sublime recipe: what made the boys moan

I was sitting across from the boys as they made little moaning sounds. Other than the "num num num" coming from across the table, it was quiet. I wanted to say something, ask perhaps if it was good, are they loving it but I thought anything I might say would disturb this apparent moment of ecstasy.

We were at Jiko, L and I along with Chas, a publicist in Media Relations for Walt Disney World. L and I have both known Chas for over ten years when we were all media covering events at WDW. Now Chas is on the other side with the Mouse and L and I see him once a year or so when we're down at Disney World. We've had meals together around the World and we'd had dinner at Jiko (a restaurant located in The Animal Kingdom Lodge located on the Walt Disney World Resort property) before and apparently the bliss they  experienced several years ago was one they wanted to repeat. Badly.

L. and I had arranged to meet Chas later that day for dinner and while we were on our way to the Magic Kingdom this was the discussion:

HG browsing the Disney Dining Guide: "Honey, where do you want to have dinner tonight? Italy has a new restaurant."

L: "The place in The Animal Kingdom Lodge."

HG: "How about The Polynesian? It will be like when we were in Hawaii. You love Hawaii."

L (focused): "I don't remember what the place was called but it's the one downstairs in The Animal Kingdom Lodge."

HG: "Is that where I saw John Denver when we covered the opening of the resort?"

L turns to me: "We always have this discussion. Why would John Denver be at the opening of The Animal Kingdom Lodge in 2001? He was at the opening of the ROCKY MOUNTAIN THEMED Wilderness Lodge in 1994. Which we covered, remember? Besides, he died in 1997."

I knew further discussion was futile. The pull of Jiko and their magic mac & cheese had apparently been imprinted on the boys.

Later that evening, at Jiko, I ordered salmon which was lovely but I felt left out and mildly amused as I watched the boys dig into their Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon served with macaroni & cheese. This feeling of bliss I understood but my palate had always leaned more towards addictive orange food (i.e. Doritos, crunchy Cheez Doodles, Cheez Its, Cheeze Whiz.) (note: Before you email me and ask why I didn't just order what  they did it's because A.) I haven't eaten red meat since I was 7. B.) I was doing my no wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee, alcohol program and I knew if I went off the rails for dinner that night that I would go OFF. THE. RAILS.")

I ate my salmon, the boys wolfed down their steak and mac & cheese and after dinner L said "I wish you would make this."

I said "If I can make you this happy making mac & cheese, done." I asked the server if he wouldn't mind asking the chef for the recipe and within moments he returned with a copy of the recipe.

Before you go and embark on New Year's resolutions, try this mac & cheese or here's an idea: For New Year's Eve,  invite your favorite people over. Bring out a few bottles of Perrier Jouet and have your guests bring their favorite mac & cheese dish. Imagine an evening with just champagne and macaroni and cheese? It's the perfect homey, hip kinda dinner party.

Jiko (The Cooking Place) Macaroni & Cheese
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons      Unsalted butter
3 tablespoons      All-purpose flour
2   1/2 cups         Whole Milk (HG note: for a richer sauce try cream)
8 ounces              Shredded Italian four-cheese blend (such as mozzerella, asiago, fontina and provolone)
1/4 teaspoon        Coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon        Ground black pepper
1 pound               Elbow macaroni, cooked and kept warm

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring until combined. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until golden. DO NOT LET BROWN. (note: You're making a basic roux here.)
2. Add milk to butter mixture, whisking until completely smooth and no lumps remain.

3. Simmer mixture, storring frequently, until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Add cheese to saucepan in batches, stirring until completely melted. Add salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

5. Place cooked macaroni in a large bowl. Add cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Serve immediately.

For more Walt Disney World recipes, pick up Pam Brandon's new book "Chef Micky: Treasures From the Vault and Delicious New Favorites." (note: L and I have known Pam since the early 90's and there is no one who knows Disney and food like she does. You will adore her just as much as we do.)

For a taste, click here to visit Pam's blog and a recipe for Steak Diane from the Lake Buena Vista Social Club. (And check out the groovy picture of Uncle Walt preparing salad!)

insights: what you learn getting punched in the stomach

Click the picture of Dustin Hoffman to watch one of my favorite interviews I ever hosted. 
Yes, he cried during the interview. See why.
(it may take awhile to load but it's worth the wait)

So. Yes, it has been awhile. Let me explain where I've been and why I was there.

When I started The Happy Girl Experiment I assumed that it would be a slow and steady escalation to the land of Happy. Sort of like a Candyland game, I play my cards right (Double yellow. Yes!) and I land in the sweet spot. I was wrong.  I thought "OK, I am The Happy Girl and if I set my mind to it, life will be AMAZING and things will turn around and I will have my old life back." Somehow, it just never ocurred to me how I would handle the down slope if it happened and it happened. Which is why I have been offline and away from The Happy Girl Experiment, even when I have been getting email like this one:

"Hellooooo, Happy Girl? Where are you?! Are you there? Hellooo?"

I heard you but I was stuck and I didn't want to admit that The Happy Girl was going through a downturn and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to post and feel like a fraud. I didn't know how to address the fact that bad stuff still happens.  There were little things of course like bills and bad memories and car problems, the stuff of life that when it all adds up can make you think that life sucks but then this is where is where things started going off the rails.

