Sunday, April 7, 2013

On 'Happy' and Heidi's Simple Fire Roasted Tomato Soup (which makes me happy)

Most our boxes have been unpacked and we are settling into our new home. I'm getting back to doing what I like to do once my boys are asleep for the night; namely, watching documentary films. My friend Kelly put me on to a film called, simply enough, Happy. And since I'm always interested in happiness, I decided to check it out. 
Happy is not one of those documentaries that moves you to tears (like The Cove or Waiting for Superman-- both of which had me writing lots of letters to important people well into the wee hours of the night), but it made some interesting points and I found moments of the film to be quite inspirational (special appearance by the Dalai Lama included).
The film-makers interviewed people from 14 different countries and looked at their lifestyles and their overall happiness. (The United States ranks 23rd in overall happiness when compared to all other countries.Ugh.)
About 50% of a person's happiness is pre-determined by genetics, also called the "genetic set-point". A shockingly low 10% comes from circumstances which include income, occupation, gender, age, personal experiences-- things like that. Which leaves a whopping 40% of a person's happiness in their own hands, meaning that they can decided to do things that make them feel fulfilled and happy. 
The film opens with a man from Kolkata who makes his living as a rickshaw driver. His hands are calloused, his feet don't look too great, and he has to muck around town during monsoon season. But the man doesn't mind; he is content and seems to be genuinely happy. A large part his happiness is derived from the love he receives from his family and his community. He feels like he has everything he needs in his life to be fulfilled.
Then there's a woman from Denmark who moves into a co-housing community following the dissolution of her marriage. Chores are shared, as is child rearing. The community gives her strength and assistance. 
The film-makers interviewed people from all walks of life but the common thread throughout all of their stories was the same: family, compassion, giving and community have a tremendous impact on happiness.  
I couldn't help think about some of the people I met with when I was at Big Law doing contract work. Here were these associates, at the top of their profession, with excellent credential and financial success. Yet most of them seemed stressed out and pretty unhappy, dare I say depressed (at least that was my perception). How could the rickshaw driver who lived with his family in a worn-down hut appear to be so much happier than the lawyers I worked with on Wall Street? The film-makers suggest that the hedonic treadmill might have something to do with it. 
Happy looks at an alarming trend among young Japanese men in Tokyo who are literally working themselves to death (karoshi), never taking a break until they collapsed from stress and exhaustion (usually in the form of a deadly heart attack). But in Osaka, where people enjoy a much more relaxed lifestyle, there are more centenarians on the island than anywhere else on Earth. The elderly engage with one another on a regular basis and there's an extremely tight-knit community-- both of which seem to cultivate long, healthy and happy lives. 
Another interesting point that was made in the film is that excessive amounts of money can't buy happiness. Money does increase happiness when it raises an individual out of poverty (or homelessness). But people who can afford their basic necessities (housing, running water, education, health care, transportation etc.)with a bit leftover, are (reportedly) just as happy as people who earned 20 times more. At least that's the conclusion this film makes.  
I've been thinking a lot about happiness recently, so I enjoyed some of the points made in Happy. It was a good way to spend an hour or so and it gave me some 'food for thought.' 
Speaking of food, here's a really simple soup I made last week. You can add coconut milk or brown rice, though I went with whole wheat couscous and a poached egg. Just add what will make, happy.
::For more on happiness, here's a link to PBS This Emotional Life. 
Simple Fire Roasted Tomato Soup 
Adapted ever-so-slightly from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks, Adapted from Melissa Clark's Cook This Now.
{Try to use cans that use BPA-free liners.} 
Prep time: 5 min - Cook time: 25 min
Serves 4
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, olive oil, or coconut oil
1 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1 (28-ounce) cans fire roasted tomatoes (pref. fire-roasted)
Optional: 1/2 of a 14-ounce can coconut milk

Optional: cup of whole wheat couscous or brown rice
Optional: toasted slivered almonds
Optional: poached egg (I fill up a pot with water, add a capful of vinegar, let it boil, put the egg in, give the water a swirl after a minute or two-- to get the egg up from the bottom-- and then I use a slotted spoon to remove it from the water.)
Optional: torn parsley, fresh oregano, pan-fried paneer.

In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions really soften up - 10 minutes or so. Not so much that they brown, just until they're completely tender and unstructured.

Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chile flakes, and cook just until the spices are fragrant and toasty - stirring constantly at this point. Just 30 seconds or so. Stir in the tomatoes, the juices from the cans, and 3 cups of water. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, then puree with an immersion blender until smooth. At this point you can decide if you'd like your soup even a bit thinner - if so, you can thin it with more water, or if you like a creamy version, with some coconut milk. Taste and adjust with more salt to taste.
Add your toppings, couscous or rice, egg and/or herbs. 

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  1. Oh yum, this tomato soup looks really great. Love the seasonings!

    1. Thank, Dulcie. It's so simple and easy to make...yes, the seasonings are a nice way to go if you're not in the mood for cream :) Now I have to go see what you have been making!

  2. Love the soup (and those gorgeous pictures) and the documentary rec-- who couldn't learn to have more happiness :)

    1. Thank, Willa. I think the world could use some more happiness :) Hope you like the soup. Heidi Swanson is really terrific!

  3. This recipe of yours looks and sounds incredible! I love the choice of spices that youve used, it makes the soup sound so interesting. Cant wait to try. Julia

    1. Hi Julia, Hope you like it! It's so simple and versatile-- you can pair-add a million things. Heidi Swanson really has a way with spices and making things interesting! Thanks for commenting :)