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I’m still having dreams of the Parisian life we licked for a few days on the way back to LA from Poland. Those chocolate croissants for breakfast in bed, coffee, and I mean COFFEE after the meal (and never during), the loose scarf sitting tight around Jason’s neck and trying hard to make itself home despite his protests…

And the Louvre… We spent a day and a half meandering the hallways, the Royal chambers, and the dim basements of the castle. We could have stayed two weeks, and that would not have been enough. We were armed with a mini computer with headphones dangling from our necks, while a deep, male voice told us about every sculpture we paused in front of, every painting that caught our attention, and hundreds of other exhibits that helped us better understand who we are, and to see that the history really does repeat itself over and over.

Paris was also a meeting point, where we caught up with a bunch of old friends I know from way back, our ole New York days.

Laurent, my buddy, Lolo as we call him behind the scenes, realized he was slowly losing his marbles in the South of France where he was anchored for the past 12 months or so. He felt an itch again, that tickle in his butt that makes him move from one corner of the word to another every so often, and so he packed his backpack and flew himself to Malaysia.

From his most recent report I know he’s getting cozy in Asia. The lifestyle does sound quite appealing, particularly for a single man. Rent and food are cheap. A casual crawl in the swimming pool follows a tropical breakfast. Then there’s time for a massage. The kind one can get on every street corner, apparently. Or at the mall down the street from one’s flat. You know, the Malaysian massage.

Meanwhile, we’re back home, trying to get a grip on our life on this side of the world while fighting that instant nostalgia for Europe, and still not eating meat. Hence, my dish du jour:

ZUCCHINI PANCAKES

4 large zucchinis, washed and grated

1/2 red onion, chopped and sautéed

2 eggs

6-8 tbsp whole-wheat flour

1 tbsp of potato starch

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup Fontina cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

handful of fresh dill, chopped (What? I’m Polish.)

When sautéing an onion I like to sprinkle it with a nice amount of dried marjoram, and watch the magic happen. The herb hits the hot oil thus releasing an aroma that simply knocks me out, while my socks stand up right next to my feet. I mean it in a GOOD way. That divine smell drifts through the kitchen and out into the courtyard making the wild cats from the hood hold the fire and suspend their everlasting turf wars. One day I shall record their CRYYYING OUUUT LOUDDD at 4 o’clock in the morning, right outside our window, and let that serve as evidence in my case.

The pancakes. Let the onion cool off a tad and then mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, making sure all the flour is evenly incorporated. I can’t really tell you how much flour to use exactly. The consistency of your batter will depend on so many factors, I don’t even know where to begin: how much water your zucchinis brought, how humid the air is in your neck of the wood, the weather, the stock market, global warming, and the current phase of the moon. In other words, test-drive your pancakes. Throw a spoonful on hot oil in your pan, and let it fry for a couple of minutes. Now flip it. Did it fall apart? Then you need more flour. Got it? Great.

What’s there left to say? Good luck! The wild Felis catus will soon be sending you Thank You cards.

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I hate for you to think I’m neglecting my JOURNALISTIC duties of logging in the nuts and bolts of the culinary ventures I participate in. Nothing further from the truth. My heart aches for the lack of time, and my fingers itch to type away such succulent words and directives as STIR, MASSAGE, RUB (my roasted chicken), TENDERIZE, ROLL OUT, STRETCH (that bread dough AND my back after 17 hours of hustling in the kitchen…), SPREAD (the vegetables on a roasting pan), BEAT, PRESS, SQUEEZE, and POKE (no fun!).

It’s day 2 of the production of this very article I kid you not. I sneak in a word or even a complete sentence between various tasks that are being thrown at me at work. The satisfaction from such naughty behavior tickles me inside, adrenaline sprints through my veins, and the mischievous brat inside imitates a sinister laughter.

There’s no story to share, no juice or dirty laundry to expose, no beans to spill. Life goes on oblivious to all circumstances and doesn’t pause for a minute. Thus imagine what a Herculean effort it is for me to rewind time and bring you back to my kitchen last Sunday, where Leslie was plotting to stock her purse with my POTATO SKINS while I wasn’t looking. (Check the comments section if you believe me not!)

Speaking of the devil…

It is a true American Comfort Food, and a virgin territory for me. You know how I feel about doing a research and digging out recipes for dishes I attempt to make. I’ll be blunt – I’m too lazy for that extracurricular activity and so I merely cut to the chase of figuring out the jest of the dish at hand on my own. Most of the time I’m exploring foreign culinary grounds in order to learn and thus expand my repertoire. Just like with those guys above – The Russetts.

Leslie said:

“I’m severely craving baked potatoes.”

Agi thought:

“Bring it on!”

I got a bag of medium Russet potatoes, cleaned and baked them in a preheated oven (at 400°) for an hour. Next, I cut them in half (after they cooled off a little, hello!) and scooped out most of the potato leaving the skins still strong and intact. About 4 oz of pancetta landed in a hot skillet, fat rendered, pancetta was rescued into the bowl with the potato “meat”, and onion slices caramelized in the same skillet. I sprinkled crashed dry marjoram (I’m in love with that herb, no question) all over softened onions, seasoned with salt and pepper and set aside.

