Sunday, 19 February 2017

What Kurt Vonnegut Taught Us about the Science of Happiness. Via Stephen Moegling

Kurt Vonnegut, one of the best writers of any lifetime, once wrote a sentence that—if you recite it—can literally expand your capacity for experiencing and retaining happiness.

But before I give you that magical sentence from Mr. Vonnegut, let me share two memories.editorspicks
Memory One: I was eight years old when my relative pinched my love handles and called me Porky Pig. I still remember how the room smelled (like honey-baked ham roasting in the oven), the time of day (4:35 p.m.), and what I was wearing (an Izod striped short-sleeve polo shirt that was way too tight for my chubby body). It was 33 years ago and I still feel the pinch of my relative’s fingers on my side.
Memory Two: The calling hours for my mother’s funeral. It was raining hard. I smelled the stench of people who had smoked cigarettes before entering the funeral home. How some eyes were filled with compassion and others’ were filled with dread—as if my mother’s death was a symbol of their own pending mortality. I was 14 years old when my mother died. It happened 27 years ago, but I am still shaking hands with family friends and acquaintances. I am still receiving kisses. Rain still drips onto my ill-fitting suit from grieving acquaintances who came in from the rain. I am still wondering how the hell I will live tomorrow without my mom.
These memories are decades ago but they’re still right in front of me.
But ask me about the beautiful experiences I had in the past week—the small and big moments—and my memories are fuzzy. Even though I’m intentional about remembering these things.
For example: I have a morning and evening ritual. Each morning I write down 10 things I’m grateful for. Each evening I write down 10 “wins”—awesome moments, little victories in my life.
But sometimes I just sit there, full of blankness, forcing my mind to scan the day for those moments I can use for my ledger of gratitude and happiness.
Those moments of happiness are there. Those moments of bliss fill even my lousiest days.
But it can be hard work to remember the good things.
And yet the bad moments are vivid, multi-dimensional: still living and pulsing inside me.
I know I’m not alone.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, explains that our brains are like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive experiences. Positive and negative emotions use different memory systems in the brain. According to Hanson, positive emotions don’t transfer as easily to long-term memory the way bad emotions do.
Which brings us to Mr. Vonnegut and that magical sentence.
I remember reading a Vonnegut essay where he told a story about his uncle who encouraged Kurt to take in the good moments.
Vonnegut writes, quoting his uncle: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
Hell, yeah!
In his book, Dr. Hanson says that most of us don’t stay with positive experiences long enough for them to be “encoded” into our brain’s neural structure.
He goes on to say: “The longer the (brain cell) neurons fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength—that happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”
In other words, if you let a moment of happiness pass without being intentional about taking it in, it won’t stay with you.
Which is why Vonnegut’s advice is so profound: stop in the moment of your bliss and acknowledge it.
“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Yesterday it rained. It’s been raining every day here in Virginia going on a month. Rain gets me down. Work has been stressful, which gets me down. I’m an ambitious dude who wants to help others go beyond their limits, and yesterday I felt like I was retreating back into my own comfort zone. That got me down.
Then I went into Target to buy socks and wine.
The young female cashier scanned my socks and wine. The computer prompted her to input my birthdate. Instead of asking for my ID, she made up a birthdate for me and punched it in.
And—get this—she was within a few days of being exactly right about my date of birth!
“Wow,” I said, a smile on my face. “I’m impressed. You have a gift.” I explained how uncanny her guess at my birthdate was. She smiled back and said that the other day she had almost perfectly guessed another shopper’s birthdate.
I encouraged her to play the lottery—and let me know which numbers she decided to play. We laughed, I took my bag of socks and wine and left the store.
I got into my car and sat there, remembering the encounter.
The young woman’s smiling face.
The smell of popcorn at the concession stand.
Our laughter. My amazement. She made me feel good. I made her feel good. It was a shared moment of bliss.
I said aloud: “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
I took it in.
Life has a way of beating us up. It rains. Work can suck. You don’t get what you want. People hurt you. People leave you. People squeeze your fat rolls and remind you of your weight problem.
Then there are the other moments, which happen more than I sometimes remember.
A kind exchange with a stranger. Your cat looking at you like you’re both amazing and a dummy. A meeting with a co-worker that turns into a magical brainstorm session where everything is possible.
I don’t know if Mr. Vonnegut knew the science behind why our brains are like velcro for negative experiences and like teflon for good experiences.
But he was right.
Inhale the fragrance. Take it in. Receive the gift.
Remind yourself: “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Author: Stephen Moegling
Editor: Catherine Monkman

Amish mayonnaise applesauce snack cake

Oh my. This is one of those cakes that’s not too sweet, super moist, and totally addictive. I like to serve it warm with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar.
Amish Mayonnaise Applesauce Snack Cake would be a wonderful addition to breakfast, brunch, or tea. Because there’s no frosting, it would work well as a lunchbox dessert too. Yum!
~ preheat oven to 350 degrees F. ~

