Good Snacks

Having choices feels good, and options can free us. But in the realm of snack foods, we may have experienced too much of a good thing: more choices than ever before, with more highly-refined, processed foods among them.

Every grocery and convenience store has shelves filled with snacks and prepared foods. Nearly all are made with white flour, refined sugar, and refined vegetable oil–including prepared organic “health” foods–because these ingredients are cheap and have neutral flavors. For fun, you might want to take a look at ingredient lists the next time you shop for snack foods. I imagine you will be as surprised as I was to find these ingredients in almost every product sold.

While many people believe that snacks have little place in a healthy diet, they may actually play an important role. Snacks can help manage hunger and avoid the frantic filling up that often follows denial and the postponement of needs; eating a snack at 4:00 may keep you from eating two or three helpings at dinner. Of course, how we define “snack” matters. Societal norms have a lot to do with our acceptance of a bag of potato chips or cookies as an afternoon pick-me-up, and relying on hummus and carrot sticks as a mid-morning lift might make us feel almost deviant. Yet these norms are leading us down the weedy path of poor health.

It’s true that we all feel more comfortable when we fit in, gathering food and eating the way others around us do. But if ever there was a moment to call upon your inner renegade, this is it. Our society needs to establish new snacking norms. Until this happens, we may want to set our own rules and live by them: figuring out what works; getting rid of empty calories that slow us down and offer little; finding snacks that satisfy us; and enjoying support where we can find it.


Good Snack Recipes

Here are several good snack recipes that will give you a lift when you’ve fallen low. All can be made ahead so they are ready when you need them.

Roasted Cashews

Yield: 1 cup


1 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, mix the ingredients and place them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and stir the cashews every 10 minutes, until they are lightly and evenly browned all over. This will take 20-30 minutes.

3. Remove cashews from the oven, cool, and store covered in the refrigerator for when you want a snack. They will keep for months.

Tamari Pumpkin Seeds

Yield: 3 cups


3 cups raw pumpkin seeds
2-1/2 tablespoons tamari


1. Place pumpkin seeds in a dry heavy or cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until well toasted. The seeds will “pop” and crackle for much of the time, and when the crackling slows they are ready. They will be puffed and lightly browned all over. Turn off the heat and let the seeds cool for a minute or two.

2. Leaving the pumpkin seeds in the hot pan, pour 2 tablespoons of tamari over them and mix well with a wooden spoon. The tamari will sizzle a bit. Taste the seeds. For a stronger flavor, add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon tamari.

3. Transfer the pumpkin seeds to a cookie sheet or platter, spreading them in a single layer to cool. Store covered in the refrigerator for when you want a snack. They will keep for months.


Yield: about 3 cups

You can make this recipe using canned chickpeas, which saves time by eliminating the first step–cooking the chickpeas–and you will get a good enough result. But to make exceptional hummus, there is no substitute for starting with chickpeas you cook yourself. This is because canned beans are left firm enough to be used for salads or spreads, but to make a creamy hummus, it’s best to start with tender, well-cooked beans.


1 cup dried chickpeas, or 1 cup of canned chickpeas
4 medium garlic cloves, divided between 2 steps
1 piece kombu, optional
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 cup tahini
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup reserved bean liquid
optional: 1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground, or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin


1. Rinse dried chickpeas and place them in a bowl of cool, filtered water–covered by at least 3-4 inches–for 8-12 hours.

2. Drain beans, discard soaking water, and place them in a heavy pot. Add 1 clove crushed garlic, kombu (if you are using it) and coarse sea salt. Cover the beans with three times as much water, bring to a boil, and turn the heat to low. Simmer, partly covered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, checking from time to time to be sure the beans are submerged under water. If they’re not, add enough water to cover the beans by at least 1/2 inch.

2. Toward the end of cooking time, taste the beans for tenderness. When the beans are well-cooked, drain them and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Discard any extra cooking liquid or save to add to soup.

3. If you like a textured hummus, skip step 3 and move on to step 4. If you like a smooth hummus, put the cooked beans into a large bowl filled with cool, filtered water. Using the palms of your hands, gently rub the beans to loosen the skins. As the skins float to the surface, skim them off and discard them. Repeat until nearly all the skins are removed.

