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This morning, it wasn’t even 6 yet, I woke up to a strange screeching noise outside our window. At first I thought the stray cats that live around the building are in the middle of another turf war, since it’s a little early for their mating season. A series of whimpers got me confused. Are these quarreling squirrels? Before the sunrise?? They seem too loud and too persistent, unless… they sense an earthquake coming!! That got me out of bed, and with my eyes resenting to open I felt my way to the bathroom.
That’s when Jason’s alarm clock went off and I couldn’t believe it was already 6 AM. I had just fallen asleep, I thought, while those shameless critters are trying to take it away from me. I immediately exchanged notes with Jason on what he thought was making the noise.
“IT’S EITHER SQUIRRELS OR BIRDS. NOT CATS. THEY’RE EITHER FIGHTING OF FUCKING.”
Huh. Birds? How do birds fuck, I wondered, and decided I wasn’t ready to think just yet. Back under the covers I dove, two pillows over my head, and boy, did I try hard to ignore the whinnying and purring that continued outside.
Around 7 o’clock Jason crawled over the bed to kiss me good-bye as he was heading out to work.
Yes, making a hit show that “The Good Wife” is requires both the creative talents of the writers as well as hard work and personal sacrifices of the production and post production team. Jason, being the head of the latter, carries an incredible load of responsibility on his shoulders. And he does not take it lightly.
He headed towards the door, and silence followed. I waited for a few seconds for the sounds of the closing doors behind him. Instead, I heard him tip toe back to the bedroom and whisper:
“BABY, COME. QUICK! SHHH…”
“CAN YOU SEE THEM?” I instantly was on board to find out what was messing with my sleep at this ungodly hour.
“ARE THOSE SQUIRRELS?” I breathed out as we approached the wide open door facing our backyard. My eyes scanned the ground, and saw nothing out of ordinary.
“LOOK UP” Jason pointed at the little roof above our neighbor’s Rachel’s front door across the yard from us.
Freezing my half naked self, I glanced in the direction given and was instantly awaken by the view that opened in front of my eyes…
After my initial stupefaction, I collected myself and ran for the camera. The raccoons were fully at it with surprising stamina after about two hours of continuous shagging. They considered us for a moment without losing a beat and went back to their task at hand clearly not impressed by their new audience.
The power of marketing, I thought! When Hallmark announces February The Month of Love, even raccoons comply.
I planned on posting a new recipe today, but suddenly found myself in a pickle. How do I segue from the furry bandits’ forbidden urban loving to my… FORBIDDEN RICE SALAD? The common ground could be the fact that both myself and the fellow raccoon is an omnivore, and we both find immense pleasure in munching on either berries and greens, or a succulent thigh of a smaller animal, for example.
One of my ever strong guilty pleasures are hearty salads that are obvious for lunch, and brilliant for dinner in the place of heavy meals weighing one down before bed time. Any grain will work here. From quinoa to barley to wheat berries to rice, the sky is the limit. Whether you add greens to the grain, or grain to the greens is up to you. Clearly, the more rice, the more carbs in your plate, but if you’re an active, high-energy creature, you may want to refuel appropriately. We’re all different.
Once in a while I create new dishes from leftovers in my refrigerator. Since, I’ve had a container of cooked wheat berries in my ice-box over the last few days, that’s what I’ve been using in my salads this week. Another time, I pulled out a box of leftover forbidden rice and pondered how to utilize the goods. There was a ripe avocado smiling at me from the counter. Mr. Tomato was no less charming. Skinny cucumber was bored out of its mind in the produce drawer, and spinach threatened to wilt on the spot if not occupied at this instance.
There was no reason to fight, so I gathered the party in a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with good olive oil (the extra virgin kind), and squeezed that sour smile of the lemon’s face all over the bunch. Toss, again, and once more. And get at it.
You’ll love the medley of textures in your mouth. From crunchy rice kernels to creamy avocado bits it all comes together into the most satiating, health-reviving, energy-boosting, and joy-awakening meal. And its simplicity should be encouraging even to the laziest of us. It’s easy to eat right. It’s just a matter of making one’s mind.
Right, Mr. Raccoon?
A few days ago I met a woman who was referred to my blog as a source of good tips for healthy eating. I can’t even tell you how flattered and delighted I was upon hearing that. Fountains of passion fruit juice sprang from my ears and blue forget-me-nots bloomed in the corner on my mouth.
