Welcome to Happy and Yummy!
I am Melissa Heller and I love to cook. The kitchen is my happy place and I’d rather be there than almost anywhere else. It is creative, delicious and so much fun for me.
I was fortunate to grow up in Upstate New York where I experienced a lifetime’s worth of shoveling snow along with outrageously delicious and authentic ethnic foods of all kinds.
My grandfather Giacomo was a first generation American from Italian born parents and was very serious about good food. For a long time, I thought that everyone had a meat slicer in their kitchen and got much of their summer produce from their own garden. Jack, as most folks called him, was a school music teacher by day and played in his own band and gave countless lessons to students in the evenings. When summer came, he was in the back yard growing all kinds of things.
Continuing with the family tradition, my Dad never missed an opportunity to enjoy something delicious. He had his own restaurant when I was a kid and made huge portions of family recipes for fettucine alfredo, meatballs and even salad dressing for his customers to enjoy. He cooked, tended bar, made pizzas in the front window and often spent Friday and Saturday night in the kitchen. I worked at it a couple of summers and loved watching how much he enjoyed it. He was at home there.
The restaurant bug had bitten me. As the hostess, I loved getting to know my customers and making sure everything on the floor ran smoothly. It was so great to have folks say “It was another great meal – see you next week!” because you knew you got it right. They enjoyed their meal and their time in the restaurant. I went on to work in a couple of coffee shops, and even managing one full time right after I graduated college. Running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart so I went to grad school and then took an office job doing government finance work. While this career path has served me well, and I’ve been able to make a difference in the communities I’ve worked in, it’s just not the same as helping people enjoy good food and good company. And that’s where Happy and Yummy comes in.
My Great Grandmother, Grandmother and Dad assembled a rather large collection of cookware between the three of them. I have been the fortunate recipient of many of these items, some of which are pictured below. I know for certain that the cookie sheet is way older than me, and I even have a sausage grinder than hooks onto a table or counter with a vice grip on the bottom. Decades of good food have been prepared with these things. Until they got into my kitchen.
Sadly, in spite of my collection of very well seasoned kitchen gear, it seemed that the cooking skills were skipping my generation. I will admit (and my husband Mike will verify) that I was once a very lousy cook. Really, really lousy. I was also a really lousy waitress but that’s a whole other story. My cooking gene finally kicked in around the time I turned 30, and things started looking up for poor Mike who suffered through many a casserole made with boxed mac and cheese, salsa and whatever else I used to put in those things. Over time, I went from barely being able to tackle a basic recipe to writing my own.
One evening while making a pecan pie, inspiration struck me. That was the day Happy and Yummy was born and you can read about it here at “The Pie That Wanted To Be Baked”. Cooking brings such joy to me and I wanted to find a way to share that with others. This blog is the perfect way to do just that.
My favorite part of the day is coming home from work, pouring a glass of wine, and making dinner. It is my time of creativity and peace. While cooking, I focus very clearly on shifting my thoughts to my family and the things that really matter. Those things include making sure the dog has something good in his bowl besides the plain kibble and not burning the rolls in the oven. If I have the very rare occasion of being by myself for dinner, the pictured salad is the nutrition and serenity that I generally I end up eating. And it is wonderful because there is always ample room for dessert. But, alas, the others would not stand for this amount of greenery. They would be cranky and hungry which is quite the opposite of what I’m aiming for.
So, when I get the food on the table, there is at least one but sometimes three offspring sharing in the surprises I’ve served up. I took advantage of the “buy one get two free” special when I got married and have had the pleasure of experiencing my stepsons Josh and Cory grow up. They too suffered through many a horrible meal though growing boys and their friends are thankfully not a terribly picky audience at the dinner table. Now grown men, they both have their favorite dishes when they join us for dinner.
Our tween daughter Alexandra (who insists on being called “Alex”) will eat anything besides bananas, peanut butter and my vegan lentil stew. She is fortunate enough to have no memory of my horrid casseroles. Instead, she knows only the Mom who takes requests for special snacks, desserts and donuts when her friends are over and then posts pictures of them on Instagram tagging her and her guests when the goodies are ready for enjoyment. For now, it seems to be keeping me in the “cool parent” category which I am enjoying for as long as it lasts.
Thank you for sharing in my Happy and Yummy journey, and it is my sincere hope that what I post here brings happy and yummy to you and those you spend your time with.
If you make my recipes and then share pictures of your happy and yummy triumph on social media, please hashtag #happyandyummy (especially if your account is private) so I can enjoy it along with you.