Pairing for Parky

I state this with certainty:  There is more wine in our cellar than we can drink before we die.

What started as an interesting hobby, to accumulate a bit of nice wine to drink on special occasions, has turned into an obsession to never, ever have to drink young wine!

And while my other half tends (and continuously stocks) said cellar, I cook.  I cook to eat, I cook to share, but most of all, I cook as to create.  My children would know I’d had a rough day if they arrived home to find me chain-baking, tins lining up along the kitchen counter to take their place in the oven as others came out.  The perfect stress-reliever – particularly with a perfect glass of wine in hand.

When I taste good wine, there is an immediate question in my head:   “but what should I be cooking to eat with this?”  No doubt to the frustration of my fellow wine tasters, waxing eloquent about the nose, the floral tones, the spicy notes;  I instead am talking duck with cardamom, or garlicky rosemary lamb, sticky soy scallops, delicate poached salmon…

So when I was asked to donate an item for a charity auction, to support a colleague recently diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, I hatched an elaborate plan.  A pairing for Parky, a matched food and wine dinner for 10 people – at home, because charity, of course, begins at home.  It sounded like a good idea at the time – but on the night, with close to a thousand dollars paid for what was simply “dinner at my place”, I have to admit to a small feeling of trepidation.

It’s an entirely different proposition, you see, serving up a dinner to invited guests of your choosing than to people who’ve actually paid (albeit to a good cause) to be sharing your food and wine.  I tried starting with the wine – but my husband was adamant: sort out the menu first, then he would match the wine.  So that’s what we did.


Our guests arrived to Hibiscus bubbles – a light but decorative flute of preserved hibiscus flowers in a local NZ Deutz methode champenoise.  As they sipped, they nibbled on red onion balsamic tarts, and blue cheese gougones, the tart richness offsetting the sweetness of the hibiscus.

Then on to the perfectly set dinner table, complete with bone china, silver and crystal…  usually reserved for very special family occasions; but nothing like a well set table to add a touch of “special” to an event.

A minor complication – one of our guests was vegetarian (thankfully declared well in advance, so easily accommodated).  More daunting, another an ex-chef…  Deep breath, let the service begin!

To start, herby haloumi cigars, on a salad of vegetable tabbouleh.  The crisp crunch of the phyllo pastry, with the interior richness of the cheese a perfect match for the rounded honey waxiness of a 2010 Alberino.  A grape so popular in Spain, yet little know here in NZ, where Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay tend to divide white wine drinkers into two entrenched camps, almost to the exclusion of all other varietals.

The main course was deliberately simple, designed to provide a backdrop for the wine, a beautiful perfectly aged 2002 Penfolds Bin 407, not quite at its peak perhaps, but a taste sensation nevertheless.  A classic cabernet sauvignon from an iconic Australian winemaker.  The roast beef fillet a tad overcooked – too much conversation at the table, my one near disaster of the evening – but no one seemed to mind.  Roast field mushrooms replacing the beef for our lone vegetarian (these too overcooked, go figure!).  I steered clear of the obvious chocolate sauce, preferring to complement the mocha and blackcurrant tones of the wine with fresh crisp green beans and bright tomato salad – and of course, the melt in your mouth beef fillet.

Cheese came next – a French custom that to my mind provides a perfect transition from the serious food just eaten to the frivolous food to come.  A beautiful blue and aged cheddar from Whitestone, a small local producer, with Pinot Noir jelly…  And a choice to stay with the Penfolds (definitely my pick) or move on to the aged Riesling that was to come with dessert.

Foregoing my natural tendency to equate dessert with chocolate, I went for an easy-to-match lime coconut pudding, with a tiny glass of homemade limoncello on the side (for pouring over the pud, of course) while sipping on the gorgeously rich and limey 2003 Mesh Riesling.

Our wines had taken us around the world, from New Zealand, to Spain, through the Barossa & Eden Valleys in Australia.  Our guests were replete, the cook self-satisfied, the cellar a little emptier…

Most of all, we celebrated that a simple dinner party could contribute so much to our colleague’s lifelong project to support Savong School in Cambodia, a mission becoming ever more challenging for him as Parky impacts his life.

