Blog

Aruba to Canada

MY ONTARIO. It is 3am and brutally cold at minus 27 degrees C. I just woke up to a fairytale world with a smile on my face. There are no curtains in front of the windows and we’re dirt poor, so we’re sleeping on a mattress on the living room floor as we have to buy furniture, drapes, etc. as Stan earns a living. The mattress is also too big to get up the staircase of our tiny cabin in the forest on 13 acres. I grew up in the tropics and this is the first time in my 38 years that I’ve seen snow. Big fat flakes come falling from heaven like manna. There is no wind and the world is quiet and surreal. It is a sight so beautiful that it almost drives me to tears. There has been a lot of tears. It is 2008 and we had fallen victim to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). A few months ago, we were still living on the island of Aruba as business owners of an ocean tour company. We had incessant problems with work permits and couldn’t sustain the constant stress of trying to turn our lemon into lemonade while fighting to remain on the island. The last straw was when I found myself on the floor of the shower one night, sobbing into a towel, without any idea how I got there. It was time to get our lives back, so it came as a great relief when Stan received a job offer in Ontario, Canada. Our Canadian work permits came through in record time and we found a buyer for our company in record time. As we sat in the accountant’s office signing the documents, the buyer receives a phone call. His bank in the USA fell by the wayward side. His loan was gone. He had lost everything. Our plane tickets to Canada were purchased. With the buyer losing everything, we lost everything with him. Stan’s pension, our investment property in the Bahamas, our parents’ money, everything. I arrive in Canada with the clothes I’m wearing, my little dog in her baggie and a change of underwear in my purse. It is not the first time we’re starting over with nothing, but it is late in life and it is a tad more scary than ever before. I am astounded when I walk around our rural farming community and notice that people put furniture on the side of the road with “free” signs on them. It is the beginning of many miracles for us. I walk every day and pick up furniture. A chair here, a side table there. I collect dusty antiques and restore them to their former beauty. The house is dilapidated and in dire need of renovations. I start renovating bathrooms while restoring antiques. New skills are born and there’s a certain soul and spirit of hope that start to appear in our little house in the woods. Later we will be able to afford a contractor that will cut a window in the wall of our upstairs bedroom so that the mattress can go up to its appropriate place and we will sleep like normal people in a bed in front of a window with an amazing view, sit on a couch in its appropriate living room and eat at a table in the kitchen. I manage to sell the last assets of the business and we buy a car and have a small deposit to buy the house. Two years later more miracles will happen. Stan will get a promotion to Calgary, Alberta. We will sell the rustic cabin at a decent profit and with this money and Stan’s relocation allowance, we will make back the money we lost to the last cent.¬†How can this NOT be a miracle?

All these things go through my mind as I sit at a beautiful, serene lake in Texas, counting my blessings. Miracles do happen. Never give up hope. All you have to do is believe.

 

Zimbabwe & Zambia

A finger jabs me in the sternum: “Stop. Jab. Crying. Jab.”

My fear turns to anger. I do not like being jabbed and the crying is so involuntary that I have to hold my breath to stop. This same finger will soon push me off the bridge. I have an irrational and inexplicable fear of heights and have tried everything to overcome it. Jumped tandem out of a plane at 10 thousand feet with a 60 second free fall before the parachute opened. Rappelled down a cliff with a 60 meter free fall next to a thundering waterfall in Oribi Gorge, South Africa. Went hot air ballooning. Flew tandem in a flex wing trike. Did a zipline course high in the trees of Antigua. Did a rope course with my husband and son in the tree tops of Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada, but this jump was the worst ever and I have since given up trying to overcome the fear.

We’re staying at a gorgeous lodge in Zimbabwe where the food is authentically African and the wild animals roam around free in the gardens. It was another iron butt bike ride, crossing the border from Botswana into Zimbabwe. We walked across the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia to go and do a bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge overlooking the raging river below. We were supposed to go white water rafting, but there were floods up at the river’s source and the river was a raging torrent. The white water outfitters weren’t operating, so we opted for the bungee. This is the highest commercial bungee site in the world and the bird’s eye view from the bridge is spectacular and so frightening that it takes my breath away.