4. Into a food processor, place the remaining 3 garlic cloves, beans, tahini, lemon juice, sea salt, and 1/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Also add the cumin if you are using it. Run the food processor for about 5 minutes for a smooth hummus, or less time if you like your hummus textured.

5. Check the hummus for flavor, consistency and texture. If needed, add more bean liquid, lemon juice or salt. Keep tasting and blending until you have the hummus you want.

6. Just about everything goes well with hummus: in it, on it and with it. To embellish a serving of hummus, add a sprinkling of smoked paprika or roasted and pureed red peppers. Garnish a bowl of hummus with chopped or sliced kalamata olives, or a sprinkling of fresh herbs like oregano or thyme. And serve hummus with carrot, celery or daikon sticks; pita triangles; or whole grain crackers.

7. Store hummus covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freeze.

Pita Triangles

Yield: As many as you like


1 package large or small whole-wheat pita pockets
olive oil
1 or 2 fresh garlic cloves
dried basil or thyme
fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Cut small pita pockets into quarters and then split them in half. If using large pita pockets, cut them into quarters or eighths, depending on your preference, and do the same. Arrange the pita triangles, smooth side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet.

3. In a small bowl, mix together enough olive oil to use for brushing the pita triangles, a clove of minced garlic–or more if you are making a large quantity, and a pinch of dried herbs.

4. Brush the oil mixture over the smooth top of each pita triangle. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

5. Bake for 15 minutes or until as crisp as you would like, flipping the triangles halfway through cooking. Cool on a rack and serve or store for up to several days in an airtight container.

Copyright 2011, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul






Fad Food

“The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told to us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.” Howard Zinn

Change is a norm we have come to accept and, within the food industry, change is the lifeblood of profit growth. For growth to continue, the foods we consider healthy, and therefore the foods we most often buy, must change frequently. Put another way, there’s great pressure within the food industry for novelty; new products can give food manufacturers a competitive edge and bring in greater profits.

Consider some of the popular “health foods” we are told we need: energy drinks; soy milk and soy yogurt; power bars; probiotic-enriched products; tofu; sugar-free and fat-free foods; tea drinks; butter and egg substitutes; processed “organic” foods; and vegetable oils. There are also popular health fads like vegan diets, carbohydrate elimination, and detox regimes.

Reading these examples, you may understandably feel some surprise. But can you see how all of them, the foods and the fads, have been manufactured to replace something real?  Can you see how they are all touted to reduce something: weight or cholesterol, hunger or cancer? We are told that eating this way will nourish us and make us look and feel better. We are told there is virtue in making choices like these. If only we believe; if only we agree to open our wallets.

William Coperthwaite wrote these good words:

“Under pressure of marketing…, the average person has little chance of choosing sensibly. The only alternative seems to be to become very self-conscious about food. By this means some few people learn to live healthily, while a great many others go to extremes–all carrot juice, or no bread, or all brown rice and no dairy products.”

If you truly enjoy the sort of food products listed above, then by all means purchase and enjoy them. But if you consume them because you feel you must, because you believe they will move you toward good health or keep you there, feel no regret about passing them over.

Fad foods are the storms of our time: they blow in, create excitement, and stir up energy in the marketplace. And we take cover beneath food choices and rituals that make us feel we’re responding, that give us some sense of being in control, but these choices and rituals leave us with thinner wallets and without a corresponding increase in vitality. (more…)

My Backyard Hens

I gave birth to my first daughter when I was 27 years-old and, according to an invisible cosmic plan, every seven years I welcomed another daughter into the world. With my youngest about to turn seven, and without any conscious pining for new life, I came up with the idea–perfectly on cue–of expanding my brood to include not one, but six lovely new girls. They are hens, to be more precise, and I surprise myself by enjoying and doting on them far more than I expected to.

There is, of course, the issue of propitious timing, and there is also the natural evolution of whims and desires. My own evolution was helped along by people like Joan Dye Gussow, a passionate advocate for eating locally and well. In her book, This Organic Life, which I read many years ago, she describes the challenge she took on in  mid-life of growing all of her own food in a large and ambitious garden.  Back then, her commitment helped firm my resolve to eat as locally and cleanly as I could. This year I read her new book, Growing Older, and renewed my commitment to self sufficiency; hence the perpetuation of the 7-year cycle and the hens.

