A healthy attempt at the Sweet Potato Toast Trend

We were at home. He was sitting across from me looking at my plate. "That's dinner?" he asked, as my husband took a bite of his Costco hot dog smothered in relish and mustard.  I looked down. "Yeah, it's the newest trend. Avocado on sweet potato toast. I think it probably looks worse than it tastes." I tried lifting the slice to take a bite but it was too floppy to eat with my hands. So, I went with the traditional knife and fork approach and took a bite. He looked at me expectantly. "Well?" "Well," I said. "It tastes like mashed avocado on a slightly charred, chewy but soft piece of sweet potato." It wasn't the worse thing I have ever tasted but it  also wasn't a meal that I would want every night. I did, however, feel virtuous. I felt like the goodness in the avocado and sweet potato were flooding my body with nutrients and that I liked.

I am on a quest to get healthy, to lose weight, to get strong and like who I am. I am happiest when I my clothes fit well and I can walk/run three miles easily. Right now, I need work in this area so lately, I have been wading through healthy lifestyle websites and browsing through cookbooks. Sweet potato toast with avocado is a recipe trend that I keep coming across. As a vegetarian (*with a slight love for bacon) this seemed like a healthy meal bursting with nutrients.  Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, manganese, copper and fiber as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Avocados are also good for you, containing healthy mono-unsaturated fat.  I decided to try one of the recipes. I used this one from epicurious.com.

It's a simple recipe. To make Sweet Potato Toast with Avocado, cut a sweet potato into 1/4 inch slices, pop them into your toaster (you may need to do this three or four times on 'dark'). Then top with sliced or mashed avocado. It seemed easy enough.

We have a toaster oven instead of a traditional toaster so I tried it in that. After 10 minutes on the bagel setting, the sweet potato slices were still hard. Fifteen minutes and they were charred and dry but still semi-hard. At 20 minutes, the outside was shriveled and slightly burned. I took them out of the oven and they didn't resemble the crisp looking slices on the epicurious site. My guess is that the sweet potato slices would have cooked more evenly and crisply in a traditional toaster with the heating elements close on both sides of the sweet potato. Of course, avocado can make anything great. So, I mashed an avocado with some fresh lime juice and topped the cooked sweet potato slices with it. It was good, in a way that you like something when you know it's really good for you.

As I was eating the "toast" L, looked at me and laughed. "You look confused as you're eating that," he said, as he took a bite of a potato chip. "Yeah," I said. "It's like a warm Thanksgiving side dish topped with a cool Mexican appetizer. It's not bad. It's just really---soft." Did I finish it? Yes, because I was so hungry. One of the benefits of this meal is that it's super high in fiber so I was full until the following morning. Would I make it again? Probably not, but the next time I find myself in a hipster vegan restaurant, I would order this. I think prepared in a different way, it could be a slice of heaven.

happy food: avocado lime baja tacos

In the winter, I crave comfort food like mac & cheese and mashed potatoes but when the days turn sunny and warm, I can't get enough of beach-style food like salads, watermelon, chips & guacamole and tacos. On lovely summer days, I could have Baja Fish Tacos every day and be as happy as a toddler in a wading pool with a popsicle.

Other than the fact that these tacos are adaptable for most food preferences (switch out pulled pork or chicken for the fish or omit the corn tortilla altogether), the preparation is quick, especially if you pick up some prepared items at the market. With some simple prep and 20 minutes, you'll feel like you just stopped by your favorite taco truck by the beach. (This Avocado Lime Crema is also delicious as a salad dressing or a dip for fresh vegetables.)

For a perfect summer experience, prepare these, wrap them in aluminum foil and enjoy these outside with a margarita.

print recipe

Avocado Lime Baja Tacos
Easy summer tacos that rival that beachside taco truck
  • 4 pieces cooked fish (I used Trader Joe's breaded cod filets.)
  • 1 cup finely shredded white cabbage
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped pineapple
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • (to taste) Cotija or shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 medium peeled and pitted ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • (to taste) sea salt
Add all Avocado Lime Crema ingredients (avocados, cilantro, lime juice, sour cream, Greek yogurt, garlic powder, water and salt) to blender and mix on medium for 45 seconds or until blended. Set aside.If you have a grill or gas stove, place each corn tortilla directly on grill or burner for ten seconds on each side to char. Otherwise. wrap tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 20 seconds to soften tortillas. Assemble each taco with a layer of shredded cabbage atop the tortilla followed by the fish, crema, pineapple and cheeseEnjoy!Notes: These can also be made with shredded pork, chicken or simply vegetables.

