A Cool Mona Recipe: Steamed Clams With Chorizo And Tequila

steamed clamsTry this one on. It’s delicious and it’s from Marcela Valladolid of The Food Network.

Heat a heavy, medium pot over medium heat. Add the chorizo, breaking up the large pieces with a wooden spoon. Saute until almost crisp, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to paper towels to drain.

Add the butter and onions and cook over medium-high heat until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes longer.

Add the tequila and clam juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the clams to the pot, cover and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the clams open wide, 10 to 12 minutes (discard any clams that remain unopened).

Return the chorizo to the pot and stir to combine. Divide between 2 bowls, sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve with the loaf of sourdough.

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A Cool Mona Book Review: A Replacement Life

Marg_4 iconA Replacement Life by Boris Fishman, published 2014. A debut novel that’s bold, humorous and wickedly smart. It’s a tricky business, of course, but American writers are getting more comfortable with being funny about the Holocaust and Fishman joins the group.

Life turns on a young man who becomes a semiprofessional liar about the death camps. Slava is a struggling journalist who comes up against the unthinkable writing project – to forge Holocaust-restitution claims on behalf of old Russian Jews living in Brooklyn, NY. Yevgany Gelman, Slava’s grandfather, didn’t suffer in the way he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution, a pay-out to Holocaust survivors by the German government. But he has suffered, he has…as a Jew in the war, as a second-rate citizen in the USSR, as an immigrant to the States. “And my grandson, is he not a writer?”

Being the Great Forger of South Brooklyn teaches Salva a couple of key things. Not every fact is the truth, not every lie is a falsehood. He must revisit the culture he has run from and becomes one with Russian foods, clothing styles and manners. He hates it all. While it’s a fascinating read into a world I knew nothing of, there’s no sense of urgency, it took me 3 weeks to read and I didn’t feel like the characters would miss me if I gave it up.

Fishman, who dedicates this book to the walking wounded who survived the degradations of a life in the Soviet Union, was born in Minsk, in the former Soviet Union, in 1979 and immigrated to the United States in 1988. His journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, Harper’s, Vogue, The London Review of Books and The Wall Street Journal. The author received a degree in Russian literature from Princeton University and his MFA in fiction from New York University.

In the Cool Mona rating system, I give A Replacement Life 4 margaritas.


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10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody (Part 2)

i'm not myself after too many margaritas.

i’m not myself after too many margaritas.

Leigh Newman has some heart-warming thoughts on how to keep yourself and others upright. Check out the first few that posted yesterday. http://www.coolmona.com/?p=8134

“You have a genius not understood by mere mortals.”

This was probably said to Einstein. But you can say it to anybody in those moments, say, when you catch your new boyfriend in the shower…with his yoga mat. Or you go over to your best friend’s house and find her layering her sandwich like this: ham, cheese, lettuce, onion, ham, cheese, lettuce, onion, hamcheeselettuceonion. We all have these quirky rituals. They are a little screwball. We usually do them alone. But they save time (for example, rinsing off a yoga mat while you rinse yourself) or just work better (for example, making 12 individual layers of sandwich filling ensures that you’ll get a little taste of all the flavors in each bite, instead of, say, just a hunk of ham and lettuce or a mouthful of onion and cheese. Understanding the reasoning behind these private processes and praising the person for them is a moment of respect. You’re not saying that you are going to do it at your house—which would be a lie—but you are saying that their idea makes sense, right in the moment they most expect to be ridiculed for being a complete kook.

“That’s awful.”

Sometimes, the nicest thing you can do is not to ask a bunch of probing, sensitive questions (“So what are you really feeling? Shock? Terror?”). Or try to think of way you can fix it (“Have you looked into natural herbs? Have you called those clinics in Bora Bora?”). Or to offer to help (“I’ll drive you! I’ll clean your house! I’ll make you a lasagna!”). Or even to apologize over and over, explaining that you know that you didn’t make the horrible event happen, you’re just sorry it happened. Sometimes you need to take you out of it. A person in your life is upset and scared and maybe even in denial. Recognizing what’s really happening gives that person the rare and much-needed opportunity to look at this terrible thing with somebody, instead of alone.

“I love the sound of your voice.”

Just go say this to the nearest three people you like. Watch what happens.

“I am not inviting him to my birthday party.”

Everybody wants to feel protected—especially when they’ve been dumped. Offering to full-on hate somebody’s ex certainly lets her know that you’re on her side. But hate is exhausting; hate sucks a lot of energy. Plus, it doesn’t make rational sense if you never even met the ex. Instead, take the kind of loyal, immature path of kindergarteners all over the world and declare the offender crossed off your birthday list. Not only will it make that injured party in question laugh, but it also creates the pleasing fantasy of her drinking champagne and dancing on a table while the dumper sits home in front of the TV, crying over a carton of cold limp egg foo yung.

