Friday, May 28, 2010

This Week's State Department Blog RoundUp

I have to start out by reiterating the slow move east's comment that these Weekly State Blog Roundups take a lot of work! A big round of applause to A Daring Adventure for putting these roundups together in the past.

The big news this week is that Muttering Behind the Hardline decided to hang up the spurs for a while. We will miss you and hope to read more from you soon.

And we were very happy that I’ll take mine… to Go, please! decided to continue on…

A common theme this week and for more weeks to come is PCSing or summer travel. Is it summer yet? Not officially, but it sure feels like it in Kolkata, India.

Traveling and enjoying the good weather was:

Foreign Service Specialist was allowed back home in Thailand;

Diplodocus is having readjustment pains;

Minnesota Gal explored beautiful Cebu. Her adventures around Manila make me want to put the post on our “must bid” list;

 the world we live in described their recent travel to Eilat and an explosive experience;

and Cyberbones went camping with the Cub Scouts;

Prepping for the big PCS were:

Find out how Email from the Embassy lost 30lbs in one day!;

The Perlman Update was able to sell (and buy!) some things before PCSing;

and Beyond the cornfields was moving to Miami - now its Bangladesh, but does their UAB know?

Enjoying the simpler things in life were:

Life is a bowl of cherries and Lack of Tacos decided to make juice;

place2place is enjoying the dandelions;

Lindsey Mae and company enjoyed peanut butter pancakes;

at post continues to treat us to unusual shopping adventures around the world;

Tuk & Tam is enjoying her recent change of perspective on her mother’s blankets;

and well, not really enjoying and not simple at all, but Life After Jerusalem is still experiencing her EER;

The last few A-100 classes and aspiring Foreign Service are full of active bloggers:

The B Files received her security clearance in three months! Congratulations!;

Fawda Munathema added some additional thoughts to The Hegemonist’s legendary post on the Foreign Service application process;

and Something edited this way comes was able to get a lot of things done.

And in the Now for Something Completely Different Category:

Even though EF’M: The Life of an FSO Spouse wrote about the heat in Hermosillo, it is the photos of Tiffany’s teeth cleaning that I can't get out of my mind;

And finally, awards of the week so that I can use some alliteration:

This week’s Best Bawdy Banter award goes to Hick/Hitchhiker/...Diplomat for his pictorial essay “Angles.”;

and the Deeply Definitely Defining Domicile award goes to EF'M: The Life of an FSO Spouse as he pondered “Home is Where…?”

Next week’s Weekly State Department Roundup will be hosted at Wife-Mommy-Woman. Sign up for your turn at A Daring Adventure.


Image from The World That We Live In

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tomorrow, the Weekly State Blog RoundUp!

Tomorrow I will be hosting the second incarnation of the shared foreign service community feature, the Weekly State Blog RoundUp.

So beautifully executed last week by the slow move east and joyfully created by A Daring Adventure, I will try my best to keep the feature moving forward.

If you have a blog or link that you would like to be featured, please email it to stateroundup2.0 {at}

More tomorrow...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thank You John Shepherd-Barron, Inventor of the ATM

John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the ATM, was an Indian-born inventor of Scottish parents, that spent most of his life in the UK. He recently passed away at the age of 84. The concept came to him in 1965 while in a bath, after showing up one minute late for a money withdraw from his bank.

"That night I started thinking that there must be a better way to get cash when I wanted it. I thought of the chocolate vending machine, when money was put in a slot and a bar dispatched. Surely money could be dispensed in the same way."

"By chance, in 1965, I bumped into the chief in general at Barclays Bank who was about to have lunch. 'Give me 90 seconds' I said over a pink gin." Barclays Bank installed the first ATM in London in 1967.

Thank you Mr. Shepherd-Barron for making those of us who travel have an easier experience, and also for showing that long baths, chocolate and gin are truly sources of inspiration.

Image from Dogs trained to retrieve money from ATMs article on

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Upstart Online Newspapers Are Redefining How the News is Reported and the Potential (Small) Benefit for Trailing Partners

The New York Times recently published an article on how some entrepreneurs are trying to redefine online newspapers by culling articles from the masses, or people willing to sign up and submit articles, rather than maintaining a newsroom with regularly salaried reporters.

These masses are willing to get paid by the page view or a percentage of online advertising revenues generated from the submitted article. Average pay is about $15 for an article. To reach a "$60,000 annual salary, an online journalist needs to generate a whopping 1.8 million page views a month."

Outside of the ramifications for our news industry, many trailing spouses that have decided to take on a writing career may find writing for some of these papers as resume builders, and a way to almost finance a morning latte ritual.
"Over the last few months, there has been a palpable uptick in both advertising and the journalism job market. The iPad, and its applications that restore magazines and newspapers to something like their traditional format, was greeted within the industry like the sight of a ship from a deserted island." 
Some online newspapers that are accepting articles under this model, as listed in the New York Times article:

If you have any other resources or experiences, please share!

