Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Memory of my friend

On Tuesday, I found out that a man I knew died. His name was Sunny. That was his nickname but it was also a lovely descriptor of his personality. he was a law student and an intern in our department for a few months to help us analyze the years and years worth of data about raped women we had from Darfur.

Every day he came in filled with enthusiasm and humor and a laid back attitude. He took things in stride. He found the flaw in our database for Papua New Guinea and fixed it without so much as a how-de-do. He loved to go out for drinks and chat. he made friends with everyone he met, I think. He was a computer engineer before he decided to turn his life towards the law. He planned to be the Secretary-General fo the United Nations. He was 28 years old.

He also had terrible food allergies and we got an email from our Canadian office saying that he was out with friends and succumbed to an allergy attack. Even though an epi-pen was used, he failed to revive. Although its shocking and hard to hear that he died, at least he died doing the things he loved - working hard, talking politics, surrounded by friends, and living his life to the fullest.

We had a lovely evening one night when he came over with two other friends from work. He put together my bookcase while the ladies swilled wine and chatted. He was always surrounded by ladies! We went out for tapas and heatedly discussed US politics. The next day he asked me if I was upset with him because it had gotten so heated. I didn't even remember it but he was that kind of sensitive person. He left us to go work with the Indian Supreme Court and return back to India where he hadn't been since he was a child.

He was a lovely man and the world is a poorer place without him. We'll miss you, Sunny, Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scheveningen Kite Festival

I spent Saturday afternoon at the Kite Festival in the world's most difficult Dutch word to pronounce city of Scheveningen. Doesn't look that hard to pronounce, does it? Well its got one of those guttaral throat sounds in it.

Here's a little video of kite flying bliss on a sunny Saturday Afternoon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Culture Clash

After almost six weeks in South Carolina, being back in Amsterdam has been a bit of a shock. First of all, it was about 98 degrees when I left Charlotte on September 7th and it was about 62 when I got here on September 11th. It's full on autumn. The trees are changing colors. Everyone is wearing scarves. I wake up cold everymorning - which I did in SC but that was because the air conditioning was on too high.

And then I am having a bit of a culture clash trying to readjust to some of the Dutch things that I had forgotten about. I met up with my friends Susannah, Naomi, and Emma for drinks and Jamaican food. Afterwards we went out with her friends and ended up in a Blues band. When I tried to tell the bassplayer that I enjoyed the show he cursed at me in Dutch and told me that he was on break. I got elbowed in the Albert Heijn. I was almost run over by a taxi as I rode my bike.

Monday and Tuesday were hard at work. I tried to keep my head down on Monday and just work but the organization's debate culture was alive and well and I soon found myself arguing over things I really don't care about. Back to just trying to make it through the day.

Monday night I cut Simon's claws and I cut one too close and he bled ALL OVER the apartment. I have bloody paw prints on everything. I didn't sleep at all because I was trying to stem the bleeding. I ended up having to dip his paw in flour after all my attempts to bandage it failed. Bandaging a cats foot is not as easy as one would think. One big shake and bandages fly off. He's fine now and I'm still traumatized.

So - let's see. I've been back since Thursday night and I've been a wreck. Hm. Let's hope things get better. Today's plan of attack includes eating a lot of chocolate, buying cheap flowers to brighten up the apartment (pink dahlias and white chrysanthemums), listening to cheerful music loudly (including Laid by James, Barracuda by Heart, Wonderboy by Tenacious D and Dancing Queen by Abba), and watching Mad Men (a show I became obsessed with in the States). Going to bed early and going for walks at lunchtime to eat soup seem to help too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lessons Learned from Airports

Hotdogs, normally a food that costs very little in the hotdog vendor stands of the world, are abnormally high priced in airports. Fruit is rare. Bars never print the cost of their overpriced draft beers on the menu. Starbucks is always busy.

