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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Pandemic Blues


            The weather is hot and sunny, dry and there is no rain in the foreseeable future. Water restrictions are once again coming to your house, despite ongoing construction of homes, subdivisions and multiple family housing, all on the same water supply. When I pointed this out to Camp, who was late, he shook his head. ‘Water shortage in the rain forest is like running out of sand in the desert. It’s an infra structure problem, not a water problem. The local breweries still seem to be able to make beer and they use a lot of water.’

            We both appreciated our beers, which are over 90 percent water, as Cam wisely pointed out.

            ‘Dr. Fauci recently called the resurgence of Covid cases in the US ‘A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’ since over 99.5 percent of all infections, hospitalizations and fatalities are not vaccinated. Over 100 million Americans are still not immunized.

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The Simple Things


     ‘The British are lifting their covid restrictions on Monday – euphemistically called ‘Freedom Day’ despite 40’000 daily infections,’ I pointed out to Camp who walked into the pub without his mask, the first time in a year and a half. ‘And Spain has close to 50’000 while Canada is below 1000.’

            “France is ordering full vaccination compliance amongst its health care workers or else they’re fired with no pay and the French also issued a vaccination passport which is now required by most businesses, airlines and universities,’ Camp said. 

            ‘I remember being inoculated with the small pox vaccine. I was at school and we all had to line up and white clad nurse went from on to the other and jabbed their upper arms. I still have a divot there and I remember it hurt. Did we have a choice? Nobody asked. The same with polio and the multiple childhood illnesses we were vaccinated against. I think the Polio came disguised as a sugar cube.’

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Cyber World


            When Camp walked in and sat down at our usual corner, he caught me thumbing my iPhone. Just like a teenager. ‘Did you know that there are 5 billion smartphones in the world and more than half of them subscribe to Facebook, 2.8 billion users. And growing,’ he said. 

            ‘No wonder there is such a bewildering number of interests vying for our business, attention and shopping habits,’ I said, putting my phone away. ‘This means that everybody from a toddler on up has a smart device and half of them are on social media. Everybody has a soapbox and is a film star. Does this make for a better world or is it the curse of our modern society, akin to the opium addiction of the 19th century?’

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Life is not a Toaster


            ‘How did you survive that heat wave?’ I asked Camp, after I removed my mask and sat down at our seaside pub.

            ‘I wore shorts for the first time to work and kept doors and windows wide open but then I closed early. And I drank too many beers after I got home.’

            ‘Monday was the worst. My phone registered 41 Degrees C. Higher than Phoenix, Arizona. Clare’s garden went into shock and so did we. Lucky us we were able to escape to the water all afternoon.’ 

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Go Green Go


            Finally, it’s summer here and restrictions are being lifted, cases are down and vaccinations are up. There seems to be a path back to some kind of normalcy, which is evident by the crowded pubs, parks and beaches. Watching the Euro 2020, a year late, with the stadiums half full, gives me hope that we’ll get back to the future. We all want to come out of our confinements and hibernation and toss that mask in the bin.

            ‘Camp was reclining in his chair by the window, pawing his smart phone and already nursing a pint. ‘What are you looking at?’ I asked.

            ‘An interesting article on the green investment boom and the bottlenecks that threaten to hold it back. Already, supply-side strains are growing. The price of minerals used in electric cars and power grids – cobalt, nickel, lithium, manganese, zinc, graphite and rare earth minerals – has soared in the past year and timber mafias are roaming Ecuadorean forests to find balsa wood used in wind-turbine blades.’

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Vaxx Incentives


            ‘We’ve been out on the water with friends, meandered all around Gambier Island and watched the seals and birds on the Christie Islets and the Pam rocks and had a picnic at Halcett Marine Park. We do live in paradise Camp. An old Canadian warship 334, HMCS Regina, did a tight turn right in front of us. Maybe they heard there were pot smokers and three immigrants on our boat.’

            ‘Lucky you, I had to work but I do have that million-dollar view out the back of the bookstore. Much like here at the pub. The only downside is wearing a mask all day long. Gives me a headache by the end of the day.’

            ‘Talking about million dollars. What do you make of Alberta’s million-dollar lottery to entice people to get vaccinated?’

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Everybody Wins?


‘Did you know Camp that anti-vaxxing and disinformation is a growing, lucrative business and turns over millions of dollars?’

            ‘How do they make money?’ Camp asked.

            ‘The vaccination opponents earn money in various ways: they have advertising revenue from YouTube videos, they sell vitamin supplements on their websites or sell themselves as event speakers. Over 30 million Facebook users follow pages with false vaccination information, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) estimates. They also insert anti-vaccination messages into make-up or vitamin ads, thereby avoiding the algorithms that are set up by social media to trap misinformation.’