Most markets have cabbage and pineapple already shredded and cubed.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: Dinner for two

the saddest post i've ever written

Every little girl should have a dog.
In heaven, there is a little baby girl, our daughter named Grayson and tonight she gets her wish.
Our sweet, funny, kind, loving Emerson, our dog, our girl, tonight left this earthly plane. She had a great heart, unfortunately too big, too enlarged. We would have done everything to save her, I would have run into a burning building to rescue her. Larry would have battled great white sharks and bopped them on the nose. I would have fought anyone who tried to harm this innocent sweet soul who just wanted to love, who would lay under my desk during the day with her face draped over the top of my feet. At night she slept on my pillow and I often woke up with her eyes carefully studying my face.
She has been my best friend, my constant north star for the past 16 years. Today, she was suffering. She was gasping to breathe, she batted my hand away but still I loved her. So, I cuddled with her laying against my chest peacefully (while Larry held us) our breaths in tune with each other. The first drug came and she closed her eyes to sleep, hearing my heart beat against hers. The second drug lifted her away. I closed my eyes, kissed her head and told her “Run to Grayson, Emma, run as fast as your little legs can carry you. You will recognize each other. She has been waiting so long for you. I love you I love you I love you. It was heaven here with you. We will see you again.” Then it was over.
I look forward to seeing those fast little Westie legs running towards me someday when I leave and I will say “Emma, I will lift you up, bury my face in your neck and love you for all eternity.”

how to be happy #290: dream big

I have a vision board. It's something I look at every day and it helps center me when I'm in my office space.  When I get easily distracted by pandas sneezing, one glance at my vision board is a solid reminder to refocus my energy towards what will help me achieve my goals.

Sometimes goals can seem so out of reach, so beyond what I can accomplish. I like immediate gratification (Hello, Kraft Mac & Cheese) and waiting months or maybe years for a payoff can be hard to imagine. I came across this quote this morning that helped me refocus. I'm adding this to my vision board.

One of my goals, for example, is to lose weight, to get healthy, to gain strength and make my muscles do what they yearn to do. However, when I look at what I need to lose, I get discouraged. Reading this quote, though, helps me to remember that every journey begins with a single step. One pound becomes five becomes ten and so on. One mile of walking with stops for a breather up our hills becomes one miles without stops, becomes running one mile. Big things often have small beginnings, humble beginnings.

There are other things on my vision board. Some of these I have wanted for as long as I can remember. It's so easy to get discouraged and say "Why even bother? It's too much work. I'll never make that happen. . ." This is true as long as I take ZERO steps to making it happen. So, one day I take a few tentative steps and then I reassess. Do I still want that goal? Yes. Great, then take two steps forward. One day, one very perfect, wonderful day, that goal is there right in front of you. The most important thing I have learned is to keep going, push through, focus on the goal. Don't listen to anyone who makes you doubt your goal, regardless of how lofty that is. Dream big. Your beginning may be small, tentative but oh, how amazing that day is when you achieve what you set your mind to do. You have the power to do this. You do.

So, here's to goals and small beginnings!

how to be happy #289: your smile lights up a room

There are those people who change a room just by being in it. They walk into a room with a big, genuine smile and all you can think is "I need to get to know her." That's you. You have no idea the power that your smile has to delight/enchant/disarm anyone in your radius. It's easy. The corners of your mouth turn up, your eyes crinkle and sparkle. And here's the thing. It's just a mindset. Regardless of what your Monday looks like, of what meetings you're dreading or what person just rubs you the wrong way, you can change the way you approach your day with deciding to smile.

A true smile makes you look confident and radiant. You know those moments when you just feel "on"? It's a hard feeling to describe. It's as if you have the world in your hand. You know what to do to take care of any situation. You are in control. You can manage whatever is about to be thrown your way. A smile doesn't mean you are weak or pleasing. A smile that comes straight up from your chest says you own this and no one, nothing can knock you off your path.

A smile is also as contagious as a yawn. Have you ever looked at someone who was scowling and smiled at them (again, a genuine smile, not a sarcastic smirk) and it literally stops him and more often than not, he will smile back. It may a weak "OK, I realize I was shooting daggers out of my eyes for no reason. Sorry about that" smile but you changed someone path. It's hard not to smile at someone who is smiling at you. Think about a baby or a dog (yes, you know dogs smile) who has just been handed their favorite toy. It's impossible not to smile at their genuine delight.

And just so you know, that smile looks really good on you!

