You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, or more

I’m seriously considering not eating food connected to living creatures. I’m not sure I want to go the whole hog vegan (see what I did there?) but vegetarian very very possibly. I’m not into all those stupid in-between words that describe someone who wants to eat what they want when they want but still use a poncy label to make themselves feel and seem better about being fickle.

My problem is I really enjoy certain animal dishes. Take lamb – there is nothing in the world quite as mouth-wateringly delicious as Karoo lamb. Those little wooly creatures are fed on special yummy natural vegetation that is found nowhere else on earth but in this arid beautiful region. There is even an official certification for Karoo lamb. A juicy cutlet with just the right amount of fat, seasoned and cooked perfectly on a wood fire, the way South Africans do so well .. very hard to resist! And a rich lamb stew or curry is a heavenly, albeit very privileged, way to get through a cold winter’s night.

What about chicken? Okay, that I can live without, quite easily in fact. I know I could, especially great big chunks of dry breast on the bone, or drumsticks that always have an undercooked bit in the centre and that yucky long piece of cartilage. Stirfried chicken fillets or grilled wings nicely marinated, ok, ok, I will eat with pleasure, but the rest you can keep. Steak and any other beef products I can also live without, in fact I can’t even remember when I last ate beef. I’m partial to pork medallions done in a creamy mushroom sauce but I guess I could live without them if I had to.

But eggs? What’s a nicoise or tuna salad without a hard-boiled egg? What’s a breakfast fry-up without two eggs sunnyside up, slightly runny and very yellow? A quick snack of scrambled eggs with chopped chives on a slice of perfectly toasted bread? And a fluffy omelette cooked just right with a smidgen of grated strong cheese and a few sautéed mushrooms? How can I be expected to go without this?

I once visited the Mont Saint Michel in Normandy with my son and cousin. They urged me to climb to the top which was sheer torture; I bought a sily touristy memento, and down we came again. My cousin suggested we have a very special omelette. I was, as always in France, happy to go along with anything food related. In a narrow walkway into the restaurant one walks past a large window behind which chefs are seen whisking eggs with energetic vigour in very large mixing bowls. They know when they’re being watched so they speed it up even more.

A waiter brought the menu which my cousin instantly whisked away from me. Instead, she gave me a few options of what sort of omelette we could have. Once we had chosen I stole the menu back and looked at the prices. OH MY GOD. Seriously, I almost fainted. The price of one omelette was the equivalent of a four-course meal for four people. My cousin grabbed the menu back and told me to chill out, this was her treat and that is that.

Oh boy, never in my life have I eaten an omelette so light and fluffy. I vaguely remember the filling, ham and cheese I think, but the memory of that meal will never fade. The world’s most expensive but most delicious omelette. Light, fluffy, and some secret ingredient that I will never know. Heaven.

Anyhow, despite ongoing efforts to think and talk about doing away with animal food, I finally made the perfect omelette this week. I chose a very old but solid pan. My stovetop plates are small so my regular frying pan doesn’t work for something that requires even cooking. This old woman and her old pan made the best omelette – two days in a row. Someone suggested I whisk the egg whites seperately so I tried that this morning and I think I overdid it because it was excessively fluffy; still delicious though and I’m eminently proud of myself. Small pleasures. To be repeated.

Incidentally, I am thoroughly bored shitless with this pandemic though. I love food and I love eating but I want something else to do and think about and write about. (Stunning looking dessert coming out of the oven in a few minutes – tomorrow’s blog, maybe, depends on outcome).

Lockdown, day 365

Midnight tonight marks one year since South Africa went into hard lockdown to ward off the dreaded Corona virus. It’s hard to believe how time has flown. Firstly, let’s be clear on one thing – we did not ward anything off. All we achieved is to slow it down, prepare hospitals and minimise the number of deaths. Actual infections are far far higher than officially recorded, some regions’ health systems have completely collapsed (not entirely due to Covid), and many people have lost everything. Everything – that means jobs, homes and loved ones.

I won’t go into what I’ve lost but suffice to say it’s been a nightmare of a year and as I type this we are waiting to hear what new regulations and restrictions will be put in place ahead of Easter. Easter is when South Africans act as if they haven’t just had a 3-week holiday just two and a half months ago and they sell their granny’s jewels to take the longest holiday they can squeeze into 2 days of actual paid days off work. They hit the roads like lemmings; all going in the same direction so they can all gather on the same beaches and meet all the same people they see at home every other day of the year. They die in road accidents in their hundreds per province and this year will also pick up the virus to bring home and spread at work. The poor do the same thing except they pack into sardine can minibuses so it all spreads faster and wider.

