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Who’s your muse?

Jason does it for me, with his eyes open or closed, with his clothes off and even on, with his mind in either Beta or Alfa states, with his raw passion for music, with his yin strength and yang tenderness. It is he whom I want to impress first and foremost whether I write a silly blurb for the Internet, roast a duck, shape my eyebrows, or play with a camera.

(The tape on J’s t-shirt is tagged “I LOVE YOU”. Say no more.)

However, there are also artists among our friends that leave me in awe whenever I experience their works. Jason’s BFF Paul, a man of countless talents, takes a camera and ceases the moment to be forever remembered as his eyes had witnessed it. Looking through his photos makes my throat dry and my skin perspire as my heart beat suddenly accelerates. His work torments my ego to some extent, but mostly it leaves me awed. It’s like peeling an onion–very emotional.

Photo by Paul King

And then there’s Laurent, my old buddy Lolo, whom I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve been in the US. He’s a scientist and an artist, a humble man with big pockets, inside which he was able to fit an MBA and a PhD in Chemistry. If you rummage about, you’ll find a patent somewhere in there as well. And then all this… his art.

Photo by Laurent Dambies

When back in my church, the kitchen, I often look for ideas between the many pages of cookbooks I’ve collected. Jamie Oliver’s books are most ragged, though, as I take advantage of them every time I’m in heat… in a culinary sense, one understands.

Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up itching to make something new, to develop a brand new recipe I could call my own. I stomped through the house back and fro, scanning my surroundings like a hungry savage animal looking for prey. And then my eyes rested on the shelf with some homemade preserves and such…

What followed can only be described using the language of astrophysics. A Supernova happened in my very own kitchen. A star of an idea exploded, splashing severed parts of my thoughts all over the surrounding walls, and thus I was illuminated. With no further ado, having arranged my still slightly smoky hair back to order, I gathered my gear, rolled up my non-exsistent sleeves (We live in SoCal. I don’t even waste time on wearing a bra most of the time, much less sleeves!), and witnessed a Nova being born–my ROASTED PEPPER SOUP & PORK BELLY WITH HONEY DEMI GLAZE.

Roasted Pepper Soup

It may be nothing new for you. However, my lips have not been in a near proximity to roasted pepper soup ever before. Therefore, I take credit for the entire thing, including placing the bum that blocks your view in the above photo. While hunting for the best angle/light combo, I was running around the table focusing on the target–the bowl–completely oblivious to the bread in the foreground. That’s why I cook for a living, and not take photographs.

That’s not all, folks. Stay tuned to find out what I will do with my NOVA… (In the background you should hear now…. Yes, you must click that link in order to hear it…)

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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!

I stumbled upon THIS video on youtube by pure chance and was instantly smitten by Michelle Phan, who put it together. She’s so A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E. that I want to grow my hair back and tangle it with strips of paper bags and then let artificial air gently blow through the construction. Watching the video brought the romance back. I’m fighting the urge to write a letter to my kinfolks back in Poland… on a piece of paper, with a pen, envelope, stamp, candle light, all that jazz.

I also now understand the fascination Laurent has with Asian girls. Is that a racist thing to say? I swear I’m not racist! On the contrary, I like everybody almost evenly. Except from the Gypsies maybe. Kidding. I considered myself one for almost a decade of my life during which time I kept moving from one end of the world to another. (Depending on one’s perspective, one understands, since the Earth is round. Ish.)

The paper curls made me think of a cooking technique I learned in a culinary class we took last year with Jason. The French bake their fish en papillote, meaning “in parchment”. See, a paper curl is “papilot” in Polish, hence the connotation in my head. Cooking using that method is also a great way to satisfy any artistic desires you may sporadically experience, if you’re anything like me. Why, don’t you instantly think SALMON when feeling crafty?

