Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
- Be yourself and be kind. Have good intentions. They rest will fall into place. Don’t worry if someone doesn’t want to hang out with you. Focus on the people with whom you share a mutual interest.
- There’s not really a place in the Foreign Service for contempt. You’re in a foreign country. It’s different. Remember that and move on.
- Have good days and bad days. It’s no big deal. It’s normal.
- Don’t worry so much about your kids. They’ll be fine. Kids are amazing. Be present with them. A loving home is a loving home, no matter where you are.
- Skype. Facebook.
- Dance. Listen to new music. Meet new people. Throw parties. Do simple things. Realize you’re free (or can be) from the American burden of having to “have.”
- Laugh at yourself and the crazy things you see (or eat…or hear). This really is tremendous blessing that will pass before you know it.
- You had this dream. Now live it.
- Hope all of the above for the people you encounter. Despite the perks, the Foreign Service life is not always perfectly easy (although I’d never trade it). Give people a break. Smile.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
If you spent time abroad before you joined the Foreign Service and especially if that time abroad was doing something that put you in close contact with the “everyday” citizens of your host country, your first tour can make you feel a little out of place. If you always took public transport without a single worry beyond making sure you had your wallet in a front pocket or never packed make-up because who needs that while backpacking through the Mayan jungle or figured a shopping spree included sturdier tent stakes and an extra set of flashlight batteries to compliment your new mosquito net, then having security guards patrol your neighborhood and having a generator and a cistern to supply you with continual household comforts can seem weird…although at the same time it doesn’t, because electricity, water and a certain level of safety feel normal at home and an Embassy feels like a little corner of the US abroad.
I have been thinking about this a lot as we’re going through our bid list. B Files has told me a couple of times I should update the Santo Domingo RPR of Talesmag (I am writing an RPR for it poco a poco now). I had never read it, but she’s right. Wow! – what a difference of opinion people can have regarding the same post. And why? We’re all different people I guess. We seek different comforts, different moments, different ways to make our home away from home feel like the place where we belong. It’s no secret that we (my family and I) have come to love it here. We have a lot going for us when it comes to this post and I guess that makes it easier. For one, we always loved traveling to places like the DR (hectic, chaotic places with spotty electricity, tentative bus schedules and loud, joyful people). Being part of the Embassy makes experiencing this the way we used to a little more difficult, but we seek out moments (and, I say, thank god for my job because it takes me far from the Embassy life quite frequently). Of course, it helps too that I speak Spanish. I didn’t really have to go through the navigation process in the same way many accompanying spouses and partners do. Plus, our kids are young, they are adaptable and have taken to life here completely.
So, this all sounds completely random, I know. And, obviously doesn’t sound at all related to food. But, it’s food (and bidding, of course) that got me first thinking about how we make a home somewhere. There are these moments, frequently…or perhaps all the time, when I am visiting a community for work. It’s crazy hot and humid and dusty in the air and muddy on the ground and I cannot imagine wanting to be anywhere else. And then, that wonderful moment is made perfect by the offering of a chair from a community member. A plastic chair, always, slid over a concrete floor and wiped clean before I can even move to sit down. And then a small, plastic cup of refresco (Country Club Orange or Cola Real usually) with a tiny bit of hielo. The most incredibly perfect antidote to the heat. And a smile…or often many because in small communities it takes little to draw a crowd. And I think, in that moment, I get to spend forever finding these moments, over food, over refreshments, with new friends, everywhere. If that’s the case, if we can find that, how do we not love every post, in some way, some how? Oh, and that’s rhetorical by the way, don’t answer it. I’m not naïve…just at peace.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
One of the perks of working abroad is that you usually get off both American and host-country holidays. Today is a Dominican holiday –Restoration Day to be exact. That means that, knowing we would have today to rest up, yesterday we were in the mood for a family adventure – and we certainly had a good one.
Most people think of the DR and think beaches. Of course, they’re not wrong, we have some pretty incredible beaches. But, we also have some wonderful mountains (including the highest peak in the Caribbean – Pico Duarte) surrounding beautifully, green, fragrant and cool fertile valleys. It’s hot here right now – in the mid-90s every day in the capital - but, as we set out on our journey to Constanza, a remote town known for its cool temps, fruits and abundant vegetables, the air began to cool and thick clouds brought in breezes and some rain.
The road to Constanza turns off of a major highway between Santo Domingo and the DR’s second largest city, Santiago. After leaving the main highway in Bonao, it’s a couple more hours of windy mountain roads through villages. The road is really well paved, thank goodness (that’s not always the case), and filled with guaguas (buses), trucks carrying produce, cars (ranging from Porsche to once-was-a-Datsun) and motos. Halfway up you can stop at a chapel and say a prayer…or take a photo or moment of silence…whichever suits your fancy.
