Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kindle Me!

One the better presents I got lately was an Amazon Kindle 2. What I like about the idea of the Kindle is the fact that I don’t have a stack of books on my bedside table anymore. (Well, fewer books.) Nor do I have to travel with one or two bulky paperbacks anymore. Just a thin electronic pad.

I am one of those that use any opportunity I get to read and I can’t go to sleep without reading. Since I can remember I have always been a reader. Anything! I guess if I get bored enough I will even read the yellow pages and a dictionary. And if I was reading only one book at a time it would have been still good, but I don’t.

I mostly read fictions, biographical and subject-specific books, and periodicals (National Geographic, Time, etc.). I am currently reading the second of the trilogy of books from Stieg Larsson about Lisbeth Salander, an anorectic, tattooed girl, a computer hacker with a kick-ass attitude and a photographic memory. (The 3rd, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest” will be available on the Kindle in May.) But I am also reading The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and the biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (in book form.)

Which make me wonder; why are so many of us fascinated by fiction. Why do we want to read what others write, even if we know their stories aren’t true? Or even if they are biographical in nature, why do we want to know other people’s thoughts and what they experienced? It is one the mysteries of the humanities and simultaneously the beauty of literature.

Apart from fewer books around, I also like the near instant, wireless download aspect of the Kindle. Using the cell phone network to enable ordering and downloads was an excellent idea. And so quick! Even an IT guy like me is baffled by Amazon’s ability to download a complete book in less than 5 seconds.

With e-book sales up 176% from 2008 to 2009*, I am not saying paper-based books are dead. Even with this month’s release of Apple’s iPad I don’t think books are dead. They may be dying…slowly, but it won’t be soon.

I will certainly play around and study the iPad when I get the opportunity, and even think of buying when the 2nd or 3rd release become available (first releases are always rushed to market and never that good all round), but for now, between my Kindle and my Blackberry I have nearly all of my mobile needs satisfied. I have my books, my phone, my calendar, email, SMS, a browser, even an English-Spanish translator, a calculator, a note book, an alarm clock, and many more apps that I don’t even use.

Kindle me! I love it!

* Source: Time Magazine, May 3, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Simplicity of Meat, Bread and Wine

It is nearing the end of April and at last I got the chance to get out to the garden to do the usual spring cleanup. I started off a bit late this year because we were completing a kitchen renovation and a face lift for the family room (more about that and its associated frustrations in a future post) and because of business travels. Although I was stiff and sore and a little sunburned as well, it felt good to be out in the sun again after the long, cold winter months.

But after a hard day’s work there are few things as nice as a relaxing barbeque on the porch, watching the sun set and a few sips…glass or two, from a bottle of good wine.

In recent months I have increasingly focus on finding and buying French wines. The reasons are twofold: I am reading up more about France, its tourist attractions, wine regions, etc., because we are dreaming about a vacation there in the near future, and secondly, with a favorable Dollar/Euro exchange rate lately, more affordable French wines are appearing on wine shelves. Buying French and Italian wines are not always easy because of the foreign language label, the fact that they do not sell their wine by cultivar and the fact that I do not know the French terroirs that well. So I can’t always tell what exactly I am buying. But that is part of the fun, isn’t, not knowing what you will drink until you open it. And, how else will I learn about their wines without buying blind and tasting it. After all, I am not buying in the $50+ a bottle range. Well, sometimes, but when I buy to try I am a strict $20 and below guy.

I recently purchased a few bottles of French wines, mostly reds from Bordeaux (familiar style because South African blends are similar and they are more readily available here), from Burgundy 2 whites and 2 Pinot Noirs and a red each from the Côtes-du-Rhône and Languedoc-Rousillon appellations.

(Right: The clay and limestone soil of the Lirac appellation.)

[Personally I think South African winemakers during the 1960 have made a slight miscalculation on the long term to so faithfully copy, on a large scale, and to persist until today, with Bordeaux style blends. This prohibited the development of a unique South African blend that could have served them well with their re-entry into the world wine market after 1994. The Australians saw such an opportunity with their Syrah (or Shiraz) and South Africa could have promoted their unique Pinotage to the same level. I know it is being done now more often but it will take years if not decades for wine writers and drinkers to establish a Pinotage-based blend as a wine with the same reputation as a Bordeaux or a Chianti. Well…I doubt it will ever get to that standard but at least to the Syrah-based blends.]

I will readily admit that I am not very familiar with wines from the Rhône appellation. That is apart from the South African version Goats do Roam in Villages. It is my understanding that many of the Rhône reds are not always barreled and that most are associated with Syrah or Grenache or a blend thereof.

So with a few lamtjoppies on the grill and a semi-homemade Mediterranean focaccia warming up in aluminum foil I opened a Chateau de Ségriès Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2008 and was pleasantly impressed with this $10 wine.