The last time I made it I was simply cleaning out the refrigerator before leaving town for Christmas. All I had left in our icebox were two salmon fillets and a bag of asparagus. I found a few potatoes in a basket as well, one sad tomato, and there’s always garlic somewhere in my kitchen. Enough for a gourmet feast.

See how simple that is. What you need to do first is to take a big sheet of parchment paper, fold it in half and cut out a heart shape, just like this:

Blanch asparagus in boiling salted water for about a minute, shock in ice water, and drain. Spread about a tablespoon worth of butter (only room-temperature butter will make it possible) on one side of the heart close to its center. Place the fillet right on that cream of love and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top it with minced garlic, a few tomato slices, asparagus, and season again with salt and pepper (just a tad, don’t over-salt it, I beg you).

Preheat the oven to 425°. You’ve reached the CRITICAL point of your craft-making cooking today. Time to close your heart. Time to seal that pocket. Time to fold the folds. Take the loose flap of the cut out heart (the one NOT occupied with salmon et al), fold it over, and start crimping the edges together going from the curvy side down. At the tip leave a small gap open through which you’ll pour 2 tablespoons of white wine into the pocket. Choose the kind you’d enjoy drinking, and never ever, I mean NEVER EVER use cheap wine for cooking. The food WILL taste like the wine. It doesn’t have to be a $50 bottle, but don’t go for the three-buck-chuck either.

Seal the gap, place on a baking sheet, and shove into the hot oven for 15 minutes. In the meantime, melt a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan, toss a few small potatoes in, cover and let them cook in their own steam and butter for about 20-30 minutes. At the end, sprinkle with a bunch of chopped fresh dill (that I was lacking), salt, pepper, and serve on the side of your SALMON EN PAPILLOTE.

Life is good, travel expensive, Paris closer than you think.

Bon appetite!

The francophonic week is over. The spirits of the literary geniuses of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre have fled. Poof. No more Fhench accent for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No more late night intellectual discussions about the benefits of a Thai massage with a happy ending versus a relaxing afternoon at a local strip joint with a lunch buffet.

Laurent and I go way back. We met years ago when I first moved to New York City. I was as naïve as they come, and he was my guide and a companion while I was getting a fast lesson in life in that city that never sleeps. NYC is not for pussycats. We became instant friends. We took trips around the city taking pictures (Laurent is a brilliant photographer, I kid you not. Just take a look at these for a second: http://www.stock-photo-motion.com).

We partied our asses off. He taught me my un, deux, trois’s and Je m’appelle’s. Then he asked me to be a witness at his wedding, after which he left me, jackass, alone in NYC and moved back to Europe with his wife. OK, not quite alone. By then I already had a family of friends and possibly dated a guy, or two. I went to visit the newlyweds in Versailles. Then life happened, winds of change came, Laurent wandered solo from a country to another, got an MBA to complement his doctorate in chemistry, because why not, and three and a half long years went by before I saw him again.

It’s only a miracle that I’m not married and with 12 kids wrapped around my ankles. Hence, I had the time to take Laurent around the Tinseltown and show him where celebrities come to be “stalked” by paparazzi, and “the stairs” in Santa Monica where they get their asses pushed by the personal trainers. When we strolled down Rodeo Drive he concluded: “I’ve never seen so many fake boobs in my life!”

Now Laurent is gone. Bye, bye Loh-hou. All we have left are a few pictures and a memory of the Pahree-inspired dinner I made for my friend’s arrival. Ratatouille. Mmm…

It is a vegetable stew that for centuries was considered a peasant’s meal. The dish got a facelift over the years, and today the Frenchies serve it in their top restaurants as a posh side dish, and adequately charge big bucks for the bite.

I’ve never made Ratatouille before. However, since I’ve just watched the movie “Ratatouille” not long ago, Laurent’s visit prompted me to try it out. I’m notorious for skipping recipes. And even if there is one to guide me, still I tend to take side trips off the beaten track and fook around with the dish. Hence, when I did my “research”, I simply read on Wikipedia what the most common ingredients used in the stew are. Next, I went to the store, bought the veggies, and I was on my own.