And so we paired up for Parky, pairing our food and our wine, our cooking and our hospitality, our effort with our guests’ generosity, to support a Kiwi doing good work half a world away.  And it was good.

An entry into the #MWWC21 challenge

wine-stain1-3

A fundamentalist walked into my church

Today, the ugly face of Christian fundamentalism showed itself in my church, and it was not good.

Fundamentally, I know that the Bible says that those who do not accept Jesus cannot be saved.  But in an alarming and particularly poorly timed sermon, our guest preacher (a student from the local theological college) propounded his view that those who are not with us are against us – enemies of Christ, in his words.

On this day of all days, when we should have been standing arm in arm with our brothers and sisters of every creed, whatever they believe in.  At a time when I want to rush up to the Muslim woman walking down my street and tell her that I know Isis does not represent her, nor the majority of her fellow believers; at a time when I want, irrationally, to beg my son in London to come home… instead I sat seething, arguing in my head with the narrow-mindedness I was witnessing before me.

Fundamentally, of course, he is right… and that is why we call that view “fundamentalism”.  No amount of “I’m sorry if this offends you” or “I’m happy to debate this with you” will change the fact that it is this very view, technically “correct” but in no way “right”, that has been at the heart of every religious war in the history of mankind.  This is why the crusades were fought, why we endured the “troubles” in Northern Ireland – the list goes on and on.

Indeed, man’s inhumanity to man is so often justified by religious belief, the belief that we are the chosen people, and you are not, that this on its own turns many away from religion of any sort.

Now of course our young(ish) soon-to-be-minister was not suggesting we go out and slaughter the infidel!   No, we need to hold them close, love them and use our best efforts to save them – but never forgetting that they are the enemy.

I wanted to stand up right there and rail against his narrow view of what I consider to be my religion, my beliefs.  I wanted to remind him, and the gathered congregation, that Chistian fundamentalists are no better than fundamentalists of other cloths and creeds.  And that having the ear of believers is a privilege, a privilege that gives your words power to do good and evil, more so perhaps than guns.

I realise that my beliefs are not his beliefs, and that 2 minutes into any debate I would have revealed myself as what he might consider a faux-Christian at best, at worst even an imposter.

Instead I was saved by the bell…  actually by the arrival of the children from Sunday school, with a particularly rowdy grandson giving me the excuse I needed to leave the service to play outside in the tree, to reflect on why I was there at all.   I come most Sundays, bringing my mother and grand-daughter, each of whom cares more about the church than I do – I come because I care for them, and because just occasionally a precious gem emerges from a sermon that resonates, supports or simply comforts me.

Am I the only one in those pews each week who does not believe that Noah actually took the animals two by two into the ark?   Literally?  Who knows? Who cares?

But this I do know.  I could not stand by and say nothing in the face of such fundamentalism.

And no, I am not sorry if my views offend you.

Investment, foreign aid or just 21st century colonialism

Is colonialism dead, or is it in fact alive and well in Africa (again)?  And when is “progress” just progress, and when is foreign “investment” to be welcomed, with no strings attached?

Like a woman with low self-esteem who keeps being attracted to unsuitable partners, it might appear that some African countries are! just maybe, succumbing yet again to the “blankets and guns” enticements preferred by foreign explorers, using “development” as a rationale for establishing and securing a supply chain.

For wasn’t that what the Dutch were doing when they settled in the Cape of Good Hope… establishing and securing a supply chain for precious spices from the east?  In this case, the precious cargo is minerals, the supply chain is roads, lots of roads, and the colonisers are from the east.    

Most visibly on this trip, in Swakopmund, which is booming thanks to a large influx of Chinese workers.  The Chinese, we were told, have bought a 40% share in Rossing uranium mine, and are building a new wholly owned mine just down the road at Huseb due to open in January, which will be the largest opencast uranium mine in the world.  The locals have a small grumble about failure to employ “enough” local workers, but are otherwise pleased to embrace the progress and foreign investment.

