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This was an excellent holiday by my standards.

The weather was perfect with the cold air pinching my butt, bringing the memories of the old country. Four good friends sat around the potluck table heavy with foods. The dog perched by my feet hoping for someone to get sloppy and drop scraps down to his floor. The tradition of the holy trio: turkey+stuffing+gravy was fulfilled. My sweet potatoes embellished with crispy pancetta Heather found “fascinating”. Whip cram whipped on the go topped the pumpkin pie like the dot does an “i”.

And then someone picked up a camera, and things got uncivilized to say the least. However, in order to protect the reputation and innocence of my friends, I am forced to censor the photo-shoot. Before I reveal the images from this weekend, let me just say that I have never seen such ridiculous amount of dirty dishes after a dinner for four. We needed a shovel just to get in the door, and then we had to instal a car wash system inside the kitchen to deal with that mountain of debris. It had to be done, this way or another, as the following morning we were leaving for San Diego.

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Down, in San Diego, we roamed the paths of Balboa Park, poking our noses into gardens and exhibitions. Friday night Jason took me out on a date with the view of the landing planes. We dined at chef Bertrand Hug’s Mister A’s, apparently the top restaurant in San Diego. Everything was splendid minus the temperature of certain foods. A glass of superb Zinfandel helped me forget that minor detail fairly quickly nonetheless.

We did have fun times at the ZOO horsing around with the donkeys and wild monkeys. We rode a bus and took photos of a polar bear playing with a plastic blue ball in the pool, or a camel standing still, foam on his mouth and empty gaze in his eyes. We did enjoy ourselves, and yet a sense of sadness lingered as we strolled from one cage to another. Is that right that we keep the animals imprisoned for our viewing pleasure?

BABY, I DON’T WANT TO GO TO A ZOO AGAIN…

…Jason said this morning as he recapped the events of our holiday weekend in an email to a close friend.

Too often I feel so helpless in the face of injustice, lack of common sense, or mere stupidity in the surrounding me world. I’m learning that my strength lays in knowing when to actively support a cause, and when not to participate even though the masses do.

Something to think about. Thanks for reading!

I can’t believe I’m forced to consume the entire Brownie Pie I made last Wednesday! (By the time I’m done writing this article, it should be just a vague memory.)

After sifting and whipping, and then more mixing and scooping, I placed my baking pan full of chocolaty batter in the deepest depths of our oven with my hopeful heart stomping anxiously inside my chest. I was testing a new recipe while adding my own twist. The twist was of an orange shape, shave, fragrance, and flavor. What came out of the dark and hot chamber was this brilliant fudge brownie with a crisp top, cracking under the slightest pressure as the ice breaking on a river in spring (anywhere east and north from LA, one understands).

Oh, I was so proud and so in love with myself for having completed my bakery challenge. Not wasting any time, I scooped a generous portion out for our friend and her two daughters who stopped by to visit with us. They complimented the cake, mentioned its FRAGRANCE and how INTENSE it was, after which they politely left HALF of the brownie pie on the plate. Next in line was Jason. Taste it he did. The spoon vanished inside his mouth, wiggled its silver tail, and then instantly repelled backwards. I glanced at Jason’s face. His expression was puzzling for a moment. I watched his mouth stretch gently askance, and then mysteriously curve up and down into a zig zag (Yup, just like in a cartoon!) as he spitted “Hmmm…it’s too… orangy!”

I really wanted to stamp my shoeless footprint on that sour grimace of his.

But I didn’t. I took the goods back to the kitchen, wrapped it up neatly, and put away on the shelf. There will be people banging on the door begging for a slice of my famous fudge brownie one day, with Jason leading the crowd. I will make them pay! … a bag of colorful beads, a fan of feathers, and a golden tooth per each slice. That’s right, my cake will be worth as much as the White People paid for the entire Manhattan …or so. Dammit.

A lot of experimenting goes on in my kitchen, clearly. It’s almost like a science lab minus the science part. Just to end that Thanksgiving reminiscing, and in time to start prepping for Christmas (oh, boy), let me quickly walk you through my latest culinary trial – Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower.

You see I am not a big fan of mashed potatoes. Even as a kid, I would have my mom call me to the kitchen when the potatoes were ready, so I could put aside a few before my brother beat the crap out of the rest of the guys in the pot. I bet as an infant I was stealing whole carrots when nobody was watching, and fussed around when fed those purees from a jar. I bet I grew teeth overnight after that first tasting.

I should talk to my mother!

Back from talking to The One Who Brought Me To Life. Mama dismissed my theory on premature teething. Moreover, she informed me that whatever food they put in front of my face it would disappear within nanoseconds, apple and carrot purees included. “I don’t like the way this conversation is going. Good night, mother.”

Until this past Thanksgiving, I was a rutabaga virgin. Never before did I have an opportunity, nor desire to mess around with that oddly looking bulb. Since I love cauliflower, I thought I’d cook both together, with a parsnip for company, and to keep the Party in the same color theme. And so she did. (“She” being me. Don’t ask me why I sometimes refer to myself in the third person. It appears at times that I experience my life through narration, as if I was reading about my character. OK, I’ll stop talking before someone calls for the authorities.)