Knowing that much of the Dominican produce you buy in the supermarket comes from the mountains of the interior is one thing, but seeing the fields and fields of green is something even better. As you finally make your way into Constanza (don’t think cute Alpine village or hipster Washington state commune, it’s neither, but that’s okay) you are practically bowled over by the smell of garlic in the air. Jeremy said, “Forget garlic, it’s like driving into a giant kitchen of vegetable soup.” The combination of the 30-degree temperature drop and the patchwork hills of veggies make this a seriously fantastic change of scenery.
It had been a long drive, but well worth it in so many ways. Admittedly, once we got to Constanza we weren’t entirely sure what to do with ourselves. The guidebooks warn that there is not much to do there…that is true. But, we made our way to a little hotel that has a restaurant and we enjoyed some okay coffee and delicious flan. We also happened to see two sets of non-Embassy friends who were spending the day there. It was a really nice surprise – one of those things that makes you feel like you really live somewhere.
We had a slight misadventure with the brakes on the way back down. Despite some mountain driving under my belt in the past, I had clearly forgotten some of the most important rules. But, we made it. We had stopped at a pleasant, roadside restaurant in Bonao (Tipico Bonao – for which Fodor’s has this review…if you’re interested) for lunch on the way up and (after our brake-related delay) decided a Dominican truck-stop dinner was in order. We laughed at how we chose the white rice, beans and fried plantains instead of the pizza. The boys flirted with the locals. All-in-all, it was a bit of international adventure at its best – we finished the day feeling a tiny bit like our old backpacker selves…albeit with the kids, and a car, and enough cash to ward of fears of being stranded…but still.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Two years ago, on this day, I wrote the following lines on our family blog, "Who knows where will be for the next 4th, but the increasing chance that it will be life in the foreign service likely means that we will be enjoying our (veggie) dogs and brews on US land abroad." I take great delight in reflecting on where we thought we would be…and being reminded that our dreams have come (and continue to come) true.
Last year we were in DC. This year, not at the Embassy as we had imagined, but in Austin, home from full immersion in the FS reality. Today was filled with the typical fare - baked beans, potato salad, burgers (veggie and regular), hot dogs (veggie and regular), chips, sodas and beer. I love Independence Day food. I love the tradition of filling up and munching throughout the day - like warm-weather Thanksgiving. In this life of unexpectedness, it's these American traditions that I think we hang on to the most. Even a British colleague of mine says she loves the American Independence Day celebration at the Embassy in Santo Domingo. She describes it has "great people and great food." I'm not an over-the-top patriot, but as we wrap-up this day of celebration, I think I have to agree - it's perhaps the thing we do best.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Breakfast tacos have been successfully eaten by us. Taco Shack potato, egg and cheese. I am sad to say that I was a little disappointed. Funny how that happens. The eggs were undercooked. I get really grossed out by undercooked scrambled eggs. It reminded me that, while Taco Shack had become the most convenient taco locale in the 6 months prior to our departure for DC, it was never exactly our favorite. We were solidly El Chilito. Interesting how one can forget those things. And, in the end, I can't exactly complain…am not complaining…tacos rock. Word on the street is Torchy's is the new fabulously awesome taco joint. One needs only minimal excuses to try new tacos. I will do so and report back.
In other news, back in DR one of our favorite evenings out is dinner with new friends. Here, we are living it up going out to dinner with old friends. There is nothing like the ease of conversation catching up on the events of the past year. Above all else in Austin, we have always been blessed with the coolest friends around. Last night we were able to try a new restaurant (well, new to us) - Buenos Aires Café. De-lish!! I can't attest to its authenticity (although the website says the chef is Argentinean), but I can attest to its insane tastiness. We arrived at 8:00 and were the last ones to leave. They literally turned off the lights except around our table and then locked the door behind us as we stood on the front stoop continuing our conversation.
We have dinners like this lined up almost every night until Jeremy leaves to head back. It's the type of thing that fills me with so much love and joy. It's the type of thing that reminds me, although I need little reminding of it, how important it is that our boys know that, wherever we go, Austin is home (or can be, if they want it to). We were recently having a conversation with some FS friends in DR about the common thread that joins all FS people. We all agreed that it is the need to not put down roots, the need to be able to uproot and keep uprooting. I have been thinking about that some - reflecting on how much I love Austin and yet how much the FS life is 100% for us. Perhaps it's not, at least for us, about not planting roots, but about having lots of them and letting them grow long and full.
