Chef Joy's Super Bowl Fire Roasted Mexican Corn Dip {recipe}


The email read: 



Hiya Happy Girl!  The Super Bowl is coming up next week and do I have a Dip! Dip! Dip! for you.

It’s salsa meets ooey-gooey-cheese dip and it’s hot!  And it’s got corn!  The middle of winter is the perfect time to use canned or frozen corn.  It will remind us of summer days as we watch the game.

Let’s dip into Super Bowl Happiness with Chef Joy’s Warm Mexican Corn Dip!

How did the tomato court the corn? 
He whispered sweet nothings into her ear. 

What did the corn say when he got complimented? 
Aww, shucks!

What did the baby corn say to the mommy corn?
Where's popcorn?

See you tomorrow!

-Chef Joy



And so the next day Chef Joy came by and in less than 5 minutes we made a dip worthy of serving at Super Bowl parties this weekend. I also served this earlier this week as an appetizer at our dinner party and instead of canned corn I used 1 bag of Fire Roasted corn (frozen, Trader Joe's) and it gave the dip an extra hit of fire. It scored big!

Here's how to make the easiest dip that will satisfy that need for warm, cozy, cheesy snacks. 



Warm Mexican Corn Dip {Recipe}
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 (15.25 ounce) cans corn, drained (or 1 package of frozen corn)
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chile peppers (Chef Joy and I used RO*TEL brand)
Combine the cream cheese, butter, corn, and tomatoes with green chile peppers in a slow cooker. Set the slow cooker to Low. Cook until the cream cheese and butter melt completely, about 1 hour. 

or

Combine ingredients in a pot on a stovetop and cook on low-medium until all ingredients are combined. Stir often.

Serve warm with tortilla chips. 

Be prepared to make another batch. This goes fast!



the guide to apple cranberry crumble {recipe)


Last night we had a dinner party for a friend who is an ex-pat currently living in London. We wanted him to feel at home so for dessert we made him an Apple-Cranberry Crumble. As far as desserts go, this one is easy, versatile (you can add raspberries or cherries instead of the cranberries) and always turns out perfect. Plus, it smells incredible as it bakes.

This also makes a delicious breakfast the next morning!



{The Happygirl Guide to Apple Cranberry Crumble}

Ingredients

Filling
6 apples cored, peeled and sliced thin ( I used Granny Smith + Braeburn)
1 package (8-10 ounces) of cranberries, cherries or raspberries (frozen)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Crumble (topping)
1 stick of room temperature butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal (I used Irish oatmeal)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. 

Grease a deep dish pie pan or dish with butter.  Set aside. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the slices apples, berries, sugar and cinnamon. Toss until the fruit is coated with the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Add to deep dish pan, spread out until even and compact. 

In another bowl, using a pastry cutter or your hands, combine the crumble topping of butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar and walnuts. The mixture should resemble large gravel. Spread crumble evenly over filling. 

Bake apple crumble on middle rack at 350 degrees for one hour. (The topping should be golden, if at 45 minutes it's getting too dark, cover the crumble with aluminum foil for the final 15 minutes.) 

Remove from oven and let sit for at least one hour before serving. 

Serve with vanilla ice cream. 

Here's to a happy, cozy evening with friends and family!



inspiration from a U.S. marine

When I running at Greenlake and I thought I couldn't take another step running, an entire team of Marines ran past me with t-shirts that read the following:


I read this and thought "I can do this. This pain I'm feeling is my body giving up what didn't work for me." This pushed me farther that day and every time I want to stop when things I get hard, I say this to myself and it works. It really works.







the smells that make you happy (hello, Coppertone, muffins and Polo)


It can happen anywhere.

Starbucks. I smell blueberry muffins being added to the case. I close my eyes and there I am--at Sylvester's in Northampton. It's breakfast, one of many with my new boyfriend, the man who will become my husband. The smell of blueberry muffins/blueberry pancakes reminds me of happy, sweet moments looking at this boy I loved across the table as we tucked into blueberry pancakes together. Now these moments are tied together in my mind and I am reminded every single time I smell blueberry of those moments of falling in love.

This happened again last night when I was at the market when hot golden chicken pot pies were taken out of the oven. I became almost elated. Sure, the smell of a fresh baked crust and gravy were heavenly but it instantly evoked afternoons spent making pot pies with my grandmother. I became immediately happy. There was nothing more in this world that I wanted at that moment than to surround myself with hot chicken pot pies. This smell reminded me of love, of my grandmother speaking softly to me in French, teaching me how to make a perfect flaky crust when I was no more than 5 years-old but it was as if it was yesterday.

I decided to look into this, to see why scent has such a powerful impact on memories. I had heard that scent is the one sense tied most strongly to memories and I wanted to know why. So did Marcel Proust. This is what I discovered:

"In Swann's Way (Proust, 1928), the smell of a madeleine biscuit dipped in linden tea triggers intense joy and memory of the author's childhood. This experience called The Proust phenomenon, is the basis for the hypothesis that odor-evoked memories are more emotional than memories evoked by other stimuli. . .Odor-evoked memories are highly emotional. . ." -- A Naturalistic study of autobiographical memories evoked by olfactory and visual cues: Testing the Proustian hypothesis, American Journal of Psychology Spring 2002 (Rachel S. Herz and Jonathan W. Schooler)




So, if when you're reading this you wonder why the smell of Polo for men makes you swoon, here's the science behind it:

From Dr. Maggie Grotzinger:

"The sense of smell in humans and other primates has a bit of unusual “wiring” in our brains compared with other animal species. Unlike the other senses, olfactory nerves go to two destinations in our brain; one is the frontal cortex, where we consciously recognize a scent. The second destination is the limbic area of the brain, which is a more primitive and ancient part of the brain dealing with emotion, motivation and types of memory.


