Monday, March 28, 2011

Manis, Pedis & Outhouses

(Written on 2/28/2011 in Isandlwana, South Africa)

I hate to brag (well, not really) but I am AWESOME at carrying buckets of water on my head!  Oh yes my friends….I am a water bucket carrying fool.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

Does this make it worth 2,000 words?
Today was my first day immersed in my friend Katie’s world in Isandlwana, South Africa.  After unbelievable hospitality with the Kramers and the Lambs, this is a stark contrast (not to say Katie isn’t hospitable – but more so that this is a life I’m not accustomed to).  This morning we woke up to the roosters crowing and doves using Katie’s tin roof as a landing pad.  At 5:30 (yes, you read that correctly…5:30 AM), we started the morning routine.
Katie's house

From the outside
We boiled water from the river to pour into a bucket so I could “shower.”  Katie was impressed at how quickly I caught on to splashing water over myself with a coffee cup.  I was more impressed with the fact that her bucket was half as full as mine.  Bucket envy?  Minimal water usage envy?  Not sure how to phrase that one…
After a quick bite to eat (yogurt and granola, banana and toast), we trotted off to school.  Half way down the dirt path we were greeted by some children living in the huts nearby.  They wanted us to hold hands with them all the way – I think my child was more stunned than anything (I stick out like a sore thumb). 

The "road" to school

Check out my sweet outfit - Katie made fun of me the entire way
When we got to school there was a morning assembly with all the kids.  They sang and prayed in harmony but all eyes were transfixed on me – this alien from another world.  The kids giggled and laughed when Khethiwe (Katie’s name in Zulu) introduced me and explained that I’m from America and they need to help me with my Zulu.

As the kids scampered off to class Katie told me that when teachers were gone for the day, their kids were left in their classrooms alone – can we say “lawsuit” in the U.S.?! I didn’t understand why students should be at school if they’re not working or learning, so Katie and I decided to create a game of Bingo for an abandoned 6th grade class.
Since there were only 4 columns, we cleverly renamed this “Yebo!” or “yes!” in Zulu.  It was a struggle to explain the game in broken English and Zulu, but I felt like we accomplished something – some simple math and order.  They probably despised me for ruining their social day….for some reason this brings me back to my Middle School report cards that read “socializes too much during class time.”  I always resented that comment – I was just exercising my language abilities.
As the school whistle blew (really more like a combination of a fire alarm and a vacuum), kids and teachers stormed out of classrooms, and Khethiwe and her host mom and I started our 30 minute stroll back to her hut.  I was thankful to see the nice, clean outhouse (relative to those at the schools), where at least I only had to smoosh (not Jersey Shore smoosh, but “kill smoosh”) only a handful of mosquitos before squatting over the toilet.  And after a few girly chats (I mean, Katie and I might be in Africa, but we are STILL the same girls J) we heated up some dinner.
Thankfully tonight’s meal wasn’t as tragic as last night’s attempt at some horrid, canned meat concoction.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I like a good SPAM sandwich, SPAM musubi, or really anything with SPAM.  This was a whole different kind of canned meat – my gag reflexes were awakened with the mere smell as we attempted to char it to take away the flavor and texture.  It was an exercise in vain and after choking down a few pieces we threw it to the dogs.  Looked like it would be another night of carbs…