Image of newspaper from

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home-style Egg Curry (or Chicken or Potato or Anything Your Heart Desires in a Curry)

After I started this post, I realized I forgot to take a picture of the dish on a plate. The anticipation of eating this dish made me forget!

This is a quick, home-style curry that can be used with any main ingredient you desire. Krishna does recommend that if you do use a meat like chicken, grind the onion instead of chop to create a thicker "gravy" or sauce.

Egg curry has a significance in our home. When either Alan or I is not able to be home for lunch (not often believe it or not, another wonderful aspect of serving in Kolkata) the remaining usually has egg curry, or in our house "the only me curry."

Home-style Egg Curry

6 small boiled (but still firm) and peeled potatoes
3 boiled and shelled eggs
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 small onions chopped (or ground for chicken or other meats)
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp turmeric power
1 tsp water
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp water
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp cilantro leaf powder or ground dry cilantro leaves (called coriander leaves in India)
1/2 tsp ground red chili pepper powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup water (depending on how thick you want the final curry sauce)

1. Heat the 2 tbs vegetable oil on medium high heat, and in a pot with high sides like a dutch oven or larger sauce pan.

2. Turn heat to medium once the oil is hot.

3. Add onions and fry until soften, or if using paste fry for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the 3 eggs and fry with onion until both are browned.

5. Once browned, take eggs out of pan and set aside.

6. Krishna likes to layer her spices.  Add 1 tsp garlic paste and stir. Then 1 tsp ginger paste and stir, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and stir, 1 tsp water and stir. Let cook for about 2 minutes.

7. Add the boiled and peeled potatoes and mix.

8. Next is the second set of spice layering. Add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds and stir, 1/2 tsp salt and stir, 1 tsp water and stir, pinch of ground clove and stir, 1/2 tsp cilantro leaf powder (coriander leaves) and stir, 1/2 tsp red chili pepper powder and stir. Let cook for about 3 minutes.

9. Add the eggs that were set aside earlier, turn down the heat to a low simmer and then add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water depending on how thick or thin you would like the curry sauce to be.

10. Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes for the potatoes and eggs to absorb the spices.

The ginger paste, garlic paste and onion (in different forms) seem to be the sofrito of Indian cooking. And ginger, garlic, onion, cumin (or jeera), turmeric, clove and chili have appeared in every main dish we have made so far just in different quantities, although you can adjust these spices to your taste.

The above recipe should serve two people with rice and you can double it to make more. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can Making an Inventory Actually Be Fun (At Least for the First Hour)?

As we wrap up our time in Kolkata, we are trying to get serious about a more accurate inventory of our stuff. We will have our suitcases, UAB for D.C., HHE for Prague, and HHE back to storage in D.C. to organize as we leave Kolkata. And then when we leave D.C. for Prague, will have our suitcases, UAB and possible HHE with items out of storage.

I had created some spreadsheets when we left D.C. almost two years ago. They meticulously detailed all of Sicily's clothes, toys and other items. That was all. For the rest of our stuff we scribbled some things down on paper and did a walk-through of our house with a video camera. Not quite sure where the video tape is but I can find the spreadsheets, which are now all out of date.

As you shuffle stuff around, it becomes even more of a chore to keep the inventory up-to-date. She wore stuff out, we gave stuff away, we got more stuff. I didn't want to even open the spreadsheets to try to reconcile what we have now.

After reading a post on livelines about Delicious Library, I was curious to see if there was a better solution to my rudimentary spreadsheets. Delicious Library is an application for Macs that allows you to organize and manage your stuff through visual shelves.

What makes it a nice choice for our lifestyle is that you can create collections or shelves and then drag items into the shelves to organize them into groups. For example, I can create a UAB shelf and then drag items onto that shelf so that I can see what we have in our UAB shipment, and still look at all of the books we have at one time regardless of what place they are in. Much easier than cutting and pasting in Excel. You can also keep track of items you loan to people through the Friends category.

Aside from the categories, the next coolest feature is the ability to input items by scanning the bar code through your built-in webcam. I have been able to hold up a book, CD or DVD and it will read the bar code, then bring in all the information about that item. I was able to do all of Sicily's books in about 30 minutes, much faster than if I had typed the same information into Excel.

The main drawback is that it is really designed for books, games, software, toys, movies, music, gadgets, tools and clothing. If you want to capture your furniture you will have to put it under one of those categories. Right now, I see it as the start of a detailed inventory for those types of items (kitchen will go under tools) and then supplementing with an Excel spreadsheet, videotape or scribbles on a piece of paper.