“You bring me joy. You make me happy.”

There’s ticker tape in most of our brains that spits out these kinds of loving phrases at regular intervals throughout the day. But the phrases themselves don’t make it to our mouth, because they seem cheesy or we don’t know the person well enough or we were raised by people who shook our hands (or worse) when they really wanted to hug us. Interestingly enough, people don’t titter nervously when you say these so-called “overused” things to them. Nor do they run away. They may smile wildly or just slightly, but inside, little Roman candles of happiness are going off. Just say it, and if that’s too goofy or embarrassing, text it.

“I just can’t make this decision without you.”

Everybody likes to be liked for who they are. But there’s a special kind of glow that comes when somebody likes what you think, when you know that what they want is your help in making a decision or in figuring out a messy problem. This may also be another way of expressing that most honored of human emotions: trust.

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10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody

he smelled of tequila and regret.

he smelled of tequila and regret.

I always like what Leigh Newman has to say. Here are some heart-warming thoughts on how to keep yourself and others upright.

“Take your time. I’m not in a rush.”

This one is great for the grocery store, the takeout burrito restaurant or anywhere else that involves really tired people trying their best, even as they fumble and flail. For example, the woman in front of you pays the cashier but then has to rifle through her overstuffed wallet to put away the change, then store the receipt, then mash the whole fat leather money accordion into her purse. She will usually complete this action with frantic fingers because she knows she’s delaying the whole line; she knows everybody just wants to go home; and she knows she should not save old, mostly-used-up gift cards with 63 cents on them. Telling her to “Take your time. I’m not in rush” always sets off the same reaction: first, surprise (really? because everybody’s in a rush…) and then a flash of sweet wide-open relief. You have just given somebody a three-minute holiday, not from the stress of life, but from the stress we put on ourselves. (Cool Mona Note: If someone said this to me in the grocery line, I think I would faint.)

“Three different sources have confirmed that you’re generous, nice to animals and funny.”

It happens all the time during coffee dates or lunches at work—a friend’s name comes up in conversation and everyone there suddenly begins to talk about how amazing this person is: for example, how whip-smart she was during the budget meeting, how kind she was to the obviously lonely woman in production, how she always smells a little like fresh vanilla cupcakes. Unfortunately, due to her absence, she’ll never know about this avalanche of admiration—unless you inform her. Passing along the descriptions will not only make her feel quite special for possessing these characteristics, but it will also disable the compliment-deflecting shield that so many of us have, because by delivering this praise, you can’t possibly just be trying to “cheer her up” or trying to “be sweet.” You didn’t actually say those things. Other people did.

“The way you eat a sandwich is so elegant”

Long ago, when I was a young student and traveled, a Frenchman said this to me. He was not my boyfriend or interested in becoming my boyfriend or even interesting in just having sex with a cheerful American. He was dating one of the most beautiful people on the planet, a woman who was snuggled up on his arm like a tall, dark luxurious human stole. What the two of them were doing at a student cafeteria, I will never understand. And yet, as we stood together at the counter, strangers eating our ham-and-cheeses, he noticed a habit I had developed of taking very small bites off the huge long hunk of bread and wiping all the little flakey crumbs that showered down onto my chin with a napkin. Twenty years later, when I think of this comment, a little sunset still glows inside me. Because—and this is a little embarrassing—I had worked at sandwich eating. Eating a sandwich in France is the European equivalent of eating a large drippy log-size burrito, due the size of thick baguettes and the overuse of butter. I wanted it to do to it with a wee less glop and a wee more class.
Somewhere in your life, someone is carefully serving your salad before serving themselves. What’s interesting is that very, very few people notice it. We expect good table manners and usually only comment on the bad. Praising something that’s this invisible not only makes a person feel good for doing what they’ve done (improving the view during dinner) but also for what it cost them—which, when it come to manners, means things like not getting to lick the chocolate sludge at the bottom of the ice cream bowl.

“I saw what you did, and please don’t think I’m a nut case, but it restored my faith in the human race.”

Oh, the things people do! The woman who climbs up the two flights of stairs at the train station, then climbs back down them to help an old man with his suitcase. The strange little man who walks around downtown slipping packages of cookies into the bags of the sleeping homeless people. The guy who picks up the public trash can on the corner that fell over. Everybody walking by notices these tiny kindnesses. So few will take the socially risky, even embarrassing step of approaching the complete stranger who’s done them and thanking him or her for what they’re really doing—helping us remember that, despite the constant headlines, human beings don’t just invent Ponzi schemes and burn up the ozone. They also offer to share their umbrellas with strangers during pouring thunderstorms, even if it means their backpack will be a little wet.