They secure all the ropes and protective sponges around our ankles. I want to go first, because if I see my husband jump, I will immediately chicken out and I just want to get this over with. This was after all, on my bucket list of things to do before I die. Everything’s tied and I have to bunny hop to the edge where I put my arms out crucifixion style and close my eyes. This might be my last day on earth. What was I thinking? Before I can think any further, the finger jabs me between the shoulder blades and I fall over the edge. I am not a screamer, but the air pushes out of my lungs, out of my throat, out of my lips in a blood-curdling scream that leaves me hoarse for days. The rope pulls tight around my ankles and whips me up into a standing position in mid-air. This must be over now, but it is not. I fall forward again. This time my eyes are open and the raging river beneath me looks like it is going to meet me head on. It doesn’t, because I’m whipped back up again into the weird mid-air standing position. “Oh dear Lord,” I pray. “Please make this stop. I don’t think I can take another fall.” I fall again and I take it. This time when I whip upright, there is someone next to me. They winched down a recovery person that wraps his hands around my waist. I cling to him like my life depends on it and for the first time, I understand how someone on the edge of drowning panics and could potentially drown their rescuer, but it is only air that surrounds me and my rescuer is safe. They winch the both of us back up to the bridge. My legs feel like Jell-O and I hyperventilate for a few seconds. I sit down on the little metal bench, refusing to look down. Someone asks: “Would you like to go again?” “Are you !@#$%^ kidding?!!”

There are many people who enjoy this experience and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. Each to his own. I’m not sorry that I experienced this, but I will never attempt it again and have since made peace with the fact that I will fear heights for the remainder of my life.

At a later point, we take our son to Oribi Gorge to go and do a gorge swing. “Why don’t you do a swing with me,” he asks.

“There’s not enough money in the world that will make me do something like this again,” I replied and we went to lunch. Food is a better adventure!

This week I’m focusing a little more on healthy nutrition. Take a look at the Healthy Nutrition section of this blog. Today’s recipe is a toad in the hole with a difference. Tomorrow will be a fragrant and nutritious low fat Lebanese potato salad and who knows what the rest of the week will bring along the lines of interesting healthy recipes, so be prepared for some healthy cooking until Friday.

Also take a look under the Foreign Lands section for a link on Segovia

Tuna In The Caribbean Leewards

“YOU WILL EAT THIS!!”

“I WILL NOT!!”

Thirteen pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly. We’re doing a ten hour sail from the island of St. Martin to Nevis. Nevis to me is the epitome of what the traditional Caribbean is like. It is sleepy, lush & tropical with a gorgeous landscape and the sound of heavy reggae comes from everywhere. The sail is incredibly beautiful on an azure ocean with the perfect wind at our backs. We’re moving along rapidly and our captain – Luke – had thrown a line overboard and caught an enormous tuna. He promptly cleaned it, cut it into bite sized slivers and threw it into some soy sauce.

I have never eaten raw fish and if I was going to save face with these 13 American teens, I’m going to have to cowboy up and swallow it down. I pinch my eyes shut and swallow the first piece whole. Wait a minute! This flavor is amazing! I took another bite and this time I chew and close my eyes in ecstasy. The fish has the texture of silk and the fresh taste of the ocean plays with my senses. I see ocean all around me. I feel the spray on my face. I smell the fresh watermelon smell of the water, I touch the warm ocean next to the catamaran and now I taste the sea as the flavor explodes on my tongue. Thus begins my taste journey with raw fish and in time I will learn to sear the perfect tuna.

At the end of my contract I will spend 2 weeks on St. Maartin with my husband. There I drag him to an obscure little restaurant so small that I can’t remember its name. Linton Kwesi Johnson plays on the jukebox and I know I’m in the Caribbean. I want to introduce Stan to the delights of the raw fish, but like me, he is hesitant and pulls a face. Never! Come on, just a small bite from mine. He relents and his reaction is the same as mine and we will continue to eat tuna like this on a regular basis.

I’m working for three months teaching scuba to American teens on a 48 foot Leopard catamaran based in St. Martin. We’re sailing and diving the 6 leeward islands and there are some challenging moments for me. I’ve never lived with so many people in such a small space. Thirteen raucous teens and three staff members. We do have our memorable moments though. In Saba we climb the 1062 steps to the top of Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Caribbean. In Nevis we have a beach party and dance around the bon fire with the kids. In Gustavia, – St. Barths –¬†we eat burgers at Jimmy Buffet’s Hamburger in Paradise. In St. Kitts we visit an old fort with a gorgeous view. We dive some unspoiled sites that commercial outfitters don’t visit. We sail into gorgeous little bays, see incredible sunsets, full moons¬†and¬†interesting sites. I learn how to walk again on land after being on a boat for too long. It is a strange sensation. My legs feel like rubber and I feel a little seasick and long to get back to the boat. Every night the 3 of us cram into a small space to have a quick overview of our day and to plan the following day. We’re about to get to the island of St. Eustatius (Stacia) to visit a marine biology center that does turtle research and conservation and we will be doing a hike through the crater of an inactive volcano. Chris told the kids what our program will look like the following day and Jesse looks seriously concerned: “What if it erupts?”