Elsewhere in Africa, it’s roads that appear to be the focus (maybe not required here in Namibia where the mines are literally a stone’s throw from the rapidly expanding port at Walvis Bay).  In Rwanda last year, I blogged about the amazing roadworks, literally from one end of the country to the other – overseen and funded by Chinese expertise and money, but employing local villagers for each stretch, leading to a patchwork of stretches of road in varying levels of completeness.  When done, that road will take all the heavy traffic between Burundi and the port at Dar Es Salaam away from the sensitive wildlife areas.  A good thing, surely…or just more of the supply chain.

And our fellow travellers, Anne and Willy, who have just driven down from Malawi though Mozambique, report simlarly significant, similarly funded, roadworks underway.  

One cannot help but be reminded of the long ago ambition of that great colonial, Cecil John Rhodes, whose ambition it was to build a railway line from Cape Town to Cairo.  Seems his ambition may yet be realised, only not quite as he envisaged, with the romance of rail replaced by the efficient practicality of winding black tarmac – all in the name of progress.  

I recall a old man in Zanzibar telling me some 10 years ago that Eastern investment in his country was preferable to Western investment, which inevitably came with strings attached.  Expectations of democracy, and western “standards” of law and order, for example.    And hence my question – is it still colonialism when the deal done is simply investment in return for resources, with no intention to “civilise” or indeed, to colonise in any major way.

But I am no historian, no sociological scholar…  And as my dear old dad would have said, I am probably talking about things I know nothing about!

Childhood memories

Travelling through the North Western Cape has been like a trip down memory lane. Not that I’m suggesting the people and places are in any way ‘behind the times’ – not at all. It’s just that they have retained the history and traditions that I left behind 40 or 50 years ago.

Tuis-nywerheid (home industries) stores in every small outpost, stacked chockablock with goodies that Ouma used to make – vetkoek, koeksisters, melktert, soetkoekies, beskuit in half a dozen varieties… Not to mention the knitting, crocheted doilies and covered coat hangers!

DSC_0798

I even have become adept at ordering my wortelkoek in Afrikaans. Peter, surprisingly, has become heeltemal tweetalig… Falling easily into a conversation in Afrikaans with the garage attendant a few days back about the stukkende wiel!

People are genuinely amazed when we progress beyond “baie dankie”, leading to all sorts of questions about us and our lives. Genuine interest from lovely people.

DSC_0539

Our two nights in the Sophia Guesthouse in Garies did not disappoint.- though it was not without a few shocks (from the shower taps, real electric shocks!). With no electrician in town, I was vaguely tempted to “phone a friend” – I mean, I do know a couple of electrical workers- but in the end we just reported the fault, and used a hand towel to turn the taps on and off!

DSC_0803 DSC_0544 DSC_0799

The place itself was like the Kingdom of knickknackery, from the front door to the bathroom and beyond, run by the generous, bustling Elizna – a refugee from Johannesburg – who has clearly found a home for her vast collection of egg cups, teapots, flower bowls and general whatnots. Despite being the “self-catering” cottage, there was a full English breakfast every morning, and on the second night she announced they were cooking “lamb kerrie” for dinner, if we would like some served in the cottage. It came complete with peaches, jelly and custard for dessert – a long time since I’ve seen jelly made with ideal milk!

And yes, I was the annoying foreign person who scoured the store shelves of Garies for butter – and no, sorry people, but margarine is NOT butter! They have spreadable margarine, baking margarine, low fat margarine… But definitely no “egte botter”!

From there it was on to Clanwilliam – over the scenic route across the Cedarberg.  Another day of hindsight pronouncing that we should have hired a 4WD vehicle!

Two unexpected and special treats awaited – first our host who turned out to be an amazing quilt artist – check out http://www.enidviljoenquilts.jimdo.com – besides running a really lovely B&B. We loved the quilts so much we’re bringing one of them home with us!   This is just one of many gorgeous examples, this one hanging in our bedroom called Burning Desire.


