Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ooof!

So this is one of those things that probably just won't come across on paper (or the computer screen), but I have to share it anyway. Dominican Spanish is a language all it's own. It has so many little (and big) idiosyncrasies and so many words that are unique to the DR. And, there are tons of expressions that I am certain only a Dominican (or someone living here) would get. There are so many - I could go on and on.

One of my favorites is "Oof!" It's something you say when someone asks something like, "So how many years have your grandparents been married?" or "How many people died in the earthquake?" or "How much trash is dumped into the river?" In other words, if the answers is "A lot! Too many to count! Where do I begin?" you just say, "Oooof!" and for added emphasis you can kinda' wag your hand around like you just burned it.

The other day we had a trainer come from DC to do a presentation on WMD (yes, that's right) and he asked "How many germs do you think are in this room?" Most of the room was Dominican employees - "Ooof!" they all replied. "Is that a lot then?" he asked. A little later he asked, "How many people do you think this stuff could kill?" "Oooof!" they said. He laughed, "Ooof again! Must mean a lot."

Guess you gotta' see it. Trust me. It's funny.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving



Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving. It was my third international Thanksgiving. It was Jeremy’s fifth. The second international Thanksgiving for the boys. I love Thanksgiving abroad. Being in the DR is interesting because so many Dominicans are also Americans. The supermarkets know…or perhaps envision they know…the details of a Thanksgiving meal and stock their shelves accordingly. My family has always been more of a “from-scratch” kind of Thanksgiving family, so the shelves of canned gravy, canned cranberry sauce and boxed stuffing don’t go far for me, but one quickly gets the messages for whom these things are intended…they’re also stocked next to the hundreds of Butterballs that have been imported for the occasion.

We were super fortunate to have my dad and his wife here for the week. We went all out and the day was absolutely perfect. We had turkey, cranberry sauce (made from fresh cranberries that I bought last year on a fluke and then froze), stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh bread, toffee pudding, pumpkin pie, lots of wine, coffee. Truly, the whole nine yards and then some. We invited a few friends over, let the kids run around and stuffed ourselves in phases. Perhaps the only thing lacking (by most Americans’ standards) was football – we don’t have cable. And, perhaps shamefully, our table included more soccer fans than American football fans.

Since Thursday I have been really struck by how at-home we feel. I think there is this image that people have that if you’re abroad for a major holiday you must feel like you would rather be “at home.” I have been wondering if that’s true. I know I certainly wouldn’t have traded our Thanksgiving for anything – it was wonderful and joyous. We felt blessed to be surrounded by so many friends and the added bonus of family from home. If we hadn’t had friends over too, would we have felt differently? Without family, would the occasion have been dreary? What about no one? What if we didn’t have the boys? If we were a childless couple would things have been sadder?

I guess, in conclusion, I do think that a Thanksgiving without friends or family would have been kind of depressing. Of course, the people are more important than the food and being surrounded by love and acceptance makes Thanksgiving (or any holiday) perfect. From the FS perspective this means we might be free to have a pizza Thanksgiving, a curry Thanksgiving or even a sushi Thanksgiving someday because somehow, I’m certain, in this life the fabulous friends just keep on popping up just as the dreams keep coming true.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Five




Our oldest turned five. I cannot believe I have let the last two weeks pass without blogging about it – it was an adventure in food and culture. You know you’re neglecting your blog when such a perfect blog opportunity presents itself and you decide to watch Glee instead….or you just know how freaking amazing Glee is.

Anyway, I plotted and schemed and researched about how to make the most fabulous cake – Mystery Machine? Lego? Fire truck? When I finally decided on a crazy stackable Lego cake and spilled the beans to the birthday boy, he was like, “Jodi (yes, he calls me Jodi…going on about 4 months of it), I really just want a white cake with strawberries, in a circle, with a number 5. And some cupcakes too.” I sadly let go of my ridiculous Lego fantasies, but was also totally relieved to realize he wanted something I could fulfill. The kid hates surprises anyway….unless they have wheels.

So, about 2 weeks ago twenty-five 5 and 6 year-olds made their way with their teachers from the school to our house for a little “field trip.” November is the month of the family so we turned it into a little mini-lesson and did some Skyping with grandparents. I provided a snack of cheese sandwich, apple slices and Cheetos and a juice box. And, of course the cupcakes for desert. I was trying to win them over with the Cheetos I won’t lie. They were a hit, along with the juice boxes and cupcakes. Most of the kids (except for mine and the children of one of my American friends) turned up their noses at the sandwiches and apples. Ya’ can’t win ‘em all I guess.

There was one moment when I looked over at my son and he had commandeered an extra juice box from the fridge and had a huge plate of Cheetos. I told him to put them back and he looked at me with his big brown five-year-old eyes and his teacher said, “Oh, pero los quierre (he wants them).” I felt out-numbered and, anyway, you know, birthday and all. At least I had stuffed the piñata with cheap toys and not Tootsie pops. Today I had to remind Vilma that cookies are not a snack even if they’re served with a slice of cheese. My faithful five-year-old had reported her. I think that’s funny – the word galletas can mean cookies or crackers. He’ll be kicking himself tomorrow come snack time. So big and yet still so innocent! Five.


