{happy food} pumpkin-cider bread recipe

One of the treasured memories I have of my grandmother was autumn weekends when she would make us pumpkin bread. I remember how my grandfather would hover in the kitchen as the loaves of pumpkin bread cooled on the counter. My grandmother would catch him out of the corner of her eye and say "Paul! Not yet! Let it cool!" Later, the three of us would sit together at the wooden table in their small kitchen enjoying warm pumpkin-walnut bread with tall jam jars of cold milk. 

Every September when the air begins to turn crisp I think of my grandparents and cozy days together walking through the leaves of Western Massachusetts and choosing the perfect pumpkin. 

This weekend, before you head out to enjoy the spectacular weekend, try this recipe and make someone you love happy. 

{happy food: pumpkin-cider bread recipe}
adapted from Ina Garten


2 cups white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
1 16 ounce can organic pumpkin (not  sweetened pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup cinnamon applesauce
2/3 cup of apple cider
4 eggs
2 cups white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger


Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 9x5 loaf pans or decorative pans. Set aside.

Mix sugar, pumpkin, oil, applesauce, cider and eggs together. Set aside. 

In a separate bowl mix flour, nuts, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices. 

Slowly mix the dry ingredients into wet ingredients, stirring gently until incorporated.

Pour batter evenly into two prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. 

Cool before serving. 

Happy autumn!

business cards explained by a 5 year-old

Recently I met someone new in Boston. He wanted to follow up on the conversation so I gave him a business card. He was with his daughter, 5 year-old Sophie. We started to talk and this is how our conversation went:

Sophie: What is that?

(I crouched down to Sophie's level.)

Taylor: It's a business card. (I held one out for her to see)

Sophie: What's it for?

Taylor: So people can remember me.

Sophie: Can I have one?

Taylor: Of course, love. (I gave her a business card.)

Sophie: (Holding it up to her nose, she frowned.) It doesn't smell.

Taylor: No, sadly, it doesn't smell.

Sophie: It should smell like Fruit Loops. It should smell pink.

Taylor: (I smiled) That would be nice, wouldn't it, but wouldn't people want to eat it?

Sophie: (smiling wide) Then people would remember you.


{happy video} four year-old adelaide sings to imaginary fireworks

The backstory: Four year-old Adelaide couldn't sleep because she thought she heard fireworks outside her window. To distract her, her dad brought out the ukelele and while he accompanied her she sang "You Belong to Me" as they watched the imaginary fireworks.

Here's to Adelaide, her dad and the power of imagination. 

the happygirl guide to the week of september 23

Last night was the first evening that had us searching for a warm blanket as we curled up in front of the fire. There is something so quintessentially wonderful about crisp sunny days and cool autumn evenings.

Here's what else there is to be happy about this week.

New TV Series!
Not only are our favorite series finally returning to TV but new series are debuting this week.
Highlights: "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (NEW! ABC, Tuesdays at 8pm ET), "The Goldbergs" (NEW! ABC Tuesdays, 9pm ET), "How I Met Your Mother" (Returning CBS, Mondays 8pm ET) and "Breaking Bad" (Series finale, AMC Sunday, September 29th at 9pm ET)

It's Sweater Season!
This is the week to break the sweaters out of hibernation. If you need to spruce up your wardrobe, try J. Crew's new soft as a lamb's ear sweaters. Now through September 25th, take 25% off your J. Crew order with code SHOPFALL.

Oh, Great Pumpkin!
Oh, it hits you as soon as you walk into the coffee shop -- pumpkin bread. That spicy goodness just makes you feel as warm inside. Tomorrow, we'll be sharing the Happygirl recipe for the best pumpkin bread we've ever had.

It's National Dog Week!
Dogs are awesome. They love you. They cuddle with you. And if they really really like you, they'll drop their slippery, smelly rawhide in your lap just because you're lucky enough to be in their pack.

Think about adding to your family. Visit petfinder.com to find your new family member.