And second that my cousin Belinda – who I last saw when we were literally children – actually lives in (or more correctly) on a farm remotely near Clanwilliam. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, we not only connected but arranged for what Peter and I expected would be a quick drop-in for a coffee and hello before we headed on to our next destination.

What a treat awaited us. Belinda and her lovely husband Willie made us so welcome, showed us their huge and amazing rooibos tea farm, the wild flowers, the caves, the bushman paintings…


They fed us boerewors rolls for lunch before sending us on our way with a store of newfound knowledge about life on their farm, how the tea is grown, harvested and dried, how they grow lucerne trees to feed the sheep, and use donkeys (and an Anatolian sheep dog) to protect the sheep from leopards! Genuinely another world…

But most of all, I really loved reconnecting and talking about our mutual grandparents, and family members in general (though I have to admit a small problem on my part keeping track of which “Oupa” was which!)  A fantastic catchup… and not without its drama, when as we were about to leave, Peter discovered he’d dropped his cellphone somewhere out there on the farm. Willie and son Brendan sprang into action heading in different directions to search – found in the cave, where we crawled through the rocks! Many “baie dankies” to you all! It was SO lovely to catch up we may even return one day soon!

And thank you to you and to all the warm, kind Afrikaner folk we met along the way who reminded me so much of my childhood!  This part of the world is truly your place, as it has been for generations, and it is wonderful to be reminded that in some places at least in this rainbow nation, there are good people just getting on with their lives in mutual harmony.

One big game park

“Actually, Namibia is just one big game park”  – so said Peter about half way into our road trip, having discovered that wherever we drive, there are random animals wandering around of the ‘wild’ variety.

The caution against driving after dark is wise advice, with baboons, springbok, gemsbok, and even this random ostrich thinking nothing of racing across the road in front of the car.

DSC_0412

The springbok are stupid and insubstantial animals – but the gemsbok (oryx) are genuinely beautiful (and tasty too!).

DSC_0253DSC_0903 DSC_0938 DSC_0252 DSC_0938DSC_0367 DSC_0352

Given that our journey did not extend up north into the actual game rich areas around Etosha, it seems that Peter is right.  At least as common as “normal” road signs are signs exhorting motorists to beware of buck, ostriches and even zebras crossing the road.  The only zebras we saw were, thankfully, quite far from the road – thankfully because these mountain zebra are in fact quite rare, and road crossing is likely to be hazardous to their long term future.

DSC_0872

Animals adapt – quite remarkable to see these huge creatures living in total desert. -though the best example of adaptation I saw had to be these birds in the Kalahari, who in the total absence of trees, we’re building their nests, and even raising their young in the “forks” of telephone poles.

DSC_0519

One last bit of wild life viewing today with these real life meerkats amongst the Namaqualand flowers, and a slow journey back to the main road with Peter stopping for every tortoise we saw crossing the road (and there were many!).

DSC_0686DSC_0674

I got out of the car to assist this little guy to get to the other side safely – he wasn’t happy, struggled as much as a tortoise can, and then went inside in a sulk once I set him gently down.  Ungrateful tortoise!

DSC_0675-001

It wouldn’t be an adventure holiday without the adventure!

It would be fair to say that in Namibia, you need look no further for your adventure than the roads leading to many of the major sights.  Deceptively substantial on the maps, they range from quite good to a good imitation of corrugated iron, to little better than a sandpit!  And that’s just the ones deemed “suitable” for 2WD vehicles.  The 4WD tracks are a LOT more fun!

Travelling almost 2000km from Windhoek, via Swakopmund, Sesriem and Fish River Canyon to Noordoewer, we had much reason to be thankful for Peter’s distant past experiences of driving on terrible roads in Southern Africa;  and his amazing levels of concentration for hours on end.