Chili's...just kidding...kinda'

Today in the car on the way home from work we saw a sign announcing that Chili’s will be coming to the Blue Mall (the Blue Mall is one of the many, many malls here that just scream money laundering…but that’s another story). We kinda’ laughed at it. I hate Chili’s. Being from Austin I have no idea why anyone would feel the need to eat there. If you can get actual food that is not from some sort of microwaveable kit…or whatever it is that makes all their food turn out identical from Lubbock to Lisbon…why would you eat it?

Anyway, can I tell you the depth of sadness that exists from the brief moment when I was like, “Mmmm chicken strips with honey mustard sauce.” And Jeremy said, “Nachos.” We suck. It’s so gross. Will we? Won’t we? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Absentee



This year we voted absentee.

We follow the news back home regularly – sometimes with horror and sometimes with pride. Being abroad puts a whole new spin on the gap between our daily reality and the daily reality of folks back home. Even the economic problems seem kind of far away for us. We know some people who are struggling, but I think we know many more who are doing pretty well or for whom things haven’t changed all that much. Admittedly, we might have a surprisingly conscientious group of friends.

Anyway, this year I looked at my ballot, decided to read up on the people I didn’t know and then voted straight party. I have been following a few nationally important elections, but not much about Texas. It’s sad, but honestly, for a liberal, Texas can feel like a hopeless place. It’s also a little sad because I definitely have a lot of pride about being a Texan, but when I hear crazy stuff about secession and text books and abstinence only education I think, “Wow, am I glad I’m outa’ there!” I kid you not, I feel like I betray my friends back home just a little bit every time I think that. They’re mostly social workers. Poor Texas social workers – no hope for you I’m afraid.

I love voting. I think it’s important. I actually feel really proud when I do it. But, voting absentee is different (even if I still feel great when I check off my boxes). It can highlight that sense of being an outsider.

Sometimes, I feel like we live in a bubble. We do live in a bubble. In fact, many bubbles – the DR bubble, the State Dept bubble, the Embassy Santo Domingo bubble, the house with screens and AC bubble. Occasionally, this bothers me. It makes me feel like I can’t be informed enough – that I’m missing something. And then, I look at the bubble of back home. The bubble that includes questions like, Where’s the Dominican Republic? Do they speak a foreign language there? Aren’t you scared to leave the US? Don’t you worry the boys will grow up without friends? It makes me think, “It’s like they live in a bubble or something!”

And so, in the end, I voted. From my bubble – perhaps a bit out of ignorance, but I voted. I believe this gives me the right to keep calling myself a Texan…or at least an Austinite. This was my first election abroad. Of course, it won’t be my last. I give myself an A for effort. It’s probably always a bit of a crapshoot anyway…right?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Commute

There was a point at which I stopped knowing if the traffic here is bad or not. I mean, it is. Of course it is. It’s insanity, but somewhere, somehow I have become used to it. And yet, this adaptation does not make my morning and evening commute any easier. We live about 5.5 miles from my office. Every morning it takes me anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to work. On the way home it’s the same. I put on my music. I take a deep breath. I don’t get angry at the crazy drivers (I am really, really, really used to it). I suck it up. It’s life. I make the drive. But I don’t like it.

The other day I had this realization that in DC I won’t have a commute. And, it seems from what we know so far, we won’t have much of one in Antananarivo either. It dawned on me recently that this makes me very happy. Clearly evidence that the commute has been taking its toll. I love it here…but the traffic…

And then, almost bizarrely and purely by chance things have fallen into place in such a way that suddenly both my morning and evening commute times have been cut in half. I didn’t really get how much I felt the commute sucking away minutes of my day until, out of nowhere, I am spending 25-30 minutes in the car in the morning and 30-35 in the evening. I could pinch myself. In the world of Santo Domingo traffic it’s like a dream. How could this be happening? How could I have wasted so much time in the car if these alternate routes were possible? I knew these roads existed so why didn’t I ever think of trying them?

Anyway, no need to dwell. The new morning route was a chance suggestion from a colleague and for the evening route I can credit an especially laid-back taxi driver. Of course, I can’t go back and reclaim all those minutes I sat in traffic, but I can stay in awe of this new journey. I can sing a little louder in the morning having found it and take my last sips of coffee at my desk rather than downing the last cold dregs to the tune of blaring horns with a good 20 minutes left to go. And, best of all, I can come home, be with my family, eat dinner and just be.

And, I still have one whole year to get to drive this way! I feel this somehow brings home the countdown. The clock is ticking now. Everyday this becomes more and more home, more comfortable, more figured-out, more easy …and everyday we start to move closer to making it the past. Wow.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in a Bottle

Wanna’ freak out an Embassy person? Tell them the water they’re drinking is tap water!

I run around with my Peace Corps crowd and find my job to be a wonderfully perfect fit for me. I’ve roughed it around the world here and there. I’ve been to some of the poorest countries in the world and to the richest. I get the difference. I’ve been there poor and been there with a few bucks to my name. I’m not usually bothered by dirt, crowds, petty crime, germs. I feel here I do a pretty good job of navigating the differences...right? Well, I like to think so anyway. At heart I’m more of the Peace Corps type, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me.

