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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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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Forward into 2021


Camp and Muriel came over to help us ring in the new year. For dinner I served up a Swiss Fondue, simple, tasty and very satisfying – Gruyere, Emmenthaler, Appenzeller, white wine, Kirsch, bread. I lit a fire and we all gathered around a pot of melting cheese and wine. We managed to stay up until midnight thanks to Clare’s and Muriel’s careful planning of the evening and mandatory afternoon naps.

             ‘Be positive,’ someone said to me the other day,’ I said, twirling my piece of bread in the bubbly cheese, ‘but being the cynic I am, I replied: ‘I’d rather be negative these days.’ 

            ‘Being positive has an altogether new meaning,’ Camp said. ‘The other truism that I hear bandied about is: ‘It will get worse before it gets better.’ Would I rather have the reverse? It’s a challenging time we’re going through.’

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Covid Christmas – Cannabis New Year


            ‘What do you think this Covid-Christmas will be like?’ I asked Camp after we took our seats in front of the exterior propane fireplace on our deck. Camp had brought over a sixpack of ‘Blonde Logger’ from Tapworks, another of our local craft breweries we want to support.

            ‘With strict measures in place with regards to travel and getting together this Christmas looks like it will be cancelled and New Year’s Eve will be a virtual party. Auld lang syne in front of the TV maybe. Smaller turkeys, overloaded zoom and skype sites, and presents delivered by Amazon instead of Santa.’

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Virtual Soapbox


            As more strict restrictions take hold in BC, Camp and I decided to meet at either of our humble abodes on the lovely Sunshine Coast, in BC. It was my turn to host and since we’re a pod or a bubble, we don’t have to wear masks in each other’s company. I arrived with a sixpack of Golden Goddess from our local farm craft brewery, Persephone. We decided that each week we’d feature another one of our locally brewed beers for our Thirsty Thursdays, to help the local economy. Clare and I recently also bought a propane firepit which we could sit around on our deck and keep warm, unless it rains of course.

            Camp loved the idea of sitting outside in December. ‘This is the way of the future my friend,’ he said. I bet you, there is a fortune to be made in outdoor heaters and home knit blankets.’

            ‘Maybe I should take up knitting,’ I said. I wanted to talk about a topic that has been bothering me for a while. ‘Camp, why do you think the media – and I mean everybody from CNN to the local radio station – is giving crack pots like Trump the stage and the megaphone so they can blast their lies and nonsense out to the world?’

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The Show must go on


            We met at Camp’s place, outside on the bench under the deck, out of the rain. Muriel brought out a couple of beers and handed them to Camp, staying well away from me even though we’re technically in the same bubble. Made me feel like a pariah but I get it. The fear, rational or not, is in all of us. We make circles around each other and step out of the way of oncoming people, even in the middle of the woods. I don’t like it but I try to follow the footprints in the right direction at the grocery store and the mall and I’ve already been maligned for walking the wrong way. ‘Thanks Muriel, I said, how are you?’

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Too Much Pain


            ‘The latest sweeping restriction orders from our Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, mean that we cannot (shouldn’t) travel unless it’s essential and mask wearing in public places, retail stores and work environments is now mandatory, no matter where in the province. In other words, businesses in Merritt, Smithers or Kaslo have the same restrictions and protocols as in South Surrey, East Vancouver or Burnaby. This doesn’t seem right.,’ I said, as I sat down in the eerily empty pub which we are still trying to support but we can only drink so many beers.

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Parallel Universes


            ‘There seems to be two narratives, two diametrically opposed points of view and two information sources: The established television media like the BBC, CNN, MSNBC and the CBC and CTV here in Canada vs: FOX News and a whole slew of social media news outlets and new cable networks like News Max and One America News,’ I said as soon as we were comfortably ensconced in our chairs. Very few customers these days and I’m surprised how the pubs can keep going in this time of Covid restrictions and pandemic fears.

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Ignore the Noise


            It’s been ten days since the election and it’s not over yet. When I pointed this out to Camp over our weekly pint, he slapped his hand on the table, almost spilling our beers.

            ‘Biden won. Trump lost. Simple right? Apparently not so much. Unsubstantiated claims of a stolen and fraudulent election are flooding the internet and right-wing media like Fox News and the republican law makers are in hiding and fanning the flames of insurrection. Anywhere else this would be called a coup d’état in progress.’

