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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Good News


I walked briskly along the waterfront just when the light was fading and only the sugar-coated north shore mountains where still lit by the dipping sun. I was early and waited for Camp who showed up in an unusual good mood. ‘What’s up? I asked.

            ‘I had a record day of sales today. Maybe people got wound up with all this Black Friday and Cyber Monday hype, making them feel like they missed something. Also, more people are reading books this time of year when it gets dark so soon and they’re stuck inside.

 ‘Did you have any black Friday sales?’

 ‘You’re kidding right. How about ‘Free Books Tomorrow’ or ‘Buy two Books for only one Bill.’

            ‘Talking about books; I’m reading ‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman, I’m sure you know it. It’s a hopeful history of our species and full of positive stories about how disaster and wars bring out the best in us, not the worst as so many want us to believe, from old philosophers like Hobbes to anthropologists like Chagnon, to today’s tabloids and news outlets.’

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Books


‘How was the book fair?’ I asked Camp after he’d taken his pea coat off and sat down.

            ‘Good fun. So many excited and hopeful young writers and plenty of older book junkies like myself getting together at the end of the day for a pint or two.  Did you know that on average over 1000 books are published in Canada every month? Add to those the self-published titles and you can triple that number.’

            ‘That could be depressing for any writer struggling to get a book together. You and I know what it takes. Years of lonely toil, self-doubts, re-writes, and rejections.’ 

            ‘It’s a labour of love my friend. A compulsion and a passion. Some people just have to write every day, mostly for themselves as their main audience.’ 

            ‘Do any of those self-published books sell? Is there any money in writing?’

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Power to the the People


            Camp is attending a pre-x-mas book fair in the big city this weekend. That gives me a chance to slip this little essay in.

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.       

Energy is wildly abundant all over the universe but harnessing it and then releasing it to drive, move and energize specific tasks like motors, resistance (heat, light) and transistors is where the cost comes in. Labour, infra structure, storage and transmission. Wind and solar radiation are free but to translate them into power is an elaborate and expensive process. Water flows downhill but to hold it back and transform its energy into electricity takes massive dams, turbines, transformers and transmission lines. Burning fossil fuels, which is a finite resource and energy sink, to heat water and drive steam turbines and generators, is also costly and leaves behind planet warming emissions and pollution.  Then there is nuclear power which is a relatively clean energy, except for Uranium mining and burned out fuel-rod storage. That’s about it: hydro, coal, oil, wind, solar and nuclear. Which would you like to power your elevator or charge your electric car?

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Remember


November 11th is Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veterans Day in the US, observed throughout the Commonwealth to honour those who have died in the line of duty. 

We remember the more than 2,300,000 Canadians who have served throughout our nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called ‘Armistice Day’ to commemorate the agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

In order to honour the day, we changed our usual pub by the sea for a draught at the local Legion. The view isn’t as spectacular and the clientele isn’t as diverse, mostly pensioners, from sexagenarians to octogenarians. There are no servers, only a bar tender but the beer is cheap and plentiful. Legions in Canada can be found in every town and city, from the Billy Bishop Branch in Kits to the Roberts Creek Branch here on the coast, most of them struggling to survive but one of the few places where you can still dance to live music by local cover bands on most Saturdays. It’s also a place to have cheap lunch on Fridays and play some serious snooker or darts. 

‘What do you think Camp. Are the wars glorified by the pageantry of Remembrance Day ceremonies?’

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GET OUT !


Remember Tim Leary’s motto: Turn on, tune in, drop out?’ I said to Camp who was relaxing with a pint in hand. ‘It could fit today’s political and social media environment. Turn on your brain, tune in to reality and drop out of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.’

‘You got a point there but old Tim was talking about psychedelic drugs. Today we have a toxic cognitive environment where the wildest conspiracy theories and unfounded claims find more traction than the boring truth and facts. ‘

‘Exactly. As a US professor who studies polarization and extremism said: We now have a population that is unable to discern what is true and what is not. People are willing to accept conspiracy theories when they reinforce the narrative they already hold in their minds.’

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Populism


‘The rain is coming,’ Camp promised

 ‘Are you a politician or the weather man?’

 ‘You’re right, they both make promises and are only right half of the time.’

