Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dinner at Zambi's

Will and I are in Maputo - woo woo!

I wanted to blog about our dinner last night as it was simply amazing and full of things I've never had before and would like to re-create!
After a delayed flight, we made it to Maputo around noon. We went to an ATM, enjoyed a light lunch (a small order of garlic prawns and Laurentina black beer), and just enjoyed the warm, beach weather after a super cold week (read: BELOW FREEZING) in South Africa.

Enjoying a Laurentina at lunch on the beach

Based on numerous great recommendations, we decided to go to dinner at Zambi's, a trendy seafood spot in Maputo. We took a cab (200 MT, about $5) and got to dinner at an odd hour of 5:30. We wanted to sit outside, but after the sun set, the wind blew in and it became quite cold.

Picture of us on the patio at Zambi's - very windy and chilly!

View of the street in front of Zambi's - the streets of Maputo are lined with tall palms

I tried Zambi's cocktail, which was a blend of mango juice and who knows what else. Sweet, but refreshing after a warm day. We looked at the menu and were simply overwhelmed by the amount of seafood. Every dish on the menu was seafood or meat - there were only 3 vegetarian options! Once we realized this, we knew we were in a fantastic place to eat as our friend Heidi, a strict vegetarian, had just raved and raved about Zambi's - and if she only had 3 things to pick from, its gotta be good.

Inside of Zambi's - crazy art and really neat booths!

I absolutely adore seafood. In the US, Will and I regularly grilled up fish and shrimp for dinner. Here, its rare to get fresh seafood in Pretoria so we don't eat it often at all. It also makes finding good sushi practically impossible (I've learned to enjoy salmon rolls as the salmon always seems to be fresher than the tuna, which is usually a dark purple color - gross!). When I get seafood, I usually get it at Ritrovo, which serves up killer Prawns Diablo (the picture is the first one after scrolling down). It is absolutely impossible to find crab or scallops in South Africa and I miss them terribly. I can't wait to come home and have seared scallops, she-crab soup, and more.

All of this is to say - once we started looking at the menu, we were absolutely overwhelmed by the seafood choices and wanted to order everything! The fish of the day was Red Snapper, an absolute fave of mine, but at the end of the day, Mozambique is known for its prawns and we knew we had to have them!

We settled on the seafood ravioli and garlic bread appetizers (combined total: about $5). The seafood ravioli were absolute HEAVEN. I adore crab and its impossible to find in South Africa. In fact, I haven't had crab since our holiday in Ireland when I had amazing crab claws with Erin in Dingle (so good, we ordered a second helping). Needless to say, I was so shocked when I took a bite of ravioli and was presented with the rich taste of fresh crab. The raviolis were very delicate and I really couldn't say that there was more filling in the ravioli than straight-up crab (maybe garlic?). The sauce was a bechamel sauce that was a golden color - it tasted like it had sherry and nutmeg in it. Very light, very tasty, and resulted in me feeling like I was in absolute heaven.

The garlic bread turned up to be fresh Portuguese bread that was baked on the top and bottom. Our waiter cut it for us at the table, revealing that the inside had been cooked with butter, garlic, and fresh parsley. Honestly - what's better than homemade bread?

Fresh garlic bread - yum!

After the apps, Will and I ordered a bottle of Vinho Verde, one of our favorite wines. Its made in Portugal and translates to "Green Wine" except that its actually a white wine with a slight sparkle to it. Its absolutely perfect with seafood.

We ordered the grilled seafood platter to share and were so pleased with the results. I wish I had taken a picture and if we go back there before we leave, I will take a pic.

The platter was huge - grilled calamari rings, massive prawns, langoustines, and spiny lobster. The seafood was grilled and seasoned with lemon, garlic, butter, and green chiles. I've never had seafood grilled with green chiles before and it lended such a fantastic flavor to the food that I will definitely try it again. Surprisingly, it wasn't spicy at all - just flavorful!

I wish I had taken more pics of the food, but as people started filling the restaurant, I felt a little awkward as the flash was so bright and I couldn't turn it off (we're borrowing Adam & Beth's camera while mine is being repaired).

After a wonderful al fresco breakfast, we're now headed to the Maputo Fish Market, where we can pick out our fresh seafood as it comes off the boat and have it prepared to our liking. Kind of a crazy opportunity and I can't wait!
View from our table at breakfast - infinity pool, the ocean, and palm trees!

Will enjoying a cup of cafe at breakfast - yum!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Two more months and change...

We have two+ months left in lovely South Africa! I can't believe I've officially been here for over two years and haven't been back in my homeland since Obama became President.

Our friend Alex with his Obama fan pre-USA vs. Algeria!

World Cup was an amazing adventure and I apologize for my complete lack of blogging about how much fun we had. It was fantastic to see South Africa become this vibrant, friendly city with everyone cheering everyone else on. I soon found myself loving the sound of the vuvuzela and even learned to play it myself. Will and I were lucky enough to cheer on USA at multiple games, and essentially had a front row seat to Donovan's game winning goal against Algeria. We were truly plagued with World Cup fever!
Meeting up with some New Yorkers prior to the USA vs. England game - fun!

Right after the winning goal at the USA vs. Algeria game! YAY!!!

July was spent saying goodbye to a bunch of our friends. I've been told to say, "So long for now..." but believe me - its hard. I really miss all the great friends we made here. There's something to be said for having folks to commiserate about the life we've happened to share in SA. The only bonus in saying goodbye is that now I have friends posted all over the world that I can go visit! Ha!

Will and I have mega travel plans over the next two weeks. I want to take advantage of our remaining time here as much as possible, which for me means one word: SAFARI. We're headed to a rustic bush camp this weekend (no electricity! no running water!) and to be honest, I'm really looking forward to the experience. Fingers crossed for lots of game sightings!

The following week I'm headed back to Mozambique for work and Will is coming with me. Its actually the most under-planned trip I've ever had. We have no idea what we'll be doing or where we'll go while we're there, but its exciting - here's hoping for beach time!!! Not to lay out or swim, but just to relax and watch the sunset. Nice. Will says we may snorkel, which I've never done!

