Friday, March 29, 2013

Around Town: At the Zoo...

Earlier this month, when sunshine first started showing it's first bright spring rays, we made a little outing to the National Zoo.  The last time we we went was for last year's holiday display that diplo-tot (then diplo-baby) promptly slept right through.  In fact, we went with several families, and between the sleepers, the eaters, the runaways, and the malcontents, it was probably the only outing I've made to the zoo where I don't recall actually seeing an animal.  But with a little age on the diplo-tot, the zoo couldn't have been a bigger hit...

We meet up with the rather dapper Wif and Hub family (of course with Bub) - Wif was actually celebrating her birthday, which made the spring outing feel even more like a celebration.  Like us, their whole family has their birthdays all in one month - happy March birthdays, Wif, Hub and Bub!

Bub, more experienced in the ways of the zoo, promptly took diplo-tot by hand to show her what's up in the animal kingdom.  Starting with the pandas.  Which elicited lots of shouts from both parties a la "It's a bear!"..."That's a big bear!"..."Bear is eating!"...I think there might be a future in narrating documentaries for these two.

Along the American Trail, we had some time to really understand the difference between little boys and little girls (no....not that difference).  That little tub of goldfish crackers (diplo-tot's snack of choice) probably lasts her close to a week.  She examines each fish, eats them one by one, usually the head first and then the rest.  When having a quick review of sharing skills, we handed over a fistful of crackers to Bub.  For diplo-tot, a fistful of goldfish crackers would easily last at least a half an hour if not more, but Bub had them taken care of in less than 30 seconds.  Flat.  So yes, there are definitely some differences.

I should note that unlike during our outing to the Budapest Zoo, we were not invited to share our snacks with zoo residents.  I'm pretty convinced this is a good thing.

The elephants inspired all kinds of squeals but really, so did the twig elephant statue.  A good substitute for when the elephant was hiding...

And at the end of day, the petting zoo still takes the cake.  Nothing quite like the exoticism of a goat when you're two years old...


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Notes from the Field: New Delhi!

If the photo of the Delhi spice market wasn't indicative enough, today's Notes from the Field takes us on an adventure all the way to India.  In fact, before we heard confirmation on our new post in Copenhagen, it looked like India was our likely destination so Dani's interview on New Delhi struck a particular chord with me.  I mean, who can't be intrigued by a city described as "ancient, aristocratic and addicting"? Dani, from Hotpot DC gives us her take on life in New Delhi.  In addition to her blog, Dani also keeps a portfolio of her gorgeous photography, specializing in a unique love of Delhi's chai pourers - I hope a book of these photographs is in the works for soon! 

Diplo-mat or Diplo-spouse? Diplo-spouse.

Current Post: New Delhi, India

Three words to describe Delhi:
Ancient, aristocratic, addicting.

Best thing about Delhi:  The vibrancy of this place. Delhi is a hard city—there is poverty, dirt and tragedy everywhere you look; and yet people here survive and thrive and love and laugh and create beauty in spite of so many things ceaselessly stacked against them.  It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like Delhi.

The other thing about Delhi is that, whether you are a history buff, a shopaholic or neither, it’s impossible to spend more than a week here without enthusiastically picking up a history book or plunking down your credit card at one of the many unique boutiques and cooperative craft outlets here.

You have visitors in town for the weekend in Delhi, what does the weekend look like?

Saturday morning we’ll start early with a cycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi, and a bird’s eye view from the top of the Spice market.  Afterwards we’ll take you to the old-school regal Imperial Hotel brunch for the ultimate in Delhi contrasts.

To beat the afternoon heat, I take guests shopping, either to the funky bohemian corridor in Haus Khaz or to the up and coming Shapur Jat market.  At Shapur Jat, I always stop by Lila, an affordable artist-owned boutique stocked full of the softest, brightest, and most beautiful cotton clothing I’ve ever seen.  For men, I suggest they tag along with my husband to Connaught Place to visit an old-fashioned bespoke tailor and get fitted for a custom suit.

As the sun goes down we’ll head over to Safdarjung’s Tomb.  It’s my favorite site in the whole city, a quiet, dilapidated tomb that stands mostly empty save for amorous couples hiding in the tall grass and high school students playing hide-and-go seek up and down the15th century staircases.

Saturday night we’ll send our guests out for a posh Indian-fusion tasting menu at Indian Accent or Varq, two of the most widely acclaimed restaurants in the city.

