Friday, February 20, 2015

A Little Taste of Home

The first time someone said, "Hey, you wanna go get some falafel?" to me back in 2002, just after my initial move to the Dominican Republic, I remember thinking, "What the falafel is falafel?"  I had never heard of such a thing and wasn't quite sure if it was a food, a drug, a drink or the latest bank of sandal.  After discovering it was indeed edible, the various descriptions that friends were giving did little to inspire confidence that I would enjoy this falafel. 

"Oh, it's fried, mashed chickpeas," said one.  Uh okay.  What's a chickpea?

"It's good.  It's weird because it's green on the inside.  But it's good."  Right.  Using weird in a sentence describing food is never a good idea, unless you're the Bizarre Foods Guy from the Travel Channel.  Or the Food Channel.  Or both.

It was several invites later before I finally agreed to go to this little hole-in-the-wall falafel place in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo.  A plate was brought out, I hesitated, then tried one.  And was instantly... okay about the whole thing.  I mean, thirteen years later I enjoy falafel.  I've had enough to tell the difference between a good falafel and a bad one.  I probably could've lived my whole life without tasting one, but I'm glad I did.  At the time of my falafel discovery, no one in my home town circle knew what it was.  Aside from just moving out of the country, I was eating strange and exotic things.  I was so cultured.

Four countries later, I can say I've definitely eaten things I might never have tried if I hadn't left the US.  I've had refried black beans for breakfast, CHINESE food for dinner. various fried this and that for lunch, street food, stall food, local food, imported food and variations on everything from Spaghetti Bolognese to fried chicken.

The travel snob in me likes being able to say, "Ooh, I love Thai!" and "Hell yeah!  A new Indian restaurant is opening down the street!"  I like knowing the good places to get hummus and that American Chinese food does not actually taste like Chinese food.  But sometimes, you need food you know, food you grew up with.  Comfort food.  And in most of the countries I've been in, that's been the hardest thing to come by.  Sure, there's McDonald's and Chili's and KFC and Papa John's.  Kuwait boasted an Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings that we frequented.  In Shanghai we went to Blue Frog for burgers and wings.  It was never quite right, however.  Never 'home' food for me.

Oh, it's true alright!
Until Bahrain.  Bahrain has Ric's Country Kitchen and an IHOP.  We took L out to Ric's for her birthday last night- she's from the south(ish) as well and had never been.  We ordered pulled pork sandwiches with mac and cheese and coleslaw.  When she bit into the sandwich, she stopped and said, "Well, I wasn't expecting that.  This is uh-mazing!"  And she's not wrong.  Ric's offers all-day breakfast, including grits.  I have had to bring grits with me or have people ship them to me since I left GA in 2002 but here is a restaurant in Bah-freaking-rain that serves them.  And just as good as any Southern diner (or Waffle House) that I've ever been to!

They serve pulled pork and fried turkey legs and peach cobbler, the likes of which your granny might be jealous of.  They have sweet tea.  For real sweet tea, brewed in one of those big ol' industrial sized coffee makers and poured steaming hot over a cup-full of ice.  There are free refills as well, in case you were wondering.  Country music blasts from the speakers.  And it's decorated to look like a Folks restaurant back home.  I can't feel anything but 'at home' when I'm in there.

The IHOP is an IHOP, but without the grits.  The menu is a little smaller and they only serve beef bacon (eww) but they still have the large glass of orange juice, the unlimited coffee and the four types of syrup on the table.  It's familiar.  It's comforting.

I don't need to go to these places often.  In the two plus years I've lived here, I've only been to Ric's maybe four times, and three of those have been this year.  I've been to the IHOP two or three times since it opened last spring.  Both places are about 30+ minutes up the highway (depending on traffic) so you kind of really have to want to go to make it happen.  Or already be out in town.

It's nice to know they're there, though.  On the days (or months) when I'm missing home and all things Southern, it's nice to know that I can at least find a little taste of home in the Middle East.  It makes it feel like it's not quite so far away.

Do you have a restaurant that feels like 'home,' wherever you live?  Or have you ever traveled somewhere and found an unexpected place that reminded you of home?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wordless Wednesday- Feeling Nostalgic

The Ladybug is going to be four in two weeks... 

