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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Cash and Zoom


I walked to the pub along the shore at low tide and thought about what Clare just told me. She is working virtually and is zoomed out. ‘I feel a bit lonely, a bit sad and a bit awkward, maybe even a bit depressed.’

‘It’s called zoom fatigue,’ I said. ‘People cannot function in two dimensions and not everybody is an actor or looks good on camera. Also, people present a persona which is switched on and you cannot get the human connection that face to face meetings and body language’ provide. We are not screen images.’ I told Camp about it and he agreed. ‘I don’t do zoom,’ he said, ‘either come and see me or I’ll wait until this is over. I’m not talking into a computer like I’m doing a commercial of myself. Not gonna happen.’

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Uncertainty Blues


                 ‘Let’s say that one percent of the North American population – US, Mexico, Canada – has been infected with the Covid-19 virus – many of them unknowingly. That’s about 5 million people, almost double the official number of 3.2 million. That leaves 99 percent of the population untouched but still vulnerable.’

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Covid Encounters


It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast and week 15 of the Covid. There are still no public celebrations and concerts, no parades or marathons, no team sports and no public fundraisers. Club meetings, Yoga and dance classes are on zoom or skype, even family gatherings and weddings are held virtually with the betrothed assembled in front of a screen instead of a crowd. Good thing the pubs are open again and breweries are an essential service. Camp was already at our table at Gramma’s and our masked server just set down our frosty pints as I walked in.

‘How’s your week been?’ Camp asked, pocketing his little screen.

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Drugs, Death and Dylan


‘The longest day of the year is coming up,’ I said, as I sat down across from Camp who looked dapper in khaki pants and a short-sleeved shirt, Birkenstocks and sunglasses.

‘Yep, and I decided that in order to celebrate summer, I’m dressing the part.

‘Well, if you want my opinion, it suits you. Casual is in you know.’

‘No, I didn’t know but I have a closet full of clothes I never wear. I thought I’d try some of them and since nobody is dressing up working at home, I’ll support the garment industry.’

‘By wearing your old clothes from home?’

We both concentrated on the lovely scenery and our beers.

‘Here is a frightening statistic Camp,’ I said. ‘Over 400 overdose deaths in the past 3 months, 170 alone in May. These are people who inject what they believe is a rush or a high and what they get instead is a fatal shot of fentanyl laced heroin.’

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The Future is Here


‘Kids are back in school but I hear that only 30-60 percent of pupils show up,’ I said after we settled into our spot on the veranda, right over the water by the harbour.

‘Does this feel like before the covid?’ I asked Camp, looking around at the generous spacing of the tables and the potted plants between them for separation and distancing.

‘Not really,’ Camp said. ‘It’s strange to be served by Vicky in a face mask like we’re in a hospital setting. Also, I miss smoking my pipe. It goes well with beer.’

‘And teachers got what they’ve been asking for years, thanks to the virus: vastly reduced class sizes and an additional boost in virtual learning capacity. Many kids had to learn from home and use virtual platforms. Not sure how successful that was but those tools won’t go away,’ Camp said.

‘They’ll be part of the learning arsenal,’ I said. ‘And it made kids read, even though it’s on a screen. It’s the future and it has arrived.’

‘Last week we talked about civilisation and I forgot to mention that our cultures wouldn’t exist without beer. I read an essay about how nomadic peoples in the Neolithic met annually for beer festivals. Because this required large quantities of beer, production had to be placed in the hands of specialists – probably shamans and priests at the time. They intensified cultivation and expanded the planting areas. In short, early forms of agriculture were created because of beer. In addition, calendars were needed to make the way to the festivities in time. And some revelers just stayed on, thus creating the first permanent settlements.’

‘Beer, the harbinger of permanence and stability? A bit of a stretch, no?’ I said.

‘It’s a good theory,’ Camp said, raising his glass.

‘What do you make of all these demonstrations and protests for equality and against racism in light of George Floyd’s murder by those nasty cops’ I asked Camp.

‘I’m afraid it won’t change much of anything. It’s like a pressure relief valve, some steam is let off and that’s about it. Black Americans will remain second class citizens as long as they are seen as inferior to whites. Descendants of former slaves and colonized peoples do not become equals with their masters and exploiters even after they are freed. They remain the poor, the underprivileged and the exploited.  And its white old men who control the flow of money and you know the golden rule: Those who have the gold rule,’ Camp said, finishing his pint.

‘Sad but true,’ I agreed, ‘but are we condemned to repeat the past over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day?’

‘If you’re a black person then you have to concede that not much has changed since 1967 and James Baldwin’s and Malcolm X’s speeches could have been written today. As far as they are concerned, we now live in their future.’

‘Black lives matter, but do they matter as much as white lives?’ I said.

‘Maybe in the sports arena or the music hall and the military, but not so much in the corridors of power or the halls of justice and not on Wallstreet or Mainstreet.’

‘But a vast number of young white people are demonstrating and protesting against systemic racism. Maybe a change is coming. Maybe this new generation will be colorblind and fair,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope the result is not a drastic increase in Covid infections.’

‘There is only one chance of making a difference and that’s at the ballot box this coming November. If all those Generation Z protesters vote, then maybe there will be a sea-change,’ Camp said. ‘And an uptick in virus transmissions is guaranteed with these mass gatherings. We already know that.’

‘Ready for another one,’ Vicky said, from behind her mask, exchanging the empties for two full ones.

‘Always ready for another one,’ Camp said. ‘How is life behind that mask?’

‘Lonely,’ Vicky said, ‘it’s isolating and distancing. And what am I supposed to do with all my lip sticks and teeth whiteners?’