I could not even stomach 3 tiny pieces in my pasta

Katie...seriously terrified of the canned, corned meat
Speaking of a lack of protein and iron (remember…I’m a carnivore), every animal that dies here gets eaten.  The other day we saw a group of 12 boys (about 6 – 13 years old each) hoisting a dead goat into a wheelbarrow and rolling it down the road.  Hmmmm…interesting.  For your sake, I didn’t take a picture of it stuffed into the cramped space with its neck all twisted and turned…I’m sure you can imagine that “1000 words” for yourself.
So far life in Isandlwana isn’t too far from what I expected.  Actually, it’s exactly what I expected.  And I love it for that.  It’s a refreshing breath of life and a wakeup call.  The other day one of the dear friends I spent time with in Johannesburg mentioned her minimalist childhood that was marked by the presence of only utilitarian items.  In their house they didn’t have enough to buy more than the things that were useful or needed. 
My life in the U.S. is marked by abundance – shoes I don’t need (my dad counted them and I refused to know the number), clothes I don’t need, dinners out, manis and pedis (sorry Julep – in reality your membership is a luxury and not a necessity), and much, much more.  Although I don’t need these things in my life, I also realize that they are pleasures I enjoy. 
To me, those luxuries are special because they often include the joy of friends and families – we gather around unnecessary activities – shopping, pampering, and eating out.  And sharing with loved ones is what brings me the most happiness.  Rather than feel laden with guilt about the things that I can afford, I prefer to feel blessed, to give thanks, and to share those blessings with others.  If I can live within my means, splurge on my luxuries, and still give back to others then I shouldn’t force myself to feel guilt and shame.
My thought for you today…take a look at your luxuries and your necessities.  What is it that you could spare and why?  And what is it that you wouldn’t want to live without and why?  It’s always held true for me that answering “why” I indulge in certain luxuries helps me appreciate it, or recognize if it’s something that I should eliminate from my life.
And my thought for me today…add to my list: a man who can lounge at a boutique hotel on the beach one day, and roll up his sleeves to dig a ditch for a community in need the next. J

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Cheery Reunion

(Written on 2/28/2011 in Isandlwana, South Africa)


Samson leading the way to milk the cows - bucket in hand

Milking a cow doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult – but after hearing Samson squirting milk into the bucket and hitting the sides with a rattling noise, my piddly “jerks” with a similar sound to pee were disheartening.  I guess I didn’t get too much of my mom’s “Ellensburg farm girl” gene.


Here we go a milkin'

Either way, I was pleased this morning when I woke up at 7:30 and trotted out to the Kramer’s barn to find a new born calf! Quite frankly, I didn’t actually know it was a new born.  When I was told that this giant walking, mooing species was actually something that was “pushed out” (sorry for the graphic term) the night before, I felt an instant sympathy for the calf’s mom.  Ouch.  Brings new meaning to the term “have a cow.”

 
Attempting to try some REALLY fresh milk
 
That "little" one is Molasses
Since I was the first to spot the calf, I was honored with naming it.  Not knowing whether it was a boy or a girl, but sticking to the tradition of the Kramer’s food names, I chose Molasses.  I figured if it’s a girl they could name it Molly for short. J

After trying my hand at farm life, I retreated to the house for my last gluttonous meal for a few weeks – fresh fruit, mozzarella and tomato paninis, croissants and tea. I could have gotten used to that life…
But I was soon on a pothole filled road (with a very talented driver, Señor Lamb...thank you!) headed to be reunited with my long lost friend, Katie.  She has been serving in the U.S. Peace Corps in rural South Africa for the last 6 months.  I hugged her and kissed her and almost cried when I first saw her – she looked bubbly and cheery as always.  And surprisingly clean – my hope was that if that she could manage to smell like roses on a Sunday morning without any running water, then she could teach me the ropes too. J
Today I ask you to do one thing that puts you outside your comfort zone…do you think that milking a cow without any instruction was easy?  If you can't gather from the awkward photos, it was not.  Challenge yourself, do something different, and I promise you that at least you’ll feel alive and excited, something different from the routine of your daily life.  Good luck!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

One Life to Live

(Written on 2/27/2011 in Vrede, South Africa)


Have you ever felt so much like family in somebody else’s home that you aren’t sure where you’re supposed to not feel comfortable?  That’s how I feel at the Kramers'.  I’ve built Jenga(ish) blocks with their kids, watched some amazing sunsets (champagne in hand), stargazed while sipping on tequila, watched their kids school me at homemade pasta, and most of all had some enlightening conversations.  I feel like every person I meet has something to teach me - and the Kramers definitely came into my life for that reason. 
Proud of our creation

Hanging with the ladies
Jake's homemade bread - to die for

Another Kramer / Weinberg / FireLamb / Cheng feast!
Tequila anyone?!
Glynda has this vibrant, lively, inviting, and lovely air about her.  She makes everyone feel welcome and ready for the next adventure (case in point - I had sworn off tequila before Glynda coaxed me back to the “good side.”  Apparently what happens on the farm doesn't stay on the farm thanks to digital cameras.)  Sean is caring, passionate, relaxed and giving.  He has the unique gift of being a listener - allowing others to speak and gathering knowledge from observation.  I admire his curiosity and wisdom from watching others. The Kramers and their amazing synergy are a testament to how a family and a partnership really work. 
Our lovely hosts

The wandering Weinbergs

The FireLambs!

