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Last week Jason and I took five days and four nights out of our schedules in order to get out of Los Angeles. Four nights and five days for what seemed was just a minute.
We packed a cooler, a change of underwear, our camera, an ipod worth a decade of continuous music, Cosmo’s squeaky toy, and a liplube, and off we drove to New Mexico.
There, Jason’s best pal, his soul brother, his BFF Paul welcomed us at his log cabin hidden amongst sky-reaching pine trees on top of a mountain. Fourteen glowing eyes, twenty-eight legs and six tails total, all of which belonged to Paul’s cats, froze motionless behind his back at the threshold of the house upon our arrival.
If you’re quickly doing the math in your head, and 2 plus 2 just won’t make 4, know that one of the seven felines was a Manx. Ah… six tails indeed.
And then Cosmo appeared. Out of the car he sprang and around the house he span sniffing the ground and learning about his new circumstances. He spotted a cat, one of the seven that had dispersed in the darkness, and set his aim. Little did he know, the cat (all of them) moved with the speed of light (from his perspective) and flew through four bedrooms, the kitchen, and a vast living room in the same time poor Cosmo was still trying to find a way out of the first room alone. The three of us stood there, the speechless spectators, and quickly came to a conclusion that no intervention was required. Cosmo would never catch up with any of the kitties, hence no threat was posed.
Sequestered within the heart of the forest, wild coyotes crying in the distance, we set by the fireplace and exercised our brains talking for hours on about life and humanity, ecology, the origin of Homo Sapiens, Terence McKenna, fire fighters, the stars above and the volcano nearby. At sunset, we drove to the peak of the mountain and watched the sky.
We walked through the woods for hours, down to the river and up, by the Aspen girls. Then, in complete darkness we found the way out onto the highway and back to the house.
We cooked all meals, from breakfast through dinner. Well, I cooked, but always surrounded by eager and willing helpers. All it took was a hundred dollars that we stretched between four people and three meals a day over the July 4th weekend.
Five days away from home, from my kitchen, and from my computer turned into a full week of catching up. Not only did I not have time to write, but also I had to gear up for a whole lot of cooking for my upcoming Lunch Deliveries.
Before I withdraw back into my kitchen chambers, I want to share with you a dinner idea. Something different. It’s a simple peasant food with a smoky twist I put together one day recently–ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH SMOKED MACKEREL.
There’s such a colorful and flavorful variety of root vegetables you can make this dish every time anew. Pick three veggies at a time and reinvent the meal over and over again. You could do carrots, turnips and kohlrabi. Add potatoes for extra body. Next time try diced rutabaga, parsnip, and squash. Add Brussels sprouts for color. Then you still have beets in various colors, same as carrots, plus a celery root, and a fennel bulb to twist it all together. Roasted onion never disappoints either.
To roast your medley, first preheat the oven to 400ºF. Wash, peel and dice all veg keeping them all more or less same size. Toss the bunch into a roasting pan, sprinkle with olive oil, add a bunch of fresh thyme (leaves picked or whole brunches scattered around), half a spring of fresh rosemary (or leaves picked and scattered around), a few crushed garlic cloves, and 1-2 bay leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix everything about making sure all pieces have been treated justly. Pour 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of veg or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan, and slide the dish into the hot oven. Roast for 30-45 minutes (depending on your veg and the dice size). Half way through, dive in with a long spoon and toss the medley about.
When finished, scoop as much as your hungry soul desires onto thy plate, top with chunks of smoked mackerel (that you had previously scraped with a fork from the fish itself, leaving the bones and skin behind), and freshly picked dill. Treat the fish with just a few drops of lemon juice, sprinkling from up high. That simple touch thus turns the meal automagically into a hedonistic thrill.
I can’t even describe the pleasures you are to experience upon the first nibble. The creamy flesh of the oily fish melts together with the savory vegetables producing a carnival of joy in your mouth. Don’t just take my word for it. Try it at home, I dare you.
