Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy Birthday Hayao Miyazaki!

On today's date, many years ago, a little bundle of creative magic came into the world!  I've appreciated Mr. Mayazaki's work for many years. His movie Ponyo was included in my birthday plans a few years ago and I watched Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for the first time in an old, deep bath tub with a dear loved one.

I think the beauty of his work is in the gentle, quiet pace of each story which is punctuated and accented by periods of chaos, noise and a rush of color and sometimes information. His movies have a subtle but distinct sense of ethics built into the plot lines that leaves you feeling like they're timeless classics from which you can gain something or explore a bit of humanity in each viewing.

My top 3 favorite Mayazaki films are: 
1 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
2 Princess Mononoke
3 Spirted Away

If any anime fans are reading list your favorite Mayazaki films in comments! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Recipe! Cucumber Onion Tomato Salad AKA: Cool Bliss In The Heat

Oh! Boy did spring shoot by!   Summer is upon us and wouldn't you know it I didn't post in June.  I certainly did photography for a couple June posts (to follow soon, watch out!) but I didn't make the time to post them here for The Happy You.

Fortunately I come bearing a gift: The Ultimate Summer Salad Recipe From My Youth.  That's too long for a title, isn't it?  We shall just refer to it by it's Granny given name: Cucumber Onion Tomato Salad.

Some of the happiest memories from my youth were formed with with my grandmothers.  One lived in town (yay for me!) and the other lived in the country with a large sprawling farm (yay again!).  This little bit of culinary paradise hails from In Town Grandma.  She was one of the best cooks that I've encountered.  She knew a great deal about food, nutrition, how to eat well, and how to feed a family fabulously on the cheap.  I cherish my memories of her and I use advice from her virtually every day.  This wise and loving lady certainly knew a good thing when she found it and that's where this delicious salad comes in to my life.

Cucumber Onion Tomato Salad was served at family dinners and at quickly assembled lunches on the fly many, many times through out each summer season with fresh produce lovingly tended from her garden.  There's nothing as good as food assembled that you (or a loved one) grew personally.  But organic and farmer's market finds can be a pleasant runner up!

Sorry for the grainy quality of the photo, this was taken on my cell phone camera, such was my haste to dig in!

Cucumber Onion Tomato Salad

Note: This salad is more about ratios than exact measurements and tends to vary a little bit each time you make it

1 1/2 regular cucumbers (just use 1 english cucumbers or 2-3 smaller garden grown cucumbers)
2 medium tomatoes (I used one really large tomato and one smaller tomato)
1 small white or yellow onion (don't use a too hot variety, you want it to stay pretty mild)
1/3 to 1/2 cup of mayo (Start with a scant 1/3 and see how liquidy it gets as you stir it up) [See Note Below]
1 teaspoon of celery salt (you could use a heaping teaspoon of celery seed and salt to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder (I always use a heaping amount)
1 teaspoon sugar (If you use Miracle Whip, this may not need as much if any sugar)

Peel the cucumbers, slice in half lengthwise and then cut into half moon slices about 1/4 inch thick.  (Or larger if you want it to be chunkier but I always liked the thinner slices.  Some people dice all the vegetables to  be evenly sized, so that's another option.)  Core the tomatoes, slice in half and cut into chunks that are twice as thick as the cucumber and half as long.  Cut the top and bottom off the onion and peel the skins away.  Place each half flat-side down on the cutting board and cut into very thin half moon slices.  Place all vegetables into a large glass bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the mayo, celery salt, pepper, mustard powder (you can sub 1 teaspoon of regular yellow mustard, if desired) and the sugar.  Taste to see if there's a good balance.  You'll want it a little sweet and somewhat salty.  The tangy will come in later after you stir it into the tomato juices and the onion slices. Add more pepper, celery salt or etc if necessary.  If in doubt... wait until it's all mixed together and set for a few minutes.