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GRANOLA


Why pay $ 10 for a pound of Granola when you can make it at home for a fraction of the cost? You need some old-fashioned rolled oats. You probably have honey or Maple Syrup, Cinnamon and some kind of neutral oil (olive, canola, sunflower) in your kitchen-cupboard. You can add sunflower and/or sesame and chia seeds, definitely sliced almonds. Add any kind of dried fruit after baking.  

You can alter the basic recipe according to your taste, Granola is very adjustable.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup neutral oil, such as canola, coconut or olive oil 
  • ½ cup honey or maple syrup or both – more if you like it sweeter
  • ½ teaspoon Cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (and other grains like barley, rye) 
  • 1 cup sliced almonds 
  • Seeds – sesame, sunflower, chia etc. 
  • 1 cup raisins, currants, apricots, cranberries or other dried, chopped fruit 

Instructions

– Line baking sheet with parchment paper, heat oven to 300°F (150 Celsius)

– Whisk together oil, honey/Maple Syrup, salt and Cinnamon in large bowl

– Add oats, almonds and seeds and whisk to combine

– Spread coated oats evenly on baking sheet and bake for 25min (stir after 10min)

– remove from oven, add fruit, mix and let cool before storing in airtight container

ENJOY

We are what we believe


            It’s June and the days are long and the best part is that we can spend them outside, in the garden, on the deck, on patios, on the water and in the parks and on the beaches. I could do this all year long. I joined Camp who was already seated in our usual corner. I was upset and wanted to discuss the rise of pseudo-religious far right conspiracies that seem to proliferate, especially during this pandemic.

            ‘Camp, we’ve been down this road many times but it’s really unsettling how many people still believe in the easter bunny, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy,’ I said.

            ‘Not to mention angels, horned devils and immaculate conception,’ Camp retorted.

            ‘I’m not talking about established cults,’ I said. ‘Religion is for the believers, as are cults.  Let me read you the quote by CNN following results of a poll done last week. 

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Winners and Losers


Winners and Losers 

            I sat down at our usual spot since restaurants and pubs are open once again to serve indoors. Without much ado I handed Camp my arbitrary list of winners and losers during the reign of Covid-19. He glanced at it and took a long swig from his pint. ‘I don’t see personal freedom, mobility, social interaction, hugs and kisses on your losers list,’ he said.  

            ‘Well, you just added them,’ I said. ‘And I invite anyone to amend or add to the list. I’m sure there are more on both sides of the ledger.’ 

            ‘And what’s going to happen to the vaccine providers like Moderna and AstraZeneca after we all had our 2nd shots? Are they going to close shop and go home?’ Camp asked. I knew it was a rhetorical question and he provided the answer: ‘They will recommend 3rd and 4th booster shots and then another one every year or so. Keep the ball rolling. But go and get the vaccine. It’s free, it’s safe and it’s not just for you but the people around you.’

            ‘And the world keeps turning. Cheers!’ 

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Old Wars, New Battles


            When I walked over to our pub which is still only allowed to serve outside, I couldn’t get the radio interview I just listened too out of my mind. It was about the low number of bankruptcies compared to last year or the year before. ‘It’s a false picture’, the bankruptcy commissioner said. ‘It costs money to file for bankruptcy but thousands of small businesses just closed their doors and walked away: Restaurants, esthetics, fitness, yoga and dance studios, music and entertainment venues, catering and service businesses associated with sports and concerts, small retail stores, hair salons and many more.’

            ‘I’m just glad the bookstore is not one of them, actually we are doing as well or better than in a normal, non-pandemic year,’ my friend Campbell said. 

            ‘We drank our beers and looked out at the Gibsons’ Harbour and the pristine west coast wilderness right at our doorstep. I wanted to know what Camp thought about the recent escalation of an old war in the southern Levant, that’s been going on since 1948: Palestine vs. Israel. I knew Camp would have an opinion.

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Dark Matter


            ‘Are you afraid of old age?’ I asked Camp after I sat down. On my walk to the pub I’ve been reflecting about the time when I thought fifty was old and sixty was shaking hands with the grim reaper.

            ‘I’m not afraid of getting old but I fear not being able to wipe my own ass or getting out of bed on my own or even not to be able to tell the bathroom door from the closet door. I am afraid of losing my ability to function, to decide and to recognize and to have to wear diapers. Getting old is easy. One day at a time.’

            ‘Like you, I don’t want to lose anything, least of all my mind or my continence,’ I said. ‘The question is what can we do to prevent any of this.’

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Somaliland


            We’re locked down in BC until the long weekend and although nothing much changes for us, it is stopping tourists and any non-essential travel to and from the Sunshine Coast. I wanted to check the numbers yesterday and just put in the date but the stats from a year ago came up. Wow. This year our infections are ten times higher but our hospitalizations and mortality percentages are lower. Still, a wakeup call. 

            I wanted to talk about something else with Camp besides the bloody covid for a change and came across an interesting piece of journalism the other day. Camp was already enjoying his pint, looking out at the rainy-day weather. 