1 cup sugar
1 cup real mayonnaise
1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Butter a 9 x 13 glass cake pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine: sugar, mayonnaise, milk, applesauce, and vanilla until smooth. Mix in egg until just combined.
In a separate bowl, combine: flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, 1 cup at a time, until combined. Don’t over-stir or your cake will become tough. The batter will be somewhat thick.
Pour into prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs on it. (Approximately 35 to 40 minutes.) Allow cake to cool completely, and store in a sealed container or on a domed glass cake plate, for up to 3 days at room temperature.
When ready to serve, slice, warm a piece up a bit, and dab with a pat of butter. Sprinkle on a little cinnamon and sugar.

Lemon Curd


  • 4 lemons - juice of 4, zest of 3
  • 175g/ ¾ cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 125g/ ½ cup unsalted butter, cubed
Place the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest into a heatproof bowl and stir well then add the butter.
Set the bowl over a saucepan with an inch of simmering water. It is important to make sure the bowl does not touch the water.
Stir the mixture until the butter melts and then use a whisk to continually stir the mixture while it cooks for about 8 minutes or until it is thick enough to hold marks from the whisk.
Pour the lemon curd into sterilised Kilner® jars and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sheet Cake Recipe

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sheet Cake Recipe

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 25 min. Bake: 25 min. + cooling


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup baking cocoa
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped salted or unsalted peanuts


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13x9-in. baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a small saucepan, combine water, butter, peanut butter and cocoa; bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, sour cream and vanilla until blended; add to flour mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  4. Prepare frosting while cake is baking. In a large bowl, beat confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, milk and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Remove cake from oven; place on a wire rack. Immediately spread with frosting; sprinkle with peanuts. Cool completely. Yield: 15 servings.
Originally published as Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sheet Cake in Taste of Home February/March 2015, p64

Saturday, 18 February 2017

No Bake Irish Cream Cheesecake

 Prep time
Total time
Yield: 1 9-inch cheesecake
  • 30 mint Oreos
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup Irish Cream (I used Bailey's)
  • ½ cup whipped cream
  • Chocolate shavings


For crust

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a KitchenAid® Nonstick 9″ Springform Pan and set aside. Combine the Oreos in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Drizzle the melted butter over the mixture and pulse until combined and the mixture looks like wet sand. Press into the bottom of the prepared Springform Pan. Bake the crust until set, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

For filling

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a KitchenAid® Stand Mixer, whisk the heavy cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. In a clean bowl, beat the cream cheese, milk and vanilla extract until smooth, about 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Reduce speed to low and add in the powdered sugar and Irish cream. Mix until combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in half of the whipped cream until just incorporated. Continue to fold in the rest of the whipped cream. Spoon the filling onto the crust and smooth the top.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill until set, about six hours or overnight, in your KitchenAid® Multi-Door Freestanding Refrigerator.
To serve, top with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, or curls.

Broccoli Tomato Tortellini Salad

broccoli tomato tortellini salad ingr
  • 2 bags frozen cheese tortellini
  • large bunch fresh broccoli, cut into florets
  • about 3 medium tomatoes or the equivalent in cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • handful of fresh basil, chopped
Boil a big pan of water.  Add the broccoli to the pot of boiling water.  A minute or two later add the tortellini.  The pasta only takes a couple of minutes to cook, so you can do the broccoli at the same time.  Once the tortellini is done, drain the water and rinse the pasta and broccoli in cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain and place into a large bowl, along with the tomatoes.
To make the dressing, combine the rest of the ingredients in a container with a tight fitting lid.  Shake it all up till it’s well combined.  Pour over the salad and toss to coat.
You can serve this right away or refrigerate it for several hours or even the next day.
broccoli tomato tortellini salad done

10 things you should eat in Russia

Russian food is so much more than just vodka, borsch and caviar
Russian food is so much more than just vodka, borsch and caviar Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

10 things you should eat in Russia

Russian food is not all about vodka, borsch and caviar. RBTH has mapped different regions of Russia to show you the diversity of its gastronomic geography.
February 4, 2015 Kira EgorovaYulia ShandurenkoRBTH

1. How an apple turned into a cloud: Kolomna’s pastila

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Kolomna’s “pastila” is an old Russian delicacy made of sour apples, honey and molasses. It has been part of Russian culinary traditions ever since the days of Ivan the Terrible. It was a peculiar sort of medieval preserve and an excellent way to conserve the harvest. The apples would be stewed in an oven, softened and then laid on planks to dry under the sun. They would then be rolled into thin fruit strips and enjoyed as a delicacy while waiting for the next harvest. Some people compare it to a marshmallow. Everything you ever wanted to know about pastila, including the secrets of its production, can be found at the Kolomna Pastila Museum. Of course, pastila can be tasted and purchased here as well. Kolomna is 96 kilometers from Moscow. 

