I’ll say this about happiness: it doesn’t always come from the places you expect. In fact, sometimes it comes from entirely unexpected places, or places that you firmly believed could not—and would not—lead to anything but upheaval. That’s one of the best kinds of happiness—the kind that bubbles up and surprises you, effervescent and sparkly and impossible to not succumb to, like that second when you pop a bottle of Champagne and the liquid streams out like gold confetti.
Of course, there’s the other sort of happiness—the sort that comes from exactly the places you expect. This is a quieter, calmer, steadier sort. It’s reliable. You find this happiness in small, reliable places. And hang onto those! Take note of this quote from Esther Hicks (which I read today on Cup of Jo/Swiss Miss): “If all you did was just looked for things to appreciate, you would live a joyously spectacular life.”
Look for those things. Savor them. Notice them. Write them down and make a pile of them and pull them out when you need a little spot of sun. If you make a habit of this, your daily life will be infused with little happinesses, and you can work on staying open to those surprising moments.
Here are a few of mine, lately:
The smell of cut grass in the early morning.
The first few seconds of a very warm shower when you’re cold. Yesterday we had an unseasonably chilly day—low 60s and very rainy. I had taken the subway downtown to drop off a birthday cake for a friend (I made this excellent strawberry summer cake but added some buttermilk powder and some flaky sea salt to the top), so I decided to walk the 5 miles home in the rain. By the time I got back, I had to rush into meetings and calls, racing about all day and feeling colder as evening fell. Just before dinner, I stripped off my damp clothes and stepped into the steaming hot shower, and god almighty that is a good feeling.
Watching Fleabag. It took me a few episodes to get really into it, but I can’t say enough good things: I haven’t loved a television character like that in a long time. And, I’ll just add my voice to the chorus of people saying simply THE HOT PRIEST, BE STILL MY HEART. Am I reconsidering religion now? Perhaps.
Avocado toast—but not just any kind, guys. The avocado should be mashed with olive oil and sea salt. The toast, in recent weeks, should be She Wolf sourdough pullman made with millet and flax seeds. Dense, chewy, and deliciously good when toasted lightly. Could you add butter before the avocado? Glad you asked: YES YOU MAY.
Daydreaming about new recipes. (Sidebar: My dad recently was asking me about the process through which I develop recipes for freelance work. I explained that there’s usually a prompt of sort, or some structure, like ‘pesto recipes for dinner parties’ and so they just flow out of me. He looked at me bewildered. “But, how do you think of them?” I laughed because I realize that to lots of people that seems so puzzling to pull ideas from thin air, but for me, they just come so quickly that I have to rein myself in. Pesto pull-apart bread! Pesto pizza with artichokes and white bean puree! Burrata with garlic scape pesto and garlicky breadcrumbs! Pesto-roasted chicken with roasted French radishes and preserved lemon! Okay, you get the idea. I’m unstoppable.)
Here are a few ideas I’ve been tossing around lately. Do any sound particularly enticing to you? I’m making a list of which to tackle experimenting with first.
Sourdough banana bread (a classic quick bread made with discarded sourdough starter)
Ritz cracker and roasted strawberry ice cream (salty, sweet, and all that)
Granola with popped quinoa, popped amaranth, chia seeds, and ginger
Also on the short list of reliably happy moments is the thrill of discovering not just a good recipe, but a good weeknight dinner recipe. One that’s quick and relatively simple, without requiring too much shopping or too many ingredients. One that’s interesting in flavors, but not so wild that you kind of wish you’d stuck with something familiar.
The trick here is to pick something that is familiar (shrimp and grits, in this case) and then give it the weeknight treatment.
So, we start with the shrimp. Easy enough—just cook those quickly in oil over medium-high heat with a little seasoning sprinkled on tip (a blend of celery seed, paprika, and dry mustard).
Next up, grits. I realize if you are a Southerner, making grits is like pouring a bowl of Cheerios and would be a perfectly acceptable weeknight dinner option. For me, I get a little stressed about grits: they require my full attention and elbow grease and—just between you and me—sometimes result in sweating and swearing.
So we swap the grits for cauliflower rice (just cauliflower that you’ve pulsed a few times in a food processor to resemble rice). But you don’t want to lose that creamy, luscious feeling of eating grits! So we cook the cauliflower in coconut milk, which gives it both a nuttiness and a thick, smooth texture.
Squeeze of lemon, and you’re golden, you can focus on watching the next three episodes of Fleabag or making the perfect mint chip smoothie for dessert or painting your nails neon pink in honor of summer’s arrival or calling your sister and listening to her baby’s deep belly laugh in the background. You know, the important things.
Okay! So let’s make this. I know I said it was the perfect weeknight dish, but it’s also pretty fantastic for the weekend, leaving you more time to spend at the beach getting sandy and tanned or outside drinking a glass of frosé or reading a good new book (I just stocked up on some new summer titles including this and this).
Shrimp and Cauliflower Grits
Adapted from Sunbasket; serves 2, unless you live in my household, in which case it serves 1 hungry human
10 ounces wild tail-on shrimp
1 cloves garlic, minced
small bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 head cauliflower, cored and leaves removed
3/4 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard
red pepper flakes, optional
Place the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse a few times until the texture is in small rice-sized bits. (You can also chop it up with a knife but that’s messier.)
Rinse and pat the shrimp dry. Toss the shrimp with the celery seed, paprika, pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and dry mustard. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat.
Add the shrimp and cook, about 2 minutes per side, until firm and cooked through. Transfer to a plate.
In the same pan (no need to wipe it out), add some more olive oil and the minced garlic and the white parts of the scallions (you can save the green parts for garnish if you like). Cook for about 30 seconds over medium-high heat until fragrant. Add the cauliflower and cook for about 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Add the coconut milk and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the liquid thickens. If it thickens too quickly, you can add a bit of water to thin it out.
Divide the cauliflower between two places and top with the cooked shrimp. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if you want some heat. Cut the lemon into wedges and squeeze over the top before serving.