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.

IMG_0065

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.

IMG_0627

THAI PEANUT BUTTER SAUCE

(Servings: ~10)

INGREDIENTS:

-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

DIRECTIONS:

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

image

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.

image

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:

UPTIGHT PERSON CEREAL

INGREDIENTS

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

CALORIES: 230

image

First things First

5 May

#likeagirl A gaggle of  3rd-6th grade girls and I are seated on the floor of the church’s freshly painted, second floor youth room. We stare at a sloppy outline of the upper body, a headless upper body. The androgynous torso, as we are soon to find out, symbolizes the female’s role in a biblical relationship. The children’s minister launches into his lesson, pointing above and below the chalked torso. “Girls are not to rule over or be trampled on by boys.” That’s reasonable, I think to myself. Even though these girls are young, it’s important to start thinking about boy-girl dynamics. But then the lesson takes a sudden plunge into ‘M’ word territory. “If God’s plan is for a girl to be married, she is to be with only one man for her entire life. If it isn’t God’s plan, that’s OK. No encouragement to pray for a future husband, that’s good, I think. But being single…he makes it sound like being God’s leftovers. And then there’s the takeaway message. “Whenever you’re thinking about dating a guy, just remember this image.” You know, of the shapeless torso. I don’t disagree with anything that was said in the lesson.  I do, however, take issue with putting the cart before the horse. Nine to twelve year old girls should not be thinking about marriage, Bride Groom Cake Topperexcept in that ethereal, fairy tale sense which is inherent to us, then slowly corrected by reality. Before marriage comes singleness, and it is not a leftover state. Young girls are particularly fragile. Rather than explain future events that may or may not happen to them ten plus years down the road, shouldn’t we instead remind them of their infinite worth and value to God?

It’s easy for girls to feel worthless. Verizon’s Inspire Her Mind commercial ends with the slightly heartbreaking statistics: “66% of 4th grade girls say they like math and science. But only 18% of all college engineering majors are female.” Girls are discouraged to pursue ‘boy’ activities, like using a drill, and as a result eventually lose interest in ‘boy’ careers, like engineering. As Always illustrated with their #LikeAGirl commercial, to “run like a girl” or “throw like a girl” or do anything else “like a girl” carries a learned, negative connotation. One young girl, when asked what it meant to run like a girl, responded ‘It means to run as fast as you can.” Meanwhile, grown men, older girls, and even younger boys, when asked to run like a girl, made floppy hand movements and wiggled their hips. I witnessed a mother enforce this negative connotation just this past weekend. I was at a craw fish boil, and kids were of course making generous use of the host’s pool. One little girl performed a particularly splashy cannonball. Her mother immediately chided her, saying, “Swim gentler. Swim like a girl, swim like her,” pointing to a more docile girl swimmer.

Fortunately, the Bible has an incredibly affirmative view of women. Christ broke through barriers to reach women treated as second-class citizens in ancient Middle Eastern culture. “Praise be to God. He has not created me a woman” was part of the first-century Jewish male’s daily prayer. Greek men frequently omitted their daughters when asked how many children they had. A Roman man could divorce his wife if she went out in public without a veil. In contrast, a woman was chosen to bring Christ into the world. Women observed Christ’s death on the cross, and were the first to witness his resurrection. Jesus defied cultural norms when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Much more could be said about the Bible’s affirmation of women, as is done here, here, and here. My point being, our heritage as Christian women is rich, whether we are single or married. Let us first remember and be grateful for this heritage. What would you prefer, the freedom to run outside, in shorts and a t-shirt, or to be married to a man who treats you like one of his cows? I’ll take the former any day. Martha Stewart sure does cook and play house ‘like a girl.’ I’ve adapted her surprisingly delicious sweet potato and cauliflower gratin for today’s post. The full recipe can be found here. However, I left out the sage leaves and used 1% milk, and it turned out just fine. Enjoy!

Say What?

6 Mar

unexpected

Today I am Ira Glass. Needed only is the Clark Kent glasses, because Ira’s woolly forehead status is fast approaching with my wildly overgrown bangs! In the spirit of This  American Life today’s theme is ‘Not What I Expected’, explored in three acts. Over the past couple weeks, I have had misunderstandings that resulted in a mixture of humor, embarrassment, disaster, and tears. In each situation, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but anticipated wrongly. Each was awkward, messy, and not something I would like to re-live. But in retrospect, they make a nice triumvirate of anecdotes.

