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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!

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“There’s a hole in your heart. You can try to stuff it with alcohol-sex-food-drugs-what have you. And you never will” – a shaman said to me one day. “That’s the place for God” – she told me. “Let him back in and you will never again feel lonely. Never again will you feel lost, loveless, or hopeless. Never again will you feel ALONE“.

Sunset 2

I left the woman’s apartment with an ironic smirk teetering on my face. What was I thinking going over there in the first place? That she will cure me from sorrow? That she will cleanse my aura and thus heal my aching soul? A hundred and fifty bucks dumped into the sewer of the city of CRAZY.

And then, one morning, I rise along with the first rays of sun, and on the road I proceed in my car that obediently carries me in every direction that I order. My eyes are still in denial and want to stay shut and keep dreaming. But the sun is relentless – its arms reach my face, warming me up, encouraging me to breathe, and to stay roused.

The fresh morning air pours inside the car. Windows rolled down, the road almost empty. Sunday morning. Easter morning. It used to mean something. Its importance has diminished over the years away from family traditions, away from home. Home.

One sad thought. I let it fly out with the breeze, so dominant now. The wind makes itself at ease in my car, in my hair, floating around my head, over my eyes. Single strings play with the floating air on the edge of the window. They hang over the cliff of the windshield, dance, and do not fall. It’s the game the wind plays with my mop. And I let it. Liberate me, too, I beg inside my head, but stay taciturn outside my scull.

I keep the car speeding steadily while passing by the ocean on my left. That infinite mass of water, so sparkling, so cheerful, with the sky glancing down as in admiring its own reflection. Nature’s mood is calm, quiescent, tranquil. A glass of water glistens on one side, the wind twirls inside my vehicle, the sun shines above, and music flows from the speakers hidden beneath me. I’m heading to a temple. Lake Shrine. I enter the temple and it’s a place like I’ve never seen before…

I haven’t crossed church’s gates in years. I turned my back on the whole institution while still just a young girl somewhere in a small town in the midst of Poland. That girl, an indignant teenager is all, rebelled the Church. A bunch of hypocrites I decided all priests were, and nothing but. I despised those cynical and double-faced “guardians of societal morale”. Burn in hell, I pouted. And like that I abandoned the ranks of the Catholic fellowship.

Fifteen years later and thousands of miles passed. “There’s a hole in your heart” – a shaman said to me one chilly afternoon in California.

… On the bright Easter Sunday I walk into the temple of the Self Realization Fellowship. It’s their morning service.  Most seats already have an occupant. As I tread down a soft, carpeted isle, I am slammed with flashbacks from the days of youth…  My body shivers under the chill of a dim and hollow hall of a gothic building; its silence interrupted by the threatening echo of scurried heals stomping against the tile floors. The echo fills every inch between the monumental walls, then bounces back and travels farther from the ground to the tip of the spire… In my mind I put a spell on the dreadful memory and shake it off. Be gone! My eyes open again and I glance around. The faces surrounding me are bright, placid, warm, and welcoming. My body relaxes. The peace here has the texture of red velvet.

In this House, meditation replaces prayer.  Love of self fills in the shoes of Catholic guilt. Intent allows for focus. The minister’s voice calmly leads me through my journey inwards. He accompanies a search for my inner light and encourages me to expand my heart while making room for… God?

I have to think about that one. Later.

My entire essence is suddenly stirred into motion by the music that I hear. A choir performs spiritual songs in Hebrew, German and English. It’s not the words, but the voices, their harmony, the threads of notes waved into a coherent fabric of music that move me to the core.  I’m touched. I’m shaken by the beauty that fills and surrounds this space. Where am I? Tears blur my vision, but I am able to see now better than ever.  The hole in my heart is no longer.  The emotion overwhelms me, and I no longer feel lonely. My reason sunbathes on the lawn outside while I experience the unspeakable. All I know at this moment is LOVE.

Sun Behind a Tree

Almost eighteen months have passed since that Easter morning. I’m not a regular at the Lake Shrine by any means. Life happens to me.  Tired happens to me. Lazy happens to me.  All the other Sundays in between the above mentioned however I make the effort to find the time for a spiritual practice. Whether it’s the  temple of the Self Realization Fellowship with its calming attitude, or the highly vibrant and bursting with energy church of Agape, peace finds me. There I unfold stress and discharge negative emotions. Those places are real, accessible, and welcoming.  I feel safe there.  They help me reinforce balance in my life.

That’s not all, however, and there are more pieces to the puzzle that this la dolce vita is. There’s laughter, there’s love and respect for self and others, sharing and giving, eating healthy and nourishing foods, honoring my word, loyalty, building a HOME with Jason and Cosmo, music and written word, education and learning, exercise, fresh air, friends, family… Those are my building blocks and my scaffolding.  That’s where I find the strength and courage to deal with stress, my hormones, broken promises, disappointments, anger, bruised ego, insecurities, road range, hurt feelings, and the mundane of every day life.

That’s my struggle in keeping it all balanced and healthy, as intended by Nature. I don’t mess with religions. If I have one, it’s Love. You find your own way. Everyone has a method. And whatever you do, really, ENJOY Yourself!

Agi Free

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