Friday, April 10, 2015

Cape Town

Cape Town—an amalgamation of mountains and beaches paired with shopping and delicious cuisine.  It is simply gorgeous.  The ocean has a luster that I have not seen in a while.
Our Easter weekend was enjoyable, though not traditional.  We’re used to spending Easter Sundays at church and celebrating with friends and family.  Growing up, my parents would dress me the pinkest and frilliest dresses that I’ve ever seen and we’d waltz in to church only to follow with a luncheon in the church hall. Afterwards, there was always an Easter egg hunt.  More recently, my mother-in-law has treated me to a small Easter basket every year that I’ve celebrated with them. I never cease to anticipate tearing open the cellophane wrapper and initiate trades with those daring enough to partake in my bartering.  This past weekend, we spent our Sunday on a Big-Red-Bus tour while meandering (more like crutching) around to the next bus stop. It was actually a fun experience, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the most limited and immobile that I’ve felt since getting my cast.  It is an extremely active town—there’s even an outdoor gym in the park facing the ocean. That blew my mind and I was wishing I could be one of the people breaking a sweat but having the ocean breeze dry it quickly.  Instead, I was sitting slouched in a seat with my foot up in front of me while listening to a lovely tour of the town.  Once I left my pity party, one similar to when I first got my cast, I was able to enjoy what I could of beautiful Cape Town.

The wineries were magnificent. As we went further into the wine countries of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, they got better and better. I was impressed with how well-maintained the grounds were. I couldn’t help but base the amount of pride and quality of the wineries on whether they had cobblestone pathways and manicured lawns. We tasted lovely wines that ranged from pinotage to chenin-blanc. The wineries provided spittoons for people to pour out wines they did not favor. I felt that was an outrage. Even if I was not completely sold on a wine, I didn’t have the heart to pour it out—it didn’t feel right. 
We visited a chocolatier in Franschhoek after visiting the wineries.  After all, wine and chocolate go together like…wine and chocolate.  We watched chocolate making take place and my mind immediately rushed back to the famous I Love Lucy episode when Lucy has the bright idea to work in the chocolate factory. Once I brought my attention back to the entertaining chocolate maker, I was intrigued. We sampled dark, milk, and white chocolate and learned a bit about each.  The man was on my good side until he brutally hated on both milk and white chocolate and those who favored them.  He claimed that those who liked milk were children who have not yet matured.  Here’s a tip (tangent) to everyone out there—don’t be so blunt about disliking anything anyone might favor, especially in regards to food. Food is such a personal and subjective matter. It’s foolish and rude to disregard someone’s taste.  Example—yes, dark chocolate is the purest form of chocolate, but there’s a reason for milk (cocoa combined with *ahem* milk) and white (contains no cocoa, just the butter derived from the bean) or else pastry chefs wouldn’t dream of going near it.  To answer those who are curious, I like all types of chocolate—yes, even white (gasp!)



I made reservations for high-tea at the Table Bay Hotel. I was looking forward to the occasion since before the trip started.  The tea room was beautiful with décor resembling that of a European ballroom.  The view of Table Mountain outside the massive French doors wasn’t too bad either. The food was delicious.  I am a sucker for small sandwiches and finger foods.  There’s something so enjoyable about delicately bringing a small piece of food to your mouth—as opposed to the usual large portions.  Just the act in itself makes me want to bring myself to the edge of the seat and straighten my posture.  The food consisted of quiche, finger sandwiches, and scones. More elaborately— leek and bacon quiche,  Deutsche quiche, smoked trout roll, curry chicken sandwich, cumin chicken wrap, cold beef sandwich, buttermilk scone, and cinnamon raisin scone served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and berry jams.  Dessert blanketed over the center table all in beautiful glass cake trays.  The colors were so rich and appealing to the eye.  Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that the desserts were a bit on the dry side. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience and I left more than satisfied.
We topped off the trip by driving along the eastern side (Indian Ocean) of the cape down to Cape of Good Hope then traveled back up the western side (Atlantic Ocean). We were a bit late getting down there but we managed to see a few penguins waddling around the shore.  I didn’t realize how short they are, and which such good posture!  They were adorable.  We finally reached the entrance for Cape of Good Hope (the most southern tip of Africa) and with our trending luck on the trip, we were three minutes late. The guard refused to let us in. We tried every statement in the book and he didn’t budge. We felt defeated and upset. Part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that many rules in South Africa aren’t enforced (i.e. traffic laws) but don’t you dare show up to the Cape of Good Hope three minutes past closing to watch the sunset.  Instead, we watched the sunset from Llandudno beach off of Hout Bay.  It was remarkable. The rest of the drive back was just as breathtaking. 