I know that now you just really WANT THAT EFFIN RECIPE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, HOW MUCH LONGER CAN WE LISTEN TO THAT NONSENSE you’re thinking. Ok, ok… Let’s do it. (I’m such a pushover!)

MASHED RUTABAGA WITH CAULIFLOWER

–       1 whole cauliflower, with leaves trimmed and cut into florets

–       1 rutabaga root, peeled and cut in large cubes

–       1-2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in big cubes

–       1 tbsp organic butter

–       1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

–       1/4 cup chives, roughly chopped

–       kosher salt

–       freshly ground WHITE pepper

–       2 bay leaves

The fun part begins when all your veggies are in a big pot, covered with water, bay leaves floating about, and seasoned generously with salt (say 1 tbsp or more). Turn off the heat and drain the veggies the minute they are cooked aldente. That’s right, you want them to still have a good bite. Why? Because all these vegetables tend to soak up a lot of water the longer they cook. You don’t want your dish soggy and beyond mushy, do you? When the water is all down the drain of your sink, put the pot back on the stove over a very low heat for a couple of minutes, thus allowing more moisture to evaporate from the potatoes and the gang. But watch not to burn their precious bottoms!

When all the dirty work is done, time for make up and hair. Add the butter and grated cheese into the pot along with another tablespoon of kosher salt and almost as much of pepper. The heat will melt all those goodies while you hit the pot with a potato masher. Bang it good, ensuring that all the gooey, cheesy and buttery goodness is distributed and incorporated among all the vegetables. Don’t bash it too much, though. It’s not supposed to be baby food, ok? Keep it rustic and chunky. Scoop the dish into a pretty bowl and sprinkle your chives all over, just as that green glitter you used to put on your cheeks on the way out to a discotheque… way, WAY back in the day.

The dish came out GOOD BEYOND MY WILDEST DREAMS. I know for a fact that Jason was secretly terrified by the idea of making that meal in the place of traditional mashed potatoes. He always claims he trusts me, and loves 99.8% (precisely) of all the food I make. That doesn’t change the fact that he experiences moments of sheer terror when sporadically I juggle some culinary ideas in front of his face. Let’s thank The Lord for helping me deliver those ideas happily and with no complications… in 99.8% cases.

A Brownie Pie? What Brownie Pie?

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!

There’s this thing on a certain social networking site, known as Facebook, where one writes up 25 things about themselves and sends the list to 25 people. The idea is to share intimate, less known facts about yourself with people of your choice. Instead of writing down my 25 things and posting it on the above mentioned website, I thought I’d toss them here and make a salad out of it.

1. Almost every morning, as I dress up my bottom, I glance in the mirror and smile with approval at the sight of my profile.

2. The more I cook, the more appreciation I gain for my mother’s culinary talents. I didn’t realize how good of a cook she was until I tried the trade myself. The goal is NOT to be able to make a few dishes I can later alternate when making dinners for my family. Instead, I cook to free my soul and go to heaven for having discovered and exploited my potential.

3. There’s something about Jason’s nipples I cannot simply resist.

4. I am on non-speaking terms with Starbucks for their new line of VIA Ready Brew. While the world screams “RECYCLE! USE LESS PACKAGING! STOP CUTTING DOWN THE AMAZON!” they come up with those tiny coffee sachets worth 1 cup each. Hello! Have you not heard of global warming and The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas?? These Starbucks people are bananas! Argh!

5. The awesome thing about the holidays is that Jason can’t stop me from making peanut butter and chocolate brownies, or a shit load of chocolate cookies, or even a brownie pie!

6. My favorite candy store? Sur la Table for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

7. My favorite day of the week? The bra-free day. I like to keep my girls free and give them all the play-time they want before I get them to work for food when I get pregnant next year.

8. Hey, Mister! Have you not noticed your car has built-in blinkers? Nooo, these are not Christmas ornaments. You ought to use blinkers all year round dammit. Oh, yeah, that’s a huge pet-peeve of mine.

9. I grew up surrounded by books. Love ‘em to the last page. However, since I started this blog, I’ve been mostly purging words rather then inhaling them. I miss that.

10. Cosmo is a four-legged Pelè in disguise.

11. I have a vivid imagination. In my head, I see pictures of myself and/or people close to my heart in extremely catastrophic scenarios. Those images come to me randomly and out of the blue. Often they are so realistic I start to cry. I am unaware of the origin of this condition. I don’t know how to overcome it either.

12. Beauty moves me. It fills up my chest till it hurts and I start to cry. Again.

13. I secretly fart.

14. I haven’t used a hairbrush in six months, since I cut my hair short.

15. I was a witch in one of my previous incarnations, who lived in the woods and brewed herbal concoctions for various ailments.

16. – 24. Last night I made a salad, a twist on Coleslaw, that was so good the world stopped spinning for a moment. It was so fantastic in fact it’s worth 9 points of the 25 Important Things From Agnieszka Graczyk’s Life. Here’s how I did it…

I bought a package of shredded cabbage. I’d have gotten a whole head if the store offered one, as you know how I feel about the unnecessary packaging, etc. They didn’t carry the veg in its natural form. Back in my kitchen, I emptied the bag into a large bowl and added shredded Granny Smith Apple along with a bunch of chopped scallions. In the meantime, I toasted maybe a 1/2 a cup if raw walnuts, let them cool, and then roughly chopped them into small boulders of brain nuts.