Because of this wiring of our olfactory neurons, often a particular scent might evoke a certain memory from childhood or other notable event in our past life."

The technical term is called Involuntary Autobiographical Memory. In other words,  if you were crazy about a boy in college and he wore Polo (as most boys in college do) and today you walk by the cologne counter at Nordstrom and you smell Polo you will either swoon (because he really was one of your first loves) or walk briskly by the counter feeling nauseated (because he was an ass and he was wearing this scent the night he made out with your college roommate.)

Last night walking by the chicken pot pies I realized that I was suddenly in a happy mood. Even though I was wet (I walked jacketless from a far parking space in the pouring rain) and annoyed (this was second trip to the market that day to pick up things I had forgotten on trip #1), my mood instantly changed the moment I smelled the pies that reminded me of my grandmother.

I decided to make a list, an emergency list, if you will, of smells that make me happy, smells that either evoke a happy memory or just make me happy for no reason at all. And when I need to get happy, I'll remember that I just need to take a whiff.


 


Here are some of my favorite smells in no particular order:

Prell Shampoo (This is my favorite shampoo. The smell reminds of me summer camp and tennis lessons)

Warm gingerbread cookies (well, because they are cookies. And gingerbread)

Fresh baked bread (it's bread. it's warm.)

Blueberry Muffins (it's all about falling in love with my husband. Plus, they taste like summer)

A puppy's paws after a nap (because her paws smell like Frito's or popcorn.)

A baby's head (this one kinda makes me sad too, but mostly happy. I think this one is strongly neurologically based to make every woman want one too.)

Fried Dough (sure that greasy fried treat tastes great but Fried Dough reminds me of the boardwalk at Hampton Beach and pretty much every autumn fair I've ever been to with friends and family. Best. Sundays. Ever)

Gardenias and Night Blooming Jasmine (my favorite flowers remind me of tropical vacations)

Hot Apple Pie (this one almost feels primal. It reminds me of autumn in New England and the fall weekends spent apple picking on sunny, crisp days when the leaves and sky are so technicolor it almost hurts to look at it.)

Coppertone (I actually wear this as a moisturizer all year long. It reminds me of summer days, those happy halcyon summer days spent frolicking in the ocean.) 



What scents make you happy? I'd love to hear what scents makes you smile. 






flu-fighter chicken lemon soup with ginger {recipe}


On Wednesday both L., and I were feeling off kilter. Maybe it was the consistent days of drizzle and gray days. Maybe we were coming down with the beginning of the flu but when L., called me from work to say he wasn't feeling so hot, I knew what we both needed-- a hearty chicken rice soup that could fight off whatever it was we were feeling.

Typically I turn to my trusty Matzoh Ball Soup Recipe but this time I needed a powerhouse. I decided to make my own version of Avgolemono (Lemon Chicken) Soup, a traditional Greek soup made with lemon, chicken and eggs. I'm not big on eggs in my soup so I decided to skip this part and add in ginger, a GREAT immune booster.

Later that evening L., came home to a pot of Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup simmering on the stove and the funny thing? We both felt great the next morning. Any signs of the flu were gone. Was it the ginger and lemon? Could be. In any case, it was a delicious way to fend off winter's evil side effects. This recipe is super easy to make and tastes even better the next day.

Here's to good health!


{Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup Recipe}

Ingredients
2    32-ounce cartons of organic chicken broth 
2    cooked shredded chicken breasts
1    whole lemon
4    cups of cooked brown rice
1    teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Start with the chicken. Bake boneless skinless chicken breasts (I baked them on a bed of sliced lemon for 40 minutes at 350 degrees). When cool, shred the chicken breasts and set aside.

Add 2 cartons (64 ounces) of chicken broth to a large pot. Set on medium-high. 

Add cooked brown rice to broth. 

Grate the lemon peel then juice one lemon (removing all seeds). Add grated lemon peel and lemon juice to broth and rice. 

Peel a one inch section of fresh ginger root. Use a microplane to grate 1 teaspoon of ginger. Add to pot.

Add shredded chicken to soup mixture. Stir. Turn to medium. If you cooked the chicken breasts on a bed of sliced lemon, add the cooked lemon slices to the soup for an extra pop.

Taste before adding salt or pepper then add them to taste. Ginger is an unusual spice. You may find that you need more or less pepper than you would usually use in chicken soup due to the spicy nature of ginger. 

Cover and simmer on low to medium for one hour. Remove lemon slices before serving.

Time Saving tricks
  • Instead of baking chicken breasts, pick up a rotisserie chicken at the market and shred the chicken breasts, using the rest of the chicken for lunches throughout the week.
  • Instead of cooking brown rice yourself, pick up some frozen cooked brown rice. I used Trader Joe's.
  • Instead of grating fresh ginger, use frozen grated ginger cubes (available at Whole Foods and some specialty markets)






happy places: why we're smitten with seattle's portage bay cafe


Some of the best moments of my life have taken place at brunch. 

There was that moment when I looked across the table at my then boyfriend (now husband, L.) over blueberry pancakes one fine autumn morning at Sylvester's in Northampton, MA and I knew, I just knew that he was the one. 