Cool Mona Note: More tomorrow. Aren’t these wonderful?

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Cool Mona Weekly Masterpiece: Monkey Selfies

monkey selfieSelfies are everywhere. Even Indonesian macaques are getting into the game. 2 of these Old World monkeys borrowed photographer David J. Slater’s camera and reportedly snapped some pictures of themselves. One of the selfies by a female macaque has since gone viral, making its way to Wikipedia’s free-to-use website.

Slater asked the site to take down the photo, but Wikipedia asserts the photo is uncopyrightable because animals can’t own copyrights.

It raises two interesting questions:

First, can a monkey even acquire copyright in a selfie?

Second, can a human acquire copyright in a monkey’s selfie?

It’s a depressing idea, that the terabytes of gratuitous selfies snapped by vapid 20-somethings — serving no other artistic purpose than to show off their outfits or abs on Instagram – would be entitled to copyright protection.

Meanwhile, a one-of-a-kind “selfie” by a downright adorable monkey, might not be entitled to protection. But the law — international and domestic — is full of grim irony.

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4 Ways We Talk Ourselves Out Of What We Want

for a happier life, lead an authentic life.

for a happier life, lead an authentic life.

Leigh Newman shows us the ways we silently and secretly discourage ourselves from doing the things that would make us happiest.

1. We focus on the positive.

This happens when we spend a lot of time thinking things like, “Our rent is half the market value for this neighborhood! We have free cable! We live in this supercool neighborhood with two parks!” In other words, you, and me, we convince ourselves how happy we are in our current situation (because we are grateful and we do want to be happy), so much so that we don’t realize we could be even happier someplace else. Like someplace in a different supercool neighborhood but with equally inexpensive rent…and one more bedroom.

2. We make up logical-yet-illogical rules.

Such as: If I earn this amount of money, I get to quit my job and paint beautiful strange flowers on glass. Or: If I don’t eat six stuffed bagel-holes this morning, I get to quit my job and paint flowers on glass. And when those somehow don’t work out, we replace them with logical-yet-illogical laws. Such as: Only wildly talented, cool people get to paint flowers on glass. These laws are like gravity. They uphold the running of the universe and can’t be broken. Until one day, we get a logical-yet-logical idea…and pick up a brush and start painting. Which, when you think about it, not only makes sense but also takes way less time.

3. We call the correct wrong (or right) best friend.

Every best friend has a life-experience resume that you’re intimately versed in. So when you are both dying to skydive—and AFRAID!!! VERY AFRAID!!!—of actually doing it, you dial up your acrophobic college roommate who will list every possible accident that might occur including a broken parachute and hitting your head on the wing of the airplane and falling for 500 feet to your death. Why we do this is a mystery. But the consequences of it can be rectified by calling your other friend, who has skydived five times, and who will text a photo of her flying in Hawaii with her arms outspread by a rainbow.

4. We surrender to who we were.

Most of us got to be the “fill-in-the-blank” one in our families. We were the funny one, the sad one, the crazy one, the bratty one, the one who ruined Christmas. Having grown up and moved aw ay, we shed these historic roles. We’ve learned how to have a tough conversation with love, honesty and respect. We enjoy holidays and behave kindly to siblings when they call. And yet, when we want to do something wonderful, like move to Buenos Aires, we somehow revert in our old familial role. We make a joke about it, the way we used to about everything. “What would we do in Argentina?” we say, “Tango for a living?” And people chuckle—confirming, yet again, this as a laughable idea. But moving to Argentina will probably produce actual laughter, as well as excitement and a few new fill-in-the-blank “ones” for the family to mull over. “Oh, her,” they will say, “the happy one, the wild one, the one who does just what she wants.”

Leigh Newman is the books editor of Oprah.com and the author of the memoir Still Points North.

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Want To Be Happier? Check Out These 3 Things To Try.

happiness was always  my birthday wish

happiness was always my birthday wish

Dr. Jonathan Fader, team psychologist to the New York Mets, wrote the following and I wanted to pass it along.

We all want to be happier: a simple sentence, only six words long. And yet every time it crosses my mind, it’s a powerful reminder of why my job—psychologist—even exists; every patient I work with wants my help in order to enjoy their life more. These individuals come from all walks of life, and each has his or her own story, but this desire is perhaps the only thing that they have in common with each other—and, for that matter with you or me. They all want to “be happier”.