... I'm not sure what to do with that information.
The Ladybug and her Sprout- ready for the roller derby...
... Just like their mom and Cousin before them...

The Jenny Evolution

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Maybe I Do Want to Go Home... A Little

I didn't get any homemade, adorable Valentine's from my kids.  They don't do Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas crafts at school.  We've never been to a pumpkin patch.  They don't have the slightest inkling who Martin Luther King, Jr, is (admittedly, they are two and three but still...) and they won't color anything green for St. Patrick's Day.  Living in Bahrain, not having cable TV, and having such small kids, we could get away with never celebrating anything.

They had no idea there was supposed to be chocolate or candy involved in their yesterday.  That was okay.

Thinking about all the reasons I'm not ready to move home only made me more aware of all of the reasons that I want to.  Every few months, I get homesick- like pack your bags we're getting on the next plane homesick.  Sometimes it's because I see something on TV that reminds me of home.  More often, a friend posts something on Facebook (see above pumpkin patch) and it forces me to accept that, while my life is pretty fabulous, I've given up some amazing things to live it.

The most obvious trade-off is friends and family.  We have friends here and our international family, but nothing makes up for life-long friends, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents nearby.  The Ladybug and Sprout now recognize the sound of a Skype call and run to talk to whichever Grandpa we're calling that day.  FaceTime means we get to call Sissy whenever the mood strikes us, but it's not the same as meeting up to hang out or having Grandpa Jeff and DeDe pop over or spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa's.

Another trade-off is school sports (I know, I know, go ahead and laugh- me, missing sports??).  I grew up watching my sister play basketball.  High school and even some college Friday nights were spent cheering as Sissy ran up and down the court and, I can admit it, I got just as into it as the next guy.  No, that's not true.  The next guy was my mom and she got really into the games.  I clapped and screamed appropriately.  My mom clapped and screamed less appropriately.  But I miss that.  The Rugby Star has started a really good program here, but games are held immediately after school and very few students and almost no parents attend.  It's silent and awkward and completely lacking in school spirit.  Growing up in a Southern high school, I'm used to a certain level of team spirit.  It's missing here.

This weekend, my car died at the mall.  The Rugby Star had just left for Dubai and the girls and I had stopped for a little energy burn at the indoor play area before heading off to a birthday party.  When we got down to the parking garage, the battery was dead.  Completely.  Lucky for us, a very nice man in a thobe pulled in next to me and was able to jump us off.  On the way home, I debated- should I head home and go to the party or go try to get a battery?  Nothing feels simple here.  I've been warned that I will be ripped off because I'm Western and a woman.  I also, truthfully, had no idea where to go to get a battery.  I couldn't just pop into the Walmarts and grab one, now could I?  In the end, it was far more simple than I could have imagined.  There was a garage near our house and I pulled in and asked where to get a battery.  They pointed me down the street and I was in and out in about twenty minutes, with a complimentary oil check and a fill-up of anti-freeze.  The process wasn't that difficult, but the not knowing was- in the States, I could handle it, no problem.  Despite the ease of the whole situation, by the end, I felt like Superwoman, getting my battery changed all by myself.

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  I sure as heck miss driving safely.  I mean, come on.  Strap your kids in a car seat, drive near-isn to the speed limit, don't flash your lights or swerve like you're trying to win a Nascar race and it'll all be okay.  Less death.  More getting-to-where-you're-going.

And just because I'm in Bahrain, I'm really over the dust.  In the DR, it was the humidity.  In Kuwait, the dust.  Shanghai- the pollution.  Guatemala- the rainy season.  Now I miss the rainy season.  And I could definitely live without the dust.

No life is perfect anywhere and I'm happy with my Rugby Star, the Ladybug and Sprout and our Bahrain family.  I like that I can easily get Lebanese food and Chili's delivered to my door.  I enjoy walking to work and spending $12 to fill up my little SUV.  I love what we have here.  But I do get homesick.  And maybe it would be nice to get a Valentine from school every now and again.

What do you miss most about being 'home'?