Seeking happiness and joy for the holidays

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Happiness should be the one thing always present during the holiday season — after all how times do you hear the word ‘joy’ uttered in December?

Unfortunately, it’s not always effortless to be happy this time of year — there’s so much to do, so much stress and so many expectations that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My job is particularly crazy in the winter. If people seem neurotic about their Thanksgiving dinner, imagine being responsible for the meat for hundreds of Christmas Eve and New Years Eve dinners. Some of the chefs I know could out-diva Mariah Carey and her requests for rooms full of white kittens.

So this year my co-workers and I came up with a brilliant idea — a happiness advent calendar. Each day one participant brings a small gift to the other 14 participants. It’s been awesome. I’ve come into work every morning to find treats on my desk, amongst them a peppermint Rice Krispie treat, a seasonal beer and a camel turd. There was a platter of apple slices with a jar of caramel sauce, a homemade lollipop and even a taco bar.

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Let me tell you — it’s a mood lifter that I desperately needed this year, as my grandmother, one of the people I was closest to my whole life, passed away on Dec. 3rd, just nine days before her 96th birthday.

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The perfect spring-time salad and cooking for catharsis

Spring Asparagus Panzanella

Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad with Radishes, Eggs and Pecorino

Two weeks ago my Easter plans were pretty loose — mainly revolving around the couch, a cat on my lap and maybe some bubbly in my hand. But things can change quickly. My grandfather, who was six months from his 98th birthday, suddenly became very ill and passed away last Thursday. Now I rarely get overly personal in these posts and I certainly don’t intend this one to get weepy, but I will say it’s been a very difficult week.

Luckily, I live close enough to my grandparents that I visited them as often as I could. And so after I heard the news, I packed up a bag and headed north to see my family. Many family members had made the pilgrimage, first to visit with him, and then to help plan the memorial. This was how I ended up cooking Easter dinner for nine last Sunday.

It was actually the perfect way to spend the day. For me cooking is a peaceful endeavor and it was nice not only to have a distraction but also a sense of purpose. And being surrounded by family as everyone traded stories about my grandfather (and discussed how people get famous from YouTube videos) was undoubtedly the best place to be.

Losing people you love is always hard. It was especially devastating for me to say good bye to the man who taught me to play cribbage, made me learn to use the brakes on my bike (long story!) and walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. But we honor these people with stories, recalling their memories to help continue their legacies.

To lighten things up, I’m going to tell you one of the more amusing stories being passed around over the weekend:

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