South Africa

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In October 2018, ten of us, cousins and spouses, ventured on a two-week trip to South Africa, organized by our youngest cousin, who grew up in South Africa.  We took an overnight flight from Zurich, and arrived 9 hours later in Johannesburg where we were whisked off to the Johannesburg Country Club, a left over cluster of old manors and lounges from the Brits, sprawled over a few acres of groomed gardens and surrounded by a ten foot high wall, topped with electric security wires. Over a scrumptious, extended lunch we were treated to a bit of history from our cousin who loved this country of his birth with a natural passion and he also knew that we were curious and keen to know where we were.

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Swiss Rösti

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Rösti is an all time favorite ‘poor man’ left-over recipe and is served for dinner or lunch – never for breakfast – in most Swiss homes and restaurants, including the high-end gourmet palaces like the ‘Dolder Grand’ or the ‘Kronenhalle’, usually as an accompaniment to seared calf liver or ‘Zürich Geschnetzeltes’which is scalloped sirloin in a cream sauce with mushrooms. 

 Here is how it goes:

Boil half a dozen whole potatoes (yukon or white) until cooked (ca. 15-20 min)

drain water and let the potatoes sit for a couple of days (2-4) on top of the fridge or out of the way, no need to refrigerate

 Now the potatoes are firm and easy to peel, then grate or shred them into fettuccini sized strips

heat 2 tbsp of bacon fat or butter in a frying pan  (cast or stick-free)

add the shredded potatoes, turn over two or three times on high heat

turn heat down and let sit for a few minutes (2-3)

gently mix a couple more times

now leave it alone and let it cook on medium heat for ca. 8-10 min, until the bottom is brown and crisp

Cover the potatoes in the frying pan with a plate and flip the whole works over so the Rösti comes to rest on the serving plate with the crisp, browned side up

You can also add bacon cubes and/or finely chopped onions to the mix but fry them first before adding the potatoes

When I was a kid I always garnished the Rösti with a couple of fried eggs over top and my mom insisted on a green salad on the side

Rösti goes well as a side dish with veal stroganoff (or Zurich Geschnetzeltes) sausages or pork cutlets or seared calf liver or just green salad.

 

Finland

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The LNG powered ferry from Tallinn, Estonia, to Helsinki takes two and a half hours and is a glitzy, floating restaurant, lounge, bar and garden patio with several large TV’s, a kids era, a live band and a whole floor dedicated to shopping.  You can buy a fancy watch or designer clothes while drinking a glass of champagne. Living in a ferry dependent community as we are here on the Sunshine Coast, this was a jaw dropping luxury cruise compared to the old rusty and creaky, diesel powered boats plying the waters of B.C. Mind you that crossing cost $ 50.- p/person as in compare to $ 17.- or free for seniors during the week.

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Pizza Bbq

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         Who doesn’t like pizza ? Nobody. It’s the ultimate universal meal or snack and ranks in popularity right next to bread and chocolate.

         Here is an easy recipe for home made pizza which tastes so much better then anything you order in a restaurant or that comes in a cardboard box. And it’s soo easy to make and so adaptable to your personal tastes and likes. Just look in the fridge.

         If there is some left over spaghetti sauce or salsa, maybe half a jar of pesto, some mozzarella or marble cheese, tomatoes and onions you already have all it takes to build a basic pizza. Add any other ingredients you have, like olives, mushrooms, garlic, any kind of peppers, spices and if you like a meaty pizza add ham, salami, pepperoni or my favorite, prosciutto.

         Of course there is no pizza without the base and here is how you can really impress yourself (and your guests). Make your own dough! Do you have flower in the house? How about some salt and maybe a packet of east? That’s it. Just add water and a bit of olive oil.

         Of course the real secret to the perfect pizza is where and how you cook it. Nothing is easier and soo perfect. Not everybody has a pizza oven but almost everybody owns a bbq ! It helps if you have a round pizza stone on which to bake your pizza. I’ve used 12” tiles from the building supply (clay or granite, some tiles will crack from the heat) and they worked just fine.

 Here is how you make the dough for one large  delicious pizza:

3 cups (450 gr, 1lb) flower (unbleached white or whole wheat)

1 tsp  yeast (you can skip the yeast if you want a really thin crust)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp olive oil

add some rosemary

1 cup (2.5 dl) warm water

mix and knead by hand, form into a ball , cover it with a tea towel and let sit at room temp for a couple of hours

roll it out into the size and shape you like

sprinkle some corn meal on the stone (helps to prevent sticking) and lay out the dough, curling up the edges.*

Spread the sauce, salsa or pesto. Next comes the grated cheese, be generous and cover the whole dough, then add whatever else you want over top of the cheese

Heat the bbq tp to 500° (hot !) and slide in the pizza.

Have a look after 12-15 min. It’s ready when the edges go brown and the dough is stiff. Check it by lifting it with a spatula. Watch you don’t burn it.

Oh, so delicious !

Merlot (from the Okanagan) will go great with any pizza !