“We will give everyone steel umbrellas,” deadpans Chris.

Jesse believes every word and is appeased. I laugh until my tummy hurts and the journey continues. At the end of the trip, we all gather in a circle to play our last game. A line gets thrown to the person you feel you learned something from. Jesse throws me the line and says with a big smile on his face that he learned from me that even though you’re an adult, you can still behave like a child and enjoy it. I feel surprised by this, as I’m not sure what I had done to make him see this. It also makes me grateful that perhaps I’m not always as serious as I feel and that there is some frivolity lurking behind the serious me. Unbeknownst to me, the kids had taught me to let loose my inner child and I enjoy the notion that an adult can learn something from a child.

By the end of the trip I realize the Caribbean and an insistent captain gave me raw fish. I cherish the moment.

If you’d like to know how to sear the perfect tuna, click on the Recipes section of this blog for tips.

Follow this link to my Facebook page for more Caribbean photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.164765450265255.39806.100001954022091&type=1&l=96a0a0c64e

 

Aloo Gobi in St. Lucia

Someone grabs us by the arm and drags us into a small room. “You can take that off. It’s hot here.” We just landed on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean and it is hot. They annexed our luggage and the little room is blissfully air conditioned with chilled water flavored by fruit¬†and snacks to eat while we wait for our luggage to be loaded onto the bus. I remove my sweater to reveal a tank top. Our luxurious vacation has begun. The airport was basic, but clean and the room we walked into owned by Sandals Resorts and therefore beautiful.

We board a small bus and get whisked away across the island through some gorgeous rain forests and a wild ocean on the other side. It is a 90 minute ride that goes by quick. The scenery is beautiful and we smile at the rather strange driving habits.

We get to the Sandals Halcyon all inclusive beach resort and are welcomed with a glass of bubbly. The staff is friendly and the service spectacular. Welcome to the tropics. It is our first ever all inclusive resort vacation and I start to feel like a pampered rich woman on honeymoon.

The resort is small and intimate and the smallest of the three Sandals resorts on the island. It is perfect for what we wanted. The benefit of staying at the Sandals resorts is that going to visit the other two resorts on the island, is also included in the price, as well as the food and drink, so you can visit a different resort every day and enjoy the same benefits. There are two swimming pools with swim up bars. The ocean is bath tub warm. You can eat and drink from morning to night. The beach is gorgeous and there is a small island off shore where we kayak to every day to laze about in a pristine azure ocean. We sail a Hoby and go scuba diving and in the afternoons we sit by the pool and read the afternoon away while sipping tropical drinks and eating cake. In the evening I enjoy dressing up and going to one of the four restaurants in the resort and a special dinner on the beach for a little bit extra. We make sure to go and eat at each¬†restaurant before we left. There is a restaurant built out over the ocean that’s upscale and serves seafood. There is an Italian restaurant with incredible food and great service. The buffet restaurant’s food is versatile and deliciously Caribbean with live music every night and the Sushi restaurant has a fun hibachi grill where we meet new people. Needless to say, when I got back to reality, I had to go on a serious diet!

One night a reggae band started up and there was entertainment every night, including a night with a steel pan band, fire eaters and limbo dancing.

Our days carry on like this for ten days and it was wonderful not to have to worry about a thing. It was the most stress free and relaxing vacation I ever went on, thanks to Joanne from TravelOnly. She is a superb travel agent that truly cares about your needs and she took care of everything for us, from the plane reservations to the accommodation, to the complex visa questions for South African passport holders. We simply walked onto the plane, landed in paradise and had a spectacular Caribbean vacation to the likes of which I think we will be hard pressed to find again. The service at the resort was amazing and I blinked away a little tear when we said goodbye to the staff and one of them hugged my husband.

At the buffet restaurant I get introduced to Aloo Gobi, a dish with wonderful Indian spices, popular in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Nepali cuisine. We’re in the West Indies where the use of Indian spice has been perfected. The dish is a cauliflower and potato curry with the perfect spice blend. Then there is the scotch bonnet Baron hot sauce. It stands everywhere on all the counters and the staff call it the yellow sauce. I ladle it on my plate with the Aloo Gobi and is hooked. It produces a fire in the mouth unlike any other hot sauce I’ve ever experienced, but the after taste is like an expensive wine. You inhale and a tremendous party of flavor takes off inside your mouth. I immediately buy a bottle to bring home and was happy to see that it’s available on Amazon and comes in pairs.