So yes, a third wave is about to hit us. Some say like a tsunami. I have a glimmer of hope in humanity and common sense and that people will have learnt to not be total dicks next time around.

And everyone will complain when the President announces restrictions to try prevent as much damage as possible.

Oh lockdown .. thou art a bitch.

I have spent most of this past year pottering around in my garden and baking. The garden is lovely and I am as round as a little piglet. As I type this, my latest easy-peasy favourite dessert is in the oven – a peach cobbler. See photos of a few recent ones, below. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made this past year. I always attack the corner first, that’s where the crunchiest bits are.

  • Recipe: 1 cup flour – 1 cup sugar – pinch salt – teaspoon vanilla essence – half a teaspoon baking powder – 1 cup milk.
  • Mix all dry ingredients and vanilla, add the milk.
  • 60g butter, melted in bottom of baking dish in the oven while preheating to 180 degrees C. (Don’t let it burn but allow it to bubble a little bit).
  • Place 2 cups sliced fruit (peaches and/or plums are the best, apples and pears work too) in the dish on melted butter, and then pour the mixture over.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Break off cunchy corner as soon as humanly possible and blame the mouse or dog. Or just call it cook’s privilege.

After several days of excessive heat it’s raining today – and very welcome rain it is, too, because it was dry and wind-blown. On that note, here are some photos of my friend Frank’s FABULOUS garden. It’s small but packed with special plants and bulbs and a pond and all sorts of wonderful little nooks and crannies. Frank is also a tour guide, one who specialises in hiking and field trips to floral regions. He knows more about South African plants than anyone else I know. I had lunch at his home recently and snapped a few pics with my cell phone.

Canibalism, corona style

I haven’t blogged in weeks – it’s been a tough time but I am in need of a rant, so please bear with me.

We live in a greedy world where, for some people, money equals respect. If you have lots of it you can command respect, or something akin to respect, because of the power it buys. You can ruin someone’s life if you have money and they don’t. You can get out of jail free if you can afford a better lawyer than your opponent.

I’ve always been anti-consumerism, especially conspicuous consumerism, but with my complete loss of income this past year as a result of the end of tourism, I am more than ever aware of the power of money and the people who wield it. Of course, it’s a 2-way thing – the people who have lost respect for me a a result of my financial devastation are people for whom I have no respect either, regardless of their bank account. Luckily, this applies to only a few people I know and most of my friends and acquaintances are decent human beings who treat me the same, money or no money. They see me, not my stuff.

A year ago the world was starting to lockdown against an unknown plague. We had no idea it would be this bad or last this long, but a conversation I had with some people on Facebook last year led us to speculate what and how the world’s communities would manage if the economy was completely destroyed. If the majority of people found themselves with no income and no way to feed themselves. We envisaged dystopian scenarios of foraging and trading. And sharing. Sharing – what a notion. Someone said the virus might be the saving grace blessing in disguise that humanity needs to show us a way more natural, more caring, more humane.

Ha! Not a fuck, hey? I read a lot of news and online stories of Covid19 and its effects around the world and I have not come across a single report about any positive changes in humanity as a result. Lots and lots of ugliness, though. Politicians downplaying the problem, others stealing relief funds, and some just hunkering down until it blows over. Average citizens refusing to wear masks, refusing to stay home, refusing to slow down social lives, claiming they have nothing to share or give the poor. I’ve had arguments with people who can’t understand why there are more beggars around.

I live in a country of enormous poverty and an unemployment rate of around 40% (give or take inaccuracies and unofficial figures); 60% of the youth between 18 and 35 are unemployed and a huge number of those will never ever get a job! We are, however, still not the poorest in Africa and in fact we have wealth but it is very unevenly distributed. Last year people formed community based organisation to feed the poor but after taking off rather well, many of them are now struggling because even the donors are feeling the pinch – it is never ever the very rich who donate, it’s always those who don’t have much themselves. The government’s special temporary social grant for Covid relief has been far too little ($23/month!!! ) and so poorly managed that many did not even receive it, despite being approved to receive it.

