three weeks, three locations

Three weeks, six cities, two countries on different continents, travel by foot, car, 4-wheel drive and plane. Not a particularly abnormal three weeks of my life. In California I enjoyed wine country, in Michigan I was blessed with another week of stunning spring, and in Ethiopia I discovered regions I had not yet visited. Now I am back in California and am looking forward to a few weeks during which I will not be visiting an airport or living out of a suitcase.

week 18: San Luis Obispo, CA, USA



week 19: Kalamazoo, MI, USA


week 20: Ethiopia


a pizza taste-off

Four pizza places within four blocks. There are stories behind some of these places – one started after disgruntled employees left. One is legendary because of its cheese. What do I do when I hear about all of this? I decide that we need a taste-off. And of course we can do this in an affordable (and at least semi-non-indulgent) way: one slice of plain pizza with red sauce and cheese. All in all, four slices of the classic, basic pizza. Line them up and start tasting. The three of us would take a bite move on, take another bite, swap locations, shuffle around.


We were looking for the total package: crust, sauce, cheese, price, and location. The one with legendary cheese? A horrible crust and the sauce was only so-so. I love brick-oven pizza, but the one with a brick-oven styled crust did not have the right sauce or cheese to go with. One cost $2.50 while the others were all less than $2.00; it was also the furthest away. Our decisions made, we each headed back for one more slice. We laughed, we chatted, we analyzed together. And for less than $15 we had lunch for three and made a memory.

Where did this happen and which pizza joint was the winner? Irrelevant. The point is that we created fun in the middle of the week when we needed some laughter. Go, grab some friends and make a memory.


a photo a day… in 2013

2013 is going to be a year of transition. Even if you were to ask, I do not have answers on what is next, but I promise there are things brewing and that I am filled with wonderful anticipation. As I begin another season of life, I am excited to remember the original tagline of this blog, “A piece of where I am.” This has been a place for me to write about the journey and to find beauty in where I am. As this year of transition begins, I want to record it and share it.

In addition to writing about “where I am,” I am launching a fun little photo project. In 2013, I will be posting a photo a day through Instagram (tagged with #365), and will share those photos in a weekly blog post with some thoughts to wrap up the week. I will collect these photos in a little book to share with you at the end of the year. This blog has often helped me to find the beauty that surrounds me, and I believe this project will do that as well. My hope is that, as I search for beauty in where I am, that you too will be blessed.

Just to fill you with anticipation, here are some instagram photos from 2012.


Chilling in my hammock (Kigali, Rwanda).


Flying places: sometimes in small planes (Uganda).


Old land (Northern Kenya).


Making coffee on the road (Ndola, Zambia).


Handwashing station in the desert (Northern Kenya).


Big flower, little bee (Northern Uganda).


Village scenes (Lira, Uganda).


House projects Africa style (Kigali, Rwanda).


Sunset and lake (Michigan, USA).


Hiking Ben Nevis (Scotland).


Coffee (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).


Ancient buildings (Rome, Italy).


Old art (Rome, Italy).


Water and islands (Hydra, Greece)


Interesting signs (Marsabit, Kenya).


Beautiful and yummy food (Atlanta, USA).


City sunset (Atlanta, USA).

I hope that you too are filled with anticipation as we prepare to ring in the new year!

All my love,

~pam (the nomad)

dreaming of my kitchen

For the last hour I have been flipping through recipes on The New York Times. Recipes that I can do absolutely nothing with except let them fill my dreams. Not the green been & red pepper salad, not the rhubarb crisp, not the fettucini with sausage & sage leaves, and definitely not the asparagus pesto. I don’t do much baking and am lactose intolerant, but was reading what looks to be a good cheesecake recipe.

Yep, it is that time on these trips where I dream of my little kitchen. It is a little kitchen with a half-sized stove and a not-full sized fridge. But it is my little kitchen. The pots and pans are familiar, the knives sharp, and the spices abundant. Most of all, it is a kitchen to which I have full access should I be in the right city.

Let’s be honest. Variety and options here are sorely lacking. But, given a kitchen, I could whip up some foods with different flavors and textures than my daily fare. Same ingredients, different combinations and spices. And I could make pancakes and (non-greasy) eggs on a Sunday morning. Maybe even real coffee.