We use the inventories for three reasons: 1. insurance replacement if it gets lost, damaged, stolen or eaten, 2. so that we don't buy duplicates of stuff we already have but forgot about because it is in another shipment, or 3. so that we know where to find that stuff we really need for our next post (winter clothes!). Documenting everything is a momentous task, but if you generally have enough information to help you with the three above that is more than enough.

Sicily helps enter books into the inventory.

More information on Delicious Library at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Aloo Posto, a Popular Bengali Dish

Krishna took it easy on me and started our lessons with Aloo Posto, a very addictive, tangy potato dish. In Krishna's opinion, Aloo Posto is the Bengali version of Aloo Dum, a popular vegetarian meal across India that has different spice mixtures depending on the region where it is cooked.

What makes this a Bengali dish is the liberal use of posto, or white poppy seeds. White poppy seeds have a different taste than the black poppy seeds that are more popular in the U.S. If you can not find them in the local grocery store, check with an Indian grocery store or find them online. After a quick search I found them at and Penzeys Spices.

The other spices needed in this version that may not already be in your kitchen are:
mustard seeds
fenugreek (menthi in India)
cumin seeds
fennel seeds

Again, all available at Penzeys Spices, which has a Falls Church location.

Krishna cooks by intuition instead of fixed measurements, and the beauty of this dish is that you can add or subtract the quantity of spices to find the right balance you prefer. So all of the below is approximate(!) and optional items are listed in the directions.

Bengali Aloo Posto

2 tbs white poppy seeds
1tbs cumin seeds
1 pound small potatoes (or large ones can be used since will cut into pieces)
4 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (or powder if cannot find seeds)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 chili powder
1 tbs lime juice

1. Begin by grinding the 2 tbs white poppy seeds and 1tbs cumin seeds into a paste. Set aside until step 10.

2. Cook and peel potatoes using your preferred method. We boiled them in water first, stopping while they were still firm, and then peeled them.

3. Cut the peeled potatoes into 1/2" or so cubes. If possible, try to get them all to be similar in size.

4. Heat 4 tbs of vegetable oil on medium heat, in a pan or pot with high sides since you will be stirring the dish. A karai is perfect for this, but mine wasn't ready when we had the lesson. We used our dutch oven.

5. If you are using fenugreek powder, I would wait to add it after the potatoes and not in this step. Put the 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds and 1/4 tsp fennel seeds into the hot oil and stir until they take on a golden color.

This mixture of seeds is also called panch phoran, a much-used Bengali spice blend. It typically has five different seeds, including nigella seeds, but Krishna makes hers without it. If you do want to use nigella, add an equal amount at this step.

6. Turn the heat to very low or a low simmer. If your stove is unable to maintain a very low heat, remove from heat and continue with the rest of the steps. Heat should be low enough to keep the mixture warm but not cause the potatoes to stick to the bottom.

7. Add the potatoes and stir until lightly coated with mixture. If you are using fenugreek powder instead of the seeds, add it in this step. You can also add chopped, roasted green chilies at this step, if desired.

8. Add the 1/8 tsp ground turmeric and stir to distribute and coat. This will give the potatoes a beautiful yellow color. At this point and with the ingredients added afterwards, the potatoes will start to break-up a little bit. That is fine, just make sure to not let the potatoes stick too much to the bottom.

A side note on turmeric which is very popular in Indian cooking, it is becoming increasingly known as a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent cancer. It is also used in India as an Ayurvedic cosmetic as well.

9. Add 1/4 tsp salt, and stir to distribute and coat.

10. Add the poppy seed/cumin paste made earlier in step 1. Stir to distribute and coat.

11.  Add 1/4 tsp chili pepper, and stir to distribute and coat.

12. Add 1 tbs lime juice, and stir to distribute and coat.

13. Cover, remove from heat, and let the potatoes sit to absorb the spices. Krishna makes Aloo Posto before she cooks the chapatis or parathas that is traditionally served with the dish.

14. Add an optional 1 tbs fresh, chopped cilantro (coriander leaves in India), as a garnish if desired.

This dish is typical of Bengali, and Indian, home cooking, in that a lot of different spices and spice combinations as used to make simple ingredients like potatoes, cauliflower, fish and meat delicious. We have two kitchen shelves full of single spices and spices mixtures. These cabinets look like a ancient apothecary, which is the best visual confirmation that Bengali food can be very healthy, if you stay away from the fried food and sweets!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thriving Overseas by Douglas E Morris

I ran across this article on a listserv and thought it was great advice. Douglas E Morris is a trailing partner in the foreign service with a wonderful perspective. Enjoy!


Community life is an important intangible that helps make a post fun and enjoyable. In numerous cases, the sense of community engendered from a post is more significant than the available cultural activities, historic monuments, culinary experiences, or shopping opportunities. For many, the connection to others at an embassy overseas can make or break a tour.

