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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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.

Our destination was Hazelton and the K’san village in particular. This historic site was the home of the Gitxsan peoples for over 8000 years and is a fantastic showcase of aboriginal culture. Several authentic longhouses fronted by stately totem poles house exhibits from pre-contact to modern times. The Gitxsan – the people of the mist and river – are a very gentle folk and have avoided contact with white Europeans until the 19th century. We were the only people in the large parking lot since there were no tour busses and no tourists. Lucky for us that the site’s museum was open.

We arrived in Smithers’ late afternoon and parked our van in the municipal campground. The townsite was founded in 1913 and sits in a flat, wide valley at the foot of the Hudson Bay mountains, along the Bulkley river.  It was once home to several Swiss families, and the wooden carved Alphorn Al is at the apex of Main Street, greeting visitors. Smithers is laid out in a perfect grid and has a definite alpine vibe, with chalet type store fronts, a vibrant ski and hockey culture, including an old type outdoor rink, a weekly farmers market as well as two craft breweries.  The wide streets are probably flanked by snowbanks in the winter. Did I mention the fat, green, luscious lawns everywhere? A sure sign of the wet climate around here.

There is Covid awareness here and people do distance and wear masks indoors and although the virus is a constant topic of conversation, people talk about other things, like hikes and the weather. And winter is coming.

We passed through Prince George making a bee line for Jasper in the Northern Rockies. Unlike Smithers, masks are mandatory in public, in and outdoors. People walking, bicycling and even driving cars wear masks. It’s kind of depressing, almost like everybody is sick. The constant spritzing and wiping with bleach in every restaurant is giving me a rash and I’m not sure what it is supposed to accomplish, apart from the constant awareness, that something evil is lurking in the air.

The cold and stark beauty of the surrounding mountains is somewhat reassuring; there is another reference, a different time frame, a geological certainty.  Covid-19 may be an annoying blip in cosmic terms but these Rocky Mountains are here to stay.

The fall colours are a palette of yellows, oranges, greens and browns but the rust coloured patches of trees all along the Athabasca valley are dead pines, killed by the mountain pine beetle and ready kindling for the next lightening strike.

Highway 93 south along the Columbia Icefields is surely one of the most spectacular drives anywhere in the world. Flanked by majestic limestone mountains that rise like gigantic waves frozen in time, on both sides of the highway, that winds along the Bow river. The glaciers, are receding steadily, drawing back up the mountains, leaving behind rocks and gravel. There was little traffic and for long times we were the only car winding our way south towards Lake Louise. Even there the famous glacier at the end of the turquoise Lake is a fraction of what it was just a few decades ago. Lake Louise was a busy place, with hundreds of visitors, wearing masks or not, mingling around the spectacular lake. But no tour busses, no foreign mass tourism and yet it still felt like a nature Disneyland. I don’t do well in aimless crowds, unless it’s a football match or a concert, so we snapped a few pictures and split, glad to have been able to drive up to the lake at all.

We drove on to Banff to visit our friends who welcomed us without masks but instead with a drink in hand. Banff is surely one of the most beautiful situated towns anywhere and its mountain style architecture of natural stone and lofty wooden beams makes this outdoor mecca a very pleasant place to stroll about the Galleries, sports shops, restaurants and pubs. The municipal hall hands out packs of 16 masks to residents for free and it will be interesting to see how the merchants and eateries handle the coming winter. Skiing is going to be the sport of choice I’m sure. Where else do people already wear goggles, masks and distance themselves? On the white slopes of course. Après skiing will be another story. As we know, nothing will remain the same and only change will endure.

 

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

Rules and Conduct


            ‘Did you see the new CDC map that tells us where all the covid-19 cases were in the province?’ I asked Camp after Rosie brought around a couple of pints.

            ‘Yes, I did. From January until end of July. Doesn’t tell us anything really. It’s better than nothing but I would have liked to see when those cases occurred. It doesn’t mean anything to know that we had 7 cases in 7 months. Were they in April or July?’

            ‘Why don’t they include that info?’

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The Great Divide


        As we’re nearing the end of summer – already – our daily lives are still ruled by the covid-19 pandemic. Although we know more about it, have better tools for control, testing and tracing, are closer to a vaccine and a treatment than five months ago, we are a long way from eradication or even controlling the virus. Everything has changed: Social behavior, schools, work environments, sports, entertainment, travel, restaurants and we are impacted in every facet of life and across the globe. We wear masks, avoid physical contact like hugs and kisses and make circles around each other. Such were my thoughts as I walked along the shore to our weekly chat over a couple of brews. Not much has changed there. Camp was already seated in our usual corner and lost no time to launch into a tirade featuring our wily and unpredictable neighbour to the south.

