Black Olive and Caper Tapenade & Proportional Happiness

Jul 25, 2011

When I go to Mexico to visit my old friend, Cristina, I like to help her milk goats, eat the cheese she makes from those goats, and wander into the market to buy hand-made blue gorditas and cactus for salad.  But what I really love is buying spoons.  They are made locally, don’t cost much, and are easy to travel with.  I use them for stirring risotto, scraping coconut oil from the jar, tasting jam as it boils.

Sometimes, I just look at my spoons.

These spoons provide a lot more happiness than they should.

This gets me thinking about proportional happiness – that is, what makes you happier than it should for the cost or effort.

Another example: Thursday afternoons I am in great spirits.  I go to pick up my farm share.  The reality is, I already paid for it, I could get vegetables at the market near me, and it’s not the most convenient time.  And yet.  I go, I stand in line, weigh my beet greens or pluck my bunch of kale or slide fresh ears of corn into my bag and all the while I have a huge grin on my face.  Why?  I guess I feel like part of a community, that I’m part of a farming cycle that I respect and value.  And I’m getting organic, local food for my family which makes me feel good about being a provider.  I also get  a burst of creativity – where I had no idea what to make before, and began to dread dinner, I always get ideas.  What will I do with this giant bag of baby spinach?  I flash to the olive in the fridge, the half-full jar of capers.  Dinner.  Tomatoes and sweet onions and we’ll make soup for tomorrow, serve it in glasses to avoid spoons.

Oh, spoons.  I do like my wooden friends.  I collect them wherever I go – I have spoons from four continents.  Some have cracked from years of use.  Another chipped when the kids formed a band and the spoons were the drumsticks.  It happens.

What are the things that make you happy?  Not the first class all-expenses paid trip.  I mean the 6$ beaded shoes I got in Brooklyn with my best friend that make me ridiculously happy – they make me think of her and how we switched shoes because I had a blister and about the lovely beading that sparkles.  I mean the pasta that is so tiny I hate to eat it but I do and it’s delicious.  I mean the way my mom smells and how, even as a grown woman, I like to hug her and sniff her neck and, when she was far away from me in college I would go into the perfume section of Bloomingdale’s in NYC and pretend to be interested just so they’d let me smell the bottle.  Just a smell, nothing more. And a smile that lasted all day.  I mean the feel of getting into bed at night, with y body sore from being outside and working hard in yoga, and sliding my feet on the clean sheets and finding the person I love next to me.

Ironed tea towels.  There.  I’ve admitted it in writing.  I really, really like how they look all stacked up, how I can fit more in the drawer, how soothing it is to iron something easy.

Wearing my oldest son’s clothes when I can’t be bothered to grab mine – his jackets fit me now, his shoes are too big but fine for walking the dog. Way more happiness than the Land’s End kid fleece warrants.

I could go on.  I think it’s important that we notice small moments, small items that bring us joy, music or mint leaves or brand new thumb tacks.

The best?  Well, probably how my kids sigh in their sleep, and sort of fling their arms around me or how their small chests dip and rise as though just being checked on brings them tons of joy.

That, and spoons.

Black Olive and Caper Tapenade

1 cup black olives, pitted

2 tbsp capers

1/4 cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic

big pinch salt

*if you are not a vegetarian, I suggest adding an anchovy or two or some anchovy paste

Put olives and capers in blender (mini one is fine) and pulse, adding olive oil bit by bit. Add garlic and salt and pulse until blended well. Adjust for seasoning. Serve on crusty bread or on pasta. The above photo is with baby spinach, peppers, and shredded cheese, a family favorite. Use your favorite spoon to dish it out.


  1. Debbie W.
    July 25, 2011

    I loved reading this. I know eactly what you mean!

  2. UnprofessionalCritic
    July 26, 2011

    What makes me happy:
    –randomly running into my best friend in our neighborhood
    –this past weekend, at a writer’s retreat on the prairie, reading aloud something I’d written and hearing a fellow participant say “wow.”
    –making creamed spinach at midnight just because I want to
    –getting my feet dirty as I walk miles along Lake Michigan and contemplate the Chicago skyline (which never fails to elicit a “wow” from me)
    –successfully doing a jump-through in my Ashtanga Prep yoga class