Today marks two weeks since we returned from Europe, the continent where people eat whatever they want (for the most part) and seldom exercise the idea of a dietary restriction. Mother Nature is still the biggest supplier of food there, and no one questions that order. I choose to believe that based on the quality of ingredients that had built our meals while in Poland, and then in France.
When we first arrived back in Los Angeles, Jason and myself decided we needed a break from eating meat, as it was such a fundamental part of our diet when still on the Old Continent. The first week went swimmingly well. I whistled cheerfully as I cooked away quinoa, made meals with a variety of beans, various grains (e.g. barley), then lentils, and greens rich in protein (like broccoli). Last but not least nuts were all around us, all day long. And I don’t mean just because we live in Hollywood. Each morning I began with a whole-grain toasted muffin, topped with a layer of almond butter and slices of fresh strawberries. Jason snacked on a mixture of raw nuts and dried fruits in between the meals. Roasted pine nuts or walnuts ended up in fresh salads. Toasted pepitas served as a base for my vinaigrette.
About three days ago I realized I was …hungry. Sixty minutes after I finished breakfast I was ready to eat again. The first craving hit me right between the eyes leaving a black-eye the size of a fist. No matter how versatile menu I prepared for the day and how much flavor I incorporated into each dish, it all began to taste …boring. Every time I inserted a fresh bite of food into my mouth, from the start I knew it was missing one ingredient–meat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. If I could I would sprinkle pancetta bits into my whole-grain cereal with blueberries and a sliced banana. A temporary comfort I found in hard-boiled eggs, and cheese sandwiches.
Now, I know that all protein is equal. It doesn’t matter, from a scientific point of view, whether you get your amino acids (which are the molecules of the protein) from an animal or a plant, as our bodies are dexterous engineers and can put together a complete protein out of those building blocks. As long as you provide your system with those standard 22 amino acids it requires to form the protein we need. That’s the reason all nutritionists of the world emphasize the need for a versatile diet, in particular for the vegetarians walking amongst us.
Enough with the lecturing. I know that I had enough protein in my diet over the last two weeks not to NEED any meat. Though I realize now the source of my misery. It is all in my head. My cravings for a juicy steak, and beef stew, or a tender chicken thigh have everything to do with the fact that I can’t have it right now, for I do not appreciate restriction. It goes deeper than that. I refuse to be pressured. If there is a movie coming out that the entire planet can’t shut up about, and 70 million people go see it on the opening night, you can be sure Agi won’t participate in the mass hysteria. For example, I have never seen “Titanic” nor “The Da Vinci Code”. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. You know what else I have not watched, nor read? The entire “Harry Potter” series. Sure, we can argue whether I am better or worse for that, but it is not the point of this discourse.
Despite that fact that my diet over the last two weeks was nutritionally dense, I began to notice feeling weaker and weaker. I was no longer able to lift words and put them down on paper. At the gym, when requested by Jason to do abdominal crunches, I didn’t even stomp my foot on the ground anymore. I fought him just for a moment when he made me get down on the ground and throw my legs in the air, but only because resistance to a voluntary pain application is a part of my psychological make-up. Then I got a hair cut, as those two extra inches of hair made a whole lot of difference when washing it. Saving energy became my motto.
I am facing another two meatless weeks, which in my head translates into a form of mind slavery. It is my brain that has to make an effort to relax and breathe knowing it will be OK.
Agi, let me introduce you to DISCIPLINE. I hope you shall become fast friends.
Valentine’s, shmalentines. If he loves you, you better not let him get away with a lousy bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates once a year. I’m saying “HE” as I have a “HE”. Your SHE is to express her love for you just as spontaneously and uncontrollably as my HE. And he does. Jason doesn’t buy me flowers for any specific occasions. He shows up at the threshold of our home with a fragrant bomb of fresh flowers whenever I reach the darkest depth of despair. (In other words, I’m feeling low.)