 

 

Las Vegas New Year

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                                    Where the rich come to play

                                    And the poor come to pay.

As soon as you step into the arrival and departure lounge the mechanical whirring, dinging and ringing of the ubiquitous slot machines permeates the atmosphere like everywhere in Las Vegas. This soundscape of gaming lures the masses to sit in front of, and feed money into, these blinking and clanging automated gaming terminals, depicting in bright neon lit screens various cartoon like scenes of fantasy themes, television and Hollywood icons. Casinos are at the heart of Las Vegas and they are the foundation on which this city has been built on and is still supporting thousands of jobs and the 150’000 hotel rooms. In this mirage in the desert you can go from the Coliseum in Rome to the Eifel tower in Paris to the canals and palaces of Venice, the roller coaster and Greenwich Village in New York or enter the pyramid in Luxor by just crossing Las Vegas Boulevard on one of the many elevated and escalator equipped crosswalks.

Seventy years ago Las Vegas was just a dusty old western village where today Freemont Street is covered by the ‘world’s largest’ video screen. This section features zip-lines under the video canopy with hourly visual effect shows to 80ies rock music like The Who or Heart. Its’ gaudily lit casinos and restaurants are older and a bit seedier then the glitzy new palaces on the strip, with lots of freaky performers at street level entertaining the crowds for spare change. Restaurants like ‘The Heart Attack Grill’ where 350lbs eat for free can be found here.

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Real of Fake


‘So did you watch any news,’ Camp asked before I even sat down at our usual corner table by the Salish Sea.

‘You can be proud of me. I refrained from reading the daily news from my phone on my bedside table as soon as I opened my eyes, which had become my routine as of late.  Instead I just lay there for a couple of minutes, contemplating the day ahead.’

‘I have to confess,’ Camp said, ‘I have been following the Brexit  improv theatre but only with cursory, sideway glances,’ Camp confessed.

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Time Warp


This is the time of the west coast summer I like the most. Warm, lazy days, fresh tomatoes and black berries on the table, cool languid evenings and the leaves turning colour already. It’s the end of the summer, kind of a metaphor for myself. I feel a bit nostalgic, having just spent last weekend at an annual cousin gathering in Heidiland; talking, walking, eating and drinking. Maybe not in that order.

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The Dream is Alive


It’s been a perfect summer so far. The occasional rain has taken the sting out of the expected drought, which resulted in thousands of forest fires over the past couple of years. ‘What’s with this haze? ‘I said when I joined my friend Camp at our watering hole on the Gibsons harbour.

‘Apparently it’s from  the massive forest fires in Siberia’ which have consumed over 13 million acres this year alone, an area larger than Greece,’ he said. ‘Putin sent in the army and even Trump offered to help fighting the blaze.’

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Meat or not Meat


The walk along the seashore was as pleasant as it gets. I wore shorts, sandals and T-shirt; my favourite attire. Storm clouds building to the west promise welcome rain overnight and then it’s back to sunshine. When I checked with Camp earlier in the week at the store, which was crawling with tourists, mostly looking for a washroom, he assured me that he would be there on Thursday. ‘Nothing has changed buddy, stop worrying. You’re not my mother in law.’

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Guilt and Conscience


While walking along the shore towards the village I was thinking about all the thousands of miles we travel every year and how much energy and fuel that jet setting burns. The other nagging question is: who bears responsibility for reducing the carbon footprint? The companies that pumped the oil, the carmakers whose engines burn the fuel or the people who drive the cars? And is guilt about everything from what we eat to how we travel a good motivator for improving our lazy comfort habits. Are these rich man’s problems. Such were my quandaries when I sat down, waiting  for Camp who was unusually late.

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Existential Life


‘Living is hard, dying is easy’, goes a rock’n’roll cliché. By living I don’t mean the mundane, everyday routines like paying bills, maintaining relationships and watering the garden but living in the face of a short lifespan, with only a relatively short time left to go before it’s all over. And why exert myself at all if it’s all so transient? Sartre theorized that it’s ok to constantly be challenged by life, be forced to make daily decisions, be afraid of the dizziness of life. There is no golden rule for a successful life, no guarantees and no single path to fulfillment.

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All we need is Love


We jIt’s finally summer, and unlike Europe’s heat wave here it’s what they call rich men’s weather: Warm, sunny and no bugs.  This coming Saturday, July 7th will be Camp’s big day. He and Muriel are hosting a garden party at Muriel’s house and they are going to formally tie the proverbial knot and says nice and endearing things to each other in front of family and friends. With that in mind I decided to be in an upbeat mood and not dwell on the usual misery and word-wide discord but instead focus on harmony, good vibes and love.

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War of Words


        Finally we got some much needed rain, and it just cleared up enough for my walk along the shore to the pub. The long Canada Day weekend is coming up and the sunshine will be back in time for the summer to start in earnest. The kids will be out of school and the population here will grow with cottagers, campers and tourists, which will mean that our quiet corner table will most likely already be taken. But not today.  I could see Camp from below, intent on his smart phone, which he quickly stashed away when he saw me.