It’s not entirely Joan’s fault. I have long wanted hens though, to be honest, I was afraid. With so many predators around, I wondered how I would I keep the hens alive. More to the self-absorbed point, I wondered how I would personally face and deal with death when it happened. How would I clean up the mess?

Hens on pasture

My two youngest!

After months of burying my nose in books and articles, and some forced experience cleaning up dead mice, I convinced myself I could do it. So this spring, I welcomed new life and there is so much about it that I love. The hens run free on pasture, they eat bugs and stir up my compost pile, and here is the kicker: they turn grass and bugs and kitchen scraps into really superior eggs.

If you have ever daydreamed about small-scale farming, raising livestock in your own backyard, or taking personal responsibility for raising some portion of the food you eat, I cannot tell you what a joy you would find tending hens to be. They are smart; who knew? They are wonderfully athletic. They have distinct personalities, and recognize and greet those who tend them. They let me know when they’re happy and what they need, and they make a soft cluck-clucking noise with a sort of rolling, back-of-the-throat purr that is both soothing and reassuring.

For the linguist in you, there is another fun aspect to raising hens: there are so many figures of speech that come from chicken tending. They will come to mind daily and you will say, “Oh, that’s where that turn of phrase originated.” Here are a few to help you understand what I mean:

  • Coming home to roost: At the end of the day, hens run to the coop and fly up to a horizontal bar–or a tree branch if they live in the wild–to roost for the night.
  • Rooster: The male of the species sits high on a tree branch where he roosts to watch over his hens. So, he is the “roost-er.”
  • Hen pecked: When hens are irritated with each other, which doesn’t happen often if they have ample space, they peck at each other with sharp beaks.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: If, when you go out to gather eggs, you put all of them into one basket, you might lose the whole bunch by dropping or knocking it. If you put some eggs in one basket and the rest in another, there is a greater likelihood you will have eggs for breakfast.
  • Running chicken: When young hens are threatened, they don’t run toward the aggressor to defend themselves, they turn and run away.
  • Scratching out a living: Chickens scratch the soil to find bugs to fill their bellies.
  • Pecking order: Within a group of hens, there exists a hierarchy, and pecking is the means to put an up-and-comer in her place.
  • Flying the coop: A hen will occasionally take flight and leave the coop, which brings us to a related figure of speech…
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Hens might roam on a pasture full of grass, weeds, bugs and all a chicken could desire. But they will still stick their heads through the fence, or go over the fence, in search of some imagined improvement in circumstances.

Here are a few more examples to give you some idea of what an agricultural people we once were, with an entire lexicon established around the shared experience of chicken tending: nest egg, hatch an idea, cock-eyed, feather your nest, hen house, mother hen, rule the roost, bad egg, walking on eggshells; and there are more. If you someday get your own hens, you will have the fun of conjuring up the rest yourself!

If thinking about hens and eggs is making you wonder about the quality of the eggs you find at the grocery store, here is my own deciphering of our modern egg labels: Understanding Egg Labels

Copyright 2011, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul

Understanding Egg Labels

It’s worth taking a moment to consider how the tending of hens, our most abundant and reliable egg “producers,” has evolved in past decades because it connects to the quality of the eggs we consume.


Factory farming began in the 1920s, and the timing is meaningful. This was just after the discovery of vitamins A and D. Once farmers could add these vitamins in synthetic form to animal feed, there was no longer a need to give animals access to pasture for sun and growth. There was no longer a need to have them live as animals do. So, motivated by a potential for increased profits, farmers moved their animals off of grass and onto industrial farms. The complication was that living in confinement and indoors made animals sick, but antibiotics–which came along in the 1940s–fixed that problem. Today, 80% of antibiotics are used on animals.

Egg Quality

When considering the quality of eggs, there are many factors to take into account. Chief among them is  their balance of essential fats; how hens live and what they eat affects this balance directly and the balance then affects us. Essential fats are called essential because we need them but can’t make them; we have to get these fats from food. They are called “omega-3″ and “omega-6.” There is much evidence to suggest that traditional diets balanced these two essential fats, which is what our bodies require. Now, however, most of us consume far more omega-6 than omega-3 fats, causing internal inflammation and perhaps explaining our epidemics of obesity and cancer, as well as high rates of heart disease and neurological problems.