‘It seems that the ‘new world order’ – to borrow a phrase from the conspiracists which allege a secretly emerging totalitarian world government – is happening in increments with populist leaders and governments gaining traction from Hungary to Sweden and Italy and close to home in Alberta,’ I said.

‘Don’t forget Iran which is a religious dictatorship or China which is now a de facto totalitarian state with the usual tools like strict censorship, political and cultural repression and jail for those who oppose Xi and his reign of fear and tyranny,’ Camp said.

‘I read about the ‘bridge man’, the lone protester who hung a banner from a busy overpass thousands of miles from the Beijing congress. Let me read you what it said: ‘Life not zero-Covid policy freedom not martial-law lockdown, dignity not lies, reform not cultural revolution, votes not dictatorship, citizens not slaves.’

Of course, this action has been furiously scrubbed from Chinese social media and Xi has now been confirmed as Emperor for life. He wants to be bigger than Mao.’

‘Nothing good will come of it, not for the Chinese, not for the world,’ I said.

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Food & Energy


            Canadian Thanksgiving is over and the turkey soups and sandwiches are done and fall is officially upon us but I’m certainly not complaining about the continuing unseasonably warm and dry weather. Can we still call it Indian summer or is that a derogatory reference, woke or politically incorrect? Camp waved off my concerns as unnecessary polemics. ‘It’s a common phrase that simply refers to warm fall days, kind of like a second summer.’

            I had something on my mind and wanted Camp’s input. ‘All of Europe, and a lot of people elsewhere, are very concerned about the coming winter’s supply or lack of energy to maintain their life styles. Anything from hot water to gadgets, from hair dryers to tumblers, hot tubs to heating systems, is now being looked at with a new and concerned scrutiny. Gone are the days when we could waste energy without giving it a second thought,’ I said.

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The Short and the Long


            ‘It’s the endless summer,’ I said to Camp when I settled into my corner at our watering hole. ‘No rain in three months makes this a lovely summer.’

            ‘Except for the usual stage 4 water restrictions, forest fires and dried up salmon streams,’ Camp grumbled, ‘but winter is coming, as they say.’ 

            ‘Oh well, I love this time of year, harvest time in Clare’s garden, which is awash in zucchinis and yellow tomatoes. We’ve been eating, canning and freezing the bounty. You and Muriel must come over for dinner.’

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Stones and Words


            ‘How was jolly old England?’ Camp asked me after I sat down, happily surveying the unchanging moving picture of the harbour, the comings and goings of boaters and people and the noisy gulls. It feels good to be home again and have a pint with Camp who looks a bit like Einstein in his dotage. I think he needs a haircut but I better not say anything because he prides himself not to give a hoot about his appearance. ‘Did you like London?’

‘Yes, I did. We walked for miles around the old city, along the Thames and past all the iconic buildings and landmarks. Lucky for us, we were there just days before the Queen died, so we still had unrestricted access to all the gigantic stone monstrosities: castles, cathedrals, bridges and towers. I was most impressed with the Modern Tate gallery which is in a huge old former power station.’ 

‘Did you go to Stonehenge?’

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Changing of the Guard


The queen is dead. Long live the king. That about sums up this week in England. I happened to be in London at an Indian restaurant when the news of the Queen’s passing flashed on my phone. But life goes on. It’s been a trying week for the British. New prime minister, their Queen dying and a new King who has been waiting in the wings all his life. Flags are lowered in mourning, then raised in celebration during the proclamation, then lowered again. Churches and Cathedrals only open for mourners which is fine with me. I’m not a big fan of those massive monuments to celestial hubris, although their architecture and sheer size is impressive, considering they were built 800 to a thousand years ago with no machinery but thousands of labourers.

You would have thought that Charles would get some grief-time for his mom but no; there are procedures and protocols to be observed. The theater of royalty, preferably with as much pageantry and absurdity as possible. Brits like their history to come as costume drama.’ as John Crace from the Guardian dryly observed. Does anybody really want to see Charles’ face on a coin or a pound note or even on the Canadian currency? Hard to imagine. 

The new king is more than just a pretty face. He actually made a landmark speech on saving the environment in 1970, just 21 years old, in Cardiff. He also founded Duchy Originals, a natural food company in 1990, at the time thought to be a folly but today it’s the most popular organic food brand in England. Together with the fortune of his estimated royal inheritance of over 20 billion, King Charles III is instantly one of the richest men on earth. 