Pour the mayo mixture into the vegetable mixture and stir until very well combined.  Let sit 5 minutes and taste it.  Add any additional flavors at this point. I almost always wind up adding a little more celery salt and pepper.

A Note About Mayo: My grandmother always used Miracle Whip, which is a little tangier and a little sweeter than normal mayo.  As I've gotten older, I use Hellmanns/Best Foods (the West Coast version) instead.  For the classic flavor: Miracle Whip is a must!  For those concerned with healthier options you can sub plain yogurt and sweeten and salt it more heavily to make up for the plain tang of the yogurt.

I hope that this wonderful salad becomes a part of your summers just like it was a part of mine.  When it's hot, you're tired or just want a quick snack/side/picnic or potluck dish/cold supper/etc this is a dream come true.  If you're eating it as a full meal, I can confirm it's great with leftover cold chicken from the fridge and crusty bread.  I've tucked it into pita with hummus and had spectacular results.  But no matter what... When I taste the combination of flavors together I feel my grandmother's love and can see her sweet, smiling face beaming at me.  She approves so, Happy Eating!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Come see me eat muffins, eat muffins! Muffins, Muffins!

Kudos to you if you got the reference for the title today. It's from, I think, an Indian song that someone made totally fake "English" lyrics for by using non-English words that sound like English words. The fake lyrics make it seem like the woman is singing a really silly song about nipples. Google "Nipple Song" and you'll probably find it.

Now... ah... moving right along: Muffins are what's on the menu today! Specifically: Lemon Blueberry Corn Muffins.

Yummy. Doesn't that look delicious? These muffins are sweet, cake-y and corny. They have a delicate lemon flavor and are punctuated with dots of gently tart blueberries. Muffins are almost always easy to make and these don't disappoint. They're quite simple and you probably already have most of the ingredients already.

Better yet... the batter can be used to make Lemon Blueberry Corn Cakes. Just use the batter like you would for pancakes with a smidgen more oil in the pan so they don't stick. The fresh fruit in them makes for a delicious breakfast and is fantastic with sliced cantaloupe. Drizzle on a tiny touch of maple syrup and you'll be in heaven.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, spooned into the measuring cups and leveled with a knife
3/4 cup corn meal
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil, such as grapeseed oil or walnut oil or corn oil
1 cup milk plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar to make "buttermilk", divided in half
1 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 cup of thawed frozen blueberries, excess liquid drained

*Note: I always try to use organic ingredients when possible but use what works for you.

1. Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl until well combined. Set aside.Preheat oven to 350 F. (Or if your oven is a little cool like mine, between 350 and 375) Grease a regular sized 12 cup muffin tin. Or use cupcake paper cups, if you like.

2. If you haven't already done so... take a moment to get the blueberries from the freezer (if they froze into a clump in the bag just give them a little smack against the counter to loosen them up before measuring them out) and thaw them in the microwave for 30 seconds. Drain the excess liquid off of them and set them aside.

3. Pour the milk into a cup, add the vinegar and lemon extract and give it a quick stir with the measuring spoon. This will make a sort of buttermilk. 

4. In a small bowl crack two eggs and beat them. Add the oil and mix together. Pour the egg and oil mixture into the dry ingredients. Add 1/2 of the buttermilk. Stir for about 30 seconds until the mixture is combined. Add the rest of the buttermilk and stir until the mixture is just combined. Don't over stir. You'll get hard muffins that way.

5. Gently pour the blueberries into the batter and fold them in. Don't mix them in perfectly. Let some swirls of blueberry colored batter remain since you don't want to over mix the batter.

6. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to fill the muffin tins. Leave about 1/4 inch from the top. Bake in the oven, on a well centered rack for 21 to 26 minutes. ~~~ If you're not sure if the muffins are done try sticking a tooth pick in one of the middle muffins and see if it comes out clean. If you are using a new oven or if your oven is crazy like mine and varies, it is best to remove one from the middle and cut it in half to see if it is done.

