A woman named Gretchen Rubin, attorney, former Supreme Court clerk and author, has been much in the news lately after her book, “The Happiness Project,” became a best- seller.
Rubin spent more than a year studying what makes people happy, then created a Web site and wrote a book about her findings, with some suggestions for how we can make ourselves happier. After reading a summary of her project, I’m not so sure she’s on the right track, at least not for me, but I’ll share some of her ideas with readers who might be interested in upping their happiness level.
“Try doing whatever you enjoyed doing when you were 10.” Rubin reasons that what made you happy when you were 10 years old will probably make you happy again if you do it as an adult.
If you loved to fish, go fishing again; if you loved playing drums or a harmonica, take your instrument out of storage and make some new music.
As I said, this may be a very good idea, but it’s not something that can work for me. When I was 10, the thing I loved doing most was climbing trees and/or hanging upside down from our neighbor’s monkey bars. I spent every daylight moment after school at the top of one of the fir trees in the woods behind our house, or looking at a topsy-turvy world from the top bar of my best friend’s gym set. Even after I fell out of a tree, cracking my collar bone, tree climbing was happiness.
As an adult, however, I suffer from acute acrophobia as well as recurring bouts of arthritis, so doing now what I loved when I was 10 is not an option, neither the tree climbing nor the monkey bars.
So, let’s look at another of her suggestions. “Declutter your home.”
Rubin says that a few minutes of cleaning can substantially improve one’s mood because it gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps remove a source of stress. She even goes so far as to comment that cleaning out a messy drawer, organizing her medicine cabinet, even making her bed in the morning provides a boost to her happiness.
My first reaction was, “You’ve got to be joking, lady.”
That idea is so far removed from any notion I have of happiness, that I can’t even believe she means it. However, if I could get up one morning and find that my entire house had been de-cluttered and organized, that truly would have me walking on cloud nine. Nevertheless, I’m passing her suggestion along for you to use, if you wish. She does make the point that not all things work for all people; this may work for some.
A few other of Rubin’s pathways to happiness: be appreciative of people’s good traits and less critical of their bad ones; enjoy today even if you haven’t accomplished your goals; read memoirs of death and suffering to put your own problems in perspective and remind you how fortunate you are by comparison; and seek novelty and challenge rather than sticking with what makes you comfortable.
Rubin says she personally tested her happiness strategies and got feedback from thousands of people who visited her Web site with their comments about what has worked for them. If you’re interested in learning more about “The Happiness Project,” her Web site is www.Happiness-Project.com.
Personally, even though I’m open to anything that can help us be happier in today’s rather grim world, I recommend a grain of salt as an accompaniment to a dose of Rubin’s happiness. De-clutter your home? Do what you loved to do at 10?
I can only wonder what my husband, John, would think let alone do, if he found me hanging upside down from the crossbar of the swing set in the park near our home.
For too many years, cooking meals was something
I had to do, part of my job as wife and mother. At some point during those years, I found that I also really enjoyed cooking when I had time to be creative, investigative or adventurous.
Today, if Ms. Rubin asked me for “what makes you happy” input, I’d have to say that trying out a new recipe and having it turn out to perfection is high on my long list of things that make me happy.
Here are three recent happy discoveries; the first takes time and care, but the result is pure chocolate happiness, and it can be made ahead.
FROZEN MOCHA ESPRESSO CAKE
For the cake: 4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 T. water
3 large eggs, separated
¼ cup sugar
For the filling: 5 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur)
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
2½ t. instant espresso powder
3 large egg whites
½ cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
For the glaze: ½ cup whipping cream
¼ cup Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 T. light corn syrup
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 T. whole coffee beans, for decoration
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position rack in the center. Lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Combine the chocolate and water in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Stir until chocolate is smooth; remove from over water. Transfer chocolate to a large bowl and cool for 5 min. Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate.
