Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Little Bit Of Africa In The Bluegrass

At last the sun is shining again and the snow has melted. For now at least. The land is grey and the breeze is cool, but 57 degrees Fahrenheit is not to be ignored. One could be fooled spring is coming.

Went to some South African friends on their farm close by to get out of the house, shake off the claustrophobia of the four walls, get some fresh air and feel the expanse of space again.

Header photo: An Ankole Watusi cow from East Africa with its long horns. Often called the cattle of kings. In Uganda the Bahima tribe, traditional herdsmen just like Kenya's Maasai tribe, still owns large herds of these longhorn cattle
A Texas Longhorn
Roughing it.
Good Buddies.
The grey trees and cold creek still very much scream WINTER.
The sun setting behind the barn

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicken with Blue Cheese and Feta Sauce

Fresh from South Africa, we brought back the latest Huisgenoot Wenresepte #8. I was contemplating something hot for tonight. I browsed through some potjiekos books for a Mexican/Southwestern style, picante chicken with pasta and cheese potjie, but then my daughter-in-law phoned, she likes Mexican style food, and said she was not going to bring the grandchildren over because the roads are too bad and it is too cold. I can understand that, it is freezing outside. So out came the new Huisgenoot Wenresepte #8 for a first look to see if there was something different, something new to make for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised by the latest version in this very popular series.

[Oh, this was going to be a potjie inside. There was no way I was not going to make the potjie outside in weather like we have had the past few days and weeks.]

Very quickly the decision was made. A Chicken with Blue Cheese Sauce. The recipe is on page 90, which I served, as suggested, with boiled baby potatoes still in their jackets and a green salad with romaine lettuce, green onions, grapes and crumbled feta cheese. I cannot republish the recipe because I will have the Huisgenoot agents in my email inbox before you can say “You are committing an intellectual property crime and if you do not remove the recipe from your blog at once our lawyers will be contacting the authorities demanding that you do so immediately or face the consequences.”

I made slight alterations to the recipe (who doesn’t) because I didn’t have enough blue cheese so I added a little feta cheese, and because I had chicken thighs, which I wanted to cook whole and not breasts cut into bite size pieces, as called for by the recipe, I had to add more liquid to compensate for the longer cooking time, and I increased the chicken stock by 50 ml and the white wine by 50 ml.

It came out lovely and it is something I will make again. The slightly sour, but creamy taste of the Greek yogurt and the tarty taste of the blue and feta cheeses were nicely balanced by the kick from the garlic and the acidity from the white wine that was among the ingredients. The sweetness of the grapes and sweet creaminess of the salad’s Kraft Poppyseed dressing balanced out the cheeses nicely. Although I hinted in a previous post that the Rondolino 2008 Vernaccia Di San Gimignano I had in the kitchen wine cooler might not be a good companion for yogurt, its citrus flavors of lemon and lime and hints of green apple actually rounded off the complex flavors of the sauce very nicely because this sauce was not a plain yogurt sauce like tzatziki. The additions of the white wine, the garlic and rosemary to the sauce mellowed out the yogurt and cheeses.

Looking through the whole book I must admit this could be one of the best Wenresepte books ever produced. The simple reason is that the book contains a mere 21 out of 250 pages for recipes of desserts and sweet dishes for after dinner. Usually half the book was dedicated to puddings, dessert, cakes and any form of sweetness until you felt you are being turned into a triple-textured, death by chocolate Bar One. Huisgenoot either received millions of complaints from readers and home cooks to change their chokingly sweet ways or the recipes sent to Huisgenoot is for more food and less sweets.

[By now you sense I don’t have a sweet tooth even though I will, on the rare occasion, indulge in a malva pudding, a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, a good tiramisu, a piece of baklava or my favorite, a nice cheese cake. But usually, no thank you.]

Congratulations Huisgenoot it seems like a worthy addition to my ever growing collection of cookbooks, and thank you Sonett for the Christmas present that will surely be used on a regular basis. This way we will always think of you. This will also prompt me to take a new look at the 5th, 6th and 7th versions of this popular series because I gave up after #4.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Makieties, Reflections and Observations

The old Post Office in Philadelphia

The last weekend of our near four week excursion to Cape Town was one of great makieties (parties) and why not, it was New Year’s weekend, and moments of reflection (sometimes in the midst of parties), and a last swing through the Swartland and the hustling of packing luggage and the reality that all good times always comes to an end.

Reflections of Goodbye

As always the time and the accompanied emotions of departure are such a blur of mental images and such a momentary feeling of finality. You know it was coming, but it still felt like it crept up on you too fast. That moment you stand at the gate to the security entrance and the last hug you give each person that came to the airport to say goodbye, you expressing your appreciation for the good times you were able to share with them and meant it and holding on to the hug for as long as you feel you can. That last turnaround after you have gone through security and gave a final wave and saw how they all stand in a small group waving back, and you experienced that fleeting moment of loneliness (them on the outside, you on the inside, the feeling of separation so irreversible by the narrow security tunnel.) And finally, while some had tears in their eyes and others had lumps in their throats, the thought that it could be years before you see some of these people again (or never – life is so unpredictable and oh so fragile). But then you turn away, hearing a final announcement for your flight, head for the departure gate, reach for your boarding pass and passport, and you know it is not a final goodbye, you are hopeful, it is just arrivederci, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, tot ons mekaar weer sien.

Herondekte, Afrikaanse woord wat ons jare laas gehoor het:
Nuwe Afrikaanse woord wat ek nog nooit voorheen gehoor het nie:

Riebeek-Kasteel Dutch Reformed Church. Built on a hill it towers over the town.

