“be happy!” . . .

by mulberryshoots

DSC_0721_2“Be Happy!” That was what my favorite cousin who died a year or so ago, said to me on our last visit together. I was reminded of Pei-Fen today when I saw a photo in the NYTimes of the Martha Graham dance company dancers in motion. Pei-Fen had danced with Martha Graham and Ted Shawn in the last mid-century. Her second husband was composer and clarinetist, Meyer Kupferman. I read in one of the chats online that people lined up to visit them not just for music camaraderie but especially for Pei-Fen’s cooking.

On that note, her cooking was very individual and representative of her nature. The last time we had a meal together in Rhinebeck, New York, she served a single dish for our lunch: Buddha’s Delight on wooden plates. I’ve sampled this dish elsewhere since it’s a favorite dish, and was delighted that she had made it for our leisurely lunch, but also so that I could get a glimpse of how she had prepared it. Everything was cut meticulously. That’s the main message of her dish–the soaked cellophane noodles, tiger lilies, dried shitake mushrooms reconstituted in warm water, tree ear (an important textural element), a little sliced cabbage and seasonings. When I make it, the dish tastes all right but the texture is not the same–I haven’t managed to get everything sliced and trimmed as tidily as she did when making this dish. Her Buddha’s Delight dish was, well, buddha-like in its harmonic simplicity. There was a peaceful aura about it too.

In any event, the photo of Martha Graham Company dancers in the Times today brought back this instant image, memory and message from Pei Fen. “Be Happy” she had said to me, holding my hand, knowing about my family background, my parents and how life had unfolded for me. I took her advice to heart. I remember it when I am feeling down or depressed about things. And how is it that one can uplift one’s spirits to be happy?

Simple: take away what is not working in one’s life and put it aside. Be in the moment of a winter’s day with the sun gilding the horizon, trying to come out in the mid-morning light. Marvel at the whiteness of the snow that has blanketed everything. Be thankful that our hot water tank is working again and it was only the pilot light that got blown out by a draft last night, sparing us the expense of having to call the plumber and replace it on a Friday before the weekend.

Observe how actually nothing is wrong, right this moment. Rejoice that my vertigo is diminishing simply from performing some simple gravity-driven maneuvers called the “Epley Maneuver” for a benign crystal floating around in my inner ear rather than something that might be more serious.

Be glad that my husband and I are so lucky to be together even when things are hard around us that are outside of our control. And let go of how others behave–you can’t do anything about it anyhow by reacting to it. Save and conserve my energy instead of letting it dissipate willy-nilly.

We have a local Councillor with the initials “PP” who has been loyal, consistent and gone to bat for our causes in the past decades: defeating a wetlands development plan two or three times so far; advocating for protecting uninfested trees from rampant clear-cutting during an infestation of beetles in our town. Two years ago during the holidays, I made some mince pies using my Breville pie maker after coming upon jars of British mincemeat at a local emporium. We gave some to PP, family and neighbors.

G. saw PP last night at a hearing to try and save more trees (5000 of them) from being clear-cut by the USDA. We suspect that authorities are more interested in spending their budget so that they can ask for more money rather than doing right by our trees. In any case, I’m going to pick up some prepared pie crusts to make some of these miniature mince pies this weekend and brighten up the kitchen with the delicious smells–and for G. to bring some over to PP as a thank-you for his efforts. He loved them before and there was a twinkle in his eye last night when G. mentioned that there might be more coming soon.

Robertson’s Mincemeat ingredients: apples, raisins, sultanas, candied mixed orange peel, lemon peel, treacle, currants, sugar and spices, everything nice!

So, there you are. Being happy is easy when I focus on what I am grateful for and to do something that makes someone else happy. Mince pies are perfect! They smell divine while they are cooking and are so tasty eaten with a wedge of cheddar cheese.

Being happy is a choice and I choose it! Thanks, Pei-Fen.