We also have established a versatile set of I-love-yous: for Good Morning and Good Bye; Thank you, Baby, I-love-you; on the phone: I’ll talk to you later, I-love-you; when experiencing sudden ebb of chest-expanding feelings unrelated to moon phases: I LOVE YOU! And last but not least, at night, after wishing each other sweet dreams back and forth three times and in 2 languages, he whispers into my ear with a perfect Polish accent: KOCHAM CIE [pronounced: koh-hahm tchyeh, more or less].
Love has settled like dust in every corner of our house. It oozes out of every steaming pot of food I make, it comforts our bare feet as we walk on our vacuumed carpets, it forgives the dances in the nude, it folds loads of laundry, and it tries really hard to ignore the soundtrack of cheerful and very confident farts in the background after one of those healthy meals. Love is always in the AIR. How timely for Sade to release a brand new album after close to a decade!
See, we don’t really feel the need to exchange Valentine’s cards. We both feel loved twentyfourseven on any given calendar day. It just so happened that we spent the Valentine’s Day this year in one of the most romantic destinations in the US – Napa Valley.
Jason was summoned to San Francisco for work this past weekend, and I simply tagged along. There was no Valentine’s Day plotting involved, no romance a’la carte.
As he was done with his duties on Sunday, we rented a car and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to visit both Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
It seems as the time stops up north. The Sun and Earth are still happily married and continue to bear their offspring across the golden fields and rolling hills. We stood on the side of a road and witnessed their bond, inhaled the love heavily sprayed in the air by ubiquitous blooming flowers, heard the birds exchange their KOCHAM CIE’s in their own tongue, and we were silent.
Now, do you still need a Valentine’s card? Or maybe that’s just us. I did, however, make a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE for my coworkers, with a drizzle of RASPBERRY SAUCE. Oh, heavens! Chocolate and fresh raspberries together truly is a marriage made in heaven, or in the garden if you must. The sweet but tart flavor of the sauce strikes against the depth of the chocolate comfort, thus sending a ticklish shiver down one’s spine. If there is food with orgasmic qualities, this dessert certainly represents that group honorably.
Let me walk you through the few steps the cake requires. If you are organized, you will have made the cake and cleaned up the kitchen within one short hour. I use only organic ingredients. If they are not easily available in your area, at least choose the best quality items. It is worth it.
– 5 egg yolks
– 5 egg whites
– 1 stick of butter
– 5 oz semi-sweet chocolate
– 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
– 1/2 tsp instant coffee
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– 1/2 tsp cardamom
– 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Draw a 9” circle on a sheet of parchment paper and cut it out. Spray the bottom of a 9” round baking sheet with a non-stick spray, place the parchment paper in, and spray once again on its surface. Put aside. Preheat your oven to 325°.
In a double boiler melt together chocolate and butter; then add coffee, cardamom, and vanilla, mix well and don’t let it boil. As soon as the mixture is liquid and coherent, take it off the heat and let it cool until the rest of your cake components are ready.
In a large bowl beat together egg whites, using a hand-held mixer, and slowly add half of your sugar and salt. When the egg whites create soft peaks, they’re done. In a separate, smaller bowl beat the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until they form a creamy and tick cream, and sugar is mostly dissolved.
Gently combine the egg yolks and the egg whites together, and slowly start adding your melted chocolate mixture in the eggs. Using a spatula gently fold everything together until it is a coherent chocolaty mass. Do not stir. Do not violently mix it. Simply fold all the elements together, patiently, with love, in one direction. It may take you about 5 minutes.
When the mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared baking pan and put in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes and then remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
It’s best when chilled overnight in a refrigerator and served either with fresh strawberries or my RASPBERRY SAUCE:
Thaw out a bag of frozen raspberries, place them in a small saucepan and add 3-4 tbsp of raw cane sugar (depending on the size of the package). Mix with a wooden spoon, throw in a few springs of fresh mint and let it simmer together for 10-15 minutes. About 5 minutes before it’s finished ad a few drizzles of good balsamic vinegar (1-1.5 tbsp) and mix again. When done, pour the raspberries with all the juices through a sieve to remove all seeds and obtain a perfectly smooth and silky RASPBERRY SAUCE.
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.