A Last Swing Through the Swartland

I don’t know why the Swartland, and for that matter the Karoo too, is so enchanting to me. After all it doesn’t have the natural beauty of the Boland with its mountains and green valleys. The Swartland is mostly gently slopping, rolling fields and meadows, wheat-brown with patches of grey and black. However, these days it is getting greener with more farmers planting vines and fruits. Maybe because it is there that my family genes come from or because I spent so much time in the Swartland and the Karoo as a child. (But that’s for another post.)

The last Sunday several family members and we drove to Riebeek-Kasteel for lunch at the Royal Hotel. The town is about an hour's drive from Cape Town, just past Malmesbury. Before lunch most of them sauntered through the few small shops down the road from the hotel that sold anything from preserves, biltong, antique furniture, vintage clothing, homemade springbok and curry meat pies, rusted wrought-iron garden furniture, and cacti plants, while I was snapping photos of the Dutch Reformed Church nearby (the architectural beauty of churches is fascinating to me) and watching colored kids hassling people for money as they came to park their cars.

Riebeek-Kasteel: The ladies returning from shopping in the few small shops that were open on Sunday.

Observation: There seem to be “parking attendants” everywhere, hand reaching out for money to supposedly “have found you the parking spot” and “watch” over your car.
After lunch we drove through the few streets of the tiny town, marveled at how the town has grown and changed and drove by the house my father once lived in for many years about 20 years or so ago. That jogged my memory because I can still remember how we use to come here on Sundays and braai soutribbetjie under the massive oak tree in the back yard and after lunch fell asleep on blankets in its shade.

The restored old Post Office in Philadelphia is now transformed to the StoepSit Kafee 

Returning to Cape Town we stopped for a few moments in the quaint little town of Philadelphia. Only 20 minutes from Cape Town on the N7, it amazes me that this little town has not yet been snapped up and changed by development. Most of it is still like it was in the 1950s or before. Sure there is some new development in a small pocket of the town and cleverly kept away from the old town area, which is untouched except for the restored buildings. New uses were found for these restored buildings. The old post office was turned into a café and the old flour mill into a restaurant, only open on Sundays and serves traditional South African dishes. I hope the little town stay like it is, but I doubt that it will survive the onslaught of an ever increasing Cape Town.

Signs from various towns we traveled.

Observation: Cape Town hasn’t changed much in the last 7 years. Yes, there are more suburbs and houses and shopping centers on its outskirts, especially beyond Blouberstrand and the Plattekloof area, but the old familiar places and roads of the southern suburbs still look the same. In general, the place actually looks cleaner, less rubbish along the roads, etc. since I was there last in 2003. Of all the bad press you sometimes read overseas about South Africa, I never felt I was endanger of being mugged or robbed at anytime, but then I purposefully didn’t travel to “frontier line” areas, where, in similar areas in many other large world cities you also stand the chance of being mugged or attacked.
A collage of Riebeek-Kasteel.

Afrikaners Bly Plesierig (Afrikaners like partying)

The day before, the Saturday, was a classic “the day after the night before.” Quiet and placid and I spent some part of the day watching northern hemisphere rugby en highlights of the 2nd cricket test between South Africa and India on the TV. However it was more a case of the day after the day before instead of the night before. Because on the Friday, the day before New Year’s Day and traditionally big party night in South Africa like everywhere across the world, the partying started late morning already. A very good and dear friend of ours, who is at the same time my brother-in-law’s neighbor, had a big makietie (party) for his 70th birthday. They combined/opened up, whatever, the two backyards with the bar in one yard and the lunch tables in the other and smack in the middle they barbequed a whole lamb on a rotisserie for lunch. ‘n Lekker spitbraai. Lunch was done by 2 pm, but few people left. While some used the swimming pool, others baked in the sun or found shade under the gazebos, talking, drinking and just enjoyed the company. The partying continued through the afternoon into the evening until we counted down the seconds to midnight and the start of a new year. Along the way, in mid-evening, a fire was restarted and more lamb chops and boerwors appeared and were barbequed and we ate again. No wonder the Saturday was spent quietly. Until the evening when we went to another braai and the eating and all that goes with it started all over again.

Now you know why I said in the very first sentence of the first blog post about this vacation I needed a rest, another vacation after a vacation. The hospitality of Afrikaners is immense and legendary. Hence the old song: Afrikaners is plesierig.

The Aitsa Cafe in Riebeek-Kasteel

Observation: I spoke to several people about local politics and the state of South Africa and there seem to be some level of anger if your scratch the surface. Mostly though it was directed at the levels of corruption in the government and Black Economic Empowerment society in general. One person so aptly described it, and Afrikaans can be such a beautiful descriptive language, as the “skilpadstertsindroom”, the turtle tail syndrome, with every business deal there is the cupped hand in the back, just like a turtle's tail, to collect their personal, under the table, commission.

Ceiling art in the Canal Walk shopping mall.
Observation: How can one live a normal life in an abnormal environment? Here every house has an alarm system. It’s voluntary confinement behind high walls, burglar proofing and safety doors with dogs as additional safety devices. Each man in its own castle with its safety moat. I suppose I forgot how I use to live. It was natural then. It just doesn’t feel natural anymore.

Finally…The flight back was more or less uneventful. Thank God! We did miss our connection flight from Washington, DC to Atlanta, Georgia due to a delay in Dakar, Senegal and a very long and detoured approach into Dulles airport in Washington, DC, which meant we also missed our planned connection from Atlanta to Lexington, KY. But Delta Airline was very helpful to arranged new flights. Luckily the wait was not that long and we only arrived home about 3 hours later than the original plan. Tired, dehydrated and with clogged sinuses from the airplanes air conditioning, seriously in need of a nice shower, a warm bed and a long sleep. Jetlag would only come the next day, but no one care about it then.