Happy Monday!

happy things: The Dress Shop at Disney Springs

One of my favorite places is Walt Disney World. Of all the places in all of the world, this is the one that makes me happy just knowing that it exists. I'm looking forward to my next trip there in May.

If you love Disney too and you're a girl who loves a little whimsy in her life, lucky you. A new dress shop, called (coincidentally) The Dress Shop, has opened at Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida. Perhaps you love "Alice in Wonderland" or Minnie Mouse's polka dotted dresses, then you might want to book that trip to Walt Disney World sooner rather than later. This shop is going to be a must-stop-in for every girl who loves dressing up. (My eye is on the light blue Cinderella Castle skirt and the It's a Small World Dress.)

Take a look at the video below. If you've ever wanted to dress like your favorite character or a cast member at your favorite Walt Disney World attraction, your world is about to get a lot happier!

Dress sizes range from XS-XXXL with dress prices between $80-$160. The Dress Shop also carries accessories with items like Dooney & Bourke handbags, headbands and jewelry. The Tower of Terror headband is genius.

how to be happy #347: don't judge someone's story

2009 was not my year. 

It was a very bad, awful, no good year. Almost every part of my life was upside down. I was trying to figure out life and how to handle things that weren't going my way. I was grouchy/difficult/angry. I felt claustrophobic and in general "prickly." I was basically a two year-old having a tantrum meltdown in a grocery store. I had emotionally thrown myself on the floor in defiance. I couldn't stand to be with myself and I'm pretty sure my husband would have been very happy setting me off on an ice floe, happily waving goodbye and saying "See ya, sweetie!" I was a terrible version of myself.  

Looking back I feel sorry for L, my husband, who had to deal with his prickly wife but also for anyone new who entered my life during this period. They didn't know who I had been. They didn't know the Taylor from before everything went wrong during Annus Horriblis. Before everything went to hell, I felt in control of a very cool, happy life. When things dissolved, I felt like I had zero control. The only thing I could do was react and I'm afraid I didn't do that very well. I was stuck in the "I didn't deserve this! Why me?" phase. It was easier to not take ownership for the failures in my life than to examine my own life and come to the realization that I was not blame-free in the situations. I had contributed to the way things had played out. Perhaps, everything wasn't entirely my fault but still, I had to shoulder some of the responsibility for my own life. Once I realized this- that I owned this situation, then I could take the next steps and make solid plans to change the things that were wrong in my life. 

It was a challenging time in my life. It is SO much harder to take actual steps to changing your life, than it is to wallow in the wrongness of it all. It would have been easier to stay in, seclude myself, eat mac & cheese and scowl at anyone who tried to enter my fortress of solitude. So, I made a plan. I am a logical girl. I went to Catholic school which means I like structure. I created a master plan for what I wanted my life to be, including the steps needed like finding a nutritionist and a trainer, going back to school, focusing on fostering my relationship with L, who had so deftly handled his wife's temper tantrum.

During this difficult time, I hated who I was. I feel sorry for anyone who met me during this period (and the period leading up to 2009. Things just didn't boil over overnight.) The only story they knew was the chapter they walked in on, which would be the one where the heroine is in her darkest hour before she finds the strength to turn her life around. 

I try to remember this when I meet someone who is "prickly." A couple of weeks ago, one of my closest guy friends was being a jerk, or perhaps more kindly, not the best version of himself. I said "So, you're being kind of prickly. What's going on?" In typical fashion, he said "Nothing. I'm fine. What's wrong with you?" I replied "OK. Well, I'm here if you want to talk but dude, seriously, your sharp spines are out. Can you reel them in a little bit?" The thing is, because he is one my closest friends, I know his heart. I know he's a great guy who is kind. Had I met him now, I wouldn't want to go past saying "hello" once he barked at me like he did. I know he has things going on in his life that he's working on. All I can do is say "I'm here" and be thankful that I've read all the chapters prior to this one and I like his book. 

If you have someone in your life who is prickly at the moment, keep turning the page. This is just the chapter where the hero evolves. Spoiler alert: the book is worth reading. Keep going. It's aways OK in the end. If it's not OK, then it's not the end.

When Marlo met Phil

One of my favorite things in life is to watch people together who have that "thing" that makes you think "Ah, of course. You two could only belong to one another."

It's rare to catch the moment on video when two people click, when they fall in love. This morning, I came across this video of Marlo Thomas ("That Girl") as a guest on 'The Phil Donahue Show." It's sweet how adorable and playful these two are with each other. It's obvious that Phil and Marlo were meant to be. They just have that thing, that chemistry that makes you think "Yup, he's the one meant for me." The best part? Towards the end of the clip when they return after the break and Phil goofily grabs Marlo's hand. I can imagine that they had one very long dinner after the show.