There were the mornings on the sun-dappled patio at the Four Seasons Los Angeles when I enjoyed meetings with some of my favorite people at the movie studios. Negotiations over Lemon-Ricotta pancakes is always a good choice. 

There were the Sunday mornings in Manhattan when I met friends for maple bacon Bloody Mary's at David Burke Kitchen.

Brunch is relaxing. It's happy mornings with coffee mugs that are always filled and tables that are laden with omelettes, fresh squeezed juice, ripe beautiful strawberries and fresh baked whole grain toast. 

If you are having brunch with someone it means either the night before went really, really well or you are meeting up with someone you really really want to be with. Brunch is just a happy meal. Friends know that if they suggest getting together for a meal that I will say "Breakfast? Brunch?" Sure, dinner is lovely with the right people but brunch is wonderfully slow, delicious and typically full of laughs and those moments that just make your serotonin levels go all poppity pop pop

Traveling the world I am not the girl who wanted to go to the hottest dinner spots. No, I always asked locals about their favorite breakfast/brunch spots, little dives, hidden restaurants that may be off the beaten path. The best oatmeal I ever had was in Melbourne, Australia. I remember the scrambled eggs at the small cafe in Paris that made me swoon and French Toast, well I've pretty much traveled the world in search of the most heavenly French Toast. 

My Goat Cheese Omelette


Here in Seattle, we're lucky to be surrounded by some of the best restaurants in the world. Not long ago, we discovered Portage Bay Cafe (391 Terry Ave. N, Seattle) a restaurant well known for their organic, local and sustainable take on delicious, hearty meals. Housed in what feels like a Manhattan loft space, Portage Bay Cafe is open, airy and cozy. Here you'll find artsy folks, dads with strollers and Microsoft executives (Microsoft is located in the same building) sharing some of the best breakfast fare in the city. 

On the Saturday morning we visited, the place was PACKED (there are loads of stores and apartments in the area) but the wait was less than two minutes. (We would have waited 60!) The coffee was quick and the menu thorough. I opted for the Goat Cheese Omelette and L. had the Chorizo Sausage Scramble. (Click here for the full breakfast menu)  Had we ordered any pancakes or french toast we would have taken a trip up to the succulent berry bar.  

Yes, this is the infamous berry bar!

The omelette was amazing. The coffee was rich and perfect. L. opted for fruit instead of potatoes and instead of an expected sad grape/cantaloupe/melon combo, he was presented with a bowl of freshly sliced bright grapefruit, orange and pineapple. 

L.'s Chorizo Sausage Scramble. Look at that gorgeous fruit!

Sure, the breakfast was incredible but what made this restaurant easily one of our new favorites was the fact that the menus were clearly lovingly invented and prepared from locally sourced ingredients with sustainability kept in mind. Maybe this fact made the food taste better or maybe it was just that people doing good things made everything just feel good. 

Portage Bay Cafe is owned by John and Amy Gunnar and offers breakfast, brunch and lunch at three locations with catering as well.

If you're in the Seattle area, this should be a stop on your Happy Places list. Maybe I'll see you there!


your emergency stash of happy videos

Wednesdays can be hard.

Sometimes just watching a happy video can make you feel better. So here you go, your emergency stash of feel good videos from happy dogs to happy military homecomings. Watch and get your happy on.











Bonus! Charming George Clooney.

the smokehouse secret to the best blue cheese dressing {recipe}

simple Romaine leaves with blue cheese dressing drizzled with a balsamic glaze

When my husband and I first started dating we would go to this great little place back in the Northeast for Buffalo chicken wings. These hot wings packed a kick and were served with a creamy blue cheese dip that tasted like a secret recipe handed down and perfected over the years in the small family owned restaurant. The place was standing room only every Friday and Saturday night. I think it was the cool blue cheese dressing that kept us coming back for more.

Recently I decided to try to recreate his favorite dip/dressing just in time for the big game this weekend. So I scoured recipes and narrowed it down to five, some rich and some low-fat. The clear winner? A light combination of rich and lower fat. The secret was in the blue cheese. I used an Applewood Smoked Blue (Salemville carried at QFC and other markets) that added a hearty/bacony depth to the dressing. The best part is that this versatile dip/salad dressing takes less than two minutes to make and beats any bottled dressing hands down.


This recipe is for both the salad dressing and Buffalo chicken wing dip.
(It's also great for low-carb diets)

Smoked Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe
(makes one cup)

1/2 reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
4 ounces Applewood Smoked blue cheese crumbles
1 teaspoon wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
Dash of pepper
2 tablespoons half-and-half (optional to thin it for salad dressing)


Mix all ingredients together in bowl and let sit for a couple minutes as the flavors incorporate. Use as is for Buffalo chicken wing dip or to dress the salad, adding a dollop of dressing to Romaine leaves and for an extra pop, drizzle balsamic glaze over the top.

Note: 
  • I tried this exact recipe using full fat, reduced fat and non-fat versions of the mayonnaise and sour cream. The full-fat version was excellent but almost too rich. The non-fat version had an overriding chemical taste. It was awful. The reduced-fat version was terrific.
  • I used Tillamook sour cream and Hellmann's / Best Foods Mayonnaise
  • Balsamic glaze is a thicker version of Balsamic vinegar. It is available in the vinegar and oil aisle. Try this one from Trader Joe's.




the guide to the best chocolate peanut butter cupcake {recipe}



When I was working in Los Angeles, our executive team often came down for meetings with the movie studios, television networks and record labels. We would often bring something to the meetings like Sprinkles Cupcakes,  divine lovely little decadent treats that made people swoon. Often on my way to the airport heading home I would make a stop at Sprinkles to bring home one Red Velvet cupcake for my husband, L.. These sweets were just so good that it was worth hand carrying one cupcake 976 miles home.