When we came home I find the Aloo Gobi recipe in one of my Indian cook books and amended it slightly to place in my own cook book. For a sample recipe from my book, go to the Recipes section of this blog to learn how to make Aloo Gobi. It is so simple and easy, yet it is healthy and the taste is complex and interesting. Also, click on the Books section where you will see a bit of an update as to how the book is coming along and don’t forget to contact Joanne for your travel needs.

For more St. Lucia photos, follow this link to my Facebook page:

 https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.899752263433233.1073741894.100001954022091&type=1&l=38820a206b

 

Sophisticated Palate: A Taste of Northern California

A Tribute to Chef John Ash & Napa:

“Dear Johanna, I hope this email finds you well. It is to inform you that the recipe you designed won first place in the 2010 Ontario Service Inspired Restaurants Corporation recipe challenge. Executive Chef Michael Steh from Reds Bistro in Toronto chose your recipe and will be adding it to his menu. He will cook a 6 course dinner at the restaurant for you and 5 of your friends that will include your recipe. Furthermore, this has won you a cooking course for two with the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California. Congratulations!”

What?!! I did not expect this to happen while I was casually sitting on the floor, writing a recipe for a simple dish that I love, in our cottage in the woods in Belwood, Ontario, Canada. I did not even take any pictures to enter the contest! This chef must truly love simplicity. I have a set of Japanese bamboo steaming baskets, I love lemon grass, I love lobster and I love watercress, so I put it together into a dish that is ridiculously easy to make, takes 5 minutes to cook and 10 minutes to assemble.

Chef Steh is an amazing chef that makes my dish beautiful in July 2010. In November 2010 we arrive in Napa, California for the first time. I’m so humbled by the experience that I’m speechless. Growing up as a very poor small town girl that was at the receiving end of every bully in elementary school, unpopular in junior high and invisible at university, this event far surpassed anything I could even remotely imagine. I feel overwhelmed and it is hard for me to wrap my head around the reality. It feels like I’ve entered a dream and I decide to simply bask in the glory and enjoy every moment of the experience.

We stay in a quaint fairy tale boutique hotel called La Residence. Every morning early we take off to the CIA for a day of cooking, eating and wine tasting. Our instructor Chef John Ash is the main reason why this trip is memorable. He is dynamic and his food knowledge and culinary passion is astounding. He fast becomes a mentor that I look up to and will not readily forget. He teaches me to grill and use a blowtorch on food. WHOA!

We are split into four teams that cook in a test kitchen under the same kind of pressure a real chef would cook under. It is utter chaos and I gain new respect for chefs. There is a day where we load a table for 20 people, all dishes made by us. Our presentation is out of this world. Included in the crowd of diners are olive grove owners, bee keepers, chefs, restaurant owners, vinyard owners, cooking instructors and us. Later we will visit these places and taste olive oil, honey and more wine.

Chef Ash teaches us “The Nose” by taking us through the A.C. Noble Aroma Wheel. We are unable to taste the immitation liquid representing wine. This is in order to keep us from drinking so that we can remain focused on the various wine aromas based only on what we can smell. There are aromas of chocolate, citrus, grass, spice, flowers, toast, earth, oak, yeast and more. It is an eye opening experience and so we learn how to pair the right wine with the right food. We eat a lot, we drink a lot every day, all day from breakfast to dinner and to my great astonishment, not a single person becomes blotto at any time during the course.

We get treated to dinner at one of the CIA’s own restaurants, Greystone. This night the degree students cook us a memorable meal and the final day of our course, we get to visit Castello Di Amorosa where we get The Royal Pairings of 2006 Il Passito Sonoma County Reserve (Foie Gras en Tourine), 2008 Bien Nacido Chardonnay Santa Barbara Reserve (Sottocenere Truffle Cheese), 2009 Gioia Rosato Di Sangiovese (Italian Charcuterie), 2007 Sangiovese Napa Valley (Mini Italian Meatballs of Ground Chicken and Fennel), 2006 Il Brigante (Piare Vecchio with a balsamic vinegar reduction), 2005 La Castellana Napa Valley Reserve (Milk chocolate filled with French vanilla ganache), 2006 Il Barone Napa Valley Reserve (Dark chocolate filled with Cappuccino Tiramisu Ganache).