Act One: Please Won’t  You be my Neighbor

I’ve lived in three apartment complexes and have never met a fellow resident. We apartment dwellers are not a friendly bunch. I have caught myself avoiding eye contact when passing someone on mr rogersthe stairs, as a preemptive strike against their assumed anti-social stance. It’s strange to think how the people who live directly above and below me, who are literally only feet away when we sleep, and maybe when we eat and watch television, too, are the ones I will never meet. Or rather, never did, until I abruptly broke that cycle last week due to a neighbor’s late night guitar strumming. I was lying in bed at 9:45 pm on a Monday evening, quite happy with myself for getting pillow-chummy earlier than usual. I needed to; I had a sleep debt so large it could not be balance transferred to Tuesday night. But I couldn’t fall asleep, because the sound of music nothing like the musical was hitting my room from somewhere. Sleep does not come easy to me, and I could not tune out the guitar buzz. Finally, I put shoes and coat over utilitarian pajamas and ran upstairs to confront the supposedly guilty neighbor. Last summer, my upstairs neighbor had demonstrated some less-than-neighborly behavior. He pushed his cigarette butts through the cracks of his deck onto mine. When I finally got the gumption to confront him about the cigarette butts, he didn’t answer my door knock. I think this was intentional and have had no respect for ‘him’, whoever he is, since. So this time, when I aggressively knocked on the same door and received no response, I was nothing short of raging mad. I knocked again, louder. A young woman opened the door. “Hi, do you play the guitar?” I said abruptly, still upset about the music but also embarrassed at my curt behavior. “No, I just come home,” she said. “Oh okay, thanks, I’m so, so sorry to have bothered you.” I now felt really bad. She hesitated, then said “Do you live right below me? I think it might be the guy on the first floor.” She was right; it was him. I marched down to his apartment to shut down the horrid guitar playing. The neighbor who had committed this musical atrocity, in my head a pot-bellied, hard-living, belligerent middle-aged man, in reality was a young guy, sheepishly apologetic and all smiles.

Act Two: Ebonics Gone South

This spring, I am the captain of a Women’s 3.0 tennis team. Overall it’s not much work, but creating the schedule became a mini optimization problem. 8 matches and 8 spots per match needed to be assigned to 14 players. 14 is too many, and I was struggling to fit everyone in. One player didn’t know her availability, so I initially had her playing two matches. I texted a teammate about my decision: “Will [Player X] care if I don’t schedule her that much? Our team is a little big.” My teammate responded: “Axe her. She travels a lot.” I thought by ‘axe’ she meant ‘get rid of her.’ But no, she was jocosely using urban slang and meant ‘Ask her.’ By the time I figured out the text’s actual meaning, it was too late. I had removed Player X completely from the schedule, and told her that since I didn’t know her availability, she would be a stand-in player when others canceled. She did not take the news very well, and now I have an awkward quasi-fourteenth player on my team that I don’t know what to do with. Shame on me for rashly misinterpreting text messages!!

Act Three: Stand-up is No Joke

tig notaroWhile doing microscopy drudge work last week, I started listening to stand-up comedy. John Mulaney was my first go-to. When I tired of him, I skimmed through Paste Magazine’s ‘20 Best Comedians of 2014.’ Tig Notaro was ranked number 20. I had already heard a short clip of her on This American Life, so I knew she had good delivery. Expecting at least one good laugh, she instead brought me to tears. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but she sprinkled a touch of humor, in explaining how she interacts with her stepfather, over a tragic event that deeply impacted both of them. Listen here.

In conjunction with my theme, I’m posting a recipe that you would not expect. It is not in-line with my ‘no fuss in the kitchen’ approach, it being a posh Martha Stewart recipe. Cooking for my church small group requires a certain level of healthy sophistication. The potluck supper we share sends me Ellie Krieger and Whole Foods vibes. I’m learning to fit in.

You can find the recipe, ‘Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa,’ here. I actually have the full cookbook, ‘Meatless,’ which includes the nutritional content. There are 55 calories per 1/4 cup serving. I added a can of diced tomatoes to my batch, and had to mash rather than dice my over-ripe avocado. Enjoy!


sweet potato salsa 2

Cry Me a River…then Shake, Shake, Shake it Off

13 Feb

funny singles day

If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, take a moment to indulge in self-pity. Yes, you are attractive! Yes, you are smart! Yes, you are funny! But you are still single, and it’s a little sad. I place a high emphasis on self-worth and being content regardless of relationship status. But when V Day hits, especially when it hits on a Saturday, it’s OK to let down the Katniss Everdeen meets Margaret Thatcher exterior and be vulnerable. Critical to having an enjoyable Singles Awareness Day is first getting out the angst, the inner rage and frustration. I mean it. Literally scream it out, cry it out, blow it out. Then, we can focus on the benefits of being exactly where we are. After all, it won’t last forever.