Locals were not encouraging when we mentioned that we were planning to do Sesriem to Fish River Canyon in a single day – when we planned the 520km, we hadn’t realised it was all on dirt roads! In all of those 8 hours, we saw maybe 12 other vehicles on the roads, and barely any other signs of life.

Ensuring you stop for fuel when you can is a major priority, not to mention the need for toilet stops.  These are probably the most lovingly maintained toilets in the whole of Namibia, complete with flowers, embroidered hand towels and air freshener – beyond spotless – in a nothing place called Betta.  I wanted to leave a “thank you” note for the toilet fairy!

DSC_0263

The stop for fuel at Helmeringshausen was equally successful – the best apple pie in Namibia, the sign proclaimed, so we simply had to try it, and it was, indeed, pretty damn good.

DSC_0276

Though at this point I did start noticing a germanic propensity to post instruction signs all over the place – do this, do not do that, everywhere you look!DSC_0373DSC_0372

Miles and miles and miles of long, straight, dirt roads… serviced occasionally by grader drivers, who appear to be located at big intervals along the way, grading our the corrugations and living in “caravans” like this one where they park up their grader overnight.  What a life!

DSC_0463DSC_0419

When the road is long, and there’s nothing to see, you start noticing the smallest things, like the fact the the windmills of my youth appear to be (slowly) being replaced with ugly (though perhaps more efficient?) models…

DSC_0268 DSC_0267

We did, eventually, arrive in at Fish River Canyon Village – and what a warm welcome awaited us there!  A beautiful ring of stone bungalows, with the loveliest people, and a room straight out of Ouma’s day, in literally the middle of nowhere!

DSC_0464

We climbed the hill to a hidden bar fridge in the rocks for sundowners that evening – healthy gin & tonic (good for the mosquitos) to wash away the dust of the day.

DSC_0337

The real adventure, of course, was waiting just around the corner, striking the next day when we were exploring the area for views of the Fish River Canyon.  Bang!

DSC_0425

Thankfully the spare was in good working order!  But there we were, with no further backup, and a 6 hour round trip away from anywhere with a new tyre the right size.   When we got back to the hotel, we found we were in luck – one of their staff happened to be “in town”, due to return that night.  An emergency callout fee for the tyre shop man (it being after midday on Saturday) and the new tyre was duly purchased on our behalf.  Phew!

The next day, we set off for our final night in Namibia – on the banks of the Orange River.  Never have I been happier to see a tar-sealed road.  And never more amazed to see a lush green landscape, with actual lawn, unfold in front of my eyes as we reached the river banks.   Green never looked so good!

Beyond old

The ancient Namib desert is exactly that, truly ancient.  Unlike other deserts which have formed over time, spreading as a consequence of human activity, the Namib has been desert for 5 million years.  Small, but perfectly formed desert, ancient beyond imagination.

And the jewel in the crown of this ancient landscape is the star dunes at Sossusvlei, surrounding the Dead Vlei, complete with its dead trees that have been as they are, dead and yet not gone, for millenia.  Not petrified, not turned to stone, but simply dead wood, and never has dead wood been so amazing!  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

DSC_0217-001

Our first night in the area at Desert Camp has to be the best “camping” experience ever.  Self catering “tents” – I guess these days it would be called glamping – each with a concrete pad , from which rose a concrete ensuite bathroom, with a substantial tent pitched over the top of it all.  Very isolated, very beautiful… With the downside only becoming clear later that night when the wind started howling and rattling every zipper pull on every window!

DSC_0970

But meanwhile, the service came with a “kitchen box” available on deposit from reception, with plates, cups, cutlery… even wine glasses!  And an order list for a “food bag” delivery, Namibian style.  We ordered eland steaks, boerewors,  potatoes wrapped in foil… plus breakfast supplies of bacon, eggs, tomato and onion!  Best of all, when the bakkie pulled up with the delivery just after sunset, the delivery man built the fire in the braai on our stoep, and lit it for us.  Now that’s service!