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The Only Way: A Diatribe by Campbell Roberts


            Once in a while my good friend Campbell or Camp as everyone knows him goes off on a soliloquy or monologue, usually classified as a diatribe. Since this is not a discussion with differing points of view but a sermon aimed at a choir of one – me – I find it easiest to listen and look out the window at the water, the gulls and boats and let him get it off his chest. It went something like this:

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Together is Better


At an anniversary celebration a couple of weeks ago, one of the guests asked of the long-married couple what it takes to make a marriage last.  The usual banter and jokes were offered like ‘make love not war’, ‘too busy to think about it’ or ‘time is not the enemy of everlasting love’. I asked Camp what he thought.

‘Well, that’s a loaded question,’ he said, ‘since I’m only wedded for a few years I’m not the expert on longevity in matrimony. I would say that tolerance of each other’s idiosyncrasies and giving each other the personal space is probably the most important facet of my relationship with Muriel.  Without her support for some of my silly habits like reading the news at 3am or my bizarre conviction that I’m always right it wouldn’t last.’ 

‘I’ll let you in on a little secret Camp,’ I said.

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Three Fears


The pub was busy with the summer crowd. I love this time of year when I don’t have to worry about socks and sweaters, pants and jackets. This is T-shirts, shorts and sandals weather.  Except we have local water restrictions and wild fires in the province.

            After my walk along the shore I half emptied the cool refreshing pint that Vicky sat down in front of me the moment I sat down. Camp was late, which was usually good news since this meant customers in the book store. He finally arrived and like me downed half his pint. These are thirsty days. ‘What’s on your mind these days? Plenty of things to worry about I take it.,’ Camp said.

There are three things that scare me Camp,’ I said.

            ‘What are those? Old age, incontinency, losing your mind?’

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Charter of Liberties


‘Are you familiar with the Magna Carta?’ Camp asked me when we were comfortable settled at our usual table at our favorite seaside pub.

            ‘You mean the English Common Law from the Middle Ages? I’m superficially familiar with the term. What gives?’

            ‘A friend handed me a printout the other day pertaining to this charter of liberties of which the English barons convinced King John – yes, the one of Robin Hood fame – to give his assent to this document in June 1215 in Runnymede, along the river Thames in Surrey, about 20 miles west of London.’

            ‘Ok, why is it called the Magna Carta?’

            ‘It means ‘Great Charter’ and it was mainly composed by Cardinal Stephen Langdon as part of a mediation agreement for peace between Pope Innocent III and King John. But the Pope was infuriated by the arrogant behavior of the 25 barons who enshrined the Magna Carta into law and he annulled the Charter which he deemed a threat to his authority.’

            ‘Power and Politics?’

            ‘Yes, the usual I guess but the charter stands up through the ages while that Pope is long gone.

            ‘Ok, so how does it compare to our Charter of Rights?’

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Health and Wealth


‘Emergency rooms are closing; paramedics are struggling to answer 911 calls and hospitals all over the country are stretched to the limit. We can’t just blame Covid for all that can we?’ I wanted to hear Camp’s opinion on this issue.

‘The pandemic just highlighted what we’ve known for years. Not enough physicians, nurses and hospital personnel, underpaid care workers, immigrant doctors not able to get their Canadian license, family doctors a dying breed. Exasperating all of this? The same driving factors as in the worker’s shortage: Aging population, boomer retirement, not enough training and a lack of incentives for rural doctors and nurses.’

‘I read about a desperate senior – one of nearly one million people in BC without a family doctor – who took out an ad to find one. That got the attention of the premier who quipped he might do the same in order to get the federal government’s attention, which is woefully underfunding the provinces.’ 

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The Dragon, the Shark and the Elephant


            ‘I want to recommend a book I’ve just read by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former speech writer. After Trump’s election Ben travelled the world, visiting former politicians and friends he made in the eight years working at the centre of power. It’s very insightful and he is able to explain a lot of what is going on, how social media is able to shape peoples mind and what motivates politicians like Putin and Xi. I highly recommend it,’ Camp said, taking a sip from his pint.

            ‘When do you have time to read?’ Isn’t summer the busy season?’

            ‘There are always lulls between the onrush of crowds and I consider reading working, sampling the wares I sell.’

            ‘If you say so.’

