On your marks, get set…



“Nothing tortures you like what could have been…
But I don’t know anything about you anymore.”

-Robyn Hitchcock, “Harry’s Song”

Sometimes things that start as fun end up being agony. They may even start out with a bit of agony, but if you have a bent toward self-torture, as I sometimes do, you stick with these things through the agony just because you feel you have to see it through to ask, “Can this get any worse?” In the midst of the moments of unhappiness punctuating everything, the agony is unfelt. Later, the agony of the moment is suddenly remembered and felt acutely.

I feel a great need for silence and solitude, but some part of me is not content with that. Disturbing this silence willingly, I spontaneously jumped up and traveled away from my quiet refuge to do the very opposite of what my nature dictates. So far, so good. I want to ring in the new year going against the grain.

While I often do feel uncomfortable in large crowds, in noisy surroundings, I imagine that there are times when I take the shortcut – that is, shutting everyone and everything out – and in turn shortchange myself. I imagine I have always been this way – my mother tells me that even as a baby, I liked to be surrounded by people and activity but I did not want to be a part of it. I wanted to observe it, doing my own thing. This has not changed. I look back and also realize that my multitasking, impatient nature has also shortchanged me. I recall activities I did in second grade (when I was 7) that I hurried through as fast as possible because I wanted the sensation of being finished. It was for this reason that a puzzle-building activity I completed was sloppy and my handwriting was the most dismal thing in the world. This continued all through my education, from reading the entire seventh grade social studies text within the first week of school and completing all the assignments that same week, to rushing through my BA degree in 2.5 years instead of 4. From the earliest moments, I felt this need to rush through things, devour more things – and I now think I was, as I still am, running away from something. But what was I running toward?

It is not as though the road I took was “the easy way” – in fact, in many cases, it was much harder than if I had plodded along slowly, at a normal pace.

All these years, I made many decisions and have landed somewhere where I am basically content. At least I was before 2013. I think 2013 has been the worst year I can remember having. After the useless and painful parts of 2013, I can only hope that 2014 will be a better year – for me, and for everyone.

Happy new year!

Social media fanatic?


I don’t consider myself to be a social media fanatic, but when I compare my level of activity to that of everyone else, I guess I am pretty active.

But it was almost comical when my colleague sent me an email asking if I made the top-three list of marketers on LinkedIn (within Sweden) for 2013. He asked whether it’s the baking that elevated me there (did he mean that I post baking-related stuff on LinkedIn or that I bribed people with cake? Haha).

Why I Changed My Mind: Kim Dickens


Every day some random thing pops into my mind – a person, a tv show, a movie, a flavor. And I realize that I have changed my mind about it, one way or the other.

Watching the bittersweet ending of Treme, I was hit again by the revelation that I have gone from hating to loving the performances of Kim Dickens.

I used to hate the actress Kim Dickens to the point that when I knew she was in a movie, it would discourage me from watching it. There was something nagging and annoying about her back in the late 1990s – not sure what exactly she was in that I would have wanted to see (Truth or Consequences, N.M.? Mercury Rising? Hollow Man?). I saw these and other things and was always disappointed to see her on the screen (or her name in the opening credits).

When did this start to change? I remember when she showed up in Deadwood, feeling that sinking disappointment but then slowly coming around to her performance as Joanie Stubbs, whorehouse madame.

Next, when she showed up in Friday Night Lights, I remained skeptical but she won me over in much the same way as her character won over her estranged son, Matt Saracen.

Kim Dickens finally won me over completely as Janette Desautel in the sauntering, ever-underrated drama Treme.

The cherry on top is her performance as yet another escort-service proprietor, Colette, in Sons of Anarchy.

Somehow she has grown into herself to offer an elegant, intelligent screen presence.

Considered, reconsidered – Kim Dickens is proof that some things get much, much better with age.

Mysteries of Foreign Kitchens – Onion focaccia bread, take two


When I travel and stay in the homes of friends, I do enjoy continuing my baking obsession in their kitchens, but navigating foreign kitchens (and by foreign I mean both foreign in the sense that they are in other countries and in the sense that they are unknown to me) is a challenge. Very few people are as well-equipped as I am for baking activities, so baking in strange kitchens is always an adventure in improvisation.

An alleged attempt at onion focaccia bread

An alleged attempt at onion focaccia bread

Once in Berlin I tried to make Anzac biscuits without access to brown sugar or golden syrup (and was making them with someone who was not eating sugar anyway). We went with honey and imitation sugar. He also had a wonky oven and nothing resembling baking sheets.