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More Meat


Campbell, or Camp to us regulars, was in good spirits this evening and he didn’t take long to let me in on the reason for his ebullient mood.

‘You know what’s happening in June?’ he asked rather cryptically.

‘Well, let me see, in June the official summer starts, it’s also the longest day of the year and school is out for trillions of kids.’

‘Yes, yes, all of that. I’m talking more personal, like what’s happing in my life in June,’ Camp said.

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Oysters à la maison


We just returned from our yearly camping weekend to Lund, our favorite spot here on the west coast at the end of highway # 101. We always go the Laughing Oyster restaurantfor the great food, music and view of Okeover Bay. A provincial campground and recreational shellfish marine park is right next door and we waitedfor low tide and then joined the king fishers, herons, eagles, ducks and seagulls and some other scavengers like us, all feeding off the freshly uncovered bounty along the seashore. In a matter of minutes we picked our daily allotment of hand sized oysters. Once shucked they’re as big as an egg yoke.  We also checked the DFO site for red tide, which is a paralytic shellfish poison and  invisible.

We met a local who looked at our bucket full of oysters and wanted to know how we intended to eat them. I consider myself an experienced oyster-shucker from several years of picking and proudly told him so. It’s a grimy, tedious job and these big babies are tough to open.

He shook his head and said: ‘Just put them into boiling water for a minute and they’ll open up by themselves. Now they’re also pre-cooked and no mess to deal with. It’s the only way unless you’re one of those crazies who eats them raw.’

The best advice I ever had. I did exactly that and these big fat oysters just popped open and practically fell out of their shell. Other times I also shucked them fresh and froze them, a dozen to a small container.

Then I looked for recipes on the net. It seemed everyone had a different idea for Oysters Rockefeller. The original recipe was a serendipitous invention by chef Jules Alciatore at Antoine’s in New Orleans ano 1889. He was short of escargots and replaced them with the plump local oysters, baked in their shells. Somebody said they were as rich as the Rockefellers and the name stuck.  Jules took his original recipe to the grave and left it therefore wide open to create them a hundred different ways. It dawned on me that oysters are really a personal thing and you’re  free to create your own recipe. Bread them, smother them, cover them, bake them.Here is my simple version of the legendary Oysters Rockefeller recipe. 6 each is a meal, half of that is an appy.

Place shucked oysters (or pre-cooked) on a half shell on a cookie sheet. (I don’t use the original shells because they are full or barnacles and embedded rocks. Instead I collect the sun bleached half-shells where the local Oyster Bar chucks them onto the beach and I sterilize them in boiling water.

Mix up creamed spinach, onions, garlic, bread crumbs and some Tabasco or hot sauce. Spread mixture over oysters.

Top with pre-fried bacon pieces

Sprinkle with grated Gruyere cheese

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes then broil on Hi for 1 minute

Serve the oysters on the half shell or just by themselves

Goes well with a butter lettuce and/or potato salad

You’ll feel as rich as Rockefeller when you eat them

Serve with any wine you like but goes best with a white wine or bubbly

 

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Tipping the Tax


Clare and I went out for lunch at the pub today. She had a spinach salad and I opted for the beef dip. When I asked for half fries and half salad the waitress said: That will be $ 3 extra.I declined. A glass of white wine for Clare, a pint of the in-house lager for myself. The bill came to $ 50, add 5% for the tax on food and 10% for the alcohol and then add the tip on top of it all. I peeled off three twenty-dollar bills. When I told Camp about our rather expensive pub lunch he just shook his head of grey curly locks and said: ‘That’s why you’ll never see me eating out. I just can’t afford it. For sixty bucks I can buy a whole weeks worth of groceries for myself.’

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The Usual Suspects


Walking along the quiet shore here in Gibsons it’s hard to believe that in Alberta 800 square kilometers are burning, displacing over 4000 people and it’s only May. That’s about 16 times the size of Bowen Island or 2½ times the size of Texada Island. It’s going to be a hot summer, bad for forest fires, good for breweries.

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Waste not Want not


It has been a stellar week as far as the weather goes. Not a drop of rain and balmy warm days. It stays light until 9 o’clock and all the flowers and birds are in full spring mode. I rejoice and luxuriate in my good fortune. I’m doing all right but is the rest of the world doing fine? My friend Camp, who is much more cynical than I, doesn’t think so. He believes we’re doomed to failure because we’re too successful as a species and instead of living in harmony with nature we are abusing nature’s finite resources through over consumption and thereby putting us all in peril.

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Trouble in the World


Camp is back and looking relaxed and he had some extra zip in his step. ‘How was the road trip?’ I asked, as he sat down.

‘Fantastic country,’ Camp said, ‘this province is such an awesome place. We went from an urban environment into rugged park land, then across the Okanagan desert up into pine forests, along the pristine Kootenay lakes and rivers, rimmed by snow capped mountains. Most importantly we had time to talk.’

‘Sounds wonderful,’ I said. ‘Better then yoga and beer. Well I’m for one am glad you’re back. As you know the world kept turning in your absence.’

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