And me!
Everything that seems like it would be difficult in my normal life seems like it is handled with ease here.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of the delusions that this is totally Glynda and Sean and not just some South African spell that they’ve put on their family…although I'm beginning to think that with 3 respectable, humble, helping and well-rounded children maybe they have drugged them.  I'm certain that my brothers and I were not that well behaved at their ages.
Tonight the Weinbergs shared about their gratitude for the Kramers' affection and hospitality.  I couldn’t have agreed more.  They spoke about the warm welcoming they received and whether in their own lives they would have taken the time to extend the same welcoming to strangers. 
Although the Kramers have busy lives of their own, they never made it seem like a burden to have a house full of guests.  Instead, it was a pleasure and adventure to host people they didn't even know!  As I looked through their farm guestbook I could tell from every page covered with words of appreciation that this wasn't a rare occasion for them - rather a way of life.  This is truly a family that brings love and warmth to every person and situation they meet.
The kids making pasta
Hmmm...salmon sauce or quattro formaggi?  Tough life decisions.
As most of my friends are at the point where they are starting families of their own, I leave them with this thought….what type of family are you growing?  I believe in righteousness and education, but I also believe in freedom, open thinking, and adventure. 
I loved Larry's reply to one of the Kramer boys when he asked about taking Larry’s 9 year old son four-wheeling.  He answered, “as long as you promise not to hurt him….go for it.” 
Life is about risks…whether it be allowing a 9 year old to hop on a four-wheeler, or opening your home to strangers.  You never know what will come from the risks you take and it's a constant struggle to find the balance and fine line between adventure and safety. 
I encourage you that with an open heart and faith in the "good in people" that you will find the right answer.  Before you say "no" to the next opportunity or request that passes your way, ask yourself what’s it worth to you?  If you live your life in fear of what might happen because of the risks you take, what are you missing out on?  Live your life…you only have one to live.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Glynda's Heavenly Cheesecake (from South Africa)



Base
1 packet ginger snaps crushed and mixed with
1 cup sugar
125g melted butter (about 1/2 cup)
Press into spring form tin and bake for 10 mins on 280 degrees Fahrenheit


Beat together
3 x 250g smooth cream cheese (3 blocks of cream cheese)
1/4 cup floor


Beat till pale
1 cup sugar
4 eggs


Mix both those together then add
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp lemon juice
250ml cream (about 1 cup)


Beat well
Pour onto base
Bake at 250 F for an hour then switch off oven but leave cake in oven for another hour

When the cake cools, cover with below topping

Topping mixture
250ml sour cream or creme friache (about 1 cup)
125ml double thick cream (about 1/2 cup)
3 tsp vanilla essence
3 tbs castor sugar


Enjoy and add about 30 extra gym sessions to burn off the calories!

Manly Men

(Written on 2/26/2011 from Vrede, South Africa)
You know those people who come into your life and you’re instantly in love?  I knew Glynda was sent from Heaven when she told me all of her animals were named after food – among them were Spud, Peanut, Pizza, and their newest addition – puppy Basil.


Spud might be the new love of my life


Seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  LOVE.




Glynda is a foodie like I’ve never known a foodie – she’s a magician in the kitchen and she makes entertaining for 10 people look easy as pie.  But seriously – her cheesecake was divine, and I don’t even normally like sweets.


I always say everything happens for a reason – and there’s no doubt that I was meant to meet Glynda and her wonderful family.  My friend in the U.S. emailed Glynda to introduce me about a week ago and as soon as Glynda found out I was coming to Johannesburg…she swept me up from the airport, demanded that I stay with her adoring family, and then drowned me in delicious food.  (Other than Rugby players...what more could a girl ask for??) 
On my first night in Johannesburg we had a wonderful Braai (barbeque) with the Kramer's friends.  I was told that "braaing" is a man’s job and that it's their bonding time as they hang around cooking meat.  I'm guessing they drink beer, discuss football (the rest of the world's football, not America's "football") and rugby strategies, grunt, scratch, high five (maybe in the 90's), chest bump, and whatever else menly men do. 