So, it is with great shame that I admit that even after drinking three glasses of delicious, crystal clear, cool water on a hot day, I could not bring myself to finish the fourth after I found out it was tap water. The conversation went something like this:

Peace Corps volunteers and I: chit-chat, chit-chat, chit-chat..etc, etc.

Peace Corps volunteer #1: I remember when we were here for training some people got parasites and the med unit determined it was likely from drinking the botellon (botelled) water.

[picture me with my glass, taking a drink, scrunching up my nose, “What does she mean?”]

Peace Corps Volunteer #2: Ya’ I’ve heard that. The people who drink the botellon up here tend to get sick more easily that those who drink the tap water.

[me, lowering my glass…silence]

Me: What do you mean?

PCV #2: The tap water is safe up here, but the botellon is more likely to be contaminated because maybe it’s not being filled with good water…you know brought in from somewhere else, or something.

[me, still holding my glass, paralized]

PCV #2: This is tap water.

Me: Really? [my words come out in a rasping squeek…worry, worry, worry]

PCV#2: Ya’ it’s safe.

Me: But, you guys are probably used to it. I have only had bottled water since I got here. In the entire year I’ve been here! Only. Botellon. Water.

PCV#2: No, you would know already if you were going to get sick. It’s fine.

I totally thought I was going to have a panic attack. I was imagining how I was going to continue my workday and then get home if I ended up with a parasite. I was trying to determine how exactly I would “know already” if I was going to get sick. I was thirsty, but I could not finish my glass of crystal clear, mountain spring water. I was officially a loser.

I feel like I have crossed a land that no Embassy person would ever dare tread. And, I’m fine. There’s no need to be dramatic I guess. It’s just water. But, it really reminds me that in this life, the FS life, the expat life, the “What in the world are they eating!” life, the “I have more frequent flier miles than I will likely every have money in my bank account” life, we can never really know what we think we know. There’s always gonna’ be someone, or something, to come along and shake things up. As soon as we think we know…we don’t.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dreams

Yesterday was my birthday – my 34th. I share it with John Lennon – I pretty much believe that sharing a birthday with John Lennon is fabulously awesome. Maybe because John’s life was ended so tragically and because I sometimes wonder what he would be doing (and thinking) today if he hadn’t been killed, I frequently find myself reflecting on my birthday.

Being in the FS lends itself to a high degree of reflection. There are lots of anniversaries in the Foreign Service – the day you took the written exam, the day you took the oral exam, the day you got the call, your first flag day, your first day at your first post, etc. etc. Even as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, I feel a large part of my life revolves around these dates – because, of course, we’re in the Foreign Service. It’s a family affair. Oh, and as far as reflection goes, birthdays are just good times to reflect.

My birthday neatly coincides with our first week here. We left DC last year on October 14th and arrived in Santo Domingo on October 17th (no, it wasn’t a three day flight, my husband had consultations in San Juan).

So, yesterday I was doing some thinking about how we ended up here. What we thought when we first arrived. What our next (and final) year in Santo Domingo will be like. I was wondering, if I could go back five years and tell myself this is where I’d be, would I believe myself? Yes. Ten years? Absolutely. Fifteen. Probably…although I would have had a lot of questions about how (being nineteen was a rough time for me). Twenty years ago? No question. Honestly, I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t envision myself traveling the world. When we were home this summer the boys discovered the book below on my mom’s shelf. This was my favorite book as a child. It’s about a boy who ties a rubber band to his bedpost and travels around the world and beyond.
The book makes me think about the places we go and the ties we create. We have seen many friends arrive here after us and already hugged a few goodbye. We’ve gone home and seen friends and family and come back here, happy to return to our new friends. With all the possibilities laid out before us the world seems so big. With all the connections we’ve made, it also seems small.

Hmmmm…admittedly, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. Perhaps just to this point, to note some things I believe now that I may not have known last year (or maybe knew, but didn’t take much time to think about). Things like:
  • 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.
And, you know, remember a little John Lennon for good measure – “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

Peace.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We speak...?




When our oldest was about 18 months old someone gave him a chocolate lollipop. A few weeks later I was making chocolate chip cookies and he asked me for a “chocolickter.” I had no idea what he was talking about…until he pointed to the bag of chocolate chips. I always associated this with the lollipop – something chocolate that you lick – a “chocolickter!” The name stuck. I have a horrific sweet tooth and have learned (with time and patience) to satisfy it by giving myself about 20 chocolate chips after dinner. I might ask my husband, “Do you want some chocolikters?” or our oldest (who is now almost 5) will say, “Can I have chocolickters for dessert?”

Now our youngest is two-and-a-half. For some reason, he can’t say chocolikters. He calls them “choconilders.” So, when we talk to him, we call them choconilders. It has become part of our family vocabulary.

I think this is probably true with all families, but I see it being especially true for Foreign Service families because of the language mishmash. Jeremy and I had a handful of foreign words we used before the boys even came along. Two of our favorite words came from our time in Japan – “iinaka” for countryside (which has now totally been changed to campo) and “benri” for convenient. I especially love benri. We use it like, “Do you just want to stop and pick something up to eat on the way? It would probably be more benri.”