What do essential fats have to do with how hens live and what they are fed? When chickens live indoors and are fed grain alone, they are living in a manufactured environment, which makes their eggs less than what nature intended; these eggs can contain up to 30 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats. Hens on pasture produce eggs with a 1:1 essential fat ratio.  So hens that are outside absorbing vitamin D from the sun and eating bugs for protein have eggs (and meat) that are more nutritious; these eggs are also anti-inflammatory.

The Egg Labels

In the list below, I’ve attempted to decipher the most common egg labels. Some speak to how the hens live, others speak to what they are fed, and a few focus on both.

Pastured: This is the gold standard for an egg. Pastured eggs come from hens that roam free, foraging for grass, weeds, seeds and bugs. The hens return to a hen house at night to roost, nest and lay eggs; they are generally fed grain in the evening. Pastured eggs usually come from small farms, and are often sold at the farm itself, or at farmers’ markets or small health food stores. The label on these eggs will always include the word “pastured.” Because these hens live as hens should–on grass and in the sunshine, running, taking dust baths, eating bugs and pecking at the soil–their diet contains necessary minerals and their eggs have an ideal balance of essential fats. The question to ask the farmer is, “Did these eggs come from hens that live on pasture?”

High-Omega  or Omega-3 Enriched: This label refers specifically to what the hens eat: a diet rich in a source of omega-3 fats like flax seed or fish oil. If your concern is your own health and the balance of essential fats in your eggs, and if you do not have access to pastured eggs, these eggs might be a reasonable option. Note that, like most labels, this one is unregulated so, unless it is specified, there is no way to know the true omega-3 content of the eggs and there is no listing of what else the hens eat other than omega-3 rich foods. In addition, the label gives us no information about how the hens live. These eggs may have a better balance of essential fats than those that follow.

Without grass and sunshine for the hens, the following eggs all have an imbalance of essential fats:

Certified Organic: This label requires that hens be uncaged, but most live inside barns and warehouses. Access to the outdoors is a must, but it can be a small door that the hens neither know about nor use–”access” being the key word. The hens consume a certified-organic feed free of antibiotics, pesticides and genetically-modified ingredients, but beak cutting and forced molting through starvation (to simulate the natural molting that occurs when hens are exposed to sunlight) are allowed. Certified organic eggs are the only eggs is this list that have inspections and enforcement to ensure that guidelines are met. But know that while giving organic grain to hens without giving them access to pasture does make their eggs “organic;” it does not improve the life of the hens or make their eggs more nutritious. The yolks are still pale and the eggs are often shipped long distances.

Free-Range or  Free-Roaming: While there are no standards that qualify eggs as coming from free-range hens, these hens are most often uncaged and housed inside barns or warehouses with some access to the outdoors. They can sometimes enjoy natural behaviors like dust bathing, roosting and foraging, but there is no grass, and there are few bugs and little, if any, sunshine. We have no information about what free-range hens are fed, and beak cutting and forced molting are permitted.

Cage-Free: This label makes it seem as if the hens are on pasture, and it is meant to, but cage-free is a marketing term. Hens are uncaged, as the name suggests, but they most often live in a barn or warehouse without access to pasture. Beak cutting and forced molting are permitted. On the other hand, cage-free hens can walk, nest and spread their wings, which caged birds are prevented from doing.

Vegetarian-fed: To my mind, this might be the most misleading label, meant to make the eggs seem somehow virtuous. As I understand it, the label means that the hens’ feed contains no animal matter, but the hidden implication is that the hens are locked indoors. Bugs are a mainstay of a hen’s diet, and even small bugs that fly through the air will be food. To ensure that a hen eats no animal matter, I can surmise that a vegetarian-fed hen must be kept in a warehouse with no access to fresh air. If the point is consideration for all living beings, these eggs miss it entirely.

Fertile: This tells us that the hens that lay eggs live with a rooster, which probably means they are uncaged. But there is no guarantee and the label says little else about how the hens live or what they eat.

Hormone Free: Another label that sounds good, but means nothing. Hormones in poultry were banned in the 1960s.