Although I tremendously enjoyed the vacation in Cape Town it was also good to be back home. No matter where home might be. Until the next trip…

Notes: Of the major tourist attractions of Cape Town, the so called “big six”, we visited only one, Groot Constantia. Although we have been there on a previous occasion we would have like to go to Kirstenbosch, but we ran out of time. Of the others, the Table Mountain Cableway, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, and Cape Point: been there before and had no plans to go there this time. Robben Island: never been there and have no desire to ever go there.

Regrets: None really. I would have like to visit more wine farms, because I like traveling the typical winelands countryside, the camaraderie of tasting wines and the ambiance of wine estates, but it is probably a good thing I didn’t get to more farms. I then would have had to have a liver transplant upon my return.

Churches in the Western Cape

Table Mountain from Signal Hill

Moon reflecting on the sea at St. Helena Bay 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Die Gestowe Oor Aandete

Buite lê die sneeu nog sentimeters dik. Die wit kak soos iemand dit onlangs genoem het. Gelukkig gaan ons soms ‘n bietjie son sien vandag. Dis touch and go vir moontlik meer sneeu. Dis altyd lekkerder om die wereld te sien met son-geraakte, geel-getinte brille in plaas van daai two-tone, grys en wit, dae.
Ek doen nie vaal nie!

Skaap stowe vleis is uit die vrieskas gehaal vir aandete. Wat sal ek tog daarmee maak? Vir die gewoonlike verdagtes, tamatiebredie of groenbootjiebredie is ek nie lus nie. Waterblommetjies is soos die weer daar buite, ‘n gevriesde droom. Nog minder is ek lus vir skaapkerrie of ‘n Franse Ragout D'Agneau of ‘n Daube d’Agneau van Aix-en-Provence en vir ‘n Toskaanse Agnello Stufato met wit bootjies sien ek nie kans nie. Miskien is ek net vol kak. Gooi die damn vleis in ‘n pot, moer groete by en wha lah. Dien bo-op instant rice. Done. Duh, waarvoor wag jy?

Winter wek mos altyd die drang op vir stadigkokende geregte wat dan verslind word saam met rooiwyn by die kaggel. Ek sal maar tevrede moet wees met central heating. How romantic?

‘n Turkse Lamb Ankara klink lekker, maar Griekse yogurt en rooi wyn gaan nie goed saam nie. Maar dan weer, ek drink rooiwyn saam met enige iets. En ek het nog daardie bottel Rondolino in die wynkoelkas. Die Vernaccia Di San Gimignano versnitting sal miskien…vergeet dit. Yogurt is een van daardie problem kosse as dit kom by wyn. Dit gaan saam met amper niks nie behalwe ‘n Griekse Retsina, daardie witwyn wat met Denneboom harpuis ge-infuse word. Bless their Greek souls, hulle het eeue van trail and error agter die blad om te weet watter wyn goed gaan saam met hulle baie kosse wat yogurt bevat. Ek gaan ook maar wegbly van die harpuis af. Kan nie dink dis lekker nie. Die Turke gee natuurlik glad nie om vir wyn nie, want meeste van hulle is Moslems wat nie mag or wil drink nie.

Laat my dink aan ‘n situasie toe iemand onlangs ‘n Suid Afrikaanse braai wou reël vir 11 uur op ‘n Saterdag oggend op ‘n plek waar daar nie drank toegelaat word nie. Niemand het belangstelling getoon nie. Doodse stilte. Almal het net by hulself gesit en wonder…
Iemand anders het gesê “Dis te vroeg en die mense wil drink by ‘n vleis gebraaiery.”
“Maar hoekom moét hulle drink?” druk die voorsteller heel verbaas uit.
Stel jou voor: Suid Afrikaners, ‘n braaivleis, geen drank…doodse stilte…klink soos ‘n begrafnis…seker vir skaapie wat gebraai word.

In elk geval moet ek miskien wegbly van die yogurt af. Gekookte melk produkte, yogurt, room, etc. is geneig om ‘n mens te laat voel jy’s opgeblaas en ek sit reeds met ‘n klomp steke in my maag. Na só ‘n ete sal ek my moet anker aan ‘n rusbank anders styg ek dalk op.
Imagine, maag staan doér, opgeblaas soos ‘n lugballon, daar vlieg ekke in my lay-z-boy, dun haartjies wapper in die wind, wil iets skreeu maar my stem klink helium-gevul soos Peter De Villiers, en Pink Floyd se Pigs on The Wing blêr in my ore. A sight to behold.

Op die ou end het ek my gat gelig en gaan kyk wat ons in die spens het. Dit help tog nie ek sit hier voor die rekenaar en wonder wat om te maak terwyl ek nie weet wat ons het nie. Ek maak myself net honger.

 And the honor to be tonight’s dinner goes to…Drum roll please…

‘n Maroccan Tagine met lemoessap, gedroogde appelkose en pruime, en my weergawe van die bekende Marokkaanse kruiemengsel, Ras El Hanout. Die stowegereg gaan ek op dis saam met ‘n mengsel van wit, bruin, wilde en rooi Texmati rys, maar couscous of gewone wit rys is net so goed. ‘n Dik sny lekker tuisgebakte brood om al die souse mee op te vee sal net so goed werk. Miskien beter!