Don’t they totally look like brains? The truth is they are really good for your brain, so it’s a clever tip to remember. The smurfs that write on Whole Foods web pages made my life easier for describing in detail the nuts’ magic:

Walnuts have often been thought of as a “brain food,” not only because of the wrinkled brain-like appearance of their shells, but because of their high concentration of omega-3 fats. Your brain is more than 60% structural fat. For your brain cells to function properly, this structural fat needs to be primarily the omega-3 fats found in walnuts, flaxseed and cold-water fish. This is because the membranes of all our cells, including our brain cells or neurons, are primarily composed of fats. Cell membranes are the gatekeepers of the cell. Anything that wants to get into or out of a cell must pass through the cell’s outer membrane. And omega-3 fats, which are especially fluid and flexible, make this process a whole lot easier, thus maximizing the cell’s ability to usher in nutrients while eliminating wastes–definitely a good idea, especially when the cell in question is in your brain.

The salad would not be complete without the dressing I quickly whipped up in our Magic Bullet. These were the components:

–       freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon

–       1 tbsp of honey

–       2 tbsp of heavy cream

–       3 tbsp of olive oil (the whole nine yards – organic, extra virgin, first cold pressing, etc.)

–       2 tsp of sea salt

–       1 tsp of black pepper.

Everybody in the bowl (the cabbage, scallions, apples, and nuts) got coated evenly with the silky dressing, then chilled in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes before consumption time. Then I took a bite, and with it I heard music and saw fireworks on a horizon. It was amazing, beyond delicious. There was the tartness from the apples and the dressing, but instantly the nut took off the edge and spread comfort and bliss in my mouth.

I didn’t need anything else for dinner. That was my delight of the day. For Jason, however, I reheated leftover penne over pancetta and garlic, and grilled three chicken tenders. Just like that. Nevertheless, the salad still took the Guest of Honor’s seat, and got a round of applause. Pure brilliance on a plate.

25. I am madly and uncontrollably in love with that white boy from Texas named Jason Blaine. Moreover, I am madly and uncontrollably loved by that white boy from Texas named Jason Blaine. He loves me just the way I am.

Gobble, gobble…!

After a much needed and quite luxuriously uneventful weekend, I woke up to a Monday Writer’s Block. I don’t recall setting our Tivo to record that program.

In an effort to fulfill my promise to keep this blog fresh and sprouting with new ideas, I rewound the last 48 hours in my head looking for inspiration, and recited everything we DID NOT do:

– socialize

– play Bingo, Backgammon, Cranium, or Monopoly; not even Truth Or Dare

– go shark back riding

– stop global warming (instead we added to it with the multiple trips to local coffee shops)

– fly a monkey

– teach Cosmo to roll over, though he was so, so close

– get kidnapped by an Alien

– learn to speak Urdu, or Spanish (a tad more practical in Baja)

– buy a turkey, eat a turkey, nor visited Turkey

– make out with a dolphin

– solve a single math problem

– patch the four holes in our ceiling before the mice that I’m convinced live in the cracks of our building find out about the openings and decide to come visit

– climb Mount Everest, nor any other hill, not even a road hump.

None of that happened this past weekend.

Looking further for topics I could write about, I browsed through the thousands of photos we took over the last year and a half, to finally stop at the images of Jason’s nephews, Conor and Dylon, which I found highly inspiring… to procreate rather than to bluntly tap at a keyboard with two fingers.

It sounds like a whole lot of NOTHING. Let’s get one thing straight: an uneventful weekend does not mean a weekend free of events. (Wait, huh?) I did some squats around the coffee table during meal times in an attempt to tighten that rump. There was some folding and scrubbing going on as well as a whole lot of licking. Cosmo cleaned both of his front paws after a thorough and urgently needed bath (because what do the humans know about a good bath), while Jason licked his wounds after brutal couple of weeks at work.

One task I managed to complete was a Thanksgiving menu, and that was not a trivial accomplishment. I’m Polish, hence for me this holiday represents a day off, empty streets, and limited access to candy shops and movie theaters since everything closes early. Nonetheless, I wanted Jason to experience the same traditions he grew up with despite living away from his family – the turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy, with a spoonful of cranberry sauce on a side and a wedge of pumpkin pie.

Therefore, I’ll be cooking up a storm and making him a Thanksgiving meal that will take him back the memory lane: pork loin with honey-mustard sauce and wrapped in bacon, mashed rutabaga with cauliflower and caramelized onions, blanched green beans with roasted garlic, and chocolate and orange brownie pie. I’ll be sure to snap a photo of each and every dish, and report back to you with recipes and about five extra pounds hung around my hips. I wish they would settle in my boobs instead. Sigh.

In the meantime, let’s keep it light and healthy. I’ll be BAHK with a fresh salad idea before the Turkey Bell rings.

 

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