Category Archives: Africa

The power of a picnic

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SA Snapshot 

*I am slowly sharing snapshots from my trip to South Africa. If you want to linger over your cup of tea, you can read other posts about The Kitchen or Root 44 Market.

There is a place in South Africa that I can’t get out of my head. I thought the best way to tackle this problem was to tell you about it so that it plagues you, too. You’re welcome.

Gardens

Tucked away in the Cape Winelands, down a broad tree-lined avenue, is the sprawling estate belonging to Vergelegen Wines. We intended to eat lunch at their acclaimed restaurant, The Stables, but it was fully booked. The fact that we had neglected to make a reservation only briefly registered on the guard’s face at the estate gates before his professionalism took over and he warmly invited us to enjoy a picnic instead.

Heading off to pick up a picnic basket, we felt like we were settling for a distinctly “second choice” lunch option. With the kidlets in tow, though, perhaps eating sandwiches on the grass was the best we could hope for….Turns out that the best we could hope for was WAY better than we expected.

View

Our picnic basket was expertly loaded up with fresh gourmet food while we chose a bottle of wine from the vineyard’s list. Already this picnic was looking much better….

I was eyeing a patch of grass nearby, considering it for our picnic, but before I could sit down, a lovely woman offered to lead us to our lunch spot. She guided us a short distance into a forest of elegant Camphor trees where we came upon – a table! And chairs! And a wine holder! Picnics be praised!

Camphor trees

As she dressed the table with linens, cutlery, and parcels of food, we gazed around at the magical woodland: trees towered above us, wide pathways led off in different directions, autumn leaves carpeted the ground, and interspersed through these enchanted woods were tables and chairs for picnicking – Vergelegen style.

Picnic

As I sipped my wine in these fairytale surroundings, I changed my entire opinion of picnics. This was no “second choice”; this was, most definitely, the first and best choice.

I could have wept with joy at how Vergelegen got so many things so very right: the food, the service, the stunning grounds, the wine…. Instead of weeping I just swore that I would be back to do it all over again. Until then, a few love letters to Vergelegen:

Thank you for infusing your cream cheese with truffles to create a spread fit for woodland Gods.

Thank you for hiding my kidlets’ desserts in a tree stump and giving them a treasure map to find it. I’m thinking of doing that for all of their meals….

Thank you for packing Coronation Chicken in our picnic basket. It is an undervalued lunch dish; but chicken, curry, apple, and raisins are all good in my books.

Thank you for protecting trees that were planted in the 1700s. Jeepers, what a treasure.

Thank you for an experience that made me feel like all was right in the world.

Tree

“Pleasant it was, when woods were green,
And winds were soft and low,
To lie amid some sylvan scene…”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Love, food, and other delights

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SA SNAPSHOT

*Here’s another snapshot from my trip to South Africa. You can read the first one here or see some photos from my trip here and here.

If you find yourself in Woodstock, Cape Town, which could happen if you are trendy so naturally gravitate towards incredible neighbourhoods (…or you got a bit lost), thank your lucky stars because you have an opportunity to step into The Kitchen. I could call it a restaurant/a bistro/an eatery, but really I need to call it a home where you will be welcomed with tenderness, a smile, and food that will knock your socks off.

I was fortunate enough to spend a morning at The Kitchen during which my faith in both humanity and croissants was restored.

Karen Dudley owns The Kitchen, and provides its heart and soul, while a group of lovely gals work seamlessly to help her prepare food, serve customers, and spread the love. We watched them prepare for the day: slicing perfect crescents of avocado and spreading a criminal amount of almond butter on top of croissants. Despite being busy they had time to be friendly, and most importantly, they had time to place a tiny, delectable morsel of brownie on a saucer for me. Kindness is all well and good, but baked goods really get my attention.

Breakfast was simple, but lovely. Crisp bacon. Creamy eggs. Heavenly croissants. Robust coffee. Lunch is the real star, though; choose from platters of diverse, vibrant salads or the famed “Love Sandwich”.

(I regrettably missed out on lunch which gives me a completely credible reason to book another air ticket back to Cape Town. 15 hours of travel is not too much for The Kitchen. Trust me.)