Step 1. Identify the source of your irritation. What bothers you the most about being single? Do you feel undesirable? Do you think everyone who is dating someone pities you? Is it a fear of being alone for good? Do you have residual feelings for your ex, including but not limited to resentment, sadness, or lust? Or are you generally lonely, and begrudge the commercial world for putting a holiday up for sale which you have no part in? Right now, the source of my irritation is a feeling of being left behind. The couples canoodling tonight  are eons ahead of me. I have a tendency to mark ‘meeting the right person’ as a goal which concrete steps should be taken towards. From this perspective, ‘coupling’ is equivalent to earning an academic degree. Couples are already at their university of choice, and I haven’t even decided where to apply.  Have you ever read the comic strip Cathy, in which a single, slightly overweight woman nearly foams at the mouth in frustration over just about everything and anything? Now that my greatest difficulty with being single has been exposed, we look like twins:

panicky cathy

Step 2. Like I said before, let it out. After today, you must return to pretending like being single is ever-glamorous and alluring. Take time to release that tense ball of ‘still single’ anxiety. It needs a break from the cramped quarters your rib cage offers. Do something not at home that you really enjoy, be it shopping, getting a massage, a yoga class, or even a trip to the bookstore.

Step 3. Decide how you will cope. I’ve adopted Lucille Ball’s mantra: “One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a waythis american life
of life can restore your faith in yourself.” I’ve also recently discovered This American Life, one of the most popular pod casts in the country . If you, too, are late to the party, the podcast is a journalistic exploration of a weekly ‘theme,’ articulated via a variety of stories. The beauty of This American Life  is in its ability to probe a vast spectrum of ideas and events. Stories range from trivial yet hilarious, such as Mayor Giuliani’s tirade against David Guthartz, executive president of New York Ferret’s Rights Advocacy, for his ‘excessive concern with little weasels’ (listen here), to sober and emotionally piercing, such as the story of Afghani women’s rights advocate Hamida Gulistani and the negative effect losing U.S. troops’ presence has had on her work. Ever since I started listening to This American Life, I’ve felt less sorry for myself, and more intrigued and distracted by what’s going on around me. I’m not saying that listening to the show will have the same effect on you. My point is, when something fully absorbs you, the thought ‘woe is me’ becomes less frequent.

Step 4. Gain some perspective:

  • Liz Taylor was divorced seven times, Marilyn Monroe three.
  • Sophia Loren married this dude:

sophia and carlo

  • Female leads in TV dramas commonly have tragic love lives: Ellen Parsons’ gorgeous fiance is brutally murdered in Season 1 of Damages. Elizabeth Keen’s adorable, 4th grade teacher husband turns out to be a spy who only married her because she is his ‘target’ in Season 1 of  Blacklist.

    David Connor, in hit show Damages, is much cuter alive

    David Connor, in hit show Damages, is much cuter alive

  • Forced romantic gestures are awkward. Whether dating a month or married twenty years, couples America-wide must somehow convince one another that generic Hallmark cards, CVS chocolates, and red roses are particularly unique to their relationship. Phew, we dodged that bullet this year!
  •  You can shamelessly buy Valentine’s Day candy the day after, when it’s half-off!

Congratulations, your pilgrimage to making peace with Singles Awareness Day is complete! I have two recipes today, one from me and one compliments of the Brown Eyed Baker. The first, a roasted veggies recipe, complements getting out the ‘I’m single’ funk, since vegetables make you feel cleaned out. The second, a brownies recipe, is to help you celebrate being single and fabulous in the most delicious way. Truly, I’m the on-the-DL brownie queen, and this recipe is tops.

ROASTED VEGETABLES

(Servings: 3)

INGREDIENTS:roasted veggies

-1 Tbs. olive oil

-2 carrots

-1 red onion

-2 small potatoes

-1 large broccoli crown

-1 Tbs. minced garlic

-Seasoning: salt, pepper, chili powder, vegetable seasoning (i.e. McCormick)

-3 Tbs. Low Moisture, Part Skim Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 425 F. While it is warming up, peel and chop carrots. Chop onion into larger wedges. Slice potatoes. Remove stems from broccoli and chop crown into smaller pieces. Line a 13 x 9 dish with aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt. Arrange chopped vegetables on sheet. Season with more salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, and vegetable seasoning. Sprinkle veggies with 1 Tbs. olive oil. Place dish in oven for 20 minutes. Remove dish from oven and stir vegetables. Place back in oven for another 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Per serving, add 1 Tbs. cheese and melt in microwave. Enjoy!