"The Men" Braaing

Even though I'm not a man, Sean let me try the Braai!
As if any sort of meat isn't enough to satisfy me (which was made even tastier by marinating on branches of bay leaves from their backyard), Glynda also whipped up a typical South African Pap - like a mix between grits and potatoes.  Add to that salads, sushi, cheeses, biltong (a dried meat snack), wine and dessert - and I was in 7th Heaven.




Biltong....YUM!

The food was painfully delicious, and the company was even more enjoyable (which was nearly impossible given how I felt about the food).  We sat around the table outside in the warm summer night air talking about everything from world affairs and education to healthcare to fannies (slang in SA is definitely different than in the USA).


Lolli - the best hostess ever!

I thought things couldn’t get better until I was whisked away for a weekend with the family and friends at their farm house two hours away from the city.  I continued my gluttonous ways and thankfully, since Glynda is a gal after my own heart, she packs the farm house full of goodies. 
The farm was an exceptional experience that I knew God gave me for a reason.  Coincidentally, there were two other families (guests of the Kramers as well) that happened to be there at the same time.  One couple from Seattle, whom I adore – David and Robbi.  David is spirited, fun and energetic - he lights up a room with his enthusiasm and flair for life.  And Robbi possesses a beautiful awareness and tranquility.  She shares her special gift with the world through her "spirit capture" portraits.  I was blessed to witness some of her artwork - truly beautiful and moving. 

The other family, the Weinbergs, are from Washington DC and they were passing through South Africa on their own round the world adventure.  They took their two young kids out of school for the year (jealous!) to travel, attend "school" with a tutor, and learn about the world first hand.  I'm sure this trip will stretch their minds, inspire their imaginations and teach them much more than if they were sitting at a desk.  I admire the Weinbergs for taking their own "road less travelled."
With these three wonderful families, and an abundance of food, drinks, and laughter, I'm certain that the farm memories will only continue to get better.  Once again I'm reminding myself to constantly live in the moment and appreciate the present. 

Since this is a recurring theme for me, I ask you today to just pause.  Take a minute.  Literally, no matter how busy you are, you definitely have ONE minute.  Just pause for one minute and think about what you're doing right now and what you can appreciate about what you're doing right now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rugby Players? Yes, Please.

(Written 2/23/2011 en route to Johannesburg, South Africa)
I’m currently trapped in coach on a 9.5 hour flight on the way to Johannesburg, South Africa squished together with 89 Argentinean rugby players.  I could think of worse scenarios.  J  So far it’s been an amusing flight; lots of shouting, excitement, and a few marriage proposals.  A surprisingly good way to keep myself entertained and distracted from the fact that I’m leaving a continent I’m in love with.


My flight buddies.  Cute...I know.   :)
After my stay in BA my heart is full and my spirit is lifted.  Among my amazing experiences, Iguazu Falls was near the top.  It’s something that I can try to explain with words – but something you won’t understand until you go and experience it for yourself. 
The falls were another world – something I couldn’t have imagined.  It looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park – lush green jungles with water pouring all over.  I thought a T Rex would jump out at any moment.  (Or that weird hissing thing that sprayed some foul juice on Newman). 



But it was an experience that was out of this world – it was more than just what I saw.  It was what I experienced with all my senses.  I felt the humidity as my clothes stuck to my skin.  I felt the mist showering my face, and the wind – sheer force from the falls.  I smelled the sweetness of flowers (and the body odor of sweaty tourists).  I heard the crashing water, the chirping birds, the sounds of the jungle. 




I saw an extraordinary amount of water crashing and swelling into rapids.  The magnitude of water cascading was hypnotizing.  I kept watching the calm water at top slowly flowing and approaching its demise and then finally reaching the peak and quickly curling over the edge and then plummeting some nearly 300 feet.



More than anything there was a spirit I felt.  I was in awe.  Despite the crying babies and screaming tourists, there was a tranquility about the falls.  Something that captured my attention and overtook my senses.  Despite the fact that I didn’t find any phenomenal foods at the falls, it was still an unforgettable experience.  Unforgettable.  Except for the fact that my camera battery died.  Woops.  Luckily, I had my iPhone and was able to capture a few videos and pictures.  And met a wonderful couple who shared their photos with me...
 

My new friends, the Villegas, after getting soaked by the water falls
After another grueling 18 hour bus ride back to BA I enjoyed my last few empanadas with Charlie and Colleen whom I met at Teresita’s cooking class.  They cooked a wonderful home made meal...and I ate a LOT – and I mean a LOT.  Meat, rice, vegetables, cheese, salami, crepes (yes, the ones that Colleen is adding to her menu!), and wine (obvi).  I ate until I hurt.  My uncle used to say “eating ‘til it hurts just a little is perfect.”  I surpassed that point.


Can you spot the fake food item? Mom never taught me not to play with my food...

Today I went over to my friend Diego’s house before he took me to the airport.  (Side note: do you ever meet a friend and feel like it's been years even though it's only been a week?  That's Diego.  An amazing friend, and somebody I know I will keep in touch with.)  As I prepped my luggage – of course in true Annie fashion – waiting until 15 minutes before we had to leave, I think I gave Diego a near panic attack.  I don’t think he’d ever seen anything more messy in his life.  But in my mind there was an order and place for everything.

Diego dropping me off at the airport in BA

Sometimes I feel that way about my life – that it mirrors my luggage.  That it appears totally crazed, but underneath the surface, I know where everything is and where it’s supposed to be.  There is a method to my madness.
But if someone messes with my method then it gets totally “messed up.”  That might be my OCD coming out….but sometimes I know that in life there are others who doubt me and what I know in my heart to be true is the best way to continue.  Sometimes you doubt yourself because of what others think, or because of what you think others may judge you for.  But today I leave you with this thought – that sometimes you have to have the confidence to proceed with what is right in your heart and not let others intervene.  Wow….did I really pull that out of packing my bags?!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Salsa Criolla (from Argentina)

Compliments of Teresita

 
 

Ingredients:

Equal amounts of:
Tomatoes
Red onions
Green bell pepper

Directions:

Chop all ingredients finely.  Combine them and season with olive oil, balsamic vinegar reduction, and salt and pepper.


Enjoy with bread, meat, anything!

Chimichurri Sauce (from Argentina)

Compliments of Teresita

 



Ingredients:

2 parts Oil
1 part Vinegar
1 Green onion chopped
1 tbsp. Parsley finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Bay leaves, in small pieces
1 tsp. Oregeano
Paprika
Red Pepper Flakes
Ground Pepper
Salt to taste

Directions:

Put all ingredients together in a bottle and shake occasionally during a steeping period of at least 12 hours.  Try variations by increasing, decreasing, substituting or omitting ingredients.  Get crazy!! 


Enjoy with bread, barbequed meat, or anything!

Empanadas (from Argentina)

Compliments of Teresita - makes 3 dozen



Ingredients for the dough:

1 lb.          All purpose flower
2 oz.         Melted fat
250 ml      Hot water with salt, cooled

Directions for the dough:


Mix all the ingredients for the dough in a bowl.  Knead the dough lightly and then let it rest for half an hour.  Once that is done, make round balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Flatten the round balls with the heel of your palm, and roll the dough into a thin, circular shape.

Ingredients for the filling:

1 lb.          Ground beef
1 lb.          Chopped onions
1 tbsp.      Lard
2 tbsp.      Corn Oil
Raisins
Green olives, unpitted and chopped
Hard boiled eggs, cooled and chopped
Green onions, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
Paprika
Cumin

Directions for the filling:


In a saucepan melt the lard and corn oil and cook the onions until transparent.  Add the ground beef, seperating it with a fork.  Add the raisins, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cumin.  Pour in a little hot water and let the filling boil for a couple minutes.

Keep the filling in the fridge overnight to cool.  Before you fill the empanadas, add the chopped hard boiled eggs, olives, and green onions and stir.

