Tag Archives: home

A homey kind of beauty

24 Mar

Houses

I recently returned to adult life, moving to an apartment in the historic Bloomfield neighborhood last December after occupying my parents’ third floor for a good year and a half. I miss the pup, and talking to my mom everyday, and pestering my dad about the giraffe-sized stack of books he’s reading. But I’m only a 10 minute drive away, and I like having my own space.

I’ve never considered myself gifted, or even interested, in decorating. My mother passed this gene exclusively to my sister, while she exclusively passed on the cleaning and organizing genes to me. Yet I find myself enjoying the gradual furnishing and adorning a new place requires. I like performing small upgrades, including a new silverware set and feather-stuffed sofa pillows. I like hanging up artwork from Ireland and New Orleans, and finding nooks and crannies for all the animal ornaments I’ve acquired. I like how much I can’t wait to go home at the end of the day. I like the flood of relief experienced as I turn the key to push my door open into an escape of comfort and calm.

I worry decorating is just a self-indulgent practice, an aesthetically pleasing weekend hobby that only I benefit from. On the other, more sweeping hand, I muse there are internal and external ways in which a well-kept home is a noble aspiration. When we are happy at home, we are more likely to be happy elsewhere. We are also more likely to welcome others into our homes, and to share with them what we find beautiful. The goal is never to impress visitors, but to make them feel comfortable. There is a sterile beauty, too perfect to radiate warmth, and there is a cheerful beauty that draws you in with its self-forgetting contentedness.

My bedroom windows came with flower boxes. I can’t tell what blossomed last summer, now that the contents are frozen over and flattened by winter winds. I’m waiting, seemingly indefinitely, for the arrival of Pittsburgh’s fleeting spring to uproot and replant. At first I wasn’t considering this option. I thought it would be only for me, growing up pretty new shoots, and I already had enough cozy to keep me happy. But then I remembered what I loved most about Paris: everywhere you looked the windows displayed tidily kept flower boxes. It’s not the Eiffel tower or the Louvre or even the Seine River that hold the city together. The flowers are the glue. I’m thinking snap dragons, or zinnias, or perhaps primroses. Whatever I choose, I’m looking forward to catching a glimpse of colorful petals moving in the breeze as I walk up to the main entrance. Maybe someone else will catch a glimpse, too.

I’m trying to mix up my work snacks routine. After a very traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, I’m hooked on cabbage soup. I can’t say it’s beautiful (judge for yourself), but it’s comforting in a way that makes it feel like I transported a slice of home in my lunch box.

CABBAGE SOUP

INGREDIENTS:

1 head cabbage, sliced thinly

1 onion, sliced thinly

10 cups water

10 bouillon cubes (chicken or beef; I opted for beef)

3 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on high for four hours.

CALORIES (per cup): 30

Cabbage Soup_pic 1

 

 

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