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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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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Happiness


            ‘I’ve ordered us a pint of Guinness for a change,’ Camp said when I sat down at our usual table. ‘I know it’s long past St Paddy’s day but here is some good news about beer. Despite its rich flavor, Guinness it’s not the highest in calories compared with other beers. A 12-ounce pint of Guinness Draught has 125 calories. The same size serving of Budweiser has 145 calories, a Heineken has 142 calories. This makes sense when you consider that alcohol is the main source of calories in beers. Guinness Draught has a lower alcohol content, at 4.2% alcohol by volume (ABV), compared with 5% for Budweiser and Heineken. In other words, Guinness is almost like a light beer.’

            ‘Who would have thought?’ I said, ‘we could go on a Guinness diet.’

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Immunity


In another few days it’s officially spring and it’s already light until 8PM, perfect for and evening stroll along the shore to the pub. The mountains are still topped with fresh snow and the air is brisk but the trees are budding and the daffodils are out. Are we going to best this pandemic this year and will we be able to go to concerts and foot ball matches?  I could see my friend Campbell already seated at the window by the sea and I had a question ready for him. ‘Camp, did you know that we’re all part of a massive stage three trial for these vaccines?’

            ‘How do you figure that?’ 

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Back to the Future


            Unlike the 1985 movie, we will not be able to go back in order to change the future. In fact, the future will be nothing like the past, not even from two years ago. Our behaviour, social conventions and latent suspicions of each other will stay with us for a while. I was never a kisser or hugger so I don’t miss that but would like to visit friends without feeling awkward. When I walked into our pub, Camp was already there checking his stupid phone which he quickly stuffed into his pocket when he spotted me.

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Power to the People


            The world needs power, ever more, to energize everything from electric toothbrushes to e-cars, from computers to manufacturing processes, for lights, cooling and heating. Thousands of activities and consumer gadgets, industrial processes and comfort needs require electricity: power and energy. When we talk and think about renewable energy, we tend to confuse this with free energy, drawn from the sun, the wind and the thermal heat underground, the kind of energy which is boundless and there for the taking. But like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy within an isolated system always increases, so is the 1st law of life which proclaims: there are no free lunches.        

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Hypocrisy


   ‘Ten days ago, Canada’s parliament passed a non-binding motion condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjian as genocide. Trudeau and most of his cabinet abstained from the vote.’

             ‘While Justin Trudeau has made statements in support of Uyghur rights, his government is not allowing three former Uyghur Guantanamo Bay detainees to settle in Canada, where their families now live,’ Camp said.

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Covid-Logic


             The days are getting longer and I was able to walk to our pub before it got dark. Camp was already nursing his first pint when I got there. These are the slow days at his book store. Few people were in at this hour but when I mentioned this to Vicky, she assured me that weekends were packed. ‘Everybody wants to get out and we have to turn people away.’ 

            ‘Camp, I’ve read about a new study by two ETH researchers in Zurich,’ I said. ‘They calculated that infections could be massively reduced if large parts of the population were to regularly perform spit tests. The study authors are convinced that with such a mass test concept, many lockdown measures could be dispensed with.’

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Moving Targets


‘The Covid vaccine is first and foremost about self-immunisation since the vaccinated apparently can still spread the virus, and so far, nothing changes for the vaccinated. The same rules still apply, don’t they?’ I asked Camp after I sat down in our corner. We feel we should support the pub and our servers who are fighting for their existence since the pandemic started.

            ‘Yes, I believe so’, Camp nodded. ‘Same quarantine rules, same distancing, mask wearing and social conduct. Not sure when all that is changing. When the curve is completely flat and no fatalities due to this virus?’ Camp said. ‘That would mean never.’

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More Travel Woes


More Travel Woes

‘I know we talked about travel woes a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it was me doing the talking and you drinking my beer.’

            ‘Which you so generously offered to buy me,’ Camp said.

            We were once again sitting at our local pub, even though it doesn’t really feel like a public place since there is hardly any public present. And it’s snowing.

            ‘Everyday there seem to be new travel restrictions, each more confusing than the last one?’ I said. ‘Travellers are now framed as disobedient distracters, to be vilified and punished.’