Please do not get me wrong – I get more than my fair share of food here and have plenty of variety given the location. Tomorrow I will be back to sharing photos and stories of my travels. But tonight I am going to enjoy the luxury of dreaming of my kitchen and foods that are a few weeks away.

gathered around one plate

I remember when I did not like Ethiopian food and would dream of Indian food every time I would end up at an Ethiopian restaurant. Since then, much has changed in my taste buds. Now I enjoy the  depth of each dish that comes from the spices and cooking styles used – neither common in the American kitchen. And so, I ate my way through Ethiopia. But, beyond even the specific foods, I now appreciate how Ethiopian food is eaten. 

Each meal is served on a large platter covered with injera, the airy, tangy local bread. The different dishes are found in piles around the platter, and everyone gathers around this common plate. Pieces of injera are broken off to scoop up sauces made of vegetables, beans, and meats. The meal becomes a negotiation between hands as each person reaches for their favorite dishes. Sometimes you pause mid-air to prevent a collision of hands searching for food, and other times you stop to offer more injera or certain dish to your neighbor. By the end, everyone has had their fill, oily hands are ready to be washed, and each person is asked if he will, “Take coffee or tea.”

The most beautiful part of this is that it is a shared experience. Acquaintance or best friend, a meal like this is a unifying experience. You cannot pull your ‘a la carte’ plate to your little corner to hide behind your knife and fork. You cannot ignore your neighbor – you might be secretly thankful that his favorite sauce seems to be your least favorite sauce or be hoping he offers you the last bit of your that special sauce you happen to love. Maybe a certain sauce is particularly outstanding tonight and you want everyone to try it – no awkward passing of the plate the table – everyone just reaches across to try it for themselves. 

And so, someday, I think I might learn to cook Ethiopian food. When I do, we can gather around one plate in my kitchen for this shared experience.

pita bread

Today, thanks to a colleague, I discovered a little hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean restaurant. Which means that, for the first time since arriving in Nashville, I had really good pita bread. When I asked if they would sell me some of the pita bread, the owner said sure, but it was kind of expensive. Matter of fact, he said I could buy pita at a store for about a $1, but he had to charge me $10 for the bag. I said that was just fine because the other pita was not the same – it would not be as good. As he rang up my bag of pita bread, he decided to charge me $8. And tonight I had one of my favorite comfort foods – a melted cheese sandwich made with pita bread. It was perfect.

burnt cake

Last night I decided to make a cake. Nothing fancy, just a boxed cake mix. Just because I wanted a piece of cake. I figured JM, who is staying at my house as I travel to a wedding this weekend, might enjoy it too. So out came the strawberry cake mix, juice (makes it even better than adding water), oil, eggs, a bowl, the mixer, and the cake pan. I whipped up the cake mix, tossed it in the oven, and set the timer a few minutes short of the shortest suggest bake time.

Now, you ask why a few minutes short of the bake time? New ovens are unpredictable. They should not be as baking is much more of a science than an art, but they are. What should happen is that you turn the dial to the desired temperature, oven heats up and remains at that temperature until the dial is again turned. However, all too often the temperature is off, and this was my first time to bake at my cottage.

You have to understand that I love to cook. I bake primarily because I like baked goods. It is a science, and I know what parts of recipes to not mess with, and I get good results. Every now and then I forget to set the timer on a tray of cookies (a tray, not a batch), but that is the extent of the disaster.

Last night the house was smelling great as I was watching Laura Croft Tomb Raider while ironing in the living room. The timer goes off, I go to check the cake and as I approach the oven I smell burnt food. A distinctive and altogether painful and annoying smell. I pull the cake out of the oven and the bottom of it is burnt. I now have the top have cake in small pieces in a tuperware in the fridge. I am glad to say that part tasted good. An oven thermometer is on my ‘to purchase’ list so that next time the science of baking will not fail me.

All because I wanted a piece of cake.

for the love of complex foods

This week my gi tract has not been my best friend. Further descriptions of this were written, but are now erased; I easily forget what is considered acceptable conversation by most people. Suffice it to say that now everything stays in, but my stomach cramps whenever I eat. (On a side note, this is supposed to happen when I am in the African bush not in a city in the Midwest, US of A.) This means that my diet has been reduced to simple carbs. I thought I could enjoy this for a while. It makes food easy to prepare and I don’t have to feel bad about having toast for dinner. But the doc also said no dairy and to stay away from fiber.

This means that the pork tenderloins I bought are now in the freezer, that the spaghetti squash is uncooked, and the wonderful veggies from the farmer’s market remain in the drawer of my fridge. No spicy black beans or stir fried veggies. No fresh tomato sauce. The leftover pear apple cobbler from Sunday dinner remains uneaten.