If you have extra batter remaining you'll have just enough for 1 corn cake. I fry mine in a small skillet, on medium-high heat with butter in the pan instead of oil. When it is getting dry around the edges and bubbles are coming to the surface, use a spatula to flip it. You may need to loosen the edges with the spatula first for best results. Don't try to flip it until you're sure it's not sticking to the bottom. Once flipped, let it cook a couple minutes longer til it puffs up and is done. Serve with a light drizzle of maple syrup, or eat plain or sprinkle powdered sugar on it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring In Full Swing

Here where I live, in Southern California- just north of San Diego, spring is out and sassy. 

Whenever we drive around, we are met with beautiful and glorious flowers almost everywhere. Even the local stores have Birds of Paradise! One of my favorite things about SoCal is the abundance of flora. People tend to plant a lot in their gardens and take a real pride in a colorful array of plants. Aside from these do-gooders there's even more to be seen. I'm not sure if they're wild or resulting from seed bombs or the CA Dept of Transportation is planting them... but I often see amazing and brilliant flowers on the side of the road and freeways. Yellows, bright blooms as well as subdued... Orange paired with deep Purple... Hot Pinks, delicate WhitesFuchsia and an array of Blues. These are just some of the colors that greet us on our travels.

Recently I visited the San Diego Safari Park with a friend. It was gorgeous as always but the flowers were particularly lovely. I couldn't help but photograph some of them. My mission for April is to take my camera out and capture a lot of these natural beauties. 

The day we were at the Safari Park was a bit cloudy since we've been getting quite a bit of rain recently. Not too typical of San Diego but I am loving it! Being from the Midwest originally I'm used to a lot of spring rain and I miss the thunderstorms and powerful torrential rains of my home. I bet the flowers and sunshine will make up for it, though, don't you? I've been keeping my eye on the weather forecasts so I can grab some light and do some photography. Keep an eye out for more floral photography coming your way!

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mmm-mm... A delicious dinner, a simple joy: Masoor Daal

Cooking is yet another favorite activity. Still, I can't help but occasionally wish I had the time and resources to cook only for pleasure. Never the less, cooking is a necessary activity to ensure one has access to healthy and nutritious food on a daily basis. As a result of this condition of life I try to find recipes that taste incredible but come together easily and relatively quickly. I find that prepping ingredients when you have a spare 10-30 minutes is a great way to stay ahead of the lunch or dinner time crunch. I don't always have the time or initiative to do this, I'll admit right this instant. But I love to keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and in a ready-to-use condition.

The steps are wonderfully simple... For produce meant to stay in their original form such as grapes, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers: I wash them well and, if necessary, place them in a clean container, lined with a clean cloth or paper towel. (I recommend never placing tomatoes in the fridge as they will lose their flavor and consistency.) Some produce is intended to be consumed or cooked in smaller pieces, such as watermelon, onions and carrots. I wash these well too, of course, slice or chop them up as desired and put them to rest in a container in the refrigerator until I need them.

Taking these basic steps adds ease and convenience to my day. I feel a special sense of pleasure and satisfaction when it comes time to use the advance-prepared ingredients. Not only do I save myself time but I love having what I need ready at hand.

Doing this also encourages healthier snacking and adds much desired nutrients, fiber and vitamins to my meals. For example, just adding some diced green peppers, shredded carrots and chopped onion to a basic marinara sauce allows me to consume 7.5 grams- 30% Daily Value of dietary fiber, 145mg -250% DV of vitamin C, 440% DV of vitamin A, 36% DV of vitamin K, and 36% DV of vitamin B6. There's also a good amount of Potassium, Manganese and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Note, these numbers are based upon 1 cup each of raw onions, carrots and peppers. When cooked, the nutritional information will usually vary, sometimes lowering or raising the levels. Additionally while 440% DV of vitamin A is wonderful, keep in mind that it would be in all the marinara, not just 1 serving, as is true for all the Daily Values listed.