            As Sophie, Muriel’s daughter, would say: ‘Rich people’s problems.’ 

            ‘Unless you have the wrong test on arrival like those 2 guys in Calgary who were hauled away like criminals and incarcerated in a plastic lined room, with no information, inadequate food and no communication.’

            ‘Yes, I read about them. The Westin, Calgary Airport is now a quarantine Hotel but sounds more like a detention centre,’ Camp said.

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News Blues


‘Hi Camp, enjoying the rain?’

‘Yeah, we always have the sun to look forward to?’

‘You know I read a lot of news, hopefully from reliable sources. What’s your recipe to sort the grains from the chaff?’

            ‘Be aware it’s mostly chaff as you call it – keep a keen and open mind, be sceptical, check facts if you can, talk it over with discerning people like you.’

            ‘I have my favorite authors like Wade Davis or Finton O’Toole but mostly I’m just a maw who absorbs anything in print.’

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Punish the Ordinary People


            I know it’s not Thursday but Saturday but I called Camp to meet me for lunch and have a chat about Trudeau’s latest move to punish travellers. He only agreed to join me when I promised to pay for the beers. I really wanted to know what Camp thought about these new travel requirements. 

            ‘The new measurements enacted by the Canadian government yesterday amount to nothing less than a fine and punishment for travellers, no matter how long they’ve been away or where they’ve been to. The penalties are especially aimed at snowbirds, who remove themselves from the Canadian winter to sunny destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico,’ I said.

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Local Issues


‘You live in Granthams Landing and are a member of the GWA, Granthams Wharf Association, aren’t you?’ Camp said when I stripped of my winter coat and sat down, at our usual place in our own local watering hole which is awfully quiet these days.

            ‘Yes, we are. You probably want to know what I think about the lodge proposal at the old Granthams post-office site. I’m in full support of the present owners and their plans. They are doing a fantastic job in renovating the historic building and improving the parking and access to the wharf.’

            ‘I thought you’d say that,’ Camp said, nodding. ‘Of course, there is a vocal opposition, claiming that the proposed lodge with 5 short term rental apartments, will forever change the character of the community as well as endanger and impact the lives of the present residents.’

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Isolation Survivors


‘Did you hear about the police patrolling the sleepy city of Sherbrooke observing a woman ‘walking her boyfriend attached to a leash, as he padded along the sidewalk on all fours?’ Camp asked after he sat down.

            ‘You’re kidding right?’

            ‘Nope, read it in the news. When the cops asked why she was breaking the curfew she replied that she was merely waking her dog. She still had to pay a hefty fine. Apparently, they’re not alone, people have been busted walking stuffed dogs or pet tortoises. People will do the craziest things to survive isolation and lockdown.’

            ‘Like zoom yoga or zoom concerts and plays?’

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The Future in Bright


We decided to go back to our pub by the sea in order to support them and our servers. We sat at our usual table, surrounded by plexiglass partitions on wheels, even though there were only a couple of other guests, in the opposite corner. Vicky was happy to see us and when I asked her how her holiday was, she said: ‘What holiday? Oh, you mean the time off over Christmas and New Year. Like in: no work, no pay. Thankfully, I got the BC recovery bonus and we’re still open to the public. I missed you two.’

            Once settled in, we decided to leave a big tip, a belated holiday bonus.

            There has been a lot of outfall from the hooligan assault on the capitol last week. Arrests, firings of top officials, resignations at the White House, impeachment proceedings, bans on Twitter and Facebook for the chief hooligan and condemnations from around the world.

            ‘A journalist asked the big question during the assault on the capitol last week: Is this the end of an area or is it the beginning of a new movement?’ Camp said. 

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Same old Game, New Rules


The world still revolves around the sun, weather happens outside and reactionary politicians make up new rules to catch up to the ever-evolving new reality. It’s the same old world but boy, did the rules ever change. From travel to office work, sports and performing arts; from school and university to family gatherings. It’s all different now. Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt or sick. Is that really a workable policy?

             ‘Will the vaccine be the magic potion, the panacea that people are hoping for,’ I asked Camp, who came over with a six pack of Coast Lager from Persephone, our local farm brewery.

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