This Happy Product: The Scrunchable Water Bottle!
Traveling through airports this week I realized that I over the course of 1 week I had used at least 14 water bottles. I was guilty taking up space in landfills. This week I discovered the new Bubi collapsing water bottle that tucks cleverly into itself.  It comes in fun colors and it's BPA-free, mold resistant, microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe. Starting at $14.95 it's a happy thing.

{happy video} how to be the george clooniest guy out there

Ten year-old Cole is just about the coolest little guy out there. He knows the secret lies in going the extra mile.  Follow these tips that will make you just a little bit Cloonier.

happy food review: trader joe's cowboy caviar salsa

We love salsa. 

Seriously, we LOVE salsa in our house.

It's sacred. 

Salsa & chips always seems to work regardless of the moment. Getting in from work and you need a snack immediately? Chips & salsa. Whipping up scrambled eggs at 3am? Salsa + cheddar = wildly good breakfast food.  Sitting out by a campfire? Chips and salsa.

And while our favorite salsa is my Homemade Salsa Worth Waiting Two Years For, sometimes we just need to pop open a jar of salsa in a hurry. This week we tried Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar and we liked it so much that we went through two jars in three days. Made with ingredients like corn, black beans, tomatoes and peppers, Cowboy Caviar has a spicy, hot, homemade taste. It's full bodied, meaning the flavors are balanced. Sometimes salsa can have so much hot pepper that it's hot just for the sake of being hot. However, with the addition of adobo peppers, lime and chipotle peppers, Cowboy Caviar tastes like a summer night in Baja. It's the perfect topping for a baked potato, fish tacos or nachos served all melty with a good Monterey Pepperjack. 

Cowboy Caviar is fat free and low in sodium, which we loved since we have tried so many salsas that are just too salty. Instead, Trader Joe's balance of vegetables, spices and lime make this salsa our second favorite choice after homemade. At $2.49 a jar, it's a happy food. We highly recommend it!

the happygirl guide: how to patina anything

One of the charms of an older town like Nantucket or Rome is the architecture, the rich patina that seems to radiate history.  It's impossible to walk a hundred feet in a historic city without admiring the grey shingled cottages that have withstood the years of battering by the sea or the green-hued copper fountains which have hosted hundreds of years of coins and wishes.

Several weeks ago I was in a small shop in Sandwich, Massachusetts. It's a sweet town, the oldest on Cape Cod. I collect mermaids and when I saw this dusty, dark green cast iron mermaid, I knew just where she belonged. On that sunny, warm, summer day as the shopkeeper carefully bundled my purchase for her long trip to Seattle, we talked of summer wind, mermaids and history.

Last Wednesday I looked at her on the mantle and she was beautiful but too new.  I wanted her to look as if she had lazed on the back deck looking out at the sea for years. Since I didn't want to wait for her to weather on her own, I did some research on how to patina, how to give an item an aged rough aqua hued surface. It turns out there are dozens of ways, really, to do this and after a trip to Michael's, I was able to turn this former one dimensional sea creature into a piece of art that now sits on our mantle, surrounded by sea glass and starfish. She looks happy here, don't you think?

If you'd like to add a patina, a glow to something, here's how you do it:

The Happygirl Guide to Patina

For your first project, choose something solid like wood or metal. This project uses chemicals and is best done outside. Prepare your work area to cover anything you don't want painted!

Here are the items you'll also need: 

- Copper Gilding (Martha Stewart brand)
- Aqua metallic paint (I used a shade called Dark Patina by DecoArt)
- Rub n' Buff Patina
- Sea sponge
- Sandpaper
- Rubber gloves
(All products from Michael's)

Step 1
Clean item of any dirt or dust. 

Step 2
Put on rubber gloves. Shake (closed) Gilding bottle. Open and dab a small amount of Copper Gilding onto sea sponge. (A little goes a long way.) Begin applying copper gilding. It doesn't have to be applied perfectly. In fact, in can be imperfect. I dabbed and rubbed it in. It didn't make a difference in the application. Gild entire item, being sure to get in the crevices. It's OK if some of the original color peeks through. 

