I was looking forward to making "my" vegan chocolate mousse for my friend's birthday dinner. I had discovered the recipe last winter when my niece was to be with us for Thanksgiving, and it had unanimously been declared to be better than the more traditional version. No animals were harmed in the process, and the richness and unctuosity of the coconut milk blended with the rich, dark cocoa had me close my eyes with every bite.
The recipe is easy and just quirky enough as it requires some fun manipulation of the can of coconut milk (yes, I will give you the recipe if you ask), but it does ask for a wee bit of planning. Specifically, that one place the coconut milk in the freezer the night before.
Or so I remembered.
From that moment on, it is all easy-peasy, and you can go from no-mousse to lovely cups of billowy mousse in a few minutes.
Except for the fact that the overnight stay has to be in the fridge, not in the freezer. Which turns out to be a massive difference. Who knew?
With two hours until our guests were to arrive, I wrestled that can of perfectly frozen coconut milk in more ways than I care to recount. I cajoled, I pried, I immersed, I begged, I scooped. I swore in French, and I laughed.
In return, it slipped, it sputtered, chunks of milky stuff alternately making a straight line for the floor and a fast burst to the ceiling.
Finally, I gave up.
With one hour till show time.
Cleaning up the scene of the madness (I always think/intuit better in a neutral environment), I went through my mental Rolodex of awesome-and-quick desserts. Nothing came up.
Finally, I just "asked" - the way I have learned to ask when I know that my own little mind is not going to be my best ally. I simply asked: "Ok. What should I make now?"
And as is usually the case when we ask with a calm and trusting mind, the answer was quasi-immediate. Albeit a tad surprising.
"Malhebi" was the answer.
As a start, the last time I had Malhebi was at least four decades ago. Then, there was the fact that I have never made it. All good reasons to second guess the situation.
Except that I could not. Because now, I was overtaken by the memory of the restaurant of my childhood, the special place where I spent many, many Sunday afternoons. "Les Diamantaires" was a Greek restaurant that belonged to friends of my grandpa and where I could never get enough of the food, the language, the energy, and Yaya - who seemed to be everyone's grandma. Very very young, I would delight in the food of my ancestors as my mom used to say: "ça, c'est l'atavisme," giving some sense to my cells who deeply recognized the nourishment they needed to thrive. Generational stuff. We can't mess with that.
And yes, for dessert, pretty much always a small jar of bright white, cold and exotically perfumed Malhebi. Which I had never made nor had any idea how to go about serving to my friends.
But when we are guided, the doors open.
Google came to the rescue, as did a willing trip to the grocery store from the man who likes to create in the kitchen with me, and off we went!
Two hours later, after a delicious Mexican feast, I walked out of the kitchen and onto the deck carrying a tray full of little cups of rosewater-enhanced white creamy delightfulness. A colorful paper umbrella in each one, I served my friends an intimate taste of my childhood.
And you know what? It was perfect. Not even a hint of the disappointment that can creep in when we try to recreate a long ago memory. Nope. PERFECT.
And even for me who adores all things chocolate, hands down a winner over chocolate mousse.
So today, I invite you to trust that when something is fighting us at all turns and very loudly saying "no!" - we can take a deep breath, start calmly cleaning up the mess even when we don't know what's coming next. And then, we can ask. Chances are we will end up with something we could never have guessed we were capable of creating. Something amazing.
Because while we know what we know, and we also know what we don't know, we sure don't know what we don't know. And that's often where the magic lives.
Finally, because the best things in life are often better shared, I invite you to join me in adding some exotic, easy delight to your life - and maybe your friends' lives - by preparing some lovely Malhebi.
4 cups milk (or cream, or coconut milk, or a combo)
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch, diluted in 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons rosewater
4 ounces chopped nuts
Bon appetit! (and let me know how much you like it, ok?)
You know how some days just come and go and we cannot really pinpoint anything major that happened between the time we woke up and the time we went to bed?
And then there are other days.
Days upon which we can look back and say: Yup, that's when things shifted. Sometimes, we can even identify the exact second the shift happened, the moment that will forever define Before ... and After.
Eight years ago today, May 22, 2011, contained one of these Defining Moments.
It had started the night before. A burgeoning sense of unease, a slight but sickening sense of "non-belonging."
My kids were getting older, and I could feel their need for me melt a little more each day; my then partner had recently moved two hours away, and there was a "thing" growing inside of me: a shapeless yet firm "thing" that made me ache for a sense of belonging, while pointing to the places where it was lacking.
And yet, that morning was to be a rich one as I would drive to the airport to hold my daughter as she returned from a year in Brazil and then make my way to another terminal and greet a close friend who was also coming back from a special trip. I would drive him to his home in Seattle, and my daughter would spend a few hours with her dad while I made my way back home to the island. All good stuff.
Except for "the thing."
The Thing was kind enough to be quiet as I met my daughter at the gate and gave her a long, long hug. It managed to be polite enough as I found the other gate and met my friend. Once in the car and before we reached the parking lot, it began to stir. By the time we got to the highway, there was no pretending. I needed... something. And I needed it quick. I explained what was happening to my friend, and he listened. Community, he said. I was craving Community.