Later today I'm heading to an executive women's retreat and I wanted to leave something for L. that would make him happy. So, this morning I made cupcakes that would rival even Sprinkles: the chocolate peanut butter cupcake.

There really are some tastes that just belong together: peanut butter & jelly, peanut butter & chocolate, peanut butter & bacon (really). . .These cupcakes (bacon-free) are literally the perfect combination of sweet, dense dark chocolate and smooth, light, peanut butter frosting.

I followed this Martha Stewart chocolate cake recipe (or use a box mix like Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate) and then prepared this easy peanut butter frosting recipe. Once you find out how easy it is to make homemade frosting, you will never use canned frosting again. Homemade frosting is fresh and creamy without that greasy/salty/artificial aftertaste that you get from canned frosting. Try this. It's easy. I promise.


Peanut Butter Frosting

Ingredients
(for 12 cupcakes)

1 cup smooth peanut butter (I like Jif)
1 stick of unsalted butter (softened to room temperature or microwave for 10 seconds)
2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons half & half

Directions

Add butter and peanut butter to a bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, whip the butter and peanut butter together until incorporated. Mix in 2 cups of confectioners sugar and slowly add the half & half, starting with 3 tablespoons. If it's still a little too thick, add more half & half one tablespoon at a time. 

Frost cupcakes. 

Lick the spoon. Close your eyes. Heavenly. 




what the contractors liked



When we had some work done on the house, we tried to keep these hard working guys happy with muffins and coffee for breakfast along with hearty lunches and snacks but I think the thing that made them happiest was the downstairs bath.

Sure, maybe it was the futuristic Toto washlet with heated seat from Japan or maybe it was the fact that the central air cooled this room to an igloo during that hot spell but actually, I think it was the Jo Malone products.

I'm a big believer in happy scents. When I first came home with Jo Malone's Orange Blossom Body & Handwash and Body & Hand Lotion for the downstairs bath (which is used 90% more than any other bath in the house), my husband, L., balked at using this 'girl' scent to wash his hands. To me, this scent is dreamy. It reminds me of L.A., specifically the rooftop Four Seasons Los Angeles pool dotted with lemon and orange trees. The light creamy white flower scent is light and lovely, like walking by an orange tree in bloom, rather than a cologne in a bottle. This is one of the happiest scents I know.

So, while I immediately took to the handwash followed by the hand lotion, L., is strictly an Orange Blossom handwash kinda guy. After you wash your hands you don't smell like someone who just stepped away from a perfume counter. Your hands smell clean, like sunshine and white citrus blooms.

So those contractors may have been working hard and sweating out in the Seattle sunshine but their hands? Well their hands were just about soft and sweet smelling as could be.

Yesterday I swung by the Nordstrom Jo Malone counter in Bellevue where the Jo Malone team know exactly how to help you pinpoint your new favorite scent from French Lime Blossom (which smells just like a stroll through the Champs Elysses in Paris) to Nutmeg and Ginger (which smells just like how a boy should smell) to Wild Bluebell (like a dewy spring morning in London). I know when I need a quick pick-me-up that a stop by this counter is a happy thing. I like to think that this pick-me-up worked on some very big, brawny, hard working boys as well. I think so.

Visit the JoMalone.com to help you choose your happy scent or visit a Nordstrom near you.

when that DIY craft goes completely wrong aka the guide to failure




This is the story of the project that failed.

When I was at Microsoft one of the most valuable lessons I learned was that you learn more through failure than you do through success. Though the humiliating, soul-stomping and possibly career ending failures were not encouraged, I do have experience with this.

So let's just say that I have learned a lot.

Let's begin at the start of this project.

I love Pinterest.

I love Mason jars.

I love layered desserts in Mason jars.

I love craft projects in that there is a beginning, middle and end. When you finish a project, you feel good and you have something lovely for your home.

So I try craft projects and most of the time they turn out great like these elastic hair ties. Easy + rewarding.



Then there are the projects like this one below that failed.  You never hear about these. Well, now you have.






I love the look of old Terracotta flower pots aged with moss positioned against a front door. I love the look of old copper pots with the aged aqua patina that looks like they belong in an old Italian villa. So I tried to make my own.

I did research on how to age pots.  I researched the perfect blue and green colors that would give the pots a faux aged appearance. I bought the Terracotta pots, BIG Terracotta pots. I stopped at four different craft and home improvement stores and bought the exact paints I wanted.

And on a bright, beautiful sunny day a few weeks ago I started the project outside. I sprayed the pots with a blue base paint then copper paint to make them look, well, like copper. They dried. Then I sponge painted two different blues and wiped them off to age them appropriately.  I finished off the project with a sealant spray. The pots turned out exactly as I hoped they would and I was pleased with the project.



Then I visited six nurseries to find the right plants. I thought perhaps a topiary like the ones above in Monaco. No, then fig?  No. I settled on rosemary trees from Home Dept. I bought the best soil and planted the rosemary topiaries in my new pots. Lovely. Really lovely. Very Martha Stewart-like. I loved them. Terrific craft project. I was ready to post this project as a happy thing.