CALORIES per serving: 190

Now for the treat! Kudos to Michelle for posting the ‘Baked Brownie’ recipe on her blog: http://www.browneyedbaker.com/the-baked-brownie/

Upgrade U

5 Feb

fierce beyonceFashionably late as always, I am just now declaring my New Year’s resolution. I don’t want to merely form a new habit or shake off a bad one. I want, or rather need, a permanent alteration. Specifically, I need to be confident in who I am.

2015 marks the beginning of my 23rd year as a middle child. I have an older sister, Katie, and a younger brother, Ian. There are many benefits to being in the middle. Not having the large age gap that my brother and sister do, I am more able to be close to both siblings. Growing up, I wasn’t expected to be as responsible as Katie was. Her waking me up was the only reason I made it off the bus in  1st grade. It’s even possible my parents feared I would feel neglected as the middle child, because they certainly spent a ton of money on violin lessons. The biggest struggle I had was being the only person in my family who was not strong-willed. My parents and Katie are all first children, and have Type A personalities. Ian, perhaps because he is the only boy, was not easily influenced by me or my sister. He used to confidently tell us that he was the oldest, delighting in how angry his spurious proclamation made us. I am the least decisive one, and the least confident. I think this inability to stand my ground has crept into my adult life, too. I never think to myself “I want to do this, and I’m going to do it.” Instead I think “T want to do this, but I don’t have the stamina, or the ability, or the support, or the guts to do it.” I hate my waffling. I hate that I can’t muster up the cojones to just do it. This indecision is ultimately, I think, a fear of losing something. Anything. I don’t like losing anything.

I am nearly finished with the Christian self-help book Boundaries, by Dr.s Henry Cloud and John Townsend. There’s no twist here. The book is all about setting boundaries – with friends, family, yourself, even God. I was initially reluctant to read it, assuming the content would trigger ‘bad Christian’ guilt, as many Christian books seem to have that effect on me. I was very wrong. The book gives practical advice about, essentially, keepin’ it real. Unhealthy relationships stem from boundary issues. Sloppy boundaries are rooted in dishonesty. If you always say ‘yes’ to someone for fear of losing them, you’re being dishonest in not saying ‘no’ when you should. If you let someone walk all over you, coming and going as they please, you’re lying by acting like that’s an acceptable way to be treated. If you think you can manipulate someone else into doing what you want, you’re lying to yourself. Maybe the above points sound glaringly obvious to you. But for me, it’s been a bit of a revelation that I can neither change people nor bend myself to fit what they want. I have a tendency to be compliant then resentful, because I don’t want others to be angry with me. I either hold a grudge or stuff my anger; in the first case, I let the friendship sour, and in the second, I unload at the wrong time, and sometimes on the wrong person. Again, this links back to not being able to stand my ground. As I work to be more assertive, I can better confront people about issues when they happen, and say ‘no thanks’ when I’m not down for a particular activity or get-together. Maybe I’ll lose some friends. But maybe we were never good friends anyway, or not even meant to be friends. I prefer these prospects over pretending like I’m okay with everyone all the time while an anger monsoon grows in the pit of my stomach.

Being your own person is hard work. It can be heart-breaking, lonely, unstable, and exhausting. However, it’s necessary. My sister once said to me “You are the only person who lives your entire life.” There will be many times when we share experiences with others, and our lives spill into theirs. But even those overlaps are spread across a number of people, and so you end up with quite a different assortment of experiences then, say, your best friend has. No one (besides God) is always by your side. One friend may get married and detach; another may move across the country to take a new job; your spouse may get cancer; your kids will grow up; your dog will die; and no one will die at the exact moment that you do. So how do you, and I, deal with the ineluctable loneliness being human presents? If we haven’t made peace with who we are as individuals, I’m afraid we won’t be able to handle said-loneliness.

My bang inspiration, Rose Byrne

My bang inspiration, Rose Byrne

If you are even one iota as un-self-assured as I am, then I encourage you to join in my ‘self-confidence’ resolution for 2015. Thus far, I realized I’m OK with spending Friday night by myself every once in a while. It’s not my favorite, but craft projects, Project Runway, and brownie baking make it tolerable. I bravely got Taylor Swift bangs (actually inspired by Rose Byrne’s look in Season 4 of Damages, but I look more like Taylor!) because I wanted an edgier look. I signed up for a creative non-fiction writing class. I became captain of my USTA 3.0 Women’s Doubles tennis team. These are baby steps, I know, but that’s the best I can do, and I’m proud of myself.

Me with bangs!

Me with bangs!

To match with my theme, I wish my recipe for this week was a bit more Beyoncé fierce. Instead, it is merely a humble hummus recipe. The lemon and garlic do give it some pozzaz, just not as much as B had in the 47th super bowl halftime show. I adapted this recipe from ‘Cooking Light’ and used my new Ninja food processor (it’s wonderful! I highly recommend it) to combine the ingredients. I boosted the garlic and lemon juice content. Enjoy!