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Hot and Cold


            This has been the hottest week all summer here on the coast with everybody flocking to the lakes and the sea shore. Except for today. It’s raining non-stop. Water is a good thing for everything living and growing. In the last week alone, we have over 100 forest fires ravaging the province, foremost the 5000 acre Christie Mountain fire in the Okanagan’s Similkameen district near Penticton. It grew over 2500 acres in just one afternoon.

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Mad, Mad World


It was the first day we had any rain in over a month and since we had a wet June there are no forest fires to speak of. Not like a couple of years ago when we couldn’t even see the mountains for the smoke and smog. Camp was late today which meant he was held up at the store with customers or there were unforeseen circumstances. He never misses our weekly get togethers over a couple of brews.

Rosie, our Irish server, didn’t wait for my order and just brought me a pint of lager. Not quite the clairvoyant server that Vicky is but she was trying. Camp came in a couple of minutes later and Rosie was right behind him with another pint.

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The New Reality


There is no place like home, goes the cliché which is certainly true for the Sunshine Coast. We’re very lucky to live here in paradise by the sea. I haven’t been to the city, Vancouver, in over three months and don’t see any reason to go. Life is good here and the sun is shining right now. Summer is finally here and people are out camping, swimming, hiking and biking. But we don’t see any tour buses or Germans driving around in RV’s, no Americans filling up the pubs, no Chinese clusters looking for the washrooms. It’s eerily quiet which suits us locals just fine. How long will this go on? Predictions say at least another year, maybe longer.

I found Camp sitting at our table, separated by a plexi glass barrier from the next table. He was thumbing through the Worldometer which highlighted the dismal US numbers of new covid cases and deaths.

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Local and Global


Our corner table was nicely separated by plexiglass and potted plants. I kind of liked the private atmosphere this created.

‘Maybe we should all believe in reincarnation. If we did, then we would be more concerned about the long-term future than we are. I’m thinking about the environment: ocean acidification, temperature increases, garbage; all of that would matter a lot more if we were destined to come back,’ I said to Camp who was quaffing his first pint.

‘What’s bugging you now, he asked.

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Rational Realist


It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast. Rich man’s weather with no bugs, I like to describe it. But it’s quiet, no tourists, no festivals, no fireworks. In a way it’s kind of nice but it seems like the calm before the storm. Vicky set down two fresh pints and said: ‘Today you two need to focus on the beauty and goodness all around you. No doom and gloom and no Trump.’ We both looked at her speechless. ‘Just kidding,’ she said with a smile.

We raised our glasses and toasted to the beauty and the goodness and then Camp said, running his hand through his unruly shock of grey curls. ‘We have to admit that we’re not going to get out of this pandemic as we thought just a few months ago. Now it seems that the so called second wave is just a continuation of the first wave, trending upwards in lockstep with uncoordinated re-opening policies.’

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Cash and Zoom


I walked to the pub along the shore at low tide and thought about what Clare just told me. She is working virtually and is zoomed out. ‘I feel a bit lonely, a bit sad and a bit awkward, maybe even a bit depressed.’

‘It’s called zoom fatigue,’ I said. ‘People cannot function in two dimensions and not everybody is an actor or looks good on camera. Also, people present a persona which is switched on and you cannot get the human connection that face to face meetings and body language’ provide. We are not screen images.’ I told Camp about it and he agreed. ‘I don’t do zoom,’ he said, ‘either come and see me or I’ll wait until this is over. I’m not talking into a computer like I’m doing a commercial of myself. Not gonna happen.’

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Uncertainty Blues


                 ‘Let’s say that one percent of the North American population – US, Mexico, Canada – has been infected with the Covid-19 virus – many of them unknowingly. That’s about 5 million people, almost double the official number of 3.2 million. That leaves 99 percent of the population untouched but still vulnerable.’

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Covid Encounters


It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast and week 15 of the Covid. There are still no public celebrations and concerts, no parades or marathons, no team sports and no public fundraisers. Club meetings, Yoga and dance classes are on zoom or skype, even family gatherings and weddings are held virtually with the betrothed assembled in front of a screen instead of a crowd. Good thing the pubs are open again and breweries are an essential service. Camp was already at our table at Gramma’s and our masked server just set down our frosty pints as I walked in.

‘How’s your week been?’ Camp asked, pocketing his little screen.

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Drugs, Death and Dylan


‘The longest day of the year is coming up,’ I said, as I sat down across from Camp who looked dapper in khaki pants and a short-sleeved shirt, Birkenstocks and sunglasses.

‘Yep, and I decided that in order to celebrate summer, I’m dressing the part.

‘Well, if you want my opinion, it suits you. Casual is in you know.’