The last day, we took the cable car up Table Mountain.  The lines were perpetually long each day we attempted to ride the cable car but luckily, my broken leg got us in faster than you can say VIP. We were able to use the elevator immediately after purchasing tickets which surpassed the line up the stairs.  All in all, the trip was delightful.  If I have the opportunity to go back to Cape Town, I will never pass it up.
Tomorrow, we leave for Namibia.  We will be visiting Windhoek and Swakopmund.  The purpose of this trip is so that we can renew our visas (we have to leave the country after 90-days).  I will be writing about that experience upon our return.

Until then, cheers!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Braai

Braai. A lovely event here in South Africa consisting of laughter, merriment, animal grilling, and carbs. It is our equivalent to BBQ’s only slightly different. The men gather around the grill with their choice of beverage in-hand while the women are in the kitchen preparing carbs and sides such as toasted and buttered hot-cross buns (can’t help but hum the song), garlic bread, salad, cut fruit, and dessert. It’s a lovely occasion where friends and family partake in preparing a meal together. Is it just me, or is a meal more delicious when it’s prepared with the joy and help of those you care about?
We’ve had the pleasure of being invited to a few braais in the last couple weeks and have met some wonderful people in the process. Our landlords-turned-good-friends invited us to our first braai. It took place on a Sunday and was such a relaxing event after a morning of church.  It was probably more relaxing for me considering that my part consisted of sitting on a chair in the kitchen while munching on snacks. I have to admit, it was torturous not being able to help in the kitchen, but I embraced every moment.  Dear friends kept asking if I needed anything which is a bittersweet acceptance for me.  Their dog Tessa, a King Charles spaniel kept me company. I think I have the words ‘I’ll feed you’ written all over me when it comes to dogs. It was tough not giving in to her big brown eyes.

Another braai in which we were invited was a special occasion. Our home church was in South Africa for a service trip. Although we originally intended to help the group out for a day, my injury planned otherwise. However, they still invited us to attend church and an afternoon braai with them.  The church service was longer than we’re used to—2 hours. The vibe in the auditorium was beyond lively, contagious in fact.  I stood on one foot propping the injured one on the chair behind me while doing an embarrassing wiggle/balancing dance while people were in the aisle praising and dancing.  You’d think we were at a rock star’s concert.  It’s beautiful to see the hearts of people for the Lord halfway across the world. 

The braai with our church took place at the lodge in which they stayed.  It was a buffet style which meant that Brian was in charge of filling my plate. It’s a difficult task, but he did a lovely job. It was wonderful catching up with people from our church here in South Africa. Seeing familiar faces and hearing the work they were doing simply made my heart smile.  It made me even more excited to return to such a great community.

We’re going to Cape Town today.  It is one of the few places that every South African we’ve encountered has recommended.  Although it’s going to be a non-traditional Easter weekend for us, we’re delighted for another trip.  There were plenty of adventurous events that sounded appealing—swimming with sharks, 4-wheel/ATVing, hiking, and bike riding.  Unfortunately, we are going to have to miss out and enjoy the more relaxing events (woe is me).  On the itinerary—museums, big-red-bus, beaches, delicious food, penguins, lush wineries, high-teas, and much more.

I will definitely fill you in on our trip! 
Until then, cheers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bean There, Drank That...