Sunday we’ll go to Lodhi Gardens for an early morning walk through the ruins with the parakeets, peacocks and yogis for company.

For more awe-inspiring history, I like Qutab Minar or Humayun’s Tomb.  On the way home we’ll stop at INA market to pick up vegetables for dinner as well as give our guests one last taste of “real Delhi.”

If you’re in Delhi you must try:
  • Chole bhature and a thimble cup of steaming chai in old Delhi.  
  • Ayurvedic soaps and oils from the Khadi cooperative.
  • Visiting all of the ancient history sites at either dawn or dusk when the light is the most magical.
  • Also all of the beautiful textiles and kitschy pop-art home goods from India’s up and coming artists!  I’m normally not much of a shopper but it’s hard not to become one living here.
Most difficult about living in Delhi: 
There are many difficult things about life here (pollution, disease, traffic etc) but the most surprising of the difficulties to me is the schedule of daily life.  Stores don’t open until 11 or 11:30am and traffic gets horrendous after 2pm.  Few Indian restaurants will serve diners before 7 or 7:30pm.  Anyone who has ever tried to run errands or go out to dinner with a toddler will recognize the challenges to this timetable.

Biggest adventure at post?
Oh Delhi, it’s all an adventure, from grocery shopping to driving across town!  But if you want to see “real” Delhi you have to spend some time in Old Delhi.  I don’t think I know a more atmospheric place to wander.

When did you realize you were far from home?
When our son, then 1 year old, developed an ear infection at our departure gate at Dulles and screamed bloody murder for 7 hours until we reached Frankfurt---at which point we were only halfway to Delhi.  Nothing feels longer than a transatlantic flight with a sick kid in your arms.

What's the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
Painting the walls in subtle but sophisticated colors, rearranging the furniture and putting up artwork.  These things are cheap, free, and/or easy on the shipping allowance and yet they make such a huge difference.  The first thing people say when they come into our house is “this doesn’t look like government housing.”
Three things you can’t live without at post?
My boys (hubs and son) and my camera.  Oh and the Internet.
Many people would also say a housekeeper and a regular pedicure are also important must-haves.  Delhi’s dirt is legendary.
One thing(s) you thought you couldn’t live without but have had to?
Fresh seafood, organic produce, clean air.  After China and now India we have something of a “bid Scandinavia!” motto going on in our house right now. 

What’s your daily uniform?
  • Skinny trousers or jeans (practical for keeping Delhi’s infamous dust off my hems and out of our house)
  • An Ever Lane t-shirt or a well-tailored button down shirt
  • A pretty scarf, a pair of earrings and my trusty Sanuk slip-ons—they keep my feet clean and dry in messy meat markets!

You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
We’re becoming a bit famous for our Korean bibimbap.  Otherwise, for the vegetarians, I like to make cheese souffl├ęs with salad greens from our garden and homemade fennel ice cream and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.

Dream post for next assignment? Why?
Anywhere with fresh seafood and clean air.  It’s been awhile.
One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving? 
Can’t think of a thing.

Parting thoughts?
Delhi is a special place—but one that also requires a bit of a special mindset.  The best way to live fully and happily here is to seek out all of the amazing history and eccentricities to this place and treat everyday like an adventure.  Then, when you need a break, seek out your own little “only in Delhi” pick-me-ups.  For me that’s a morning of photography followed by an unexpectedly good croissant from the L’Opera bakery in Khan Market. Oh and scarves.  Bless this country and its scarves.

What are three of your favorite posts on your own blog?
A Cloudy Day

All photographs by Dani for Hotpot DC.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Monday!

Happy Monday! Do I have some link goodies for you today! I've combined a few I kept track of this week with the batch I was hoping to send out last week before all the computer delays sidelined me like a bad flu!

I'm in Florida for just a couple of days on a family trip but sending you lots of sunshine - have a wonderful week!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Inspirations: Liberty of London...

No trip to London is complete for me without at least a quick drop in to Liberty.  There is just something about that place... Even before you walk in the door they get you with creative window displays and buckets and buckets of beautiful, fresh flowers...

And all sorts of things I would never think of - like fabric lined lamp shades...I'm not sure that I would ever think to purchase a fabric lined lampshade.  But then again, that's part of the reason I always go.  After hours and hours in a corporate office, there's something motivating about seeing everyday items in a whole new light... the name, of love... There's always something with the mannequins...

