it. Spread the word. Lets not go back to our comfort zone and be complacent with the status quo.

It is NOT that big of a deal to adjust some of our daily habits in order to help the Earth breathe.

Do I feel like I sacrifice anything by bringing my own totes to a grocery store, instead of having my goods packed in 20 plastic bags that will be trashed 5 minutes later? Do I feel like I sacrifice anything when instead of in zip-locks I store leftover food in plastic containers that I can later wash and reuse? Is it a sacrifice to turn off electronics when we don’t use them? No! It was so easy to replace extension cords in our house for the smart ones. And we certainly can have a meatless day once or twice a week, while still getting a full, satiating and healthy meal. Let’s cut down on the meat consumption to reduce the demand. As consumers let’s ask for more of the healthy, organic choices. Let’s support local farmers to not only cut down on transportation costs, but also to encourage competitive pricing.

Those are small adjustments, and easy to accommodate in our daily lives when we become mindful of the ENORMOUS impact our little actions make. Remember, we all have the power to change. When one becomes ten, and ten becomes a thousand, and that turns into a million we are a force of Nature.

Please, join me on the quest of bringing the awareness BACK to everyone’s minds. Let’s be compassionate for our planet, and mindful of our actions and their affects on the surrounding us NATURE. Let us recognize and cherish its Beauty. Let us selfishly fight for its preservation – for ourselves, for our kids, for the future genius of humanity. LET US BE PASSIONATE ABOUT LIFE.

Agi - the Tree Hugger

You can watch “Home” right HERE.

However, if your Internet connection is slow you may want to just rent a DVD for an undisrupted viewing experience.

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