Food makes me so happy.
Maybe it’s the warm feeling of pleasant fullness that follows a meal. Maybe it’s the way I could get lost in a well constructed tomato sauce. I think, though, it’s probably the fact that food has an uncanny way of bringing people together. Whether we’re dining as a family or with friends, breaking bread together serves as an equalizer; all of of us, despite our background or education or financial status, eat food. Not everyone likes sports, only some of us like to do crafts, and even fewer share vocations. But we all find common ground around the supper table. It’s unique and exciting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me happy as I read the book The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. Before I go into why this book is blowing my mind, I have a confession to make: I rarely read outside the young adult genre. I know that some of you are cringing, and would love to educate me on the glories of historically accurate biographies or something similar. But hold that thought, okay? Because I actually did stray from my tried and true faves, and I’m infinitely glad I did. My mind has been expanded, y’all. And, surprise surprise, somehow I’ve looped all my cranial expansion back to food. (I’m a complicated woman, obviously.)
Gretchen’s book is all about a twelve month journey she embarked upon to be more happy. After valiantly tackling the question, “What is happiness, anyway?”, she takes the reader step by step through the ways she took the abstract concepts of contentment into the concrete day-to-day realities of life. She’s said a lot of stuff so far, (I recommend you read it yourself, because I’m just going to focus on one little idea from this treasure trove of wisdom), but I was literally jolted from a I’m-reading-to-fall-asleep-and-it’s-working state to a full blown oh-my-word-I-will-never-be-the-same-again state when I read the section on the impact maintaining interpersonal relationships has on overall happiness. It didn’t start as mind-blowing. It started more as, “Jeez this woman is king of irking me”. Read on.
We all know, or can agree with, the fact that those who have more healthy relationships are generally more happy. I mean, it makes sense, right? Of course it does; the burdens of life are easier to bear when there’s someone to share the load.
And herein lies the irk for me, friends. I’m not the sort of person who struggles to make friends. I’m loud enough that you can’t ignore me, and generally just funny enough to encourage listeners’ forgiveness for the high volume. Talking comes naturally to me, and I’m generally unafraid of sparking conversation. I genuinely love people, especially my family and friends, and im good at showing it when we’re together. My trouble comes later, during the in-between-visits time, and it’s rooted in laziness. I shouldn’t be surprised that I have a long list of friendships I haven’t tended in a while. I’m a serial project starter- I very rarely finish anything. I’m more likely to burn out on a project- whether it be a craft or launching a business- than I am to do anything with any semblance of regularity. It took me eight years to complete my bachelor’s degree. I’ve got boxes full of quilts I’ve started, scarves half-knitted, and journals starving for words. I’ve lost and gained weight enough times to keep four sizes of clothing in my closet just in case I get the diet/working out itch again. I’ve got good intentions, but my stick-to-it is broken. The same has happened to many of my friendships- a truth brutally exposed while I read about Gretchen’s efforts to cultivate good friendships by persistence and long-term investment.
Struck and a little put off, (sorry Gretchen, it just ain’t fun to look in the mirror sometimes), I was all but ready to toss the book on the floor and get some sleep, when I accidentally kept reading. The chapter continued with ways that this brave author was able to feed her friendships in ways rooted in the things she was most passionate about- for her it was helping people dream big and making a better attempt at remembering birthdays (among other things). Her tactics for maintaining that lovin’ feeling with her buddies were good as ideas, but they were great for sparking my imagination when it came to my own relationships.
And so was born this brain-child-slash-problem: I lay in bed last night for the better part of an hour, trying desperately to figure out how to incorporate my love and passion for food and the way it brings people together (maybe the only thing I’ve ever stuck with for longer than a month) and my desire to be a better friend. It’d be easy if the majority of my friends and family were around- but I just moved to the other side of the country from nearly everyone we know and love. I can’t invite them to dinner, and it seems a little too weak of an effort to just email my recipes at random and hope they’ll cook them and then think fondly of me. I need to find a solution to how I can stay passionate about loving those I’m passionate about.
I think the answer could lie in our postal service and my kitchen. This idea is half-baked (ha, how punny) at best, but I think it could start with a recipe I tried earlier this week. I took Serious Eats’ Cherry Butter Cake recipe, substituted in some other fruit (for the heck of it) and divided it into four mini loaf pans. What resulted was a small collection of personal-sized loaves of amazingness. Some might say they tasted like love. What better to send friends and family than a small, edible example of how much I love them?
Anyway, I’ll be trying it this week, starting with my sisters and parents. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll be shipping some warm chicken and pasta salad or shrimp & grits soon. (Maybe not.) I figure it’s better to try, even if it ends in a epic ball of crumbly love bread on their doorsteps, than it is to leave the passion for my loved ones unsaid.
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup fruit (any berry will work)
- Butter pan and preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until creamy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until just combined. Beat in lemon zest.
- Add 1/2 dry ingredients to bowl and beat to combine. Beat in milk then remaining dry ingredients. Stir in cherries.
- Pour batter into prepared 9×9 pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and top is golden, 30-40 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before turning out of pan.
*Note: If making mini cakes, prior to adding fruit, divide batter evenly among mini loaf pans. Fold in fruit, bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and tops are golden brown.
Check out some of my other baking/dessert recipes: