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.

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

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!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Short Tale of the Cooking Fail

Today, I failed.  I've had things go wrong while cooking, but I could usually improvise and fix them as I went along.  It’s really the most shameful fail I've had.  How bad could it be, you ask? Allow me to elaborate.

Lebneh (leb-nee) is a Middle-Eastern cream cheese, only not as thick as American cream cheese.  It’s served drizzled with about a gallon of extra virgin olive oil and pita bread.  If you’re like me, you enjoy it with olives, tomatoes, and Lebanese cucumbers.  Lebanese cucumbers, also known as gherkins, are petite, slender, firm, and have a delightful crisp that most English cucumbers can’t offer. This is due to the smaller seeds. Cucumbers with larger seeds tend to be softer and not ask crisp or flavorful. 

While in beautiful South Africa, I realized how much I missed Lebanese food and lebneh was a staple I decided we couldn't live without.  So here’s the deal. I initially sprung for the easy way out.  I took the closest thing I had to a cheesecloth (the kitchen is incredibly ill-equipped), a green and sad excuse for a sieve, and purchased some low-fat yogurt to be healthier.  I scraped the last bit of yogurt out of the container and into the cheesecloth allowing it to sit at room temperature for about the same amount of time I remember my parents did.  It turned out delicious but the consistency and flavor was lacking.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to have my cake and eat it too.  Fed up, I messaged my dad asking for the recipe and vouched for the real deal—whole-fat milk my friends.

The directions were easy enough—bring the milk to a boil at medium temperature while stirring frequently.  Make sure not to allow the milk to overflow.  This will literally happen the second you look away.  I know this from experience.  Once the milk has boiled, transfer it to a container to let it sit until the milk is just cool enough to leave your finger immersed for 10 seconds. Add a cup of plain full-fat yogurt then let it sit for 10-12 hours at room temperature. Add salt, place in cheesecloth and sieve, and transport it to the fridge.  Voila!

It’s a running joke between Brian and I that the most interesting and laughable step of the recipe is to stick your finger in the lebneh for 10 seconds.  It just sounds so…silly. Ironically, that was the one step I failed to do.  Immediately after transferring the hot milk to the container, I left for yoga (yes, I still routinely attend yoga!), and added the yogurt once I returned.  Crossing my fingers that the step was as useful as a spoon-full-of sugar to help the medicine go down, I did all I could—I waited. 

Photo from Herbivoracious.com.  I would normally use my own photo,
but we all know how that ended.
It was a bust, a fail, a flop, a big nosedive.  Call it what you want, but I failed to make something I always saw as exceptionally easy.  The one step I laughed at, I failed to do and in-turn, ruined an entire bowl of what could be creamy, luscious, lebneh.  A gallon of milk literally down the drain.  All I could think about is that I’m a chef, I own a business based solely on cooking, and I ruined something so simple. Disappointed in myself and distinctively remembering my dad saying “it’s not rocket science”, I shook my head. Side note— I’m aware that what I messed up was a small feat and that I am ranting about a dairy product. It’s not about the lebneh. It’s about having pride in something I do and realizing that I won’t always succeed. I was actually embarrassed.  It’s tough to swallow no matter who you are! But then it occurred to me...

It’s okay. It’s alright to fail. It’s okay to not have everything go your way 100% of the time.  You messed up. So what? That doesn't make you any less good at what you succeed in. You learned, and now you know. Try again.  When you succeed, it will be that much more rewarding. It also taught me not to be so proud. I'm always eager to learn, but there are times I let cockiness get the best of me in the kitchen.  Shame on me. This recipe put me in my place. Honestly, I believe that was the kind and gentle voice of God speaking to me. 

It turns out the reason for the finger-dipping is incredibly scientific after all.  If your finger can withstand the heat of the milk for up to but no more than 10 seconds, it’s at the exact temperature to bind the protein solids.  Now that I know that, I will never laugh at that step again—OK maybe I will. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Zimbabwe, Zambia, High Tea, and Baboons...

