Sunday, February 22, 2009

Commandment 4

4. Spend out a.k.a. Avoid Sunday Best Syndrome

Why is it that we like to save things for special occasions? The good china, the crystal glasses, the pretty blouse; we hide them away most of the time, saving them for who knows what. It is true, if you use something it may wear out or get broken or get used up. I have vanilla beans in my cupboard. I've had them since well before Christmas, waiting for the best recipe to use them in, not wanting to waste them. It's kind of a silly notion. After all, if I leave them in the cupboard so long that they lose their potency then I really will have wasted them. Same goes for pretty clothes. The hand knitted sweater may not last for years and years if I wear it a lot but I will have enjoyed it much more throughout its life. Why should my normal day not merit wearing a cashmere sweater, why should my every day dinner not be worth the beautiful china? Where did this come from? I blame my parents. For once, they may actually be responsible. Of course they are the product of their parents and so on. Generations of hard working souls who saved for a rainy day or for their retirement, denying themselves during most of their lives so that the end would be safe. I'm all for saving something for the future but also for spending some money now on things that make your spirit lift; drinking your wine out of a hand blown glass, silk lingerie, and soft sheets. I don't need two houses, three cars and a yacht, just some little things that bring beauty and flavor to life. Spend Out.

On a related topic, here is some more pizza on the olive oil dough and a loaf of Broa, Portuguese corn bread.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mmmmm, cheese.

Happiness is fresh baked bread. Because this is so true I am going to make all the different breads in the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, one per week. I'm not doing them in order since that would result in my eating only flatbreads for several weeks. (One friend of mine asked me, "Why would you need anything but flatbread?" but I do think I should skip around.) I have already made several recipes (the semolina is my favorite so far) and today I baked some pizza using the olive oil dough. Not bad. For the tomato sauce I used Fairway's Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce (very tasty) and for the mozzarella I used my own. That's right, I made mozzarella. It's actually pretty easy though it does require a couple of items you won't find at the local grocery. If you want to make your own go check out the New England Cheesmaking Company. It turned out pretty decent for a first try. I think I need some practice but that should not be a problem. It does use a lot of milk. A half gallon makes about 8 oz of cheese. The rest is whey. If I had not accidentally spilled the whey down the drain I could have used it to make ricotta. I will do it next time and report back.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"But above all things, truth beareth away the victory"

Even before I began my Happiness Project I knew that there were lots of books on the subject. Many can be found at the local Barnes and Noble. However, wishing to avoid bankruptcy and loss of living space I went to the library. Or more accurately, I went to the library's online catalog. I typed in happiness under the "subject" search and got over 200 results. Some of my favorite titles include: "Taming the Gremlin", "I'd Rather Laugh", "The Joy Diet", and "Money Can Buy Happiness". I requested several titles one of which is already available for pick up. I love the library. In fact, I can say that the library makes me happy. It's an ancient idea, going back even beyond the legendary library at Alexandria. Here in the U.S. there was a town library in Boston as early as 1636 (the current Boston Public Library was founded in 1852) and Ben Franklin created the first subscription library which allowed people to buy shares in the library. The money raised was used to buy more books. Libraries funded by taxpayers were created by Andrew Carnegie who's foundation financed the building of almost 1700 libraries. Thank goodness for all of them. I especially like small town libraries. They don't have a giant collection but they have charm and grace and they really smell like books. You can curl up in a corner and disappear into the pages of a novel. It's not so easy at the Mid-Town branch of the New York Public Library. It's filled with fluorescent lights and plastic chairs and way too many people. But don't get me wrong, it's wonderful too, just for the sheer number of books and other materials available, about 7 million items total in 86 branches. Even this number is dwarfed by the Library of Congress, considered to be the largest library in the world. It holds 138 million items including books, maps, sheet music, and manuscripts. According to their website they add 10,000 items to the collection a day. Amazing.

New York Public Library Main Branch

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Commandment 3

The next commandment on my list is short, sweet and really hard.

3. Let it go.

My brother-in-law can make a decision or a choice and regardless of how it turns out he does not revisit it over and over.  I would pay real money to be able to do that.  I love to replay things in my head, trying out different scenarios, as if by sheer force of persistence I could change how things turned out.  This is one of those places where evolution took a wrong turn. What possible use to the species is this kind of self-torture?  And I know I'm not the only one. This is a frequent topic of conversation with people I know: how do you let the mistake or the wrong choice or the bad relationship go?   It's not that I hold grudges.  I have very little trouble forgiving others for their mistakes (except in one or two instances).  But my own errors?  They follow me around like some kind of deranged puppy, begging for my attention.  Those unproductive thoughts are particularly obstinate if my mistake or bad decision affected someone else.  I am in favor of learning from mistakes but this kind of gerbil-on-a-wheel thinking is not helpful.  I must repeatedly remind myself: Let It Go.  I have gotten a tiny little bit better at it.