Then one crisp, frosty, sunny morning I walked outside and saw some chips on the rim of the pots. I thought maybe someone bumped into them. I thought nothing more of it until two days later when big chips started to fall off the rim of the planters. I thought it was an anomaly. Yesterday was below freezing and I noticed huge cracks in the planters and clay chunks just falling off the pot. I did some research online and it turns out that when water gets into clay and freezes, it can crack the pot, which is exactly what it is doing. Little pieces falling off every day.

Can it be salvaged? No, not really. I am going to wait until the weather gets in the 40's though and replant the rosemary trees into pots that have been glazed and treated. I'll smash the rest of the Terracotta though and use it in the garden as a decorative accent.

The lesson here? There is always a lesson in life, right?



Here is what I am taking away from this project:  

  • What really matters isn't how pretty or superficial something or someone is on the outside. The real test is how something or someone handles stress. Are you the kind of person who cracks and falls apart when someone gets under your skin? Or are you calm under pressure? Can you pick up the pieces and move on? (This one is just ripe for the metaphors.)
  • One of the reasons I did this project was to save money. Sometimes it's just better to pay for something that's made well by someone who knows what they are doing.
  • Don't believe everything you read. One beautiful glossy vase may have taken 25 tries to get it just perfect. 
  • If a project fails, you try to understand where the failure occurred and you start again. And you learn. With every single thing, you learn. 
The uptake? 

Dont attempt this project. Final cost $147. The good news is now I'll have enough rosemary to flavor dinner for a long long time.

a happy little wonder drug?



Not long ago I saw a Naturopath. I wanted to get her opinion on things, including getting my happy back. I asked her if there was a natural drug that could induce happiness. The answer (unfortunately) is no. There is no magic natural little pill that could make someone happy. (Yes, there is marijuana, of course, but I was looking for something that wouldn't leave me too chilled out.)  I've had a couple  experiences with mood altering drugs.

Valium
On the day my grandfather died I freaked out and my mother gave me a Valium. I remember that floaty feeling, that super chilled out, groovy feeling but I wouldn't call it happy.

Vicodin
When I broke my arm, the doctors gave me Vicodin and that took the pain away. It also made me feel all sunshiny and warm but I wouldn't call that happy (although I did at one point tell my husband that the stuff was so good they should just put it in the water supply plus there was that weird side effect of just craving orange food.)

There are prescribed drugs (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac) that can help with mood stabilization and depression. She asked if I wanted to try any of these. I said no, I wasn't ready for that, not yet. She then suggested I try the over the counter supplement 5-HTP.

my supplements

5-Hydroxy Tryptophan (made from the seed of the African plant Griffin simplicifolia) works by increasing the level of serotonin (the feel-good chemical) in the brain. It is often recommended for depression, sleep disorders, obsessive thinking and ADHD.  There are side effects and lots of them ranging from headaches to constipation, seizures, nausea, drowsiness. . .If you read the supplement's reviews on WebMD you'll see that the side effect warnings weren't just for effect. Many people do suffer from side effects but then just as many have success with this drug, calling it a lifesaver, a wonder drug.

So, did the 5-HTP work for me? Yes, it did. I combined Vitamin D + B-12 with Gaia's Adrenal Health which promotes a healthy response to stress along 5-HTP in a 12-Hour time release capsule. I keep the bottles on my desk so I remember to take them. There is no sudden rush of happy, but instead my mind is clear and focused, allowing in the happy. I also didn't think about food as much and I felt energetic. This isn't the only thing I do, though. I changed my eating plan to mostly fruits/vegetables, protein (non-animal) and grains (non-wheat). I also walk at least 3 miles a day in the fresh air if possible. While the gym is great for when it rains here in Seattle, there is something so freeing about walking outside in the open air that does a body and a mind good.

If you think you need support to maintain your mood (especially in the dark winter months) don't be afraid to talk with your doctor or consult a Naturopath in your area. Do talk with someone though before self-medicating. What might be right for me or for your friend may not be appropriate for you, especially if you take other drugs or have certain medical conditions. Even natural supplements can have dangerous side effects.

Here's to happy!


the best quote from the golden globes 2013


The best quote from last night's Golden Globes Awards was easily this one from Jodie Foster as she delivered her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award. I've been thinking about this one line from her speech since last night. While in her touching, funny, honest 6:40 speech, Foster touched on her boys, her body of work, her friendship with Mel Gibson and her former life partner Cydney, these points weren't what was on everyone's lips this morning.

No, what people are talking about is this gentle, kind, imploring message to her mother who is battling dementia. My grandmother suffered from this gut-wrenching disease. I remember one day when I sat with her she said to me "Do I know you? I like you?" I looked directly into her eyes, hoping that my love was strong enough to reach into her soul. "Yes, and I love you. I love you. I love you." Maybe no matter how aware or tiny or hurt a person may be, I hope "I love you" is a phrase that one's soul will always recognize and embrace.

I love you, I love you, I love you.


what i learned from inside the miss america competition



Saturday, January 12th at 9pm EST.


Whenever I hear Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" there is only one thing I think of--the choreography behind this song that we practiced over and over again for the opening of the competition for the local chapter of the Miss America competition. It's funny how a song can bring you right back to a time.