GARLIC HUMMUS

(Servings: ~10)

INGREDIENTS:

-1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

-1 Tbs. minced garlic

-1/4 cup water

-2 Tbs. tahini paste

-3 Tbs. lemon juice

-1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

-1/2 tsp. salt

-1/8 tsp. black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Drain chickpeas. Combine with other ingredients in food processor and blend. Taste. Add garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, as you see fit. That’s right; be confident in the kitchen. 🙂

CALORIES per 2 Tbs. serving: 60

hummus

Suds, Duds, & New Buds

8 Dec

vintage laundromat

I live in a laundering desert. There’s no laundry center at my apartment complex, nor do I have my own washer/dryer set. So, I’m stuck lugging a misshapen hamper to the Pearson Road Laundromat once every two weeks. It’s a dreaded and imperfectly performed duty. Over the course of 18 months, I have caused multiple permanent sock-pair separations, accidentally instigated rug laundromat sleepovers, and transformed sleep tees into sexy tight ones, except with information about my company’s safety record still intact, which isn’t so sexy after all. In its unglamorous, run-down  state, the laundromat is the perfect place for me to perform my degenerate efforts at clothes-cleaning. An added bonus is the oft-times notable, or just plain weird, interactions I’ll have with fellow patrons. We are a motley crew, us Pearson Road Laundromat patrons, ranging from pajama-clad baby mamas to Bible reading grandpas. I thought you might enjoy a taste of my best interactions with the PRL crew thus far:

the great divideThe Great Divide: There I was, crouched over a study book for an engineering exam (which I have yet to take) when my first victim, burly and unshaven, initiated conversation. I assumed he was just being friendly, and answered his question about the book’s content willingly. I would have been colder if it weren’t for the six kids, ranging from infant to adolescent, swarming around him. He chatted me up about his job as a security guard and fathering children from two different marriages, and also inquired about my duties as a process engineer. Judge for yourself, but I self-assessed as out of his league. Nothing other than some inconsequential jabber occurred that first day, so I presumed he, too, understood I wasn’t interested. Several weeks later, I bumped into him and his Brady Bunch at the laundromat yet again. The same chit-chat ensued, except this time, mid-toddler pajama fold, he inserted, “So, would you like to grab a bite to eat sometime?” I was flabbergasted. What was I supposed to say back. Perhaps “Sure thing! I like that you come with ready made children; producing them myself would be such a hassle.  Taco Bell or McDonald’s?” would have fit the bill. When I mumbled something about already having a boyfriend (the truth, at the time), he folded his remaining laundry faster than the Road Runner ever escaped Wile E. Coyote, and bolted out the door. I haven’t seen him since!

The Hoary Hunchback: I admit that his jerky body movements could be comical, especially in combination with the determined look he fiercely maintained. And determined he was, as despite his impaired posture, the old man demonstrated some high-level laundry folds.  He permanently endeared himself to me when he insisted on holding the door open for me, exclaiming “I never did get to hold the door for such a pretty girl!” We had an opportunity for role reversal several weeks later, when I held the door open for him. Lucky for me he gave me the same line! Perhaps I should be disturbed that old men are the most likely to compliment me, but instead I relish in their unabashed homage to my perceived beauty. So what if their vision is likely failing!

The Deer in the Headlights: Literally. The one day I decided not to be standoffish and listen to headphones, the laundromat attendant gushed about his wife’s recent car accident. Prior to this conversation, the laundromat attendant had only enlisted me to ‘watch’ the building while he ran to his house to get (more) food, or went on another grub-related errand. As the unpaid and unqualified “building watcher,” I resented the attendant for his irresponsible neglect of his duties in the pursuit of mostly oreos. But the story of his wife’s brush with death made my posturing towards him more empathetic. She was talking on her cell phone, to him, while driving on I55-N, when a deer ran through her windshield, puncturing her face and neck. Unfortunately I don’t remember the details, but she is likely going to lose function somewhere, according to the attendant. I think next time I’m asked to be the laundromat watchdog, I’ll do so without begrudging him!

While I will always find the laundromat inconvenient, it’s certainly more eventful than would be doing laundry at home. In fact, living alone I’ve learned to appreciate any and all interactions with other people. I was recently holed up with strep throat (yet again! why does my throat insist on such masochism??) and wishing for company. In my wretched state, I turned to food for comfort and developed a delightful, easy snack. It can hardly be called a recipe, consisting merely of three ingredients. But I’ll present it as such anyway!