I found the nutritional information on the website. It is a free resource for nutritional information. And it contains more than just info on raw vegetables, I happened to only look up raw ones because it was quick. The website has a wealth of information. When searching onions alone I found info on fast food and restaurant onions, onion rings, frozen onions, fried, canned, dehydrated flakes and so on and so forth.

As often as possible, I find ways to add vegetables and fruits to my diet. Tonight I cooked Masoor Daal for dinner. My version is based off of the Taste Buddies blog post you can read here! I don't think there have been any updates in about a year, but her blog contains many wonderful recipes that have become beloved staples in my home. Many of my loved ones have adopted her recipes as their own too. My mom is crazy about her raw broccoli salad recipe.

When I make Masoor Daal I do a few things differently than Syrie's recipe. One thing I do differently is adding carrots. This initially happened because of a cute twist of fate when I thought her recipe had carrots in it. I was in a rush and saw flecks of orange (other than the lentils) in the picture. I assumed it called for sliced carrots so when doing my prep I shredded 2 organic carrots. When I actually read the recipe again as I was preparing it I realized none were called for. I forged ahead and added them to the stir fry of onions and tomatoes. The result was delicious. The carrots added a mild hint of sweetness so I've been adding them ever since.

Masoor Daal with Basmati Rice


  • 1 cup Masoor daal (split red/pink lentils)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Garam Masala spice mix (available in most grocery stores, even McCormick makes a version)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Turmeric, ground
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt, but be sure to salt to your own preference
  • 1/8 cup Grapeseed Oil (you can use any oil you like)
  • 1 large Yellow Onion, diced 
  • 2 Carrots, sliced thin or grated
  • 5 Garlic Cloves, minced 
  • 1 1/2 inch piece Ginger, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, not as good but will do in a pinch)
  • 1 small Red Chili, finely chopped (for those with mild preferences use one small jalapeño or red bell pepper)
  • 2 medium Tomatoes, diced finely
  • 1 cup Cilantro leaves and stems chopped, about 2 tablespoons reserved for garnish
  • 2/3 cup vanilla or plain Yogurt (optional)  
    For the rice:
  • 2 cups Water 
  • 2 cups of Basmati Rice
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin Seeds, not ground
  • 6-10 Green Cardamom pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Turmeric
  • 3 cups of Water
  • Plus enough Water to cover rice (for soaking)                     

  • Rinse the rice well until the water runs about clear. Use a rice steamer to cook the rice with the cumin, cardamom and turmeric, if you have one and follow it's directions with water to rice ratio. If not just cook it on the stove using the above ratio. Place the rinsed rice in a bowl and cover it with water for about 15 minutes. While it soaks boil the 3 cups of water in a large pot. Drain the water from the rice and add the rice, cumin seeds, cardamom pods and turmeric to the boiling water. Bring the rice to a boil then reduce, cover with lid and allow it to simmer for just 5 minutes. Remove from heat, keeping the lid on, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Do not check on the rice and do not open the lid after it is placed on until it has rested for the full 15 minutes. Once the rice has rested 15 minutes, check it. If it's a bit too firm for you let it sit for a few minutes longer. If it is a bit dry add a splash of boiling water. Transfer to a bowl, cover and set aside.

  • Rinse the lentils well, until the water runs clear. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a pot. Add the lentils and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the lentils for about 10 minutes and then add 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and half of the salt. While the lentils cook they will absorb a lot of the water, especially toward the ends. When the lentils have cooked and softened lower the heat as much as possible.