This is the second week that I’ve been on crutches.  It has been quite an adjustment and accepting the limitations was a bit difficult.  That said, I’m blown away by the helpful people in my life making this break more bearable—Namely Brian. 
I should have known that when he threw me over his shoulder and carried me almost a mile on a narrow rocky path, he would also step up to the plate at home.  The first week, he did everything that I couldn’t.  He made it easy to accept help, because he provided it with such warmth. Warning: the next phrase is going to be a large cheese wheel rolling your way—I have fallen even more in love with him this past week. He is a true care-taker and provider. There. I said it.
I’m also amazed with how eager the friends I’ve made here are to take me out of the house and make me comfortable. It’s been a real blessing.  David and Michelle, the owners of the new apartment we moved into turned out to be good friends of ours.  They’re so kind, and Brian and I get along so well with them.  Michelle was the first friend to take me out of what seems now like a burrow, a safety net, my home.  She and David are coffee connoisseurs and have a love for a small coffee roaster/café named Bean There. Although I’m no connoisseur, I love coffee and am always eager to try new roasts, blends, and flavors. In her delicately sweet manner, she asked what I was in the mood for. Unfortunately about 95% of the time when someone asks me this question, I am useless, for I am up for anything and want to make sure they’re happy with the choice as well. I let Michelle take the reins with the menu since she clearly knew what she was talking about.   
She ordered two types of brewed coffee—aeropress, and Chemex.  They were fantastic. Watching the delicate yet ebony liquid drops fall into the pots was like watching a psychologically thrilling movie.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and was excited to see, smell, and taste the end result.  The man performing the tasting was serious about coffee.  It was like an art.  Hypothetically speaking, if I didn’t have an appreciation for specialty brewed coffee before entering the doorway accompanied with rich Arabica aroma, and seeing this man’s gentle yet intentional movement with every step of the process, I am now.  It was beautiful.  Being a novice when it comes to coffee tasting, I did what anyone would do—faked it. First, I appreciated the rich color of the coffee with my eyes. It wasn’t the unfortunately common diluted coffee that only is dark after the whole pot has been brewed.  I brought the coffee mug up to my nose, initiating a soft whirlpool motion with my hand and inhaled for a few seconds straight. I proceeded to slowly tilt the mug so that I would get a small yet sufficient taste in my mouth.  Moving the back of my tongue in a way that made me look like a bullfrog, I was able to fully taste the body, aroma, and richness of the coffee. It was delectable. It had a hint of pine that I had never tasted in coffee before.
Aeropress
Along with the coffee, Michelle ordered a slice of carrot cake, and a chocolate chip cookie for us to split.  The cake was fluffy, and moist. The shavings of carrot and chopped walnuts made it more of a meal than dessert. The icing was phenomenal and contained more butter than your usual cream cheese frosting.  The cookie was ever so thin with what seemed like a complete layer of milk chocolate—as opposed to chips.  Each bite I took, the paper-thin cocoa layer was present, and it was delicious.
In the middle of Michelle and I sat her adorable 14 month-old son Timothy.  He brought the party.  He was well-behaved and simply wouldn’t allow us to eat anything he didn’t try first. I call it quality control.  He had cheeks for days and aqua blue eyes that were warm and cheerful.  His smooth blond hair turned into curly-cues at the nape of his neck. He spent the hour alternating between grabbing whatever was in sight (to my surprise not throwing it), taking bites of sweets, and giving me high-fives. I’m fond of the little guy.

Cheers!
Chemex
Christina


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mountains, Shepherds, and a Broken Ankle...

This weekend, we are in Clarens and the Drakensburg Mountains.  My amazement with the beauty of this country continues to grow by the weekend.  Clarens is about 3.5 hours southwest from Joburg.  Driving longer than usual distances here doesn’t seem as taxing as in the states.  I’m certain this is due to the luscious landscapes and topography.  Have you ever seen the double-rainbow video on YouTube? I’m pretty certain I sounded creepily similar to this dude (minus the crying) while snapping pictures every other second.  Clarens is a small touristy town laden with quaint artsy shops, beerhouses, coffeehouses, and restaurants. It provides a different walking atmosphere than Joburg.  Walking in Joburg brings my blood pressure up about 10 points per minute.  It’s like New York City, but worse.  The difference—people in New York have places to be and people to see, so get out of the way.  In Joburg, while that may be the case, people are also in their own world so add that to the hustle and bustle, and you have a jigsaw puzzle of walking space.  Enough about that.  Clarens is quiet, friendly, beautiful, and relaxing.  Rock formations and tall green mountains cuddle the small town which makes the scenery that much more lovely.
Yesterday, we hiked the Drakensburg Mountains.  I had no idea what to expect with this hike.  I’m used to the usual dirt trails with some sticks, and twigs scattered along the path.  This, was nothing like that.  Think of 11k’s of climbing and stepping over rocks ranging in size from as small as your foot, to larger than your entire body.  It was exhilarating and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that getting to the top was a proud moment for me.  Crazy enough, there were real shepherds dressed in long cloaks while herding cows and sheep. We were stunted with the question—how did they get there? Looking down, all I could think is that the landscaping belonged in movie--Lord of the Rings no less. Lush green mountainsides tapered alongside us as we walked, hopped, and climbed, at times only a few inches from the drop-off.  The entire time, I was enthralled with the experience.  I’m incredibly blessed to have a husband who thinks outside the box when it comes to traveling. 
Now, let’s be real for a minute. An experience like that wouldn’t be complete for me without a battle wound. That’s correct, only a bit more than 1k from the car, I broke my ankle. That’s correct people.  We climbed over rocks, climbed chain ladders up a mountainside, and balanced our way through narrow trails, but it wasn’t until the easiest part and last stretch of the hike that I injured myself.  Leave it to me.  Luckily, I have a man who immediately took charge and carried me, I repeat, CARRIED ME the entire way back. Alternating between over the shoulder, piggy-back, and me hopping while resting 90% of my weight on his shoulder, he managed to carry me through loose-rock trails some only the width of a single foot.  I’m grateful.
What was supposed to be a night filled with celebration and relaxation after the hike turned into an additional hour drive to a hospital, chilling on a hospital bed for a good 1.5 hours, only to receive news that what I thought was a simple sprain, was actually a fracture. The doctor and nurses insisted that the pants I was wearing would have to be cut in order to pull over the cast.  The doctor was just full of good news.  No thank you, I’ll risk it.  I left the hospital wobbling on the crutches that resembled walking sticks and rode home in the back seat with a large order of self-pity and disappointment.  Considering we didn’t eat since lunch that day (we left the hospital at 10pm), we asked the hospital receptionist where the nearest place would be to get food at such a late hour.  She said KFC. Those three letters never sounded so good to me. We headed there only to, get this, wait for 45 minutes in the drive thru line. We were stuck in between a truck in front vomiting black exhaust fumes, and a pee-wee car in the back blaring music that was all about the bass.  To my right, a blinking sign for Chicken Zingers and Krushers kept turning on and off. The experience was trippy, and at that moment, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at what the last 4 hours provided.
This morning, while Brian was packing up practically everything, I was watching a rerun of the Ellen Show.  A boy named Tayt was a repeat guest who Ellen invited over the last couple years. He has half a heart. Half-A-Heart! There I was, a lingering guest at my own pity party thinking about how the rest of our stay here will consist of me being a struggle-bus, and an 11-year-old boy has half a heart. That was a huge smack in the face. Immediately, I was overcome with gratitude that my injury wasn’t worse, that I was at least able to finish the hike, oh and that I didn’t fall of the side of the mountain when I injured myself. Crutches are temporary, but there are people with health issues that are permanent.
Right now, as we enjoy an authentic German lunch while enjoying the light breeze and mountainsides before departing on our drive home, I am still amazed with the experience and fully believe that it was completely worth the injury.  Here’s to an exciting and humorous story to tell when we are older.  
Until next time, stay balanced my friends.
Cheers!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shrimp and Grits