And of course, there's something about having a little girl that makes all those tiny floral print fabrics come alive, especially when they're on pint sized dresses...

Turbans...I think a need a turban stat...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Around Town: Monuments + Sunset

If there's one thing that never...ever...gets old in Washington, it's the monuments.  They're gorgeous whenever you get to see them - daytime, nighttime, summertime, weekend time...There's just something about them, even as I pass them on my way to Target to do the most mundane of shopping, that makes me realize that DC is anything but a mundane city.  They're quite striking, especially when you give some thought to the many rights and freedoms that they are symbols of.

In an effort last week to get out and enjoy the first of the warmer days, the diplo-tot and I met up for a sunset walk with a friend around the Tidal Basin to take in the sunset version of the tour.

Before long, all of this will be rimmed with thousands and thousands of cherry blossoms, and if there is one thing that this town does like no one else, it's definitely spring. 

Diplo-tot was less interested in the monuments, though I'd like to think that all exposure to these kinds of things is good exposure.  Counting ducks in the tidal basin though, that was good stuff in her book.

The setting sun worked its way down, turning all that white stone ivory, then to gold, and then finally to a warm glow, before settling into a cool grey for the night...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Notes from the Field: Addis Ababa!

Okay, I hope you're prepared to be totally wowed today.  When people join the State Department they usually picture all sorts of adventures in far off lands, and today's feature on Addis Ababa is beautiful adventure through and through.  Today's Notes from the Field comes to us from Sara, the blogger behind Our Yuppie Life, as well as baker behind Lady Troupe Sweets (mmmm!) and as you'll see from today's post, a pretty extraordinary photographer.  I've had Lalibela in Ethiopia on my bucket list/life list ever since I saw a documentary years ago, and her pictures proved that I would be every bit as fascinated as I expect to be.  Sara gives us an incredibly honest and exiting account of her family's post to Addis Ababa.  Fair warning, this post is going to make you want to go to her house for dinner asap.  And it's going to tempt you to invite yourself to Ethiopia so that you can join her on all of her adventures, from spectacular scenery to cool shops in the city.  And finally, this post is definitely going to make you want a coffee right off the bat, so you might as well grab a cup and settle in for today's trip to Ethiopia!

Diplomat or Diplo-spouse?

Current Post:
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Three words to describe your current post:
Challenging, enriching, family-friendly.

Best thing about living in Addis Ababa:
The weather.  In Addis Ababa, it's 75, blue skies and sunny 9 months out of the year.  In the morning and evening it's cool and breezy, and then maybe in the middle of the day, it could be 85 degrees as a high.  Absolutely perfect weather.

You have visitors in town for the weekend, what does the weekend look like?
If it's just a weekend, then we would stay in Addis and drive to the Bethel Women's Center for a picnic.  We'd grill something for lunch and explore the grounds before the highlight of the experience: the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony.  That night we'd most definitely take our guests to Anitca for pizza and then back to our place for homemade ice cream and drinks.
Day two we'd hike Entoto and stop for some souvenir shopping with the local vendors on the mountain.  A weekend in Addis is not complete without a stop to TOMOCA for slow roasted Ethiopian coffee beans, Piazza for Ethiopian crosses, SoulRebels for hip Ethiopian fair trade shoes, Sabahar for silk scarves, Salem's for baskets and blankets, and then Yod Abyssinia for cultural dancing and Ethiopian food.

If you're in Addis Ababa, you absolutely must try:
The coffee! Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world.  We've been told that it's illegal to sell the export-quality beans inside of Ethiopia.  All the good stuff has to be exported around the world.  I'm not sure I believe it though because it can't get any better than what we're drinking here everyday.  A cup of French-pressed Haraar coffee is a life changing experience.  We've also been buying green beans and trying to perfect roasting them at home as well.
For a traditional coffee ceremony, Ethiopians roast a large handful of bean over a hot fire in a small cast iron pan, and then pound them into a fine grind.  The fine powder goes into a handmade pottery coffee pot, and is placed right on top of a pile of hot coals.  The grounds percolate in the boiling water and settle at the bottom.  When it's ready, the pour it into tiny cups and pile on the sugar.  The very strong espresso style coffee is a tad gritty, but smooth and delicious.  Ethiopians have been drinking their coffee like this for centuries! Whether you brew it in your own coffee maker or drink it like the locals, Ethiopian coffee is definitely one of the best things about living in this country!