WHEAT THINS with CHEESE SPREAD and SUN DRIED TOMATOES (Servings: 1)

INGREDIENTS:wheat thins snack pic 2

-11 Wheat Thins

-2 Tbs. light cheese spread (i.e. Rondele ‘Garlic & Herbs’)

-1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped into small pieces

DIRECTIONS:

Heat small amount of water. Add sun dried tomatoes and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and dry off. Dip wheat thins in cheese spread and sun dried tomatoes. Enjoy!!

CALORIES: 210

And so it Goes

17 Sep

No amount of Gossip Girl episodes, gushy Michael Buble songs, or Jane Fonda-esque cardio can heal you after a bad breakup. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from living vicariously through Blair and Serena, listening to Softly as I Leave Gossip GirlYou most nights before bed, and getting fiercely aggressive during recent tennis matches. The breakup was my decision, yet it still stings. It’s not satisfying to end things with someone you still care about. It’s all too easy to remember happy moments and forget why the split was necessary. Yes, he was good-looking, funny, fun, smart, affectionate…but he was also unambitious, immature, careless, uncommunicative, and never wrong. I don’t have a “perfect guy” checklist. However, I’ve discovered what should be on a “high quality, worth potentially marrying” checklist. Because next time, I want a best boyfriend, not just a boyfriend. Single ladies, get selective. If he’s not willing to pursue you on your terms, he’s the problem and you don’t have time to fix him. Personally, I believe a best boyfriend should:

Be my friend first. If you aren’t interested in me outside of the romantic aspect of our relationship, we are doomed. When we are 97-year-old nursing home veterans, with three non-false teeth and six strands of hair between us, the friendship may be all that’s left. I want to be able to ask you to do anything with me, from sipping tea and playing Scrabble to re-constructing a life-sized battleship drinking game. I want to be your favorite person. It’s flattering to be adored, but I can’t rely on that. What if I gain 10 pounds, or become disfigured in a terrible car accident? We have to find each other’s personalities fascinating and compatible first, prior to adding on anything else.

Make plans. I don’t need to see you every day, but I would prefer to know when I will see you next. This wild notion I’m advocating, which some refer to as planning, both gives me something to look forward to and lets me know you are intentionally carving out time to spend with me. I won’t begrudge you when you hang out with your friends if I know you aren’t doing so at the expense of hanging out with me. But don’t change plans with me at the last minute, just because your best friend asks you to do something. That is selfish, lazy, uncaring, and unkind behavior.

Put his phone away. You can text your grandma later, right? After all, she probably dozed off after she sent you that titillating message. I can no longer tolerate a guy who constantly checks his phone. Is he afraid he is missing out on something? That his friends will replace him if he doesn’t respond to text messages at lightning speed? If your relationship with your phone is that high-maintenance, you likely don’t have time for a girlfriend, too.

Respect my time. I can’t fit my life into yours. In fact, why should I, when you make no efforts to return the favor? Don’t take it for granted that I spent an entire day with relatives of yours I’ve never met before. Thanks for the free food, but it wasn’t much fun sitting across from your conversationally-deficient uncle while your mom explained the weaving pattern she used to make the place settings, and you sat at a different table from me. It would have been pretty swell if you had made an effort to consistently go to church with me, in return, but apparently I was asking for too much. Any guy who expects you to jump on board with his schedule, but makes no effort to integrate himself into yours, would benefit from a flogging, and should be removed from your phone book.

Be thoughtful. Gentlemen, the woman you are dating is always thinking about ways to please you. She wants to bake your favorite dessert, write you a sweet note, surprise you with a small gift. Saying I love you is merely an insincere, misleading gesture if not supported by actions. True thoughtfulness isn’t generic, either. Hallmark cards, chocolates, and flowers will all be interpreted as ‘I don’t actually know you very well yet, but I do know that girls generally like these things, according to mainstream media sources.’ No thanks. If you want to win my affections, take care of and invest in me. Offer to take out my trash; help me pick out and plant flowers on my deck; play tennis with me. Every girl is different. Another girl may want you to go shopping with her, or take dance classes with her. It’s your responsibility to figure out what variety of thoughtfulness your special chica needs.

Sincerely mean ‘I’m sorry.’ Don’t say sorry because you know I’m upset, don’t understand why, and just want the relationship back on cruise control. I’m upset for a reason. You should care why, and you should feel really badly about hurting me. Because when I’m mean to you, I feel terrible afterwards. And when I say I’m sorry, it’s quite genuine.

Be a grown-up. I shouldn’t have to include this on my list. Some other things I shouldn’t have to do are: accept that you will never want to go back to school, drive you home because you drank too much,  or try to hide emotions from you because I don’t want to come off as ‘annoying’. Grown men will not unnecessarily burden you, nor will they make you feel like a burden.

