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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Cuba Revisited


Havana is a ruinous city, like an old prostitute covered in too much makeup to hide the pain and suffering, but yet resilient and full of life. The crumbling facades of the  wedding cake villas and opulent palaces of the former sugar barons and casino moguls, of the corrupt regimes before the revolution, bear witness to the ravages of time, decay and lack of money. Sixty years of neglect, coupled with numerous hurricanes and the salty fecundity of the climate is not a recipe for a well functioning infrastructure.

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Cuban Holiday


It’s been a mild winter so far here in Gibsons; no snow, no freeze ups, no icy roads. Mind you, winter isn’t over yet but so far so good, as the saying goes. The days are getting longer, about two minutes per day which translates into an hour per month.  Our small town is pretty well shuttered and most of the xmas decorations are coming down to be stashed for another year. I leave our gable lights up for the whole year and just unplug them.

Clare and I have been on an unusual holiday to Cuba

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War and Peace


The holidays are over, the Christmas trees are tossed aside; some still with a forlorn strand of tinsel tangled up their spent and brown branches. The relatives have left; the empty bottles have been recycled, the Visa bill has arrived. It’s called the January blues but I feel relived and content to get on with the day without the pressure of presents that nobody needs, the overabundance of food and drink, the cards unrequited and the lugubrious outpourings by the politicians and pundits. I’m glad it’s back to normal and was looking forward to my weekly chat with my friend Campbell, or Camp as I’ve always known him.

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All or Nothing


As I walked by our storm ravaged wharf in Granthams.  I could not avoid the fact that in over a hundred years this was the first time this dock, jutting out into the waters of Howe Sound, had taken such a beating. There were storms before, high tides and driftwood logs jamming up against the dock but never had it been battered and damaged in such a fashion. Was this part of the rising sea levels, or just a combinations of a high winter tides, fierce winds and a lot of driftwood swept loose? Yes, our dock is a disaster but it can be fixed and it’s damage pales against the Anak Krakatau eruption in the Sunda Straight, that caused a  tsunami to crash into the  coast on the islands of Sumatra and Java killing scores of unsuspecting people, including members of a rock band and their audience at a beach concert. I felt suddenly grateful for the rain and wind here and I had other things on my mind that I wanted to talk  to about with my friend Campbell – Camp  as we all call him. Continue reading

Mariposa Intersections


This book is now available on Amazon, on Kindle, as well as your bookstore.
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Two young lovers are forced apart by their different social strata and years later find themselves on opposite sides of a proposed nuclear plant near a pueblo in central Mexico. He forms an activist group while she is a reporter for a conservative newspaper. It’s a fight for a way of life and the environment against the insatiable need for power.

Good News Only


IMG_4260 2.jpegI walked along the stormy shore watching in awe as the high winter tide was hurling big driftwood logs against the beach like sticks in a pond. This unleashed force of nature was a serious reminder of how tenuous our existence is in this world. Such were my thoughts as I walked towards our watering hole. I made a pledge that today I would only discuss good news with my friend Campbell, Camp to all who knew him. For this one time I promised myself that I would not gripe, bitch, complain or otherwise vent my frustration at the unhinged world of Trump or the chaos of Brexit woes or the looming civil war in Hungary.  No, for this one occasion before Christmas, I would only confine my weekly chat with Camp to positive themes and events. Let joy and happiness rule supreme.

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Outside the Box (a Christmas Story)


“Happiness is for pigs and wishes are for children,” Trevor announced to all and sundry. His deep baritone cut like a foghorn through the smoke and noise at Oliver’s Pub, which is located just across from Holly’s Beach and right around the corner from our bookstore. It’s a pleasant place to conclude a day’s work over a pint or two.

“That’s not true,” said the pretty young woman who was standing at the bar, beside where Trevor straddled his favourite barstool. “Happiness is there for everybody and wishes can come true,” she declared with conviction. “Isn’t that right, Jack?”

