Recipes for happiness

While I continue to equivocate and procrastinate on the serious unemployment/mental health/career decisions posts rotting in the drafts folder, please accept this silliness I have concocted to end my latest blogging drought.

As I’ve told you before, when all else fails, I bake brownies.

As previously explained, that magic formula of mine is actually shorthand for “when everything sucks and you don’t feel interested in or capable of doing anything productive, put some effort into a straightforward, formulaic task that produces immediate, tangible, and pleasurable (for you, or preferably for you + friends) results.”  At worst, when it’s all over you’ll have passed some time doing something other than staring at your ceiling or crying in your bathtub. At best, you’ll feel happier and more capable, and that will motivate you to do more productive things. It’s not 100% foolproof (because one can ruin a recipe despite having made it 100s of times before, and then wind up sobbing over wasted ingredients or desperately trying to get the damn smoke detector from going off again…), but it’s about the closest I’ve ever come.

And like I said before, that task need not be a culinary one if that isn’t your thing. That said, cooking is my thing, and I think it’s a pretty great one: it can be done relatively cheaply, produces results on a shortish time-scale, other people tend to be disproportionately appreciative, the combining of individual ingredients into something totally different is kind of inherently magical, I’m generally good at it, there are millions of recipes on the internet…. it’s pretty much all win, from my perspective.

But more than anything else, why I think I fell in love with cooking in general, and cooking-as-stress-relief in particular, is the recipes themselves. Having a simple formula to follow, step-by-step, to get a predictable result… that’s lovely. It’s reassuring and familiar.

I’m capable of making fairly complicated dishes, and I even enjoy that from time to time. But day to day, it’s the most basic recipes that add the most joy to my life. They’re both more and less than simple recipes to me… more because they fit into my life and routines in ways that transcend just the culinary aspects, but less because the specifics aren’t terribly important. I figured I’d share a few that fall into this category.

almost effortless weeknight meals / last-minute-company snacks

Also known as “my two main reasons for owning a food processor.” I try to keep ingredients for one or the other on hand at all times.

guacamole and tortilla chips

Serves ~2 for dinner, 2-4 for snackage

  • 1 small bag tortilla chips
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/4 of an onion
  • 2-3 garlic gloves
  • one lime
  • dash of salt 
  • one small tomato, diced (optional)
  1. Chop a chunk of onion off from the whole and toss the skin. Peel the garlic cloves. Slice the avocados in half, toss the pits, and pull off the skin. Cut the lime in half. Dice the tomato if you’re using it.
  2. Toss avocado, onion, garlic, and salt into food processor. Squeeze all the juice from the limes in on top.
  3. Turn the food processor on for 20-30 seconds. Stop it and scrape down the sides, then turn it on again and let it run until the guac has reached desired smoothness.
  4. Scrape the guac out of the food processor and into a bowl, stir in the diced tomato.
  5. Rinse the food processor out, so it isn’t gross when you get around to properly doing the dishes.
  6. Serve guac with chips.

I know, many people wouldn’t consider this a full meal… if that bothers you, make a simple quesadilla (just cheese, or cheese + whatever leftover meat you’ve been meaning to use up) to go with.