  • While the lentils are cooking heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onions and the other half of the salt. Cook the onions until they're beginning to caramelize but aren't quite there and add the carrots, garlic, chili and ginger. Cook the onion mixture a few minutes longer and once the onions have caramelized add the remaining garam masala and turmeric, take care you do not allow the spices to burn. Stir constantly and after about a minute add the tomato. Cook the mixture for about 3 minutes then add the chopped cilantro. Pour the onion and tomato mixture into the lentils and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

  • Taste and add more salt if desired. At this point you may stir in the yogurt if desired. If using vanilla yogurt it will add a sweet creaminess. If you are not partial to that effect just leave it out or use half the amount of plain yogurt. It's delicious all ways. Serve over basmati rice and sprinkle on some of the reserved cilantro for garnish. For heightened enjoyment accompany Masoor Daal with warm, buttery naan or the flat bread of your choice.
This serves at 4 adults, with left overs, in my experience. Happy Eating!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

de Blob 2: The Joy of Rolling Paint and Catchy Melodies (Plus some FREE stuff!)

One of my favorite activities to relax and rejuvenate comes in a small rectangular package. No, not discussing condoms today. (That is for another post!) I'm talking about  ~ video games ~ ... specifically games that have limited violence and few, if any horror movie qualities.

Non-violent and fun video games are somewhat difficult to find for grown-ups. Most of the games have a fairly young demographic and breeze right on by adults who like playing video games but do not always want to shoot  gooey aliens, bomb bloodied zombies, or believe it or not... slash and hack armies with swords and axes. Yet there are several great options. Games like Viva Pinata, Zenses: Rainforest / Ocean, Super Mario Sunshine and Animal Crossing come to mind. Some of those games have mild amounts of conflict related play. After all Mario must defeat "Shadow Mario" in Super Mario Sunshine and in Viva Pinata the pinata creatures are at regular risk of attack. The good thing in Viva Pinata is instead of blood and guts we have candy and confetti resulting in a light hearted theme.

Another game with a light hearted theme and a lot of fun game play is de Blob. Sure there is a totalitarian regime of INKT led by Comrade Black trying to take over the world, I'll admit. But he's not using bullets he's using black ink. In de Blob the gamer must repaint the bleached out towns and liberate the citizens. There is an underground resistance to INKT that helps you along the way. How do you do this? By filling up your Blob with brightly colored ink and rolling along walls, roads and buildings from one place to another. You do this with a soundtrack of funky and jazzy melodies which get more complicated layers the more you paint and vary depending on what color you are at the time. You can also pick up "Styles" which allow you to paint in patterns and intricate designs when you touch a building rather than plain blankets of color.

Recently a long awaited sequel arrived titled de Blob 2. I just started playing the new game and the colors are as vibrant as ever, if not more so. The game play is as fast paced or casual as you want it to be. Just don't let your time run out! Fortunately, you can complete the quests in each level and go into a clock-free mode and finish painting to your hearts desire. The music is great, the colors are beautiful and the scenes have quality workmanship devoted to smooth game play. In this version there seems to be a cult who brainwashes the citizens and forces them into white robes and white-washed homes and towns. There is a definite sense of satisfaction when you liberate them and they pop out in a dazzle of confetti and cheering. They dance, happy and free.

de Blob 2 was released on a wide range of systems making it accessible to most people who have a game system in their home. If you have a Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or a Nintendo DS you can play. If you don't have any or even if you have all of them the fun doesn't have to end. You can visit the IGN website and download, for free, selections of the soundtrack to de Blob 2 played in a live performance by The Radians band. Just click here and choose one or all.

As a special nod toward joyful gamers... here is a list of my favorite non-violent or low-violence video games:

  • Animal Crossing Series (Nintendo DS, GameCube, Nintendo 3DS [announced, not yet released], Wii)
  • Brain Age Series (Nintendo DS, Wii)
  • BOOM BLOX (Wii)
  • Cooking Mama Series (Nintendo DS, Wii)
  • Diner Dash (Nintendo DS, PC, Mac, iOS, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PSP, Play Station Network, WiiWare, some mobile phones)
  • Fishville (online only at
  • GrandMasterPixel (on Android phones)
  • iSketch (online only at
  • Karaoke Revolution Series (for PS2, PS3, GameCube, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360) ***
  • Katamari Damacy Series (PS2, PSP, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS) ***
  • Kongregate Games: Bubble Voyage, Dolphin Olympics Series (online only at