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One Mind, Two Pints


 

“Did you hear that the new Mexican president, Lopez Obrador, put the presidential plane, a Boeing Dreamliner, up for sale and prefers to travel like everybody else, by commercial, scheduled flights,” I asked Camp after Rosie set down our first pint.

“ I just hope he stays alive, driving his own Jetta to work, sometimes with his wife and just one security guy,” Camp said, obviously aware of the changes.

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Old to New


It’s been a glorious week of sunny December weather, cold and bright and the reflection of the sun is sparkling off the waters of Howe Sound. The tops of the mountains are frosted and the only sounds are the screeching of the gulls and the crunch of the gravel under my feet.  I hold on to moments like this but I know there is trouble in this vale of tears and laughter and my friend Campbell, Camp to all of us, didn’t disappoint.

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Shopping Again


“Black Friday, Cyber Monday, national shopping holidays next?” I said to Campbell as I sat down, shaking the rain from my hat.

“I take it shopping is not your happy place.”

“I know you run a bookstore Camp and you rely on people shopping for books but what kind of a world is this relentless consumer driven existence. We shop until we drop goes the clichée and unless we participate we perish,” I lamented.

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Universal vs Personal


 

November rain. But just at the edge there was the sun trying to push through the grey clouds. I stopped for a brief look and headed inside.

“Camp, did you hear the latest proposal by the pundits in Ottawa?  This one is about Universal Basic Income, UBI for short.”

“Can’t say I have but this idea surfaces every now and then and it even has been tried in a few places and studied to death. How do they plan to pay for it this time?

“With online casinos and marijuana taxes. They figure the bill for a Canada wide UBI program would be $ 41 billion.”

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Fame and Fortune


“Being a Swiss of Viking and Celtic extraction I thought you have this innate, Teutonic compulsion for precisions and exactness,” Camp said, as I sat down. “It’s not like you to be late.”

“I’m not late Camp, you’re early, probably haven’t adjusted your inner clock to the daylight savings time. In case you haven’t noticed it’s now getting dark at five o’clock. I really don’t like walking in the dark. I think we’ll have to move up our cocktail hour to get in synch with the daylight.”

“I wish they would just abolish the whole thing. Drives everybody crazy adjusting all the clocks and it’s not my inner clock but the one in the store I forgot to adjust and here I am, an hour and two pints early all by myself. “

“First thing tomorrow, adjust that clock,” I said. It’s just typical of you Camp, the distracted, cerebral professor.”

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Vote and Read


“Now that we’re through Halloween, Hallows Eve and the Day of the Dead we can get on with life,” I said to Camp after Vicky delivered our first round of welcome beers.”

“My friend’s mom had 130 kids at her door,” Vicky said.

“Wow, that’s a lot of candy.”

“Yeah, guess what my nephew’s costume was.”

“Pirate, astronaut?”

“Nope, “serial” killer. He had three boxes of cereal with a knife through them strapped to his back.”

“That’s hilarious,” Camp guffawed, “myself, I’m reluctantly decorating for the next event, the biggest one for book stores.”

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Lies and Politics


Despite the relentless rain this week I ventured outside and walked to town. I certainly didn’t want to drive and Clare was off in the city for work. The leaden water of Howe Sound and the drifting gun metal clouds draped across the coastal mountains presented a monochromatic palette, somewhat resembling my sombre mood on this blustery fall day.

“Camp, did you read those stats in The Washington Postwhich state that Trump told 3250 false statements and lies in his first 500 days. That was at the end of May, he has since added another 970 lies in June and July,” I said.

“The truth doesn’t matter in politics. It’s the message that counts and the messenger,” Camp said. “The crazy thing is that it doesn’t seem to damage his popularity at all, to the contrary, he has an 85% support amongst republicans. In fact he inspires other autocrats like Putin and Erdogan and the recently elected Bolsonaro in Brazil to follow his example. Lie, deny and call everybody else a liar, a cheat and a misfit.”

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Housing Solutions


“Camp, what do you think of the argument that all these Airbnb’s should be permanent rentals, instead of temporary holiday rentals?”