Fill the empanadas generously with the ground beef - there should be about 2 fingers width on both sides of the filling to the edge of the dough.  Dab water in a semi-circle around half the dough.  Fold both edges up to meet at the top and then seal down to the edges, trying to keep out any air.  Starting on one side of the closed semi-circle, fold the edge down to a triangle, and continue around the dough edge to seal the other end.

Either bake the empanadas or drop them in boiling oil for about 45 seconds and sprinkle with sugar.

Enjoy with a nice glass of Torrontes wine!

Take the Time

(Written 2/19/2011 from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina)

You know it's hot and humid when you stick (ew) to the paper you're writing on (I'm going au natural today sans my laptop).  This morning I arrived in Puerto Iguazu after a long 17 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires.  I'm here to see the famed Iguazu Falls. 

Unfortunately, I won't be able to cross to Brazil because I don't have a valid visa.  Mom doesn't want me to go because it's dangerous - but she's lucky I'm not here Monday through Friday otherwise I'd be charging toward the Consulate.  I've heard it's a great sight because you get a more panoramic view.  Although true to Argentinean spirit and pride, the locals claim the view is better from "their side." :)

Before leaving Buenos Aires I went to a phenomenal cooking class where Teresita "schooled" us in Argentinean cuisine in her beautiful home.  There were about 8 foreigners and we were blessed by the company of Teresita's husband, neighbor, and granddaughter (she did not look old enough to have a 17 year old granddaughter!)


Teresita's beautiful home

Our visit started with a trip to the Carniceria (butcher shop) where we witnessed the hacking and sawing (literally) of the meats we would barbeque.  In true carnivore form - I was in heaven.  Except I wasn't too excited about the prospect of eating brain - and luckily we didn't.


Self explanatory...


Since we had already worked so hard (not at all) Teresita let us have a nice wine break.  She broke out the Torrontes, a nice refreshing and crisp white Argentinean wine.  It is sometimes referred to as "the liar wine" because of its very sweet smell, but lack of sweet flavor.  Perfect for a relaxing cooking day.

Once we rolled up our sleeves the first order of business was empanadas.  Now, I know I've said Chile has the best empanadas in the world, but Teresita gives them a run for their money.  In my mind it's all about the dough - and she nailed it with a simple recipe.


Measuring out flour with an old school scale.


Teresita teaches us the ways of a master roller
We all marvelled at her magic hands and the way she folded the empanadas.  Even with my years of potsticker pinching experience (thanks Dad and Aunties and Uncles for all the lessons!) I wasn't nearly as skillful as Teresita.  I blame it on the Torrontes wine.

My first empanada!

While Teresita's neighbor, Jorge, fired up the asado, we prepared the Chimichurri (divine), and Salsa Criolla.  These were all so simple but so delicious.  I'm convinced it's because of the ingredients.  Teresita mentioned her friend picked up Oregano for her in Mendoza and various other herbs were gifted from other locales.  I loved that!  Her friends bought her spices as gifts when they travelled.



Either way, I have to recreate these dishes at home to see if they carry the same diverse, intense flavor.  Paired with meat = amazing. 


Intestines, sweetbreads and blood sausage cookin, cookin, cookin

Jorge was impressed by my love for the grilled intestines, sweetbreads, and blood sausage.  I love the way Argentineans eat it - since it's got such a rich flavor they smear it on bread like pate.  Meat and carbs?  Yes, please.






During the asado I met 3 other couples - we ate, drank, and laughed together.  One couple from Wisconsin was still glowing from the Packers win - Colleen and Charlie were so much fun.  And Colleen owns a quaint, very popular restaurant called Bogus Creek Cafe.  If you're ever there tell them I sent you! 

Since Colleen's restaurant is outdoors they close down every winter and travel, and they've come to Argentina for food inspiration several times.  Colleen told me she keeps coming back because she loves that people here "take the time."  That sank in for me.  Her description was simple but accurate and for some reason seemed profound.  She said that whenever she asked someone for help, directions, or anything else - they would drop what they were doing and "take the time" to make sure she got what she needed.  That is the essence of Buenos Aires spirit - cool, calm, relaxed, and willing to help.

At home I'm always so rushed from one thing to the next that pausing is such an inconvenience.  My thought for you...do at least one thing today where you "take the time."
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