The day before our return to Canada, we have the opportunity and privilege to visit 3 more vinyards for wine tasting. We start with Sterling Vinyards by taking the cable car up to the tasting rooms for yet another spectacular experience. The views are stupendous and we taste until our tastebuds are numb. We need to get to the final two vineyards. Neither of us can put another sip of wine down our gullets and we agree that the last two vineyards are going to have to fall by the wayward side. Never in my life did I think I will pass up on drinking more wine! That evening we eat our final meal at Bistro Don Giovanni and the following day we get smacked back to reality when we return the rental car and get on the plane back to Canada.

Our incredible experience with Chef John Ash, the time at the CIA and the Napa Valley comes to an end. Unfortunately words cannot express the depth of this experience. We will return a second time a few years later to experience more wine tasting in this fairy tale place, only this time, we feel like seasoned wine drinkers of the Napa Valley.

For more images from our Toronto and Napa experiences, follow these links to my Facebook page. For more about Chef Ash, follow the link below the Facebook links to his website.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.124241297651004.24743.100001954022091&type=1&l=12d9b99250

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.124240380984429.24742.100001954022091&type=1&l=181707cebc

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.634879199920542.1073741862.100001954022091&type=1&l=2fce5e0c91

Chef John Ash

How to Find an Elephant: Grilling in Botswana

I throw my helmet in the dust and my arms up in the air. “WHAT NOW?!!” He has stopped again. It is a long straight, quiet, easy road for biking at a decent speed, but he has been stopping every 10km for something or another. I’m impatient. We’re in Botswana on our way to Nata, the Okovango Delta and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I want to get the ride over with. Dressed in helmet, gloves, jeans, heavy boots and leathers overheats one very quickly in this semi-arid desert heat where temperatures can reach in excess of 54 degrees C.

He doesn’t say anything and points at something behind me. I turn around. Behind me, the biggest bull elephant I have ever seen is slowly crossing the road, so close that I feel I can touch him. I freeze. He stopped when I threw my helmet. His head and trunk sway from side to side, ears slowly flapping backwards and forwards. He lets out a dignified sigh that sounds like a snort. I can smell his grassy breath and he starts moving again to the other side of the road. “Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp” go the feet against the asphalt. I didn’t expect to hear his footsteps, but he walks on his nails. He disappears into the bush and vanishes like a mammoth ghost. It takes me a while to get my wits about me to get back on the motorbike. The next time he stops in front of me, I have more respect.

This is not the first time we encounter a wild animal out in its natural environment. A while back we went rhino tracking on foot in the Mokolodi game reserve. It didn’t take long to find them. Our guide and animal tracker kept on pointing to the signs, but we couldn’t see it and suddenly there they were. He said it’s easy to find a rhino. When he was a child, he learned to track rabbits for the pot and brought home dinner every night by the time he was 6 years old. I stand in awe. We get back from tracking and go into the cheetah enclosure. Inside are two brothers. Their mom got shot by a farmer. He had the decency to call the game reserve and they came to collect the cubs and took care of them in their enclosure in the wilderness. They did an amazing job rehabilitating them and they remained in their natural habitat, cage free, albeit in a large enclosure as they would not have survived in the wilderness on their own.

One of my best memories of Botswana is Stan grilling breads and steak on an open fire in the bush out somewhere in a game reserve or outside in the garden on our 5 acre property. It was a weekend institution, especially Saturday evenings. The smell of that fire & the steak grilling is unsurpassable and that atmosphere hasn’t been found in any other country. The tenderloins there used to be dirt cheap. All the cows are free range, grass fed and lean. This made for a healthy, flavorful piece of meat that needed very little cooking and that had very little bleeding. Temperatures in the summer used to soar to 54 degrees C, a whopping 130 degrees F, and it never cooled down at night. We lived on the edge of the Kalahari desert.

The cold berry dessert was the most refreshing in summer and we also used this for Sunday brunch with friends on a regular basis. While living in Botswana, we visited Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia Kenya & Zanzibar. All of these are part of Africa with similar cuisines, however the coast of East Africa has a distinct Indian and Arabic spice influence

We lived in Botswana for 5 years and there are too many stories to share in this one post, so as time goes by, I’m sure there will be more to follow. Always about snakes, crocodiles, baboons, monkeys and the likes of birds, spiders and scorpions I’ve never encountered anywhere in the world.

More about the Botswana culture in the Foreign Lands section of this blog, as well as a sample recipe from my book in the recipe section.