Natural: This is a marketing term that has no consistent meaning, and tells us nothing about how the hens live or what they eat.

The Take-Home Message

Labels are necessary when we manufacture food, but eggs, in the ideal, are not manufactured. When hens are raised on pasture, we don’t need a fancy name or label; we simply need to know our farmer. Shop at farmers’ markets, farm stands or small health food stores for eggs from hens that live as they were meant to: on grass, in the sunshine, running, taking dust baths, and eating bugs. The egg carton will say “pastured,” and it is really this simple.

Copyright 2011, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul


The Allure of Summer Pickles

You might feel as I do, that as the pace of our days has quickened, we rarely make room for anticipation in our lives. Experiences move past us one after another, with little time to hope or wonder about the future, and even less time to reflect on pleasures of the past. Yet in our flurry, we may be missing an aspect of life that is beautiful and essential; planning, looking ahead, and preparing for what’s to come enlarges our experience and, as it does, it deepens every satisfaction.

It pays to look for ways to welcome anticipation back into our lives and, in the summer kitchen, making pickles is one way to do this. The process of making pickles slows us down because it unfolds over days or weeks and can’t be rushed. It is a process that has a beginning, middle and end and, with each phase, expectation builds.

There is, of course, a familiar and circular challenge: making pickles takes time when we have none to spare. But pickle making is unique among many kitchen endeavors in that it allows us to rely on an invisible team of helpmates: the bacterial cultures that make fermentation happen. These cultures move our labors along and toil for us as we tend to other tasks. Once we establish a home for them, we have the pleasure of observing their work–marveling at their bubbles, smelling, poking, and tasting from time to time.

What’s better is that if you are at home as much as I am, you will appreciate experiencing adventure without ever leaving your kitchen because pickle making is an endless source of mystery and wonder. The process is fascinating; it is also the cherished source of a quiet and particular kind of excitement.


Pickle-Making Wisdom

Based on many summer days spent making pickles in the kitchen, here are my hard-won pickle-making tips:

  • It is best to make pickles from small cucumbers, usually Kirby, that are the freshest you can find. If they are not recently picked, soak them in cold water to revive them. Fresh Kirbys are easy to get at farmers’ markets all summer long. They don’t all need to be the same size, but look for the smallest, “tightest,” cucumbers and forgo those that are large–even if they are labeled Kirby–as you will not get a good result. Juicy cucumbers are not a pickle maker’s friend.
  • Since proper crunch is essential, it is important to know the secret behind it: it seems to be the leaves you place in the pickling crock with the rest of your ingredients. According to fermentation guru, Sandor Katz, it’s the tannin in these leaves that preserves the crunch. I used to use oak leaves; I now use fresh grape leaves and these are my preference. Katz says that cherry and horseradish leaves work as well.
  • Homemade pickles are fermented, and later preserved, in a salty brine. After getting a batch or two of pickles that didn’t preserve well, I tried making a fresh brine for storing finished pickles. This new brine ruined the pickles as I was never able to attain the correct ratio of salt to water.  To avoid the heartache that comes with ruining perfectly good pickles, strain your pickling brine and use it to store your finished pickles.
  • Most pickle recipes call for dill heads; these are flowers that form at the end of dill stalks as they grow in the garden. If you like to grow herbs and you simply allow your dill to go to seed, you will have all the dill heads you need. If you have no garden, you can use a fresh bunch of purchased dill and this will work, too.
  • Knowing that beneficial compounds in garlic are released when cloves are cut or crushed, I tried cutting the garlic that I added to my brine and this approach ruined several batches of pickles. It is not a good idea to create such a potent garlic flavor if you want to keep your friends and family close to you; whole garlic cloves give a more pleasing result.
  • Cucumbers are held under weight in the pickle-making crock. It took me years to learn that this weight should not put any real pressure on the cucumbers. On the contrary, it should be placed gently on top as its only purpose is to submerge the cucumbers under the brine.
  • Mold, alas, is part of the pickle-making process. Do not fear it. You can skim and toss it if there’s a lot. As long as mold stays on the surface of the brine and doesn’t touch the tops of the cucumbers, you will get good pickles. When you are ready to store the pickles, skim the mold. Then strain the brine into your storage container.
  • In my New Jersey kitchen, pickles predictably take ten days to mature. You might eat yours earlier or later depending on the flavor you seek. They improve, for a time, after you store them in the refrigerator. I have had success keeping pickles for a couple of months, but not longer than that.