Some have profited enormously of course – especially industries to do with e-commerce, also retailers of food and those selling anything connected to gardening and DIY. Food delivery services, groceries and take-out, are groaning with success – certain corners of cities are impassable due to the delivery scooters and their drivers taking up all the space (and not wearing masks or social distancing at all). Others have not lost their jobs, have barely felt the effects and in fact saved a lot by having activities curtailed. And all that lovely lucre is staying at the top of the pyramid. The beggars and homeless are on the increase.

Did we learn to be nicer to each other, as a whole? Not at all. We’re like a bunch of stranded shipwrecked survivors who slowly start to turn on each other and watch to see who will die first so the rest can eat.

And now we want to export those sentiments to Mars!!

This miserably depressing blog post improved with photos of the dogs – most loyal and loving and demanding of all beings! And half a selfie.

The first minute is gone

I can’t remember when it happened but some time ago I stopped having the first minute.

You know the one, when you wake up in the morning and for a few glorious moments all is well and there is nothing abnormal about your world. Then reality bites; your brain has to process how things have changed and you didn’t dream any of it. This lasted well into last year for me but the other day it dawned on me, pardon the pun, that it was gone. Everything has changed and the abnormal has become normal. In hindsight, I cherish having had that for a while. Now, I wake up and this is it. I guess we have to be happy that we do wake up at all.

Sleep patterns have all gone to hell and I’m pleased it’s not just me because I’d be very concerned if I was alone in this. Most nights I can get to sleep easily enough, especially with my sleeping pills, but I wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. Restlessness, heat, anxiety, all keep me tossing and turning and it’s tempting to take another pill but one is already too many.

This morning, after only a few hours of sleep and a few more of tossing and turning, I heard the birds and decided to just get up. That’s not like me at all, I like my bed and I am not an early riser. But there I was, not even 6am and the dogs were fed and I stood watching the kettle boil. I then had two hours of good productivity [secret project has begun], a load of laundry was done, several tomatoes harvested, tomato plants trimmed of dead leaves, and new seedlings watered in anticipation of being planted.

It’s cooler today so I should start on the preparation of the new vegetable bed but sleep deprivation has hit me like a thunderbolt. At least, I hope that’s all it is because otherwise it’s the Rona – I feel like shit! Nausea, dizziness, stomach not right, sinuses completely blocked, and all at the same time I’m starving but can’t bear the idea of eating. All I want to do is go back to bed but I have a list of errands to run and an important appointment later, not to mention a walk for the dogs.

UPDATE – VEG VEG VEG

I wrote the above two weeks ago and forgot it in the draft folder. The first moment is a distant memory and much has happened since – some of it not nice and difficult to process. The Morsels of Gratitude diary has relocated to a more active and simple hand-written notebook, but I will continue to mention some here when this current black mood lifts.

The new vegetable bed was only done yesterday because it’s been too hot. Well composted and cleared of much of the disgusting builders rubble that keeps popping up all over this garden, despite 10 years of digging and soil turning – I’ve lost count of how much I’ve removed, from chunks of concrete to broken 100-year old bricks and pavers. Last night I fell into bed straight from the shower, exhausted from very dirty gardening and aching muscles – a fabulous feeling!

The bed isn’t full yet – tomatoes and basil have been planted, and some bean seeds sowed directly. I’ll plant out butter lettuce soon. There are already two other varieties of lettuce in another part of the garden. The original vegetable section is now a mix of leftover spinach, basil, rocket seeding itself, and some flowers that have seeded themselves and which I’ll allow. There’s one vegetable I cannot recognise and have no recollection of planting. Am watching to see if it develops into something I can identify, and eat.

Left to right: very late-blooming miniature agapanthus in a pot. One March lily (I don’t know what happened to the other bulbs, there should be more). Two varieties of lettuce. The new veggie patch under the spare room window, with dog protection. None of these would’ve existed or flowered if not for lockdown attention.

Morsels of Gratitude, part 3

I’m not having the easiest time, there are so many very important decisions to think about that my head is spinning. I am sleeping badly, I have trouble concentrating, my lungs are not healthy, and my future is uncertain. But, things have actually been worse in the past and there are always morsels of gratitude to be found and I need to find them, as difficult as it may seem. It does help me to write them down.

