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I remember seeing a story on Colleen McCulloch quite some time ago, in her gorgeous house on Norfolk Island. She can’t stand the way the “modern typewriter” beeps at her. She thinks that women today dress like “haws” and does not bat an eyelid at saying the most politically incorrect thing possible. But she is completely likeable, and totally hilarious. Somehow the more politically incorrect she gets, the more you can’t help but like her. When asked what the best thing that has happened to her during her life was, she said without a seconds hesitation, “Meeting Ric” (her husband) and she chuckles when talking about her nervousness at living with him after living as a loner for so long and says with affection  “Well it’s probably a help that Ric doesn’t talk much” Colleen’s body is failing, she is going blind but yet she still emits an aura of happiness and contentment.

Colleen McCullough

You can watch an interview with her here.

Maggie Beer, arguably one of Australia’s happiest personalities sat on a panel at this years Happiness and its Causes conference discussing the link between happiness and food and spoke with her customary warmth and energy about “the feeling of warmth that comes not from heating but from the people around you. Thats the really important thing.” I have long admired Maggie’s cooking and religiously watched every episode of the Cook and the Chef,  but in recent years have come to admire her for so much more.

Meeting Maggie at Masterchef 2010

I met Maggie a few years ago at the Masterchef Live event and even watching her from a distance, she exudes an energy and an exuberance that is a rare quality. As I sat with her in a question and answer session I witnessed her warmth and ability to engage with people in such a personable way and I developed a new admiration for her.

More recent research, suggests that there is a direct correlation between mindfulness and happiness. Mindfulness can be defined as “Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”  (Marlatt & Kristeller) In recent times this has become a hot topic in western psychology and one has to wonder what the Dalai Lama thinks of this revelation of modern research. Possibly his customary laughter would fill the room. And if you haven’t heard his infectious chuckle you must watch this hilarious piece of footage.

And so you ask, what does this have to do with cheesecake? Today I was grumpy. For no particular reason and so I was wondering, is it really possible to change your “happiness level” just by deciding to?

I was recently watching a documentary called “happy”, and one of the things this documentary argues is that once basic necessities like food and shelter are provided for, economic factors have relatively little to do with overall satisfaction in life.

By studying identical twins, happiness scientists such as Sonja Lyubormirsky from University of California Riverside have found that 50 percent of our happiness level is genetic. They call this our set point.

Our circumstances, our job, income, social status, age and health accounts for another 10 percent of our happiness. But the really good news is that there is a great deal you can do to make yourself happier, as 40 percent of our overall happiness is determined by intentional behavior. These are things people can do on a regular basis to become happier.

Recently I was at a conference in San Jose and the concept of happiness came up. It was discussed that novelty, that is, creating and experiencing novel experiences regularly makes you happy.

This weekend I was happy. Pretty much all weekend. I was away, away somewhere that makes me happy. I was with someone who keeps me warm, even without heating, and in small appreciated moments there was novelty, joy and pure unadulterated happiness.

And one such moment was cheesecake.

After taking a bite of an exceptional pistachio cheesecake that I had made it occurred to me that it could be more. I cut up a lime and squeezed the tart juice over my slice of cheesecake.

And there it was. In a few seconds, an idea, a tiny bit of novelty and a happy moment. The perfect mix. I realise now it doesn’t take much. Just try something new. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t but when it does you’ll feel it. Lime on your cheesecake.  Happy.

Lime and Pistachio Cheesecake. I promise it will make you happy. 

The base

(The base of this is taken from Sarah Wilsons I quit sugar cookbook. The filling is from my “lets just wing it” cookbook in my head)

1 cup coconut

1 cup pistachios,

1 cup (150g) almond meal

1⁄2 cup butter, softened to room temperature

The filling

2 1/2 boxes of full fat Philidelphia cream cheese

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

A good handful of crushed pistachios to sprinkle on top and lime wedges to serve

Preheat oven to 160 C. Crush pistachios. Now I would recommend this in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle but we had a very under equipped kitchen where we were staying, so my lovely boyfriend did this with a saucepan and an empty wine bottle. THis meant the chunks were varied and there were some really chunky bits but this gave it a delicious extra nutty quality.  Add in coconut, almond meal and butter and rub with your fingers.

Press into a baking paper-lined spring form pan . Cover the base and a little up the side, about 1 inch. I don’t like the whole side to be base. I like the browning of the baked cheesecake to be visible.

Bake for 8 minutes, until it starts to turn golden. Remove and allow to cool fully.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients. Spoon the mixture into the base and return to the oven for 20-30 mins or until the mixture pulls away from the base a little and the centre is almost firm.

Cool in the fridge. Once cooled, sprinkle a handful of the crushed pistachios over the top and serve lovely big slices with lime wedges for squeezing.

Happiness.

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I love cookbooks, I mean, I really love them. I have lots, but its just never enough.  I heard an interview with Nigella Lawson recently and she was saying she has over 4000. Well, I am not sure I could manage to even fit 4000 in my house but its certainly a nice idea!

This book, I bought a few years ago, and whilst is not in my aspirational, drool over category, it certainly has stood the test of time and is in my use regularly, practical and kid friendly category. I have just noticed it has gone into reprint, so others must agree.

This book is written by the daughter and granddaughter of the Grand Dame of Australian cooking Margaret Fulton. In the introduction her daughter Suzanne recalls her youth “We didn’t have alot, but you would never have guessed it from the food that we had at our table”……..and later, when talking about her family today; “We eat simply, the way I always have , and every meal is special. We cook together, set the table, share a bottle of wine and relax as we talk over the days activities, not unlike generations of our family have always done”

The book is a gorgeous insight into the way this family live complete with a pizza recipe contribution by Kates most adorable fiancee. (He does give credit to the woman who taught him this one, Kate’s grandmother; Margaret Fulton, Lucky him to learn from the best!!)

I think particularly when we become parents we start to question what we do, the way we live, and what our children will take out from their childhood. One of the things I have always wanted for Poppy was to have a childhood filled with an appreciation of the most delicious fresh produce, wonderful baking aromas and an understanding of how important food is not just as a sustenance, not just as a fuel but as a healthy, wonderful joy that has the ability to bring people together and nurture the soul.

Some years ago now whilst I was on maternity leave with Poppy and living three hours north of Perth, I loved having the time to pickle crayfish, make tomato chutney from the abundance of tomatoes in season that my neighbours would give me and to make masses of fig jam from the absolute glut of fresh figs that the 90 year old man from down the road would bring me in his white fishing bucket from his tree.

I would borrow books by Maggie Beer from the local library, copying her recipes into my tattered notebook because I couldn’t afford to actually buy the book. I would furiously make preserved lemons and every sort of jam with the local produce available. Most of this produce was excess, donated by a neighbour not wanting it to go to waste and I found that food cooked this way with shared produce connected people. It may have been destined to rot on the ground as it fell from a tree, but this donated fruit would be returned as a jam as a thank you, and in this process created the relationships that form communities.

In our modern life, we have become too busy, life too complex and too many take away meals have been eaten. I know my  soul craves the simplicity of a meal created with shared produce. I truly miss the simple pleasure of collecting eggs from my chickens or the satisfaction of giving scraps to the chooks, knowing that nothing in the house is left to waste.  Now, that I am in the process of changing my life and repurposing my business, I know that my connection and passion for food, slow and real food,  must play a pivotal role. It must be central to grounding my existence.

Books like The Thrifty Kitchen remind us of the power that food has. The power in its simplicity and freshness, of ingredients combined and shared, the unprocessed kind, that brings people together, the power that can bind communities and most importantly creates the memories that are the foundation of families everywhere.

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