You know I am not about dieting here. My mission, this Internet pilgrimage if you will, is to promote Jason’s perfectly pink nipples first, and right after that to show you how easy and available healthy food is to us. In all honesty, on occasion, I also have an urge to show off my positively adorable pooch right along with a cake I managed not to destroy in the process of baking it.
Granted, those who live in mostly sunny California have an easy access to a variety of fresh produce all year round. I’m one the those lucky bastards. Therefore, if you are one of the dudes of the surfers’ nation (board or no board) you’re out of excuses for not crunching on baby carrots and milking a navel orange on a regular basis.
There’s hope for the rest of America, worry not. You can always put a meal together from scratch no matter where you live. Just that one little adjustment will help you reduce, and hopefully eventually eliminate the amount of processed foods you put into your body. Everyone has access to potatoes, tomatoes, onions and some sort of fresh greens, lemons and olive oil. With only those few ingredients you can mash up cooked potatoes to serve along sautéed chicken strips and a simple but delicious salad. How long do you normally wait for a pizza delivery? At least 30 minutes to an hour. It will take about 20 minutes of your life to whip out a simple dinner I described above from start to the first forkful of the homemade scrumptiousness in your mouth…
Meat is expensive, and as alarming research shows, not good for us in excess. You can eat brown rice with a bunch of roasted vegetables and a tomato sauce; even that from a jar will do. You can serve whole-wheat spaghetti with garlic, a touch of extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh parsley, just like the Italians do. Despite what you think about pasta, this simple meal is smashingly more nutritious and friendlier to your system than any frozen dinner you get from your megamarket, not to mention a highly processed platter of …edibles from an average diner.
Then we’ve got fish. Always opt for fresh fish when available, but if not, the frozen kind will comply. Here’s a recipe for a simple fish stew I borrowed from Giada de Laurentiis some months ago. You can serve it with bread, any rustic type, or ciabatta for being the most authentic choice for this meal. A lack thereof should not stop you from making the stew. Jason and I enjoyed the dish with a scoop of forbidden rice for example, but any rice is just as adequate.
Gather the following elements:
– 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
– 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
– 1 onion, chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to season
– 3/4 cup white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
– 1 (28-oz) can crushed or pureed Italian tomatoes
– 1 cup water
– 1 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp sweet paprika
– 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, for some heat
– 1 1/2 pounds whitefish fillets, halibut, cod or arctic char, skinned and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (if frozen, let it thow out first)
– 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Begin with sautéing the onions in a heated olive oil, ideally inside of a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan. Season with salt to help the onion sweat. Add carrots and garlic and reduce the heat to medium-low. Season again with salt and pepper and mix well. When the vegetables begin to soften, add the wine and scrape of all the bits of flavor from the bottom of your pan to incorporate that into the sauce. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes or until the liquid reduces au sec (almost all liquid is gone). Add the tomatoes, water and spices, mix and cook until the vegetables are soft. Now it’s time for the fish. Toss your fishy chunks into the pot and let it simmer all together until its meat is fully cooked. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add fresh parsley and serve.
Voila! Bon appetit and Na Zdrowie! Despite the hell-ish esthetics the meal was truly divine, I swear. Here’s one last tip — it always works — when plating, sprinkle each serving with love and fairy dust, thus turning it into an irresistible feast of the Olympian gods. The magic is in your hands, remember that.
It may come as a shock to some of you, but I do not cook. I mean, I do but I don’t. Everyday, I mean. Wait. Let’s go back. I love to make food. From the first step of washing and peeling, through chopping, then sautéing and seasoning, to stirring and tasting I engage as if I were watching a season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. There are times when I bury myself in the kitchen for days and cook my heart out. I strip, mix, whip, bag, massage and flip until my legs shake and I lose my breath… for a moment.
Alas, however satisfying the experience, I must step aside for a day or two to recover, recuperate, and relax. On those days Jason (and myself, who am I kidding) has a chance to go out and take care of the culinary sentiments Agi doesn’t necessarily tend to – good sushi, authentic Mexican cuisine, or a good ol’ American burger. And I tag along for a chance to try something new, cleanse my palette, and even to get inspired.
