Archive | August, 2015

Homeward Heartstrings

16 Aug

pgh bridge

I am in-between. I quit my job as a process engineer and skipped out of Jackson, MS, in mid-June. I am now stationed at my parents’ house in Pittsburgh, PA, until I move to College Park, MD, to start a Master’s Program in Food Science at the University of Maryland. Living at home has been wonderful. No rent or bills, a sprawling bedroom, free food. Shopping at ALDI and cooking side by side with my mom, using a combination of her Pinterest finds and my Martha Stewart ones; rigorous, and sometimes explosive due to my poor sportsmanship, tennis matches with my brother; giggling and being straight-up weird with my sister (case in point: she strongly believes touching my right boob cures me of a bad mood); playing beautiful violin-piano arrangements with their author and my dad (or El Maestro, as I’m now fond of calling him in response to his, ‘That was good, but you’re a little flat on the C sharp and the notes need to be played more crisply in measure three.’) And then there’s the two little dogs, family dinners rarely excluding dessert, endless watermelon, insideJane Austen quote_home jokes, Netflix series-watching (waiting for season three of Peaky Blinders with bated breath), and just an extravagant amount of togetherness. So yes, I’m pretty happy, but I’m pretty sad too, because I can’t help but be homesick come August 22. On the one hand, I’m anxious for school to start. But on the other, I am too emotionally attached to four people and two dogs to truly want to leave them, ever. I feel burdened by how transient, and how transitional, life can be. The physical aspects of moving, though taxing, are easily forgotten once settled into the new home. But the emotional aspects, specifically being away from people we care about, linger on.

Why is home so important? The answer to this question likely varies from person to person, but I hope some can relate to mine. It’s because home is where I am loved most. Since my family has always lived in Pittsburgh, there is a certain tangible steadfastness attached to my sense of home. Yet the true comfort of being home, which would continue should my parents move to New Delhi tomorrow, is in the relationships I have with my family. They know me best, tease me the most, challenge my insecurities, point out my foibles, and affirm their unwavering faith in me. Jane Austen wrote, ‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,’ and I heartily agree.


Oto (left) and Bailey on a diagonal.

In Maryland, I won’t be able to change the setting on my panicked mom’s newly acquired Facebook from ‘Romanian’ (yet presumed to be Spanish) to Icelandic, then finally English. I won’t find two eight-pound fur balls clattering to greet me every morning. I won’t be able to lie on my sister’s bed, and within three minutes be talked into sporting a temporary ‘Hello Kitty’ tattoo on my right arm. I won’t have my brother strongly suggesting I read more classic ancient literature, and likewise take more measures to achieve a Greek God physique. And I won’t get to watch my dad playing with dogs Oto and Bailey, lying on the foyer rug to tickle them.

Is the anticipated nostalgia I’m feeling all bad? Will it prevent me from embracing adventures that lie ahead? I think not, if handled appropriately. In The Odyssey, Odysseus used memories of his son and wife, and of his kingdom, to motivate himself to endure the return trip from the Trojan War. My journey through graduate school will not be quite so epic, but certainly knowing how loved and supported I am by family will help to spur me on. Besides, how long can I really wallow over how loved I am, and how lovely my beloved are?

The following recipe for Thai butter sauce is a true tweak, and a Dolan household treasure. Unable to find a sufficient replacement recipe after losing a Williams Sonoma one, my sister and I have been concocting our own version of this sauce for years. It’s like quirky soul food, and therefore an apt metaphor for my family. We pair it with grilled chicken, rice, and a green vegetable, i.e. broccoli or sugar snap peas.



(Servings: ~10)


-1/2 white onion, finely choppedIMG_0630

-Handful cilantro, finely chopped

-1 Tbs. brown sugar

-1 Tbs. fish sauce

-2 Tbs. soy sauce

-1 Tbs. lime juice

-1 tsp. ginger

-1 tsp. curry powder

-1 tsp. Penzey satay sauce (Pittsburgh store; if not available, omit)

-1 tsp. chili powder

-1/2 tsp. cumin

-1/2 cup peanut butter

-1 can lite coconut milk


Combine chopped onion and 1/3 the can of coconut milk in a skillet. Turn on the heat to medium-low and let sit for several minutes, to cook the onions. Add remainder of milk, then subsequently add the rest of the ingredients minus the cilantro, stirring to combine. Remove from heat once thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

CALORIES per 1/4 cup serving: 106 

Uptight is Alright

4 Aug


I could probably use some loosening up. I find unmade beds uninhabitable, I don’t think it’s possible to get ready in the morning without an 8-step routine, and my diet hinges on whether I start the day with oatmeal. I like structure. I make my bed because doing so de-stresses me. I follow the 8-step routine because I would be 30 minutes late(r) to work without it. I eat oatmeal everyday because otherwise I’d opt for pop tarts, which would snowball into ice cream sundae topped waffles and cream cheese stuffed french toast. In short, I practice my habits because without them I would lose it. To console myself, and all fellow-sufferers of ‘tightly wound’ syndrome, I draw your attention to great authors who relied on this very ailment in outputting great literary works:

Charles Dickens rigidly adhered to a  9 a.m. to 2 p.m. writing schedule, insisting that his ten children keep far away from his study. Pens, ink, and statuettes were specially arranged on his desk. The office lay-out he maintained helped him to think. Perhaps Oliver Twist would have been more aptly named Oliver Missed if his ten children were given free reign, and put the ink blotter where the pens were supposed to go. It’s tough to say.

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” wrote WH Auden in 1958. “A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do with the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” Admittedly, part of his routine for twenty years was a morning dosage of the amphetamine Benzedrine. The Benzedrine must have had some positive benefit, since he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his poem ‘The Age of Anxiety.’ Haven’t read it, and appears too convoluted and culturally overwrought for anyone other than a hipstery English PhD candidate to really dig, but hey, the internet is still talking about it!

Later in his career, Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, periodically shifting his weight between feet, though at least from the comfort of his bedroom. He formed initial drafts using pencil. In his own words, “Wearing down seven number-two pencils is a good day’s work.” Positioning his typewriter atop a bookcase, he would next transcribe his day’s work. Finally, he charted his word count on a cardboard box, always aiming for around 500 words. Perhaps the uncomfortable nature of Hemingway’s stand-up routine contributed to the ultimate decision to shoot himself in the head, but in the meantime he sure developed some nice calve muscles.


I hope by this point you are feeling the type-A spirit, getting warm and fuzzy thoughts about going back to school for a double major in computer science and Econ, or jump starting a crossfit meets P90X meets triathlon workout regimen. Kidding, kidding, but at least we can aspire to wind up the day tightly, er, I mean well, with a fruit-topped bowl of cereal. Recipe as follows:



1/2 cup Special K cereal image

1/2 cup Life cereal

1 Tbs granola

1/4 cup blueberries

3-4 strawberries, quartered

1/3 cup 1% milk