Only a few short minutes after we landed on the runway, we didn't move far before finding our parking space on the tarmac. The airplane doors flung open and we slowly made our way stepping down the portable stairway.  So this is what Zimbabwe smells like? I’ll take it. Delicate floral aromas mixed with dirt and hot air to make the welcome even warmer. 
View of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side
The airport was tiny and aging. It very likely had the same signage as the day it was built, but it got the job done.  The security was incredibly disorganized and it took us nearly an hour to get through customs. Nevertheless, we were in Zimbabwe. Quickly after finding a cab (more like the driver found us), the warm and dry weather transformed itself into a strong downpour of rain. So this is how it’s going to be? I’ll take it.
The cab ride to the hotel was peaceful and pretty uneventful. Immediately upon setting my large eyes on the caution: elephant crossing sign, I peeled them back to see any site of an elephant’s trunk or ear. Nothing. Although, we did see some baboons along the road close to the hotel.  They were adorable! If our accents weren't enough to giveaway that we were tourists, my snapping pictures of baby baboons did the job.  The hotel was beautiful and had a remarkable view of the greenery that Zimbabwe had to offer.
Wasn't sure if I was going to make it...
With no time to spare, we quickly put on our hiking attire and ventured out to Victoria Falls.  Words can’t describe how amazing they were. It’s apparent why it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  God’s hand print was clearly on every square-footage of the falls.  A rainbow acted as a bridge over the gorge connecting Zimbabwe to Zambia, and could be seen from every direction.  We got absolutely drenched—it was an unbelievably freeing experience. Our child-like excitement radiated through the falls.

