At the Top

Beijing is not really a city of surprises. I mean, the Chinese people are kind of predictable, in the most fantastic of ways. Even the corruption in this country (which there is, plenty of) is a fairly predictable act, certainly in comparison to the corruption that is rampant in every little crevice of East Africa. And at the very least, when the corruption here is reported on the reporting is good and well-documented. Ha.

view from atmosphere bar

This city of Beijing; this culture of China; it’s predictable for a slew of reasons, mostly because of the remnants of communism, but also because of the values of the people. Same difference? Maybe. Regardless, the values of the modern day Beijing ren, the Beijing people, shoot for the sky–I mean this quite literally, with construction cranes in every direction as I look out my 16th floor window, and more glass and concrete piled in odd forms (pants building!) than I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Also metaphorically, though, with its pursuit of higher goals in education, community, governance, youth, food; really, it seems like they want to be the best at everything. How they go about it is different than our American free-for-all, willy-nilly, Wild West sort of way. It’s with a Chinese anything-goes sense of disorganized chaos, most exemplified by their eight-lanes of moving traffic. It’s something a foreigner will only understand after spending some time here.

Plastic table

So, a thrilling and confusing ride at times, but definitely no surprises. Of course in this there are problems. With every yin there is a yang– with great infrastructure comes heavy pollution, with its shining value of the common people comes massive government oppression, in its many forms of breakthrough technology there is insane levels of censorship. With a new generation, it must attempt to remember the generations past. But in my short time here I see these negatives are tolerated and accepted, and I believe it comes because everyone knows the end game: let’s be better, let’s be Chinese and let’s let people know who we are. They will get over pollution if it means their buildings will be great. They will overlook the strict government mandates because they are One People. They will deal with censorship because they can scan a QR code and be my friend. And they are slowly learning how to use organic farming, how to re-invent their cuisine, and how to forge meaningful relationships with the West, all while remembering their forefathers.

Upstairs is more wonderful

So, I’m living in my relatively predictable state with a culture that presents no major surprises every day, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sense of new or exciting, or that there’s nothing special about it. Limits are being stretched, the culture of China is changing. I look forward to being in a country that is so quickly going through a pubescent stage of modernization, and look forward to personally getting to know this place in what will be, I’m sure, a fast four years.

from 2014 to 2015


2014 is behind us, and 2015 has started with fresh vigor. Happy New Year! I’m left with a couple in-between days of down time and a whole lot of feeling reflective…so back to the blog it is.

2014 started in Tanzania, and it will end in Tanzania—very. happily. so. It seems unfair to sum up the travels, experiences, sights, and sounds that I’ve come across this entire year (and especially to sum up those that occurred in the latter six months, where my posting on the blog was irregular, at best), but let’s try anyway, shall we? Consider this post my end-of-year letter that would have, twenty years ago, been mailed right to your door. Mambo from Africa!


2014 marks the longest I have spent abroad without having gone back to the US. This is less a complaint and more of simply a cool fact, and also propelled by the fact that I know the end date to my expatriatism (which, Microsoft Word does not think expatriatism is a word, according to spellcheck).

2014 bent time and space, creating a weird time warp bubble that is simply every day life in Dar es Salaam. As I write this, I realize that my arrival in May 2013 seems ages ago, and that since my being home, babies that have been born and new jobs attained and relationships started and ended. Lots of new babies that I can’t wait to hug and kiss and smell their babyness (also, not a word)!

2014, though, was very much focused on my corner of the world (to me), and in this time warp bubble, things are all good. I was particularly bad at being in touch with friends this year, but like many things I blame it on the weird Dar space-time continuum. It took awhile to get to know and love my new home, but in the last several months I’ve really come around. What was hard is now easy, what was frustrating is now easily managed. The DiploMan may not be as smitten as I am in this place, but he is happy here, too. He is doing his suit-and-tie thing during the day (although at Embassy Dar, more like khaki-and-button-up), fighting the good fight. As just one of two Americans in his office, he still manages to take significant time off to travel and have fun, and not bring any work home with him or allow bureaucracy and Embassy dynamics skew his view of work and life. I envy him for these seemingly carefree qualities. Having a better grasp on work-life separation is one of my goals for 2015.