When you hear shrimp and grits in the same sentence, it doesn't sound too appealing.  Trust me, it is. One of the ways I’ve been spending my time here is cooking.  With such a minimal kitchen, it has proven a bit challenging to make certain meals.  That said, it’s always fun to try to improvise.  The other day, I was watching Food Network when I quickly saw and heard a blurb of ‘shrimp and grits’.  My mind reacted similar to when you see someone on TV eating a candy bar, and you suddenly want a candy bar.  Or more so, when you watch a movie about dancing or playing a sport, and you suddenly have the urge to do that exact activity.  Is that normal, or is it just one of my many quirks? 
Nevertheless, I decided in that instance that I would make shrimp and grits for dinner.  I surfed the web looking at incredibly indulging recipes.  Thinking twice about them, I continued on to a recipe Bobby Flay used in a cook-off.  I tweaked a few ingredients and went on my way to the store.  Side note – shrimp (aka prawns in South Africa) is as common here as McDonald’s in the U.S. However, it is very expensive. 

We spent this past weekend at Kruger National Park— a very large and prominent park where Africa’s finest animals roam free.  It was spectacular, and I will write soon about our experience.
In the meantime, here is the recipe I created for shrimp and grits.

Ingredients
12 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices of lean center cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
6 scallions, chopped finely
½ tsp cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup polenta
5 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
3 tbs butter
½ cup low-fat milk
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Steps
In a medium-sized pot, combine the polenta, and broth.  Bring to a boil on medium heat and make sure to stir with a whisk frequently to avoid clumping or burning at the bottom of the pot.  In the meantime, cook bacon in a large saucepan at medium-high heat until it are cooked to your liking.  Scoop the bacon out of the pan and place on a paper towel laden plate.  Keep stirring the polenta. Don’t forget about it!  There shouldn’t be much grease.  If you ended up using a fattier cut of bacon, pour some of the grease out. With the bacon grease still in the pan, add the scallions and let them sweat.  Add the shrimp, cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, toss together and let the shrimp cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Don’t overcook them or else they will be rough and chewy.  Set the cooked shrimp aside while leaving the droppings in the pan.  Add 1 cup of broth, and let it simmer in the pan to take on the flavors of the seasoning.  Once the polenta boils lightly, take it off the heat.  Add cheese, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper, the remaining butter, and stir.  Add the milk last so that the cheese has time to melt.  Keep stirring. It should be a loose consistency.  To plate the food, use soup bowls.  Pour a couple ladles of polenta in to the bowls.  Add the broth sauce, then the shrimp, then the bacon bits.  Top with chopped parsley for garnish and enjoy!  If you have any questions regarding this recipe, feel free to contact me!
Cheers!
Christina