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I wish. To travel along the rebel who knows food like nobody I know in person, I wish. To learn about carta di piano from the mothers and grandmothers of a Sardinian village while raising a toast with wine made locally, I wish. To walk among golden fields of wheat and rye, to sink my teeth in a tomato bursting with flavors and straight off its vine, I wish.

I’ve been watching lots of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. Can you tell? I guess it’s only fair that I mention I’m a fan of the show on Facebook as well, so that I can get their updates and feeds about the upcoming episodes like:

As if it wasn’t alarming already, I follow the guy on twitter, too, because, well, he’s there and clearly wants to be cyber stalked.

Alright. I get it that it’s not quite Tony himself. It’s the producers, the marketing team, the network even, who the cracker knows. Tony is some other place every time a new twit appears online. Duh.

Have you noticed how familiar I got with Mr. Bourdain? It’s because his book “Kitchen Confidential” is sitting on my night-stand supported by no other than the most recent of his penned bricks “Medium Raw”. He’s everywhere I turn my eyes whenever the lights are on. I feel like I KNOW the guy in person. If he happened to be strutting down Sunset Boulevard right in my neighborhood, I would merely throw at him…

“WHASSUP TONY!”

… without so much as a wink, and keep walking Cosmo hoping for a rapid poop, so we can turn around and go home finally. Man, that dog takes FOREVER to empty his bowels! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PATCH OF GRASS??

I don’t even know how it all began, that boyfriend-approved affair with another man. Jason hasn’t shown any signs of jealously in fact since I took a break from watching “Dog Whisperer”. Back then he would ask me biweekly at least…

“ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR CESAR MILLAN?”

…I haven’t heard that phrase in a long, long time.

I will take my assumption even further. I am convinced Jason would not reject an offer of some sort of a ménage a trois, if we were given an opportunity to shlep along chef Bourdain across Europe for example. I mean it in a professional sense, of course, where our job would be to attend any finger-licking tastings and youth-reviving feasts. In such a setting I would gladly share a seat with Mrs. Bourdain, with their offspring gleefully hopping on Jason’s lap. Think sequel to “European Vacation”.

In my tribute to Tony (Yes, we go WAY back!), I’ll be writing today about PORK. My sweet Ms. Piggy in a flurry of crispy bibb lettuce and a nest of pea shoots resting right on thy head, make yourself at home.

No recipe is needed for this pink perfection. Simply season the loin with salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil and maybe fresh thyme as well; place it in a roasting pan, add a cup of white wine or chicken stock and shove all into a preheated oven (at 350°) for 35-40 minutes total. Take it out, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes. While the meat is gathering its juices, you make a glaze: 1/2 cup of port wine + 1-2 tbsp of honey in a small sauce pan. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer away until reduced two-thirds or so. When the liquid gets thicker and sticky-er, pour it over the slices of your roasted pork loin.

You know how I am–always chicken this, chicken that (the happy, organic kind of course). However, pork tenderloin is lean and healthy, rich in vitamins of the B family, then zinc and of course protein. Since it’s also referred to as the other white meat, I no longer feel like a cheater, well, because… how much chicken can I eat for my ass’ sake?

I made this dashing, juicy, bursting with flavors PORK LOIN last week and fell for its tender and oink pink flesh instantly. So did Jason. Now, guess who’s coming to dinner this week? The red carpet is ready for you, my dear Ms. Piggy.

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WE MADE IT! It’s January 2010. Dear New Decade, here we are!

Mama, thank you for those beautifully embroidered pillow cases with our monograms. May the world learn about your talents.

Now back to the kitchen.

Have I ever mentioned my fascination with Jamie Oliver, the British chef and an author of gazillion cooking books? He’s a man of many assets. However, it’s not the superb chopping skills, or the teeth loosely arranged in the mouth of that alleged heartthrob (He has a speech impediment, but who cares when he lisps with a British accent?) that got my interest. I’ve yearned for Jamie Oliver to be my homie ever since I learned of his organic vegetable gardens that he plants around his house in rural England. He has a love affair with rustic cooking, just the way our great-grandmothers used to do. In his kitchen he wants organic produce, healthy fish, beef from grass-fed cows, and cage free chickens. In other words, he does it Agi Style and chooses the best for himself and his family. Jamie also tries to convey to the masses the importance of going back to our roots through his various TV shows and books he’s published.

I own a couple of those. I’ve also been known to stalk the above-mentioned CHEF online (Youtube, Apple podcast, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook…) to suck out more tips and culinary techniques HE NEEDS ME TO KNOW.