‘Rhodes points out that while the XXth century was about ideology, the XXIst one is about identity,’ Camp said, ‘and this identity is constructed from inward looking nationalism, flag bearing and partisan patriotism and a revisionist history. More and more we’re pulled into a nationalistic and fascist maelstrom that is promoted by a slew of US- social media which is gobbling up all the advertising, away from print media and even TV. We know that and don’t seem to do anything about it. We always blame the Other for our societal failings. It’s the foreigner’s fault, the Jews, the brown and black migrants, or these days the liberals and socialists who is anybody not in the neo-con camp.  No matter if it’s inflation, skyrocketing Real estate prices or even climate change. It’s all the Other’s fault.’

‘I guess we’re part of these Other’s then. I’m a liberal social democrat, read established print media and do not subscribe to any social media platform.’

‘We’re now the minority,’ Camp said, ‘and it’s also generational. Millenials are all connected and that electronic connectivity is their religion. It tells them how to live, what to buy, read and believe.’

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Reality Check


‘I’ve read some articles by journalists who do not condone Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but insists that our reporting in the west is equally propagandized as the Russian media. I’m not even talking about social media and the profusion of conspiracy and opinion trolls. The Counterpunch Website and main stream journalists like John Pilger point out that Ukrainian nationalists – Putin’s Neo Nazis – have infiltrated the Ukrainian army as well as civic life in much of Ukraine for the past dozen years. He also claims that Russian speaking people of the Crimea, the Donbass and Donesk regions would choose Russia over Ukraine if a referendum were held.’

            ‘No doubt, our view about the whole conflict is shaped by our mainstream media which is a lot more diversified than the Russian media. We still have choices of news sources, TV channels and print media that the other side does not offer anymore.’

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Strange Days Indeed


I stopped by Coast Books the other day and handed Camp a free-form translation of a recent article in my Swiss Paper. It deals with the concept of Utopia from the vantage of a millennial. A bit of an eye-opener I thought. He promised to give it some attention, time permitting. ‘As you can see, I’m here by myself, since nobody wants to work for the wages I can pay,’ he lamented.

            ‘Where have all the workers gone? he said, shaking his head. 

            ‘To work from home or sorting packages at Amazon,’ I said. ‘What could be better than listening to podcasts and music all day long, standing at a conveyer belt, instead of working in a care home or waiting on demanding patrons in a restaurant or store.’ 

            ‘My staff quit because they couldn’t find affordable housing and this is in a small town. Unskilled workers on minimum wages cannot afford to live near their places of work like care homes and hospitals, restaurants, department stores or small retailers like book stores. Lack of affordable rentals is at an all-time high and the ludicrous real estate prices don’t help. People are renting their trailers and wood sheds to desperate tenants.’

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UTOPIA


It takes courage to have Utopias today

(Translated from German; published 06.07.2022 in in the Tages Anzeiger)

By Joshua Beer (his real name) 

Pandemics, climate crisis, wars: young people only know the future as a horror scenario. It’s high time to imagine a better world again.

Pessimistic view of the future

The future – and thinking about it – is no longer fun, because it is occupied by dystopian images: climate catastrophe, the end of democracy, an epidemic age and, more recently, nuclear death. What we lack are utopias. No fantasy worlds to escape into, but positive ideas of how we want to live in twenty, thirty years. Or even in a hundred. Instead, we hope on a small scale that the acute crises will become a little less acute: ceasefire in Ukraine, a mild corona winter, that would be nice. We do not dare to think bigger and further. Why even if the next crisis could come at any time? Surely it is already lurking somewhere. The majority of younger people are pessimistic about the future, many even long for the past. A decade ago, it was the other way around.

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Artificial Intelligence


We’ve got music in the park, jazz fests with many different, excellent musicians, all of them super excited to be out playing again. Covid has forced most performers and entertainers into a two-dimensional digital world and lonely isolation for the past two years. ‘Musicians, maybe more than anybody else need each other to play. Zoom bands is not where it’s at. That’s why it’s fantastic to see live music once again,’ I said to Camp who was sporting sun glasses and a Hawaiian shirt for our Thursday meet at the seaside pub.

‘We are headed for a two-dimensional world as it is. Many administrative and office jobs will never return to in person work spaces and the advent of AI interactive Atavars like physicians, counselors or investment advisors will save you a trip to the clinic or the bank.’

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