The shelves and countertops are a happy jumble of vintage crockery, biscuit tins, and ornaments. The tiny space feels homey and relaxed, like you just wandered over to your Grandmother’s house for a meal….only suddenly Granny knows how to make a mean cappuccino.

We sat and soaked up the atmosphere as we ate. Karen interrupted her own breakfast to spend time with us and sign copies of her cookbook for everyone. To talk to Karen is to feel her passion for food and life, to be swept along by her enthusiasm for South Africa and for nourishing its people. I was completely enchanted.

Go and eat, go and feel the love.

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw

Kitchen work Love Sandwich Collection

Karen Window seat

Go on, you know you want to – connect with Karen and The Kitchen on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday photos: Zulu edition

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Let me just take you briefly to the Valley of 1000 Hills in South Africa, where the land is like a face full of ancient lines and wrinkles.

We can smell the wood smoke from the fires burning in the domed huts. Our ears are filled with the distinctive click of the indigenous language. You can’t help but hesitantly test your own tongue on the roof of your mouth, only to realize it is not as easy as it sounds. The earth beneath the dancers feet rises up in small, red clouds as they stamp the ground. Drummers beat out the frenetic rhythm on animal skins stretched across steel drums until it hums in your own chest. We sit on woven grass mats watching colourful beads flash and spears thrust.

“You cannot know the good within yourself if you cannot see it in others.”  Zulu Proverb

Skirt

Ankles

Smile

Drums

Zulu men

Feet

At the root of it all

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Here’s the thing: my trip to South Africa does not fit neatly into the categories I usually use on this blog: Plate of Food, The Best, and Story That Needs to be Told. I suppose it COULD fit, but I would have to be cruelly selective about what I share with you. And that just wouldn’t do.

So we’ll abandon the structure just for a moment and in its place we will have –

An SA Snapshot! (it’s the best I could do, people)

Along Route 44 outside of Cape Town, where the rows of vines make mesmerizing stripes up the hillsides and the sun glows against the mountains, you will find the loveliest of weekend markets: Root 44 Market.

Root 44 Market

You must go there, if only to admire how very, very right the market organizers have got it.

They have 2 huge tents: one with unique clothes and arty things made by people who are able to see the potential in a piece of wood or a length of yarn, and one with food, glorious food. You can imagine where I spent most of my time.

Food tent

We had just eaten (when has that ever stopped me?), so we merely snacked on big soft pretzels and kudu biltong (that’s dried meat made from a type of large antelope). There is a huge selection of food, though, from Indian curries to tiny berry tarts, from tapas to fresh lemon curd. Each vendor offers something different, but it is all offered up with warmth and passion.

Stop drooling.

Stop drooling.

The tents open up onto rolling grassy areas dotted with tables and chairs where people sit munching their purchases, while down in a small glen a band plays folksy music.

Tall trees shade a large playground which is flanked by – get this – a cocktail bar! Genius. I saw so many people with a baby in one arm and a bottle of wine/bubbly/craft beer cradled in the other. Say what you want, but is that not a picture of true life balance?

Bar

Everywhere we looked there were families reveling in the sun, sharing tasty food of all sorts, and raising a glass to a beautiful Stellenbosch weekend.

And if you start to feel light-headed from all of the wine happy, wholesome feelings coursing through you, just watching a few people try their hand at Sock Poi will bring you right back to reality.

Sock Poi are long socks or stockings with a ball stuffed in the toe of the sock. The idea is that you swing and spin the socks with your hands in a fluid motion, sort of like baton twirling. Well, that is the idea anyway, but the execution is sometimes far from it.

Take, for example, the gentleman who grabbed a pair of poi from the demonstration area and clearly liked how they felt in his hands. After a few gentle swings from left to right he confidently asked his beloved to capture the poi magic on their camera. She started recording and he swung with gusto – right into his groin.

As he doubled over and dropped the poi, she kept filming for which I will forever admire her.