The following day, we arose bright and early to enjoy the breakfast that the hotel had to offer.  I must be one of the few people on this earth to pick a hotel based on the breakfast reviews. It was everything I imagined.  After stuffing ourselves with papaya, passion fruit, and other delicacies, we headed off to experience a few hours of pure adrenaline. 
Canopy zip-line tour
That’s correct, I followed through with every commitment I made and even did another activity!  Our first activity consisted of a zip-line canopy tour.  As I looked down at one of the lines resembling dental floss, I ensured that we indeed would NOT be going across that. The friendly and charming instructor said no, not until line 8. I’m sorry, what? This piece of string was stretched from one side of the gorge to the other, and it was the highest line in the tour.  Commence my panic attack. I felt a similar sensation to when I was just eight years-old and someone (whom I thought was a friend) double-dog-dared me to go off the high-dive—but this was worse.  As we made our way up the rocky path, I realized that I really didn't have much to lose and that the whole purpose of the day was to go out of my comfort zone.  We arrived at the first line and I was slightly relieved to see that it was enclosed with greenery. It felt as though I would have a cushion if for some reason my harness magically detached.  Unfortunately for me, the ladies go first is a rule followed by most men in Africa, and these instructors (TK and Sabi) were no exception.  With a light-hearted tone, TK shouted “enjoy, I’ll see you on the other side!” before zipping off into the green abyss.  The sound of increased speed on the cord made me even more nervous.  As Sabi hooked me up, he told me to let go and for the life of me, I couldn't!  I tested the harness to make sure it could hold all my weight (why wouldn't it?) and realized that I could sit comfortably and trust the tight-fitted gear. OK Christina, quit this nonsense. I said a quick prayer, let go, and traveled into the lush greenery with just a peek of the gorge before arriving to the other side. 
Victoria Falls Hotel
That was it? THAT WAS AWESOME!!!! At that moment, I realized I overcame yet another senseless fear and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the canopy tour.  It was so fun to experience it with Brian. We approached the 8th and highest line, and I was ready. Just by listening to me, you would have thought I was a completely different person.  The experience was exhilarating and not scary in the least.  When it came time for Brian to do the flying fox, I looked at the gear, and back at the line, and asked if I could take his place—he had the swing to look forward to, after all.  I was told to do a running start and just fly in the air. Pardon me? Without allowing my fears get the best of me, I did it. I flew in the air over the gorge at an elevation even higher than the line before. All I could think about in that moment was two things—1) God is good, and 2) I can’t believe I’m hanging off a line in the middle of the gorge at Victoria Falls. Is this what the crazy dude who walked across the Grand Canyon felt?  Most likely not, he was probably more collected, and he wasn't even strapped to anything! 
It was then time for the gorge zip line. My eyes told me that this was a steep drop, but TK who was sitting off to the side said it wasn't steep, basically insinuating that it was an optical illusion.  I liked TK a lot more before that zip-line.  It was absolutely exactly what I thought.  Picture being on an extraordinarily high roller-coaster about ready to drop on a steep hill (which I would never do).  Now picture going down the hill, but rather than be seated and strapped, the only thing you have to hold on to is the belt loop of your spouse.  I never missed those dinky protection bars so much. You’re not sitting, you’re not enclosed, and you’re completely free—just dangling there.  We couldn't even hold on to the line to control our speed like we could on the tour. The only way I can describe our my scream is to compare it to someone who has fallen from a cliff and expects death any second. I can’t speak for Brian, but I couldn't breathe for what seemed like a minute. I shut my eyes tight and felt our bodies fall so fast only to eventually swing up again.  At that point, I knew I could open them.  After realizing that both of us were still alive, it was a moment that made us feel incredibly close.  We were both proud of ourselves and basked in the fact that we shared such an experience. Looking for a date night to bring you and your loved one closer? Just hang off a string over a small body of water—that should set the mood for a romantic evening!
The beautiful wild mushroom ravioli
The adventure ended with Brian doing the swing.  Let me start by saying, swing is an understatement.  This isn't something I used sit on during recess as I worked to get higher than the swing-set bar.  This was nothing like that.  The swing was basically a bungee cord, but rather than being strapped to your feet, it’s strapped to a harness, and you drop—in Brian’s case you drop backwards.  You drop straight down for who knows how many meters before it decides you’ve been tortured enough, only to swing you back and forth—dangling like a tooth ripped from your mouth by the power of a door-nob.  From my perspective, it looked like he was only a couple inches from the rocks and even closer to the water.  The scream that he emitted sounded as intense as my scream on the zip line (only his was warranted).  Before Brian dropped, Sabi told us that this is what separates the boys from the men. I’ve definitely got a good man.  I don’t know whether I’m concerned or proud that he did that. No, I’m definitely proud of him.
Crocodile Salad
Tea cup and kettle...
We finished the afternoon with lunch and high tea at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel.  Known for being the hotel for the royals and celebrities, it had colonial marks all over it. This is the most luxurious hotel in the area and while we couldn't find enough pocket change to stay there, we still experienced the most important parts—the grounds, the view, and the food! While seated outside and looking out at the falls, we enjoyed our delicious meals.  I had the wild-mushroom ravioli and Brian enjoyed a crocodile tail salad.  I could tell the ravioli was made in-house.  It was stuffed to the brim with meaty mushrooms!  It was, by far, the best mushroom ravioli I've tasted. The salad was amazing as well. The crocodile was pan-fried with a texture resembling calamari and a meaty white fish.  Cubes of mild cheese were tossed in to balance the spice of the crocodile.  While looking at the dessert menu, we realized that high tea had just begun.  Why stop at the gluttony now? Instead of dessert, we ordered the high tea.  I chose the earl grey and Brian ordered the local black tea.  We each had our own silver tea-kettles and nibbled on the goodies that sat delicately on a silver three-tier tray.  At the top, finger sandwiches—cucumber, smoked chicken salad, and tiny smoked salmon rolls with a small mound of caviar on top.  The middle tier consisted of the sweets—lemon tarts, strawberry short cake meringues, and rich chocolate tarts topped with whipped cream.  The lowest tier had scones topped with thin coats of powdered sugar, served with whipped cream and strawberry marmalade.  We split half of everything only to save the rest for later.  With our eyes and stomachs beyond satisfied, we walked back to our hotel to catch the bus for the sunset cruise.  We saw many, many birds, and a few yawning hippos. 
Sunset cruise
Sunday, we ventured to Zambia to experience the falls from another perspective and got even more soaked than before.  By Sunday evening, we were back in our small apartment feeling stronger than when we left with only our memories and pictures to show for the trip.  That weekend was by far one of the best weekends we've ever had.  It was filled with gorgeous landscapes, amazing food, and exhilarating experiences. 

Until next time...Cheers!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lions, and Tigers, and Chocolates...Oh My!

I’m sitting under yet another whimsical umbrella at a dainty cast iron table while alternating between sips of rich Americano and nibbles of tiny, decadent chocolates—vanilla ganache, caramel truffle, and a drunk cherry. Only now, after my arm has been twisted tighter than when I played the game ‘Indian rug-burn’ as a child (what a horrible name), have I caved in to all the chocolate shops. I finally accepted coffee and chocolate as a well-balanced breakfast—sporadically of course.  Two weeks in and I feel very comfortable in this holiday lifestyle. It was tough accommodating, but I managed.