By then, Peter and I were very mellow, having wandered out into the veldt for a good view of the sunset, red wine in one hand and camera in the other.  At least, until we were grumped at by the Frenchman in the next tent, who, unnoticed by us, had set up a camera on a tripod, presumably taking a time lapse series of said sunset.  Oh well, now has two romantic old people in his shot!

DSC_1029 DSC_0980

That night, we talked long and late about what might have been.  Different choices, where would we be now?  Would we be more regular visitors to this vast and vacant place?  Probably not, we concluded… but who knows?  It is a privilege, we decided, to be as comfortable as we are with past choices, and also to be able to travel so far and wide to explore the “might have been”.

DSC_1030

In the morning we left early, and arrived at the wonderful Sossus Desert Lodge – inside the national park boundaries – in time for lunch.  Now this really is the luxury version… bungalows built mainly from wood and canvas,but with more substantial fittings, and a pair of loungers in the window from whence we could survey our own waterhole.

DSC_0253

DSC_0229

It’s an eco lodge, our guide explained, built like this so that if the government decides it no longer wants them there, it can all be removed with minimum impact on the environment, as if it had never been there!   Hmmm…

Here we met the fabulous and unfortunately named Sammy – our guide and ranger for the sundowner drive that evening and the VERY early morning drive to the Vlei!

DSC_0149-001

We also met some of the more annoying travellers we have encountered, reaffirming why we don’t do cruises or group tours!  Being trapped on a drive with a truly ignorant Englishman – what’s a wildebeest?  is it a dog? – on the first drive tested my patience, but didn’t detract from the excitement of seeing a family of bat eared foxes (too far in the distance for the camera to do them justice, but a joy to watch through the binoculars).  Sundowners on our private dune were spectacular – though surprisingly teetotal!

DSC_0050-001 DSC_0052-001

And then on the morning drive we were teamed up with an elderly Jewish foursome from Oudtshoorn, who didn’t seem to grasp that sunrise would not wait while they firstly delayed our departure by 15 minutes, and then kerfuffled around with toilet arrangements when we finally did get out to the dunes… Suffice to say my tolerance for stupid people was at an all time low, and even Sammy set off with Peter and me at a cracking pace, leaving the geriatrics in our wake (particularly silly woman who had worn her town sandals, and handed realised that a walk in the dunes would involve actual walking!!)

DSC_0137-001

Of course, none of this in any way detracted from the amazing spectacle – first the dunes themselves at sunrise, and then of Dead Vlei.  As we crested the dune into the Vlei, there he was, this beautiful creature reinforcing that although the vlei itself may be dead, this is a living desert that sustains life both large and small.

DSC_0151-001 DSC_0166-001

Afterwards we retired to our bungalow for a mid morning nap… the 4am wake up call for a 430am departure having taken its toll.  Mind you, absolutely worth it, and the very reason we moved from Desert Camp into the Lodge.  You see, only those inside the park overnight get to actually see sunrise at the dunes, an hour’s drive west of the gate, which only opens at 630am!

DSC_0190-001 DSC_0110 DSC_0113

And as the sun rose, so did the wind.  It blew and it blew and it blew – fine sand and fine lime (from the limestone in dead vlei) filled everything.  Even my ears were full of sand!  Heaven knows if my camera will survive.

By the time we got back to the vehicle, you could barely see the dunes.  But I couldn’t resist taking this photo of the toilets (specially for a special person in London – you know who you are).  Longdrops in true African style, and the one on the right doesn’t even have a door, just open to the sands!  When you gotta go, you gotta go!

DSC_0212-001

The next morning as we left early for our longest drive of the trip, there was a long queue of cars and buses waiting for the gate to open, but the sun (and the wind) was already well up.

What an amazing place!

Namibian wisdom

DSC_0320Lessons from the Quiver Tree
(source unknown)

Sink your roots deep into the ground

Stand tall and proud

Accept your natural beauty

Make a difference just where you are

I saw this quote on the reception desk at our hotel – loved it so much I just had to share!  The quiver tree is not in fact a tree at all, but an aloe, with a fibrous stem that the San people used to make quivers for their arrows.