Exhibit B was a young guy at the market with 3 of his friends. They loped down to the poi area, full of camaraderie and youthful cheer. The girls giggled as the guys picked up the sock poi and had a go. The first few spins felt so natural that our super keen guy with the collar popped up on his polo shirt decided to really go for it.

As he turned to see the appreciation on his friends’ faces he whacked himself squarely on the cheekbone.

I would bet all of my kudu biltong that he explained away the resulting black eye with a “rugby tackle”.

Market

Whether it is the food, the drinks, the lovely views, the music, or the sock poi, this market will be the best part of your weekend for so many reasons. GO!

Friday Photos or The Start of A Very Long Account of My Trip

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I just got back from the most incredible trip to South Africa, and I will now proceed to talk about it until you beg for mercy or book your own trip there, whichever comes first.

No, I will dole out the delights of South Africa to you at a steady pace…looking at this year it seems that monthly is my general dosage. Let’s just say that if that is the case we will still be talking about my trip in 2018. So let’s get cracking!

For this Friday which looks rather rainy from my window and, for me, contains one kidlet who is ill and one who is learning to use the toilet (just in case I had the delusional thought that I could hang onto the “holiday” feeling a bit), let’s not exert ourselves. Some photos will suffice:

Kirstenbosch

 

These photos above are from the stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. Despite the huge expanse of lawns, flower beds, and woods there, I found myself caught up in the tiny details: the fuzzy hairs on a leaf, the ominous spikes on a stem, paper-like bark, and small touches of colour.

CarEssay

 

While waiting for over 3 hours in a beautiful, but remote spot near the tip of Africa for a new (i.e. functioning) rental car , I took these photos which tell me a few things:

  1. I was bored.
  2. I need new jeans.
  3. Thank goodness for iPads.
  4. The sun at that angle does NO favours to the girth of my thigh.

Jellyfish

 

Finally, here are some brilliantly lit jellyfish to help you float effortlessly into your weekend, my friends.

There! See, we’ve already covered 0.2% of my trip! Easy peasy.

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Fabled Table Mountain

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Where: Cape Town, South Africa (I didn’t think you needed a map for this one, but you can go to the link and get a special view of the city. Go on.)

Another lovely Cape Town day coming to a close.

Plate of food: Cape Town cuisine has been influenced by Dutch, African, Indian, French, Malaysian, and British cooking. You often find more than one of those cultures on your plate at any given meal. How can one city hold so many flavours? I am willing to investigate thoroughly to uncover the answer to this delectable mystery. I do it for you.

When I think about my meals in Cape Town, 3 spring to mind: a sizzling pan of enormous prawns, a tender venison stew, and an outstandingly simple steak.

The prawns were enjoyed harbourside with live music and a cold beer. Is there another way to enjoy seafood? The music was essential; nothing better than shouting out the words to “Sweet Caroline” in between mouthfuls of succulent prawn.

The venison potjie (“poy-kee”, a reference to the three-legged cast iron pot these stews are cooked in) was rich and delicious, perhaps slightly less so because Matt was battling with a horrifically under-cooked ostrich steak, which then became a terribly OVER-cooked ostrich steak after the waitress took it back to the kitchen. It was all so unfortunate and made worse by the waitress clearly not subscribing to the belief that the customer is always (or even just sometimes) right. Ouch.

Wait, we were supposed to be talking about great food, right? Right! The steak I had was perfect in every way: cooked beautifully (I’m a medium kind of girl), dolloped with a blue cheese sauce, and accompanied by a South African Pinotage. (There may well have been some side dishes with my meal, but let’s be honest, the wine and the meat took precedence.)

If you are in the neighbourhood (you never know…), I had my prawns at Quay 4, my steak at Belthazar, and would also recommend Mint for lovely food and for stunning interiors of the attached Taj Hotel (take a peek at the formal dining rooms as you go to the restrooms – wowzer).

The best: Table Mountain. Everything you read about Cape Town talks about this mountain slap-bang in the centre of the city. You read about its folklore, its views, its omnipresence, its…flatness. Turns out, everything you read is wrong.

Table Mountain is more impressive, more looming, more stunning, more breathtaking than anyone can tell you. It is a pure delight to catch a glimpse of it from wherever you are in the city, like repeatedly catching the eye of a guy/girl who makes your heart skip a beat. It is invigorating and addictive.