2. Tolstoy ate it for sure: Tula gingerbread

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Tula gingerbread (pryanik) is probably the most famous Russian sweet there is. In most regions of the country “pryaniki” are small, round and have a rather dry taste. But in Tula (183 kilometers from Moscow) they began preparing rectangular gingerbread stuffed with moist filling and decorated with sugary drawings as early as the 18th century. Learn all about it at Tula’s Pryaniki Museum. By the way, the museum makes a great double date with Tolstoy’s museum, which is located nearby.

3. Sea ginseng: The Far Eastern trepang

Photo credit: TASS/Yuri Smityuk

Previously known as the Gulf of Trepang, Vladivostok (9,314 kilometers from Moscow) is the only place in Russia where sea cucumber can be found. Trepang is a seawater invertebrate that resembles a large hairy worm. Due to its taste and health properties it has been considered a delicacy in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisines ever since the 16th century. Trepang is served either boiled, as an ingredient in salads, dried, оr even as a liqueur with alcohol and honey.

4. Siberia’s tasty legends: Omul and muksun

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Muksun and omul are the most famous kinds of fish in Siberia. As both are types of whitefish, fishermen and local inhabitants distinguish them according to the fishing season. The omul is smaller than the muksun, but its meat is equally soft, sweet and fatty due to its inhabiting cold waters. Mild-cured muksun is the most delicious of its kind, and can be tried only in Siberia, while the omul can be found exclusively near Lake Baikal. In order to prepare the Siberian tartare (known as “Suguday”) you must use these fishes.

5. Tricky to pronounce, easy to eat: Öçpoçmaq

Photo credit: TASS/Vadim Zhadko

Uchpochmak (meaning triangle in the closely-related Tatar and Bashkir languages) is one of the most popular pastries in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. It is a small closed pastry filled with potatoes, mutton and onion and is often taken with soup and tea. If you go to Ufa (1,265 kilometers from Moscow) or Kazan (719 kilometers from Moscow) and are looking for insights into what make the locals tick, try an uchpochmak. It can be found in almost any local supermarket or cafeteria.

6. A seasonal delicacy from the cultural capital: Smelt

Photo credit: TASS/Ruslan Shamukov

Every May the air of St. Petersburg fills with the smell of fried smelt and fresh cucumbers, declaring to one and all that springtime has finally arrived. Smelt are a fish that swim the Neva and the Gulf of Finland and has become the unofficial gastronomic symbol of the city. Its season is spring and smelt is at its best when fresh. That’s why every year St. Petersburg hosts a spring smelt festival, which unites its inhabitants around a long-standing tradition.

7. Russian kebab: Dagestani mutton

Photo credit: Photoimedia

The best mutton in Russia can be found in the Caucasus region in Dagestan (1,795 kilometers from Moscow). Meat in Dagestan is traditionally prepared by men, which takes some of the burden off of women, who are busy making pastries. The meat of Dagestani lambs lacks the strong odors usually associated with mutton, and its fat is what gives it its flavor. This is what sustained the region’s nomadic ancestors centuries ago and you certainly should try a Dagestani mutton “shurpa” soup or “shashlyk” kebab if you see it on a menu. Authentic flavor shouldn’t be hard to find as almost all fresh mutton in Moscow comes from Dagestan.

8. A source of optimism in the land of permafrost: Stroganina

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

If you find yourself weighed down by permafrost in the Russian North, try the Arctic delicacy “stroganina.” This is a thin fillet of frozen fish dipped in a mixture of salt and black pepper that can be prepared using most varieties of local fish: broad whitefish, omul, sheefish, sturgeon, muksun, golets, taimen, peled and white fish. If an authentic stroganina is what you’re after, buy a ticket to Yakutsk (4,898 kilometers from Moscow). 

9. Yet another reason to love buckwheat: Altai honey

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

Right next to the Altai Mountains are Russia’s largest buckwheat fields, which makes bees very happy. The offspring of this love affair is an unusual kind of honey: It has a liquid consistency and a dark amber color, and leaves a distinct aftertaste in one’s mouth. It can be found in just about any supermarket in Moscow. It is a perfect compliment to a cup of tea made from Altai herbs.   

10. Bestseller of the East: Chak-chak

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Tatars, Bashkirs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Kazakhs all love to eat “chak-chak.” It is the most popular “eastern” desert in all of Russia. Made from just three ingredients - flour, eggs and honey - chak-chak becomes small sticks shaped from dough and is subsequently fried and covered in honey syrup. The end result is a big and sweet cone-shaped lump eaten by hand. This food has been eaten the same way since it was invented by nomadic steppe peoples 1,000 years ago.