Kenya & Zanzibar

“GIMME YAH BAG!!” “NO!!” “GRRRRR!!!”

An enormous tug of war ensues between me and a giant Masai warrior. There is a very large spear in his hand. He is dressed in traditional garb and his coal black skin stands in strong contrast with the red of his shuka. I’m not intimidated. This is my dive equipment. Nothing will separate me from it. Crime is rife here and the equipment is expensive. He’s fighting to carry my bag to the plane for loading in the hopes of getting a few bucks for his service. Everything at this airport happens manually. We have been warned not to hand over our bags unless it was to actual airport officials, as things often get stolen or loaded with unsavory trafficking materials in this part of the world.

We’re at the Dar Es Salaam airport in Tanzania on our way back home to Botswana after diving, sailing and eating amazing food on the island of Zanzibar off the east coast of Tanzania. Before getting to Dar Es Salaam from the resort in Zanzibar, we had to catch a ferry from the island to the main land. To get to the ferry, we had to catch an African mini van taxi from the resort to the ferry. This proved to be an interesting experience. An African mini van taxi has character brought to it by the people that squash into it like sardines in a can. The smell is not much better than the sardine can either. People, luggage and live chickens share the seats and roof. As we pull away from the hotel there is a hard thump on the side of the van. A guy on a bicycle – more than likely drunk on strong African home brew – lost his way and cycled into the taxi, HARD. He connects with the earth with a loud OEMMMPPHHH! Some yelling ensues, but he’s ok and we’re on our way. After a long journey, we’re finally at the airport and we hope our luggage has made it to the plane. We have to take a seat and wait for hours to get out of the country. It is uncomfortable seating, no air conditioning, humid tropical heat and a very unsavory smell coming from every corner of the airport. As is typical of the culture in this area, the toilets are holes in the ground and it is a brutal experience. We look around. There are buckets standing everywhere and there is liquid dripping out of the ceilings everywhere you look. Turns out a sewer pipe had sprung a leak. Africa is not for the faint of heart.

A few months earlier, I had set a goal to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. My husband told me I’m on my own. Now I had come to Zanzibar via Dar Es Salaam and came to the realization that I would not want to make this journey on my own. My dream literally disappeared down the toilet. Oh well. There are other dreams to pursue.

Mombassa, Kenya: “Get your arm back into the car and wind up the window, FAST!!” We’re in yet another African mini van taxi taking us from the airport to our resort on Leopard Beach on the east coast of the country. It is a long ride and there is no air conditioning. The smell of stale, old sweat once again assaults the senses. We had the window open in the hopes that the polluted air in the congested traffic of Nairobi will be a better option than what we’re facing right this minute. Apparently not a good idea. Crime in Kenya is violent and ugly. They chop off arms for watches and rings and shoot you for a cell phone. Being from South Africa, we’re quite used to this behavior, but here in Kenya there has been war. The city is ravaged and the people are poor and angry and it shows on all the sooty faces outside of the van. I don’t feel comfortable.

The resort is beautiful, the beach is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful. The local beer is cold and delicious. The food is world class. We go for a walk on the beach. Suddenly there is a man with a gun by our side. “Not safe to walk here. You need a guard.” He’s in uniform, but I don’t feel comfortable. We turn back to the resort. Lazing by the pool for the rest of the time seems like a good idea.

Our room is gorgeous, air conditioned and in beautiful tropical gardens, but I have trouble sleeping. After 3 days the insomnia is bad enough that I risk going to an African hospital for sleeping pills. I must be desperate and I’m seriously starting to miss our peaceful home in Botswana.

We’re at another hole of an airport and I have issues getting OUT of the country. My passport had expired. I had applied in good enough time for a new one, but it being Africa, it still had not arrived in time for our trip six months later, so the South African embassy in Gaborone, Botswana assured me the temporary passport they issued me for Kenya will be sufficient. Turns out not to be the case. Stan gets through immigration and waits for me on the other side. The official won’t let me through. He starts shouting at me. Stan has turned whiter than a sheet. I let the man shout until he is finished. There is a photo of a woman and children behind the glass on his desk. Out of desperation, I point: “Beautiful family.” He grins. “Madam, don’t return to Kenya.” He stamps my passport and I’m out.

Both the resorts we stayed at, the food, the diving, the ocean, the east African art all made up for the mishaps. Our trips were memorable, the countries were of incredible beauty and the culture was different, albeit harsh. It is not a place I will return to, but I do like to re-visit the flavors every now and again in the safety of my own kitchen.