We also both tend to use the word “cheers” at the end of phone conversations – this is left from our time working in Belfast (and Jeremy’s Bunac days in London after college). And, then we have the ever-increasing Spanish. Now we even say things like, “Podemos ir a Jumbo (that’s the supermarket near us) and pick up some dinner. That would be mas benri.” The list goes on and on.

And then, we top it off with all of the abbreviations – both from State and Peace Corps. HHE, UAB, PCV, CBT, COS… WOW!

I sometimes wonder if our boys will even know the English words for things. More and more I just say this gobble of words from different places and trust that it makes sense…at least to the FS people.

I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get far back home with something like this (which will be an actual accounting of my Tuesday evening this week), “Since I’m going to be in Constanza on Wednesday doing the CBT charlas with the PCTs and since the Newmans are coming over for dinner after their HHE gets picked up, maybe we should just pedir a pizza or something.” Sounds like an evening to me…adding, of course, a dessert of chocolickters…or choconilders that is.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Next steps...

I can confirm that finding out one's second post is no less exciting than the first time. Jeremy called me from work today to tell me that we will be heading to (drum rolllllll) Madagascar in May 2012!! It seems a million years away and then still so soon. We will be here until October 2011 - we are about to begin our second year - I can't believe it!. Then, six short months in DC and then off to one of those places I think I never even really believed existed! Evidently, they eat a lot of rice there. And, it's a consumables post. But, there will be time to consider the food in the future I'm sure. For now, back to good ol' Dominican habichuelas. (happy dance, happy dance, happy dance...for now and for the future)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

We have donuts!


Today the Embassy sponsored a 5K to raise environmental awareness (a seriously hefty task in this country). I ran it, so I was more than prepared to enjoy our brand new Krispy Kreme for an afternoon snack. That’s right, Krispy Kreme has come to Santo Domingo! Let’s get dressed up and go out and wait in line because there is nothing like a donut! And, a real American style latte…in an 8 oz. cup…not one of those little ones like dentists’ offices use which is how coffee is usually served here.

Our only snag (waiting in line for 30 minutes doesn’t count because there are big windows where you can see the donut machines and anything with gears will keep my boys entertained for hours) was when I attempted to order milk for the boys (because, while I will gladly treat them to a donut I cannot and will not serve it with a soda or a Minute Maid). The conversation went like this (translated from Spanish):

Cashier: Anything else?
Me: Yes, a café latte and two milks.
Cashier: We don’t have milk.
Me: What?
Cashier: We have juice.
Me: Well, no thank you, I don’t really want juice. I would like to order milk for the kids.
Cashier: We don’t serve milk (uneasy smile).
Me: But, you do have milk. It’s right there. Just the same milk you use for the coffee, but in a cup for the kids.
Cashier: Do you want a cappuccino?
Me: Um, no. Can’t you just give me milk and charge me for a soda or plain coffee or something?
Cashier: (Looking helplessly at the cash register). Uh, uh, uh…no.
Me: Well, I mean, a coffee is 30 pesos and a soda is 20, I would happily pay 20 or 30 pesos for a milk. Can’t you just charge me that?
Cashier: Uh, uh, uh…(goes to get manager).
Me: (to manager) I would like to order milk. Can you just charge me for a soda or something?
Manager: (laughing) Hmmm..(turns to coffee guy) asks him to just give me some milk. (coffee guy, manager, cashier look at each other and shrug).

I leave with free milk.

This is a very typical type of conversation here. Everything is very top-down. Cashiers, secretaries, store staff, etc can never, ever make decisions on their own and rarely are things done outside the box. There is not a lot of critical thinking…or even problem solving that goes into these sorts of transactions. If you go to the store and your item doesn’t have the bar code, they cannot just enter the price, they have to send someone back to find one with a bar code. This doesn’t seem too crazy I guess, but if none of the products are bar-coded, you are out of luck! You cannot buy your item because they cannot ring it up. This happens! It doesn’t even matter if the price is clearly displayed in the shelf.

Just more for the files of ever-expanding patience I guess. And, anyway, anything's manageable with a donut...right?


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leonel

The Dominican Republic has quite the sordid political past. Invasion, war, dictatorship, corruption, coup, stir, repeat and add those famous Caribbean waters. Serious history. And it just keeps on happening.

Right now the President is Leonel Fernandez. He is serving his third term (second consecutive). The Constitution says he’s done come May 2012. That’s why these billboards get me a little weirded out. And I keep missing my chance to get a photo of the ones encouraging us to consider the fabulous personal characteristics of Margarita…the first lady. Because, you know, presumably, she could serve that fourth term...or something. Wow.

This one doesn't make sense to me, but translated it means something like, "Because he doesn't belong, but the country deserves him."
"Always forward, never back."
"The country is asking for him."
"Listen to my voice."
"Destiny."
"I'm with Leonel" - this is a Dominican/English play on words - they often use "toy" for "estoy" - clearly appealing to the younger generation here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Perception

I’m busy. Really busy. Back when I started this blog my life was…not busy. It was full, but definitely not busy. I love, love, love my job – it increasingly is becoming one of the things I will miss most when we leave here (which is still a long way away, but I tend to be a future thinker). Anyway, back to busy. The result is that I am not writing as much as I want to. But, something else has also come to my attention. Part of the reason I’m writing less is because I keep trying to tie everything back to food. The problem? The longer I’m here, the less the food matters. Food is still interesting. I love food and I love to eat, but I see things now through the metaphorical taco-lens, not the real one (hee hee, I am imagining myself with Groucho-glasses shaped like tacos).