Biggest adventure at post? 
Ethiopia is a spectacularly beautiful and fascinating country.  Traveling around Ethiopia, outside of Addis Ababa has been the biggest adventure for our family.  Traveling with small children is not easy but traveling with small children to places where you'e just praying for a hot water heater and indoor toilet is a completely different type of travel.  It's bonded us as a family.
Our daughters have become little hikers, trekkers and explorers.  No where else can I imagine seeking rock hewn churches, castles, mountain plateaus, lush green volcanic craters, and the near biblical way of life that is still lived in many rural areas across the country.  Our children love transportation when we travel because it's either by horse-drawn cart, mule, foot or horse! The craziest thing we've done so far is to hike four hours with the two older girls on mules, the baby on my back, to the top of a plateau at 10,000 feet and then to spend the night in huts! It was some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen.  It's simply such a beautiful country to explore.

Most difficult thing about living in Addis Ababa:
The poverty in Ethiopia is astounding.  Death and hunger are things we see on a daily basis.  It's been hard for me to come to grips with how close Ethiopians and their families might be to death at any given moment.  Health care is dismal in Ethiopia. Chest colds kill infants, car accidents claim lives, village fires burn, birth defects are prevalent, pedestrian hit and runs happen daily, menengitis and starvation are upon us.  These things are very much daily visuals in this city and it's heart-wrenching.  It's also an experience that humbles you.  Life is so very precious and my family and I have been given an exponentially better chance at life than anyone born here.  It makes me want to live life at my very best.  It makes me want to inspire my children to be their very best.  Living in Ethiopia forces you to ask yourself some very hard questions and look at your life through the eyes of someone who will never even come close to walking in your shoes.  It can be a hard lens to look through at times.

When did you realize that you were far from home?
The moment I walked off the plane.  But I was prepared for it in advance.  This isn't our first experience living in the developing world, so I was prepared before arrival.  There is no experience at all in Ethiopia that doesn't remind you just how far from home you truly are.  Or, how different you life existence is compared to anyone living in this country.
When we arrived at night in Addis Ababa, and I stepped out of the airport with my newborn in my arms, and the other two girls trying desperately to move one leg in front of the other, the only thing I could think about was how quiet it was.  It was cool and quiet and such a change from the other big cities I was used to.  It felt nice - it was a peaceful welcome.

What's the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
With three small children, it's very important for us to be able to set up the kitchen and playroom for the children.  Our daughters are pretty content as long as they have good food to eat and their toys and books to play with.
For me personally, the kitchen is key.  I don't feel like it's truly home until I have my favorites pots and pans, my best whisk, my chef's knife and my stand mixer.  When I get to the store at post to purchase a bag of onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil - then it's home!

Three things you can't live without at post?
My hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.  The sun is intense here at 7,000 feet. For my life in general, the three things I need in general are my camera, my cookbooks/recipes, and a good Nalgene water bottle.  Those three things I'm never too far from on any given day.

One thing you thought you couldn't live without, but have had to?
The list is pretty long here actually.  There are many things we've learned to live without.  I think if I were answering for my children, it would be playgrounds, parks and libraries.  Answering for myself, I would say shopping of all kinds.  There was a time when I thought I couldn't manage without a decent grocery store, shopping mall or book store.  I've learned to be satisfied with browsing online since moving to Addis.  But it's just not the same.  I love to try on shoes and browse shelves of books at book stores.  I miss that - I'm a woman who needs a little retail therapy once in a while.  But for groceries, I just make do.

What's your daily uniform?
Pretty much every day I'm in a t-shirt shirt, skinny jeans and my TOMS (with holes in them).  I always wear earrings, and if I go outside, my hat and sunglasses.  In the rainy season, scarves as a daily accessory as well.  My husband calls is my "Panama Jackie" look.  I have a great collection of dresses, skirts and heels that I gaze longingly at as I throw on my uniform every morning.  Luckily there are some dinners and functions we get to attend every once in a while so that I can put on something less sensible!

You're having guests over on a Saturday night, what's on the menu?
I've been dying to host an actual DINNER party! Our girls are still young so they go to sleep extra early, which makes dinner an impossible hour at our house every night.  When we do host, it's brunch or lunch.  I love hosting though and if I were to plan a dinner (for after the sun has set!) it would start with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella with olive oil and homemade croutons, roasted red pepper bisque, buttery herb rolls, chicken in dijon white wine sauce, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.  For dessert, we'd have crepes filled with bananas and a spiced rum caramel sauce with vanilla bean ice cream.  Lots of wine with dinner, and port with dessert.  Parties at our house come with music, and for this dinner, we'd listen to the Alabama Shakes.  Who's in?