Earlier this summer I realized I had let my body relax itself into a land of Doritos, mac & cheese and peanut butter cups. I liked the comalike feeling I would get from a cheesy carb binge. One day this past June I had decided that if I let myself continue on this path that I would virtually become one with the couch so I got up, started walking 3 miles a day, cut out wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee and alcohol and in the process lost 80 pounds (so far.)

One morning this summer I was walking along happily (a mile from home) to Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" when I heard something in my knee snap like a tree branch and it brought me down to my knees, taking my breath away. As I was laying there on the ground I wondered what do I do now?  Do I call the police? A cab? My husband was away on business. I did what seemed like the right choice at the time. I pulled myself up and hopped 3/4 of a mile home on one leg. It hurt like a sonofabitch. All my hard work of eating right, running every day and losing weight was in jeopardy. I couldn't walk. In the next few weeks the scale started to go up. I thought "What the hell, God, I try to make a change and THIS is what happens?" This is usually when  I say "I'm done" and give up, indulging in Chunky Monkey ice cream without those hard little bits of chocolate.

But this time was different. I thought "I'm the Happy Girl. What would The Happy Girl do?" I found a physical therapist and I got my knee back in shape. I was worried to walk outside again so I joined a gym where I thought if I fell again I wouldn't be left alone to hop home. I like the gym. I always use the same treadmill on the end. I turn up the incline to 10, throw on my headset and happily spend 60-90 minutes on the treadmill.

One morning a few days ago ago I arrived in the gym and my usual treadmill was taken so I crossed the gym to find another suitable machine. I was humming along fine until I saw someone I used to work with in my former wonderful life. P. saw me too and came running over. I took my headset off.

"Hi! Wow. You look GREAT! So good to see you!" he said.

I was sweaty, of course, breathless and I knew my hair was sticking to my face. Lovely. "Hi," I said.

I hadn't seen him since the week before my dream job was eliminated. I assumed he knew what had happened on that fateful Cinqo de Mayo day.

"Man," he said smiling and shaking his head from side to side "You had the best job in the company. I always envied you. You got to talk with the stars and travel the world. You went to Cannes. You are so lucky. God, I always thought you just had this amazing job. What building are you working in now?" He looked at me expectantly with this big grin on his face and  I thought "You either have no idea or you really are quite the dick."

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

I said I left the company last year and told him what happened but it was OK.

"Oh man, that sucks! Wow."

That is what I hear when I see people I haven't seen in awhile who want to know what country I've been to and which celebrity I have been with that weekend. This is what I have heard in the past year:

"You must be so upset! How could they do that to YOU?"

"OH MY GOD. Are you OK? I would so not be OK if that happened to me. You must be so sad."

"I thought you and L. wanted to have kids. How's that going?"

"Be happy you don't have kids. You guys are so lucky to be able to do whatever you want."

When I run into someone and have to tell them what happened, I end up feeling worse than I did before even though rationally I know they don't mean to say something hurtful. I get that but I end up getting mad all over again and thinking "Yeah, you're right! How did that happen?! I LOVED that company and my job and I was good at it. This totally does suck. My life sucks."

And that is what I was thinking when I slid my headphones back on after seeing P. I was angry as I walked and I felt myself swirling back into that dark place and I don't how this happened but something changed in me after this conversation. Typically after running into someone who didn't know about the job being eliminated or the babies who died, I relive the sadness I felt right after these things happened.

But this time, I thought "You're right, P. I did have the greatest job in the world for the greatest company in the world and I got to do it for 13 years. I've seen the world, made amazing friends and experienced things that I could never even have dreamed up as a little girl living in a trailer park."

Instead of being angry about what I perceived what TAKEN from me, I realize now that I had received a gift for years and while I no longer have the job or the babies, I will ALWAYS be the person who had the job and who loved going to her job every day and I will always be their mother, even if just in my heart.

It was honestly like a light filled my heart. When you have something you love and then it is gone you can either revel in the sorrow that you are no longer have the life you once had or you can be thankful for what you did experience.

This is a revelation.

P., thank you for walking by me on that treadmill and making me realize that life is amazing. I was so lucky to do the things that I did. I ate profiteroles at a party with Prince Charles. I sat across from George Clooney on the patio of the Hotel du Cap gazing at the Mediterranean Sea. I held a baby koala named Milton in Ballarat, Australia. I met the most extraordinary people around the world. I was a girl who found her way in foreign places, a girl who previously got lost on her own street.

I have this whole other view now of what went down in the past 18 months and that because of what has happened I am in this place right now, sitting at the kitchen table writing to you. What it comes down to is this: All the stuff that has happened in your life you need to be grateful for, the good and the really awful stuff too. You can't change facts. My job is gone and the babies are gone but what they gave me was unimaginably amazing. THAT is what I hold onto, not the fact that they are now not my life right NOW. I was so focused on looking back at what slipped through my fingers instead of being grateful for what I had and looking forward to this amazing opportunity that opens up in our lives every day. What magic can happen every day if you are open to it? I believe joy attracts joy. I feel happy, giddy almost that I let the weight of sadness go. There are so many possibilities.

So you see, The Happy Girl Experiment is working. I thought because I was sad and angry and things weren't going well that I should bail on this experiment, but I think like any good scientist, I have to follow this through and chart the findings. So there was a little blow up, a little smoke, things went haywire but you can't abandon an experiment.  I learned something new. Which really is the test of a good experiment, isn't it?