After almost a year of lockdown I am very grateful for the internet and social media helping me through it all. In a pandemic world, social media has become many people’s only world. In a state of lockdown where staying home is the best option, social media provides enormous relief and allows one to be social without physical contact. I’m grateful to know how to avoid fake news and hoaxes, I have good radar for that, and I’ve learnt how to use the good side of social media. In modern parlance, I know how to curate lol! Facebook is my main platform and in recent years I’ve been put in contact with some awesome people, people who are interesting, informed, socially conscious, who don’t fall for conspiracy theories, and who are anti-racism/bigotry – sadly, there’s so much of that around and on the increase with social media allowing people to expose their ugliness.

I’m grateful that these people, some I have met, some I have not, share quality information, engage in interesting debates and points of view. We have discussions that inform me, that don’t degenerate or go off topic, discussions where people back up their point of view with reasons and explanations, as opposed to simply repeating something they’ve heard and then when challenged respond that they don’t want to argue (but just want to make contentious ignorant comments), or my worst, who say: “let’s agree to disagree”, yet refuse to back up their opinion. No, no, no – I no longer have the capacity to even pretend to tolerate that. I need people who stimulate and challenge me, and who encourage and inspire me. All in all, I’m grateful for the internet in these difficult times.

I’m grateful for my continued tomato harvest. This is the first time in my life I’ve had success with vegetables (yes, i know it’s really a fruit) and it feels great! It hasn’t saved me huge amounts of money – everyone knows growing vegetables is seldom going to save money but is rather for its own satisfaction, is pesticide free, and at times convenient – but it’s hugely satisfying. I planted basil with the tomatoes which was also a great success, and a few varieties of lettuce which I loved for the ability to pick just a few leaves for a small salad – is there anything worse than surplus lettuce that liquidises at the back of the fridge? I’ve seeded more tomatoes and bought some small plants – to stagger production, you know – as well as newly-seeded lettuce (two varieties) and rocket. I’m hoping to harvest a leek or two soon – not my biggest success.

I am grateful for just being alive. I once read that the most boring people are those who, when asked how they are, tell you. This is true but I’ve often forgotten it, and never more so than in the past year. I’ve done my share of whinging and complaining, kvetching, as my friend Sheila calls it. In my defense there was, for a long time, a specific personal problem that overwhelmed me so completely, virus or no virus, that it caused my brain to overheat. But now, when asked how I am and how things are going I can’t bring myself to mention any of the challenges I face because there are too many people dying and fighting for their lives. I am just grateful to not have the virus. I am grateful to the people who did everything they could to keep me safe.

Photos: Grateful for my little dog Vida, aka the Minx, who sometimes leaves me a bit of space on the bed and whose love of walks is the highlight of my day. Middle pic: Grateful for the simple and cheap peach cobbler I’ve been making quite often lately, this one with plums and apple – not well distributed, I know, but still delicious. Bottom pic: tomatoes, sprinkled with basil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, olive oil, pepper and feta cheese, slow roasted until cooked and then grilled briefly. I make this at least twice a week, either as a side dish or a main dish with an egg broken on top at the last minute just before grilling.

Morsels of Gratitude, part 2

It’s not easy!!

Part of this gratitude lark is to stay positive and avoid anything that will bring me down. I was doing well until I realised that my visit to the specialist last week cost R2000. Yes, my medical aid will pay for it but it’s a third of the total annual fund supposed to cover all doctor visits, medication, any blood test or x-ray, spectacles, and so-called dental basics. There is NO justification for such a high fee for a 20 minute consultation. The special machine used to measure my lung capacity was a once-off expense, years ago by the looks of it, and nothing else was used. We are ripped off by fees like this. The alternative is to go to a public hospital but there are problems with this. One is the long queues, like all day sometimes, second is the possibility of catching the virus, and thirdly, although this country has excellent medical people and training, the system itself is a disaster.

What am I grateful for today?

As I type this, my son is washing my car. This may sound like no big deal but it’s actually a minibus (see at the end of this post) and it’s an exhausting job to wash it, so I’m really grateful that he’s doing it.

Grateful for living close to nature and open spaces. I’ve heard many people from Europe remark on how wonderful it is that this city and surrounds still has so much open space, so much nature. This is something many people take for granted or simply don’t care for.