Most people (especially men) don’t even have mixers, so it’s all about stirring by hand.

Today’s retread of a baking adventure – onion focaccia bread. I made this last week (where the pic comes from) and am trying it again in unfamiliar environs. We’ll see how it goes.

Onion focaccia bread recipe
Bread dough

3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ tablespoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water

Sift all dry ingredients together (try this in a kitchen without a sifter or something similar!). Add the oil and warm water, stir to make a dough. If the dough is a bit too dry, as mine was, add a very small amount of water.

Knead the dough for ten minutes on a lightly floured surface until you have a smooth, stretchy dough. Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and let rise until the dough is doubled. (This was a challenge because I’m in a house that has basically one bowl total.)

When dough has doubled (this took about 45 minutes for me), roll it out to a 25cm/10 inch round size and place in an appropriate pan. At home I used a 10-inch cast iron pan. Here there is no such pan so I am just baking it on a flat pan.

Cover with a damp cloth and let rise again for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cover, make deep holes in the dough, about 2.5cm/1 inch apart. Cover again and let rise for 20 minutes.

When it has risen, scatter with the onions, drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the sea salt (ingredients as listed in the “topping” items below. Not to be confused with “toppins” cast aside at a Pizza Hut and eaten by homeless Vietnam veterans living in cardboard boxes). Sprinkle a small amount of cold water on top to keep a crust from forming. Bake about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

1 red onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon coarse sea salt

The Lone(ly) Immigrant


The roughest part of moving to a new country on your own – without a real reason, going somewhere without a support network – is the making connections and friends. You do not often meet the kind of immigrant who moved to a new country just because he or she wanted to. If not following love/the heart, following a career path or deciding to study abroad (which is its own protected cocoon that barely counts as “living abroad”), you are just out there somewhere, on your own, adrift in this new place with no inside track on how to meet people or interact. The whole thing is a wild ride, a learning curve, negotiating the place between who and where you are and who and where everyone else is… finding a comfortable place in between.

I am too headstrong and naturally weird (other people’s assessment more than my own) to “fit in” anywhere I go so have never been one of those zombies who moves somewhere and professes love for a place without reservation. I don’t go native. I am who I am – and I won’t impose me on others, but I don’t want to be too changed by them either.

Long ago when I volunteered (oh, the sense of adventure) to be an immigrant, I struggled with the whole maze of bureaucracy and adjusting to the little things that make up a new place. You never really think about how things operate elsewhere. Things that seemed like second nature where you came from are often done in a completely different way elsewhere. The mind is conditioned to think that the way it’s done wherever you came from is “the right way” – but part of adjusting and assimilating is not just finding out how these things work but also acknowledging that perhaps the new way is better or more efficient.

All of that is easy enough to accomplish – it is a matter of changing the way you think. But making genuine connections with people – locals or other foreigners – is so much more difficult than that. Moving to Scandinavia especially (not the warmest or most social place), it’s hard to break into the already formed social circles and make even acquaintances (although forming lasting friendships does mean something when you finally get there). I have never been a really outgoing or friendly person, so making friends has always been difficult.

At one point almost ten years ago I decided I had nothing to lose by attending a course for immigrants who wanted to start businesses in Iceland. It was a three-weekend course, quite inexpensive and perhaps would lead me to forming a business (I was already actively freelancing). The course was a bit of a joke; designed and run by Icelanders, they automatically assumed all the immigrant attendees wanted to open restaurants. That’s right –that is all we’re good for. Food service. People from all over the world took the course – people who were highly educated, had been working in professional fields in their home countries – but yeah, we all want to open a food cart.

What I had not banked on was meeting three people who actually changed – and elevated – my quality of life. Two Australians and an Italian – people who became my best friends and who still are.

It happens – but the life of an immigrant can be a lonely one.

Not a Salesman


I have never been a big fan of the concept of sales or salesmen – my first clear memories of how I perceive most career salespeople can be summed up in the character of Herb Tarlek on the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Inept, laying it on way too thick to mask insecurity and total lack of competence. My experience with salespeople ever since has only reinforced these ideas.

(about 1:20 in)

Metric – “On a Slow Night” “Tell me what did that salesman do to you?”