2014 allowed us to call Dar home, and it’s been a good home indeed. Our equatorial setting means year-round weather ranging between the very pleasant 85-95 degrees F, with daylight a fairly constant 6am-6pm. It’s a blessing and a curse, for although I have become an avid ocean creature and my skin dewey in the above-average humidity, I do miss my sweaters and boots and coats and beanies and scarves.

2014 allowed me to experience small-town type living. I miss big-city living, but this small-community certainly has its rewards. In our second year here, we have come to meet some really great, inspiring, and true friends. Some have since left, but we know they are ones we will know forever. Like our first post in Guangzhou, where we met some of our best friends, I know we will continue many friendships long after we leave Dar.

2014 was a good year for work, too. Home, climate, and social life aside, I found good opportunities that allowed me to grow in confidence and abilities. For most of the first year, as I somewhat reported in this blog, I was freelancing and writing copy and articles for various small companies and magazines around the web and world. I got a few big jobs in Dar, editing a local city magazine, as well as writing press kits for a local fashion designer. I also had the very exciting pleasure to hone my photography skills on a variety of projects, including an intensive five-day commercial photo shoot for the first Tanzania-based fast food concept, Bongo Flava. I’ve since eaten at Bongo Flava more than I’d like to admit I eat fast food, but it really is very tasty, so I’m quite proud to have supported that project.

2014 capped off my freelance work with a part time job at the Embassy, as a CLO (for those of you familiar with FS-life) which was rewarding but all-consuming. As my freelance work dropped off and I found less time and energy to blog, I decided that I wanted to get back into media, communications, photography, and writing. I had planned to return to freelancing, but quite fortuitously, I was able to score a contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and work in their communications department, full time. I am thoroughly enjoying this work, as it feels it finally combines many of the skills I have learned in my decade-plus of seemingly scattered work.





2014 brought me outside my comfort zone, not only in work, but in play. It shuttled me around to places I never imagined I would, like the Serengeti. I climbed volcanoes, trekked through forests, camped amidst wild animals, boated to remote islands, and in general, explored the grandeur that is the country of Tanzania–and beyond. I wish I had the time and the energy to write posts about each and every adventure—which I always intended, but never got around too. Perhaps they’ll stay stored in my memory and I’ll one day share. I actually do intend to.

2014 also invited a slew of friends and family in Dar to experience some of these majesties with me, including visits from my parents and my sister. The recaps and photos from these trips I’ve meant to share for some time, but again, it’s a matter of getting around to it.

And now, what lies ahead?


2015 will bring the very best of my time in Tanzania, and then will close the chapter. With a departure date set sometime around May, it will be sad, but also a welcomed ending. I like it here in Dar, but I am looking forward to what is next. And frankly, this town is a bit small for me! So soon, we’ll be back in the US for some travels and time off, then spend some months of training in DC. After that, we’re heading back to China!

2015 and beyond is going to be crazy. China wasn’t the plan, but things often aren’t. This time we’ll be in the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, one of the greatest and most important cities in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. I can’t say I’m particularly excited, although I am very eager to live there. The recent bidding process for the DiploMan was a beast. High on our list were cities like Rangoon, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kiev, Bratislava, and Athens. The Diploman was very close in getting some of those (unfortunately, being a second choice isn’t quite the as consoling as one would think) and very distant in others, but the final offer was for Beijing and for that we’re pleased.


So, on a very satisfied and positive note, I raise my coffee mug to the year 2015. Hopefully it includes a lot more blogging. And a new iPhone, which was gone along with 2014.

Trailing Spouse: the Pride and Joy of this lifestyle.

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Earlier this month I had an article published in the American Foreign Service Journal. It’s on a topic I sometimes address here, increasingly more now that my life is fully inundated into the Foreign Service lifestyle. I wrote about being a trailing spouse. It’s hard.

Check out the article, here.

I’ve been so happy that friends and strangers alike have reached out to me in response. It reminds me that I’m definitely not alone. I knew I wasn’t the only one in this situation, and that the women and men before me had it hard, too. But I’ve been reminded.