‘No, I didn’t know but I have a closet full of clothes I never wear. I thought I’d try some of them and since nobody is dressing up working at home, I’ll support the garment industry.’

‘By wearing your old clothes from home?’

We both concentrated on the lovely scenery and our beers.

‘Here is a frightening statistic Camp,’ I said. ‘Over 400 overdose deaths in the past 3 months, 170 alone in May. These are people who inject what they believe is a rush or a high and what they get instead is a fatal shot of fentanyl laced heroin.’

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The Future is Here


‘Kids are back in school but I hear that only 30-60 percent of pupils show up,’ I said after we settled into our spot on the veranda, right over the water by the harbour.

‘Does this feel like before the covid?’ I asked Camp, looking around at the generous spacing of the tables and the potted plants between them for separation and distancing.

‘Not really,’ Camp said. ‘It’s strange to be served by Vicky in a face mask like we’re in a hospital setting. Also, I miss smoking my pipe. It goes well with beer.’

‘And teachers got what they’ve been asking for years, thanks to the virus: vastly reduced class sizes and an additional boost in virtual learning capacity. Many kids had to learn from home and use virtual platforms. Not sure how successful that was but those tools won’t go away,’ Camp said.

‘They’ll be part of the learning arsenal,’ I said. ‘And it made kids read, even though it’s on a screen. It’s the future and it has arrived.’

‘Last week we talked about civilisation and I forgot to mention that our cultures wouldn’t exist without beer. I read an essay about how nomadic peoples in the Neolithic met annually for beer festivals. Because this required large quantities of beer, production had to be placed in the hands of specialists – probably shamans and priests at the time. They intensified cultivation and expanded the planting areas. In short, early forms of agriculture were created because of beer. In addition, calendars were needed to make the way to the festivities in time. And some revelers just stayed on, thus creating the first permanent settlements.’

‘Beer, the harbinger of permanence and stability? A bit of a stretch, no?’ I said.

‘It’s a good theory,’ Camp said, raising his glass.

‘What do you make of all these demonstrations and protests for equality and against racism in light of George Floyd’s murder by those nasty cops’ I asked Camp.

‘I’m afraid it won’t change much of anything. It’s like a pressure relief valve, some steam is let off and that’s about it. Black Americans will remain second class citizens as long as they are seen as inferior to whites. Descendants of former slaves and colonized peoples do not become equals with their masters and exploiters even after they are freed. They remain the poor, the underprivileged and the exploited.  And its white old men who control the flow of money and you know the golden rule: Those who have the gold rule,’ Camp said, finishing his pint.

‘Sad but true,’ I agreed, ‘but are we condemned to repeat the past over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day?’

‘If you’re a black person then you have to concede that not much has changed since 1967 and James Baldwin’s and Malcolm X’s speeches could have been written today. As far as they are concerned, we now live in their future.’

‘Black lives matter, but do they matter as much as white lives?’ I said.

‘Maybe in the sports arena or the music hall and the military, but not so much in the corridors of power or the halls of justice and not on Wallstreet or Mainstreet.’

‘But a vast number of young white people are demonstrating and protesting against systemic racism. Maybe a change is coming. Maybe this new generation will be colorblind and fair,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope the result is not a drastic increase in Covid infections.’

‘There is only one chance of making a difference and that’s at the ballot box this coming November. If all those Generation Z protesters vote, then maybe there will be a sea-change,’ Camp said. ‘And an uptick in virus transmissions is guaranteed with these mass gatherings. We already know that.’

‘Ready for another one,’ Vicky said, from behind her mask, exchanging the empties for two full ones.

‘Always ready for another one,’ Camp said. ‘How is life behind that mask?’

‘Lonely,’ Vicky said, ‘it’s isolating and distancing. And what am I supposed to do with all my lip sticks and teeth whiteners?’

 

Civilization


Camp looked around, absentmindedly tamping his unlit pipe. We were back in the pub, found our usual seats and Vicky was our hostess.

‘How did you get over the last two months,’ I asked her.

I stayed home with my son, enrolled in an on-line course on becoming a realtor and applied for every dollar from the government I could. I did better than some others.’ Happy to be back. I missed seeing and being with people the most.’ And with that she dropped two lovely pints in front of us.

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Zoom and Gloom


            ‘You know Clare is working from home, just like Muriel, and all this virtual interconnecting is driving her crazy, must be the same for Muriel,’ I said.

            ‘Yes, teaching from home is a real challenge. Also, many people who work from crowded homes, Muriel has a friend where 4 adults are trying to work from home. Two university students and the parents. Everybody gets a turn at the kitchen table, 4 computers, 4 smart phones and somebody has to cook and clean.’

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