So, this is where “The Culinary Adventures of a Foreign Service Spouse” becomes, simply “The Adventures of a Foreign Service Spouse.” The difference might be subtle, or perhaps in the end, non-existent, but for me it matters. It gives me permission to keep writing, but to not be confined (except by my own rules – no photos of family and no gory details about them). Truth be told, I will probably still write a lot about food…like right now.

Here’s an update on lechoza (what Dominicans call papaya). Something has happened – I love it! The mangoes right now are fabulous and I cut one up with some lechoza, squeeze on a little lime and perhaps a scoop of chinola and viola – ensalada de fruta! I am not sure if I have become accustomed by some bizarre osmosis of culture or if I just found the right combination or if I am in a phase like I once was with portabella mushrooms (in which case, I will soon swear it off for the next 13 years or so).

Here’s just a little random DR tidbit. It’s going to sound strange, but one of the things I really love about here is seeing the people in the morning, on their way to work with their lunch boxes. They tend to use those small, soft-sided coolers, like people often do at home (and like I do here, as well). But, I don’t know, for some reason it stands out to me here. Public transportation here is incredibly chaotic and pretty dirty and takes a level of persistence and patience far exceeding that of the average American commuter (I’m positive). So, for some reason seeing women dressed in their pant suits, their heels, their matching jewelry, hair still in a tube (pronounced too-bay) dodging motos and cars…or riding noxious gas spewing motos with the ubiquitous soft-sided cooler strapped over their shoulders makes me feel a bit like we’re all in this together. Me, them and the guy with his cooler and dress shoes and shirt perfectly pressed and tucked-in waiting… waiting.... waiting for the guagua as I sit in my car and wait for the light…and then the next one…and then the traffic police…and then the person trying to beat the traffic and then the power goes out. Yep, all in this together.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding a Place

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

bidding...bidding...bidding

Aaaand, just when we were getting to the point where tostones, rice and habichuelas were feeling like food of the gods (or, you know, good) it’s time to bid again! I can hardly believe it! And yet, it’s been 18 months since we last bid, so it makes since. I love, love, love bidding. It is exactly like when I used to lay on the floor with the Atlas as a child and close my eyes and flip the pages and imagine where I would end up.

All the questions. All the categories. Schools? Danger? Language? Job? Coffee or vodka? Falafel or sushi? Pad thai or curry? Aaaahhhh the possibilities are endless…within a certain highly constricted realm.

Okay gratuitous request: If you have a post you loved – tell me. If you have a post you hated – tell me. And, if you have something especially good (or bad) to say about the food definitely let me know. Would love to hear from some of you all and move towards narrowing down this list.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Constanza


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

Guineo(s)



That banana (Dominicans call bananas guineos, by the way, if I haven’t mentioned that before) looks pretty big doesn’t it? That’s because there are two in there! Cool, huh!? My boss tells me it’s not all that rare here. She said she always looks for the double ones because the fruteros will only charge you for one. At home they must just send all those back or something. This reminds me…when we first got here I had a two-headed pineapple. Weird.




Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Common Table

Well, I have delayed long enough. We’re back and it’s precisely because we’re back that it has been difficult to find time write. The boys and I touched ground at Las Americas last Saturday. It felt so good to be back in the land of chaos and continues to feel so nice to be home. I’m amazed at how much the DR has become home to us and yet how much what we call home is a shifting between two (or more) worlds. It stands out to me, of course, in the food we eat.

I went back to work on Monday and found myself, at the end of the day, anticipating Vilma’s rice and beans with a little salad. I had missed this. The simplicity of it. The easy leftovers. The guarantee that the boys will eat it. Knowing that Vilma (5 months pregnant and with the boys all day until school starts back up) can leave this to cook practically unattended reduces my stress level.

Wednesday we had a despedida (a good-bye party for our amazing Consul General) at the Ambassador’s residence. We still don’t have an Ambassador (which is a total bummer because the guy they have lined up sounds pretty cool…and he’s a Texan). When we have events there the food is never fancy. Not at all like those parties for diplomats in James Bond movies. But, it’s always good. And, I love these parties. Santo Domingo lends itself beautifully to outdoor festivities – especially in the evening, when there’s a breeze. Despite the simplicity of the food (which was good) there is always this cocktail party atmosphere that reminds me that we’re diplomats. It’s the type of party I pretty much never went to in my old life. Even if it’s not all sparkle and champagne, it looks more or less what one would anticipate those things look like.

Then Friday I spent the day traveling for work. My colleague and I visited an orphanage and a batey and then we stopped and had arroz blanco y habichuelas from a stand on the side of the road. It was served on Styrofoam out of plastic buckets. We sat at a card table we shared with whatever other travelers happened to come by. There were lots of bees. It was hot. We talked about what would be the next step with the community we had just visited. We laughed a lot. Our bellies full, we hopped back in our jeepeta and headed back to the office.