Dream post for your next assignment? Why?
Bangkok, Thailand! My goodness, everything about Bangkok is amazing.  Food, shopping, history, travel, markets, people...I could go on and on.  We lived in Manila, Philippines, prior to Ethiopia and there is something about Southeast Asia that sticks in your heart.  We spent a weekend in Bangkok eating, riding elephants, photographing temple ruins, and eating again some more.  I really want to see the floating market.  Plus, I get really excited about having tailor made clothing.  Bangkok is the place to do that.

One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving?
I wish someone had told me that there was a ton of fresh produce and local dairy products available year round.  I was under the impression that we would all get scurvy and eat nothing by goat, beans and injera.  Not so.  I've been so happy with the locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy.  The strawberries grown here are so much better than the ones from California that end up getting shipped all over the US.  They taste garden grown.  Everything is fresh and I love that I can still see the earth on my lettuce and carrots when I buy them in the store.  Of course we have to bleach everything at home before eating it, but our fridge is full of great piles of vegetables.  And the tomatoes! It's tomato season here year round and they are red and juicy and flavorful.  It's just wonderful, and I love cooking here.

Parting thoughts?
I was fairly adamant about not wanting to live Ethiopia.  It was not a destination that sounded exciting to me, but I've been proven wrong time and time and time again since moving to Addis Ababa.  I've found it to be a wonderful place to build an enriching home life for my family.  Mostly, I've found our time here to be slower paced and quiet, which has given me a lot of time to be reflective, creative and mindful about my personal time.  Ethiopia has inspired me to build a new career for myself.  It's not for everyone here, but if you're a fairly low-maintenance person, or think you could turn into one for a few years, you might find Ethiopia to be just right.

What are three favorite posts from your own blog?
Brutally Honest - gives readers a good sense of the struggles I have in Ethiopia.
Meskel Celebration - my favorite Ethiopian holiday!
Falisides Bath - my favorite religious site we've visited in Ethiopia

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Monday!

Happy Monday everyone! I'm heading to NYC but after all of last week's technical debacles, I'm hoping that this week runs a lot more smoothly!

Part of my technical difficulty casualties was the link list I had been keeping across the week to share with you today, so today is a just an abbreviated version (but I promise that if I end up getting my files back, you'll get them next week!).

Have a wonderful week!
  • Love this plan for a Quito weekend - too bad we're leaving the Americas. 
  • And speaking of travel we're not likely to get to in the Americas, these photos from Hawaii floored me, but then again nearly everything this photographer does floors me
  • Thoughts on digital diplomacy from the man that arguably started making it relevant for the US
  • Sharing some tips on bringing creativity to your everyday this beautiful purveyor of photo albums
  • I wish I hadn't been getting ready to travel this past weekend else I'd have been making these
  • Hooray for ginger family shoots
  • Congratulations to one of my favorite Blogshop alum buddies and fellow diplo-spouse on the launch of her brand-new magazine!
  • Traveling to Florida later this week so trying to work in a visit here - one of my favorite movies was filmed here

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Please pardon the delay...

I'm not quite sure what it is this week but I'm just a magnet for technical difficulties...I had a couple of more great posts still for you this week and the formatting went all out of elevator in the building has broken nearly every day this week.  Normally not a huge deal until you're trying to carry a sleeping toddler, grocery bags, diaper bags and your sanity up four flights of stairs.  And then today, my work computer flamed out in a spectacular meltdown - but at least it did so while still on working hours.  I'm traveling for work next week and I could have really been up a creek if I had been gone when that happened.  But in any case - no major harm done - apologies for the posting delays and I hope to have a technically non-difficult week next week!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Diplomatic Notes: Edition n.03

With all this talk of what the Embassy Chefs will be serving at tomorrow night's challenge, I thought it would be helpful to share what diplomats are serving in their own homes.  Not for fancy pancy Embassy dinners (actually as diplomats and spouses, we get invited to remarkably few of those - little known fact).  This is more about what's on the menu when we get together amongst ourselves, fellow diplomat to fellow diplomat when we're actually not being diplomats. Some of the menus might surprise you!

