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Looking to be Happy | Manolo's Food Blog

Looking to be Happy

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What advice would you give to people who are looking to be happy? “For starters, learn how to cook.” From In-Verse Thinking, Questions for Charles Simic, interview by Deborah Solomon, February 3, 2008, New York Times Sunday Magazine.
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All week long Mr. Henry has been chewing over this pithy admonishment. Unfortunately for his waistline, he has been chewing a lot more. The virus colonizing his sinuses hacked into Mr. Henry’s appetite control center. Its sinister program impels Mr. Henry to rise in the night like a Transylvanian Count and glide towards the kitchen to graze. His current fixation is toast, cottage cheese and umeboshi, Japanese salt plum.
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Cottage cheese is a preparation not seen in this household since Mrs. Henry’s pregnancy when every few hours she too rose like a wraith and shuffled kitchen-ward to ingest anything resembling pabulum.

Did not Nixon, Haldeman, and Erlichman sitting round the Oval Office lunch on cottage cheese with ketchup? Such satanic visions calls to mind the most famous aphorism from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s (1755-1826), The Physiology of Taste, “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.”
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Mr. Henry is laid low. He can offer no explanation or defense for this craven departure from virtuous habit. Those familiar with Mr. Henry’s Dietary Dicta must be shuddering at this late-night eating, this blatant trespass on established rules.

Perhaps Dickens is to blame. Yes, that must be it. Hardly a chapter of Great Expectations goes past without someone sitting down to enjoy a joint of mutton or a tankard of ale. (As a boy, Dickens was poor and knew what it was to go hungry.) Mr. Henry should go back to reading Samuel Beckett, a writer who genuinely appreciates denial. Though he sucks on a pebble to abate hunger, for the whole of the book Molloy never actually eats anything.
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Simic, poet laureate of the U.S., is right. To achieve happiness in life you must learn how to cook. Why? Because you can never really know how to eat unless you understand how food is prepared. And it follows that if you never really learn how to eat, you never really learn how to be happy.

6 Responses to “Looking to be Happy”

  1. Glinda February 10, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    The mental image of Nixon eating cottage cheese with ketchup is enough to give me nightmares!

  2. Twistie February 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm #

    I hope you feel better soon, Mr. Henry.

    And I absolutely agree that learning to cook is excellent advice for those wishing to learn to be happy. There is a peace and a joy to preparing something special to eat or to feed someone you love that cannot be matched by any other activity.

    Truly, the depths of the ‘souls’ of Haldeman and Erlichman are laid bare by meals of cottage cheese slathered in ketchup. (shudders) How can the spirit be nourished on such…I hesitate to even call them foods.

    But when one is ill, often one’s body craves the nutrients it needs to repair itself. Heed its call, Mr. Henry, and don’t try to get better by sucking pebbles. When you are feeling more yourself, you’ll eschew the cottage cheese again and all will be well.

  3. Ninjarina February 11, 2008 at 1:37 pm #

    I still can’t get over the fact you eat umeboshi. I eat the “wa mui” (the Chinese equivalent) only during bouts of nausea.

  4. Kit Pollard February 12, 2008 at 8:11 am #

    I do hope you feel better soon, Mr. Henry. It seems like you’ve been sick forever!

    I’m so intrigued by the relationship between cooking and happiness. I’ve actually done a bunch of reading on it over the past 6 months – there’s really not as much written about it as I’d thought there would be.

    One of the things that jumped out at me was the idea that the happiest people are the ones who are able to make good decisions, and make them quickly. Not just major life decisions, but all the little things we have to decide during the day.

    Since we have to decide what to eat three times a day, and sometimes not just for ourselves but for others, too, it follows for me that the easier it is to make food decisions, the happier you’ll be. And I know it is a LOT easier for me to decide what to eat for dinner now that I know how to cook. With cooking, I also learned something about what I like to eat, and what my body is asking for (and what my mind wants, too).

    Sorry for the long comment – I’m just totally into this subject and was so excited to see something related here!

  5. Mr. Henry February 12, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    Yes, Kit. You’ve cracked the code.

    For a brilliant and witty discussion of exactly this idea, see Mary Tannen’s October 2005 article in Real Simple Magazine (p. 93).

  6. Kit Pollard February 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks, Mr. Henry – I’ll track that article down!