During college I didn't know which direction I wanted to go in. Lawyer! News Anchor! Travel Reporter! It was almost too much. There were too many choices. It was like choosing Butter Crunch when I also wanted Strawberry and Maple Walnut (true). I wanted to do them all. One night at a benefactor dinner at my university however I met a philanthropist who told me "Try everything. Dip your toes in the water and go local." And so I did. 

I was a traffic reporter in the air!

I learned TV at our local PBS station!

I handled live animals at the animal sanctuary!

I learned publicity working for the Special Olympics!

I was a wedding planner!

I was a paralegal!

And one summer I worked as an assistant to the coordinator for our area's Miss America competition. When I took the job, to be honest, I rolled my eyes at the thought of working on something so silly but when I left, I had a new respect for these women who were so smart, healthy, driven and yes, lovely. 



Here is what I learned

  • Wearing a cocktail length dress? A swimsuit and heels? The rule is anytime you show your ankle, wear nude colored pumps (like these from L.K. Bennett). Catherine, the future Queen of England knows this trick. Nude heels elongate your legs and eyes are brought up to your face where you want them. 

  • No time to read the entire paper (or the entire New York Times website)? I still follow this trick: Read the front page (or at least the headlines) of each newspaper section (or read headlines from each section of the USA Today website--even the sections you have no interest in.) This will keep you on top of current events.

  • If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. Walk into a room with confidence. Fake it if you have to and the confidence will come.  Walk slowly with purpose, shoulders back and head up. 

  • Make people like you instantly by turning your smile on just for them. This is how. Make eye contact, then take your smile from zero to full (and real!) smile in three seconds. People will think the smile is just for them and they will like you immediately. (Try this. It works. You may attract too much attention but it does work!)

  • Be kind to each other. OK, yes, you may be in an office situation where it's survival of the fittest but it doesn't mean that you have to sideswipe someone else's career in favor of yours. Whether in the rehearsal space, make-up room or onstage, all I ever saw was women supporting each other, sharing their tips, clothing and ideas. Now, go share that nugget of information you were withholding from your co-workers. Share credit. It's OK to support each other.

  • Before a big interview think of a time when you were happy, confident, when you conquered something. Got it? Now go in and breathe slowly. When you are asked a question pause for a beat (even if you know the answer) then reply. Whatever you do, don't say "Um, like or you know." If you are interviewing with more than one person, look from one person to another for a second. Make eye contact.

  • Scuff the bottom of new shoes on asphalt before wearing them. 

  • It's true. Hemorrhoid cream can reduce under eye circles. Vaseline rubbed across your teeth can make your smile glisten. 

  • Yes, there is such a thing as butt glue. It keeps your swimsuit from riding up. No, it's not as uncomfortable as it sounds. 

  • Whatever you do, do not duct tape your breasts together to get enhanced cleavage (a typical trick women can use for a backless dress.) You have not known pain until you have to rip this tape off. DO NOT DO THIS.

  • Learn an instrument. Trust me. Just learn an instrument.  It will come in handy at some point in your life, even if it's just telling your future boss "I can play the Ukrainian Bandura" when he asks about your unusual talents.


That brief amount of time I spent inside the Miss America organization alongside these extraordinary women who worked so hard to dedicate themselves to being their absolute best was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I still wear nude heels. I still read the first page of every section of a newspaper (online or USA Today if I'm on a plane.) I still practice the slow smile. I still pause for a moment before I answer an important question. And I like to think that across this incredible country of ours there are thousands of lawyers, doctors, moms, teachers, publicists, wives, judges and managers who still scuff their new shoes on asphalt and who kindly share what they know with each other all because of their experience in the Miss America organization.

the happygirl guide to the best french onion soup (recipe)



Whenever I was working the Cannes Film Festival, our crew would try to have dinner at our favorite small restaurant in the Old Port that served a French Onion Soup so delicious that to this day I still dream of it. 

I've tinkered with this recipe over the past few years and now it reminds me exactly of the soup served in this little restaurant by the Mediterranean Sea. While it isn't low calorie, it may be the best you have ever had with a freshness (courtesy of the tarragon) and an extraordinary depth (courtesy of the Merlot.)

I hope you enjoy it. 




Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups (4 extra large) onions
1 teaspoon of fresh tarragon leaves (use 1/2 teaspoon if you use dried tarragon)
64 ounces (2 Tetra Pack boxes of organic beef broth. I prefer Pacific Natural Foods brand)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup Merlot or Cabernet
8 thin slices of a narrow loaf baguette
1 cup mix of shredded Swiss and Gruyere cheeses (sold mixed at Trader Joe's)





Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to broil. 


Thinly slice 4 large yellow onions to yield approximately 8 cups. Set aside. 


Heat butter and olive oil on medium heat in a large pot (a Dutch oven works great here).

Add onions to pan and toss so that onions are covered equally in the butter/olive oil mixture. Add tarragon, salt and pepper. 


Saute on medium, stirring every few minutes. Let onions soften and brown for 20 minutes. (It's OK if some onions get very dark. This carmellization will add depth to your soup. Be careful not to burn the onions though. If they start sticking to the pan, add a little bit of olive oil.) 

Turn heat to low and slowly add wine to onions to deglaze the pan. Turn heat to medium high. (Deglazing releases the brown tasty bits from the pan back into your mixture.) Stir for another 5 minutes until pan is deglazed and onion mixture thickens. 


before the merlot was added

after the merlot



Add 64 ounces or 2 Tetra Pack boxes of beef broth. Stir. Cook on high heat. 