After these two trips, we still blessedly have 3 trips left, with a 4th pending:
-- Tiger fishing in KZN
-- A final (romantic!) Kruger adventure to two camps: Kapama Buffalo Camp and Sabi Sabi Little Bush camp - high hopes for leopard sightings!
-- One last trip to Cape Town - winery stays, Kalk Bay (fourth time = the charm!), and lots and lots of dining out at the top restaurants in South Africa such as Rust en Vrede and Grande Provence (maybe even Nobu again!)

I will try to be better at posting between now and our return home in October. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Things I'll miss, things I won't, and things I can't wait to do!

I often think about things that I'll miss once we leave South Africa - and sometimes also the things I won't miss... and definitely the things I can't wait to do. I have a feeling this blog will turn into this theme as we start to count down to October!

I miss running. I really miss running with a group. I miss my Team in Training buddies. I miss running for a good cause. I miss having friends to go on a run with. I miss running at a regular elevation instead of a mile high in the sky. I miss having a mostly flat road to run on (although the hills here are pretty incredible).

I'm starting to think a couple things...
(1) Could I really wake up before work and go for a run? Could I? Is it possible to get up at 6:30, go for a quick 20+ minute run, shower, and get ready for work? If I did this just three times a week, how good would this be? I'll be honest: I'm not running now. It seems to me that I am just not getting to the gym as often as I can and after work, we just have to much going on. It would be great to fit in a quick run if I could and it looks like the start of the day may be my best bet.

That being said, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and run at 6:30 and then get ready for work. There. I'll see what its like!

(2) I want to start training for a race for when I return... Whether its a fun 5K in Knoxville one weekend with KTL (Buddy's Race Against Cancer 5k November 14, Jingle Bells Run for Arthritis 5K December 11) or a half marathon later on (Disney Half?)... ideas?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My favorite things: Kitchen edition!

So maybe it took a few months, but here is the entry I promised on my favorite things in the kitchen! These are pieces I use on a regular basis (i.e. at least once a week, if not every time I cook!) and when using them, I always think - I should tell people about how great these things are! So here we go...

Le Creuset cookware: Whether its my dutch oven, my heart shaped pot, or my bakeware (perfect for enchiladas!), I swear by Le Creuset. I love it for the even cooking it provides, but adore it even more for its easy clean up - its ridiculous how easy food comes off these pieces! Bonus: it looks great on the stove! Amazon often has deals on Le Creuset, but you can also check out outlets. At the GA Premium outlets, there is a Le Creuset outlet as well as a Williams-Sonoma outlet that also carries very inexpensive Le Creuset. Its worth every single penny and will last forever!

All-Clad copper core: This set was an incredible wedding gift from my parents. We use these pieces on a regular basis, but are specifically in love with the covered saute pan (which I use to make PW's chicken parm and my family's fantastic beef/kudu/impala stroganoff).

Lodge cast iron skillet
: If you don't own one of these (we have 4 - no jokes), buy one. It may be the best $19 you've ever spent. I love my cast iron skillet - for making caramelized onions (and blue cheese onion sauce), frying up bacon and cooking eggs in the grease, and more. Here's a tip: I love fried eggs, but I've always had trouble flipping them and keeping them in tact. I cheat my breaking them in the pan and then covering them with this lid - the lid will cook them from the top with no need to flip the egg. Easy!

Microplane 4 sided box grater: I use this guy ALL the time. Its a bit difficult to find grated cheese here in SA so its fabulous to be able to grate my own cheese. This grater makes it super easy. I also love my hand held zester for parmesan.

Oxo Salad Spinner: Another item used practically on a daily basis. I am one of those people that even though it says the salad in the bag is washed, I still give it another rinse before using. In addition, its useful for spinning off excess salad dressing if you've overdressed a salad. I also adore this Crate and Barrel salad bowl - super easy to clean and nice, high sides for tossing. We also use this pepper mill to season our salads - we love how it creates a great fine dusting of crushed peppercorns. We also love this olive oil spritzer.

Rice Cooker
: I'm not a big rice eater, but I do love spanish rice, cheesy rice, and wild rice from time to time. I have a tough time making rice on the stove. This microwave rice cooker makes cooking rice a snap! Rice is ready in 12 minutes or less rather than the 24 minutes it takes on the stove top. Its also great for boiling potatoes and green beans as well as steaming broccoli in the microwave.

Martha Stewart citrus press
: Looks like this guy is unavailable, but I love mine. The blue color is fantastic and its so handy to have one of these for squeezing lemons and limes.

Chalk board cheese plate: Love it. Love it so much, I bought a 2nd one.

Electric cordless kettle: I can't live without this. I never used one before moving to SA, but these are in every home here. Its great for making tea and coffee as well as pre-boiling water for dishes. It just makes everything that much faster!

Food processor: One day I'll have a nicer one. One day. But for now, this one is really great. From shredding cheese to making PW's restaurant style salsa and caesar dressing to just having something to cut up veggies, it works great and the price is right.

Pizza pan: Will and I disagree on this one (he hates the holes), but I love this pizza pan. Its perfect for tortilla pizzas - in fact, I think its fairly necessary.

Covered brownie pan: Love it! I use it for more than brownies, whether that's right or wrong - I just love the size! Its also great for corn souffle.

Wine decanter: A must for any wine lover. In SA, wines can be a bit corky - the decanter helps the wine breath and also help catch cork bits that would otherwise wind up in your glass.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Long time, no post

A lot has happened since my last post in March...

We went to Swaziland with mom and dad and had an amazing time. We had our own two-bedroom cabin (complete with working fireplace and wrap-around porch) in the Mlilwane reserve, home to several rehabilitated species that I hadn't seen on other safaris in Africa. We had an incredible safari in the Mkhaya reserve for endangered species. While we didn't see black rhino, we sure did get up close and personal with about 12 elephants and got trumpeted at. Awesome. We bought incredible glass souvenirs, hand-woven baskets, and handmade jewelry. Perfect, incredible trip.