Feel free to follow my steps, as the dinner was quite delightful. However, keep in mind the words of the native Frenchie (Laurent) when he took the first taste: “Hmm…, interesting. I’ve never had a spicy ratatouille.” So goes the authenticity of my stew.

Forget the spicy. THESE ARE THE CLASSICAL COMPONENTS OF RATATOUILLE, more or less (hell with the proportions):

–       1 large eggplant

–       4 medium zucchinis

–       1 red bell pepper

–       2 green bell peppers

–       1 large onion

–       6-8 garlic cloves

–       3 medium carrots

–       2 Roma tomatoes

–       14 oz can of tomatoes

–       fresh marjoram

–       fresh basil

–       fresh parsley

–       2 bay leaves

–       splash of red wine vinegar

–       kosher salt and black pepper to taste

–       1 tsp red pepper flakes

–       1.5 tbsp of paprika

–       1 tbsp of ground nutmeg

–       1 tbsp of freshly ground fennel seeds

–       1 tbsp dry marjoram

–       dash of cayenne pepper

–       olive oil

It’s a one-pot dish, but requires some loving. Ok, it’s a royal pain in the arse, because once you’ve chopped and diced and cubed that mountain of vegetables, now you pretty much have to sauté each one separately. It adds up, so you better clear your schedule for the afternoon. Don’t be discouraged, however, as when you’re done, and that beautifully cooked stew oozes off the sides of the herb-infused rice on your plate, the labor pains are just a vague memory and you’re stupidly ready to do it all over again. The joy of creation. The symphony of flavors. The SATISFACTION!

I used my brand new Dutch oven that I got from Jason’s parents for Christmas. The pot was deflowered by a French classic. Can you see how poetic and romantic that is?

First, heat some olive oil and toss the carrots in. Season with salt and pepper. Remember to cut all the veggies in similar size chunks. After about 10 minutes remover the redheads from the pot and set aside in a large bowl. You’ll keep adding more sautéed vegetables to that bowl as you go. Next, go with the eggplant. That guy is soooo flavorless it’s sad, and this is when I got creative and added a bunch of spices (red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and chopped marjoram). Add a splash of red wine vinegar to help you deglaze the bottom of the Dutch oven. Give it 10 minutes and out of the pot and into the bowl. Time for the zucchini, and a little more olive oil if needed. Same thing – season with a touch of salt, some paprika, some nutmeg, and the ground fennel seeds. Last but not least, the bell peppers, and you’re half way there. Stir, sauté until softened, and out.

A touch of olive oil and we’re making the sauce that will bind the circus into a proper stew. Toss your sliced onion into the pot, sprinkle with crashed marjoram, and cook until translucent. Don’t salt the onions just yet, as you want to capture the natural sweetness of the onion and let it condense. Salt would prompt all water to evaporate thus drying out the veg too quickly. Add diced tomatoes and cook them along with the onions. Garlic goes in along with the canned tomatoes. Stir and drop in the bay leaves, toss chopped parsley and basil (a handful of each), taste and season with more paprika, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and a touch of salt and pepper. Remember, you’ve seasoned all other veggies with salt already, so be gentle here.

Bring all the vegetables back into the pot, mix together with the tomato and onion sauce, cover with a lid, and place in a preheated oven (400°) for 30 minutes. And you better keep your mittens on.

Voila! You have just made yourself a beautiful, healthy, vegan, and yet quintessential French meal. If missing a bit protein, use ratatouille as a side dish to your chicken breast or a pork chop. Or better, keep it clean and vegetarian with a thick slice of rustic country bread, or over a bowl of steaming rice mixed with more chopped fresh herbs. (The first night we tried it over spaghetti. Not the best choice.)

Hello! This is some kind of wonderful…

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