Beat the egg whites in a med. bowl until soft peaks form; add sugar 1 T. at a time, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Fold ¼ of the whites into the chocolate to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whites in 2 additions, just until combined (be gentle; don’t deflate the batter). Divide the batter between the prepared pans (the layers will be thin) and bake until cakes begin to pull away from the sides and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about
10 min. Cool cakes in pans on a rack for 1 hr. Carefully invert cakes onto 9-inch cardboard rounds (or tart pan bottoms if you have them) and cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
To make the filling: Line a 9-inch cake pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 5-inch overhand. Whisk egg yolks,
¼ cup of the sugar and Kahlua in a med. metal bowl to blend. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let bottom of bowl touch water) and, using an electric mixer, beat until the yolk mixture is thick and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 140 degrees for 3 min. Remove bowl from over water and continue to beat mixture until cool to touch, about 3 min. Beat the whipping and espresso powder in another bowl until firm peaks form. Fold cream mixture into yolk mixture in 2 additions. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Gently fold whites into yolk mixture in 2 additions. Fold in chopped chocolate.
Carefully (the layers are very thin) place 1 cake layer in the prepared pan (remember? The one you lined with plastic wrap.) Spread filling evenly over the cake (the filling layer will be thick) and top with second cake layer, pressing gently to make it stick. Fold plastic overhang over cake then cover with foil. Freeze the cake overnight (can be kept frozen for up to 3 days).
When you’re ready to assemble the finished delight, make the glaze: bring whipping cream, Kahlua and corn syrup to simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Transfer 1/2 cup of the glaze to a small bowl and chill until cool and slightly thickened but still spreadable, probably about 10 min.; don’t overchill or it won’t spread.
Remove foil and plastic wrap from top of cake. Invert cake onto a 9-inch cardboard round or tart pan bottom and set it on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Spread a thin layer of chilled glaze over the top and sides of cake (work quickly) and freeze until the glaze is set, about an hour.
Rewarm remaining glaze over low heat until just warm and pourable. Transfer to a 1 cup measuring cup. Pour half the glaze over the top of the cake and, working quickly with an offset spatula, spread the glaze over the top, allowing excess to run down side. Spread quickly along the sides (the glaze will harden quickly on the frozen cake). Pour remaining glaze over top of cake, spreading quickly and smoothly over top and sides.
Sprinkle coffee beans around top edge of cake and freeze until firm and all glaze is set, at least 4 hrs. At this point, you can cover and keep frozen up to 3 days. To serve, dip a long, thin, sharp knife into hot water, wipe dry and cut cake into wedges, pulling knife out at the bottom of the cake to avoid tearing the glaze. Repeat the water dipping, drying etc. for each slice. Have patience; you’ll be rewarded. Serves 8-10.
A recipe doesn’t have to be complicated to be special and/or delicious; this is a perfect example of using packaged and prepared ingredients to create chocolate happiness, quick and easy.
SINFULLY GOOD, EASY BROWNIES
1 cup peanut butter morsels
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 pkg. (8 oz.) dark chocolate brownie mix, prepared according to package directions
1/2 cup prepared cream cheese frosting
2 T. semisweet morsels, melted
Make the brownie batter according to package instructions. Stir the peanut butter morsels and chopped peanuts into the batter. Spread batter into an 8×8 baking pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35 min., or until cooked through. Cool the brownies then coat with the frosting.
Place the melted chocolate in a plastic bag, cut the corner of the bag and pipe 5 lines of chocolate on the frosting layer. Drag a skewer through the chocolate lines, alternating direction, to make decorative chocolate waves. Makes 12.
I’ve yet to meet a cheesecake, sweet or savory, that didn’t make me happy. This is a delicious example, with the added benefit of being easy.
TRIPLE CITRUS CHEESECAKE
For the crust: 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
For the filling: 4 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 T. flour
1 t. vanilla
1 T. each fresh lemon juice, lime juice and orange juice
1 t. each grated lemon, lime and orange peel
Make the crust: Combine crumbs, brown sugar and butter, mixing well. Press onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 10 min. (If you’re using a dark, nonstick springform pan, bake at 300 degrees for 10 min.)
Make the filling: With electric mixer on med. speed, mix together the cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour over crust and bake at 325 degrees for an hour, or until the center is almost set. (If using a dark, nonstick pan, bake at 300 degrees for an hour or until almost set). Remove from oven, run a knife or metal spatula around the rim of the pan to loosen and cool cake on a rack before removing the rim of the pan. Refrigerate 4 hrs. or overnight. Sprinkle top with additional grated peel, if desired, before serving. Serves 12.