In April, we set the date to move back to the USA: October 20, 2010. There was just something special about 10/20/2010 that it seemed right. We'll set foot on USA soil on 10/21/2010 and probably take a couple weeks off work to figure out where to live, what to do about a car, ahhhhhhhhh. Very scary, but very, very exciting. I will have been gone from the USA for over 27 months. As the song says, "Still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to you..."

I traveled to Namibia for work twice - once in April, once in May. I'm wishing we had time to go back, but I'm thinking it just won't happen while we're here unless we take some serious time off work before we head back and I'm not sure that I can. We really wanted to go out to the desert at Sossusvlei, but oh well - it may just not be meant to be for now.

Our buddy Zach is here and we're so happy to have company again! We just got back from a 3 night stay in Cape Town - quite possibly the best trip to Cape Town yet! We stayed at an awesome apartment in Kalk Bay with ocean views, heated floors, and cable TV. Its one of the first times when the pictures on the website look EXACTLY like the place! We ate at Cafe Olympia no less than 4 times - potato & bacon soup, tomato & lentil soup, linguine del mar, scrambled egg breakfast with arugula (why is that so very good???), french toast croissants (sinful), and massive fresh berry parfaits. Yum, yum, yumyumyum.

We did the great white shark trip I've been dreaming of forever and yes, not only did I see lots of great white sharks, I did see one jump out of the water for a seal! And the seal got away - awesome (or not? Ask yourself!)! It was amazing to be a part of the circle of life. Will and Zach got in the cage and took some amazing close-up pics of the sharks. Its surprising how gentle they actually are - its not at all like you see on TV with them munching on the side of a boat. Who knows. The only bad thing was I got terribly sea sick and yammied not once, but twice over the side of the boat. I was too sick to get in the cage, let alone shimmy into a wet suit. The waves were super choppy that day and I don't feel bad as half the people on the boat joined me in hanging over the side of the boat. It was so bad, I stayed sea sick the rest of the day, even after we got off the boat!

We had a full day Monday, which was also Zach's birthday. After breakfast at Cafe Olympia, we visited our new buddy Dragana Jevtovic and bought an insane amount of her beautiful guinea fowl pottery. I now own a soup tureen. So exciting. While there, we got didgeridoo lessons - who knew?

Afterwards, we headed to Lindhorst Winery, for a private lunch and cellar tour with the owner, Mark Lindhorst. They made these awesome steak sandwiches with little soft rolls and a horseradish/mustard sauce, as well as a yumtastic mushroom sauce. The cellar tour was incredible - we tasted straight from the barrel! Very interesting to taste the flavors that start off his amazing wines. We had such a good time, the sun set on us.

We then went to dinner at the 12th restaurant in the world, La Colombe. WOW. It was like southern food meets France. No jokes - we had "pork crackling" served with honey - yes, fancy pork rinds! I had springbok tartare and veal medallions with morel mushrooms (MY FAVORITE) and a yummy zinfandel. The food was incredible! They topped it off with bringing us desserts that said "Happy Birthday" for Zach and "Happy Anniversary" for me and Will. Very special and very fun.

On our last day, we had breakfast at Cafe Olympia and took the drive up Chapman's Peak, which is so stunningly beautiful. We then decided to lunch on the beach at Camp's Bay, finally settling at Paranga for incredible sushi with ocean views. So relaxing, so fantastic, so perfect. I will think on that moment and the subsequent walk on the beach for years to come. Just a perfect, perfect day.

We're back in Pretoria and work is starting to pick up for the end of the FY. Next weekend is USA vs. England (YAY) plus Pilanesberg safari time. I can't wait!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Favorite Things: Beauty

I can't believe its been a month since my last post! Sorry guys! I actually have tons of updates that I'd like to do. First and foremost is the trip to Maria's church where we donated money given by my family's church in Calhoun, TN - video, pictures, tons of fun! Second, my parents have been here since March 9 and we've had the best time. We've been to Kruger and Cape Town and they are headed back to us from Zambia after a 2nd honeymoon to Victoria Falls. They arrive tomorrow in Pretoria and then we're headed to Swaziland! Woohoo!

In the mean time, I'm stealing an idea from Pioneer Woman (I also love C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Tint!) and posting some of my favorite things. I'm inspired by some recent beauty finds...

Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer: My hair is curly, yet I almost always wear it straight as its not curly enough to really go curly. However, this product makes my curls amazing. No, it doesn't need to be paired with the shampoo and conditioner to get great results. If you have unmanageable curls, try this. You can buy a little $7 bottle to see if you like it. I promise - its worth every penny.

Curly hair tips: I comb my hair either before or during my shower so its not tangly. That way, once I towel my hair off, it should fall to my part. I then lightly scrunch my hair with the curl enhancer and dry with a diffuser. The thing with curly hair - don't touch it too much or else it will be frizzy frizzy.

Aveda Smooth Infusion Style Prep Smoother: Repeat: my hair is curly, yet I almost always wear it straight. This is an amazing product that I smooth on my hair before drying. It really makes it easier to dry my hair straight and it makes it look so much better. Again, you don't necessarily need to pair this with the shampoo and conditioner to get great results.

Straight hair tips: I have really long, thick, fine, colored hair. In order to keep it healthy and not dry it out, I don't wash my hair every day. Its true. Don't think I'm gross! To dry my hair, I let it dry most of the way and then dry in sections with a regular brush. Once dry, I use big hot rollers so that my has some volume and the ends are curled under. I then use my flat-iron to iron out any crazy pieces. On the 2nd day, I simply brush my hair with baby powder and use the flat-iron to iron out any crazy pieces. Easy peasy and no one ever knows its actually dirty.

Note: For shampoo and conditioner, I'm a suave professionals girl. I really love their products and think they make my hair great!

Philosophy Time on Your Hands: I am ashamed to admit that in order to keep my feet smooth, I use a pedegg. No, its not the real pedegg, but one my mom got off QVC or something. It works - really. As stupid as the infomercial is, the product really works. The pedegg combined with Time on Your Hands on my feet = incredibly smooth feet. I love it.