I still really miss the ex-boyfriend. I have irrational thoughts of banging on his door at midnight, in the rain, and us reuniting, realizing we should be together. But I also want him to see me doing wonderful without him, and make him hurt. When thinking clearly, I admit neither option is healthy. But the following salad recipe definitely is! I copy-catted Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Market Salad. But the chicken seasoning is all me.

HD’s GRILLED MARKET SALAD (Servings: 1)

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 ‘Spring Mix’ salad bagSalad on a Fork

-10 leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped

-6 to 8 strawberries, quartered

-1/4 cup blueberries

-1/4 apple, diced

– 1-1/2 Tbs. blue cheese

-3 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast

-Chicken seasoning: salt, lemon juice, yellow mustard

-2 Tbs. Ken’s Light Honey Dijon dressing

DIRECTIONS:

Heat a small amount of water in a skillet. Place the chicken breast in the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice and salt. After one minute, flip chicken breast and sprinkle other side with lemon juice and salt. Continue cooking chicken, adding mustard. Once outside is cooked, remove from skillet and cut into strips. Place strips back into skillet and cook until no longer pink. Add more salt, lemon juice, and mustard to taste.

Meanwhile, combine lettuce, cheese and dressing. Add in chicken, once cooked. Enjoy!!

CALORIES: 300

Bleed On

29 May

That’s right. My blog has become solely dedicated to the examination of inconvenient bodily fluids. But hey, without the slightly uncomfortable shock factor, how else could you distinguish my food blog from the ‘Look at me! I made a Food Network Magazine recipe and I took pictures using Instagram. But first let me preface all of this with a forgettable and overly detailed description of how I volunteered at a dog shelter’ ones?!

Kidding aside, I discovered in March, via a much overdue visit to the doctor, that I had a lingering strain of mistreated strep for a month’s time. After an intense shot of antibiotics and nearly a week of pill popping, I finally was on the mend. It felt truly incredible to be healthy after a month of constant exhaustion, fevers, and throat pain. Truth be told, I  have always been prone to sickness. Growing up, fevers, stomach aches, the flu, pink eye, sore throats, and allergic reactions to medication kept me home. I distinctly remember missing the day of math when we learned how to do two-digit multiplication.That was pretty stressful; I wasn’t certain I would catch up with the other kids.

WF gluten free cakes

One ailment I never suffered from was bloody noses. That is, not until I was well beyond childhood. I am now, in my older age, a nose bleeder. I find this peculiar, because I associate nose bleeds with behaviorally challenged eight year old boys. A bloody nose doesn’t strike me as an adult illness. There is nothing sophisticated, complex, or even interesting about a nose bleed. Blood vessels in the nose become dry and irritated, and as a result bleed. It’s that simple. Not to mention incredibly messy and traumatic if you are not near a tissue or other type of absorbent material. I just wish I had developed a more socially acceptable condition. ADD is so popular that I’m surprised when someone doesn’t have it. Gluten allergies are alluring. Whole Foods has a way of making baked goods devoid of this gluey protein more delectable looking than any gluten-full chocolate chip cookie I’ve laid eyes on. Dyscalculia may explain why only 14% of U.S. college students enroll in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs. The spurting of blood from my nose, on the other hand, has only alarmed people. Secrets don’t make friends, and nose bleeds don’t either.

I will, however, admit that one of my nose bleeds created a comical situation. At Christmas time, my friend invited me to a party out in Mendenhall, where farm land abounds and movie theaters are extinct.  I, a single Presbyterian Northerner,  was immersed in a throng of mostly married Southern Baptist Mississippians. I felt out of my element . It didn’t help when I told them I was an engineer. They exchanged disparaging looks, as if I had chosen a calculator and Excel spreadsheets over the joys of marriage and motherhood. Nevertheless, I was fed Chex Mix and included in the gift exchange. The subsequent bonfire was plsierra mist and mikes.jpgeasant, and I began to enjoy myself. As I was chatting with my friend and her old acquaintance, I felt a wetness in my nose which I thought to be snot. Except it was very runny. As the unidentified fluid began dripping from my nose and I caught it with my hand, I soon realized what was actually happening. I ran towards the house with my hand over my face. Bonfire attendees must have been puzzled, not having seen the blood flow. By the time I barged through the door, I mirrored Rocky post-[minor]-fight. That was, at least, my interpretation of the reaction I got from party attendees still lingering in the kitchen. One of t
he said attendees works with kids and knew just how to stop the bleeding. I felt very silly, like I was back in second grade, minus the under bite and pig tails.

