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 cafĂ© 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


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.