            ‘Camp, did you ever hear about Somaliland, the small African country the size of Greece that’s an independent and peaceful nation? 

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The Good, the Bad and Ugly


            Every bar, restaurant and pub is adding patio space if they can. Indoor spaces are tabu these days but we can still go out and sit under tents, with propane heaters and properly distanced, despite being vaccinated.

            ‘So now that over one and a half million, or close to the 30 percent of BC residents are jabbed, at least once, and another few hundred thousand are recovered, probably with some kind of immunity, then why are we locking down even harder?’ I asked, my frustration shining clearly through.

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Covid Politics (again)


            April is like a preview for summer. Kids are already swimming in the ocean and shorts and T-shirts are replacing jeans and sweaters. I love the longer days, letting the light in and making the birds sing. Maybe I also felt better having gotten my first Pfeizer shot. Not that it changes anything. Camp just sauntered in as I sat down and Vicky appeared right on time with some lovely golden refreshments.

            ‘How was your week?’ I asked Camp. ‘Did you get your shot?’

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Garden World


            A garden is a microcosm of the bigger world out there. There are predators like slugs, deer, rats, bugs, and blights. One has to constantly be on guard against these foes. Armed with sprays, traps and tools and protected with fences and rewarded with fertilizers the plants will eventually comply and deliver edibles like fruit, vegetables, spices. And a myriad of colour which attract bees, butterflies and humming birds. There are other plant species who proliferate, invade and steal nutrients, sometimes choking and destroying the pampered and coveted crops. Those are called weeds and like vermin and bacteria, they are very successful organisms. 

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Plastic World


            Lucky for us that our pub has installed some outdoor seating under party tents right on the beach. And since this is the first week that almost feels like summer Camp and I decided we better support our local watering hole. The whole pandemic feels like dejà-vu, from a year ago. Maybe even worse. Despite vaccines finally getting into people’s arms, nothing much has changed. We just have to roll with it. 

            ‘It was V-day for me yesterday,’ Camp said. ‘Astra Zeneca at the pharmacy, courtesy of Biden who graciously sent us a million doses.’

            ‘I got mine, Pfeizer.’

            We raised a toast to the vaccinated.

            I wanted to talk about a subject I had just read about in my Swiss paper but I’m sure it applies to Canada as well.

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What goes Up (must come down)


            Once again, we moved our weekly meeting to Camp’s porch because of the rising numbers of infections and the indoor closure of pubs and restaurants. 

            ‘The numbers are going up and the vaccine ooze-out is like molasses flowing uphill,’ I complained when I sat down on the bench beside Camp, facing the view of the north shore mountains and Gambier Island. 

            ‘Yes, it’s discouraging and exhausting at the same time,’ Camp said, handing me a can of Coast Life lager from the local farm brewery. ‘Just think a year ago, we were all banging pots and watching covid-aid concerts, supporting the front-line workers. Now, a year later, not even teachers are considered front-line workers but we expect them to teach our kids and keep them safe at the same time and nobody is banging pots for them.’

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Lunch with Leroy


            I met Leroy for the first time in Switzerland at the open-air market in Oerlikon, under the viaduct. His colourful, exotic fruit and smoothie stand at the market’s entrance was an eye catching and radiant burst of colour in a grey zone and stood out like a Christmas tree in a graveyard. Under the granite stones of the arched viaduct, and the overcast grey skies, with people dressed in shades of grey and black, Leroy’s stand offered a burst of sunny colours. Mangos, papayas, pineapples, coconuts, bananas, starfruit and other tropical fruit were displayed in an open stand decorated with palm fronds and strings of chili peppers. The steady rhythms of Reggae music issued from this tropical island in the middle of Zürich and Leroy himself was as exotic as his produce. His sunny wide smile displayed a set of alabaster teeth in a face carved from ebony with Rasta hair tied in a colourful kerchief. His eyes were dark brown and friendly and I had the feeling that he was able to look right into me, like I was an open box with all my bits and follies spilling out. Tall and regal he represented Caribbean beauty and diversity in the midst of monochromatic Switzerland. 

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Young Blood


       I removed my new Bluetooth earbuds when I sat down on the patio since the pub’s interior is closed once again due to new restrictions. Camp gave me the quizzical eye. ‘These little beauties also contain a mic and deliver a sound like a full room hi-fi system,’ I explained.

            ‘Wow,’ Camp said with a hint of cynicism, those make you look fifty years younger.’

            ‘I’ve subscribed to Amazon Prime Music streaming service and somehow they know how old I am. When I chose the ‘Your Soundtrack’ option they played only songs from the late sixties and early seventies. First, I thought that they just played the best songs ever but then I realized that they tailored the music to my age group. I must have put in my birth date when I signed up.’

            ‘And you will get all targeted advertising like dentures, adult diapers and reverse mortgages,’ Camp said with a chuckle.

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