 

Civilization


Camp looked around, absentmindedly tamping his unlit pipe. We were back in the pub, found our usual seats and Vicky was our hostess.

‘How did you get over the last two months,’ I asked her.

I stayed home with my son, enrolled in an on-line course on becoming a realtor and applied for every dollar from the government I could. I did better than some others.’ Happy to be back. I missed seeing and being with people the most.’ And with that she dropped two lovely pints in front of us.

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Zoom and Gloom


            ‘You know Clare is working from home, just like Muriel, and all this virtual interconnecting is driving her crazy, must be the same for Muriel,’ I said.

            ‘Yes, teaching from home is a real challenge. Also, many people who work from crowded homes, Muriel has a friend where 4 adults are trying to work from home. Two university students and the parents. Everybody gets a turn at the kitchen table, 4 computers, 4 smart phones and somebody has to cook and clean.’

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Cultural Heartbreak


‘I woke up this morning and I see a world transformed by Covid-19. If anything could stop a way of life and break the cultural heart of the world then this virus has done a pretty good job. Nothing in my life time has had a similar impact. ‘I doubt that anybody remembers a time when we cannot touch, hug or be close to others,’ I said to Camp, who was lighting his pipe.

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Pods and Bubbles


‘Are we a bubble or a pod?’ I asked Camp as we sat down on his porch for our Thirsty Thursday meeting. It was a nice sunny day and the birds were going crazy.

‘I guess you and I are a pod since we spend a lot of time together, as are Muriel and I and you and Clare. If the four of us get together then we’re a bubble since we amalgamated two pods.’

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Together we flail


We were sitting on a bench by the sea shore, six feet apart, enjoying the warm spring weather, breaking another silly law: drinking in public. That’s because one of Muriel’s and Camp’s neighbours complained to the town council about us sitting on Camp’s front porch, disrespecting distancing guidelines. I never thought I’d see neighbours denouncing neighbours, not for hiding illegal aliens, but for acting normal. Clare put it bluntly: ‘This virus outbreak will bring out the worst in people and the best. People will rally to help and support each other or rat each other out.’

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Salt of the Earth


I called Camp on his phone. A rare event since I usually see him at the store, the pub and lately at each other’s house. ‘Apparently, we need to consider all of us as asymptomatic,’ I said, ‘meaning we’re all potential carriers of covid-19 and as such need to keep our distance. Should we meet halfway at Armours Beach and bring our own bottles and sit six feet apart?’ I asked.

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Cash and Covid


Camp dropped over for our weekly debrief over a couple of beers. It was my turn to host and l stocked up on some Coronas since I heard that the brand was hurting. Clare let him in but instead of hug gave him a reserved wave from 6ft away. It’s the new intimacy. How will we ever get past this distancing is anybody’s guess. Fact is I don’t like it, coming from a culture where three cheek kisses are customary greetings. We sat down in my upstairs office which has a view of the coastal mountains, Keats and Gambier island but it’s not the same as being in our pub right on the harbour.

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Covid-19 List and Poem


No weddings, no funerals, no parties, no team sports, no get togethers, no bars, no pubs, no restaurants, no concerts, no businesses, no conferences

                          No Olympics

              No libraries, no plays, no cinemas, no theatre

No schools, no child care centres, no kindergartens, no universities, no classes, no recreation centres, no swimming pools, no hiking and biking tours, no travel, no socializing, no book clubs, no bridge clubs, no yoga classes

         No hotels, no trains, no buses, no hitch hiking, no planes, no ferries, no cruise ships,

         No government sessions, no elections

No hairdressers, no beauty parlours, no dentists, no massage therapy, no eye exams, no elective surgeries, no gyms, no alcoholics anonymous meetings

No protests, no marches, no barricades

                No courts, no churches, no synagogues, no mosques, no temples, no gatherings

                                    No hugs, no kisses, no handshakes, no pats on the back,

No work

No fun

No money

                 No life as we knew it

 Only hospitals, health workers, food suppliers, grocery stores, pharmacies, police stations, gas stations and fire-halls

All working from home:

politicians, bankers, accountants, secretaries, teachers, doctors, etc.

Only isolation, virtual communication and emoji emotions

Only social networks dependent on internet connections

                    We still have wars, bombings, hunger, sickness, disease, misery, refugees

                             We hope, always hope for the future, the children, the world

 We fear the unknown, dying alone, losing a loved one, the loss of freedom, tomorrow

                     We have more time to:

read, think, write, talk, walk, watch movies, cook, eat, drink, sleep, play and           listen to music, paint, exercise, spend with the children, the parents, the flowers

Make love

reach out, reconnect, remember

and plan for a fantastic future

  I

           want to hide, climb a tree, run away, call someone, stand still, play

           close my eyes, my ears, my brain, my mouth

           understand, help, fight, fix

                                                                    laugh and live

 

 

 

The Long Run


There was a knock on the door and then Camp stepped in without waiting, being practically one of the family. It’s Saturday, not Thursday. We sat upstairs and I fetched us a couple of cold ones. ‘No draught I’m afraid,’ I said but you have a choice here. Once we had our beers we sat down, rather than stand around the kitchen, leaning on the fridge and the sink, as people are apt to do.

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New World


New World

‘Last week I debated if I should close my store and join the social distancing movement,’ Camp said when he sat down at our table which was the only one occupied in the whole pub. ‘This might help to slow down the crown virus a fraction but it definitely would be the death knell for the already non-profit book store. So, I decided to keep it open, wipe the door handle every time somebody comes in and out, wear surgical gloves for the money which is practically non-existent, don’t breathe on people and keep an upbeat atmosphere by playing funky music. No blues, no classical but reggae and jazz like Charley Parker, Miles Davis and such. If nothing else it keeps me in a good mood.

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