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Happiness in the Unlikeliest of Places
The Happy Chef

Since my children grew up and have long left the nest, happiness for me has been that pee-in-your-pants excitement and feeling of wonderment of boarding a plane in one part of the world and ending up in a water taxi motoring through the Grand Canal of Venice, or zipping through Amsterdam getting a contact high from the marijuana clouds surrounding the "coffee shops" and then a few days later hopping on the Thalys train on my way to Paris and chocolate crepes, or drinking Czech beer at an outdoor cafe in Prague or enjoying "media lunes" (literally "half moons" aka croissants) in Buenos Aires. I've felt nothing short of pure and hedonistic joy in each place I've ever visited. At last count, that was 22 different countries.

These past two weeks however, I've found that I've been happier than ever in a place I've always known but am rarely in, one of the most unlikeliest of places for me. My kitchen! Anyone who knows me would never expect to be invited to a home cooked meal at my house unless it's the blue moon that occurs every 19 years on New Year's Eve. Not to say I can't cook. I absolutely can, and people actually tell me I'm good at it. I just don't normally want to cook much. (Strike "much and make that "ever.") Ok, I will cook for my children and family on Christmas Day, end of story and maybe a waffle or some eggs every now and then.

Something strange happened this Christmas holiday though. I didn't just cook. I really enjoyed doing it, and not just because of the wonderful champagne I was drinking the entire time. Somehow, on Christmas Day I emerged from whatever zone I was in to find I'd made turkey and cornbread dressing, macaroni and cheese, greens (cheated and used Glory from a can but added smoked turkey), candied yams (brilliant if I say so myself due to the creative addition of crushed pineapple, tangerine juice, dark rum AND cognac.) I also made "Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding (a Paula Deen recipe). With the left over ripened bananas I whipped up banana nut bread with a generous pouring of rum not called for in the recipe. I was on a roll (no pun intended). My house was filled with all of the smells I remembered as a child in my grandma's and great aunt's kitchens!

Every day since that Christmas culinary extravaganza I've been trolling the internet for all kinds of recipes and feeling like I'm having an out of body experience. Is this really me??? Have I suddenly discovered my inner child, as in Julia? I did just see that Julie, Julia movie with Meryl Streep so maybe that's it. No, that can't be it because I am not even remotely interested in making every recipe from Julia Child's cookbook. Grandma Arlena, are you here for an earthly visit? Was I channeling you? Nah. Couldn't be. Everything you made was from scratch. I'm not there...yet. I like to think you're cheering me on though.

So, what the heck is going on? This definitely is a major shift in my cosmos, especially when I believe that one of the best Christmas gifts this year was the "Slap Chop" gag gift my son gave me on Christmas Eve after I spent the day before complaining about how much I hate "chopping" in prep for all of the cooking. Said "Slap Chop," which has the same cheesiness factor as a Chia Pet, truly enhanced my cooking experience, relieving me of what I always dread - chopping celery, onions, garlic, bell pepper and nuts. It worked just like the somewhat sleazy salesman in the TV commercial said it would, and all I had to do was put whatever needed chopping inside the container and slap down on the protruding handle on the top of it. Who knew that this would lead me to a whole new appreciation for culinary art? Who in the hell knew cooking, and this Slap Chop, would actually make me smile while cooking...would make me, happy??? It has to be love - "exciting and new."

I've stumbled upon a new and exotic locale, a whole new destination not on my list of places to visit. My kitchen?! A place I vaguely remember passing through to grab a plate and utensils for my "take-out" on the way to my living room couch. Oh, the possibilities with this new-found love! I've reacquainted myself with my kitchen cabinets and discovered spices that I'd forgotten about, like the "herbs of Provence" I bought several months ago in the south of France, and the Mediterranean salt and spice I bought at Whole Foods in Berkely, too long ago to remember the reason why. Could be when I bought those spices some part of me was in love with the idea of cooking. Could it be I'm ready now for the real thing? It does sort of feel like my heart is open to the journey and to making the commitment and reaping the rewards of the long-lasting happiness that cooking will bring. (Did I just use "happiness" and "cooking" in the same sentence?

My eyes are open though. I've been around awhile. Long enough to know that any loving relationship requires hard work and perseverance. It also means having a great partner, and I do. We can do this Slap Chop. I have faith in us.  Really.