Monday, February 13, 2012

Saturday's lunch

Saturday's lunch at La Colombe was exquisite. Marie's parents treated us to three hours of fine dining, superb drinking (man, they make a lot of great wine here!), and flawless service in a location that was entirely genteel yet also relaxing. We dined en plein air, accompanied by the sounds of wind through palm fronds.

crab salad dressed in yuzu, on miso and orange crema, with mirin and dashi jellies and daikon radish mousse, with sweet potato crisps

medallions of pan-seared springbok, wilted baby spinach, poached fig, potato fondant, truffle jus, pan fried foie gras, shimeji mushrooms, roasted garlic

smoked chocolate torte, rolled in coffee and hazelnut crumble, Hennessey marshmallow, hazelnut covered meringue, poached sour cherries, tobacco salted caramel sauce, hazelnut semi-freddo

A vintage 2000 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir was the most expensive wine I've ever drunk,

and the dessert wine, a Vin de Constance, one of the most delicious. I must find this in NYC!

Thank you Henri & Maureen for an unforgettable meal!

just another day in the hood

Yesterday we explored the Cape, including several hours at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. As you can see, the scenery is a lot like NYC, nothing to write home about.

photo by Marie Viljoen

Despite the fact that KLM will not let me check in on line, I am trying to remain optimistic about my flight tonight. It ain't easy.

Addendum: For an extended look at Boulders Beach, see Marie's post. Her photos capture the essence of the place.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

skeleton gorge and the dazzling Disa

Table Mountain dominates Cape Town, everyone knows that. But did you know how many different parts and pieces and sides there are to Table Mountain? Because that has taken me entirely by surprise. I expected the classic, flat topped view of the mountain that you see from Big Bay, but yesterday Marie, Helen, and I climbed Skeleton Gorge for an entirely different perspective.

Entering through Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, we left the manicured lawns and beds behind and scrambled up a rocky trail. The shady path ended in a series of ladders to help hikers over the steepest bits.

(This is Helen, whose blog Walking the Cape includes a more complete description of this walk with excellent photos.)

At the top of the gorge we had options. We would eventually walk to the reservoirs and down Nursery Ravine, which would have made a 5-6 hour loop on its own. But the motivation for our walk necessitated a detour and so we headed in the direction of Maclear's Peak, the highest point on Table Mountain.

This part of the path includes a stream and an aqueduct famous for its Disa uniflora, a brilliant red orchid that is in high season. I wasn't entirely prepared for the size, beauty, and quantity of this orchid. It grew on rock walls dripping with wet moss, hanging over pools of water brown from tannins.

Instead of continuing to Maclear's Peak we cut down to the Hely-Hutchingon Reservoir following a dry stream bed. It was another rocky scramble, and at one point I turned to see a look of absolute astonishment on Marie's face. I knew it couldn't be the orchids; we'd become almost jaded about them by now. She pointed up and said, "Klipspringer."

Apparently it's quite rare to see these nimble beasts on Table Mountain...even rarer to have them stand still long enough for a photograph or two.

Past the reservoirs,

through Nursery Valley, to a scenic picnic point at the top of Nursery Ravine,

then perhaps the most difficult part of the hike: an hour of steep downhill steps, some rocks and boulders, some steps built into the mountain. A lone flower of the Giant Protea (entirely out of season) brightened the journey and distracted me from my creaky knees.

Seven hours after we started, we re-emerged onto the lawns of Kirstenbosch. I wish I'd taken more pictures, but I grew weary of pulling my camera in and out of my backpack. For more (and more lovely) photos, see Marie's post from last January when she hiked the same route with Vince.

Friday, February 10, 2012

open for business

Yesterday was all about lunch.

Marie drove us an hour and a half north of Cape Town to Paternoster, once a fishing village, now popular as a beach town for upscale vacation homes. Paternoster is the home of Oep ve Koep, which is dialect Afrikaans for "open for business". The chef, Kobus van der Merwe, is creative, personable, and oh-so-gifted. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The drive to Paternoster takes you through an arid landscape.

The beach is well known for its lobsters, but we arrived too late to buy from the fishermen, so after appreciating their boats, we headed for lunch.

The back yard dining area was colorful, intimate, and inviting. Bougainvillea spilled over the walls and African-themed tablecloths added color and humor to the setting.

Kobus came out to explain the menu and despite the fact that we were only two, we ordered one of everything. We are serious eaters.

The appetizers were 1) watermelon, pickled onion, and basil salad with a watermelon and tabasco granita, cucumber sorbet, and borage flowers; 2) a fig and bread salad, and 3) chicken liver with preserved grapefruit, fleur de sel, and arugula. The flavors were fresh, strong, and well balanced; each one a winner.

Our first main course was local mussels (plump and large) with wild garlic, dune parsley, and buttermilk broth. The broth was salty and addictive; I drank every drop.

We shared angelfish pan fried with cape gooseberry (Physalis), tamarind, roasted tomato, capers, and nasturtium. I'd never had angelfish before. It has the texture of swordfish, but a more buttery taste. Loved it.

The final main course was a potato-stuffed dumpling served with dune spinach, mushrooms, pine nuts, and a compound pea butter. Another delicious dish.

If you love food and you're in Cape Town, make the drive to Paternoster and Oep ve Koep. It's the kind of place and the kind of food that makes you deeply happy; you'll enjoy every minute and every bite.

On the way home we detoured to Big Bay to see the para-sailers. Incredible! They dipped and flipped in front of Robben Island.

While the shark warning would have discouraged me from swimming, apparently it had no effect on the para-sailers.

To the south, Table Mountain was draped in its tablecloth as we headed home.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

early morning exploration

Marie's mother Maureen (say that five times fast) has the most beautiful private garden I've ever seen. It's both personal and professional, and by that I mean impeccably groomed and entirely individual. Crooked paths lead to shady nooks. Large trees combine with sinuous tropical vines. The fuchsias are taller than I am!

Before coffee this morning, I explored just a little.

I know, I know I need to work on my long shots.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

the Cape Flats and Abalimi Bezekhaya

I'm not sure I've ever met a more idealistic man than Rob Small, or anyone more committed to his ideals. Rob is the founder of Abalimi Bezekhaya, a grassroots organization that trains and supports small farmers in Cape Flats. He took Marie and me on a tour of several gardens this morning, through parts of this city I would never have seen otherwise.

This is the Asande Community Garden, one of several that contract grow fresh vegetables for Abalimi Bezekhaya, which assembles the produce into weekly CSA shares and distributes them through Harvest of Hope.

from left to right: Sibongile (whose name means "we give thanks") is the leader of the garden, with Tamzile and Payini

Mama Bokolo grows the seedlings, makes the compost, and saves seeds at the garden center, where member farmers can buy them well below market prices.

Abalimi Bezakhaya deserves an article (or seven), and I need time and research to do it justice, but I thought you might like to see a few images as a teaser. If anyone has a suggestion for which magazine(s) I might pitch the story idea to...please let me know!

Cape Flats is unlike anyplace I've ever been, and certainly not a place you'd expect to find farmers growing organic produce. The buildings are mostly refurbished containers, interspersed with shanties and small homes. Life is on the street: freshly slaughtered meat is grilled and sold, cell phones can be repaired, and beauty salons abound.

After lunch we drove to the harbor at Hout Bay.

Two dogs were furious at something in the sea:

and this seemingly mild-mannered seal was equally furious with the dogs, waving its flippers and lurching up out of the water as the dogs barked and lunged. Fortunately, no one came to blows...this time.

A young musician made lovely music on his recorder. Self-taught, he said.