This past Saturday we went to the Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve.  We went on our own little safari and had an absolute blast! Although it was a park, I felt more in Africa during those few hours than I have felt in the last two weeks. The hills were rolling with  rich green carpet.  Birds that I’ve never seen before shadowed over the hills, moving like a large cloud only to temporarily block the sun over the land they flew above.  The minute we entered the gates, we saw tall giraffes welcome each car with a slight drastic nod.  I was slapped with a such a view only after a 45-minute drive from Jo-burg. Overwhelmed, I took out the camera and started taking pictures of EVERYTHING. Brian had to remind me to conserve the battery for things other than the small purple and red flowers along the rutted dirt roads.
 I held a snake!  I’m not talking about one of those measly little garden snakes that can be mistaken for a discarded Slim-Jim, I’m talking about an anaconda! Unfortunately, I forgot his name.  It was soft and friendly-like Willy or Bert.  Afterwards, we meandered our way to the African-style petting zoo. We pet lion and tiger cubs along with a full-grown cheetah named Eddie! Apparently he is famous in South Africa and has been filmed in several adverts. He was completely docile. We were told he has arthritis which as we all know, tugged at my heart-strings a bit.  The lion and tiger cubs were SO adorable.  The lions were brother and sister and snuggled together while they napped. Their paws were ginormous which indicates they are going to be very large creatures once they are full-grown.  In all honesty, I felt bad for them. They just wanted to sleep and be left alone, whilst every five minutes, animal-obsessed people like me entered their gates screeching a high-pitched squeal that probably promised them early-onset deftness. I couldn't help myself though, they were lion cubs! Anyone who has a heart would find it difficult to contain their excitement when given the opportunity to gently pet a wild animal, right? We ended the petting experience with a tiger cub named Milo. He was my favorite. Even though he was tired, he had a charming personality. He would hide under my legs or face his rear-end in our direction silently giving off the “pet this” vibe. He had a sense of humor. The two young ladies who kept Milo company ended our five minutes with news that had turned my emotions from elated to incredibly sad. I could see Brian in my peripheral searching my eyes for the first tear drop, and he found it. They told us that his friends were sold to other zoos that day so he was sad and lonely. REALLY? After all the cuteness I soaked up, you’re going to leave me with THAT? I’m sorry- that boarders rude. I politely thanked them for allowing me to pet Milo, and leaving me with a broken-heart, and told them I’d send them my medical bill…joking.
Afterwards, Brian asked a park director for advice on what to do next—we could witness the lion and wild dog feeding, or get lunch. With those options, I’d much rather feed myself than watch a poor animal be fed to a lion. I’ve come to the realization that I’m too soft for the wild kingdom.  Once we finished our mediocre lunches of chicken sandwiches and salad, we drove around the park and witnessed wild dogs and a lone white male lion tearing apart what’s left of a bottom-half of some animal— an antelope maybe? I have to admit, it was pretty cool to watch. Strangely enough, the lion gnawing at the remaining prey reminded me of Holly gnawing on her raw-hide. The contentment in the lion’s eyes was oddly cute and purposeful (even though the chump didn’t have to move a paw for it). We ended our day in Wonder Cave, a cave discovered by the Italians in the late 19th century who were searching for minerals and gold. Although the gold was a bust, they used the copious amounts of limestone for a booming business. It was stunning and reminded me of the Jeita cave in Lebanon, but on a significantly smaller scale.
We left the park with our eyes satisfied and our hearts full of excitement. As we exited the gates, I belted out The Circle of Life.  I only got to the middle of the second verse before Brian slowly increased the volume of the radio. Now that’s funny. A wonderful day ended with laughter and another fantastic experience under our belt.
We are traveling to Victoria Falls this weekend. We’re excited, for it is the seventh natural wonder of the world. We are doing a canopy tour and grand zip-line adventure.  I know marriage is all about compromise. Therefore, when Brian asked me like a child begging for ice cream or a new pair of rollerblades if I would bungee-jump off a bridge in Victoria Falls, I told him no. When he asked if I would swing over the gorge while hanging from a bungee cord and a harness resembling the same knotted sack a stork would use to transport a baby (I’m guessing a lesser form of torture), I said no. However, I did agree to zip-line our way through the park like a bunch of monkeys. How bad can it be? Famous last words. In all seriousness, I’m excited for this experience. It’s a wonderful and exciting blessing to be married to someone who challenges and brings me out of my comfort zone. But so help me if anything goes awry…You’ll be reading about it next week.
Thank you for checking in! Until next time                                                                                               Cheers!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Croissants, Bribery, Cricket, and Hot Yoga...