Let dry.

Step 3
Shake (closed) bottle of aqua metallic paint and using the same method as step 2, apply aqua metallic paint. Again, it isn't important that the entire piece is evenly covered. It can look rough.

Let dry. 

Step 4
This tube of patina is VERY strong both in odor and performance. To begin, you need a very small dab  (less than a pea size) on the sea sponge. You'll want to work swiftly here before the paste dries. It comes out of the tube a sky blue color but as you rub the paste in, it becomes various shades from white to blue to green.  Apply patina all over, rubbing it in. You can be rough here. It doesn't need to be perfect. It's OK if some of the other colors come through. Be sure to work the paste into the crevices. If you notice antiqued pieces, this is where patina collects. 

Let dry. 

Step 5
Use a fine grain sandpaper to rough the piece up, letting some other colors come through. Dust off before placing it inside. 

You're done! It's pretty easy, isn't it? If you try this project, we'd love to see it! 

{review} the ford 2014 escape with ecoboost

When they dropped the 2014 Ford Escape off last Monday, I was excited to spend a week getting to know this crossover SUV. As a little brother to the Ford Explorer, it's exactly what you would expect, a sort of Goldilocks Ford if you will--not too big, not too small.

The version we test drove (base $30,850) was the Titanium 4WD (add-on $1735) with Ecoboost (add on $1195) and Navigation system (add-on $795). So, it literally had all the bells and whistles you could hope for except for a sunroof.

Looking at the car, it's hard to decipher if it's more car or SUV. The 2014 Ford Escape is lean, more athletic-looking than its predecessor. It is a crossover that doesn't scream "I have kids!" or "I'm single!" It seems to have that universal appeal. I polled a few of my friends both male and female, parents and non-parents alike and everyone wanted to take this car for a little spin.

Let's go for a ride. 

The keyless entry is always a good first touch. It's also moderately elevated. You enter more like a car yet you feel a little higher but not quite as high as you would in an SUV. See? Very middle of the road, if you will. Parents will appreciate this mid-version height because reaching into the backseat to tether a child into a carseat is a cinch. While we're here in the backseat, there is plenty of legroom and headspace for two adults and kids will appreciate their own outlet for charging phones or DVD players.

As far as comfort goes, the seats are pretty firm and not as cushy as the Range Rover Evoque (my favorite compact SUV). The leather seats are comfortable but they feel like they are built for utility and not comfort. They aren't as utilitarian as say, the Jeep Wrangler, but I wouldn't want to drive cross-country in this vehicle.

Ergonomically, the dash is laid out well with everything in clear view and placed where you would expect them to be. The Sync system, which has worked well on other Ford cars we've driven in the past, would fail intermittently and dropped our calls numerous times throughout the week.

The cargo hold is a great size. Whenever I test-drive a car I always look at the cargo space to see if I had a full car of passengers would I fit all our luggage as well. The Ford Escape cargo hold could easily handle the luggage for four people and a stroller. This is the kind of crossover that can take everything a family can throw at it from Costco runs to sports equipment.

Interesting bit: The windshield wipers were configured so that the left and right wipers come together towards the middle rather than in the traditional set-up where they move together in one direction. The wipers moving fast and towards each other had the effect of making one of our friends immediately carsick. Interesting. 

Driving the car, you have good visibility with minor blind spots. The car we drove had both parking assist and blind spot detectors which were helpful when driving in the busy mall parking lot. On the highway, the Escape was fairly quiet with good pick up. Safety-wise it scored four stars overall in the Government 5-star Safety Ratings with five stars for side crashes. You can expect to get  on average roughly 24 miles per gallon.

So, is it a happy car?