Last week I reached one of those culinary climaxes, and I was COOKED OUT. I had nothing left in me to power through another dinner in the house. I needed a breather. Jason very generously offered to take care of dinner and whipped out his wallet. Neither one of us wanted to be responsible for choosing a restaurant in case it turned out a total failure. We decided to write down potential eateries on pieces of paper, fold them up, and throw them into a hat.
I shoved my whole arm inside, stirred around the votes, tried to FEEL the answer with my fingers, and finally pulled out our vote. It read: SUSHI. I liked what I saw as it was MY handwriting. Jason didn’t oppose, however he still wanted his vote to be considered. I dove in once again and searched all around the bottom of the hat for another strip of paper. I got it at last, unfolded it and read out loud: SUSHI.
That’s it. All Jason wanted was to show how unanimous we are in our thinking. So cute!
It was getting really late, and certainly past our mealtime. Our stomachs started growling at each other and I knew that any minute they would jump at each other’s throats. With no further ado, we hurried to a nearby Japanese restaurant called Shintaro – a staple in the neighborhood, but a new joint for us, since we’re relatively new to the hood. Thank god, the sushi was stupendous and calmed down the CRANKY HUNGRY BITCHES within us just in time before disaster struck.
The next day we got caught in Santa Monica running errands. It was close to 6pm when we realized we never had real breakfast or lunch. After a quick debate, we arrived at this earthy new restaurant called Kreation Kafe where they serve fresh organic produce from a local Farmers’ Market, organic beef, free range chicken, wholesome teas…you get the idea. The food was EXCELLENT and well worth fasting a whole day before feasting on this full and healthy meal.
Sunday rolled in, and became JUST ANOTHER MANIC PRE-MONDAY, filled with running around with no time to breathe. Come dinner hour, we looked at each other and I couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth:
“Do you want pizza?”
“YEAH!” Jason exclaimed with the expression of utmost shock mixed with a hint of adoration painted on his face.
And just like that, we ended our weekend of dining out with an artificial blob of pizza from a street-corner burger joint. It was stomach-wrenching and disappointing on every level possible. Not only did the pizza guy take our money upfront, then didn’t RECALL us paying for it, and refused to release our dinner in a box, but the pizza was ABSOLUTELY TASTELESS. Furthermore, it then made itself at home in my intestines for an unmentionable amount of time, making me feel not only constipated, but PREGNANT CONSTIPATED.
I missed my cooking toys. I missed spending time with my knives and chopping boards. The weekend seemed longer than it really was, and I needed to start the new week with something healthy and delicious. And even though it took a whole three days, I eventually reached our kitchen, and upon arrival I scrutinized the pantry to establish a dinner potential. I quickly devised a plan: SEARED TUNA OVER FORBIDDEN RICE WITH AN ORIENTAL FLARE.
I’ll walk you through the steps should you decide to flatter me by copying thy menu one night.
Forbidden Rice, aka Thai Rice is black, and as such presents itself with glamour and style on a plate. Cook it accordingly to the directions on its package. For extra flavor, add a couple of dry bay leaves to the pot and obviously season the water with salt. Chicken or vegetable stock are excellent substitutes for water, and certainly bring an extra layer of flavor to the whole dish.
For the fish, you want Sashimi Grade Tuna Fillets. Wash them in cool water and pat them dry-ish using a paper towel. Place the guys in a plastic zip-lock bag or a shallow glass/ceramic container, add enough low sodium soy sauce to cover the flesh, and close it up. Store your fish in a refrigerator for 1-2 hours, and let it marinate and soak up all those salty flavors. Clearly, you should prep the fish first, followed by the rice, and not the other way around. Are you confused yet?
When the rice is perky and bubbly in the boiling liquid on your stove, and the fillets are done marinating, heat a grilling pan (or any non-stick frying pan really) and get the tuna out and onto the pan. Violent sizzling is the music you want to hear. Sear the fish for 2 minutes on both sides, and the edges – for about 30 seconds each. Use a pair of clasping tongs to help stand your tuna on its sides.
Don’t forget about your vitamins and enzymes stored in everything that’s green, leafy AND EDIBLE. A little salad on the side of your plate will serve as a nutritious smiley face to your dinner.
I’m afraid this is it. I wish I could say something more to make the dish sound more complicated. It’s just not. I keep saying – this is COOKING FOR IDIOTS with an IDIOT (me) COOKING.