En die wyn? What do you drink with Maroccan food? Eerstens, die Marokkaners drink nie alkohol nie (sommige miskien skelmpies) so daar is nie juis ‘n tradisionele wyn wat goed saam met hul kos gaan nie. Tweedens, gaan die kos ‘n unieke, kontrasterende, maar geurige smaak van vrugte, suur, soet en kruierig wees. (Nes daai movie It's Complicated.) ‘n Riesling of ‘n a Gewurtztraminer kom dadelik by my op. Maar ek het geen daarvan tans in my wynrak nie en ek is nie lus vir ‘n witte nie. ‘n Fruity Zinfandel kan dalk werk maar die St Francis Zinfandel wat ek in die wynrak het gaan te bold wees. (Sien ook ‘n vorige artikel wat ek oor St Francis geskryf het.) Omdat ek tans geen Amerikaanse Pinot Noir of enige Beaujolais in die huis het nie, (enige een van daardie twee sou goed gepair het) het my keuse geval op ‘n Château de Ségriès 2008 Cotes-du-Rhône, ‘n wyn waaroor ek ook onlangs geskryf het. Dis ‘n lekker ligte en maklike drink wyn wat al die eienskappe van ‘n Cotes-du-Rhône het sonder die sterk pepperige nasmaak, en wat ek dink sal goed gaan saam met die Tagine. Gewoonlik is ek mal oor die pepperige smaak van Cotes-du-Rhônes, maar nie vanaand nie. Nie saam met die Tagine nie.

Bon Appetite!

Follow up:  The dish tasted as planned, very fruity with lots of complicated flavors and not spicy at all. If you want spicy then add a touch of cayenne pepper to the spice mix. Although the Château de Ségriès 2008 Cotes-du-Rhône paired well with the Tagine, I think an American Pinot Noir or a French Beaujolais will be even better.

Hier is my weergawe van dié tradisionele gereg.

Maroccan Tagine (lamb stew) – Marokkaanse Lamsgereg

Preparation time: What’s the urgency?

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes, of so lank as wat jy drinktyd wil hê.


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs / 1 kg lean lamb, diced
Flour to coat the meat
1 cup orange juice
14 fl oz / 1½ cup chicken or beef stock
1 medium onion, chopped
4 oz / 100 g pitted prunes
4 oz / 100 g dried apricots
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons Ras El Hanout spice blend
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

For the Ras El Hanout spice blend

¾ teaspoon ground garlic
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Mix all the spices together. It seems a lot but its only about 3 teaspoons of spices. 


  1. Put all the ingredients for the spice blend together.
  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper, and then coat with the flour.
  3. Heat the oil on a medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add half the meat and cook until brown. Remove from the pan and place on kitchen towel or plate, and cook the rest of the meat. Set aside.
  4. Add a little more oil and sauté the onions until translucent.
  5. Put all the meat back in the pan with the onion, add all the other ingredients.
  6. Bring gently to the boil, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for about 1½ hours or until the meat is tender. Stir often to prevent it burning on at the bottom. With all the fruits and flour this can easily happen.
  7. Garnish with the cilantro when you dish up.

Culinary Delicacies and Cape Panoramas

Top left: Hout Bay; Top right: Cape Town city centre;
Bottom left: Cape Town Stadium; Bottom right: Robben Island seen from Signal Hill.

The last 2 weeks of our vacation in South Africa were a series of “one night stands”, day trips from our base in Thornton. We were culinary travelers, going from one delicious destination to the next delectable destination. If we weren’t savoring the views and vistas of the Cape we were indulging ourselves in its foods and the hospitality of friends and family. We were on the go all the time.

Initially I said I was not yet sure whether I was going to buy any wine to take back home, but I don’t think anyone believed me. I didn’t even believe myself. Usually the writers of travel books will tell you not to buy wine in your travel destination. Drink it and enjoy it. The wine, they say, even if it is just an average wine, won’t usually taste the same when you bring it back. Something to do with the fact that one is relaxed, on vacation, your senses is open to new experiences, the location’s ambiance, the local food and how well it pairs with the local wine. I suppose there is some truth in that. In any case, many times you can find that same wine at your local store or order it over the Internet if you take the time to look for it. And sometimes it’s even cheaper than buying it overseas. I can attest to that when I found the exact bottle of limoncello I bought in Italy at my local liquor store and cheaper than what I paid for it in Venice. And then there is always the chance that the box of wine or a bottle of wine packed inside your luggage can break while being transferred from airplane to airplane or from airplane to the luggage pickup point. And I can attest to that too, when, on a previous trip from South Africa I had wine bottles broken when one of my boxes of wine fell from that ramp that retrieve luggage from an airplane’s hull, at the very last stop upon our arrival at Lexington airport and worst of all, while I was sitting in the airplane, waiting to disembark, I was watching it happen. It’s like everything goes into slow motion mode, just like in the movies.

Rhodes Memorial near Rondebosch in memory of Cecil John Rhodes

But, if you live in Kentucky and you know you cannot buy wine over the Internet for delivery in Kentucky (against Kentucky law), and you know the wines you can and want to buy in South Africa is not readily available in the USA, and if it is it is at a far higher price, then you do what I usually do. You ignore the travel writers and ignore the risk of broken bottles and buy it anyway and you pack it as securely as possible in newspaper and bubble wrap in a very sturdy wine box and you hope for the best.

Where goats do roam

One morning when we woke the day was cool and overcast and a misty rain was drizzling down. The original plan was to go to Groot Constantia, not so much for buying wines, because I have always consider their wines overprized, but more to culturally enrich ourselves again with the history of Groot Constantia and to relive a moment we had at the estate many years before, to go and eat delicious scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream, al fresco style, under the old oaks, outside Die Jonkershuis Restaurant.