To finish off the pedicure, I swear by Seche Vite dry fast top coat. It will make any nail polish errors go away and makes the pedi last and last. It really makes you look like you just had a professional pedi. It also dries super fast. Incredible product I've sworn by for over 10 years.
Lancome l'Extreme mascara: Amazing. Fake lashes in a tube. Woohoo!

Tend Skin: Ingrown hairs be gone! This stuff works like a charm.

Certain Dri: I once had a problem with hyperhydrosis. This means that I used to sweat for no good reason under my arms at all times. It could be freezing cold and I could be sitting absolutely still and I would be sweating like I just ran a 10K. Not cool for a high schooler. Not cool at all. If you suffer from inexplicable sweating at all times (note: this does not apply to working out - you should sweat then! its good for you!), try this. It will change your life!

As for my skin care regimen, with very sensitive, dry skin, I use the same beauty regime I've used since I was 18: Noxzema to wash my face, Clinique super defense moisturizer with SPF 30, and every now, a scrub with St. Ive's apricot scrub. Sooner or later, I should probably invest in a night cream and/or use any of the several tubes of eye cream that I have at my disposal. In the mean time, this is my standard. I also use Dove Sensitive Skin body wash plus Curel for extra dry skin. Works for me.

That's it for now! Will do a cooking favorite things soon!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Krystal burgers

Its no secret: I typically spend my lunch hour scouring the Internet for food blogs and new recipes. My time is mostly filled up by Pioneer Woman because I just flat-out love everything she posts, whether it be about cooking, her house, fun things to buy, or photography. Besides, every recipe that I have ever tried of hers has been nothing short of absolutely fantastic (and might I add, the steps to get to this fantastic-ness have always been relatively simple and easy to follow), which makes me a devout reader of PW.

Thanks to PW, I also browse both the Tasty Kitchen blog and the Tasty Kitchen website, where I contribute recipes and make cooking "friends" under the name mrsnaglich. One day, somewhere in all this searching around, I stumbled upon this: Big Red Kitchen

It sounded fun, primarily because I also want a big red kitchen someday. As I read along, I realized this blogger also loves comfort foods with a healthy twist, but she also provides great commentary on the how to's of life, such as how to behave at the church pot luck. I fell in love with the idea of the 2-for-1 recipe of spaghetti bolognese and "sloppy giuseppes." You know I definitely bookmarked this page and this page for the most perfect idea for a themed dinner, baby shower or not! Antipasto salad, do-it-yourself meatball subs, homemade pizzas, and pepperoni dip??? Yes please. Sounds like my kind of party.

But it was this that got my heart pumping.

Yes, really.

A recipe for do-it-yourself Krystal burgers.

To give you some background, my grandmother was comfortable situated extremely close to a Krystal restaurant. Growing up, almost every visit to my grandmother's house included a trip to Krystal. It was the 80s. Supersize Me wouldn't come out for another 15 years. Sometimes it was a small indulgence of 2 burgers and other times I made a complete and utter gluttonistic disgrace of myself in front of my family as I devoured more than 8 Krystals in one sitting just because I said I could do it. While I have proven that I can eat more than 8 Krystals in one sitting, I'll hold on to that glory of yesteryear and stick to a healthy 2-3 from now on.

What is so special about the Krystal, really? Nothing about it smacks of gourmet eats. Its not even something fancy enough for any other chain to replicate. It is comprised of a mysteriously thin meat (beef?) patty, strange small onions, a solitary pickle, a gentle slather of American yellow mustard, and finally topped by what is almost always a very soggy bun (that I love to slurp on... seriously. its okay to gag here). I loved them so much, I used to beg my parents to buy the frozen ones from the grocery store. Seriously.

At Krystal, I don't care about the fries, the chili cheese pups, the mini corn dogs (although wow... I'd definitely eat a mini corn pup right about now), or even the spicy Krystal chick. I don't even want a Krystal with cheese. I just want a nice, yummy, soggy regular Krystal burger.

Side note: Two nights before my wedding day I have a picture of my now-husband smiling as he held a giant sackful of Krystal. If I wasn't willing to marry him before, this sealed the deal. Love by Krystal burger. Mmmm mmmm good.

So anyway. Back to this recipe.

I obviously live in Africa. As much as I think South Africans would enjoy Krystal burgers, the only American food chains in SA are KFC, McDonalds, and Subway (which is so terrible here I almost didn't list it... g-rody). Therefore, it is impossible for me to get a Krystal burger.

To add more background to this, I must also admit to being bitten by the mini-burger/slider phenomenon that swept through the US right as we were leaving. Our last meal in the ATL airport was at TGI Friday's - Will and I split an order of mini burgers before boarding the plane to Africa. While we were in London, we regularly consumed the mini burgers from Burger King (3 were jalapeno with spicy ketchup, the other 3 were BBQ with little onion rings - YUM).

Naturally, we figured we could make mini burgers ourselves. We got the meat, found little buns, made mini patties and set them on the grill, only to find they were impossible to flip and control. We wound up with a bunch of little hockey pucks. At a party. Lots of little buns went without little patties. It was a sad state of affairs and we wrote off mini burgers from there on.

So then I find this recipe. Krystal burger meets mini burger. Heck yes.

First of all, I was a huge skeptic of baking ground beef. Its just... weird to me. Bake meat? When I told Will what I was going to do, he just raised his eyebrows and blessedly said nothing and happily let me go on my way to try and make these mini yum-yums for the party last night.

Second of all, I had to find dehydrated onion and ground beef that had the right amount of fat yet didn't taste like Christmas (note: South Africans strangely add clove and coriander to almost all of their ground beef). This meant going to the butcher and asking for them to grind up sirloin steak, but add beef fat to it. Again, gag if you must.

So! I found the little buns again (mini garlic buns - yum!), find teeny tiny pickles and teeny tiny tomatoes and set in to make the burgers. Really, its easy. Generously coat the bottom of a pyrex dish with dehydrated onion and then press the meat on top and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Blot grease, add cheese, and bake until melty. Let cool, cut with a pizza cutter, and slide those puppies into the buns.