I couldn’t live in a big city. I couldn’t live far from open space, water, mountains. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to go too far to walk amongst vegetation that is unique in the world – the wonderful fynbos of the Western Cape; or along a stream in the green belt nestled in the middle of a residential suburb; or the wide open white sandy beaches (when permitted, not these days of lockdown limits), and of course the mountains that cover almost all of the Cape peninsula. Further afield, the wide open expanse of the Karoo and the Northern Cape are sublime and I miss them enormously, having not been to either of those regions ages due to the virus limitations.

Pics below were taken this morning at the Tokai Plantation. It’s half plantation and half fynbos garden. The fynbos section has been reborn by cutting down a large portion of the pine plantation and allowing the natural vegetation to grow back. In cooler weather the open area is wonderful to walk in but the plantation is ideal for hot summer days because the trees provide much-needed shade.

I mentioned my minibus. Below is the link to a crowdfunding campaign I’ve set up to help me pay the bank for this minibus so that when tourism picks up again I have my vehicle all paid up. Any contribution will be welcome and very much appreciated!

Today, a new era for the US

I follow politics but avoid it on this blog, except for an occasional mention or barb aimed at our own corrupt dolts, but today it’s worth acknowledging a most important event taking place: The US Presidential Inauguration (of someone who can only be better than the previous incumbent, even if he isn’t perfect and is so wrinkly he might pop his clogs before Easter).

Goodbye Donny, Hullo Joe (and Kamala – you go, girl!).

As many people, I have found the past four years to be a frightening entertainment show never likely to be repeated. I hate horror movies but this was fascinating. Never in my life did I expect a global pandemic such as Covid, but neither did I imagine that the most powerful and influential nation on earth would be led by a man as blatantly odious and dangerous as the Don. A man who attempted a coup d’état because he didn’t get as many votes as he wanted. A man who, to the very last day, refused to even utter the name of the man who has been legally elected to take his place.

Mind-boggling. And even more puzzling is how so many South Africans of every variety actually supported him. We do have a lot of racists in this country and Trump did feed in to all their prejudices, but to the extent of supporting a man who actually looks down on them, is beyond stupidity. Something else that always puzzles me is when I see how many people don’t realise that what happens in the US has a direct effect on most countries, and definitely on us in South Africa.

If the US election and the storming of the Capitol had taken place on African soil we would be pilloried for being savages, accused of barbarous ungovernable behaviour, and so on and so on as we’ve seen for centuries. Of course Africa has dodge elections – Uganda is a case in point this very week – but we don’t invade other countries under the guise of enforcing democracy or human rights.

I’m fortunate that one of my lockdown inmates is a passionate follower of US politics and has patiently explained the machinations of every absurd little detail of how a federal nation is run, the difference between the Senate and the House, the fact that Washington DC isn’t even a state but wants to be one (and that’s despite a state to the north-west called Washington State), and of course how the elections work, which to my mind is about 300 years retarded and needs to get with a real democratic programme asap.

To my American readers: good luck and don’t do it again!

We’ll keep out eyes glued to the news later while we enjoy a typical South Africa braai (bbq) at around the time of the Inauguration – I hope it all goes smoothly and safely. As I write this, I have just received a breaking news alert that the orange menace and his tart have left the WH – bring in the fumigators!

LOCKDOWN CONTINUED!

Today marks 300 days since lockdown was announced in South Africa. We’ve gone from a very severe level 5 to a mild, almost nothing level 1, and now back to level 3 with much confusion, no beaches, no alcohol (so no champagne for the Inauguration!), and no school next week – I have sympathy for all my friends who have school-going children and who think they can’t cope with another home-school lesson!

Everyone I know has buried a loved one, everyone has a friend who either got Covid19 mildly or severely. The stats are easing, slightly, but the mortality rate is still very high and hospitals are struggling. From everything I have heard it seems obvious that healthcare workers need to be better equipped to deal with trauma, need more support from their industries, need better pay, and just more all-round genuine respect and working conditions. However, they also need an industry that screens trainees better – the level of theft and wilful neglect that takes place in hospitals is unacceptable. A nurse with 35 years experience has told me that it is directly proportionate to education – the better educated a nurse is, the more honest he/she will be in terms of ethics in the ward. Appalling but surely not difficult to address?

This post calls for a soothing photo – here is one of the most beautiful gardens high up in the mountains in Stellenbosch. I will write about it in another post.

Time is running out on my crowdfunding campaign – please read about it below. Any contribution will be most welcome and appreciated!

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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