The majority of American businessmen traveling appear to be in the IT biz, love those bluetooth gizmos that make them look like the Borg, and wear unflattering pleated pants and dumpy shoes. Some could be attractive but their uniform of American Male geekdom destroys any sex appeal at all. Business suits and polished shoes, and a nice haircut can still make a man devastatingly attractive even if he isn't classically handsome. The tv show "Mad Men"is a perfect example of that.

You can really tell alot about a region by the quality of the bookstores in their airport. American airports usually have crap bookstores: Charlotte Airport has tons of political books mostly slamming Barack Obama or Democrats or Liberals, books on how we are winning the war in Iraq, business management guides for dummies. The Columbia airport has lots of Christian and inspirational reading alongside the rightwing tripe, the Detroit airport has a pretty good bookstore with decent fiction and a travel section, the Chicago Airport has almost no books for sale at all. I couldn't find any books and only fashion magazines for sale in Miami. National Airport in Washington DC has a great local independent bookstore and even the newsstands have tons of political books from the left and the right. In contrast, the Amsterdam airport has a large bookshop with books in Dutch and English - heavily focused on sex. Even little London City Airport has a good bookstore with tons of fiction and non fiction.

Southern security guards are more polite than those of the Northern states. No two airports in the US have the same policy about shoes or your boarding pass.

I still get a warm fuzzy feeling when the border officials say "Welcome Home" when I go through immigration.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Family Photos

My father's father and my grandfather, Julius "Stub" Martin in the Army back in Papua New Guinea during WWII.

Mom and Dad in London in 1963

Alyson and I looking a bit like ruffians probaby in the early 70s.

Matching lederhosen dresses. Parents must love to laugh hysterically at their offspring.

Matching band uniforms, Sumter High School Marching Gamecocks, circa 1984!

70s Family at the World Famous Iris Gardens in Sumter, SC

Me in 2nd Grade

My first passport photo!

My mother rockin' a great hairdo. Obviously before she had children and time to do her hair!

Mom, about age 12 in her school photo.

My father on his first tour of duty to England in 1950.

My dad's glamour photo. Why don't they airbrush up our photos like that nowadays?

The first official family portrait from Mons, Belgium where Alyson and I grew up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Omnivore 100

So there's this thing going around on the food blogs that I've become obsessed with about the top 100 things that every omnivore should eat (at least once). The ones in italics are ones that I've tried already. I'm at 67% - some are never going to happen (whole insects) and others are just waiting for the opportunity (3 course meal at 3 star Michelin restaurant).

1. Venison: prepared it for the first in college when my boyfriend bought me some venison that he had killed. Turned me vegetarian.
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros: LOVE them from the Austin Grill in DC.
4. Steak tartare : the best steak tartare I had was in Brussels after a month in the Congo. We had it prepared in front of us by an old Belgian waiter and drank it with a bottle of Saint-Emilion.
5. Crocodile: First time I had it was in a fancy restaurant as carpaccio in a mall in Pretoria, South Africa. I ate Gator in South Carolina several times.
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue: I even have my own fondue pot!
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush: but eggplant doesn't like me.
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich: strawberry jelly, por favor.
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart: the best ones are in Copenhagen.
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (raspberries, cherries, crab apple)
19. Steamed pork buns : Dim Sum! Still looking for a good one though.
20. Pistachio ice cream : My favorite. I've always associated it with father's though as this was my father's favorite flavor in Belgium.
21. Heirloom tomatoes :and I've grown them!
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras :Oh god... what made me a omnivore again after 10 years vegetarianism.
24. Rice and beans :Best are blackeyed peas cooked with jalapenos, onions, tomatos, and butter and cajun seasoning with jasmine rice!
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters : Roasted, raw, fried. I love them! Bowen's Island, Felix's in New Orleans! Central Station Oyster Bar in NYC! Fried in a curry!
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl : had clam chosder in Boston but not in a sourdough bowl.
33. Salted lassi : but my favorite is Masala lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat : ate it in Port Antonio, Jamaica the first time.
42. Whole insects : that's never going to happen.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more: Not yet... give me some time.
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel : I'm in holland - its almost the national dish.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut : HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW!
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi : the best hangover cure!
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini : with blue cheese stuffed martinis at Le Bar in DC is good.
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst: BERLIN, Salute!
65. Durian : in San Francisco with my friend Colin.
66. Frogs’ legs : in Haiti with Antoine!
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake :elephant ears and funnel cake at the Sumter County Fair, Beignets in Cafe du MOnde in New Orleans and churros in Mexico City and Madrid!
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain : I prefer the soft plantains fried with fried eggs and black beans and sour cream... yum.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum ecstasy!
82. Eggs Benedict: Corinne Risler makes some of the best of them! But I was introduced to them at Polly's Cafe and I like them better with smoked salmon to replace the canadian bacon.
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant : NOT YET!
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare: in a ragout in Rome.
87. Goulash: I even learned how to make it from a Hungarian woman in my kitchen!
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab: The first time I had one, I ate it fried in a croissant. I didn't bite hard enough and the crab dangled from my mouth like a bug in my cat's mouth.
93. Harissa
94. Catfish
:I'm from South Carolina, bien sur!
95. Mole poblano :in Oaxaca!
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake :Boa constrictor in Central African Republic. Rattlesnake in South Carolina. In retrospect, they are very similar locales.