Before the FS we talked about how we would keep the boys connected to a home (like my parents did for me with Indiana, even though we moved to Texas when I was five). Being here, I realize that having a home, a true home like Austin, is not just a convenience, not just insurance for the future, but a gift. Having this stable place to come to makes spreading our roots possible. Knowing that, if all else fails, you are welcome somewhere else makes you confident that you can step outside the Austin city limits and know what the rest of the world has to offer (even if it means no tacos).
Monday, June 28, 2010
And, where do I begin about the food? It's so nice to eat the familiar. Believe it or not, I haven't even made it over to Taco Shack yet. I did have migas though, so really that's the same thing, only on a plate instead of a piece of foil. We are trying to pace ourselves. And, Austin is so smooth, so slow, so steady, so quiet. It's hard to do anything before the moment exactly presents itself. Which, truth be told, was always a bit of the problem of living here. Ahhhh…home…heaven.
Friday, June 25, 2010
My first domestic meal in almost 9 months? A bagel, wrapped in saran-wrap, with squeeze-on Philadelphia cream cheese, at Miami International. Not exactly what I had envisioned, but the ability to tell Jeremy, "Just grab me a bagel," when he went to procure snacks was so, so awesome. The oddest thing about arriving in the States? The fact that the airport food looked tasty. I found my mouth-watering. This perhaps suggests I have been suffering from a higher degree of depravity than I had previously imagined.
We had the most amazingly smooth travel experience - I can only hope it goes as smoothly when I am returning to DR with the niños by myself a little over a month from now.
And how's the land of tacos? Well, we were dog-tired and couldn't make it to one of our favorite taco haunts and forget even touching a Negra Modelo, but we did opt for the always convenient Chipotle. That and a glass of my mom's iced tea….aahhhhh…we're off to a fabulous start.
Weird things? Well, my mom had a fruit bowl filled with grapes. We were all over them. I kept feeling guilty like, "I'm eating all her grapes," then I realized that (1) she can get grapes whenever she wants and (2) they will cost her a normal grape price, like, I don't know a couple dollars per pound. In other semi-food-related weirdness - it's surprisingly difficult to believe you can brush your teeth with and even drink the tap water. It's like our brains have created an automatic resistance. Today we venture out and I am sure will be more inundated with these rarities.
Oh, and the chinola made it just fine!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The photo above is of a very large (larger than it appears in the photo) bowl of mango salsa. We had a BBQ yesterday - one last little get-together before heading off on R&R this week. The mangoes have been so amazing I figured mango salsa was a must. I was able to get 6 perfect mangoes from the frutero on the corner. Funny thing is, you don't actually have to buy mangoes here if you don't want to. There are a couple of 20+ foot mango trees on the grounds of my office - I pick up at least one every day.
I was doing a bit of calculating - my total cost for a giant bowl of mango salsa was about $150 pesos - that's around $4. The same salsa would have cost me around $12 at home. And yet, if I were to buy a pack of, let's say, veggie burgers here it would set me back around $10. I long ago gave up on creating a veggie burger that was worth the time and effort. I mean, the whole point of veggie burgers, in my opinion, is ease of preparation.
Making these calculations is such a big part of the FS life. What do I need now? What can I do without? Is it worth the money? I have written about this before. What I am finding interesting now is that the longer we are here, the less and less I make these calculations. With time we are just starting to live completely present with the food that we have here. This isn't a consumables post, but at this moment it's difficult for me to imagine preparing for a consumables post by stocking up on endless "necessities" at Costco. Who knows where our next post will be - maybe I will feel differently, but I do wonder where exactly one begins in the grand consumables shopping spree. I mean toilet paper and pasta might be on my list some day, but would peanut butter and cereal really make it? How does one decide to buy a two-year supply of cereal? Why does one decide to buy a two-year supply of cereal?
Presently, I have decided that as long as I have rice, vegetables and some form of protein I will do just fine, but this has taken time and patience. And at the end of the day, we can actually get almost anything here. As a result, I don't really have to live with that looming sense of "what will we eat?" Everything in degrees I guess. I have a friend who traveled in Mongolia for a few weeks. All they had was mutton. Now that would definitely send me straight for Costco...
But, back to mango salsa. If you want to make some, here's how:
Six ripe mangoes diced
One red onion finely diced
One red bell pepper finely diced
Two Serrano peppers, minced (leave the seeds in if you want it extra spicy. If not, scrape out the seeds)
A handful of cilantro or culantro
Juice of two limes
Salt to taste
Mix it all up and, if possible, refrigerate for about two hours before serving
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Mostly what I am thinking about is how weird it will be to go home. We are now well over what I like to call the 6th month hump - the time abroad when you decide you're either going to sink or swim in your host country. We're swimming (literally, in crystal clear Caribbean water, which helps) most of the time. We like it here. It's homey. So, to that end, I think it will be weird to go back to a place that's so easy. We have so many conveniences living in the capital, but even the convenient things have a level of negotiating that has to happen all the time. Lately, I have been thinking about certain situations back home, imagining myself there and then I suddenly realize that my imagination is happening in Spanish. I speak Spanish, but thinking about a whole world in pure English seems so…simple.