Tonight I mixed up my diet and had white pancakes with syrup. No whole wheat pancakes with bananas and pecans.

Today I found a recipe for zucchini pear soup. I can’t wait to feel good again.


After a dinner characterized by the use of fresh basil and plenty of wine with friends last night, we moved on to dessert. We had my blueberry-peach cobbler that is topped with finely chopped pecans, oats, brown sugar, honey, spices and a bit of butter. Of course served a-la-mode. As we were eating this (delicious) dessert, the Italian in our midst makes a comment about the American use of cinnamon. His thought was that it was overused and in nearly everything. When I said ‘spices’ earlier, I meant ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and plenty of cinnamon. That got me thinking.

I love cinnamon. It goes in my pancakes, banana bread, carrot cake…most of my baking, some of my marinades. Sometimes it lands itself in my tea or on my toast. But the flavors blend so well—each complementing the next to be aromatically and sensually pleasing. Yet I was left with this question: Do I overuse this favorite spice thus neglecting others?

I would like to think that I use this spice appropriately so that it helps to build the flavor of the dishes I cook or bake while not overpowering and pushing out the other flavors. There is a long list of dishes that it has not worked itself into. Thus, I am hopeful that I have not fallen into this (apparently) American trap. However, I will certainly be watching my spice use a little more carefully in the near future to see what other patterns there that I might not have noticed so clearly.

feeling like a villager….

The trip up north was a whirlwind, which I will write about later as I am only several hours from heading to the airport.

So, for now, a story from last night.We were at a dinner with the NGO we work with to celebrate what was accoplished this trip and the foundation it laid for new work. As much as is possible with the little I have with me, the hair and make-up were done, a skirt and jewlerry on. Before our dinner comes I am straining to hear people as the open night air swollows their voices and one man speaks Belgian French. A different accent that I struggle to understand in any circumstance. Then dinner arrives and I am faced with a half a barbequed chicken and fried bananas. I look at the chicken and attack with my knife and fork. It takes about two seconds before I am stealing glances around hoping, wishing that someone will pick up their chicken with their hands. It seems like a century of attempting to attack my chicken when someone finally puts down their fork and I sigh as it has suddenly become acceptable to dive in with my hands. Oh how I wanted to be in village where I can understand the French and silverware is optional if available.

More from Washington in a day….

le pili pili

Day two and we are still on track, and I am feeling spoiled with the internet acess.

Last night I made a request to go to Le Pili Pili, a nice local restaurant that has fantastic grilled fish with the special ‘pili pili’ marinade. The type of fish you ask? The type that tasted good and had more than enough for three people. Topped off with fried plantains and Fizzi Pomplemouse (grapefruit soda), I could not ask for much more.

Wish there was something more to report or some great stories, but it is really ‘life as normal in Cotonou.’ Maybe there will be something good after a visit to a new village this afternoon…

2 unpleasantries in 1 day – 10 july

Yesterday at the end of the church service, every one stayed around for a little reception afterwards as a child had died a week ago, and we had bri (porridge) of acasa and some people had drinks (I have still managed to decline local alcohol). You have to understand—I really am not a fan of acasa to start out with. Acasa is made from yams (white root – not American sweet potatoes) that have been dried in the sun, then pounded to powder, then rehydrated to form a starch that is eaten with the various sauces at lunch or dinner. It is kind of like Jell-O jigglers that is white with no good fruity flavor. With sauce, I now have no issues with it, though do not choose to eat acasa when at restaurants. Now….bri of acasa. Ouch. All the lack of (or questionable) flavor with (maybe?) a hit of sugar with NO sauce. And, an extra large serving of it because well, I am a guest. Why didn’t they make bri of maize? Bri of maize is similar to cream of wheat, and I make it regularly for breakfast here. Needless to say, I was quick to decline the extra serving I was offered when I got to the bottom of my bowl.

The second unpleasantry was for one of my students. We’ll call her ‘fizzi-less’ (FL) for this entry. She hates anything fizzi: soda, champagne, and probably beer. It makes her tongue hurt and it is hilarious to watch her face when she has a sip of something fizzi. I thought we were going to make through our time here without her getting a soda as a gift from a village that she would have to drink, but last night killed that track record. We were all promptly given warm Cokes after the meeting with the new village. She was coaxed through it, but managed to drink the whole bottle without a look of pain on her face. FL is keeping the bottle cap as a remembrance of her first and (she hopes) last Coke ever.