For a Kenyan and Zanzibari sample recipe from my book, please visit the Recipe section of this blog and for more on the inspiration behind the food, see the Foreign Lands section

 

Sleepy Rodriguez Island

We’re surrounded by thousands of kingfish in yet another pristine ocean. That night we will experience some of what we’ve seen under the ocean in the form of Fish Creole as part of a traditional buffet style meal. We walk long distances on the beach and in the road to explore the beauty of the island. Infrastructure is non-existent, but doesn’t seem to be a problem since most of the traffic consists of cows! The island of Rodriguez is part of Mauritian territory and if we didn’t live in Mauritius, I would never have known that this place existed. Rodrigues is a beautiful and sleepy little island 560 km east of Mauritius in the middle of the Indian Ocean, measuring only 18 km in length and 8 km wide. The island is the smallest of the Mascarene Islands and a dependency of Mauritius. Rodrigues Island is entirely surrounded by coral reefs offering beautiful scenery, world-class diving and snorkeling. Since it hasn’t really featured on the tourism map, its pristine unspoiled beauty adds to its small island charm. The people living in Rodrigues eat local livestock such as birds, fish, seafood, turtles and tortoises, but its natural resources are not exploited and everything is sustainably harvested to only meet the basic nutritional needs.

The traditional music of the island is known as Sega Tambour. The music has an accentuated beat, usually accompanied by an accordion, clapping and the use of improvised percussion instruments like bamboo and bow saws. The folk dance music is similar to polkas, quadrilles, waltzes and Scottish reels. The people are lively and love to grab tourists by the hand to dance with them. We danced well into the night to the beat of the Sega Tambour every night during our stay in a quaint boutique guest house on the beach.

The main language is Rodriguan Creole, but English and French are used as the languages of government administration, the courts and business. Rodriguan Creole is very similar to Mauritian Creole, though some words are pronounced differently. Most of the people are of African decent with a minority of mixed race.

It is an easy flight to Rodriguez from Mauritius and if you ever had the privileged blessing to visit the island of Mauritius, hop on the quick flight to Rodriguez and go and experience the amazing local food and hospitality of its peaceful people.

For sample recipes out of my book for the Seychelles and Rodriguez, click on the Recipe section of this blog.

The Sharks of the Seychelles

A frenzy of torpedo shaped large grey reef sharks swim toward us at breakneck speed. I look into a cold, grey eye and suddenly the herd splits around us so fast the water of the deep blue ocean that surrounds us make shockwaves, rocking us from side to side. They’re hunting blue fusiliers, pretty neon blue fish that love to travel in large schools. Gulp, gulp, swallow. We’re on a deep blue dive off the island of Praslin in the Seychelles, on a dive site called South Marianne. We’re privileged. At the time, not a lot of tourists knew about the site and we requested it as a special favor from our dive leader. It is a specialized advanced deep drift dive and the dive leader relents because we are instructor and dive master. The water is so clear, it feels like we’re suspended in air. There is a strange and eerie creaking sound going on and after a while I realize it’s the beautiful granite boulders the Seychelles is famous for. This time they’re under water and the current is causing it to grind together with its fierce movement. The ocean floor lies 60 meters below us and the surface is 45 meters above us. The sharks’ frenzied hunting continues throughout our entire dive and there are large pelagic fish, spotted eagle rays and game fish everywhere around us. The ocean that surrounds us is pristine. It is a spectacle of magnanimous proportions and I don’t want the dive to end. We’re getting low on air and it is time to do the slow, slow, slow decompression ascent. We get back on the boat and I’m high on adrenaline. It was the best and most memorable dive I had ever done and probably will ever do. That afternoon we sit at a little beach cafe on the whitest beach imaginable. All the senses are enhanced. I eat a Thai green curry that knocks me right out of my dive boots because of its heat. The following morning we go to Paradise in the form of Anse Lazio Beach where we laze on white sand and snorkel with turtles, barracuda and hump headed parrot fish. The humidity is so thick you can move the air with your hands. We walk on the road next to the ocean and can see barracuda swimming next to us. The experience is surreal. Back at our bungalow, we take the steps into the ocean that lead from our porch and snorkel with more turtles where they graze on the sea grass. The host of our accommodation at Le Colibri cooks a traditional Seychellois dinner and all of us staying at the guest house come together at the table for a shared dinner and travel stories.

