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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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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Human Rights


Finally, we can see some sugar coating on the mountains and the skiers are waxing their boards,’ I said.

‘More like you are waxing nostalgically,’ Camp said.

‘Well, the snow just reminds me of when I was a kid, my dad would melt this stick of red wax and apply to my wooden boards and let it dry overnight. I would get up in the middle of the night and put my finger on it, making sure it’s drying and ready for the morning.’

‘I guess you could ski before you walked,’ my friend Campbell, Camp as he is known around town, said, taking a sip from his beer.

‘Did you know that  last month the UN General Assembly voted to allow the Palestinians to procedurally act like a member state during meetings next year when they will chair the group of 77 developing nations.  The United States, Israel and Australia voted against the move, Canada and 14 other countries abstained and 29 didn’t vote.’

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Litterbug meets Calculus


‘It’s such a beautiful day today and I hear it’s your birthday,’ Camp, my friend and stalwart drinking buddy, said, hosting his pint in a toast. ‘That makes you a borderline scorpion. Shouldn’t you be at home with your wife, instead of whiling away the time at the pub.’

‘Clare has a garden club meeting – in November – and she’ll meet us here before we’ll go out for dinner,’ I said. ‘In fact, you and Muriel are invited to join us.’

‘Where do you plan to go?’

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Unforgiven


As soon as Campbell, Camp to us patrons, took off his hat and coat and seated himself in front of a fresh pint, I jumped in with my peeve of the week.

‘I have to revisit the Don Cherry fiasco from last weekend if you don’t mind,’ I said. ‘Was firing him for what he said really the correct thing to do? No chance to apologize, no discussion, just show him the door?’

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Cycle of Blood


November is the time when the parties and gatherings of friends and neighbours start. It’s cold and dark and there is nothing more fun than and wine and dine around a fire in the hearth. Halloween and the day of the dead are both gone and we’ve had Muriel, Camp and her daughter Sophie over for some Swiss Fondue, always a seasonal favorite, even for vegetarians. We tried to steer the conversations away from all the trouble in the world but it’s hard to ignore the devastating fires in California and the vast worldwide demonstrations for a livable future environment. Over and over we just emphasised how lucky we are to live in the temperate Pacific Northwest, at the edge of the rainforest. Camp and I saved some tales of woe and misery for our weekly Thirsty Thursday at the pub. The one that is really bothering me is the horrific opioid addiction and resulting death toll due to overdoses in the US and Canada.

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Own your Data


‘We live in a very complicated world these days,’ I said. ‘Clare and I watched a Netflix documentary the other night: ‘The Great Hack’, about Cambridge Analytica and their manipulation of personal data to influence the last US election and Brexit amongst others. It turns out that Facebook, whose aim was to bring people together through connectivity is actually driving people apart. The conclusion was that fair elections or referendums are an anachronism and a thing of the past.’

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Post-Election Beers


It’s sunny once again and the endless days of rain long forgotten. ‘The elections are over, and we have a minority government, just as I predicted,’ I said to Camp who was busy on his phone.

‘Just adding up some numbers,’ he said apologizing.  ‘Christmas is coming and Kelly, my new help, seems to manage me along with the store. She wants the November and December sales stats for the last five years. She thinks it will help to build a strategy for the upcoming season.’

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History and Future


‘Old people think of the past, the young ones look to the future,’ Camp said when I took my seat at the pub for our weekly beer and chat. He seemed unusually pensive this evening.

‘I guess you’re right but mind you, grandparents think of the future.’

‘They worry about it but their thoughts more often then not wander into the past, their personal history mostly. ‘

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Cynics and Politics


It’s fall here, which means rain, pumpkins and indoor activities. Not my favourite time of year. I just don’t like putting on all these layers of clothes and Clare always has ‘nothing to wear’ when it gets cold and miserable outside. The last couple of days were crystal clear and crisp and apparently October 10th was the coldest in BC in a 123 years. Yikes.

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Distractions


‘You know what the most watched picture was last week, indeed maybe the whole past year,’ Camp asked as he sat down. No comment about the weather, book sales or married life with Muriel.

‘Probably the one about Greta Thunberg sailing past the Statue of Liberty or the one about the fires at the Saudi oil refinery or maybe Trumps map of Hurricane Dorian in Alabama.’

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