Friday evening we went to a birthday party for one of the boys’ friends from school. It was also a despedida. The family is Italian, have lived in the DR for many years and the husband has been transferred to another country. Besides the family, we were the only foreigners. We see this group of people all the time – the boys’ school is very tight-knit. But, at the end of the day, we remain outsiders there. People are very friendly and the boys are loved by their friends, but we have found it challenging to develop strong relationships there. People already have their lives. The party was at a restaurant called Lincoln Road – it is the most fabulously perfect kid-friendly restaurant in the entire city. They also have a great weekday lunch special. The kids were served chicken nuggets and French fries or mini-pizzas. The adults ate communally off a plate of what my girlfriends and I used to call “fried goodies.” Picking (not loading up your plate) is considered appropriate. Take one, eat it slowly. Move on subtly to the to the next item. Eating seems to happen this way frequently here (although I can’t claim to have done a thorough study) – it’s quite the contrast to the free-for-all of the driving, queuing and shopping.

As usual, I think I am beginning to ramble. It’s actually through the rambling process that I seem to work out my point – which was sitting there in my brain all along. What I love about this post: all these worlds, compartmentalized and yet woven together.

Have I mentioned before that I love Santo Domingo? I don’t love the food here. I’m not passionate about it. But, I do love having all these different areas of my life that I adore and finding that they’re joined through the simplicity of the food. At each of these events the food had the same quality – nothing fancy. But, every second, of every one of these moments I felt so at home. I felt in love. I never wanted, at any moment, to be somewhere else or eating something else. I love the wonderfully simple meals I can prepare with good ingredients back in the States, but I wasn’t racing home from work on Monday wishing I could have…I don’t know…anything different than what I knew Vilma was cooking. I don’t spend my time at Embassy gatherings thinking it would only be better if the hors d’ourves were more delicate, more cuisine-like. And, I certainly don’t secretly wish that Dominican street food were Malaysian street food even though Malaysian street food is a-ma-zing. We may have few Dominican friends, but I’ll take the moments we do share with locals however I can get them, even over a plate of nibbled fried goodies with insanity of five-year-olds whirling in the background.

I think what this all means is that food matters, but maybe the longer you stay somewhere it matters less than you think it does at the beginning. Or maybe it means that what happens while you’re eating and who you eat with matters more than what’s on your plate. On the other hand, perhaps it means I am starting to love the food simply because I love the DR and our life here. Hmmm…either way, we’re back. We’re eating. We’re laughing. We’re home.


Friday, July 30, 2010

That. Was. Good.



Well, the whirlwind is coming to an end. We have eaten our way clear across Texas…well, actually we pretty much stuck to Austin…but we did eat a lot nonetheless. Some final thoughts on our first R&R experience – (1) I never really stopped being aware of the pure yumminess of all the food – every meal was absolutely enjoyable and I felt mindful of the gift of it, (2) I did get sick of eating out and remembered how nice a home-cooked meal is when you’re not having to substitute any ingredients, (3) my boys mostly seemed to enjoy meals of rice, salad, fish and fruit – go figure (check out the watermelon they downed for desert tonight) and (4) I ate far fewer tacos than I thought I would, but still ate a lot. Most significant thing I hadn’t really realized how much I missed (and dare I say, missed perhaps more than tacos – gasp!) – Indian!! The thing is, I can cook TexMex in DR. I know TexMex. TexMex is in my blood, but good Indian takes a level of skill that I have never been able to work up to. I can whip up a pretty good dal or an edible basic curry, but there is nothing like the Indian at places like Bombay Express. They might serve all their food on Styrofoam and be in a strip mall, but MAN do they make me want to be posted to India!

So, there you have it. It was delicious and fun and now we are ready to get home – to daddy, to Vilma, to plain ol’ rice and beans and fruit salad on the street and Presidente. I feel a renewed sense of excitement for Dominican eating. For the curious – what food made it into the grand shop-o-thon? Well, a handful of food requests from colleagues, but not a single thing for us. I kept being tempted, but figured I didn’t know where to start…or rather, where to end. And, blissed-out on incredible fare, I like to remember, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Farm Memories



I'm behind. I started writing this post as we were returning from Indiana. Now we're back and I feel I'm moving on towards saying goodbye to Austin - again. But, there is still so much to wrap up about our Indiana visit. Perhaps this post will suffice. Then on to the final days in taco-ville.

There are a handful of places in the world where I can close my eyes and be transported. The Grove family farm, outside Muncie, is one of them. The Groves – Bob and Sandy – are close family friends from the “yankee” part of our life. Bob had been my parents’ high school principal, when my parents married they went to the same church as the Groves, their daughter (Angela) used to baby-sit my brother and I, their son (Michael) used to let my brother play with his super cool big-kid trucks and action figures.

There won’t be any way to do it justice here, but going out to Bob and Sandy’s was so much about the smells and tastes of the farm. Life there always included several big meals – especially the midday meal. Food like chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes and homemade yeast rolls were not reserved for special occasions, they were the norm. The air was always sweet with the smells of peonies in full bloom, crab apples on the tree and the ones that fell in the dirt to rot and the smell of hogs (which is not sweet literally, but sweet for the memory – we always used to get a piglet to play with and care for during the few days we stayed out there every summer).