Nederburg Manor House outside Paarl

Knowing Cape Town weather, if it was drizzling in the northern suburbs it would probably be pouring at Groot Constantia, we decided to rather go to Paarl, which could get very hot even if it was a mild day in Cape Town, and hoping that Paarl and the Boland would be cool that day. After a solid breakfast on the way, to nicely line the stomach so to speak, we went to Nederburg, one of South Africa’s premier wine estates, for a cellar tour. Very interesting and informative! I didn’t do any tasting or buying at Nederburg because their general wines (Paarl Cabernet Sauvignon, Baronne and Pinotage) are available in Lexington and my focus was to only buy wines that are worth taking back home or not available in Lexington. The other reason for not buying anything at the estate was that I purchase several bottles of wine the previous day at a big liquor market in Milnerton, among them a Nederburg 2000 Private Bin R109 (the last one on their shelf), a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that was sold in 2010 on Nederburg’s annual, world famous wine auction. Now that was worth bringing back home. Reasonably rare and exclusive. For me in any case!

Left: Laborie Manor House; Center: Fairview Estate's goat house; Right: Grapes at Nederburg 

From Nederburg we went to Fairview Estate, famous for its roaming goats. At this stage my brother-in-law (another wine appreciator) and his wife joined us and while the girls were doing what girls that don’t drink do, the boys had a proper wine tasting and sampling of their many delicious cheeses. I didn’t really care for any of their white wines, although the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 did go well with some of the cheese. Speaking of cheeses, their cream cheese dusted with Chakalaka spices was excellent. From their reds, their Merlot and the Jakkalsfontein Shiraz 2005 stood out above the rest. It was my kind of Merlot; very woody on the nose and soft and complicated on the tongue. Eventually I bought something blind, a limited release 2007 Caldera. A true Cotes du Rhône style blend. They didn’t have it available for tasting, but I liked the composition. A blend made from 15 barrels of 64 year old Grenache vines, rumored to be the oldest Grenache vines in South Africa, 8 barrels of Mourvédre and 8 barrels of Shiraz. We had lunch at Fairview's Goatshed Restaurant. While M had a delicious, traditional Curried Chicken Pie, I indulged in the Springbok Stir Fried Salad with crusty bread, balsamic vinegar and basil pesto and a few glasses of the Merlot.

From Fairview we drove next door to the Seidelberg Estate with its beautiful views of the valley below and visited the Red Hot Glass shop. By now the morning’s rain from Cape Town has reached Paarl. M and I drove into the town of Paarl and visited Laborie Estate, created in 1691 and one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape, for a photo opportunity of the opstal and more tasting. I bought a bottle of their Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a bottle of their Alambic Brandy, which was in 2010 voted the best brandy in the world at an international competition in London. The brandy was really something special. Initally you get the taste of concentrated fruits before the amber liquid warms the throat as it glides down to the stomach.   

In die skadu van Papegaaiberg

‘n Paar dae na ons besoek aan die Paarl het ons in een van my gunsteling dorpe, Stellenbosch, gaan kuier. Stellenbosch was soos altyd kokend warm. Daar het ons die dorp platgeloop, stegie op en straatjie af; die baie ou geboue en argitektuur bewonder; op die dorpsplein deur die Afrika kunsmark gedrentel; by oom Samie se winkel ingeloer en gevind alles is te toeristies (?) en belaglig oorprys; ‘n heerlike gerookte salm, feta and aarbeie slaai saam met ‘n glasie (of twee) yskoue Sauvignon Blanc vir middagete geniet by Jan Cats se bistro op die stoep van die Stellenbosch Hotel terwyl ‘n groep lokale manne met min tande and ‘n vals kitaar almal ge-serenade het vir ‘n paar los muntstukke.

Oom Samie se Winkel in Stellenbosch. 'n Regte nagosie winkel waar 'n mens van die spreekwoordelike naald tot 'n kameelperd kan koop.

Later die middag, na ‘n bietjie van ‘n gesoek, want daar was geen aanwysingsbord nie en ek het nie ‘n kaart by my gehad nie en ek het moed opgegee met Google Maps se stadige responsietyd, het ek my “onwillekeurig” gevind op die pad na een van my gunsteling en een van Suid Afrika se beste wynplase, Jean Engelbrecht se Rust en Vrede. Terwyl M en haar suster in die koelte van nog jong, maar statige akker bome die landgoed besigtig het, het ek in die koel proelokaal hul rooiwyne gesnuif, geproe, gerol en gesluk. Ek het ‘n bottel 2009 Shiraz en ‘n bottel 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon gekoop om my 2002 Cabernet en 2001 Shiraz aan te vul wat ek reeds by die huis het van ‘n vorige besoek aan Suid Afrika in 2003. Laasgenoemde twee bottels sal ek aanstoots moet drink want hulle is nou gereed. Wil nie te lank wag tot hulle dalk oor hul beste is nie. Dis wat oor Thanksgiving met my gebeur het met ‘n bottel 1990 Delheim Grand Reserve. Te lank gewag, ondrinkbaar geword en ek moes dit net so omkeer en in die riool afgooi. Gelukkig was die 1991 Delheim nog drinkbaar maar ook reeds oor sy beste. Daarna het ek besluit ek hou wyn op die langste 10 jaar.

Ongelukkig het ‘n tegnologiese gogga of iets soortgelyk amper al my fotos van Stellenbosch uitgeroei. Iets moes met my kamera gebeur het die volgende dag of daar was dalk swak skakels op my kamera se SD kaart, want toe ek die volgende aand ‘n foto wou neem toe raak 75 van my fotos bedorwe. Dit gebeur soms met jpegs. Dit was baie teleurstellend want ek het ‘n groot versameling fotos geneem van Stellenbosch se deure.