I set the pickles and tomatoes out to the side, along with ketchup and mustard, so people could make their own sammies. I also grilled up onions and mushrooms in Dale's steak seasoning - its my favorite burger topping.

I made Krystal burgers! It tasted EXACTLY like a Krystal (minus the garlic on the bun). This was one of the easiest appetizers I have ever made. Moreover, with the mini tomatoes and pickles, the presentation was super cute. They were gobbled up incredibly fast - everyone raved and raved over how great they were.

So! If you've got an event coming up and don't know what to take - try these! So simple, easy cleanup, voila!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Zimbabwe, the third time around!

So far its a year of thirds - my third trip to Zambia, my third trip to Zimbabwe... well darn. I don't have another third! ha.

I'm currently in Harare for work. I adore Harare. Love it. Adore it. Its the best city! The people are super friendly, clean streets abound, amazing skyscrapers loom in the skyline, and trees, trees, trees - palm trees, jacarandas, and flowers galore! Its beautiful and happy. Even the work is good. All in all, its shaped up to be a great trip to Zim, which even includes my first attempt at Irish soda bread baking away in the oven. Results = to be announced...

As you know, I travel frequently for work. I deserve some credit - I've finally figured out how to pack for a 3 night trip in a carry-on bag. I've realized I only need two pairs of shoes for just about any trip. I have a dedicated bag of toiletries ready to go at a moments notice.

But no matter what I do... I always forget something.

Once I forgot my flat iron (we promptly turned around and retrieved it). Another time I forgot body lotion. Another time face lotion (a bigger "ooops!" than body lotion because I have such sensitive skin). Another time my allergy meds (and spent the whole time sneezing). Another time my allergy eye drops. I've even forgotten underwear (hotel soap and a hair dryer can solve just about any laundry crisis).

One time I even forgot my phone, only to drive back to the house and get it. I then got out at the airport only to realize, I forgot my phone in the car. Really. As I panicked and convinced a poor Avis car rental place for me to commandeer my phone, the sweet driver was running around the departures terminal looking for me. We eventually met up and all was well, but its not the way I'd recommend starting any trip.

This time I got in the car confident I had everything. Passport? Check. Cash? Check. Allergy meds? Check. Face lotion, phone, underwear? Check. Phew.

So I arrive in Zimbabwe, congratulation my expert packing skills to find...

I forgot my power converter.

No matter what I do, it seems I'll always forget something. Lists don't help. Its just bound to happen. And I just laugh and move on!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day 2010

First and foremost, the countdown to the arrival of Mary & Gary is officially at 23 days. I CAN'T WAIT! We're headed to Kruger, Cape Town, and Swaziland and they are taking a 2nd honeymoon up to Victoria Falls - going by train and staying 3 nights at my favorite place: Sussi & Chuma Lodge. Fun times are headed our way!

Will and I had a fantastic Valentine's Day this year. We had originally talked about going to the beach for the holiday, but my recent travel schedule coupled with the upcoming trips with mom and dad made an additional trip a bit excessive. When it got down to it, I realized what I really wanted was a romantic date with hubby. And that's when it hit me - we should try one of the top 10 restaurants in South Africa that's located right outside Pretoria - a place called The Restaurant Mosaic at the Hotel Orient.

Will and I made reservations for two for dinner in private in their minaret tower. We chose Friday night as Saturday and Sunday were already booked. We drove over at sunset and on the way there, our headlights went out. The only way they would work was if Will would hold the lever forward with his hand - not conducive in a stick shift car. When we walked in, we told them we were having car trouble and they promptly sent their resident mechanic (who works on the Rolls Royces) out to look at our Land Rover.

Meanwhile, let's stop and talk about this place - its located in the Francolin Conservancy west of Pretoria in the mountains. As we pulled into the conservancy, we immediately saw zebra staring at us. Incredible! And then we pull up to the hotel - take a peek at the top of this webpage. Incredible. It was like stepping into another country. We're led through massive Indian doors (the kind you see in Zanzibar) into this incredible entry parlor, complete with indoor pools, winding staircases, and beautiful Persian rugs and other art. We're led upstairs to this beautiful dining room, then outside by an amazing pool filled with flowers and rose petals, and into the cozy minaret tower, which is lit only by candles and filled with all sorts of flowers.

Romantic? You betcha.

We're seated and immediately starts the parade of servers - what do we want to drink, hot towels for our hands and faces, a basket of all sorts of hot bread (SOURDOUGH - oh my goodness!), and an explanation of the menu by the executive chef. Even a cute black persian kitty came in to say hi to us.

Unfortunately, the tower was a bit warm (it had been over 35 degrees celsius and the minaret tower baked in the sun all day) and so we decided to stick it out for the first few courses and then go inside to the A/C and fantastic music (I'm a sucker for Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and french music playlists - think Something's Gotta Give soundtrack).

Will and I had decided on the 6 course menu with wine pairings for our meal. Here are the courses (I took a copy of the menu and in case I lose it, here it is for permanent online safe keeping)(please also forgive the French misspellings - I can't figure out how to do accent marks in blogger):

Amuse Bouche: Chilled Melon Soup with Iberian Ham and Aged Balsamic, paired with Moreson Cuvee Cape NV
Review: Absolutely delicious! The soup was in a shot glass and incredibly flavorful and herby. The iberian ham was served two ways - it was wrapped around the end of a little crusty breadstick and the other was made into a samosa-style little treat. YUM.

First Course: Melange of Tomato, paired with Lamberti Pinot Grigio Santepietre 2008
Review: I love tomatoes. This medley included so many tomatoes, but just a bite of each. It was paired with - get this - a tomato TEA. It was so good - for someone who loves tomato soup, to have tomato tea was heavenly.
And to finally have Pinot Grigio after 1.5 years... yum.

Second Course: Medley of the Sea in Star Anise Scented Lobster Bisque, paired with Cederberg Private Cellar Bukettraube 2008
Review: Perfect. Again, a super small portion, but delicious. I haven't had scallops since I moved to South Africa and it was heavenly to have one massive scallop to enjoy. There was also lobster and homemade noodles in this incredible lobster bisque. Yummity.

