Little Things That Make Me Happy

Reminiscent of Oprah's gratitude journal, Melissa kicked off an interesting discussion, "What makes you happy?" I had been in a funk, but that simple nudge got me thinking.

What make me happy?

- My pink silicone spatula with the silver sparkles, affectionately dubbed "The Magic Wand." Years ago, I gave one to Dana. She's now at cooking at Alinea, but I like to think some of her magic is still with me.

- Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories. One of my favorite cookbooks. Sweets captures the link between one family, and the indelible memories surrounding their family recipes. Peppered with old family photos and grandma's down home wisdom, this book is a gem. And yes, Aint Tee's Luscious Lemon Ice Cream makes me very happy!

- Podcasts. These days I'm cooking more at home, and my laptop follows me in the kitchen. While I chop, whip, and sautee, I catch up on my favorite podcasts. In an effort to stretch my listening time, more than once...I found myself deep cleaning the kitchen! My regular rotation includes: Splendid Table, Cutting the Curd, BBC's World Book Club, Saltcast: The Backstory of Documentary Radio, Fresh Air, TimesTalks and KCRW's Good Food.

- The heady aroma of Market Spice Tea. With orange, cinnamon, clove and a kiss of sweetness, armed with a cup of Market Spice Tea, I almost look forward to our drizzly northwest winters.

- Dishtowels from Anthropologie. Colorful, with a touch of whimsy, these towels make my very happy. Granted, at $24 retail, they're budget busters, but troll the sale tables. Every now and then, I get lucky.

- Letters. Real letters. Stamps and all. I started collecting old school post cards and sending one to my parents every week. The hunt for great post cards--and the history lesson that inevitably follows--is an added bonus. Worlds Fair, advertising for "modern travel by air," and WWII memorabilia are my current favorites.

- Coffee from my Italian stovetop espresso maker. I used one years ago, and I'm not sure why I ever gave it up. Over the holidays, I picked up a Bialetti Moka maker. long last, coffee is a deeply satisfying experience at home! (Word of warning: God love the Italians, they don't mess with a good thing. It's the same 1933 design, but know this: if you want to maintain the shiny silver finish, handwash yours. Mine took a trip through the dishwasher and it's now ugly as hell. It still makes great coffee, but the luster is gone.)

- Cheers to eureka moments in the kitchen! 1. The secret to moist and flavorful bran muffins? Raisin puree. 2. Bacon? Move over. In soups and stews, smoked ham hocks deliver that lusty flavor I crave. (Who knew?) 3. Four words: Momofuku's roasted brussels spouts. I swear, I'll never be the same again! With a bit of rice and grilled steak tips, I ate them every day for a week. (Recipe here.)

- Love notes, in the form of recipes. My beau and I have been doing the long distance thing for far longer than either of us expected. Phone calls and frequent visits help, but every now and then, he shoots me a recipe. And they come, unannounced, in the middle of his letters: Torta di Pesche with crushed Amareti, Risotto Con Salsiccia, or Salsiccia e Pepperoni Al Tegame -- "a nice side dish for your event." I can't quite explain it, but there's something surprisingly intimate about his recipes.

- Thrift store treasures. Frown on thrift stores if you must, but over the past month, I've picked up a cast iron braising pot, a new lamp and chair for my desk, and the stovetop espresso maker...all for less than $5. I also snagged an original watercolor and an original oil painting, $10 each. Bargains always makes me happy!

And you? What makes you happy?