Salisbury, Wiltshire, U.K., January 2017.
Hi. Happy New Year over a month late. We’re just getting sorted after a lovely and whirlwind trip to Salisbury, England, to visit family and shiver delightfully over delicious cups of lattes and flat whites here and there, often accompanied by thick slabs of cake, just in time to get organized to send most of our worldly possessions away by container ship in a little over a week. To say that the word overwhelm is a bit appropriate in this situation would be correct. This is my third time doing this and I’m much more savvy than the first round four years ago (oh haaaaaa, this is an understatement) but my family has also grown by two small people so I’ve much less time to think straight let alone pack. I did – sort of, though I had no idea what I was getting into – sign up for this, so I can’t complain, but I’ve been baking a lot of cake lately in between the list-making.
And soup. I’ve been making a lot of soup, usually loaded with as many vegetables as possible because that helps me weather these times of transition. I did a broccoli-carrot-potato last week and have been doing pots of carrot-coconut soup as much for its velvety, soothing texture as its nourishing properties.
The Foreign Service life brings unique, amazing experiences and shared camaraderie with people you may or may not see again (though really never say never because, for example, my former supervisor from Casa is now in Canberra so I have no doubt our paths will cross while we’re in Sydney). But the good-byes are hard. So very hard. Riyadh is a tough post in a lot of ways so the community, if you let it, becomes tight. Many of our friends have already moved on, and we’ve kept in touch, and now it’s our turn to leave our friends behind. Being on the cusp of starting afresh in a brand new country in a totally unfamiliar city where we know no one is daunting. The lead up is always the worst, though; once the bags and house are packed and we’re on the plane and I’ve discarded my abaya possibly forever I know I’ll take a sigh of relief that we got through it and go forward with hopes that our next experience will be just as rewarding.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I embark upon my third overseas posting is that you can’t rush things. You have to let your new life unfold in an organic way — trying to force a semblance of routine or normalcy just isn’t possible and that’s OK. This is difficult for someone like me who thrives and craves routine, especially with a not-quite six month old, but on the flip side it’s an opportunity to discard any bad habits or tweak the usual a bit. I’d like to get back to a consistent yoga practice, to incorporate more fruit into our daily lives (this sounds silly but a lot of the fruit we love, like berries and organic bananas, is either too expensive or of poor quality or simply not available here), to be able to get to the market more than once a week so that vegetables can be really fresh and I can be more spontaneous with my cooking again. I’d like to get out for walks again with the girls, the way I haven’t done much here because it’s been so dusty, and hopefully get back into camping. While in Saudi we’ve cut way back on some of the little things we really love, like going to the beach, and are eager to rediscover that again if possible.
I’ll of course still be making my simple dinners and soup will figure prominently, especially as fall will descend in Australia a few months after we arrive and I am firmly in the camp that the start of fall heralds soup season. How funny that this year we will have two falls and two winters and a rather short summer, though I hear the weather is pretty temperate (with rain!) year-round.
There are so many things to say about Saudi Arabia and in time I may explore them more here, but I think my main takeaway from this two-year experience is that it was not as bad as I expected. Frankly I was not happy to come here, mainly because of the situation for women and because it’s such a closed country that most of the information we in the west have about it is negative. The climate is terrible, for one thing (even in winter it is so extremely arid), and you are incredibly limited in things to do. But day to day you can make it work. Everyone we’ve met has been kind and welcoming, from Saudis to third country nationals to other expats. As a Western woman I have a lot more freedom than you would expect, and in truth there is more freedom here than you might realize. I am grateful we are not staying longer than two years but I don’t regret our time here. And of course there is more to say but I have some boxes to rearrange so I will leave it for another time.
I hope to be back here soon, or as soon as our Internet in our new home is established. Whenever that will be, who knows! Such is this life. Until then, soup. Stay warm out there, friends.
I recommend doubling this recipe so that you’ll be sure to have leftovers. Serve with good bread and butter and your favorite cheese.
Makes four servings.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
5 tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 small white potatoes, peeled and quartered
4-5 cups diced carrots
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add ginger and saute for another 4 minutes, until softened and fragrant. Add the potatoes and diced carrots and stir well. Add the vegetable broth or water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer mixture until carrots and potatoes are softened, about 30 minutes.
Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend soup until smooth. Stir in coconut milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat gently on low heat and serve.