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The Choice


Here we are, still in the midst of election mania and the chaos continues. Trump will not accept defeat because in his world that doesn’t exist and Biden cannot take over where there is no acknowledged concession. The people have voted and nothing changes. The Republican Party is lockstep behind their zombie leader and we know that it’s very hard to kill the undead. 

            I walked to our watering hole along the shore that hasn’t changed in millennia, looking out at the misty islands and the North Shore Mountains. It’s a reassuring vista, a solid and perennial certainty, comforting in its stability and longevity. We are lucky to live where we do and are privileged to be lucky.

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Rage and Reason


Both Muriel and Clare declined to join us for our weekly beer and chat and that’s ok with Camp and myself. ‘You two need time to vent and pontificate, to scratch your itches and get it off your chest,’ Clare said. ‘As long as you get it out of your system and don’t rage and mope around the house all week long. ‘I think your beer-and-bitch sessions are therapeutic,’ is how Muriel put it according to Camp. We both tend to agree with our wives and life coaches. Without them we’d be lost.

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Fear Not


            Fall is here with all its colours, the rains, the pumpkins and shorter days. Usually this is the time to book flights to warmer destinations for the winter. Instead I’m looking at discounts for ski passes and winter tires for the car. 

            A segment in the CBC evening news caught my eye the other day. It raised the question if we are focusing on the wrong kind of testing here in Canada. I wanted to know what Camp, my reliable drinking companion, thinks about that.

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Phone Drama


            I wanted to tell Camp about my recent experience with my cell phone provider. I’ve been a subscriber to Telus for the past 25 years and I’m not the kind of person who switches banks and utilities at a whim. I’m too lazy and a bit cynical, thinking that they’re all the same but claim to be different then all the others. 

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Year One


            Muriel and Camp were already at our usual table when Clare and I walked in. This felt like a proper social gathering, instead of the usual lament or as Vicky once pointed out in unflattering terms: a man-bitch session.’

            Instead of the usual grumpy peeve of the week we exchanged pleasantries and talked about the weather and Muriel briefly complained about the ongoing tiresome but seemingly necessary protocols on the ferry, the grocery stores and public spaces.

            ‘No bitching or complaining at this table,’ I said, scoring a point for Camp and I, ‘we only talk about positive and humorous issues, isn’t that right Camp?’

            ‘I think I’ll start a new calendar,’ Camp said, looking over at Muriel who along with Clare agreed to join us for this one time, for our usual Thirsty Thursday.

            ‘I’ve already heard it,’ Muriel said, taking a sip from her white wine spritzer.’

            ‘What calendar?’ Clare asked.

            ‘Well we have the Muslim Calendar, the Mayan Calendar, the Gregorian Calendar which is the one we use and now I propose the Covid calendar which starts at year 1. BC would be Before Covid, AC After Covid and so on. What do you guys think about that?’

            ‘I think I need a stronger drink,’ Clare said.

            ‘The First Nations could also have their own calendar, BC, AC just like us but based on Before Contact or After Contact,’ Muriel said, ‘and cheers, this is fun.’

            ‘Since we’re a bubble, we don’t have to distance or wear masks, except Camp, who has contact with the public in the store,’ I said.

            ‘I don’t wear a mask, since I’m always behind the counter, at least six feet away from any customer. Most of them wear a mask but I don’t have an official policy and I keep the doors and windows open. Not quite sure yet how this is going to work in the coming months. Winter is coming and so is Christmas in year 1. Even Santa will have to wear a mask and no bouncing kiddies on his lap.’

            ‘Ok, you two,’ Muriel said, taking a sip of wine. ‘Get it out before you burst. You must have some thoughts on the latest episode of ‘The White House’. 

            Both Camp and I answered in stereo. ‘Worst show ever.’

            ‘A culture of ignorance,’ I said.

            ‘Hubris, egos and maniacs,’ Camp added.

            ‘No brains, no class, no respect,’ I said emphatically, emptying my first pint.

            ‘I’m glad we got that out of the way,’ Clare said, winking at Muriel.

            ‘Did you guys see any wild life on your road trip,’ Muriel asked, steering the conversation away from swampy and treacherous territory.