The Hottentots Hollands Mountains as seen from Rhodes Memorial

Crisscrossing the peninsula

Eventually we got to Groot Constantia one day. After a visit to the stately manor house, now a museum, and the wine cellar, we tried out several of their wines. The Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon were the best of the bunch, of which last-mentioned I bought one bottle, although the Merlot was not too bad either. The rest of their reds where too heavy with too much tannins. We never got to eat the scones with jam because the day we went there it was cloudy and windy and the Jonkershuis Restaurant was fully booked at lunch time. But we drove down to Constantia Village and at the Cattle Baron Grill House we ate of the best beef curry I had in many years.

A collage of Groot Constantia, the mother of all wine estates (the oldest) in South Africa.

Eendag het ons ‘n draai gery Swartland toe, by familie in Malmesbury lekker gaan gesels tot laataand en gesmul aan egte boerekos; gebraaide skaapboud en vele ander lekker bykosses. Op ‘n ander dag het ons eers by Rhodes Memorial gestop en daarna verby Kirstenbosch, oor Constantia Nek na Houtbaai toe. Daar was die Suidooste wind brutaal en ons weggewaai en ons is gou vort Llandudno se kant toe, al langs die see verby die Twaalf Apostels, by Kampsbaai weggedraai oor Kloofnek en met Seinheuwel op vir pragtige vistas oor Kaapstad se middestad, Seepunt, Groenpunt and Robbeneiland.

Snoek op die kole.
Tussendeur al die gereis was daar altyd tyd vir braai. Een aand vis, dan weer gesoute skaapribbes met roosmaryn, 'n ander aand hoender in tamatiesous en Mrs. Ball's Chutney, en nog 'n aand 'n skaapskenkel potjie.

In the end I returned home with 14 bottles of wine, some purchased some I got as presents, and 3 bottles of brandy, among them a 15 year old KWV I got as a present. Most of the wines are young and will need a few years mellowing out in the bottom of my wine rack while some of the older ones currently in the rack will move up for drinking. Among those I brought home: Meerlust, a 2005 and a 2006 Rubicon, a Raka 2006 Quinary, a Rustenberg 2008 John X Merriman and two wines from Thelema, a Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon, and the others I mentioned above.

I would have liked to bring back more wine, but was restricted by tight luggage regulations both from South African Airlines and Delta Airlines here in the USA. The amount you have to pay extra if you go over the weight limits makes it not worth the while to bring more wines.

The rest of the time I did what the travel authors tell you to do: Eat and drink and enjoy while on location.

Part of the collection that made it home.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wegbreek Weskus Vakansie

Skemertyd op St. Helenabaai

Just south of Piketberg we took Route 399 west towards Velddrif and the Atlantic Ocean. Two months prior to our visit we rented a house on the beach in St. Helena Bay where we met up with M’s brother and sister and their spouses for a 4 day family reunion. It was lazy days and long evenings of sightseeing, braais (BBQs) goods eats, tasting local wines, walks on the beach and exploring the peninsula. En gesels en gesels… catching up after not seeing each other for many years. It has been 7 years since I last visited South Africa.

 Club Mykonos

Ah, just to be next to the sea again. For most of the time the bay was unusually calm, protected by dolosse and the lay of the land. You could hardly hear and seldom saw breaking waves. Only after the 3rd day, late in the evening, long after midnight, after everyone already went to bed, while I was sitting outside, alone, sipping on a brandy, smoking a cigarette and making notes on my Blackberry, did I hear the breaking of the waves, sometimes accompanied by the squealing of sea birds. It was spring tide that night and every now and then I would see a flashlight from someone out on the beach trying to secure his small boat against the rising high tide. On this stretch of beach, known as Hannasbaai, between the fisherman’s harbor in the northwest and some ruined buildings and the stone foundations of a long-gone jetty in the southeast the beach was sort of secured so people left their small dingies and kayaks on the beach, just outside the reaches of the high water level. But that night, with high tide moving in, more secured measures were required to tie them down.

Die Winkel op Paternoster

One of the days we traveled to Club Mykonos near Langebaan, blew some money at the casino and I had an excellent lunch of mussels in a garlic and white wine sauce in a restaurant at the waterfront. On another day we visited the quaint fisherman’s village of Paternoster with its tiny white houses and colorful boats on the beach for a light lunch in the local hotel. This is lobster country and there we purchased 40 Cape lobster tails and that evening we braaied them, and together with garlic bread and several salads we ate like kings and drank Graca Rosé and although I am not a great lover of Rosé wines, I must admit the wine was a perfect pairing for the rich seafood, not sweet, no hint of heavy acidity, just a perfect balance. I contributed by making a pre-dinner guacamole dip and a Middle Eastern inspired couscous salad.

Koningskos - Kaapse Kreefsterte en Knoffelbrood

During the trip through the Boland we never visited any wine estates, that was still to come, but while we were in St. Helena Bay with all the braaing and eating taking place there were ample opportunities to savor some of the local wines and I especially enjoyed the slightly wooded Chardonnays from Darling Cellars and Durbanville Hills and the Shiraz from Thelema.

Maar alle goeie dinge kom tot ‘n einde en ons moes weer terug keer Kaapstad toe. Die wegbreek vakansie binne ‘n vakansie en die familie reunie was baie lekker en genotvol. Dit het goed gevoel om weer my kop te kon lig en die Suiderkruis te sien, om weer die Suidooster gevul met seelug te kon voel en proe op jou lippe, om weer die klemtone en die grappe uniek aan Afrikaans al rondom jou te kon hoor eggo. Dit was heeerlik om weer te kon smul aan Karoo skaaptjops en Grabouw boerewors gebraai op hout kole, en om weer kreef te kon eet (snoek was nêrens te vinde). Saans soos dit skemer geword het en die son agter die horison verdwyn het, en die vuur in die braaiplek sy kole begin maak het, en die flou branders op die strand uitgespoel het, was dit heerlik om te kon uitkyk oor die baai, te sit en sip aan ‘n Kaapse wyntjie en die dorpsliggies van Velddrif en Dwarskersbos in die verte te sien en die kaleidoskoop van die Weskus in my geheue te versteen.

