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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 KNOW IT IS NOT EASY FOR YOU TO GET UP IN THE MORNING. HOWEVER, YOU WILL BE VERY SUCCESSFUL IF YOU BEGIN TO RISE WITH THE SUN.

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…

WHO ARE YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY BOYFRIEND??

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!

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Once again I was so touched by the outreach from so many of you after my last blurb. I appreciate your words of support on that meatless journey of ours, as well as condolences and sympathy for my misery. Thank you all!

As I’m typing these words, I am also engaged in the process of sipping a barely-tolerable non-alcoholic beer (How the hell has that landed in our refrigerator?), the multi-tasker that I am. If you must know, beer, beside calories from carbs, also contains–are you ready for this??–protein!, vitamin B6, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, folate, and a roster of other micro-elements. Seems like a much better option than a can of soda, don’t you think?

Moreover, beer made a brilliant match with our dinner last night. The food was packed with both–flavor and protein. Come to think of it, if I don’t look like the pre-governor Arnold at the end of this month, I am going to pack my toys and leave this stupid … protein club. The food was something else though.

Last night on the menu there was a POACHED EGG OVER MASHED RUTABAGA & CELERY ROOT, WITH BROCCOLINI AND EDAMAME SAUTÉED WITH GARLIC ON THE SIDE. Inhale. Exhale. Now breathe as if your life depended on it.

It seems a lot of people are scared of poaching eggs. Turns out the devil is not as scary as they paint him to be. Yes, you can quote me on that. It’s all about the technique. Boil water in a small saucepan and then add salt and 1-2 tsp of vinegar (e.g. white wine, rice, apple sider). Break an egg into a small bowl or a cup, spin the water in the saucepan with a fork or spoon (what-have-you) and gently slide the whole egg into the boiling liquid. Vinegar helps coagulate the egg white, and the whirlwind from the spin helps keep the whole protein (yup, there it is again!) together. Turn off the heat, cover the a lid and leave for 3 minutes precisely. Feel free to set your alarm clock as you have no idea how fast three minutes race by when one’s plating the dinner. When the alarm goes off, using a slotted spoon scoop the poached egg out, let the excess water escape through the gaps, and serve as desired.

After din-din, our tummies were full, all cravings went to hell, and then we though gratefully about the troops stationed in the Middle East. We thought about the veterans who served their country the best they could, while now many of them are homeless and roam the streets of Los Angeles, or of your city. Let’s think of them not only on the Memorial Day. Let’s share a meal. Let’s not throw away food knowing there’s always somebody out there going to sleep hungry. And let’s all have a sunny and a very good day!

Super Bowl Sunday – one of the very few and rare moments in time when Jason is home for a full day and a whole night. No work calls, no office madness, he’s all mine. The fact it’s the Super Bowl Sunday (which to me it’s just as thrilling as the Groundhog Day) has nothing to do with Jason’s freedom. It’s a pure coincident, serendipity if you will.

I’ve turned down invitations to various parties involving beautiful people, gourmet food, belly dancers and notables such as celebrity stylists and monarchs of whole countries! Ok, I kid, silly. However, I did make sure that the only thing we had planned for today was NOTHING. And then I got this email from Leslie:

Not only did I love the remix, but also I could not say no to Leslie, except we pushed it to Sunday. Had she lived closer, I’d probably have her hang on to the spare key to our house so she can come visit more often. And believe it or not, I’ve never baked potatoes the way she described. Back in Poland, we do it Neanderthal style – we set up bon fire and bury potatoes under its flames. Those babies taste like nothing you’ve ever had in your life.

So I bought a bag of Russet potatoes for later today. I’ll give them such a makeover their own mother won’t recognize her Russet babies. There will be make up, and glitter involved, mani/ pedi, and hair spray. I’ll then record the session on a series of color photographs and post them along with my next entry.

Speaking of potatoes, I went through a meat-free week and in the process reinvented a couple of veggie dishes from my repertoire. When Friday glanced into our refrigerator, a day before our habitual grocery shopping spree, there were only 2 bell peppers left, green beans, mustard and one sad bunch of greens. I was to make dinner out of those bustards.

I paced through the kitchen scratching my forehead, nodding along as I threaded back and forth, with an occasional hum breaking that intense silence. Half an hour later, as I was juggling a pot of boiling water with potatoes and green beans and simultaneously stirring caramelizing onions and red bell peppers in an iron skillet, Jason walked back from work and asked:

What are you making?

I don’t know. Ask me again when I’m done.

Then I dove again into the refrigerator and surfaced back holding the lettuce with my teeth and squeezing a half-empty jar of mustard in my armpit. I put together all the dressing elements and let the Magic Bullet do its magic. I drained the potatoes and beans and tossed them together in a large bowl with the vinaigrette, chopped Romaine lettuce and parsley. I seasoned it with more salt and pepper, and then topped the mountain with my caramelized onions and bell peppers. The sugar and balsamic vinegar turned them into that sweet and tart cherry that tops the proverbial cake. Loose leaves of mint perfumed the dish, giving it a new twist.

Here’s the summary:

POTATO AND GREEN BEAN SALAD

WITH CARAMELIZED PEPPERS & ONIONS

–       red skin and purple potatoes, cut in thick slices

–       green beans

–       Romaine lettuce

–       large onion

–       2 red bell peppers

–       1 tbsp ground fennel seeds, for caramelizing

–       fresh parsley, roughly chopped

–       fresh mint, roughly chopped

–       3 tbsp of raw cane sugar, for caramelizing

–       3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, for caramelizing

–       olive oil, for the dressing

–       white balsamic vinegar, for the dressing

–       1 tsp Dijon mustard, for the dressing

–       1 tbsp honey, for the dressing

–       salt + pepper to taste, for everything.

Fill a small BOWL with the SALAD and be assured this will be plenty for a full, nutritious and satiating meal. You don’t need to be a fan of football to enjoy your own  SUPER BOWL.

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