            ‘We saw a marmot, a few mountain goats crossing the highway, lots of birds but no bears, moose or caribou.’

            ‘You do know the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat?’ Camp asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘Black bear scat looks more like some hippy berry or apple crumble and grizzly scat is the one with the bells and whistles in it.’

            We all looked at Camp and it was Clare who got it first. ‘Funny,’ she laughed.

On the Road Again – Part 3


            Banff was pleasantly accessible and didn’t feel crowded due to the lack of international tourists. A bonus for us visitors, a calamity for the local businesses. It will be a hard winter for many: from shop keepers to students, teachers to restaurateurs. We said farewell to our friends who both are connected to the Banff Centre, the artistic and intellectual heart of the  mountain village, which in a normal year would bring in hundreds of artists and students from all over the globe but now sits mute and closed; its staff and students furloughed until past-Covid times it seems.

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Madness


            ‘How was the trip,’ Camp asked me after I sat down.’

            ‘I loved being on the road and it made me forget about the madness all around us,’ I said, ‘and we live in a beautiful, diverse part of the world. Just like our license plates say.’

            ‘Welcome back to reality,’ Camp said. ‘Let me tell you about an article in the New York Times which quoted Charles McKay who wrote ‘Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ in 1841. A rollicking chronicle of how humans go bonkers in crowds, who with wild-eyed passion go crazy for prophecy, fortune telling, magnets or alchemy. Surely the 13M viewers who watched a Trump endorsed video of a doctor who claimed demon sperm and alien DNA as the cause of covid-19 fit right into one of McKay’s ‘Popular Delusions.’

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On the Road Again – Part 2


We left Cow Bay (the waterfront district in Prince Rupert named after Jean Nehring, a Swiss guy, who unloaded a herd of cows here in 1908) on a foggy morning and drove east along Highway 16 known as the Yellowhead Highway. Three main arteries connect this wet part of the world to the rest of Canada: The mighty Skeena River, the CNR rail line, originally called the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, and the Yellowhead Highway often referred to as the Highway of Tears. The 750km stretch of road between Prince Rupert and Prince George has been the location of many murders and disappearances of First Nations women, beginning in 1970. All three arteries run parallel and we passed by 3 km long trains double-stacked with containers.

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On the Road Again – Part 1


Road trips happen to be my favorite pastime. Driving along highways and byways, over passes, along rivers and lakes and through new towns is like a live movie with constant new scenes, impressions and input. Even driving through big cities can be exciting. It is certainly living in the moment. Lucky for me Clare is an excellent navigator and always checks her maps against the TomTom GPS which has been known to send people the wrong way.

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Here only for a short time


 (adapted from ‘Savages’ by Don Winslow)      

            We humans had for a brief time – in cosmic terms – a civilisation on land surrounded by vast oceans and bordered by ice to the north, desert in the middle and ice to the south. This civilisation depended on water, for drinking and for crops to grow. Water is life.

We built houses, roads, highways, hotels, sky scrapers, shopping malls, condo towers, parking lots, airports, schools, stadiums and factories.

We proclaimed the freedom of individuals, invented, bought and drove cars to prove it and built more roads for the cars to drive on so we could go nowhere faster. We invented social structures to govern people and we conquered diseases and multiplied.

We all wanted the same things: cars, fridges, TVs, boats, toys.

We watered our lawns, washed our cars, drank water out of plastic bottles to stay hydrated in a dehydrated land and we put up water parks and big sculpted fountains.

We built temples to our fantasies – film studios, amusement parks, cathedrals, megachurches, football stadiums and we all flocked to them.

We built plains to fly around the globe and boats to cross the lakes and oceans and we poured our waste water into the same water we loved and depended on.

We built weapons to destroy each other and the planet and sent rockets into space.

We reinvented ourselves every day, remade our culture, our beliefs, locked ourselves into gated communities, multi bathroom houses, condo towers and trailer-parks and then we started eating healthy foods, gave up smoking and sun bathing, We had our faces stretched, our skins peeled, our lines removed, our fat sucked, our bodies rebuilt and we defied aging and death and warehoused our old.

We fought each other for land, water and minerals.

We enslaved, segregated and divided each other.

We extracted, modified, harnessed and subjugated.

We made gods of wealth and health

A religion of narcissism

In the end we worshipped only ourselves

In the end, it wasn’t enough