  • Mario Kart (for Wii and Nintendo DS)
  • Pogo Games: Bejewled 2, Hangman Hijinks, Phlinx, Word Whomp (online only
  • Rock Band Series (for PS2, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
  • Sims Series, minus Sim Medieval (Nintendo DS, PC, Mac, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, iOS, Wii, PS3, Nintendo 3DS, some mobile phones) ***
  • Slice It! (on Android phones)
  • Spaghetti Marshmallows (on Android phones)

***  Each game within the series is not necessarily playable by each system listed but there is at least one version available per system

Android Phone: any mobile phone using Google's operating system called Android
GameCube: an older game console made by Nintendo prior to the Wii
iOS: any mobile device made by Apple
Mac: a computer that uses the Apple operating sytem
Nintendo DS: a handheld game console with dual screens
Nintendo 3DS: the most recently released version of the Nintendo DS with dual screens that allow 3-D play
Online: where you went to find this blog ;)
PC: stands for Personal Computer generally indicating one that uses a Windows operating system
PS2 or PS3: Play Station game consoles made by Sony, PS3 is the most recent
PSP: Play Station Portable, a handheld console
Wii: the most recently released console made by Nintendo which uses motion control
Xbox or Xbox 360: game consoles made by Microsoft, Xbox 360 is the most recent

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Find a Smile!

Ahh.... The first blog post! That alone could initiate a gleeful grin, couldn't it?

The simple intent of The Happy You is to appreciate, explore and develop that which bring us joy. From the smallest of pleasures to significant moments of ecstasy... we shall enjoy it all together.

That doesn't leave much room for some of the other typical bloggy activities: sassy bitching, finger-pointing, lying, degrading, judging, and generally adding negativity into the web-worldly space we choose to occupy. 

The goal is clear: Document happiness. Do so with much love and acceptance. 

Truly a focus on joy doesn't indicate an ignorance about the ills life can offer. Sometimes the most poignant happiness is captured in the midst of something tragic, unfortunate or heinous. And, sadly, even more frequently there seems to be little gained from the useless malice that occurs. But those discussions and thoughts are for another blog, or a different place and time. 

The Happy You blog desires to be a refuge from the stress and pressure of living a conscious and active life. I firmly believe if you can't find balance between happiness and sadness, light and dark, purity and corruption your own light will burn out too quickly to benefit yourself, let alone the world. To enable one's self to truly recognize the beauty and ugliness of life is to unlock one of the true paths toward empowerment. 

And this is where The Happy You comes into play. How often are we smothered with crime, tragedy, violence, cruelty, apathy toward suffering, and hatefulness? Every day there seems to be a new piece of news regarding our fellow humans, creatures and environment being neglected, misused, abused and destroyed. 

To thrive in the face of adversity requires strength and resilience. Strength and resilience aren't built upon magical moments of pixie dust powered abilities. They are built upon a heartfelt realization that there is more than a single moment or action to define a life, a purpose, a society. There is more to life. Hope can overcome fear. Joy can overpower agony. Love can outwit loneliness. Courage can rise above cowardice. An evolved mind can restrain primitive impulses ignited within our brain. Creation prevails after destruction. 

I'll tell you a story about the name behind The Happy You. A few years ago I was visiting a Chinese & Japanese Buffet with friends. Culinary pleasure abounded for sure. An Asian man and his infant daughter were sitting behind us in their own red cushioned booth. During much of the meal, in the midst of miso soups and vegetable lo mein, the father picked up his daughter and smiled up into her pretty dark eyes. He laughed and let out a sing-songy declaration: Happy you! Happy you! And she was indeed happy. Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of this scene was that the little girl was in good spirits the whole time. This was not done in an attempt to sooth or distract a cranky or hungry toddler. This was an act of pure love and affirmation. It was a recognition and a wish wrapped up in one. Those sentiments stayed with me long after I wandered into the night, full and laughing with my companions. And this is what I wish to send out into the world. 

Happy you!