One email I received this weekend was from an ex-foreign service spouse, who told me about her own experiences, her own fond memories, and left me with a few bit of sage advice:

I just wanted to tell you that you will no doubt look back on these years with pride and a special joy in having lived an exceptional life, rich in experiences the average person can never attain.  Be well, be safe.  Be happy.

This note really hit me. Be happy! It’s a simple reminder to remember– even when I can’t find a job, even when I am going through pack out yet again, even when I am stressing about quality of medical care in third-world hospitals. And especially, when I complain about the quality of things like haircuts/manicures/internet speed.

Because I’m sure I’ll look back on these years with much pride, and great joy.

A few more thoughts about the idea of home.


I wrote a little bit about what home means to me in my post yesterday. Home is a word, a topic, that comes up a lot in my life, given that I live so far far away from a place that I might typically call home.

As you know we were in Pretoria recently, first for a week which was extended to two weeks. Two weeks in one place, which is enough time to start thinking of a place as home – temporarily, but no matter. After 4 days of dining out, I was itching to make use of our little home/hotel kitchenette, in an effort to truly feel more at home. At the store, we piled into our carts all the things that we haven’t seen in the past few months in Dar es Salaam: precious salmon steaks, flat skirt steaks, small packages of snap peas, whole raw almonds, seedless grapes, juicy limes, baby carrots, sweet cherry tomatoes. Once at “home” (hotel room, womp womp) we dressed our pre-washed lettuce salads with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and pan fried the salmon on the stove. Dinner wasn’t fancy, certainly not as fancy or as unique as of our other nights dining out, but it was a taste of home- America home actually, a long-ago home, much different than Dar-home.

The kitchen is home, yes, but what I learned from my most recent trip away— and I do learn something on every trip, which is a huge reason I love to travel— is that home isn’t always something tangible. It might not be a physical house, or a computer, or a kitchen, but instead could be more closely associated with memory, with experience, with loved ones. A combination of all this, likely. Having that salmon, that baby lettuce salad lightly dressed with fancy olive oil and basalmic vinegar- that reminded me of home, even though they’re things that I never have in my Dar kitchen. Which meant that no matter where I go in this world, no matter how far I travel, I actually have the power to create my own sense of home.


NORTH Festival >> Finnish Pulla Bread Recipe, and a little home cooking

Finnish Pulla

>> This is a SPONSORED POST brought to you by Honest Cooking and the NORTH Festival

If it’s something I’ve learned from these years of living abroad, it’s that ‘home’ means something a little different to everyone. To my dear husband, this might very will be his home icon on his trusty desktop iMac more than anything else, in which he can get lost in for hours at a time. But for me? It’s my kitchen, and everything in it, that makes my heart at ease, telling me I’m home.

My pals at Honest Cooking are hosting the NORTH Food Festival in October in NYC, a place I once called home. The NORTH Food Festival focuses a much-deserved spotlight on the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Iceland, and Finland. They’ve asked me to write up a little something about the foods of Finland, and because I’ve been so enraptured with what home cooking means to me, to you, to everyone these days, I immediately wanted to bring a little taste of Finland home to the table.

Finnish Pulla Bread Prebaked IMG_1770

So I started writing: Finland. Salmon. Salmon Roe. Dill. Cured fish. Licorice. Snow. Fish. Blonde People. Good healthcare. Getting off track, drat. Fish. Chives? Dill. Fish.

And as I read over my freshly brainstormed word-association exercise on Finland, I realized, though Nordic cuisine is making its name in the culinary world today the individual restaurants and chefs stand out more than the countries’ cuisines themselves. And though a restaurant can certainly represent a country’s cooking, home cooking usually reveals even more.

I am very very lucky that I have a friend who has ties (namely, a wife) to Finland. And I suppose you, dear reader, are lucky too, for I fear that had it not been for this generous couple you all would be looking at yet another, predictable, smoked salmon and dill recipe. Google might have led me somewhere slightly more adventurous, but it certainly wasn’t going to tell you what its favorite dish growing up was.