I was pretty embarrassed at the time, but in retrospect my nose bleeding misfortune is plain funny. Sometimes it’s good to come across as a bit ridiculous. It endears us to others and forces us to let our hair down. Speaking of unwinding, I have discovered that Diet Sierra Mist mixed with Mike’s Strawberry Margarita helps me loosen up a bit. 1/2 of each component equates to 100 calories. For added effect, I throw some frozen fruit in. Enjoy!

mixed drink.jpg

Girl Up

31 Jan

LoosIt has come to my attention that I pee too fast. This notion occurred to me when I was on a first date a couple months ago (a bad one, too) and emerged from the bathroom much too quickly. I think he made some sort of joke about me not actually being my gender. It was awkward. The main issue with having a urine stream that moves at G650 speeds is that people assume you didn’t wash your hands. And I just can’t have that. It’s false, it’s offensive, it’s downright dirty. So I think it’s time to improve my bathroom cred. How, you ask? By extending my stay in there. If you, too, suffer from extreme bathroom efficiency, keep reading. Because the below list is of suggested additional activities you can do to stretch your lavatory hang out, when in social situations. Do keep in mind, though, that the suggestions will depend on the environment, and therefore cannot all be carried out in a public restroom:

1. Wash your hands twice. Especially if you’re using foam soap. Then moisturize. This is my most practical suggestion, and one I’ve even started using. Extra clean hands will also be extra dry. So if you don’t want your skin to look like you’ve been dead for three years, DO moisturize.

2. Clean the toilet. It’s like a secret ‘thank you for having me over’ gift. And once you’ve performed an undercover act of kindness, it justifies a second trip to the bathroom later on, should you require one. 

3. Take a mini nap while you’re on the loo. My sister suggests taking the nap IN the toilet. I embrace this concept, but only if you are at a truly awful party and are avoiding the other attendees, permanently.

4. Wear a complicated outfit. For example, wear pants that zip, button, and clip. That should tack on a good 5 seconds. Or wear multiple shirts, one of which needs to be tucked in. There’s another 3 seconds.

5. Multipurpose that toilet paper: blow your nose and clean out some ear wax. Who needs tissues and Q-tips anyways.

bathroom sign6. Think ‘Toilette,’ not ‘Toilet.’ As in, to borrow from The Free Online Dictionary, ‘the act of dressing or grooming oneself.’ Why not try accessorizing with the hand towel as a scarf? Find the mouthwash; use it. Brush your hair. Pluck your eyebrows. Floss.

7. Write a nice message on the sink using toothpaste. I’ll leave the rest up to you.

8. Forget the environment. Use multiple paper towels. Make sure your hands are dryer than Bill Clinton’s throat after his 1988 speech at the Democratic National Convention. But don’t forget the sewer system, please, all kidding aside for a brief half-moment. I just attended a training course on non-wovens at INDA in Carey, NC for work, where the instructors emphasized that only toilet paper is to be flushed. All other materials, especially paper towels, do not deteriorate enough for the sewer system to handle them.

And back to sheer bathroom fun:

9. Recite something out loud. The alphabet backwards is much too complicated for me. But perhaps the chorus to your favorite song could work, or better yet some hilarious rap lyrics, such as these ones from Deuces feat T.I. et al: “Your wrist and fingers glisten ice cold like Michigan.”

10. Start munching on that snack you packed, just to prevent any occurrence of food insecurity.

Speaking of snacks, which are defined in part as ‘light meals’ by Dictionary.com (yeah, I read more than one online dictionary), salad fits the bill. The following is an adaptation of the Blackened Beef Tenderloin salad at Bravo, a restaurant right here in Jackson.

HD’S BLACKENED BEEF TENDERLOIN SALAD (Servings: 1)

INGREDIENTS:

-Mixed Greens (i.e. ‘Spring Mix’ salad bag)beef tenderloin salad

– 2 oz.. skirt steak (I found a package of thinly sliced pieces of skirt steak at Kroger, so all I had to do was cut these pieces into strips)

-Spices: salt, minced garlic, onion powder, chili powder

-Handful of cherry tomatoes

-2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

-2 Tbs. dried cherries

-2 Tbs. light balsamic vinaigrette

 DIRECTIONS:

Cut the skirt steak into strips. Heat small amount of water in a pan. Sprinkle salt, minced garlic, onion powder, and chili powder into pan. Add steak strips and cook until desired amount done. Season to taste as you cook. Next, halve the cherry tomatoes and cube the mozzarella cheese. Add steak, tomato, cheese, dried cherries, and dressing to mixed greens. Enjoy!

CALORIES: 410