When I close my eyes, Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Bob’s farm (we called them that long before they had there own grandchildren) is straight from a movie set – rolling green hills and a pasture, a tank (funny, I think that’s a Texas term – they called it the pond), laundry swaying on the line, a rope swing, farm dogs, a cellar, bees. Their house was once a one-room, log schoolhouse. The living room has 12 inch think walls – built up around the logs. The floors are uneven in places. There is this very specific smell of well water in the bathroom – we used to spend lots of time in there because if you moved the door just right the mirror would reflect millions of Jodis and Christians into infinity.

I believe we are truly coming to the end of an era. They’re selling the farm. They don’t farm much anymore. They rent out parts of their land. No more cows. No more hogs. In the winter, they get snowed in. But, it’s hard for them to sell it too. When I responded in shock that they were moving, Grandma Sandy said, through tears, “I can’t talk about it.” It makes me realize that perhaps they never really knew that the memories created there were not just theirs. It’s funny how a place can hold so much. At some point the other day someone said, “Has anyone told Christian?” My brother takes changes like this especially hard (even at the ripe ol’ age of thirty-two).

So, on our last visit there, we enjoyed a classic Grandma Sandy favorite – blackberry dumplings. Blackberries picked fresh from the vine (we used to collect them in buckets from the woods as children), stewed up with a little sugar and donut-like pastries, served hot with vanilla ice cream. Pure farm. Pure memories.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue Bell...Update

Whadya’ know! We went to a new little café in Muncie today and guess what…Blue Bell! Speak of the devil! The boys and I each ate a scoop on a cake cone. It was wonderful. And, I got a comment from For Lack of Tacos Reader Rachael who points out that Blue Bell has, indeed, arrived to the Hoosier State. Gotta’ love the irony.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Best Ice Cream in the Country



Today we are off for the next location in our R&R adventures – we will be visiting family in Muncie, Indiana. Because of airline issues we are stuck, at the airport, all day. But, I had wanted to blog last night and didn’t get around to it, so what better time than now (yes, the boys are with me, but one is sleeping and the other has his eyes peeled for landing planes). Once we get to Muncie, I will have limited Internet access and am imagining stealing moments at Starbuck’s here and there.

Going to Indiana very much reminds me of the cultural adjustment process. My mom and dad were in their late 20s when they left Muncie for Texas with my brother and I. I was five, my brother had just turned four. My dad had left for our new home a few days before with my brother. My mom and I backed out of my grandparents drive-way in my mom’s Datsun hatchback, tears streaming down all our faces. I was only five, but I remember that chilly January day in 1982 perfectly. I even remember I was wearing a light-blue zip-up sweatshirt (it was hooded, but these were the days before they were called “hoodies”). In retrospect, I think of my mom as having been very brave. The other day she was recalling that people called her an idiot or crazy for moving. For many summers and holidays, Muncie stayed home, but eventually the pull of friends and the familiar in Texas won out. I think my brother and I definitely called Texas home by the time I was ten. My Mimi still refers to Indiana as home when she talks to me even though she knows I have long ceased to consider it such.

One of my earliest memories of identifying as Texan involves Blue Bell Ice Cream. When we first moved to Texas we lived very briefly in Houston, then moved to Austin. I actually grew up in a small town right outside of Austin – Dripping Springs. When we moved there the entire school (K-12) was about 200 students. The 1st-12th grades were in a campus of two buildings and couple of portables. The kindergarten was in a one-room building down the street. The school didn’t have a track (well, there was actually a ring of grass), but it did have a rodeo “arena.” Ag and 4H were by far the most popular activities. Its claim to fame was that Willie lived down the road and his grandkids attended school with us. In fact, he used to come to the football games when I was in elementary school. And, there was an old hardware store where you could buy ice cream and “soda water” in glass bottles. There was only one light and it blinked yellow. The town has long since changed – it is actually a town now. I don’t know it anymore and really don’t have any friends out there.

But, I’m getting side tracked – back to the Blue Bell. All these things remind me of Blue Bell Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. And the “Original” Cookies and Cream. And Homemade Vanilla. Blue Bell is not the healthiest ice cream in the world, but some how, in Texas, it’s the best. I remember walking into that sawdust floored, un-airconditioned hardware store with my mom (we were such outsiders, people actually referred to us as “damn Yankees”) and trying to lick and lick the ice cream before it melted away in the hot Texas heat. Those early days of Blue Bell in Dripping (we drop the “Springs” for convenience sake) made me feel Texan. Especially when we went back to Muncie and we couldn’t get it. It seemed like a tragedy. We would talk about how great it was. No one would believe us that something good could come from Texas. In the eyes of our Hoosier family and friends, we had moved to the most backwards place in the world. And, to this day, I still choke up at the commercials – most of which were like this one.

It’s funny how, in little ways, we repeat ourselves – as parents, children, travelers. I’m working on making sure my boys eat Blue Bell and identify as Texan and here I am, making the trip to Muncie, again. No matter how far we travel, we still wander back to where we feel at home (whether it’s here or there) and return to the food that tastes best (regardless of where we ultimately hang our hats).