Of course, it’s one thing when you’re buying a milkshake from a teenager at Baskin-Robbins. It is entirely another thing when dealing with corporate hucksters and peddlers. I once went to the aforementioned Baskin-Robbins with a friend, and one of us ordered a peach smoothie or something similar, and the boy working there chuckled and said something about, “You know what too much fruit can do to you?” implying something about the laxative properties of fiber-rich fruits. He may even have gone to the extreme of spelling it out for us. I don’t remember. Either way, he was a high school kid slinging ice cream – and it did not require a whole lot of salesmanship since his customers were already in the door. (He would have done well, though, to refrain from discussion of bodily functions and excretions.) Same applies to the small-town restaurant where the waiter discouraged my friend from ordering panna cotta because it was, in his words, “an old-person dessert”. I don’t know – if I may borrow a crass page from the Baskin-Robbins ice cream boy – verbal diarrhea does not help your cause if you want to sell. You cannot sell if you are prone to saying every random thought that comes to mind.

All this is well and good – I don’t expect the pinnacle of polish, presentation and salesmanship from high school kids and those who may not even have finished high school. What I do expect is that when someone becomes a professional salesman, they ought to have mastered what to say and not to say in any number of situations. Years ago, my mom went to a Subaru dealership, and was looking at a Forester. The salesman told her she would not want that because “it’s a lesbian car”?!

He had no way of knowing whether my mom was a lesbian or not. What better way to put your foot in your mouth and ensure that you will not get a sale! He had no idea who he was talking to. A lesbian? Someone who is offended by any discussion of sexual orientation (because it has no place in the sale of a car!)? Someone who would be horrified by the idea of being perceived as a lesbian? No matter how you slice it, the guy neutered himself because there was no way that what he said was appropriate or lending itself to a sale or sales lead. My mom was offended that he made any assumptions and decided to discuss inappropriate things with a complete stranger on the sales floor. She never went back. A few years later when she was looking to buy a new car, she went to another dealership (not Subaru) and the same salesman was working there – she decided against buying a car there first and foremost because of his presence.

I won’t even start talking about the professional salespeople I had to work with in a previous job. Maybe there was nothing explicitly wrong with most of them, but I definitely dreaded the annual sales seminar I was forced to attend. Nothing could bring me down faster than that dog and pony show.

And me – I live and work on the periphery of sales in marketing and try to stay on the less shady side of marketing. I remember when I used to meet people and they would tell me they worked in marketing, it set off alarm bells and waved red flags. A guy saying, “I work in marketing” just sounds like a neat way to legitimately say, “I deal in bullshit”. And now, professionally, I am right in the thick of it.

Swedish advertising – “Från jord till bord”


I don’t actually watch TV on Swedish TV, but when I stream The Daily Show, I sometimes get Swedish ads… and the simplicity (possibly duplicity, knowing what we know about the world of factory farming) of this one from Lantmännen got to me. Who can resist a cat and a tractor with a nice Swedish voiceover? Oh, and a weird pizza with bananas on it!

Netflixization of Entertainment


“Look in your heart” – “What heart?” –Miller’s Crossing

In keeping with the me-me-me nature of society, entertainment has grown to be more and more personalized and on-demand. Technology enables a lot of things – and watching what you want whenever you want is a big part of that. I’ve been loving Netflix for a long time – as far back as the beginning when a subscription entitled the subscriber to virtually unlimited DVD rentals through the post. I became a convert during a period of unemployment and great sadness, watching four or five movies per day. Netflix enabled that obsessive-compulsive behavior even before the ubiquity of high-speed streaming overtook my life.

Streaming has made things even more “at my fingertips”, more addictive, more dangerous and full of mind rot. I can feel my brain becoming less able at massaging language now – words and constructions that flowed more easily when I was a more dedicated and avid reader. Reading is really where it’s at, but like everything in the fast-food, self-serve, instant-gratification culture and environment I live in, I feel too much impatience when I read. It requires so much concentration – and I am an impatient multitasker.

Streaming Netflix, even more than its DVD subscription alter ego, or even the marathon viewing of box-set DVDs, has spawned a culture of binge viewing. It has also become the decider* for me, telling me what to watch next, mostly based on what is set to expire from Netflix (due to licensing issues). Plenty of things have been sitting in my queue for ages, and I would probably never get around to watching them except that Netflix posts a bright red, emergency-style date warning next to the item in the queue, warning of its impending disappearance. Most recently I ended up watching Miller’s Crossing, Children of a Lesser God (someone please tell me why anyone hires or likes William Hurt) and Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips – surprisingly, it made Venice look almost appealing, but Italy is still NOT fooling me).