I like this crossover. In fact we all did, except for our friend who begged us to turn off the "dizzying" windshield wipers. For the price point the 2014 Ford Escape is perfect for families, singles, your grandma. It's a safe car that offers a solid drive with plenty of space. It doesn't provide the level of comfort that the Evoque does and it isn't as big as the Explorer but as a mid-level min-SUV, it's a happy thing. 

{what to see: austenland}

I admit it. 

As I signed in for the press screening of "Austenland" I was expecting a basic chick flick. You know, girl obsessed with Jane Austen takes a trip to a land where she immerses herself in the days of yore and literature's most iconic crush, Mr. Darcy. It doesn't get more girly than that. However, I was happily surprised that this sweet film was more than just an ode to girl who like wine and Colin Firth

Based on the book of the same name, Keri Russell stars as Jane, an American who travels to England to indulge in her obsession with all things "Pride & Prejudice" at a themed country estate. Here she meets fellow Anglophiles played by Jennifer Coolidge and Georgia King for a week of flirting and fun in the Regency style. Unfortunately, Jane paid for the less expensive package so she's relegated to the brown dresses and servant's quarters but she still attracts both the stable boy (Bret McKenzie) and the Mr. Darcy clone Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild). 

The film plays out as you imagine it would with stolen kisses in a barn, plenty of tea drinking and swishing of era-appropriate dresses but there are genius moments like the play performance that make this film more than just a vapid chick film. 

Who should see this film: This is the perfect film for a girl's day out. Start with a late brunch then a matinee. Mom will love this movie. You'll have to hear how much she loves Colin Firth repeatedly but she's Mom so let her have this one.

{happy things} Collections

I've never been much of a collector. When I was a little girl I loved Nancy Drew and read the series. I still have some of the yellow hardcover books but I was never one to try and collect every book.  Even now, as I sit at my desk and look around my studio I see seashells, starfish and a small, perfect, crystal seahorse (a gift from a lovely friend) but I don't think of it as a collection.

The other day as I was lacing up my running shoes I realized, I have more than a few pairs around the house. I started gathering them up and I realized that I was indeed a collector -- a collector of running shoes.

You have to understand, I am not a shoe girl. I am happiest when I am running barefoot in cool, soft, dewy grass. I can count how many pairs of regular day-to-day shoes I have on one hand (or foot!) Typically I wear a pair of Cole Haan black ballet flats with my signature jeans and crisp oxford shirt. There are also the black riding boots for jeans and cashmere sweater days, the Hunter boots that make me feel like a British schoolgirl and a pair of aquamarine sparkly Manolos that make me feel like a Bond girl.

However, it's my running shoe collection that makes me happy. A year ago when I started getting fit I had some sneakers that hadn't seen much wear. I started working out, hurt myself and saw a podiatrist who recommended Mizunos and Asics for my particular foot. I was committed to working out so I bought a pair of each brand, switching them out each day. Then, as I worked out more and started running, I bought a new pair every few months. If I traveled and forgot my running shoes I bought a pair. This is how I ended up with a running shoe collection.

I showed Larry the collection. "What is up with you and running shoes?" he asked. I smiled. "I collect running shoes. Me. The non-athlete. I collect RUNNING SHOES!" I was actually kind of pleased that I was no longer a girl who would circle the parking lot to find a space close to the door. Instead I was interested in the foam density of a shoe and if it could help me cross a finish line.

You see, it isn't about the shoe, really. It's about what the shoe represents-- a shift in perception, a change in what I value. Before I loved handbags (or pocketbooks if you're from New England). Now I know what running shoes represent. It means that I value my health. It means that I can fly faster towards my goals in life. It means I am a Happy, Healthy Girl.

What do you collect? What makes you happy?

{happy food} man-cave snacks: homemade smoky cheez-its

She asked me if I minded that my husband was a gamer. I looked at her and tilted my head.  I said "I don't understand the question."

She looked me straight in the eye and spoke slowly "Your. Husband. Is. A. Gamer. Don't you mind that he spends evenings playing Xbox?"