Palate Cleanser: Lemon Verbena sorbet
Review: Again, perfect. I love lemon!!!

Third Course (the main - we had three options to pick from): Will got the Slow Roasted Duck Leg Confit with Sweet Port Wine Reduction with Veenwouden Syrah 2006.
I had the Beef Fillet Medallions with Wild Mushrooms and Thyme Infused Beef Jus served with Stony Brook Ghost Gum Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Review: Incredible! My beef fillets were cooked perfectly, although it was a huge portion. There were so many different types of mushrooms on my plate - it would have only been better had a tasty morel been sitting there. Even the mashed potatoes were perfect!

Will's duck confit was the best I've ever had in my life. It was so tender and flavorful and was even paired with a cute little duck pie.

The third option was Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with Delicate Saffron Foam.

Cheese course: A parade of Cheese with Accompaniments and homemade Pear and Macadamia Nut Bread

Review: 10 cheeses - all incredible. I have MISSED manchego cheese - yum yum yummy. Goat cheese, munster, you name it - it was there and perfect.

Dessert (two options): I had the White Chocolate and Summer Berry Decadence and Will had the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee with delicate Poached Peach Jelly and Passion fruit Sorbet. Both desserts were served with Bottega Moscata Petalo Il Vino dell Amore NV.

First off, this was an impressive dessert. Mine had homemade raspberry sorbet, homemade strawberry ice cream, and a delicious panna cotta with fresh fruits. Will's creme brulle was absolutely delicious and his had homemade vanilla ice cream. YUM. The sparkling dessert wine was perfect - I want to find it here!!!

During the main course, we found out our car couldn't be fixed. A taxi ride home (and back) would cost upwards of R1,000 since we were so far out from Pretoria. Therefore, with the encouragement of a special rate from the hotel, we decided to stay overnight at the Hotel Orient.

This was, by far, the fanciest place I've stayed in South Africa, and definitely one of the nicest places I've ever stayed in my life. We stayed in the Marrakesh Suite, which was a stunner. The bed was incredible, the bathtub was huge, and it even had a recessed stereo and sound system. It even had a private patio where we enjoyed the night breeze and irish coffees. They gave us good toothbrushes and toothpaste and we happily slept over.

In the morning, we were treated to breakfast on the patio next to the pool, which again had course upon course. Homemade granola with fresh fruit and yogurt and homemade vanilla milk, which was fantastic in my tea. Freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate were to die for. The two breakfast mains were salmon scrambled eggs and eggs benedict. I actually don't like either dish so I tried the salmon eggs. I can see how they were good, but they weren't for me. The same for Will's eggs benedict - good, but just not for me. But caviar was included with my breakfast so I just had that on toast. Yum. Breakfast ended with these jam pastries that were so tasty.

Overall, this was the best date of my life (and the longest too). It was so great to eat amazing food and drink amazing wine, and to also have some of my favorite foods that I haven't been able to have since I moved here. It was also great to try some new wines from South Africa, which we'll go visit the next time we're in the Cape. It was definitely romantic and all the stresses of life simply fell away for the wonderful hours we spent there.

Final verdict: We're going back as soon as possible.

The rest of this long weekend has been leisurely and fantastic. I've tried to take advantage of being in the pool as much as possible. Its been a relatively cool and rainy summer, reducing our opportunities to get in the pool all summer long. This week has been super hot and dry and since being in the pool is one of my favorite things, that's what we've done.

Saturday night we had some friends over for dinner and enjoyed the South African delicacies of bacon wrapped candied cherries and chili cherry cheese sausages. Will's wildebeest burgers were fantastic-o. It was a nice leisurely time and for once, our BBQ didn't get rained out by an evening thunderstorm.

Valentine's Day we woke up super early so Will could go golfing and I could have morning coffee with Heidi and Beth. I got in the pool with my book and played with the dogs in the afternoon. Last night we made homemade cheese ravioli and spaghetti sauce with meatballs. We also started watching the "10 Best Episodes of Lost." Its been a romantic, relaxing weekend - just what we needed.

I am so thankful for Will and so incredibly thankful that we've been so blessed to start our marriage overseas.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Victoria Falls!

I got attacked by a crocodile. No really.

But let's start at the beginning...

We took a two night trip to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, a stay we won in an auction in September that benefited the Tswhane Place of Safety. Vacation + charitable giving? Heck yes.

Prior to the trip, I asked if we could be upgraded and was informed that yes, our standard room would be upgraded to a deluxe room. Score.

We get to the airport with plenty of time, only to find that Will's carry-on suitcase is overweight. We were carrying on as there was no need to pack a suitcase for a two night trip plus things get lost in African airports. Its just fact. I travel frequently (I'm in Zambia right now!) and I have never been turned away because my suitcase was too heavy. Hassled? Yes. Questioned? Yes. But told to check my bag because it was 5kg too heavy? NEVER.

We were not happy to get this news.

Nevertheless, we did a quick rearrange of luggage (tip: always pack some of your clothes in your companions suitcase in case your stuff gets lost!), checked, and received our 1st row seats. We breezed through security and on into the international terminal where we decided to use our diplomatic status to purchase champagne to bring with us to Zim. Good idea, Nagli.

Let me stop here and just say how ecstatic I was to finally be traveling with someone, but most of all, to be traveling with hubby. It seems I am so often alone when I travel and its nice to have someone to talk to, someone to help, someone to laugh with... oh gosh, I can't even begin to relate how excited I was to be on holiday with Will! Yay!

The flight went off without a hitch, complete with the nicest flight attendant ever. We had tons of leg room and an entire row to ourselves. Heck yes for comfort! We get off the plane, breeze through customs, get our luggage, get transported to the hotel, and check in.

Then we get to our room.

Forgive me: the Kudu Suite.

We open the door. Our deluxe room turned out to be a 2 story suite, complete with private balcony overlooking the waterhole, 1.5 bathrooms, massive jacuzzi tub, and king bed. Wow. I must have been a good girl this year! We were completely and utterly stunned by the awesome room - it even came with sunscreen and bug repellent!