It is time for a ferry ride to the island of La Digue. It’s unspoiled beauty assaults the senses. There are no cars on the island. Transport is pedestrian, bicycle and ox wagon. We decide to walk around the island. It takes us from sunrise to sunset to do the full loop and by doing this, we get to the remotest beaches where our virgin footprints indent the sand for the first time. It is a brutal walk to get to these as you have to navigate some serious boulders. The extreme thirst, exhaustion, heat and humidity is worth every beautiful step.

That night we fall into an exhausted deep sleep in front of an open window that blows in a light sea breeze and a full moon that looks like an enormous sunrise. The time comes for us to return to Mauritius. My senses experienced the garden of Eden here and I feel blessed to have been a part of such pristine beauty, even if just for a short time.

I fell in love with the rhythm of the Seychelles. We saw this artist from the Seychelles live in Mauritius. He had an incredible stage presence and got the crowd dancing with him all through the night.

For more on Seychelles culture and food, see the Foreign Lands section of this site.

Well, the time has come for me to focus on writing a cookbook. Blog posts will now appear once a week.

So Delicious, So Mauritius

Mauritian Sunset
Sunset at the Klondike Hotel, Flic en Flac, Mauritius

“Etta, I can’t sleep.” My nickname exhales in a soft, scared whisper from his lips. “Me neither.” I feel grateful that he’s standing next to the bed as I’m tired of lying there, listening to the wind howl like a freight train around the corners of the building. I get up to take him to the living room and open the drapes. Mistake. The sight is scary. We’re living on the second floor of a resort complex on the island of Mauritius. The windows bulge inwards and rattle. Tin roofs are flying around at eye level. Power lines are lying in the road and the once pristine swimming pool is full of debris. Cyclone Dina had just hit the island. It is sweltering. The power is out and we have nowhere to go, so we close the drapes, put on some music to drown out the scary sounds, and to distract the child from fear, we draw smiley faces on balloons for the rest of the night.

Mauritius is a place of beautiful beaches, clear ocean, good diving, amazing people and incredible food. We were blessed to live there for two years and experience this beauty first hand. Our friendships were deep and I could possibly write a book on our Mauritian experiences alone, but the focus is food and people.

We were having dinner one night in our dining room when there was a knock at the door. A sweaty, out of breath young man was standing in the doorway with a bag of sweets in his hands. It was the Indian Festival of Light (Divali) and the tradition was for all the people to come out in front of their houses and cook deep fried sweet treats, bag it and go around to all the other houses and exchange sweets. Kevin had been running for miles, exchanging sweets. The island is poor, yet there is no crime and it is the most peaceful and giving people I have ever come across. We had nothing to exchange with him. “No problem Miss. Come with me.” He dragged us out of our condo and onto the busy streets of the village. Everyone was outside cooking sweets. We took the little bag he gave us and went from family to family, barely able to understand the French Creole and making it work with my broken French and improvised sign language. We socialize and meet new people until the early hours of the morning.

Mauritius is my island in the sun. I miss it and its people and it gives me great pleasure to travel back there through its food. The food of Mauritius is a blend of French, Chinese, Indian and Creole flavors. This combination causes it to be extremely flavorful. There are a lot of tourist resorts on the island and fine dining is in abundance. Our favorites used to be La Domaine Pain in the center of the island. It was an Indian restaurant with utterly incredible cuisine. For pizza, we’d head to the harbor in the catpital of Port Louis at Don Camillo restaurant in the marina. For Chinese, we’d walk to our beach in Flic en Flac to Oceans restaurant. For traditional Mauritian flair, there was the restaurant of Papayo, just around the corner from where we lived. No matter where you ate, there was never salt and pepper on the tables. It was always three little bowls: one with freshly minced garlic in oil, one with fiery minced chili in oil and one with shredded, unsweetened coconut. By the time we left, we got a shock when we got back to regular western civilization and realised how salty the western foods are.

Right in front of our complex used to be a vendor with his own little table with fresh fruit and vegetables. We called him the veggie man. He quickly learned what my favorites were and used to bag them for me and hide it away until I came to get it from him in the afternoons. He also taught me all the French and Creole names for all the fruits and vegetables. Then of course there is the local beer called Phoenix with the slogan: “So Delicious, So Mauritius,” and how very true that used to be. Goodwill rum came in first at a whopping 90% proof and were consumed for free when you bought a boat trip to coconut island, a beautiful uninhabited island great for snorkeling and just lazing about on the gorgeous white sand beaches.

For more on Mauritian culture, go to the foreign lands section of this blog. Recipe will follow later this week.

About a lot of the photos in this blog: They are grainy as they are scanned copies of paper originals. We didn’t have digital in those days!