I took some time with my New Yorker friend Andrew and his Finnish wife Jenny. Jenny, pronounced with the Swedish J sound, which is to say it’s pronounced like a Y, almost like Yenny (insert Anchorman “yogging” jokes here). The two had long since left their respective home cities, making do with whatever “home” cooking meant while living overseas. When I met Andrew, Jenny had recently moved back to Finland with the kids, and he was soon to join her. Via a combination of in-person meetings and emails, the two provided a beginner’s briefing on the basics of Finnish cuisine starting with Aquavit and ending with reindeer, with some licorice scattered in between. Yes, there was some familiar territory covered (fish, dill, saunas), but rather happily, I was surprised by most of the new information they offered. We covered a lot, more than this one post can sum up, but most interesting to me (and what I’m sharing here today) are the foodways that, to Jenny, mean home.



Like with any other cuisine, to understand the food of a culture, one must first reckon with its geography. Finland is the Easternmost Nordic country, and at it’s Southernmost tip sits its capitla, Helsinki. From here, Sarah Palin could see Russia better than from her backporch, as well as Estonia and Sweden. The East, not privy to oceanfront views, is largely influenced by its Russian neighbors. Home cooking here means meat stews and stuffed pastries. It’s a completely different culture than the West, which shares its boders with Sweden as well as the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. From their language to their methods of fish preparations, Swedish Finns dominate the population. And then there is the North, the wild wild west, if you will, were you’ll find an inuit-like culture of reindeer herders.
Like our own United States, and expelling all previous assumptions about the country, finding one “national dish” of Finland was more difficult that I had anticipated.


As an American whose youth was dominated by sliced sandwich bread, proving as exotic as Orowheat 9-grain bread, I’m not exactly the most cultured of bread conniseurs. The culture of bread in Finland, however, is engrained in each citizen’s very being. Bread is an important mainstay in everyday Finnish life, both in the country and in cities. Jenny explains to me that when visiting a grocery store in Finland, you’re faced with dozens of options of bread. “I don’t mean different like bagels are different in that some have sesame seeds and some have onion on them,” says Jenny, “but different because they use different grains (usually rye, wheat, oats and barley in varying combinations), different spices, and have different consistencies”. The average New Yorker has a hard time deciding to choose between onion and sesame bagels.


I was very surprised to hear that the Finns drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. An average Finn will drink 7 cups of coffee per day!
They’re not just addicted to the caffeine, though. The act of drinking and of having coffee time with friends and family is just as, if not even more, important as inviting them in from the cold. “You can’t go to a meeting or visit someone’s home without being offered coffee here”, Jenny says. “At work the coffee break is often when you chat to your colleagues and often birthday parties, christenings and, in it’s simplest form, weddings, are celebrated with coffee and something sweet. The pastries served along with coffee can be anything (but often it is the pulla…). In many situations, offering coffee is a way of showing hospitality.” Much like tea time in the UK, it’s rude to invite guests and not offer a cup, accompanied by a bit of bread or cookie.


Andrew and Jenny both described to me how the restaurant culture in Finland is experiencing a similar boom as in the U.S., and I imagine that traditional, home-style eating is being challenged as a result. Typical, heavy foodstuffs- meant to satiate a northern family during long cold winters- are being replaced by lighter, delicate fare, and more innovative methods of preparation. Beautifully crafted, minimal presentations run consistent with scandinavian design. (Note: if you’re in New York, you can check this out for yourself at restaurants like ACME or Isa. Or, grab some tickets to the NORTH festival!) Andrew said, “What else I found is surprising, is this new culture of fusion foods…Fusion foods is a new things, that’s what you’re seeing in these newer restaurants…Nordic and Pan-Asian.”



Here in my home kitchen in Dar es Salaam, I’ve been thinking a lot about these home-y traditions from Finland. To celebrate, I’m going to focus on the traditions of the Swedish-Finns, invite some friends over for coffee, and treat them to some Pulla bread. In the Spirit of the Nordic Food Festival, since I won’t be able to make it to NY in October, I’ll have a little taste of Finland in my own home. I invite you to do the same.