Kreef bote op Paternoster Strand
Paternoster se kenmerkende huisies

St. Helenabaai - Die paadjie see toe

Monday, January 17, 2011

Recharging in Cape Town

I needed a rest after a vacation in South Africa. I always feel I need another vacation after a vacation in South Africa. On the flight back to the USA it seems everyone else was in the same frame of mind.

After a hectic and busy 2010 we felt we needed a recharge of our battteries and in December we went on a vacation to Cape Town, South Africa. At times during the 28 hour trip (it felt like 36 hours) to Cape Town, Murphy, from Murphy's Law fame threaten to intervene. At Atlanta airport our flight to Washington’s Dulles was delayed for nearly 90 minutes when maintenance workers did a “scheduled maintenance”, as reported by the captain, to replace all the smoke detectors in the lavatories. I had to wonder how Delta organizes their operations because how can they possibly do a scheduled maintenance while the plane was fully loaded with passengers at the gate, ready to go. Don’t they give a shit about passengers having to make connection flights in other airports? This delay left us scrambling, running and racing against time when we got to Dulles airport to make our flight to Johannesburg. And we barely made it.

At Johannesburg airport general chaos reigned. No one from South African Airways seemed to be quite sure how the new computer system worked; lines (queues) were very long everywhere, passengers were naturally aggravated, and it took forever and a lot of running around to reload our luggage and get boarding passes for our flight to Cape Town. In the end I jumped the long lines by playing ignorant and booked in through the business class counter. The stormy weather around Johannesburg at the time also delayed our flight by more than an hour and we eventually had enough time to board the flight to Cape Town.

Rediscovery of the Overberg and the Boland

One of the objectives we hoped to achieve during our three and a half week vacation to Cape Town and the surrounding regions were to explore and reconnect with the areas we traveled often in the past when we lived there. We wanted to rediscover and appreciate the Cape’s beauty again, but we also wanted to be tourists and explore some new area that we never been to before.

On top of Sir Lowry's Pass looking back towards False Bay and Cape Town.

Two days after our arrival we started a little tour through the Overberg, Boland and Swartland regions of the Western Cape. Our first stop after crossing Sir Lowry’s Pass was Grabouw in the Elgin region of the Cape. In Grabouw we had a long talk with the butcher that makes the famous Grabouw boerewors (South Africa farmer’s sausage.) We stopped there with the specific intention to see if we can buy his spices for the sausage, but he didn’t want to hear anything about that. Initially! We told him we make our own homemade boerewors here in the States and we are not interested in ripping him off or stealing his recipe. We even showed him our American driver’s licenses and he eventually gave in and sold us about three quarter of a kilogram of spices. Spice Gold! He also gave me some tips on how to make the best boerewors and as close as one can get to a complete recipe of his famous sausage. Everything, except the ratios of the spices. Thank you, Johan.

Cape Dutch style architecture in Swellendam - The Rothman Manor House (1834)

Next we had breakfast at Peregrine padstal (a roadside stall) on koeksisters and meat pies and then we drove to Swellendam. This brought back many memories, because we stayed in Swellendam for 4 years during the 1980’s. It was here where I owned my first home and where my kids were born. After a walk through the town and appreciating the Cape Dutch style architecture and a light lunch we visited the Drostdy museum and had an enlightening talk with the curator of the museum.

In Swellendam's Old Drostdy Museum, an old, still working water mill, milling wheat to flour.

From Swellendam we drove to Montagu where we stayed at the 7 Church Street Guesthouse. The original plan was to drive from Swellendam to Barrydale via Suurbraak and the Tredouw Pass, and from there along the famous Route 62 to Montagu, but it was getting late in the afternoon and dark rain clouds have formed over the Langeberg mountains so we opted for plan B, a shorter drive directly to Montagu. The 7 Church Street Guesthouse proprietors were friendly people, it has a fantastic garden with nice rooms and nicely decorated too, but when nighttime came the noisy frogs were unwelcome. The overpowering sound of nature may be great to city dwellers, but it spoilt a goodnight sleep and we needed sleep. After the long flight and a hectic weekend we were still trying to recuperate from jetlag.

7 Church Street Guesthouse, Montagu - Manor house and garden
The next morning’s breakfast was top notch and it was the first time since 2006 that I ate British/South African style bacon again. The last time was in a small eatery around the corner from Kensington Palace in London. South African style bacon taste just soooo much better than the fatty bacon streaks we get in the USA.

From a lovely Montagu, which is surrounded by the dramatic towering mountain peaks of the Langeberg Mountains, we drove to McGregor, one of the few places in the world to lie directly on ley lines, and is considered a sacred place. I have read so much about McGregor in magazines and so many writers have raved about the little “jewel”, so I expected a lot, but it was a total waste of time. The place was windblown, dusty and dead, certainly not much to write about. Maybe I just didn’t feel the “natural energy” or the “spirituality” of the place. We drove back to Robertson after less than an hour, where we spent a while sightseeing and then we took the long drive to Paarl via Worcester and the Du Toitskloof tunnel.

We overnight at the Goedemoed Country Inn just outside Paarl. The historic Cape Dutch house and adjacent garden rooms is situated on a working wine farm and it was marvelous to take an afternoon stroll through the vineyard. We also drove into Paarl to visit some old buildings like the Strooidak church. The church, built in the form of a Greek cross was completed in 1805 and is one of the oldest churches still in use in the Cape.

