This post also appeared in my column, Fresh Perspective in Kingston This Week on December 20, 2012.
I spent a good portion of 2012 getting back on my feet after a couple of tumultuous, challenging years fighting my way through an intense emotional quagmire devoid of much happiness. Things happen and sometimes life knocks us down. My guess is that this can happen to any of us sometimes striking with little warning and leaving us completely derailed.
Happiness – that thing that everyone talks about being so all important – can sometimes be elusive. From Socrates to Tolstoy to Mark Twain – the greatest minds through time have expostulated about the importance and the intangibility of happiness.
It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who told us that happiness was the true meaning and purpose of life but then left us hanging, telling us nothing of how to actually achieve it. Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, mathematician, and writer, came closer when he said, “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” Perhaps; but I suspect lack of caution in love is equally a recipe for sorrow.
The irony is – without sorrow – we’d never fully understand happiness.
This past year I set about in earnest doing things – things outside the range of my normal existence. I started painting and took singing lessons. I travelled solo to the south of Mexico. I went hiking and canoeing wherever and whenever I could. I stayed awake well into the night listening to owls. I ran on mountain roads. I got rid of television. I read an awful lot of books and spent time with my dog. I listened to my heart. I shed tears. And then I spent a month in Vermont with fifty-plus writers and artists from around the world – a group of the most inspired people I’m ever likely to meet.
So it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise when I was sitting at my desk recently feeling a sense of happiness that just crept up on me. I remembered a line I’d read in Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar, a book I only read for the first time this year. “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, This is what it is to be happy,” she wrote. But Plath did not manage to hang onto her happiness. The tragic story of her life serves as a reminder of the importance of recognizing and holding fast to joy.
If there is an actual recipe for happiness, it would have to be Tiramisu – an Italian dessert – thought to have originated in Siena. The literal translation of Tiramisu is “pick-me-up” but the metaphorical translation is “make-me-happy.” How perfect is that? Whip up some Tiramisu over the holidays and make everyone happy.
This simple egg-free version (from A Taste of Wintergreen) eliminates the worry about potential food poisoning from eating uncooked egg white, an ingredient that appears in most traditional tiramisu recipes. Make this the day ahead and refrigerate until serving time. Do not attempt to cheat the system and make this the day-of. It is SO much better the next day.
1 cup Mascarpone (or cream cheese) at room temperature
1½ cups whipping cream
¼ cup icing sugar
½ cup strong black coffee (can use decaf coffee)
½ cup Kahlua, Frangelico or Amaretto liqueur
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 150 gram or 5.3 oz packages of Lady Finger biscuits
cocoa, small bar of dark chocolate, shaved or fresh raspberries to garnish
Whip the cream until stiff. Fold in the room temperature Mascarpone (or cream) cheese. Add the icing sugar. Beat lightly to mix.
In a separate bowl or large glass measuring cup, mix together the coffee, vanilla essence and liqueur.
In a glass serving bowl, preferably straight-sided (I made the one in the photograph in a springform pan but if you don’t have one – just use a glass dish and serve the tiramisu in the dish) begin with a layer of lady finger biscuits. Pour over one-third of the coffee and liqueur mixture. Spoon just less than one-third of the cream and cheese mixture and using a spatula-style knife or the back of the spoon—carefully spread the cream/cheese in an even layer. Repeat three times, ending with a layer of the cream and cheese mixture. If you have extra coffee mixture leftover pour it across the top layer before you add the final layer of cream. You will need a little more of the cream and cheese for the top layer to get a nice finish.
Cover the tiramisu with cling wrap and refrigerate for approximately 24 hours. Shortly before serving, remove the tiramisu from the fridge and sprinkle with cocoa, shaved dark chocolate or raspberries. Allow at least half an hour at room temperature before serving. Serves 4 to 6