The vineyard at Chateau De Segries

Chateau de Ségriès is owned and operated by Henri de Lanzac and his family since 1994. The Chateau is located in Lirac, on the western side of the Rhône River just across from the more famous Chateauneuf du Pape appellation, and northwest of the once-upon-a-time-papal-city of Avignon. The soil at Chateau de Ségriès is a mix of clay and limestone. The clay keeps the soil warm, pushing ripeness and concentration, while the limestone contributes mineral vibrancy and aroma. Mature Grenache and Syrah vines, on average 30 years old, ensure that the wine coupled with low yields account for the deep color and concentrated black cherry flavors.

2008 Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge is made from 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Cinsault and 10 % Carignan. Only 10% comes from spending a short time in barrels. The rest matured in stainless steel tanks.

The wine is dark red in the glass with lots of fruit and vanilla on the nose. In the mouth it is full and surprisingly round and smooth for a young wine. Tannins are light, and it ends off mildly peppery and spicy on the tongue. Here is the surprise for me: It doesn’t taste like a French wine, more American or Australian, certainly New World style, medium-bodied, easy to drink and it will compliments most meals, not just meat dishes. Hence, the wine was a good companion for the lamb chops but an even better companion for the rich and vibrant Mediterranean tastes of the toppings on the bread.

Now, the focaccia I used, bought at a local grocery store, is not the sometimes crispy-on-the-outside and chewy-on-the-inside kind you get in Italian restaurants and then dip in olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar, but an already baked, one inch thick flatbread topped with a little parmesan cheese and mildly flavored with either garlic, olives or jalapeno chilies. The one I use was garlic flavored, but too bland for my taste and I then topped it with the following layers:

- ½ cup of Cucina Toscana Kalamata olives bruschetta (excellent stuff), but any tomato-based bruschetta with do
- Thin slices of tomato
- Garlic and onion powder
- ¼ cup of Paesana’s exotic marinated mushrooms in oil (drained on kitchen paper and chopped) or any other marinated mushrooms
- A hand full of sliced black olives
- More shredded parmesan cheese
- And finally, lots of fresh basil strips and some dried rosemary and oregano
The bread comes in an aluminum foil pan and I just cover it with more aluminum foil made into a tent, and then put it in a lukewarm area on the grill, away from the chops, where it slowly warms and melt the cheese while I grill the chops.

Sometimes, a simple meal of meat, bread and wine is the best meal you can have.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nuwe Toevoeging Tot Die Familie

Om 7.54 vm vanoggend het die familie hier in Amerika ’n nuwe toevoeging gehad om die familienaam voort te dra. Genaamd Ian, die kleinseun het in geweeg teen 7.10 lb / 3.2 kg.

Hulle sê, ek is tans in Mexico, hy lyk glo nes die pa en oupa (net meer hare), maar dit moet seker maar die familie gelaatstrekke wees wat deur slaan. Ek self kon nog nooit die kuns aanleer om babas met grootmense se gelaatstrekke te vergelyk nie. Babas is babas. Almal lyk min of meer dieselfde.

Nietemin, Welkom Ian.

[Oupa sal hom moet leer om 'n liefde te ontwikkel vir rugby...maar net kyk...die gespeel daarvan laat te veel arthritis gebeendere as 'n legacy.]

Het sekerlik meer hare as ek.

Ousus Marley kyk verwonderend na die nuwe boetie.
Haar middagete in die agtergrond is totaal en al vergete. 
(Sy het glo vroeer die week vir Ouma gesê sy het twee nuwe “blothers”...Baby Ian and baby blother)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Midweek Musical Muse VI - A Fusion of Sound

Fusion, not the nuclear or computer type, but music, is when two or more genres are combined to create a new genre, often in a free-form musical improvisation style.

There are many different fusion genres. Think of the Blues-rock of Stevie Ray Vaughen and Double Trouble, or the Jazz-flavored R&B of Steely Dan, but mostly, one thinks of the many jazz-fusion music projects that was produced during the 70’s. Bands like Weather Report, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (I was so fortunate to see them in the 80’s in the formerly known Nico Malan theater in Cape Town), John McLaughlin’s The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Pat Metheny Group, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and the many projects that Billy Cobham was involved with, most notably and the excellent, Alivemutherforya, with Steve Khan and Alphonso Johnson.

The pianist, Eumir Deodato was one of those fusion artists of the 70’s, although I only discovered him in the early 80’s, that had a great impact on me and my love for the fusion genre. Although his first album in 1973, Prelude, was a big success, his 1978 album, Love Island, is my favorite Deodato album. The way he mashes Latin, Caribbean and Jazz sounds always transfer me any island in the sun.

Here is the very well known Super Strut from Deodato’s second album, Deodato 2.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Just Vriet en Suip in the Cape

In a recent survey done in South Africa by Discovery Vitality it found that Cape Town is the unhealthiest city in South Africa. Johannesburg was the healthiest.

This begs the questions: Does more stress due to living in Johannesburg contributes to the health of its citizens? More carjacking = less eating? More crime = faster running between car and house?

From personal experience I know that every time I go back for a vacation it is just vriet en suip in the Cape. Ko os mak a dop en a tjop. pêl.

But I have to admit, vacations in Cape Town are some of the best vacations I ever had.