Eating out here is incredibly expensive. Even a fast food bill is easily $20 for our family of four. That will be different back home. I'm determined to not go overboard on things like chips and queso, really good pizza and Starbuck's. I will go overboard on all the delicious salads and fresh tomatoes from the garden and salsa.
I'm trying, I guess, to find balance before we go. Not just to establish a balance of what I'll eat, but what we'll buy because it's convenient and we think we'll need it and we won't be able to get it here. And, a balance of mind. You can't be the person who goes back to the States and points out, at every corner, "It's so crazy that people stop at the red lights and stay in their lanes," "How weird not to have people wash your windows at stop lights," "There are no children begging here," "This lettuce looks so green." That kind of thing annoys people quickly. Moderation of shock at how different things are is appropriate I guess. Perhaps increased meditation is in order. The countdown begins.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
My worries have been proven a little true - it's more difficult to keep up with the blog now that I'm working. And, the extent to which I productively concentrate on food has also slipped. I do spend a fair amount of time in unproductive concentration on food - this includes (1) thinking of quick meals that enable me to hold on to one of the household chores (cooking) that I am not prepared to completely turn over to Vilma and (2) realizing that the time I am away from the boys results in an increase in the amount of time they eat what typical Dominican children eat.
Oh the sugar! If there was any doubt about how Dominicans contributed to the economic stability of their own country, rest assured, they keep the sugar industry well supported. Dominican children (yes, I am freely generalizing here) eat a ton of candy. This candy gets passed to the boys in places from the doctor's office to school from the neighbors' children to random people on the street (yes, pure stranger danger there!). I came home yesterday to find our two year old sucking on a BlowPop that he was washing down with a juice box (in which the first two ingredients were water and sugar…nice). I hadn't realized when I was at home how much I regulated those things (i.e. threw them away or refused them before the boys could catch the offer). It also makes me realize that I completely took for granted in the States that my children's childcare providers were not passing this stuff on to my kids. I think the most I ever had to do was ask my mom not to give my oldest cereal bars because the third ingredient was high fructose corn syrup - but, at least those things actually had fruit…and a grain of some sort.
I have completely digressed from where I intended to go with this post. So, back on track. Recently, my vegetable hating four year-old has been really into the movie Ratatouille. He asked me the other day if I know how to make Ratatouille. I said, yes - which is basically true - I know how to roast vegetables in the oven. In fact, I told him that I had made it once and he wouldn't eat it because it had vegetables. To this he exclaimed that he would have eaten it had he known it was ratatouille. "Maybe the one you made didn't look like the one from the movie Mom." "Well," I thought, "that's true. It was really just some vegetables in a pan." So we agreed - we would make Ratatouille. I did my research - that is, I watched the part of the movie where the make the ratatouille. You can't learn much from watching a cartoon rat make a dish - in case you were wondering. But, I did figure I could come up with something that looked like the thing in the movie. Tonight we went to work in the kitchen together. Dominican holiday so no work, no school = plenty of time to make dinner = happy Mommy.
As always, I had to use what was available here, so this may not be super traditional, but it was really, really good. And, in the end, it wasn't that time consuming - about 30 minutes to prep and one hour of cooking time unattended. It serves 4-6. Here you go:
- 1 large carrot, peeled and very thinly sliced
- 1 zucchini, very thinly sliced
- 2 small-medium sized potatoes (red or Yukon gold), very thinly sliced
- 4 Roma tomatoes, very thinly sliced
For the Sauce:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ red bell pepper, diced
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 5 fresh sage leaves chopped
- leaves from 3 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
- two tbsp tomato paste
- a pinch of sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the bell pepper, sage and rosemary and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and about ½ cup water, stir and allow to simmer. As the water cooks down, add more little by little until you get the consistency of a chunky sauce. Add a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper to taste.Spread the sauce into the bottom of a 9x9 inch glass pan. It should thoroughly cover the bottom - there should be plenty of sauce, use it all. Begin to make layers with your veggies by making little stacks in your hand (e.g. carrot, potato, zucchini, tomato). Place the veggies in the pan on their ends, slightly tilted (a little like the way Oreos look in the plastic packing). Do this until you have long rows of veggies.
Bake for one hour until the sauce is bubbling up into the veggies, the veggies are tender and some areas are crispy on top. You'll find when you eat it that the onions in the sauce will have caramelized and the tops of some of the veggies will have taken on a chewy/crispy texture while the bottoms will be super tender.
Serve with a green salad and crusty bread. Enjoy!