*I laugh every time I hear or see the word “decider” because it reminds me of George W. Bush and the ridiculous way he phrased things: “I am the decider!”.

I noticed that classics like The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas are also set to expire from Netflix on January 1. Oh, forgive me, Dolly, but your films mostly leave so very much to be desired. In the 80s I watched a lot of shitty movies because, being a little eclectic music-junkie child, I loved Dolly Parton (to the point that I dressed as Dolly for Halloween in third grade) and Olivia Newton-John. Apart from Parton’s turn in the entertaining 9 to 5, neither woman could be said to have great acting talents or particularly rich decisionmaking in their choices. Rhinestone? Xanadu? Two of a Kind? Please.

Also expiring is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins – one of those films my brother recommended to me during our childhood. Who doesn’t love Fred Ward!? “Just remember – I won it. He’s mine.”

You Don’t Understand Citizenship


If you were born somewhere and lived there all your life, it is hard for you to understand the concept of citizenship. People in almost any country will talk a lot about defending their country, their patriotism, their sense of belonging in that place and culture – any number of ideas that are really taken for granted in addition to not being fully understood. Yes, perhaps most people are perfectly happy with their lives and do not question or think about the accident of their birth, of their citizenship. You are born with it and accept the rights (and sometimes duties and responsibilities) associated with it, but rarely know what it means because you never had to fight for it, never chose or did not choose it, never had it denied or taken away from you and, in many cases, have never lived somewhere that was truly oppressive or denied your basic human rights. When discussions arise about immigration and people from some unknown “somewhere else” wanting to come to your home country, the tendency is less openness and understanding about people wanting a different life and more wall building and protectionism.

Many argue that there are different kinds of “immigration” – and at least in the eyes of the law, this is true. Different countries’ immigration laws classify different types of immigration and immigrants into different categories. Some are skilled migrants (and most people aren’t arguing against them when complaining about hordes of immigrants – although the shortage of skilled migrant visas in the US would belie that point). Some are family reunification migrants – joining husbands, wives, immediate family. Some are refugees. The list goes on, and depending on the country, the levels of detail by which immigrant groups are classified are minute.

I don’t know what I would call myself, but my first move was to Iceland from the US. Sure, I came from the US – where a lot of people struggle to GET to – so my “struggle” is not quite the same thing as the struggle other people go through. I don’t deny that I came from a position of privilege to start with – having a cushy starting point going to something that just felt better. It makes a big difference when you have a choice in where you go and where you stay. Many immigrants do not have so many choices open to them but want to go somewhere to start over or find a better life. While I suppose that my personal choice was to “find a better life” (for me), it is entirely from a place of good fortune, independence and freedom that I could select the place that felt best for me.

Still, though, even with these undisputed advantages, the whole uphill battle of fighting against a system that always feels like it has been designed to keep you out is exhausting even in the best circumstances. The feeling that you will never quite get where you need to be to be a “permanent” resident (and eventually a citizen) never quite leaves.

Then the overwhelming relief – something like standing atop a mountain and looking at the panorama of what surrounds you after having scaled the terrifying and difficult heights to get there – when you are granted citizenship in a country after a long struggle is completely beyond words.

What is funnier still is the ease of forgetting the struggle. There used to be daily headaches before all the bureaucratic hurdles were cleared, before new passports were issued, back when bureaucrats in an immigration office somewhere held all the power, to the point that it defined my life, contributed tremendous stress to my existence. And now that all of that is a distant memory, the details of those struggles also fade. I remind myself not to let them all fade – I am reminded of them every time another friend mentions his or her own (often arbitrary) immigration woes. Understanding and appreciating citizenship, I think, requires more than just being happy that I have citizenship where I want to, and being happy that my path is free and clear. It also requires being fully aware, never forgetting the hard road that got me there.

I want a passport from Côte d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast


Everyone who knows me knows that I love collecting a rainbow of passports. I would like a green one, if only one were easy to get. When I discovered that the national passport of Côte d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast is not only green but has an elephant on its cover, I started lusting for it.

Sure, I have never set foot anywhere in Africa, let alone Ivory Coast – but by golly, I would become a tireless campaigner for Ivorian trade and tourism if I could just have a passport bearing the likeness of an elephant on the front! I mean, who wouldn’t sell their soul for that??

Please give me an Ivorian passport!

Please give me an Ivorian passport!