Lightly brush thin slices of bread with olive oil and place on cookie sheet on low rack in oven. Bake for 3 minutes. Watch them carefully. This is a super hot oven! Remove when the baguette slices start to get golden and toasty. (This may happen quicker than 3 minutes) Be sure not to skip this part. If you add untoasted bread, it will get soggy and you won't get the good crusty cheese topping that this soup is known for.

Turn stovetop heat off. 

Place 4 oven safe soup bowls on a rimmed cookie sheet or pan. Ladle soup into each bowl leaving one inch at the top. (Soup will bubble over if filled too high.) Be sure to use a pan with at least a one inch rim. This can be a messy endeavor!

Add two slices of toasted baguette to top of soup. 

Add 1/4 cup of Swiss/ Gruyere cheese to top of the toast and soup. 

Carefully transfer pan with soup bowls on top rack of of heated oven at least 4 inches away from heating unit. 

Cook for 4 to 5 minutes. What you are looking for is melted / golden brown cheese. 

Very carefully remove pan with bowls from oven. They will be extremely hot so be careful!

Using mitts, slowly transfer soup bowls onto individual plates and serve with toasted bread. 




five things to be happy about this week


1. Spring starts in just 70 days!




2. This "Sound of Music" inspired flash mob will make you deliriously happy! (It's worth the ad.)  And yes, watch this at work and you will have a happy little crowd around your desk. 



3. Songza, the free (and 100% ad free) music service provides the perfect acoustic background for any moment of your day. Choose a moment (like working at your desk) and Songza will suggest several stations. Right now I'm listening to Classic Rock Summer.  Playlists are compiled by DJ's, musicians and musicologists. This will change the way you listen to and discover new music. 




4. Downton Abbey is back. Amen.




5. "Zero Dark Thirty" the latest film from Academy Award Winning Director Kathryn Bigelow is brilliant and it opens Friday. 

happy food: trader joe's mediterranean hummus snack pack



Yesterday was such a busy day of meetings and working out that I ended up skipping breakfast and lunch so by the time I swung by Trader Joe's at 4pm to pick up some vegetables and corn tortillas for dinner (roasted corn and monterey jack quesadillas), I was famished. While I had every intention of grabbing something healthy instead I  gazed longingly at Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese which is creamy nirvana.

But I bypassed the mac & cheese in favor of the Mediterranean Hummus Snack Pack. I tried it for the first time yesterday because it looked delicious, easy to eat on the run and it contained 9 grams of protein + 4 grams of fiber. (Science shows that a combination of protein + fiber + fat can keep you feeling sated longer than a sugar or carb snack.) While it does pack a calorie punch of 320 calories (18 grams of fat) this snack filled me up without making me feel guilty which for me leads to "I blew my healthy program for the day so let's eat a whole cake!" feeling.

I'm typically not a fan of the dip and chip packs because usually there isn't enough dip to go along with the chips but in this case there was plenty of dip which in itself was the perfect combination of creamy garbanzo beans, garlic and olive oil. The pita chips were crunchy and perfectly salted.

I have an early start again today with back to back meetings (and a 4 mile run in there somewhere) and I'll be popping this into my insulated lunch bag along with 10 grapes for a healthy, filling, satisfying lunch that's easy to eat on the go.

What's your go-to healthy snack?

experiment #27: getting a tattoo for the first time


this is me, the preppy girl

I would never be considered a badass.

I have never been called a badass.

I have, in fact, been called the opposite of badass. You're too sensitive. You need to toughen up. 

When you look at me you would see a preppy girl who favors ponytails, white linen and Buddy Holly-esque reading glasses. But at 1:16pm on December 27, 2012 in the middle of Duval Street in Key West, my husband took one look at me, smiled wide, kissed me on the forehead and said "Well, I married quite the little badass, didn't I?"

I got a tattoo.

this is me, the badass

For the past eight years I have wanted a tattoo. When I was working in L.A. one day I had my belly button pierced and I thought I was edgy. I thought maybe it would be my gateway to getting a tattoo. I knew I wanted one but I didn't know what I wanted. I thought of a Hawaiian lei of Pikake flowers around my right ankle. Last summer when I was home in Massachusetts I actually made it into a tattoo parlor accompanied by my high school friend, Brian, and tried getting a tattoo of a happy little lobster on the back of my neck but the artist was completely booked for the day. I took it as a sign that I wasn't supposed to get one. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be a lobster.

A few weeks ago our family met up in Key West in a gorgeous beach house on Key Largo. There were eleven of us and it was magical. One afternoon I did a search on my iPad on Starfish and a page came up featuring Starfish tattoos. Here is what it said:

The starfish. . . symbolizes growth, regeneration, healing, inspiration, brilliance, intuition and vigilance. 

In Christian faith, the starfish is representative of the Virgin Mary. . .and  the Virgin Mary’s divine guidance and vigilance.

. . . starfish tattoos are often representative of infinite, deep and divine love.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of the starfish is its ability to grow a new limb should one be amputated from its body. This quality makes a starfish tattoo a perfect symbol of regeneration and healing, and may serve as a personal reminder of surviving a traumatic event in one’s life.



That was it. I had survived losing a baby, almost dying, getting laid off from the best job in the world and absolute soul-killing sadness.  I had survived it. I had healed. I was stronger for having gone through these trying times. I told my husband I knew what I wanted now, a starfish tattoo and I explained why. He looked at me bemused and said "Really? You're sure because once you do it. . ." I said "Yes, yes, absolutely yes." There was no doubt.