We arrived at night and only first saw Table Mountain the following morning. Wow. Its profile is so unusual and distinct. A constant solid presence.

What’s not to love?

Then we decided to see how everything else looks from up on Table Mountain. Wow again. We went up in the new cable cars which are huge and snazzy, rotating 360 degrees as you ascend. That way everyone gets the sought after view, not just the man wearing socks with sandals who elbowed his way to the “prime” viewing spot. You sure weren’t expecting it to ROTATE, were you, Mr. Sandal Man.

Going uppppp!

Once at the top we gazed down on the city and the coast as the wind buffeted us and the clouds scooted up the mountainside. There is a path that winds along the top, over slabs of rock and through scruffy bush, but really you just need to pick your spot and sit down. Then watch as the clouds approach in the distance only to steal away your view and then return it with an added burst of sunshine.

I loved seeing this trough in the clouds stretching down the coast of the Western Cape.

I loved this view. The deep blue sea becoming turquoise as it meets the beach. The rural roads looking like thin brown snakes stretching across the land.

You could not pay me enough to be one of these guys setting up abseil ropes on the edge of the mountain. But thank you for offering.

It seemed equally important to gaze at Table Mountain from the city as it was to peer down on the city from the top of the mountain. Two beautiful perspectives, one Cape Town.

Story that needs to be told: I have already regaled you with our horrific delay in getting to South Africa, thanks to a pesky yellow fever vaccination. Let me hit the highlights:

  1. We arrived for our connection in Sao Paulo with plenty of time, plenty of good spirits, and plenty of “we’re on holiday!” sparkle.
  2. Time, good spirits, and sparkle all vanished as soon as the man asked us for our yellow fever vaccination documents. Oof.
  3. Shortcut through the confusion, disbelief, panic, anger, etc and we find ourselves in a taxi hurtling through the streets of Sao Paulo to a medical clinic.
  4. The clinic had bars on the windows, chairs bolted to the floor, and was built following the Cinder-Blocks-Floor-to-Ceiling design manifesto.
  5. Quick pop-quiz in conjugating Portuguese verbs while distracted and stressed! Go!
  6. Four jabs of vaccine.
  7. Return to airport, only to miss connection. Oof.
  8. Spend 8 hours contemplating life in Sao Paulo airport. Not recommended. Nothing looks promising under those fluorescent lights.
  9. Arrive in Johannesburg.
  10. Bags do NOT.
  11. Arrive in Cape Town.
  12. Bags do NOT.
  13. Establish volatile relationship with lost baggage help desk.
  14. Bags join us after 3 days.
  15. Ugh.

So it was a bumpy journey to Cape Town, but there is no better city to arrive in after being stretched to your maximum capacity of traveling woe. We were welcomed at our lovely hotel despite looking as bleary-eyed and bedraggled as you would imagine. We had wonderful food, wine, shopping (to stock up on everything that was packed in our bags…a continent away), and delights on our doorstep. Our troubles evaporated and we were left with a great joy at being in Cape Town, no matter how we got there.

Sometimes the journey is less than enjoyable, but it is still worth going. And when it comes to Cape Town, it’s ALWAYS worth going.

Oh, look honey! This tells us that our bags are more than 6,000 km away!

Red Sea Rendezvous

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Where: Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt

Evening sky from our balcony. *sigh*

Plate of food: You will have to forgive me, but the best food I had in Sharm-el-Sheikh was at Rangoli, an Indian restaurant on-site at our hotel. Keep in mind that this was at the end of a wonderful 3 week trip through Egypt, and once in a while you need a slight departure from the local cuisine (as tasty as it is). This was not your average take-away curry; not in flavour, nor in price. This was exquisite, refined Indian food. And it needed to be great because the view was so incredible that I may have ignored my plate completely if not for such complex flavours enticing me. We sat outside in the balmy evening air with views out across the dark waters of Naama Bay, the twinkling lights of the city centre, and the dusky hills beyond. Stunning. Oh, and the samosas? Yum.