Also, for today and tomorrow, I added a fun poll in the upper right hand corner of the blog - if you were tasting food from the embassies listed, where would you run towards first?  I'll take your guidance and start there tomorrow night!

Home favorites, especially big pieces of meat, Mexican and fancy bread products.  Lauren, SEOUL, Korea, Adventures In…

I like to make what's not readily available and either introduce a new cuisine to locals or make what Americans miss. In Mexico I made Thai, here in Laos I do Mexican.  Dee, VENTIANE, Laos, DWharlow

My neighborhood hosts rotating casual dinners, and we all tend to focus on homey favorites. I like to mix fresh local produce and goodies with things I can only get in the U.S., like Trader Joe's pasta sauce. For a brunch tomorrow I'm making a mix of sweet and savory dishes; some comfort food and some exotic experiments.  Sadie, KAMPALA, Uganda.  Sadie Abroad

We serve what we can cook and what I feel like investing my time in. Sometimes it's French from Julia Child, sometimes it's whatever is easiest and we can get away with.  Ashley, BAKU, Azerbajian.  Sherwood Family Nonsense

We love to cook and tend to make our favorites for others, like pasta from scratch or my mom's go-to dinner party dish, chicken marbella. Plus something sweet for dessert, my weakness! Sarah, WASHINGTON, DC, Kitchen Cables  

Depends but often favorites that are not readily available locally but can be "faked" using local ingredients. Current favorite is potstickers. But have also done Mexican, Italian, and plain old American homestyle, plus whatever sweet I am currently craving for dessert. So I guess you could say we mix it up.  Shannon, LILONGWE, Malawi.  CyberBones and Hardship Homemaking
Kaespaetzle - it's a German/Swiss dish I make from scratch pretty much wherever we are.... best served with lots of wine and digestives  ... I have been known to make more than sufficient and to add more goodies in the form of home-baked goodies involving chocolate!  Nicole, VIENNA, Austria.  Where in the World is Luca Galeno?

When in Africa, I always tried to make something uniquely American. The biggest hit was the 4th of July I made corndogs.  Another idea is to do brunch instead of dinner. Lots of options for good foods.  I found a favorite was biscuits and gravy - made with sausage for the carnivores and without for the vegetarians.  Sausage was one of the things that came back with me in the meat cooler on trips home. Now I'm in Ottawa, so all I need to do is drive 45 minutes to the border to go shopping. Takes some of the fun out of it!  Rich, OTTAWA, Canada. Hogline

A combination of something new, something local, and usually with a twist to adapt the recipe to what is available. Just got last months Food & Wine and now I want to make: roast carrot & avocado salad, fish in crazy water (a Marcella Hazan recipe), and a side of sunchoke kale hash with faro followed by a tart. I can't get sunchokes, kale, or faro easily if at all, so instead it will be barley, spinach, potato hash with button mushrooms instead of fancy ones. Erica, REYKJAVIK, Iceland, Erica J Green

A mixture of goods that weren't readily available on the local market (pork, certain baked goods, cuisines that were hard to find like Tex-Mex) and local main dishes. I rarely ever could pull off a unified theme to dinner, other than “tasty”.  Hannah, TRIPOLI, Libya.  Hanna Draper

I will make my usual homemade bread and hummus, and classic chicken mirabella.  If you make chicken mirabella, you're house will smell superb.  And probably apple crisp or tart with homemade whipped cream.  Amy, MOSCOW, Russia.  The Crafy Foreign Service 

We're suckers here for southern comfort! But sometimes finding all of the just right ingredients is a pain, so enter our substitution experiments.  Kristin, GUADALAJARA, Mexico.  Oh the Many Places We Will Go 

We really like making pigs in the blanket, cheesy corn dip and this awesome recipe for making baked brie that looks super fancy but is so easy!  For brunch, I make French toast casserole. Super easy and can be prepared the night before and baked an hour before people head to your home.  Becca, LOME, Togo.  Sir Winston The Intrepid 

No matter where we are, we tend to do Tex Mex. Or if brunch, we go all out with the southern breakfast and B&B (US style, not brit!) type dishes.  In Zambia, we pulled a redneck rebellion against the traditional "wine and cheese" party and hosted several "Meat and beer" parties!  Brandy, New Zealand.  Observations of an Okie