I want to start this BRAND NEW BABY YEAR 2010 with a recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver that I spotted on his TV show called “Jamie at Home”. He made those crispy and sticky CHICKEN THIGHS WITH POTATOES AND TOMATOES* I later recreated on my own stove. Not only is it an ideal comfort food (just wait till your teeth sink into the tender and juicy thighs), but also it’s packed with fireworks of flavors (the sweet and tart tomatoes with basil). It is a painting bursting with colors on a plate. It is an invitation sent to SPRING to hurry over. It is also silly cheap, aha!

Today, you be inspired. Get yourself those few elements and bring out the inner artist:

–       6 chicken thighs (boned, skin on, ideally free range and organic)

–       1-1.5 lbs potato medley

–       1 pound heirloom cherry tomatoes (medley of colors)

–       red wine vinegar, a splash or two

–       fresh basil, a bunch

–       sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

–       good olive oil

Clean the potatoes and cook them whole in a pot filled with boiling water seasoned with salt.

Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil all over the chicken, then bang-bang with salt and pepper, and cut each thigh into 3 strips. Toss them onto a sizzling hot sauté pan and stir-fry on high heat for about 5 minutes on each side until almost cooked. Make sure the pan is not overcrowded and each of the guys has enough room to kick around. If need be, cook the meat in two batches.

Wash the tomatoes and toss into a bowl. Boil some water and pour it over the tomatoes, then drain after about 2 minutes. This little trick will allow you to easily remove the skins and expose the sweet flesh of the fruit. Prick each tomato open with a sharp knife, gently season with salt and pepper and mix with fresh basil leaves torn into chunky scraps. Lots and lots of them!

Drain the potatoes and cut them roughly into halves and thirds. Toss them into a large baking dish along with the chicken thighs and tomatoes. Spread them flat-ish if possible.

In a separate cup or a small bowl whisk together about 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil with a few splashes of red wine vinegar, and a tad more of the salt and pepper bang-bang. Taste and add more olive oil and/or a touch of honey if the dressing is too tart. Pour over the meat and veggie mixture, stir around, and get the energy flowing and the small talk going. Into the oven they go. Bake in a preheated oven (400°F) for about 40 minutes, or until golden!

Taste…. AW-MAH-GAWD! That is so GOOOD! Pair your beautiful entrè with a simple green salad, dressed with a basic lemon vinaigrette, pop open a bottle of wine, sit at the table facing someone you give a damn about, and eat straight from the dish. And, oh, it’s hot, remember? So watch out. You’ll fight for the last bite, it’s a given.

* Possible Side Effects: overwhelming happiness, subconsciously letting the inner monkey off the leash, jeans button popping, uncontrollable LOL and consequently sprinting water/wine through the nostrils, food coma, money savings, orgasmic satisfaction.

I have every reason to believe that the BEET SOUP I’m making will bring my culinary machismo to a new level.

I just couldn’t resist. My smart and utterly eloquent screen saver suggested a word of the day: machismo. I had to smuggle it into this post. I had to!

I digress.

The Beet Soup is one of those Polish adaptations I have introduced into our home. Jason, being the white boy from Texas that he is, had barely even encountered a beet before Agi came along. When I insinuated making the soup for his parents while they were visiting, they only looked at me with eyes wide and said: “We love you, Agi. You are so cute!” That was the end of the Beet Soup conversation.

Half of a garden went into making the soup du jour, beets including. All you vegetarians out there don’t get too excited, as I “ruined” it for you with a handful of diced pancetta. Once again, my resistance mechanism didn’t kick in… but it was so worth it!

As the aromatic whiff of the Beet Soup tickled my nostrils, I was forced to pause this soup tirade. My nose disengaged from my body and mindlessly led me to the kitchen. I had to take a taste. GOD! It was slightly sweet but with a lemony bite to it. All vegetables perfectly cooked and soft. Each bite just melted in my mouth. Then I heard the angels’ choir burst forth in song: Alleluia!

Toast

I know it’s very douche-baggy of me, but today I will only BRAG about the soup, and not so much share it with you. That’s only because there are other important things that deserve my attention. Trust me, it is for a cause. Good or bad… we’ll see.

A few days ago I wrote about our grocery shopping routine, that heavily involved the local Trader Joe’s. The truth is, our pantry and the refrigerator are predominantly supplied with TJ’s goods. The $100 that we usually drop at the register is exchanged for 4 (four) bulging bags of food sundries (many, and I mean many of which are organic). Our love for the store is unquestionable and apparent.

We’re not alone. There’s a fan club and a huge following of Trader Joe’s groupies out there. We met them. We heard them. They even made films with their phones. You must SEE it for yourself to understand.

