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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
November is the time when the parties and gatherings of friends and neighbours start. It’s cold and dark and there is nothing more fun than and wine and dine around a fire in the hearth. Halloween and the day of the dead are both gone and we’ve had Muriel, Camp and her daughter Sophie over for some Swiss Fondue, always a seasonal favorite, even for vegetarians. We tried to steer the conversations away from all the trouble in the world but it’s hard to ignore the devastating fires in California and the vast worldwide demonstrations for a livable future environment. Over and over we just emphasised how lucky we are to live in the temperate Pacific Northwest, at the edge of the rainforest. Camp and I saved some tales of woe and misery for our weekly Thirsty Thursday at the pub. The one that is really bothering me is the horrific opioid addiction and resulting death toll due to overdoses in the US and Canada.
‘We live in a very complicated world these days,’ I said. ‘Clare and I watched a Netflix documentary the other night: ‘The Great Hack’, about Cambridge Analytica and their manipulation of personal data to influence the last US election and Brexit amongst others. It turns out that Facebook, whose aim was to bring people together through connectivity is actually driving people apart. The conclusion was that fair elections or referendums are an anachronism and a thing of the past.’
It’s sunny once again and the endless days of rain long forgotten. ‘The elections are over, and we have a minority government, just as I predicted,’ I said to Camp who was busy on his phone.
‘Just adding up some numbers,’ he said apologizing. ‘Christmas is coming and Kelly, my new help, seems to manage me along with the store. She wants the November and December sales stats for the last five years. She thinks it will help to build a strategy for the upcoming season.’
‘Old people think of the past, the young ones look to the future,’ Camp said when I took my seat at the pub for our weekly beer and chat. He seemed unusually pensive this evening.
‘I guess you’re right but mind you, grandparents think of the future.’
‘They worry about it but their thoughts more often then not wander into the past, their personal history mostly. ‘
It’s fall here, which means rain, pumpkins and indoor activities. Not my favourite time of year. I just don’t like putting on all these layers of clothes and Clare always has ‘nothing to wear’ when it gets cold and miserable outside. The last couple of days were crystal clear and crisp and apparently October 10th was the coldest in BC in a 123 years. Yikes.
‘How was your trip east?’ Muriel asked as I sat down at our usual corner table overlooking the calm waters between Gibsons harbour and Keats Island. ‘I made Camp close the store early so we could have a drink together. I hope you don’t mind me joining your weekly cabinet meeting.’
‘You know what the most watched picture was last week, indeed maybe the whole past year,’ Camp asked as he sat down. No comment about the weather, book sales or married life with Muriel.
‘Probably the one about Greta Thunberg sailing past the Statue of Liberty or the one about the fires at the Saudi oil refinery or maybe Trumps map of Hurricane Dorian in Alabama.’
September looked like November for the past few days and the swimming days are gone with the summer it seems. Camp met me out front the pub and we both walked in together. As soon as we sat down and even before our beers arrived Camp needed to vent about the attacks on the Saudi oil refineries and Brexit with Boris.
‘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.
‘I see you hired a part time assistant at the store,’ I said to Camp as I sat down for our weekly relax and debrief over a couple of brews.
‘Muriel insisted that I take on some help to organize the store.’
‘Probably a good idea, now that the summer rush is over. How did you find the person and what’s her name?’
‘I know you don’t have a TV but have you seen any movies lately?’ I asked my friend and cohort Camp, after I sat down.
‘As a matter of fact Muriel and I went to see Yesterday. I only went because I knew the music would be fantastic. Imagine a world without the Beatles.’
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.
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.’
Camp was already at our usual table, engrossed in the Vancouver Sun.
‘Great interview by the way. Folly Bistro will be a hit at my bookstore.’
‘Thanks Camp, I can use all the free PR I can get.’
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.’
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
Mankind vs Nature
While I walked along the rocky shore towards the pub at the harbour for my weekly get together with Camp I was struck by the gap of the natural beauty around me and the precarious and tenuous nature of the modern world we made for ourselves.