hummus and things for dipping

Serves 2-3 for dinner, 2-5 for snacking

  • dip-able fresh veggies 
  • 1 small bag of pita chips or 1 package pita bread, torn into pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-3 garlic cloves 
  • ~1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • olive oil 
  1. Come home from work, hungry but not quite ready to start working on dinner for real. Open a can of chickpeas and grab two bowls, then sit down on the couch and put on some mindless tv.
  2. Watch the show and zone out while absentmindedly peeling the chickpeas as described in the most amazing homemade hummus recipe on the internet. Don’t think of this work, because it isn’t… it’s an excuse to watch tv for half an hour while you put off the actual work. And don’t skip this step, it’s so worth it.
  3. When the show ends, drag your ass off the couch and into the kitchen. Dump the chickpea skins in the trash and the chickpeas in the food processor.
  4. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze both halves into a bowl or cup. Pick out the seeds that you inevitably miss, then dump the juice into the food processor.
  5. Peel the garlic cloves and drop those in, followed by the salt and tahini.
  6. Measure out a 1/4 cup of water.
  7. Turn on the food processor and add water (a tablespoon or so every 20-30 seconds) slowly while it runs. Stop adding when the hummus appears smooth and turn off the food processor. Scrape down the sides, then run the processor for ~30 more seconds.
  8. Clean and chop the veggies, then put them on a plate along with the pita bread or a bowl of pita chips.
  9. Scrape the hummus out of the food processor into a bowl, and then rinse the food processor.
  10. Drizzle a tablespoon-ish of olive oil on top of the hummus and serve.

Again, some people would argue this isn’t a meal. To them I say….. tough. You have protein, carbs, veggies… what else do you need, exactly? If you aren’t full yet, eat more carrots. Or an apple.

everyday treats

creamy fruity popsicles

Based loosely off of this loveliness by Joy the Baker, these are the other reason I’m glad to have a food processor. My apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, which isn’t a huge deal, as it doesn’t get too terribly hot where I live in LA. But on the hotter days, the girlfriend and I live off of popsicles. Store-bought ones are great, but making my own is so very satisfying. Also, fruity is good for refreshment, but I also crave creamy desserts and would eat ice cream every night if I let myself. Unlike most store bought treats, these satisfy BOTH needs.

Right now I’m using two different sets of popsicle molds I have lying around plus plastic cups as needed, but I’ll be replacing all that with these when I have a little spare cash–I want something more uniform, and to be able to use disposable sticks so I can reuse the molds before I’m completely out of popsicles.

makes ~10 full size pops, theoretically… but it’s totally dependent on your molds, sorry

  • 1 pound bag of frozen fruit
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 small lemon or 1 lime
  1. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze out the juice.
  2. Shake the crap out of the coconut milk, then open the can and pour it into a large measuring cup. If it is still partially separated, stir with fork or whisk until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tsp extract, and 1/2 of the lemon/lime juice, stir.
  3. Puree the frozen fruit + the other half of the lemon/lime juice in the food processor. If the fruit you chose is particularly tart, add a tablespoon of sugar. If the fruit you chose is seedy and that bothers you, strain out the seeds.
  4. Fill the molds… 1 large dollop of fruit puree, then coconut milk almost to the top, then another dollop of fruit to top it off. Swirl them together a bit if you want to.
  5. Put in the sticks, freeze til solid.
  6. Eat, often.

anytime perfect chocolate-chip cookies

  • 1 bag nestle chocolate chips
  • butter
  • flour
  • granulated sugar
  • brown sugar
  • eggs
  • vanilla extract
  1. When you’re having a chocolate craving, mix up the chocolate chip cookie dough according to the recipe on the back of the bag. Seriously, I’ve yet to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe that significantly improves on it without requiring substantially more effort. Preheat the oven and make one tray of 4-8 small cookies or 2-4 big ones.
  2. Scrape the rest of the dough out of the mixing bowl and into an airtight container, store in the fridge.
  3. Next time you have a chocolate craving, pre-heat the toaster oven and cook 2-4 cookies for the normal amount of time.
  4. If you have company or a party to go to, fire up the full-sized oven and make as many cookies as you need.
  5. If you haven’t used the whole batch of dough within about a week, roll into individual balls and freeze in an airtight container. The dough will be good frozen for several months, and you can thaw as many or as few as you’d like anytime.

I think I’ll stop there for now. Maybe I’ll share more sometime if people don’t find this whole thing too silly.


  1. Pingback: Secret trick of new mom breast-feeding in public

  2. Oo, those recipies sound good! I tried making guacamole but the avocados weren’t anywhere near ripe enough, so I ended up with thousands of little hard bits everywhere as opposed to a nice smooth paste. A hand blender probably wasn’t the best idea either. :-s

    I will have to try it again.

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