Saturday, July 17, 2010

Food and Play

I have been feeling a little bit of writer's block. This is something I hadn’t expected – not being able to write about food because all the food is so good it just feels normal. I’m not sure if that makes sense. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am in my complete and utter food comfort zone. From snacks to cocktails there are no mysteries in Austin. All of it’s good and because I am here for a limited amount of time, I am only eating the good stuff.

Much of our time here so far has included play dates. I love play dates and I love play date food. The Austin play date diet includes the following: fresh fruit, cheese, and either crackers or some healthful bread (from one of three places – Central Market, Whole Foods, or the Wheatsville Coop). Frequently there is peanut butter, but never, ever is there Jiff. And, oh my goodness, the juice boxes here – we have gone from sugar as the first ingredient in Santo Domingo to sugar occasionally being an ingredient. These are sweepingly ridiculous generalizations based completely on my socio-economic and educational status and that of my friends. But, in my Austin world, that’s what kids (and moms…and here in Austin, dads) eat on play dates.

Tonight we went out for sushi. All the tables around us had kids – ranging in age from two-ish to mid-teens. One table was three moms and four toddlers! I love it. Austin is not the only city, I know, that treats kids like grown-up eaters, but it is certainly something that Austin does well. Austin is insanely kid friendly. I remember in DC struggling because I couldn’t find restaurants with playgrounds (except for fast food). But here, you can go eat a real meal and there might very well be a playground, or a fountain, or a big green grassy area.

And yet, despite all the ease with which living and eating (and everything else) happens here, I am starting to miss “home.” We have all taken to calling Santo Domingo home. I got my four-year-old a new electric toothbrush today and he said, “Well, I’ll keep using the one I’m using now here in Austin and use the new one when we get home.” Now that Jeremy has left we refer to Daddy as being, “Home in Santo Domingo.” It doesn’t quite feel like vacation here, but it doesn’t feel like our old life either. What ever it is, I am enjoying the in-between. Nice here. Will be nice to get home. Just kinda’ good all around – perhaps makes for boring blog posts, but asi es la vida.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Imported


I saw these the other day at one of my favorite Austin grocery stores – Central Market. Their produce section is absolutely fabulous. It is without a doubt one of the major things I have missed living in the DR. We really get wonderful tropical fruit, but sometimes I really crave a bunch of spinach or a pint or two of blueberries. Central Market does a great job of buying local fruit and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean they shy away from imports. I thought these mangoes were especially funny. Imagine – paying the value of 100 pesos for a mango that has been sitting in a crate for a few days! Imagine thinking that it’s necessary to harvest these things. I can’t specifically speak for Haiti, but you all know how DR mangoes grow – dropping from the trees left and right. All perspective I guess.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day


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

Tacos and Roots



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

Sinking In

Last night, around 8:00, with the sun slowly making it's decent into the Texas hills and a strong breeze mellowing the 90 degree heat, I kicked up my feet on the screened-in porch and watched the deer nibble around the garden (where those tomatoes up there came from). Texas is easy. Austin is easy. I was always a little frustrated to know it so perfectly. I have always craved the new. But, after 18 months of nothing but new, I am just sinking into the old familiar like flip-flops after a day of heals.

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

Back in Tacoville


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

Project Chinola

Some things you just can't leave behind. Like chinola. We have juiced about three pounds. It is congelandose right now in the freezer. Here's to hoping we don't arrive in Austin with orange, sticky clothing. And, here's to chinola margarita!

Water for thought...

Our four-year-old had his first international dentist visit last Friday. Earlier in our time here I had wondered a little about fluoride. We don't drink the tap water. Bottled water doesn't have fluoride. I had thought, "Is this going to be a problem for my kids? Surely there isn't a worldwide history of FS kids having bad teeth." I kept thinking about it, but figured I probably shouldn't be concerned. The teeth report is good - no cavities, but the dentist recommended sealants. No problem. And, she did talk to us about fluoride. Evidently, the thing to do is buy a fluoride rinse. Seems all the dentally informed Dominican parents do this for their kids. Who woulda' thought? So, here's question for you other FS parents out there - What's the scoop on water, fluoride and your kids' teeth?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Calculations



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:

Mango Salsa

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

The Countdown Begins

Our trip home is just around the corner. I'm thinking some about the food, but not as much as a thought I would. Yesterday we watched the World Cup UK-US game at The Hard Rock Café (our first time there) and ate nachos. They were nacho-y. They had actual pickled jalapeños - that was nice. I am not typically a fan of the Hard Rock Café - it has this weird kinda' 1980s feel to me. I think that comes from the fact that back when Austin was more small town-like we used to think it was cool to go to Dallas and go shopping and eat at the Hard Rock…that's really 80s…and it was the 80s. Now Austin has it's own Hard Rock. I've never eaten there. Can't imagine I ever will.

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

Ratatouille


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 contrib
uted 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 consum
ing - about 30 minutes to prep and one hour of cooking time unattended. It serves 4-6. Here you go:

Ratatouille


Ingredients:
  • 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

The Steps:


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!