TJ Store

However, as in life, once you get to know someone, the veil of awe and perfection slowly fades, and you begin to notice the wrinkles, grey hairs, and even that crooked tooth. Over the course of the last year, we’ve come to know a substantial number of TJ products. Some of them we fell in love with. Others led to addiction. Every weekend we would head to the store, our hearts filled with hope. We would park and walk into the chambers of our local Hawaiian themed Trader Joe’s drooling in anticipation of the flavors we’ve come to cherish.

And then, one sunny Saturday, disaster struck.

As we circled across the isles, loading stuff into our cart, we at last arrived at the booze section. A quick scan of the shelves, followed by a thorough search between six-packs resulted in an anxious interrogation of the nearest store employee who confirmed what we already suspected – the Blueberry Beer that we had discovered just weeks earlier and enjoyed so deeply was gone… forever! It was DISCONTINUED.

We mourned the loss of the perfect, not too sweet, not too bitter Blueberry Beer, and moved on with our lives. Several months have gone by, when one day we found ourselves startled again. As we stood in front of the shelf where the Red Pepper Spread used to sit and wait for us week after week, there was nothing. A black hole of emptiness. We stayed cool and decided to give Trader Joe’s the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they’re out?” – we thought. Oh, naivety! It took us three subsequent visits to bring ourselves to realize the inevitable – the spread that we used on most of our sandwiches, the spread we ate by the spoonfuls with cheese and crackers, the spread we sent to Jason’s parents in Texas (!) was… DISCONTINUED.

Around the same time, we started hearing similar stories from friends, coworkers, neighbors, and whole communities. There were laments and loud protests. There was sadness and anger. I heard birds chirping the gossip that some people had even left Trader Joe’s for another discount organic food giant in the hood called Fresh & Easy.

One day I decided to take action and get to the bottom of this misfortune. I asked around to gain a better understanding of how serious the problem had become. And the people have spoken:

Jen said: “Blueberry beer sounds awesome! My favorite thing they discontinued was a spice-rubbed tamarind in the dried fruits section. Soooo tasty, sweet, almost like candy, and yet still good for you!

Heidi: “I love their artichokes in glass jar & lavender body scrub – but don’t think those products are still on the market.

Cate: “I really miss the butternut squash ravioli and the hot/sweet mustard they used to have. Both great, both now gone. Sniff.

DonnaAnn: “OMG yes! Trader Joseph’s Granola bagels. Three layer dip: cream, sun dried tomato, pesto. Goji Berry Trail Mix. The list goes on and on.

Andre: “I would have to say that I miss the Organic Ginger Snaps the most. I was shopping there the other day and I was craving the sweet snappy ginger taste with some cold milk. Alas, the ginger snaps were no longer. I asked the Manager and he said they had been discontinued. Other ginger snaps just don’t have the same “bite”. 😦

Jason: “I miss those little peanut butter cluster desert thingies. They tasted like a nestle crunch bar that tripped and fell head first into a jar of peanut butter…. yum.

Melissa: “The rice flour to make pancakes! It was sweet and made crispy thin little flapjacks!!

Karen: “YES!!! I miss the rice flour too Missy!!!!!!!

Chantel: “Ok… I know it’s so un-trainer of me, (again… got my fingers in the cookie jar), but the Chocolate Covered Toggee Squares… just like See’s molasses chips, but so much cheaper! Yes, the Blueberry beer was the bomb too!

Leanne: “It’s not vegan & it’s not organic but the egg sandwiches I used to love are gone! So is the raw goat feta.

Jeffrey: “Loved their chopped ginger which came and went. Was so useful in many dishes.

I’m getting short of space to let all the voices be heard. I hope these few are loud enough to echo all the way to the Trader Joe’s headquarters causing them to take pause. I understand the whole national preference thing, but it is so unfair!

Oh, Beloved Trader Joe’s, you are ALL about customer service. The courtesy and smile that you so graciously provide in every corner of the store makes our shopping chore so un-chore-like. And yet, Trader Joe’s, you keep taking FOOD away from us. You pull the goodies out of our mouth! That is so NOT cool.

The funny part is that Trader Joe’s is now following me on Twitter. That’s right! I even got a direct message from them just yesterday.

TJ Twit

I’m so happy they LOVE my blog. I love them right back. But I also want my Red Pepper Spread right back… Pretty please?

Dear Trader Joe’s, please feel the love, and hear our cries each time you pull an item from your shelves.  You giveth but you also taketh away.  Not cool.  Can’t something be done?

Sincerely,

The People

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