Campbell, Camp to us all, took a long swig from his cold beer and sat back in his chair.  This was going to be a long answer. “First of all you can’t force people to rent out their extra apartments or rooms to people who can’t find affordable housing elsewhere,” he pontificated.  “You cannot roll off a communal and collective responsibility onto the shoulders of individuals. You can tax holiday rental income and put that money to work and you can limit the amount of Airbnb’s in specific communities and maybe even give out licenses but then you’ll have the big operators buying up all the licenses and leave the mom-and-pop operations out of the loop.”

“There were always B&B’s and holiday rentals and exchanges. I remember my parents renting somebody’s flat or farmhouse in the mountains for ski holidays. Cheap and affordable.  Nothing new about all that except Airbnb have really cornered the market with their user friendly and peer reviewed platform. We use it all the time when we travel.”

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Cannabis Day


I love Indian Summer.  Balmy, sunny days, harvest festivals, pumpkin pie, a palette of red, gold and brown leaves lazily floating in the air, cool evenings and maybe a fire in the hearth and candles for dinner. The walk along the pebble beach to my weekly tète-a-tète with Campbell, Camp to all and sundry, is the most pleasant this time of year.

“Camp, do you know what day it was yesterday?”

“Wednesday. Oh you mean national Mary Jane day is what you’re referring to isn’t it. You know my take on all of that don’t you?”

“Yes, you did run it by me before but please let’s have it again. I know you’re not totally in favour with the whole process.”

“We would have been better off to decriminalize marijuana instead of legalizing it. Just take the crime out of growing, toking and eating it, throw the jails open and give every one with a criminal record for pot an amnesty and then treat it like all the other famous drugs which are legal now.”

“What famous drugs?” I asked.

“How about sugar, the world’s biggest drug which brought about slavery, rum running and made untold riches for the plantation owners, importers and refineries. Or coffee, which is making fortunes today for the likes of Starbuck’s and has everybody walking around with a non-disposable cup of the black liquid. Did I mention alcohol? Please don’t make me count the ways the drink makes the world go round, right to this table here at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on the lovely Gibsons’ harbour.”

“Yeah, you’re right Camp and we all know prohibition doesn’t work but it’s quite an achievement for the federal government to legalize pot. I’m not sure if there are any other countries that have done that. I know there are about 26 states in the US and I think Portugal has legalized all drugs about ten years ago but it is quite a radical policy for a federal government of an industrialized nation, don’t you think.”

“Yes, I agree but all they want is control, like for alcohol, and get a bonanza in tax dollars. I’m afraid that giving out licenses will result in a few big corporate players to monopolize the market and leave small operators who have cultivated and produced some fine products over the years, out on the street and possibly on the wrong side of the law. This would take a huge chunk of commerce and money out of small communities like Gibsons and Nelson.”

“Yeah, the usual. Good for corporate share holders, bad for small time operators. Let’s wait and see what happens. It’s been promised by Trudeau’s dad, Pierre,  45 years ago. The world will be watching.”

“I’ve read that the first problem will be one of supply,” Camp said, “meaning that no government sanctioned pot is available as of yet and nobody is in charge of the store, meaning, no pricing, no standardization, no packaging, no labelling, no distribution and no grading. Maybe they’ll have somebody like that Parker guy who grades wines for weed?”

 

“You mean something like:  This ‘Kubla Khan Purple Dagga’bud is 93 points and on special this week.”

“That’s not going to happen any time soon,” Camp laughed.

I still think it’s a day worth celebrating. In fact I’ll buy the next round.”

“I can live with that,” Camp said, quickly downing the rest of his pint.

“You two seem to be in a good mood today,” Rosie said as she brought us a fresh round.

“We’re celebrating legalization day,” I said, “don’t you think that’s worth a toast and a pint?”

“Next you two will want me to bring around a couple of reefers and a cup of ginseng tea instead of beers.”

“No fear of that Rosie,” Camp said, we’ll stick with the golden liquid but I know that Muriel will grow a couple of plants in the garden, just because she can.”

“I think they should make the 17th October a national holiday, it’s a historic event,” I said.