I smiled at her.  I wanted to tell her that his job (at Xbox) and his passion for his work are one in the same. I thought about telling her how smart gamers are, how fine-tuned their eye-hand coordination is. I could have told her that I'm happy that he isn't somewhere partying. Instead he's here in our home playing Xbox Live with his friends. When he's happy, I'm happy. I knew she wouldn't get it though. So, instead, I said "I'm a lucky girl being married to a gamer." She shook her head at me, turned around and walked away. Clearly, she doesn't know any gamers.

The thing is, my husband loves Xbox and I love when he's happy. So, his Xbox space is comfortable and cool. There's chill lighting, a comfortable relaxation space to put your feet up and REALLY good snacks. Larry indulges my snack creations for The Happygirl and they've all been pretty tasty but last night I unlocked an achievement (!) with these homemade Cheez-its made from Sharp Cheddar and Smoky Blue Cheese. They have the crunch of the boxed cheesy snack but with just 5 ingredients, they are easy to make and the taste is phenomenal.

If you love a gamer, here's how to make him (or her!) happy with Homemade Cheez-Its.

{the happygirl guide to homemade cheez-its}


6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces smoky blue cheese
1 cup white flour
4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 tablespoons ice water


In a standmixer or food processor, add the cheeses, flour, softened butter and salt. Blend and slowly add ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to come together. It should look fluffy. Turn off mixer and form dough into a ball.  

Divide ball into two and flatten into two discs. Place each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Place parchment paper on cookie sheets. Set aside. 

Removed both dough discs from refrigerator. One at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8th inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut 1 inch squares of dough and place on parchment paper. The dough doesn't spread so you can place the squares close together without touching. 

Continue placing squares on parchment paper. Do the same with the second disc. You should have two cookie sheets of crackers. 

Use the flat end of a bamboo stick to poke a hole in the center of each cracker. 

Place sheets on a middle rack at 375 degree oven for 12-14 minutes. Watch at 13 minutes. The crackers should look golden, not overcooked.

Remove from oven. Let cool and enjoy immediately. When cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (Though really, they won't last the evening. They are THAT good!)

  • If you don't have time to wait for the butter to soften, use a cheese grater to grate the butter. It will be the perfect consistency for this recipe. 
  • If you don't have blue cheese, you can use cheddar alone.
  • Be sure to lightly flour the surface you are using to roll out the dough. this dough can be sticky.
  • If you don't have a 1-inch cookie cutter, you can use a pizza cutter or a knife to carefully slice 1 inch squares.

the experiment: the harvard girl

I've been OceanSunGirl (my very first nickname/email address on AOL.)

I've been Dish Diva (my on-air name as a celebrity interviewer).

I've been The Happygirl.

Now I'm also Harvard Girl.

This week I received my books, my new email address and yes, my Harvard sweatshirt. I am officially a student at Harvard. Sure, I received my degree in Politics from a liberal arts college in New Hampshire but this fall I decided to expand my horizons beyond Italian 4 and see how far I can stretch beyond my intellectual comfort zone. I set my sights on Harvard and Harvard it is.

Why? Because I've just lost 100 pounds and lately I've been receiving an onslaught of email from readers asking how I did it and could I help them with their journey to health. Yes, I know how I did it (No wheat, dairy, sugar, coffee or alcohol + kickboxing and running) but I hit major plateaus and I was frustrated. I don't feel like I could offer help if I don't understand how the body works.  So, I did some research and this fall I will be studying Nutrition at Harvard.

I registered a few weeks ago and after reviewing the syllabus I know that this is going to be one intense experiment. Can I pass a Harvard course? I love studying. My friends from college used to leave notes on my cubicle at the library. It was my favorite spot on campus. I wonder now though with real life, a family, a job, will I be able to focus like I did when I was in college?

So, here we go. The Harvard Girl Experiment begins. Go Crimson!

Are you in school this fall too? What is your favorite study tip? Let's do this one together!