Phil and Marlo married on May 21, 1980. Congratulations to these two perfectly matched people who makes us believe in #couplegoals.

happy things: cara cara oranges

L and I agree on most things. We like the same music. (Hello, Bossa Nova) We love the same vacation spots. (Hey, Disney) We laugh at the same things. (Why is that aardvark in the video wearing a shirt?) One of the things we differ on is oranges. He is an orange juice buff while I slowly and carefully enjoy the whole orange experience from that first burst of orange zest when you peel it, to savoring one perfect section at a time.

It has been awhile, however, since I've eaten an orange because I've been burned too many times on oranges that are dry and tasteless with rubbery ends. At Trader Joe's last week, I decided to try a bag of Cara Cara oranges. With their bright pink flesh and super juicy, sweet yet tart tang, they have become my go-to orange for the past week. I am feasting on these like I do with Macoun apples (New England apples with a ridiculously short season) in the fall. These Cara Cara navel oranges are easy to peel, seedless and they make both great eating oranges and orange juice. (The juicer in the background is a vintage model from France I found on ebay.)

With the dreary, wet days of winter-almost-spring, starting each morning with a bright orange burst sets my day off with a big smile. (Plus, I feel like I am doing something good for my body which makes me want to follow my clean eating program!) The Cara Cara season is short so try them while they are still in stores!

The 3-pound bag at Trader Joe's is a steal at $2.99.

celebrating national i want you to be happy day!

Today is National I Want You to be Happy Day. So, I guess this would make this practically a national holiday here in The Happygirl studio. One of the keys that I have discovered in becoming happy (and staying happy!) is that doing things that feel good can make you happy but the joy in making someone else happy far surpasses anything I can do to make myself happy.

I'm struggling with a headcold but later, after a cool shower and some much needed Emergen-C, I'm heading out to buy our dog her favorite dried salmon treats. They smell just awful but they make her giddy with joy. Then I'm gong to buy the person behind me at the coffee shop their coffee where I will write a few cards to people who I haven't seen in awhile but I still carry in my heart.

Today, I won't hold grudges or get angry at the person who cuts in a line of traffic. I'll wave them through, I'll let someone go ahead of me at the dry cleaner and I'll tell my husband just how much we appreciate him and how grateful we are to have him loves us as he does.

Like Audrey Hepburn said "Happy girls are the prettiest girls." I wish you a happy day and a happy weekend! (Spring is just 16 days away!)

happy monday video: pixar's "piper"

This animated short played prior to Disney's "Finding Dory." It's so beautifully made and such a sweet story about not letting fear stop you from participating in life.


when valentine's day was the most important day of the year

It went like this. Your name was called on the intercom and you proudly padded down to the front desk of your dorm to claim your delivery. On this day, Valentine's Day,  the holiest of all days for deliveries for a college girl, you hoped for the biggest bouquet of flowers. Of course, if they were sent by a boy, that was ideal. There would be squeals of delight heard coming from the lobby. If, instead, they were sent by a girl's parents, that was still good and this elicited a very sweet sigh of happiness.

I remember watching the girls walking by my room (we all kept our doors open in our girls only dorm) proudly carrying their prizes, holding the flowers or stuffed animals in front of them like an Oscar award. The hallways were full of that high pitched excited girl talk that can completely baffle boys and parents alike. We clutched hands and hugged and admired one another's deliveries and we hoped our turn would come too. There were the girls, (You know them - the shiny haired, clear skinned, ponytailed girls who looked great wearing their boyfriend's oversized college sweatshirts and their own sweatpants hiked up to her calves) who received multiple bouquets. Sure, we were happy for these girls but there was a little part of us that was jealous, especially if we were empty handed.

I didn't receive flowers junior year. I wasn't seeing anyone so I didn't expect anything but still, when my roommate was paged as well as my other close friends, I felt a twinge of sadness.  I didn't realize it at the time but I (along with every girl I knew) had put so much pressure on ourselves for this day to be magical like a romantic comedy.  On Valentine's night, I headed down to lower church so I could study in quiet, while my floormates were on dates. It was hard to watch my friends getting ready when my date was with a political science textbook. Then, the clock turned twelve and it was over, just like that.