Artistic shot of our bedroom upstairs in the Kudu Suite

We took lunch at the bar overlooking the waterhole and then next thing we were off!

Activity 1: The Helicopter

Wow. May I say, wow? I didn't even have time to be scared. Seriously. We ran to the copter, got buckled in, and no sooner could you say "Victoria Falls!" we were off! Straight up into the air - how fun! I can't even begin to tell you how fun it was and how amazing the views were. I would definitely do it again! Only pictures can tell the true story...

Activity 2: The Sunset Cruise
You really can't find much to complain about when it comes to a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, complete with hippo sightings. Unless you like to complain about Zimbabwean vodka. Or the lack of any other beverage option beside Fanta Orange and coke. Or the Zimbabwean singers performing a horrificly offkey version of a traditional song. But it was fun, we took great pictures, and it was nice to be on the water.

Activity 3: Morning Safari
If I had never been on another safari in my life, I would have been horribly disappointed by this. Luckily, its not my only shot to see game! We woke up at 5:00am (TOO EARLY) and realized it was raining for our safari. BOO. We were only 4 people on the safari, but seriously, we didn't see much - impala, warthog, buffalo, elephant, eland, giraffe, zebra, birds. Breakfast was included, which was good, but all in all, I'll stick to safaris in South Africa or on the Zambian side of the falls.

*insert 4 hour nap here*

Activity 4: Wine route canoe ride on the Zambezi
I don't know why they call this the wine route canoe ride, but they do. I'm guessing its because you can drink while someone else paddles you down the Zambezi. Regardless, words again can't express how special this experience was to me and Will.

Going down the Zambezi by canoe is incredibly quiet and relaxing. Sooner or later, I'll post a video here to share the sounds we heard that day. We saw baby crocs, hippos, even vervet monkeys. At one point, our guides gave us a break on this beautifully white sandy beach. We took pictures, watched an elephant on an island (yes, he swam to get there!!!), and then played peek-a-boo with the hippos that were clearly irritated that we were visiting their hood. All of this while the sun was going down.

Special? Absolutely.

As we neared the edge of the falls with the great smoke in the distance, Will's boat bumped my boat, as it had done several times that afternoon when he wanted to get a new beverage. Or so I thought...

I then heard the guide start shouting behind me. As I turned around, there it was:


I turned around just in time to see him right next to the boat and then SMACK! The guide dropped his paddle as hard as he could right between the croc's eyes. As he paddled away, the croc just looked stunned at the turn of events and he left us alone.

Somehow I was calm through all of this. I said, "I bet this happens all the time!" The guide says, "This has NEVER happened before!!!"

I guess we're lucky. A story for the grandkids.

That night, we dined in the hotel restaurant. I had crocodile curry in honor of my croc.

Activity 5: Victoria Falls National Park
$40 for the two of us to get into the park? And we only have one hour to see it? Moly. But we did it and get some awesome shots in the process.

I've heard the Zim side of the falls is much better than the Zambia side. I wouldn't say it was better - but I would say its different. You see a completely different section of the falls, including the Devil's Cataract, which can't be seen from Zambia. It was actually incredibly difficult to see because of the mist/smoke from the falls. Regardless, it was really incredible. Its a huge park so we definitely got a work out when we had to run back from the falls to our waiting hotel shuttle...

Vic Falls will also be the place where I will forever recall Will being called out to as "Papa" by someone wanting him to buy a parka! ha!

We get to the airport and check in, only to find out they've given our front row seats away. Don't get me started. As soon as we get on the plane, we realize we are in the absolute worst seats on the plane - seats that don't recline and have extra wide arm rests that won't move. I quickly complain to the flight attendant that I had reserved my seats but they were given away and I'm a silver SAA member. She says she doesn't think the flight will be full and we can change. As we start to settle into our reality of the seats, we're asked by the flight attendant to come to the front. We do. Turns out the lady checked in two men who don't speak any English into our seats... and since its an exit row, they can't sit there! God smiled upon us again!!! So in the end, we got the seats we reserved in the first place and again enjoyed plenty of leg room on the 2 hour flight back.

The only bummer on the whole trip is that most of my pictures didn't turn out (but all of Will's did - yay!). We got an awesome new digital camera for Christmas (thanks mom and dad!) but I guess I had it on some strange setting. Most of the pictures are grainy. Worse, the camera wouldn't take pictures quickly so even though I thought quickly enough to take a pic of the croc, the camera didn't agree. BOO. Will is looking into it and we should fix the settings before Mom and Dad arrive in March.

All in all, it was an incredibly fantastic romantic trip filled with the great outdoors and lots of fun on the river! I highly recommend Victoria Falls on the Zim side!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy New Year!

ouch. November 5 was the last time I was here? Sorry friends.

A brief summary of life since November 5:
  • I traveled to Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Cape Town - all were trips for work and all were incredibly enjoyable. No pictures as I had no camera, but all great trips!
  • I celebrated my 2nd Thanksgiving in South Africa - hooray turkey! We finally fried one up!
  • We welcomed Maria and Butch, our first friends to visit us in SA in December - it was so good to have friendy friends in town!
  • I saw my first lion in South Africa (I had seen them before in Zambia, but not here) - big 5 complete in SA!
  • I watched a scary movie, which I hadn't done in eons (AHHHHHHHH, Paranormal Activity!). I'm still scared. Poor Will.
  • I sang Christmas carols at the Ambassador's house! It was so great to be accompanied by an amazing pianist and to be the lead soprano on my favorite Christmas carols.
  • We celebrated Christmas in Eesterust, bringing Christmas to more than 50 children!
  • We hosted a fantastic Christmas Eve dinner, using PW recipes (beef tenderloin, rosemary potatoes, burgundy mushrooms) - yum!
  • I got fantastic Christmas loot, including tsavorite stud earrings from Will (he handpicked these rare gems and then had them set for me - yay!), a copper double bottle wine chiller, silver platters, and heck yes - a camera!!!
  • I became mildly obsessed with turning "Party in the USA" into "Party in the RSA" - because, after all, I do bob my head like "yeah..."
  • I discovered 30 Rock (awesome) and John Adams (awesome)
  • Lost Season 5 = absolutely hands down best season EVER. Jacob/John Locke... WHAT????
  • I read the best book I've read since What is the What and A Thousand Splendid Suns... what is it? Oh heck yes, its My Life in France - the biography of Julia Child! What an amazingly great read!
  • Mad Men season 3 is so incredibly dark and depressing I've stopped watching it. BOO.
I took off two weeks at the end of December and enjoyed a "stay-cation" in Pretoria, aside from our brief jaunt to Pilanesberg with Maria & Butch. It was so nice to catch up reading, lay by the pool, try new recipes, and yes, rebuild my entire iTunes library. I really needed the time off to relax and I have come back to work 100% recharged.