Pulla Coffee Bread

adapted from the Finnish Cookbook
  • 1 package (8 grams) active dry yeast
  • 2 cups (500 ml) milk, heated and then cooled to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 green cardamom pads, toasted, seeded, and ground.
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 8 cups (1.23 kg) white AP flour
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) melted butter
  • For brushing on top of bread:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2-3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cups raw almonds, chopped
  1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Before the milk comes to a full boil, take the pan off the stove and allow the milk to cool slightly. Ladle 4 Tbsp of the milk and mix in yeast, dissolving completely. In a large bowl, combine along with milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to make a runny batter. Beat until the dough is smooth.
  2. Add 2 more cups of flour and mix well. The dough should be smooth and glossy at this point. Add in melted butter, and stir well. Continue until dough is glossy, then add in the rest of the flour until a stiff dough forms. Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball shape. Do not knead too much, to avoid overworking the bread.
  3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and cover with the same bowl. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  4. After 15 minutes, knead the dough, until smooth and satiny (5-10 minutes). Coat a bowl or a large dutch oven with vegetable oil, and gently transfer the dough into the bowl. Turn once so the dough is fully coated. Cover with a towel and place in an oven (turned off) so it may rise at a draft-free temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  5. Punch down a few times, then allow to rise again until doubled- about 30 more minutes.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 3 portions, and then divide each of these into three more portions (so you have 9 total). Shape each into a long log, about 16 inches long. On strips of parchment paper, braid 3 strips together into a loaf, pinching the ends and tucking them underneath.
  7. Transfer the three loaves onto baking sheets, cover with a tea towel, and let rise for 20 minutes. The braids should be slightly puffy, but not doubled in size.
  8. In the meantime preheat the over to 400 F. Chop almonds, or pulse in a food processor for 3-5 minutes until fairly fine (You can also leave them in larger chunks, it’s up to you).
  9. After 20 minutes, glaze the loaves by brushing them with a beaten egg, and sprinkle with refined sugar and crushed almonds.
  10. Bake in a hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes, at 400 F. The bread will turn a beautiful golden brown, which is the ultimate signal to take them out of the oven. It’s preferable to under-bake as opposed to over-bake, less you prefer dry bread (no!), so err on the side of caution if you think they might be done.
  11. Serve warm. Keep any remainder loaves, uncut, stored in an airtight container for a few days, or wrap in airtight bags and freeze.
yield: 3 loaves


Learn more about Nordic cuisine at the NORTH Festival 2013 in New York City. This post is a collaboration between Peeps From Abroad and NORTH Festival 2013.


If this recipe and information piqued your interest, check out other NORTH festival-sponsored Bloggers and their recipes, hailing from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. I’ll go out on a limb and say that pancakes are going to be the next cronut!


Swedish Pancakes from Omeletta
Kanellbular (Swedish cinnamon buns) from Itsy Bitsy Foodies


Æbleflæsk (apple and pork) Bites from Shared Appetite
Frikadeller (meatballs) from Dawn of Food
Dill & Cheese Popovers from Eat Already
Kammerjunker (twice baked biscuit cookies) from Hungry Face
Rugbrød & Smørrebrød (rye bread & open faced sandwich) from GirliChef
Kærnemælkskoldskål (cold buttermilk soup) with Kammerjunker from Countlan Magazine


Pancakes from Anecdotes and Apples
Lamb Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Reduction from From Brazil to You
Astarpungar (blueberry lemon “Love Balls”) from Tasty Trix 
Rúgbrauð (icelandic “thunder bread”) from Zesty South Indian Kitchen
Skyr Whipped Broccoli and Cauliflower by Fritos and Foie Gras
Plokkfiskur (Icelandic fish stew) by Chocolate and Chiles


Pancakes with Caramelized Apples from Greens n Chocolate
Smoked Potatoes from Carly
Smoked Salmon and Potato Tartine from Blogging Over Thyme

NORTH Festival

It’s alive!!!

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I’ve been working on a few things these last weeks, none of which are paying me any money. It’s okay, the DiploMan and I have a deal: He makes the dolla-dolla-bills now, and I’ll bring home about a million $$ per year by the time he retires at the ripe young age of 50.

One of these projects I’m very excited to share with you is my personal writing and photography portfolio. I wanted to make sure to get it done before I moved to Africa, and though every single piece of writing hasn’t been uploaded, it’s completed in terms of layout and content. Over the next month I’ll make sure all my photo and published pieces are up-to-date. In the meantime, it’s live today, so check it out!!