Senior year, I was seeing someone and that year I did receive an over the top delivery of roses and a ring. However, the delivery that meant the most to me was a very small, very simple arrangement of mini-carnations in a teacup.  There at the front desk, amid the happy cries and laughter, I heard nothing. Instead I could hear my grandmother's voice in my head as I read the card. It said "Mon petite chou, Pepe and I love you. Be a good girl. Love, Meme."  (Mon petite chou = French for my little creampuff from "chou a la creme." Chou literally translates to cabbage. ). I imagined my grandmother, who was on a very limited budget, calling a local florist and saying to them "Chou, C-H-O-U. . ." No Valentine's Day gift or card has meant more to me since then.

I look back on college and the Valentine's Days and the pressure we put on ourselves and on our poor boyfriends and I wish I could go back in time to tell myself that all that really mattered is that one person loved me. I was lucky. I had a mom and grandparents who were my world, who let me leave the safety of their protective space to go out on my own. And every so often, my sweet, little French grandmother would remind me "Be a good girl, my little cabbage." I can't imagine a greater love.

Happy Valentine's Day! May you know that you are lucky and that you are loved!

The Happygirl Valentine's Day Gift Guide

The best Valentine's Day gift I ever received was from a boyfriend I had known for just a few months. We were long distance at the time (he was in his senior year at college and I had just graduated) and I was sick. After an accident, I lost my sight. In the days following, there wasn't much I could do but lay on the couch and cuddle with my dog.

A few days after the accident, a package arrived. My mom opened it for me and told me to hang on. She slipped headphones over my ears. Then I heard the music. The package was from my boyfriend. He couldn't get away from school so he made me a mix tape. In between each song, I listened to his voice explain why he chose that song. I listened and smiled. The first song was "Here Comes the Sun." He explained that while the doctors weren't sure my sight would return, he just knew I would see the sun again. Throughout those difficult days I listened to the music and his voice over and over. It got me through those scary days. I think that's when I really fell in love.  Even after I regained my sight, this mix tape was still one of my favorite things.

I still have this tape that I digitized and as for the guy? Well, I married him.

The best I-Love-You gift is from the heart and maybe that just means shutting off your phones and spending time together drinking coffee or playing a game. Focused time is the best gift. It is.

Here are some of my other favorite things that might inspire you as you celebrate the love you share with your best friend/partner/spouse/mom/roommate. Happy Valentine's Day!
I love giving and getting a glassybaby as a gift. Each votive is unique and handcrafted here in Seattle.  I've been to the glassblowing hot shop in Madrona and watching these artisans, it's clear that they impart a little soul into each piece of art. In addition to using them with tea lights, I also use them to serve little sundaes or for wine. I have given this gift to celebrate a new baby, as a memorial gift to a bereaved friend in lieu of flowers and for many birthdays and friends who I just wanted to send a bit of cheer to. This glassybaby is called goodness etched (see that sweet little heart?) but there are also over a hundred different colors to choose from. (The official Happygirl color is Ocean.)
Starting at $44.
(The package is darling, tied with a big white grosgrain bow. The tea light is included.)
Shipping is free. glassybaby.com

I recently discovered this wine, Cotes des Roses from Gerard Bertrand at my local grocer. While the wine itself tastes like a happy blend of strawberry, citrus and jasmine, the bottle itself is lovely. Turn the bottle upside down and you'll be delighted to see a rose carved into the glass. At $13.95, this wine is a happy reminder of summer days, at a good price point. Plus, once you enjoy the wine, the bottle is perfect for a few long-stemmed flowers like big, fluffy pink Peonies. gerard-bertrand.com

Sometimes it's fun to be the good girl with an edge. This water bottle from bkr is one of my favorites. The jet black silicone and glass tiny water bottle with a heart says "Yes, I know hydration is important, especially after last night." $35 bkr.com

It would be easy to spend $100 on a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, but what if, instead, you took that money and bought toys for the dogs at your local shelter? L and I did this one year and there was no dinner that could have compared to the joy we had in dropping these toys off. 
Think about how goofiily delighted they will be to play with their new toys courtesy 
of you and your big heart! 
While you're there, check out the pets available for adoption. Sometimes the love of your life is exceptionally furry. Click here for a list of your local shelters.
(You may want to call the shelter first to be sure that they accept toys or
 if they are in need of blankets or other items.)

Like the mixed tape my boyfriend made me, a personalized playlist is a touching gift that says 
"I love you. You make me feel things. I'm grateful to have you in my life." It doesn't cost a thing but it's meaningful and shows that you care enough to select songs just for him or her.
Here's a Spotify Valentine's Day playlist I made for inspiration. 
(Scroll down on the right side of the playlist to see all the songs.)