What's the new year's resolution? Well, I'm continuing to challenge myself to do something I'm scared of.
  • Last year? White water rafting on the Nile in Uganda. That looked like this:
  • The year before? Horseback riding on my honeymoon and ziplining in Magaliesberg (I still have a massive dent in my left shin from crashing into the side of the mountain - sigh).
  • In 2007 - a half marathon (yes, scary!) and glacier hiking, both in Alaska.
  • In May, Will and I are celebrating our 2 year anniversary to go be with the Great White Sharks in False Bay, where they famously breach seals at Seal Island (as seen on Planet Earth). Its going to look like this:

  • Tomorrow I'm getting on a helicopter flight and flying over Victoria Falls. Yes, I'm scared. Not scared like paranormal activity scared, but scared like we're-gonna-fall-from-the-sky scared. Oh well - I'll do it and bring back the pics to prove it. I have a camera now, you see. For now just know it will look somewhat like this:
We're also going on a safari, a canoe ride, and a sunset cruise. I am so excited about our weekend vacation to Zimbabwe/Victoria Falls! It will be my 3rd time to the falls but my 1st time to the Zimbabwe side (previous visits were from the Zambia side).

One thing we've been talking about here among friends is grocery shopping - spending too much, wasting food, not having a good plan in place, etc.. I feel like this is something I've recently done well so I thought it might be fun to share some tips for grocery shopping!

Will and I used to go to the store list-free and just buy things willy-nilly. While it was nice to have a stocked fridge and pantry and to make decisions on what we'd eat when we got home from work, this often resulted in us chucking loads of wilted, rotten veggies and spoiled milk and yogurt. It was wasteful, both in terms of money and in food. I just couldn't take it anymore.

For one month, I kept our receipts from our grocery trips and was absolutely SHOCKED. We were spending so much money on groceries and throwing about half of it away in the trash and stocking a good 1/4 of it in our pantry and freezer. Yikes. It was time to overhaul our behavior.

Every Sunday I make the plan for the week.

Step 1: Inventory! What do we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer that we can/need to use and/or get rid of?

Step 2: Sit down with my cookbooks. I actually love to read cookbooks - I find them fascinating! I have tons of recipes I've clipped from magazines (Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Real Simple) and placed into a binder, but I also work from Pioneer Woman (obviously), Cooking Light, Best International Recipes, and Best Light Recipes. I also browse Pioneer Woman Cooks!, the Cooking Light website, and Tasty Kitchen (I'm a contributor there!). I look up the ingredients I have on hand and pull 1-2 new recipes that includes those. Or I just pick something new and fun!

P.S. I'm ITCHING for this and this...

I also work from a set list of our favorite things to eat, which includes:
-- Burgers
-- Tortilla pizza (I actually posted this recipe on Tasty Kitchen!)
-- Rainbow Salad with grilled chicken
-- PW's chicken parm
-- Beef stroganoff
-- Tacos
-- Sloppy joes
-- Soup and sandwich

Step 3: Make the list! I write out S-M-T-W-TH-F-S at the top of a shopping list and write out the dinner that corresponds to that night. I usually plan to make four dinner meals during the week, mainly because I've realized that we'll either go out to eat or eat at a friends house at least 2 nights a week (usually Friday and Saturday) and one night we'll eat leftovers or something simple, like a s. I also make recipes that feed 4 so that we have enough leftovers to eat at lunch and/or breakfast.

I write out the ingredient list for each of those dinners and also add regular things (dog biscuits, laundry detergent, toothpaste, sandwich meat), again, checking to see what we need versus what we already have.

I usually run the list by Will and make sure he's on board with the weekly plan. I really give him major credit for adapting to a scheduled dinner plan! He's been great about it.

Step 4: I head to the store with Will and STICK TO THE LIST. There are no coupons in South Africa so I don't really have the benefit of shopping with clipped coupons. If its not on the list, I simply don't buy it (unless its on super duper sale or its some American product that I've never seen before and am afraid I won't see again - Cholula? Its coming home with us!).

Step 5: Prep! On Sundays, I typically pack my lunch for the entire week and I may even go ahead and make two dinners in one night so I don't have to later on the week (example: maybe I make spaghetti or sloppy joes to eat another day but eat stroganoff that night).

The results?
-- More money in the wallet
-- Feeling less wasteful
-- Use of cookbooks that were previously collecting dust...
-- Feeling in control of my spending and eating habits
-- An emptier fridge and pantry (even our friends have commented!)

Some things we can't avoid. Occasionally we do go out more often than we meant to and wind up having to freeze something that was meant to be eaten for dinner one night. We still stockpile some items - but we really reserve that for things from the US, like Panko bread crumbs and brownie mix. I can't help it. While I don't think I'll ever be someone that prints out a calendar to put on the fridge but I like where we've come to in regards to our meal planning. Yay!

Next steps: I'm trying to do better at turning leftovers into something new. For example, I made carne asada tacos Sunday night (YUM) and Monday night Will and I turned them into steak fajita quesadillas simply by adding cooked onion and green bell pepper and cheese we already had on hand. I'm interested in trying this sometime too... I've been looking for a book and searching the internet, but so far... nothing.

And we're off to Victoria Falls - yay! Picture post to come soon!