Copyright 2011, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul

Finding Love in Italy

I was once swept off my feet while vacationing in Italy, la terra di amore, the land of love. As I might have expected (as you, by now, might expect) my irresistible suitor was not a “him,” but an “it”–the mercato, the Florentine farmers’ market–and the language of our courtship was curiously slanted toward all things edible: rosemario, pomodori, fagioli, aglio.

Blocks away, in my Italian kitchen, I could feel the bustle and energy of the market. People streamed toward it from every direction–on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle–and I joined them each morning as I set out to gather ingredients for the day’s meals.

What the mercato offered was a vision; even now, it takes no effort to conjure it in my mind. Barrels of capers in salt. Anchovies. Artichokes. Fresh beans in their pods. Porcini mushrooms and handfuls of wild mint to go with them. More vegetables and fruit, full of color, odd shapes and personalities, and all at the peak of ripeness, the best and most they would ever be. There was rich, creamy yogurt that must have been a thousand calories. There were fresh whole fish that smelled of salt air and sea, squat yellow peaches, and eggs with deep golden yolks. Rather than pack these eggs twelve to a carton, the farmers offered them one by one, each a treasure.


Using Sourdough to Lower the Glycemic Index of Everyday Baked Goods

This post is a departure for me–more technical than usual, and intended to address a specific health issue: the blood sugar spikes that come with eating everyday baked goods. I based it on experiments conducted in my own home kitchen, and I have written it for those with diabetes or blood sugar issues, or those interested in lowering the glycemic index of carbohydrate-rich foods. As I have no immediate plans to publish additional posts on this topic, please contact me by email if you would like more information. If there is enough interest, I will look at ways to disseminate instructions and recipes for using sourdough in baking.


Both sweet and savory baked goods can pose health concerns for a variety of reasons:

  • When we eat baked goods made with white flour, blood sugar can spike upward after eating (the glycemic index, or carbohydrate component, is too high).
  • When we eat baked goods made with whole-grain flour, blood sugar remains relatively stable, but phytic acid* stored in the bran may prevent us from absorbing such minerals as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. This can lead, over time, to mineral depletion and bone loss.
  • When we bake with white or whole-grain flour and allow the batter to rest (soak) for a period of hours before baking, phytic acid is reduced, but grains become super-digestible and the result is a dramatic spike in blood sugar (the glycemic index is again too high).

The problem, then, is circular in nature, with each solution creating a new problem.

As a sourdough bread baker and teacher, I knew that sourdough creates an ideal carbohydrate: bread with a low glycemic index and almost no phytic acid due to the dough’s long rest before baking. I therefore wondered if I could use sourdough to improve the healthfulness of everyday baked goods by adding it to a batter and then allowing it to rest for a period of hours, just as when making sourdough bread. I believed this approach would lower the glycemic index of baked goods and reduce their phytic acid, a simple and elegant solution to the challenges listed above. This approach might be useful to those with insulin resistance or diabetes, those with mineral deficiencies (like low calcium or iron), and those who simply wish to lower the blood sugar impact of the baked goods they consume.

The rest of this post describes my tests and their promising results.


Happy In the Kitchen

A few years ago, I lived through a disastrous home renovation project. It brought mostly heartache and regret and, in the end, left me with a home that still needed extensive renovation to repair the mistakes that had been made.

Once these mistakes were corrected, order was finally restored–or so I thought–until I glanced at the kitchen ceiling and noticed a haphazard configuration of lights; it was an arrangement so illogical that it became an ongoing reminder of our chaos, heartache, and misguided investment. I was stuck with bitter feelings until, one day, one of my children glanced upward and said, “Look, we have a smiley face on our ceiling!”

That moment–that new way of looking at a situation that had, by then, become familiar–transformed the lights into an orderly, artistic arrangement. And so on that day I learned, and I mean really learned, the importance of outlook. I look up now and see a smiley face and, even when I strain to see chaos, it simply isn’t there.

In the same way, when it comes to cooking happily and with a joyful acceptance of the task, outlook may be the largest hurdle any of us will need to leap.