“And what would you call it?” Rosie chuckled, “Cannabis Day?”

“It has a certain ring to it,” Camp said.

“I’ll drink to that,” I said. “Here is to Cannabis Day!”

 

Life & Beer talk


“Sue told me that her husband is very sick and has been in intensive care for a few weeks,” Clare said just before I left to walk down to the pub. “I know he’s Camp’s friend and I’m sure he’s aware of it. Be easy on him,” Clare said, “it’s not a good situation.”

“I guess we’re lucky to be healthy,” I said.

“Luck is arbitrary but we eat well thanks to your cooking,” she said, “and as the saying goes: Every day spend some time looking after your health otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time spending on your illness later in life.”

“Well, that’s a cliché,” I said. “Life’s a lottery.”

I walked along the quiet waterfront and tried to enjoy the beautiful fall weather, the changing colours, which were also indicative of the cyclic nature lo life. Nature takes its course but we don’t like it if it attacks us personally with nasty cell mutations and painful malfunctions.

Camp was sitting at our table, intent on his smartphone, which he swiftly pocketed when he saw me approach.

Without my prompting he broached the subject of his sick friend. “I visited a good friend today, who has been in the hospital for the past 3 months and it doesn’t look like he’s coming out any time soon,” he said as I sat down at our usual table overlooking the harbour and Keats Island in the near distance.

“Clare mentioned him to me. What’s wrong with him? Not the c-word I hope?”

“No, it’s not cancer. Fact is he is deathly ill, hooked up to a multiple of beeping, flashing, dripping and ticking machines. It has a definite Frankenstein feeling.”

“It’s sounds miserable,” I said.

“Miserable is an understatement. If it was me I would be furious, like they’ve cheated me out of dying. Instead of a medical miracle I would feel more like a human catastrophe. ‘Death by instalments’. ”

Go easy on Camp, Clare said. What does that mean? “Maybe I should go talk to my doctor and make sure that wouldn’t happen to me,” I said,  “maybe put something in writing. We plan everything from buying a car to vacations, why not plan how we would like to die?”

“It’s not something people want to talk about, not when they’re healthy. Death is still a taboo, sort of right next to erectile dysfunction, or a bad case of flatulence, or the plunging stock market. Not exactly welcome conversation topics around the water cooler or dinner table,” Camp said, “but you’re right, it would be smart to have a plan in place, just in case.”

We both looked out at the sparkling waters of Howe Sound, each with our own thoughts. Vicky appeared at the table and took one long look at us. “Somebody die?” she asked, intuitive as she is.

“Not yet,” Camp said, sighing and shaking his head.

I just remembered what I was going to show Camp and dug my cell phone out against our unspoken rule. “I just got this video from my nephew about their four months old baby girl. What a delight and joy this young life is bringing to her parents and all those who meet her,” I said. “In a way it’s the complete opposite of your friend’s condition.”

Vicky put two fresh pints down and squealed with delight at the baby pictures. “That’s why you two guys need to enjoy every day, every moment and every beer,” she said.

“Tell that to my friend,” Camp said, trying not to sound too cynical. “To him life as he knew it is over while for this little girl it’s just the beginning, while you and I my friend,” pointing his finger at me, “are just two spectators, passing through this vale of tears and laughter and enjoying the movie of life.”

“So much for this week’s episode of ‘One Life, two beers’,” I said, trying to maintain a modicum of humour. “We never even touched the week’s politics.”

“What a relief!” Camp said, raising his glass. “To life.”

 

Books & Memories


Fall is here and summer is just 8 months away. Kind of depressing unless you like rainy, cold weather and five o’clock twilight. Clare diagnosed me with s.a.d., seasonal-asshole-disorder and I tend to agree. Nevertheless I put on my sunglasses and head out into the rain towards the village, the pub and a couple of frosty pints.

“Camp do all of us go back to our childhood days to figure out why we are the people we are today, afraid of commitments or driven to succeed, maybe resentful and bitter or over protective of our space, even depressed and unable to hold down relationships and jobs or even addicted to a smorgasbord of vices and delusions?”

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