However, as we all know, each post if completely different when it comes to community life. In general, the divergence is between large and small posts, as well as between those in more developed nations to those in lesser developed countries. What many of us have found, is that — for of a wide variety of reasons — community life at smaller US embassies in lesser developed nations is tighter. Expat events are generally more frequent and well attended, and from that a sense of connection to others is at most times much more real than at larger posts in more developed nations.

The last place where my partner and I were located — Ankara, Turkey — was like that. There was a deep sense of community, a feeling that you belonged to something greater than yourself, just by your presence. You were welcomed and celebrated just by being there.

In our current post — Brussels, Belgium — on the hand, community life does not feel quite as strong. And for some, not having that instant access to the embassy community life can be rather isolating. Especially for the accompanying spouses. With their significant others off at work, and the kids off at school, each sharing in their own micro-community, the accompanying spouse is left to his or her own devices. And in a post like Brussels, sometimes that can be rather alienating.

Sure, Brussels has great museums, wonderful neighborhoods, scintillating arts life, and instant access to many different stunning locales in Belgium and around Europe. But if you are doing it all on your own, the colors seems faded, the food at the cafes bland, the chocolate less than scrumptious. And that’s not a good thing.

So what is a person to do? Mope around the house all day watching movies? Certainly not. In a large, developed world post such as Brussels — and for that matter in posts anywhere in the world — to really thrive instead of just survive you need to put yourself out there. You need to make that extra effort to fill your life with friends, activities, and community life. To do that, here are a number of different community-building options to pursue. All of which also apply to smaller posts in less developed nations, though they may not be needed.

Option One is to head to the CLO, the heart of and embassy community. The CLO is where many of the embassy events are organized and planned. With the committed assistance of the CLO, you will be able to help find ways to combat your sense of disconnection. Guaranteed.

Option Two is to follow a simple rule of thumb. For the first 6 to 9 months after you arrive do not turn down any invitations. None. Accept them all. Act like Jim Carey in the “Yes Man.” Say “Yes” to every invite. Well maybe don’t accept the invitation to bungee jump naked off the Eiffel tower, or is that another movie I am thinking of?

Option Three is to check out the embassy newsletter and any other local English-language periodicals on a regular basis for events and activities and pursue the ones that interest you.

Option Four is to consider volunteering. The CLO is likely to have opportunities for volunteering available, and if none interested you, then its time to try option five.

Option Five is to reach out to the extended expat community and find something you enjoy doing, or something new you have always wanted to try … and pursue it. Whether that is taking a drawing class, a wheel thrown pottery class, auditioning for some plays, joining a bike club or dinner club, there are tons of other expats in whatever post you are at who are doing all those things right now, and who would enjoy getting to know you through those activities.

God invented Google just for this purpose. Or was that Al Gore? I can never remember. Whatever the case, by performing a simple internet search, all sorts of possibilities will emerge. For example, why not look into the American Women’s Club? This organization is global are no longer exclusively for women despite what their title says — so guys don’t feel shy about contacting them — and they will usually have tons of fun activities all year round at which you can meet other expats,. Or what about joining a church? Even if you are not religious, churches are a great place to network for friends. When I was growing up overseas as the son of a corporate expat outside of the embassy community, my folks would drag us to church every Sunday as it was a great way for them to make friends.

However, if you still haven’t found what you are looking for try Option Six — create your own community. Say, for example, you love the arts, but you do not want to go to the theater or ballet or symphony on your own. What do you do? You create your own group — by advertising in the embassy newsletter, by putting signs up at the embassy and elsewhere — then voila, instant community.

At a larger, more cosmopolitan post like Brussels, you really have to take charge of creating your own community life. You have to put yourself out there, and take responsibility for your own happiness.

So, even though creating a connection to others in a large post won’t be as easy as instantly being embraced by a tight-knit embassy community as might be the case in smaller ones, in many ways the community life you will find or create for yourself has the potential to be richer, more rewarding, and loads more interesting.


Douglas E Morris has lived abroad for over 18 years in 10 countries on three continents. He can be reached through his website –

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards

The San Pellegrino sponsored 2010 World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards were announced this April. If you needed confirmation that the best country for food is Spain, this list confirms. The top five are:

1. Noma, Denmark
2. El Bulli, Spain
3. The Fat Duck, UK
4. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
5. Mugaritz, Spain

The two from the top 50, that are closest to us in India, are 28. Iggy's, Singapore, which was up 17 places this year, and 39. Jaan Par Andre, Singapore, a new entry.

They also list a second 50 to 100 best restaurants in the world, and Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai is listed as number 54.

Image from El Celler de Can Roca

Saturday, May 1, 2010

French Landscape Painting or Indian Countryside?

Every time we head out into the countryside from Kolkata, I can't help but think of the similarities to French landscape paintings I have seen from the 1800s,  and also think that it won't be this way for much longer.

Painting by Corot from