Having a name for it, I was now ready to fix it, to add what I saw as a painfully missing piece. "How about we get a big house in Seattle, and you move into it, and we invite a few other people, and I live there every other week when my kids are with their dad?"
He looked at me. I took it as encouragement: "Let's go look for a house right now. Today!" Hearing the desperation in my voice was enough to clue me into the fact that I was moving too fast. As I dropped him off at his house, he told me that "we should think about it," and hugged me goodbye a little longer than usual.
I drove on, The Thing now fully awake - and empowered.
What happened next fed me a dose of Compassion that is lasting me to this day and I hope will for life.
A bridge. I was to drive over a tall bridge in order to get to the other side of a lake. I entered the bridge, and then BAM... some sort of awareness took me over. A strong, all-powerful knowing that unless I talked to myself constantly until I reached the other side, unless I stayed focused on my driving in an almost trance-like way... I may try to drive my car off the shoulder of the bridge and possibly tumble down to the water.
I did. I talked to myself the whole way, one yard at a time, one hundred percent present, and holding the steering wheel as though my life depended on it. Which it perhaps did.
Then I slowly parked my car, took the key out of the ignition, and allowed myself a big, long sob.
Once emptied of all crackly and unexamined bits of angst, I made a call and told a close friend that I was going to go home and open a Center of some sort. What sort? I did not know yet. But a Center for sure. A container for the Community I so desperately needed.
And so I did. Within weeks, the doors to The Center for Happiness opened.
The first few months were a little hiccupy as The Center and I "courted" each other, trying to figure out what it was we wanted our relationship to be. By December it was starting to gel nicely, I could see a few pebbles marking the way, and the Essence of Community was oozing from all the pores of the Ballroom 100-year-old floor.
Almost eight years later, I look back at that time and marvel at the richness of all the friendships, local and global projects, laughter, tears, goodness and yes, COMMUNITY that continue to be created from its buttery yellow walls.
In the rearview mirror, it makes sense.
Even my once in a lifetime bridge moment makes sense. Just as I hope to never feel this way again (and had never before), I believe that I needed this level of intensity in order to take action, an action that seemed quite "unreasonable" at the time, and continued to feel unreasonable for several years.
Today, as I sit in the Ballroom writing this to you, as I get ready to celebrate seven years of the now international Happiness Sprinkling Project and the beautiful online Gratitude Community, as I put out yet one more bowl of dark chocolate for tonight's yoga class - I know that this is just the way it is supposed to be.
And I invite YOU to join me in listening to our deep yearnings, to the voices that tell us that we are summoned, that we have a job to do - even though it may not even have a name yet and may not make any sense on paper. I invite you to hold on to that steering wheel when you cross that bridge and to follow the pebbles. I invite you to honor your very own Defining Moments.
For those of you who have loved the Center and let it love you for all these years, thank you for creating it, and continuing to create it with me. For those of you who are far away or maybe have just never climbed up the 55 stairs up to the Ballroom, I very much hope that our paths will cross someday.
Some of you may have heard me talk about Pop Quizzes.
What I mean by that is these little "tests" that show up regarding whatever Life Curriculum we might currently be working on. They stick their heads out and check in with us to see how we are doing. They are usually not crazy loud or super dramatic but for sure, we notice them. They give us a chance to do things differently than we might have in the past (thus showing us where some growth has happened), they give us a chance to deepen the practice of a particular tool and in doing so gain more confidence is our ability to use it, they give us a chance to navigate Life in a more authentic and quietly powerful way.
Such a Quiz arrived at my doorstep yesterday, minutes before I was about to teach my monthly Happiness School class.
Let me start by saying that it was not one bit comfortable. They usually aren't.
A quick phone call to a friend who knows me well helped me get grounded as I was able to hear myself clarify my values while she held a safe space for me. That's always so delicious and reassuring.
At 6 am today, my Morning Pages held more of my words and thoughts and I could start to feel the fog lifting, the stories losing importance, and my ME-ness starting to emerge. A sense of urgency melted too, and I was left with gratitude for what was to come, some curiosity about how it would play out, and a strong feeling that I could do this, and would, using just the right tools from my toolbox and following the perfect pebbles which I could already see were sprinkled on the path.
Almost 24 hours later, I find myself peacefully sitting at my little Life Desk, glad that I am being pulled in for this Pop Quiz (actually, I have had a nice bouquet of them lately) and looking forward to navigating what looks like a list of multiple choice questions.
I think I may pass this one.
Today, I invite you to recognize these Pop Quizzes and to open the door to them, maybe even offer them a cup of tea. I invite you to trust that in your infinite wisdom, you actually scheduled these in order to remind you of how much you have grown - and give you an opportunity to get to the other side, the next level. To heal, too.
Make that call to a friend who really knows you.
Empty the stories onto the paper.
Look for the pebbles that will guide you just where you need to go.
Then let in the joy of having made it to the other side, authentically YOU.
Until the next one comes along.
We've got this.
My new book