And so on December 27th our family drove to Key West from Key Largo. We shopped, enjoyed a leisurely lunch of crepes al fresco at La Creperie and then, then my sister-in-law and I peeled off from the group as they ventured for a ride on the Duck Tour. She and I were going to be rebels, badasses, if you will, as we headed to Paradise Tattoo on Duval Street.

I am a lucky girl. I have two sisters-in-law who I love like sisters. Carolyn is a veterinarian who is steady, fearless and would be my guide for this experiment. We had chosen Paradise Tattoo out of all the shops in Key West because of their ratings and reviews. I had done my homework and even called the shop several times in advance. Sure, I was going to be a badass but that didn't mean I was going to go into this experiment willy nilly.

In my mind I had pictured a tattoo shop as dark, kind of scary-- the place you stumble into at 2am when you are crazy drunk and while sure, this place may be great at 2am for getting a tattoo that you'll regret later, at 11am it was decidedly normal, very clean and the artists were ridiculously friendly. I asked Carolyn what she thought if the place. Was it clean? It passed Carolyn's rigid cleanliness test. I told the receptionist what I was thinking of. A little aqua starfish, a happy little starfish sort of in motion, flowing in the ocean. She pulled out some books for me to browse and jumped on the computer to search for a happy starfish. In a couple minutes she popped back around and showed me a starfish she had printed out. She was perfect, a lovely 1 1/2 inch starfish. I paid, looked at my sister-in-law and then promptly panicked.

"What am I doing? This is a TATTOO!"

"Tay, this is easy. It's a little tattoo. It's what you always wanted. You're going to love it."

"I think I'm going to throw up. I can't do this. What if I get it and HATE it? I will be stuck with this thing ON MY BODY."

"Stop," she said. "You're working yourself up. It's not that big of a deal." She herself was browsing through an idea book.

They called my name. I looked at Carolyn. "Come on," she said. "We're doing this."

The artist's name was Doreen. I was comforted with the fact that a girl would be doing my tattoo. She had the starfish picture in her hand and motioned for me to sit. I liked her immediately. I told her what the starfish meant to me, about healing and regenerating. She liked the idea.

"So. Where are we doing this?" Doreen looked at me expectantly.

I pointed to my left wrist. "She belongs right here."

my temporary tattoos

The cool thing is that on Christmas morning my nieces and I sat in the tiki hut at our beach house with  a kid's temporary tattoo kit. Throughout the day the girls would tattoo family members and visitors to the house. I chose 3 aqua glitter stars on my left wrist as sort of a test run. I loved them. With the stars there for a couple days it made me realize how many times you actually look at your wrists every day.

And so with the temporary tattoos gone, Doreen flipped my left wrist up. I looked at her and said "You know I would pay BIG MONEY for a shot of tequila right about now." She laughed.  They did not offer tequila shots. Bummer. She rinsed my wrist and forearm with a solution and applied the transfer away from any veins. I told her the color I wanted, like a Tiffany box. We pulled the Tiffany.com website up on my phone and she mixed away. Here are the colors.



They told me it would feel like a bee sting.

It did NOT feel like a bee sting. When I was six years-old I walked into a wasp nest and was stung dozens of times on my face. This is what it felt like. I started to tear up. I held my breath and said "FUCK ME. That hurrrrrts!"



I squeezed my eyes shut as she worked, hearing the sound of the electric needle and thinking logically that I needed this to stop. It was a mistake. Then I said to myself "This is what you wanted. See it through." That actually helped. I felt the pain, every moment of it. Carolyn said "It's OK. Look." I opened my eyes and looked at my little starfish taking shape. She had her grey outline and her body was shades of aqua. I smiled. It was exactly what I had hoped. Doreen washed the area off. We were done. It was less than 20 minutes. I was happy.

Doreen wrapped my arm in a gauze and I watched at Carolyn got her tattoo. Hers was a paw print/ heart on her wrist as well. It was so Carolyn. FYI, it's much better watching someone get a tattoo than getting one yourself.

When we walked back into the sunshine, I felt exhilarated. I had done it. This little starfish would remind me of sunshine, of the way my husband looked at me when we walked the beach, of how you do survive traumatic events and you are stronger for it.

We ran into the rest of our family. They were excited to see what we did, especially the little girls. Carolyn and I peeled back the gauze on our tattoos to show them. This is when my husband, L., smiled, kissed me on the forehead and called me a badass. It was worth the pain just to see him smile at me that way.

So, here I am this morning on a rainy Seattle day, sitting at my desk. I look down as I type and I see my happy little starfish. I love this tattoo. It is such a happy reminder and it was a very good thing that I waited until I knew exactly what felt right.


Experiment #27 was a success. Getting a tattoo made me happy and the residual ripples are lovely. I am the badass happygirl. :-)


Notes

  • Before getting a tattoo, be absolutely sure of the design you want because you are going to see it every day. Think about getting a temporary tattoo first to see if you like it. 
  • Research the tattoo shop. Read reviews and ratings. When you arrive, look around. Does it look clean? 
  • Do exactly what the artist tells you to do when you leave. I expected my tattoo to be this bloody, scarring thing with the warnings that she gave me but I followed her instructions to the letter and my tattoo looked great from the first moment I got it until now. There was no scarring, no scabbing. I washed the area gently and applied Eucerin several times a day. She's very pretty. :-)