I couldn't help but bring a few baked goods home to eat at our leisure
At the moment, it is 9am and I'm sitting on the balcony delicately pulling apart one of the warm croissants photographed. I'm sipping french pressed coffee, something that oddly enough did not become a routine until moving to South Africa, and for that, I already have something I will bring back home with me. The breeze wisps my hair and the sun shines only on my feet which are resting heavy on the protection bar.

The croissants are from a beautiful restaurant/bakery located less than half a mile from home. It's called Junipa's, and it's my favorite restaurant thus far. It has three different rooms, the interior dining room, the bakery, and outside seating. The entire restaurant is open. The interior dining/bar area has a gorgeous brick backdrop. Simple yet whimsical chandeliers hover over the re-fabricated, burlap upholstered furniture painted with warm and inviting colors. On Sunday, we started the day off by going to Junipa's for an early breakfast. We began the meal with two Americanos, sans milk.  It is common to drink Americanos with milk in SA. When they arrived, a tiny chocolate chip and walnut cookie was perched next to the cup.  As I reviewed the menu, my eyes hovered over the traditional breakfast-- two eggs, bacon rashers, spiced sausage, grilled tomato, sauteed mushrooms, and toast. However, I couldn't help but notice the Salmon Florentine in my peripheral.  Finally, I caved. After all, why would I order something that I've already made at home?

Salmon Florentine - Junipa's
First look at the plate and one thing came to mind -- the meal was absolutely gorgeous. The Salmon Florentine consisted of a delicate-tasting, yet dense potato latke (savory potato pancake), poached eggs cooked medium per my request, wilted spinach, hollandaise sauce, with thin and rich smoked salmon wrapped in an inviting rose, and balsamic vinegar providing what seems to be a protective barrier for the meal.  The spinach was more toasted than the described wilted consistency. The latke maintained just the right thickness to act as a vessel for the poached eggs.  The salmon was sliced just a tad thicker than your standard prosciutto which rendered it incredibly pliable. As a fork full broke through the protective barrier, just the right amount of vinegar clung to the food. The tastes were phenomenal and exciting.

Passion Fruit, Lemonade Cordial--Junipa's
Following our unexpectedly elaborate breakfast, we experienced our first (and in my opinion last) cricket match-- South Africa vs. West Indies.  Upon arrival, we were shuffled through the expected security procedures but were unaware of what would happen next.  The guard who searched our bags brought us aside and told us we were not allowed to have cans.  Oh no. It was too hot to go a few hours without anything to drink. Being from the states, we should have assumed that our cans would not be welcomed, but were temporarily in la-la-land and figured all sodas, canned or not, would make it through. I politely begged and played the I'm new around here and don't know the rules, so please let me break them act. He hesitated, shook his head, hesitated again, then suddenly shouted "Twenty Rand!" Brian and I darted stares at each other then to the sodas, then back to the man. It quickly dawned on me that he was bribing us! "Give him the R20!" I said to Brian who still was in disbelief of what was happening. So he did, we snatched our bag before he could change his mind, and were off as if nothing ever happened. That was just a small taste for how corrupt things are around here. You can basically bribe your way out of anything.  Good to know, if we ever find ourselves committing a worse crime than soda-trafficking.

Two enthusiastic fans hold up signs to induce excitement and cheer
Although we had a lovely time getting to know our new friends, learning the game, and relaxing in the SA sun, the game was not what we were expecting.  We ignorantly assumed the game would last about 3-4 hours. It wasn't until I comfortably sat my bum down that we were told the game lasts seven hours. Yes, seven hours. Sitting in seat F-103 with enthusiasm and delight, I suddenly felt as though I accidentally entered the elevator in the Tower of Terror in Disney World. For those of you who do not know me well, you will never find me on that ride as long as I can help it. So, I sat back, scanned the field, then did what any foreigner would do-- I learned the game. I won't go into too much detail, but as an American, the game doesn't make much sense to me. Like baseball, the home team gets the advantage of batting first. The only difference is that they bat for the entire first half of the game. It isn't until about four hours later (including half-time) that the opposing team gets to bat. Fairness doesn't seem to be a common occurrence in this game. I would think the opposing team would be exhausted by the time they are up to bat which unless they're modern-day gladiators, ultimately renders them the predetermined losers. I'm sure it doesn't always play out that way and that I'm missing an important variable.  The game as a whole was a good experience.  In addition, I have an even greater appreciation for baseball and the limited playing time it offers.

