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 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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Oracle and Prophet


In the last month alone, the world has gone topsy-turvy and everybody is running for the exits it seems, grabbing toilet paper and useless face masks on the way out.  Camp and I are looking at all the hysteria and financial market convulsions from our vantage point at Gramma’s Pub, feeling a bit removed from it all since Gibsons is virtually an island, away from the hub-bub of the big city and the rest of the world. In order to not get caught in the maelstrom of panic I decided to propose a game to my friend Campbell, Camp to all and sundry around here.

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Standoff


‘How would you have handled the standoff between Trudeau, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suet’wen nation, northeast of Prince George, and the solidarity protesters in the Mowhawk territory in Ontario who have been  blocking the rail line there,’ I asked Camp after Vicky, our dependable waitress set down two pints in front of us.

‘It’s a tough one,’ Camp said.

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Legacy


‘Here is a fact,’ Camp stated after we made ourselves comfortable on our perch on the glassed-in veranda at Gramma’s Pub. ‘After Trump’s first term in office a quarter of all federal judges, including two supreme court judges, will have been appointed by him, changing the judiciary of the USA for a long time to come.’

‘And now Trump has declared himself the top cop in the land as well as judge and jury. As of today, Trump has pardoned twenty-five convicted criminals, some of them pals of his, undoing years of prosecution and legal work,’ Camp said.

‘Let’s switch to the other hot topic of the day,’ I said.

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Travelling


Life is a beach goes the saying except around here life has been a puddle with a few rays of sunshine to brighten up the dreary, soggy days. Lucky are those who can escape to sunnier climes and I envy people who aren’t bothered by the wet winters in the pacific Northwest. I grew up with real winters, white wonderland, blue skies, hot coco and skis instead of gumboots.

I lumbered into Grammas Pub, looking for Camp who was already seated at our usual table and sat down with an exasperated sigh.

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End of Democracy


‘If it’s not raining, it’s about to,’ my friend Campbell said – Camp to everybody in town – with a dispirited sigh as he plunked himself in the opposite chair at our weekly watering hole by the sea.

The good news is that spring is only a couple of months away,’ I said lamely. Just then Vicky, the only ray of sunshine, put down a couple of pints of the golden liquid. ‘Cheers’, I said, raising my glass,  it’s sunny somewhere in this world.’

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Super Kids


Camp arrived at the pub a tad late – not like him – and rather dishevelled. ‘What’s up Camp,’ I asked. ‘Something wrong?’

‘I can’t believe the kids today. No manners, no respect, no shame,’ he said with a heavy sigh. Good thing Vicky had a fresh pint ready the moment he sat down.

‘Oh, what brought that on. Not like you to judge and condemn without a proper trial.’

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Plastic World


Camp sat down with a heavy sigh at our usual table.

‘What’s up? Trouble at the home front, the store or the world?’ I said.

‘All of the above. Muriel is tired of the weather and commuting into the city and wants a change. The store is kind of in a funk after the holidays and I hope it’s just a lull. Book buyers are becoming a rare breed. And the world? Don’t even get me started.

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The Good, the Bad and the Lazy


Gibsons was in the clutches of an Arctic deep freeze this past week that convinces even the hardiest local climate deniers that yes: It does snow in Vancouver and yes, winter tires are a good idea and no, Vancouver and the lower mainland are not prepared for accumulative snow falls and have inadequate or no snow removing equipment. Despite the brazing weather I’ve made my way faithfully to my Thursday meet-up with my friend Camp at our pub which was empty except for our stalwart waitress. ‘I don’t get paid if I don’t show up,’ she said with a shrug. Camp eventually walked in looking like ‘The man that came in from the cold’. Before I could even ask about the store he said wryly: ‘Been closed all week due to climate emergency,’ while extracting himself from his  soaked overcoat. ‘What’s on your mind besides the weather this week,’ he asked.

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Lisbon – Portugal


The first thing that struck me about Lisbon is the immense width of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), more like a lake, and how all the downtown buildings are attached to each other like four storied walls with windows. They are all built in a perfect grid, starting at the large Praca do Comercio, the main square at the vast river’s edge. There is no church or cathedral anywhere near the square but a heroic monument in the centre of the Marquis de Pombal, who rebuilt this city after the devastating earth quake of 1755. Pombal, a secular pragmatist, ousted the Jesuits but when Maria I came to the throne, she banned him from Lisbon’s soil, being heavily influenced by the Jesuits herself. Since the word terra means both ‘ground’ and ‘earth’, the story goes that the clever marquis packed a crate of soil from outside the city and put it down to step into it when he came back to Lisbon. (Voltaire Voltaire wrote Candide soon after the Lisbon earthquake and held up, as exhibit #1, the senseless death toll of the innocents in that catastrophe as conclusive proof of the absence of any Divine power, and certainly not any benevolent one.)

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Back to Basics


‘How was your trip to Mexico,’ Camp asked. We were both sitting once again at our usual table at our pub by the sea side, looking out at the choppy water, and the grey skies, nursing our pint.

‘We love Patzcuaro, the small Mexican town amongst the volcanoes, and I could spend a lot more time there, but Clare still has a good job in the real world. The weather was perfect, kind of like June around here. How about your trip to Portugal?’ I asked.

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Feliz Navidad


December in the rainforest in the Pacific Northwest consists of liquid sunshine, monochromatic grey skies and gun metal coloured water. People wear clothes from the same palette – shades of grey and black – and my mental state around this time of year reflects the weather and the clothes. Having a couple of beers with my friend, and sometimes mentor, Camp, is one of the week’s highlights, even though we mostly dredge through the most recent slew of bad news, politics and pet peeves. No different this time. It’s raining, the choppy grey water is mirroring the low hanging clouds and dusk is only a slight change from the rest of the day. I was early at our usual table, and to while away the wait I swiped through some news clips on my silly phone. Camp showed up soon thereafter, shook the water from his coat and hat and sat down with a contended sigh.

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