Rocking in Die Bôrdienghuis

The evening was one of the highlights of our vacation to the Cape. After our afternoon visit to Paarl and a walk through the vineyard we drove to Wellington, about 10 kilometers from Paarl for dinner and a live show of Jan Blohm, one of South Africa’s premier Rock singer/songwriters, and one of my favorite Afrikaans artists, in the Bôrdienghuis Teaterkafee in the Breytenbach Sentrum. The Sentrum is located in the house where the very famous South African author/poet/painter Breyten Breytenbach grew up. The dinner before the show was excellent, one of the best meals we would have in South Africa. Simple, rustic, and very flavorful; chicken pasta with basil pesto, sun dried tomatoes, zucchini and red peppers, great bread, and dessert was as traditional South African as you can get; Melktert with a fig dressing and pomegranate seeds. Koningskos for M, but I am not a great lover of melktert. Initially Blohm accompanied, as a backup guitarist, a new act on the Afrikaans music scene, Christoph Kotze, before he took the stage alone to rip through most of his well-known songs and many staaltjies (stories) about his life. At the midway break, it was very hot the evening and Blohm requested a break from the hot stage lights, when we stood in the gravel courtyard of the Sentrum and drank crisp Sauvignon Blanc white wine at tables made from old wine casks, I went “backstage” and introduced myself to Blohm and we had a nice chat about music, Bruce Springsteen, and living in America. Nice chap, very approachable.

The next morning after another fantastic South African breakfast at Goedemoed Inn we headed north through Wellington along Route 43 toward Bainskloof Pass. Bainskloof Pass, built by Andrew Bain in 1853, is regarded as one of the most beautiful and most rugged passes in South Africa. Although Paarl was getting ready for another hot sunny day, as we got closer to the Limiet Mountains the sky got cloudier, it became windier and eventually as we climbed higher into the mountain it started to rain. Certainly not the best weather for driving along a rugged mountain pass or for stopping at the few places that allow stopping along the very narrow and twisting road. That was really unfortunate because part of my plan to rather cross the Bainskloof Pass instead of taking the easier and faster Route 44 to Tulbagh was to see the unspoilt nature of fynbos and proteas in the higher elevations and in there, apart from the fact that Bainskloof Pass is the magnus opus of Bain’s several passes that he built around Cape Town, lies part of the area’s charm; the fact that so little has changed there since the mid-1800s.

After the Pass we continue on with Route 43 until it split off to Route 46, through the tiny hamlet of Wolsley until we got to Tulbagh, a most beautiful town lying in a bowl of the Winterhoek Mountain. I have never been to the 300-year old town of Tulbagh before and part of the appreciation of everything Cape Dutch, Tulbagh’s restored architecture in Church Street is an absolute must see. Especially if you visit the museum and see what it looked like after the great earthquake of 1969 and how it was restored now? It must have been a mammoth task to restore not only one of the Boland’s but also one of South Africa’s most beautiful and most historic streets. Strolling along Church Street is like walking through history.

Tulbagh's Church Street Collage:
Top left: An old wagon; Top right: De Oude Church (1743);
Bottom left: Old Parsonage (1765) The oldest parsonage in South Africa still in use as a parsonage; Bottom Right: House #14 (1892)

Lite is not always light

It was also in Tulbach at the Bravo café that we had one of our worse lunches. The service was terrible and M’s milkshake was nothing but flavored milk, no thickness and probably no ice cream. I ordered a “lite”, low alcohol beer but their idea of a light beer is a regular lager with ice cubes. We had to order our sandwiches three times because the girl kept on forgetting what we ordered. We did try to get lunch at other restaurants before we decided on the Bravo, but they were either fully booked or the establishment was not open for lunch and it was raining and we weren’t in the mood to run around in the rain. Also it was getting late and we still had to drive all the way to Citrusdal in the Olifants (Elephants) River valley where we would sleep over the night.

All I remembered of Citrusdal is the terrible state of the main street; full of potholes the size of sinkholes, and the rain. We arrived there early evening and it rained, all evening, all night, and it was still raining the next morning when we left again. Nevertheless, the hospitality at our family where we stayed was fantastic and very welcoming. The next morning we had to cross the Piekenierskloof in very thick mist and constant rain on our way to Piketberg. I shouldn’t really call it mist, we actual drove through rain-filled clouds that hugged the mountain like new lovers do when they embrace one another. At Piketberg we stopped to do some groceries shopping for the next 4 days at the beach in St. Helena Bay.

The impressive Dutch Reform Church in Swellendam

From Piketberg we would leave behind the green landscape of vineyards, olive trees, fruit farms and old Cape Dutch style houses of the Boland, and the golden brown landscape of freshly harvested wheat fields of the Overberg and the Swartland for a total different experience in the West Coast peninsula.

The past 3 days brought back many memories of places we’ve been before and created new memories of places we never saw before. We saw delightful vistas and spectacular panoramas along the country roads we traveled and stayed in historic houses that now serve as classic bed and breakfast establishments. We appreciated the architecture of the white Cape Dutch houses, and the Victorian and Edwardian style buildings where ever we went. We had lunch under old oak trees in Swellendam, dined on local delicacies like bobotie in Montagu and drank local wines where we could. We thoroughly enjoyed drinking green cream sodas and appletiser and grapetisers again, and eating koeksisters, biltong, curry pies and melktert. A trip well worth taking that left us with many happy memories.

Next post: The West Coast and its unique character.

Under the vineyard canopy at Goedemoed Country Inn in Paarl.