I creepily shot a picture of the open bakery where everything is made in-house.
I've never seen an open bakery like this one! Note the massive loaves of bread dough.
Back in the states before our trip, I looked up places to do hot yoga.  I threw my back out, yet again, just a few days prior to our trip and decided that I would strengthen my body while I'm here. I am 26, after all, and incredibly too young to be using IcyHot on a somewhat regular basis.  Last night, we ventured out to our first hot yoga class at Zen Hot Yoga. Without trying the Bikram class, we decided to commit to their new member special - Unlimited classes for 10-days, only R250!  When the petite yet delicately chizzled lady approached us before the class asking if we've done Bikram before, I confidently nodded my head followed by a highly confident 'yes' . Brian was more even-keeled and said no.  She went through what seemed to be a verbal terms of agreement by spatting words like - faint, feeling like death, vomit, and you can't leave. Prior to my first hot yoga class in Ohio, my sister mentioned that they slowly increase the temperature throughout the duration of the class. That was not the case here. We walked into the very, very hot room that was in one way, peaceful and relaxing, and another overwhelming and intimidating. Throughout the class, I sweat more than I had ever sweat in my life. I could feel the toxins clutching each drop of sweat that dropped down my arm. That's right, my arm. I had never sweat from my arm before. Nevertheless, 60-minutes later we survived and enjoyed our first class. I felt a sense of empowerment and strength that hopefully turns into an addictive drug leaving me at its mercy, resulting in my continuous return. I'm happy to say that we attended another class prior to publishing this post.

Once we returned home, I put together a late dinner -- 1) Seared pork chops seasoned with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, with a whole-grain mustard, white wine, and Nutella sauce, 2) roasted portobella mushrooms topped with a dill, garlicky dutch feta cheese, and 3) butter-glazed carrots cooked to the point of a tiny crunch and smooth finish. It was a concoction I had thought of only a few hours before and had to improvise with Nutella when I realized I didn't have a sweetening agent to balance out the acidity of the wine and mustard. It turned out that the silky chocolate-y hazelnut spread added a warm nutty flavor. I have fallen in love with dutch feta. I had my first taste on pizza. It is rich, tart, creamy, crumbly and mild all at the same time. Rather than use blue cheese (on of the very few foods I despise), I used the dutch feta to complement the subtle smokiness of the mushroom.

Cappuccino con panna & a delicate sugar bowl overflowing
with cinnamon sticks and coarse brown sugar
The bakery at Junipa's, providing sweet and savory scents that
manage to linger in the outside air.
It is common that apartments complexes provide housekeepers once a week in SA. This news caught me off guard and leaping for joy. Never have I imagined to have a housekeeper, let alone one so early in my life, but I'll take it! The adopted roll of June Clever, which I mentioned in my previous post, was getting easier and easier. Her name is Thully (tool-y) and she is dear. It wasn't until late last night that I realized we didn't have cleaning products and that it's our responsibility to provide them--I knew there was a catch (joking).  I woke up, walked to the store, arrived at 7:08 only to find out that it didn't open until 8. I looked around the shopping mall with a glazed look of confusion.  I decided to follow the scent that seemed to be saying come hither. I rode the escalator knowing that I was getting warmer and as I stepped off the moving staircase, I saw it. It was a cafe/bakery called Petits Fours.  It seems as though my nose smelled the goods baking for the later crowds because the cafe was not yet open. Servers were preparing the tables and chairs.  I asked one of them when the cafe opens and they politely replied that it wasn't until a half-hour, but he would make me a coffee drink. Without hesitating, I pulled up my own seat from the stacked chairs and placed it at a table sitting just outside in the courtyard. I ordered a cappuccino con panna, sat back, and observed like a fly on the wall.  A man to my right was sweeping with a flat-broom while whistling a tune I've never heard.  Past him, another man was placing solo flower vases on each table, pausing to ensure the colors are not clustered in one part of the room. To my left, another man gently hung a small ivy bush from a hook hanging from the umbrella.  It was clear that this cafe, like most in SA, paid attention to detail.  A large but subtle smile worked its way across my face as I basked in the performance in which they provided me.

Until next time...