The best: Snorkeling in the Red Sea. We could walk directly from our room down the hill to one of the hotel’s private beaches, which is about as far as I wanted to walk in that Egyptian heat. The cool water was a huge relief, but that first glimpse of the coral reef just off the beach was extraordinary.

One of the beaches…don’t worry you can go check airline ticket prices in a moment.

We would swim a short distance over the top of the reef, its ragged top making my tender knees nervous, until we would swim right off the edge of the reef plateau. There we would station ourselves with our backs to the open sea (probably not sound advice with regards to shark attacks), facing the wall of the reef as it plunged to the sandy sea floor.

In contrast to the dull top of the reef, the wall was a riot of colour and movement. With water so perfectly clear, we watched spellbound as small bright fish darted about, larger fish lazily looped past, and broad sea fans slowly swayed in the current. Everywhere we looked there was another colour, size, or pattern of fish. They were all the lovely tropical ones I had seen in my dentist’s waiting room fish tank….only, well, better.

The deeper water was cool, though, and eventually we would reluctantly return to the beach to warm up (that only took approximately 4.5 seconds). A few more pages of our books or a few moments gazing at the one cloud floating past, then back into the inviting waters we would go. I never tired of it.

Story that needs to be told: 2 things that you never want to happen when you are flying (other than the obvious…):

  1. Hear the pilot begin his announcement with “Well, if any of you are religious….” Turns out he was just breaking the news that Pope John Paul II had died, but – SHEESH – there were some nervous moments wondering why we would need to pray.
  2. Find out that your plane traveled from Cairo completely devoid of ANY luggage.

Both of these things happened on our way to Sharm-el-Sheikh for the final few days of our Egyptian adventure. The second one was a bit of a bother.

We waited in the Sharm-el-Sheikh airport while the luggage conveyor belt silently circled. For a really long time. Eventually we were told that no luggage was loaded onto the plane before it departed Cairo. Huh.

I like to imagine what those baggage handlers in Sharm-el-Sheikh thought when they opened the hold to find it completely empty. Not just missing a few bags, but empty. I also like to imagine what prevented the baggage handlers in Cairo from doing their sole task. Forgot? Couldn’t be bothered? Thought we all overpacked anyway?

Two airline officials turned up with clipboards to start filling in lost baggage claim forms for every passenger. The foreigners dutifully queued up to wait.

And wait.

And strangely never move ahead in the queue. That’s because the locals would shrewdly step in at the front of the queue. Never had I felt so hobbled and let down by my good Canadian manners.

When it was our turn to fill in the form, the official seemed fairly laidback with regards to critical contact information. That is to say, he neglected to take the name of our hotel or a contact phone number. We suggested that those details would be helpful in reuniting us with our bags. He reluctantly scribbled it down and told us to expect our bags later that night.

We never received a call, and our calls to the airline went unanswered, so in the morning (with the same clothes on because that always makes you feel like a million bucks…) we took a taxi back to the airport. Our plan was to force people to deal with our plight by looking them straight in the eye rather than down a dodgy phone line.

Security is tight at the airport, though. Or rather, security is rampant at the airport, but not particularly tight. Armed with baksheesh – small bills for bribing tipping – we effortlessly sailed through security check points, metal detectors, and even customs. It was hard to feel triumphant without feeling seriously unsettled.

Once on the “other side”, an official from the lost baggage office seemed perplexed by our complaints that no one had called us about our bags. With a bored expression, he led us through the terminal until we reached a large pile of luggage heaped on the floor. He gestured toward it.

Suddenly it dawned on us that our bags were somewhere in that pile. Disposed of. In the middle of the airport. Unattended. With no hope or intention of ever being reunited with any passenger.

In fact, if you were on that flight in 2005, your bags are still there if you want to pick them up.

With relief we spotted our bags and hauled them out of there. We asked the guy if he would have ever called us or delivered our bags to the hotel, to which he just shrugged his shoulders. And then extended his hand and asked “Baksheesh?”

Yeah, right.

“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering;

the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.” Regina Nadelson

Who needs luggage? Okay, I do, but in this moment I didn’t care.