So: what’s the number one thing you can do to make that happen?

During my first meetings with them, people often suggest large, sweeping changes to their lives. I could quit my job. I could leave New York. I could get back with my ex. I could shave off my beard.

All valid ideas. But here’s my suggestion: I could try to find more enjoyment in my life as it exists right now.

It is so clear that enjoyment of life is linked to so many other positive outcomes. Some point to the possibility that enjoying exercise will lead to better performance in physical activity. But are there things that you can do practice enjoyment? What concrete behavioral changes can you make to begin your quest to enjoy your life with more vigor?

Here are 3 ideas for you to practice:

1. Have a daily ritual around enjoyment

Upon waking, ask yourself, “What do I look forward to most today?” At the end of your day, ask yourself, “What was the most enjoyable part of my day and why?”

You could actually take it one step further and document your enjoyment ritual. Each night, you could write down one thing you enjoyed about your day on a slip of paper, and drop it in a jar. A year from now, empty the jar and re-read the slips. I love this method because of its double-pronged benefit: not only do you get to dwell on your enjoyment every day, but you can relive it all at once, long after the fact.

2. Whenever you eat try to focus on the taste of your food for just one minute.

What does it taste like? Try to identify the different sensations. Salty? Sweet? Bitter? Sour? If you are eating with someone, comment to them about each observation.

This tip comes out of the research which suggests that eating smaller portions of food with more mindfulness can increase your actual enjoyment of what you are eating. (Of course, the trick is the smaller portions–read my post on changing a behavior for that one!)

3. Put a reminder on your phone, computer or calendar that reminds you to enjoy whatever is most important in your life.

I have a small cartoon sticker of a shining sun that my daughter gave me that’s on my phone case. In the midst of any stressful day, it reminds me to focus on what I can enjoy and divert my attention from the rest.

Jonathan Fader, PhD also writes a blog for Psychology Today entitled The New You.

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Is Your Torch Lit?

in memory of black-eyed susan, who knew the importance of the torch

in memory of black-eyed susan, who knew the importance of the torch

We start off walking and then we progress to running but are we carrying the torch at the same time? In ancient Greece, the races were only complete and a winner declared if he crossed the finish line with the flame still lit. So even if you blew out the competition and crossed the line with easy long strides, if that flame wasn’t lit in the torch you were carrying, you did not win.

Basically, things haven’t changed. We walk through life, we take it one day at a time and we keep our eye on the prize. A few things ramp up our life – challenges in school, opportunities in business, great commitments to a loved one – and we begin to run. We are determined to make this, determined, and we’re sprinting, rounding the corners at high speeds, a conference call in each hand, checking off the to-do list in our head…but is your torch lit?

The torch today represents our passion, our juice, our mo-jo. So do you have it or not? Are you sprinting and thinking you’re making it? Is your torch still lit?

I recently watched the movie Chef on a flight back from Portugal and it was totally about a lit torch. Chef – a 2014 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Jon Favreau – is about Carl Casper, an up and coming chef in LA being closely watched by the food critics. His controlling restaurant boss no longer allows him to experiment and create so he gives it all up and buys a food truck. Not to give a film review, but I was so rooting for this food truck, this dilapidated, old food truck, with a burning torch (theoretically speaking) being held high out of the driver’s side window. I would have loved to have been on that truck crossing the country.

So…you’re race walking, you’re going for it, you’re sprinting, you’ve got the world by the tail. But is your torch lit? That’s the guideline that’s most important, that lit torch, because if it isn’t, we’re running the wrong race. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXwUVRkRYj4

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Grief Is A Lazy Susan

it feels good to hide

it feels good to hide

I am always moved when I read Anne Lamont because she gets the pain and has the courage to write about it. Below, from Anne’s book, Traveling Mercies.

Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence. I was hoarse for the first 6 weeks after Pammy died and my romance ended, from shouting in the car and crying, and I had blisters on the palm of one hand from hitting the bed with my tennis racket, bellowing in pain and anger. But on the first morning in Mexico, the lazy Susan stopped at feelings of homesickness, like when my parents sold the house where I grew up.

Cool Mona Note: Writing is a great release. Pull out a notebook and get started.

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A Cool Mona Recipe: A Dirty Bird (With Tequila, Of Course!)

a dirty birdA Dirty Bird is essentially a White Russian with a quick shake added at the end. I use Tequila instead of the usual vodka. Here’s to us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H6amDbAwlY



  1. Pour the vodka and coffee liqueur in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
  2. Fill with milk or cream.
  3. Shake by placing a mixing tin over the glass and giving it one or two good shakes.

Prep time: 3 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail

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