The potato “meat” mixed with crisped pancetta was then seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg and chili powder. One teaspoon of butter gave it the moisture of a tropical forest. The green ribbons of basil chiffonade interlaced the filling like lianas in a jungle.

Drum-roll, please! The hero(in) of the dish arrived – Gruyere cheese, grated and generously added into the mixture. Once coherent, the mass was then scooped back into the potato skins, topped with more cheese, drizzled gently with olive oil, and baked in the oven for another 25 minutes at 350°.

We served them instantly, garnished with a tart tip of sour cream, and washed down with a glass of cold Chimay.

Need I say more?

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!

My life spins around Jason these days. I’m his wall to lean on, his support system, his masseuse, his nutritionist, his ear to listen, and a shoulder to cry. He’s been the provider, me – the supporter.

He’s a freelance producer working for TV, and stress is written into his job description. On every job, like clockworks, at some point the shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose. When that happens, days become nights and nights merge with days without a warning, the laws of physics subdue, and pigs learn to hop backwards.

During that time, when Jason finally comes home after an 18-hour day of sheer madness on wheels, he feels as if he were chewed up, turned inside out, and spat out on the pavement. It takes a lot of stamina, integrity, and various relaxing techniques for him to be able to scrap himself off the bed the following morning and go back to face the creative insanity all over again. During the day, I check in with him to remind him to breathe, hydrate, and take a moment to empty his bladder. I send him links to pages like this one so he can see the world directly surrounding him from a new perspective. I bring him dinner to work, or just drive down to his office and get him out for an hour, thus allowing him to eat in peace and restore energy to finish the day. At home, he gets his back rubs and full on massages with lotions and fireworks upon request. Relaxing music fills the space in his brain, leaving no room for erratic thoughts and letting the mind calm down.

This one, for example is magical – Max Richter’s “The Trees” from The Blue Notebooks album… Just listen. Close your eyes and let go. Breathe…

In the morning, minutes before Jason leaves, we do a little breathing/grounding exercise. We wrap our arms around each other, close the eyes, and breathe…deep, for at least two full minutes, while our minds bring forth the things that matter in life, the things that are stable and balanced, the feelings that are empowering and comforting.

I am particularly proud, as I perfected this technique, details of which I’ll explain in just a second. It is a groundbreaking method of calming the nerves in the moment of utmost stress. Once the studies get published, and the technique implemented in psychotherapy sessions across the Universe, I foresee a monumental shift in the evolution of Homo sapiens. (Maybe that’s what Ray Kurzweil has been talking about in all his books on Singularity?)

The method I’m the mother of is really just one simple exercise. I’ll explain by taking a male patient (Jason) as an example: in the moment of high stress, when feeling on the verge of breaking down, he must think of …tities, a whole mouthful of tities. Or any other object or activity associated with an equally pleasurable experience. In the beginning, it may be hard to remember. However, if reminded of the exercise on daily basis, it should become a second nature.

Now, don’t look at me like this. And oh please, do not even pretend you’re offended. You know you want to try it yourself. When you do, trust me, the success rate will shock you. Before you know it, you’ll be sending me fruit baskets and thank you notes with “You’ve saved me. My life will never be the same again.” scribbled neatly across the paper. You’re welcome.

In the meantime, I’ll continue doing what I do best – showing my love and gratitude through food I make for everyone I care about. Every morning I make sure Jason leaves the house with his lunch box filled with a nutritious and delightful meal that will carry him through the day. One of his favorites is a WRAP with a side of baby carrots, a juicy apple, and a handful of Wheat Thins.

Anything can be wrapped in a WRAP:

–       avocado, spinach, tomatoes, turkey, and shallots

–       roast beef, horseradish sauce, arugula, and cucumber sticks

–       roasted zucchini, asparagus, baby greens, and chicken strips

–       grated cheese, black beans, red bell pepper strips, and red onions

–       edamame spread, pastrami, roasted peppers, and fresh dill

–       Dijon mustard, spinach, tofu, tomatoes, and scallions

–       low-fat mayo, baby spinach, slices of Brie, chicken, and pickles

–       hummus, turkey, tomatoes, fresh basil, and radishes…

There can be more than four ingredients at a time, be my guest. Whatever you find in your refrigerator could be wrapped along the folds of wheat, non-wheat, multigrain, or rice-flour wraps. However, there are a few rules you want to be mindful of when wrapping your WRAP:

1. Don’t overcrowd it, so the filling doesn’t overflow when you dig your teeth in its flesh.

2. Each bite needs to be moist, but not soggy.

3. Each bite must have texture to it.

4. Each bite should fit into your mouth, and fill it with bliss and delight.

Remember, when life wants to arm-wrestle with you, when air pressure gets high and atmosphere around gets tense, when you are about to scream and run… may tities be with you.

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