I'm thinking about starting a food blog but I need some help in learning how to photograph food to make it look as beautiful as some of the others. Maybe we could have a collaborative food blog where those of us who love to cook add new recipes that we've tried!

Monday, September 01, 2008


Nostalgia: a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

Alyson and I spent the day today in our house in Sumter, trying to make sure anything valuable is put away or brought to Columbia. It was in the 90s and it was hot and dusty. I came across some boxes of photos that I haven't seen in ages. I sat through and thumbed through them tonight and I am going to try to scan some of them electronically in the next few days and post them here. Our beautiful house in Sumter was the setting for so many of them and so many fabulous memories.

* Prom photos from 1982 (Mike), 1983 (Kenny), and 1984 (Mortie) - Mostly posed by the stairs in the living room. My hair stayed remarkably small considering it was the 80s but I have a dress copied from Princess Diana's wedding dress that my mother labored over and sewed for me. Usually she sewed in the sunroom and there was nothing she couldn't make - EXCEPT a bathing suit. We tried that several times and it never quite worked out right. I wish I had paid more attention to the sewing. I can cut out the pattern (my job) but could never thread the bobbin.

* Band uniform photos. I think these should be burned. Posed by the sunroom in the living room. At least I didn't wear braces like Alyson but I do see some monster zits on my face. Alyson also has piano recital photos. I played flute and piccolo - don't see any photos from symphonic band - just marching band.

* Photos of me and my friends from high school and college - rugby shirts, t shirts with sayings, dropped waist dresses, lots of teal. Playing cards, playing scrabble, playing drinking games in the den, draping ourselves across cars in the driveway, and posing in front of the front door in Sumter.

* The house after Hurricane Hugo - my favorite dogwood tree ripped up by the roots, the roof in shambles. Photos of Alyson and I playing in that tree. I remember pretending I was a gymnast in the Olympics.

* Gatherings with Grandma Sis and British relatives when they came to visit in the back yard (before its renovation into a Charleston gated garden) and on the side sunporch patio before we realized it was way too hot to ever sit there in the sun in the summer.

* Dinner with the Winsteads, the British Wives' Club, and other friends of my parents. Usually in the dining room. Often, Alyson and I were banned from the grownup parties and sent upstairs. We would try to wheedle ice cream out of our parents by sending notes down tied to the cat's collar.

* Christmas presents opened and displayed - usually done in the living room with a tree in the sunroom or living room and all of us in bathrobes in front of the fireplace in the living room.