My husband and I's favorite party trick is Vietnamese spring rolls. It makes for a stunning table, everything is done ahead of time, it's dietary issue-friendly and who doesn't love a beautiful meal you can eat with your hands? Dani, NEW DELHI, India. HotPot DC

I always serve home favorites. Decadent sweets for sure. But always using local ingredients that are fresh. I try to show our friends that you don't have do dig in your consumables to make comfort food from home. People are usually surprised what can be done with the local stuff.  Sara, ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia.  Our Yuppie Life 

When it's informal, I love to do potlucks. Usually, people bring their best stuff-- and it's great! Chelsea, SHENYANG, China.   Chicken Flag 

I have a few go-to meals that I have perfected for company, such as Matt Lauer's Chicken Marabella, chili for casual groups, or tacos.  SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic.  The BFiles Blog.

In NZ, there were lots of get togethers thru my children's school which required us to bring a plate of something. My go to dish was finger sized chicken salad sandwiches. Take a whole roasted chicken, remove and dice the meat, add @ cup of mayo, a few spring onions, 3 sweet gherkins and put on multigrain bread with a leaf of lettuce. Super easy and yummy. Never any leftovers! Amy, WELLINGTON, New Zealand.  Noble Glomads

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Around Town: U Street Heritage Trail...

If you live in DC, you've probably noticed these cream colored signs full of black and white photographs around town...I always peer out of the corner of my eye and I can't even count how many mental notes I've made to myself to come back and read what they actually say.  I mean, if there is a sign, it probably means there is something important there.  Growing up, when I was traveling with my parents, they were the kind to read EVERY sign...every sign, every "vista point here".  But when you live somewhere somehow your daily routine takes over and you stop noticing things like that.

When I found out that the Embassy Chef Challenge sponsors Cultural Tourism DC, I looked them up and guess what? That's right, they're the people behind the signs (amongst other things).  So I finally decided to get with the program and do one of these self guided walks - and I didn't have to go far.  I found the first one less than a block away from our place.  Diplo-tot in the ergo, and camera in hand, we took advantage of all the extra sunlight with daylight savings and did the U Street Heritage Trail.

And in short one evening, I learned a TON about the neighborhood.  Like the Church down the street (pictured above and in the around town graphic) has actually been around since the Civil War.  And all this time I just noticed them for their inspirational signs about that week's sermon.

Homes of notable residents are marked - Duke Ellington is the obvious choice, but there were so many more artists that lived here as well, such as the first African-American opera singer.  There is all sorts of information about everything that made this neighborhood thriving, like the schools that were among the best back in the day.  A bit of shame now given the state of DC education, but a good reminder that it doesn't have to be that way.

The Thurgood Marshall Center is just down the street as well.  The building, which recently had it's lobby restored to the original, was the first YMCA for African-American's.  Doesn't seem like such a big deal now I think to our generation that is growing up largely without the YMCA as an "institution" but not only did the community fund, build and own their building at the cost of $100,000 at the time, it was also one of the only places for visitors and parents to stay while visiting family at Howard University.  Now the building houses all sorts of offices and organizations.  But with generally so much growth and new builds in the neighborhood, which I think bring a lot of good things with it, it makes you realize that there is a lot of history to preserve and watch out for.

I was pretty familiar with the African American Civil War memorial, which you find coming just out of the metro stop - but until the walk, I honestly had no idea that there was a full museum that goes with it as well.

It wasn't just museums and artists here either...and while our neighborhood has certainly had ups and downs, a lot of businesses have weathered everything that came their way.  The Industrial Bank is actually the oldest African-American bank in the US, and it's still there, with plenty of signage on the outside to give you a sense of history.

And finally, as we wrapped up on U Street, we finally made a visit what can be considered as the institution of the neighborhood.  Believe it or not, I had never been to Ben's Chili Bowl (even though President Obama made it his first stop in town).  I had made some attempts back when U Street was considered more of a frontier, but even then, the weekend evening lines were not for the faint hearted and I never made it in.  But this Monday evening, while pretty hopping, it was nothing we couldn't contend with.  So diplo-tot and I saddled up to the counter, on the old-school red glitter stools, and ordered all the classics, just like DC residents have been doing since 1958.  And that's a piece of history worth tasting.

This post was written in collaboration with the Embassy Chef Challenge, which takes place in Washington, DC on March 14 and benefits Cultural Tourism DC.   Don't forget to to check out the other posts here and here, as well as the Pinterest board of food inspirations.  Hope to see you there!
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