Saturday, April 19, 2014

I'll be lion around

My apologies for not being able to resist a very corny joke.  Don't judge me.  But this is just to tell you that I am going on vacation for two weeks.  My husband Jacob is returning to South Africa.  We are meeting in Johannesburg and traveling to the Blyde River Canyon and Kruger Park (hence the lion joke).  I promise to post lots of photos of us and all the animals we see when I return to Hawston on May 4.  Until then, happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

nom nom nom

An alternate title for this post is:"I been around the world, don't speak the language, but bobotie don't need explaining'"

Y'all, it's time to talk about one of my very favorite topics.  Food

I've often been asked what food is like in South Africa and what I eat here.  These are two very different questions, so I'm going to answer them separately.

Let's start by talking about traditional South African food.  I will first offer the disclaimer that, like everything else in this incredibly diverse country, what you eat depends on what area you are from and what culture you're talking about.    Here are some traditional foods eaten in my area of the Western Cape:

Boerewors:  sausages, usually cooked on a braai and served on a roll like a hot dog with butter and tomato sauce (which is less salty catsup).  Very tasty.
Boerewors on the braai

Biltong: South African jerky.  Could be made from beef or any of the game animals around.  It's not too bad, considering I don't much like jerky.

Biltong, which I like way more than I thought I would.
Curry: typical of Cape Malay cuisine.  Malay curries are more similar to Indian curries than Thai curries, but they are usually less spicy and might be a bit sweet.  They might even have fruit like raisins in them.  Could be made with ground beef (mince), seafood, vegetables, chicken, or pretty much anything you can think of.

Fish: remember I live in a fishing community, so obviously we eat a lot of fish.  Common local fish are snoek (not my favorite - it's very bony), hake (a firmer fleshed white fish, way fewer bones), and kingklip (also a white fish with few bones).  Depending on where you are, you could have fish cooked in any one of a thousand ways, but I would say fish and chips is probably the most widely available.

Crayfish: very different from the crayfish in America.  Much more like a lobster except they don't have the big scary pincers.  The tails are the best part.  Crayfish could be served in a curry, cooked on a braai, or just boiled.  They're good any way you prepare them.

Abalone: called perlemoen in Afrikaans.  A type of shellfish that is native to these waters.  It is not very easy to cook - you have to know what you're doing or else it will turn out very tough.  But it's kinda fun to make because you have to tenderize it, which involves beating it with a heavy mallet.  I have only eaten abalone once, the time I helped cook it (I did the beating).  It was cut into slices and fried, and it was very tasty.

Koeksisters: like doughnuts, but shaped differently and dipped in a sticky sweet topping.

Koeksisters... am I spelling that right?
Bobotie:  another Cape Malay dish.  Some type of curry topped with baked egg.

Pap: a porridge made from cornmeal, a very Afrikaans dish.  Usually eaten at a braai as a side dish and often with some sort of sauce, possibly a tomato and onion sauce.  Pap reminds me very much of grits, and I like it.  
Pap, which is like grits.
Malva pudding: not a pudding, but eaten for pudding (dessert).  It's a baked desert that is sort of bread or cake like, with a caramelized sugar topping.  Usually eaten with vanilla ice cream or custard.  I'm not describing this well, but I assure you it is very tasty.

Mmm malva pudding with custard!
Ok so those are some traditional foods for this area.  I've tried all of the above things, and I like most of them.  But that's not what I eat on a daily basis.  Why not?  Because this is the Western Cape, and there are real grocery stores that sell any type of food you could possibly want (except Mexican food, which does not exist here unless I am making it with taco seasoning that I brought from home).  Also, I have some weird food preferences.  Before I came to South Africa, I had been a vegetarian for about 3 years.  Needless to say, I don't really fit in all that well in this meat-loving culture.  It's a little like visiting my in-laws in Kansas.

So what do I eat here?  When I'm at my house and cooking for myself, I tend to eat the same foods all the time because I'm lazy and I like them.  Breakfast is plain yogurt (my very favorite food, and readily available here.  Fair Cape Bulgarian yogurt is absolutely the best!) and muesli, or plain yogurt topped with almonds and drizzled with local honey.  Lunch is usually a salad and some sort of sandwich.  Grilled cheese is my favorite, and it's easy to make ever since I stole Hananja's sandwich press.  Most of the large grocery stores here sell fresh bread made in their bakeries for about $1 USD.  The best bread is the home made seed loaf from Peregrine farm stall, which is on the side of the road in between Cape Town and Hawston.  I make a point to stop there every time I travel through.  
This is why I don't cook complicated things very often.  See the problem?
I cook myself dinner at my house probably about 3-4 times per week.  The other nights I'm eating with friends or having dinner out because I'm super popular like that.  By far my most common dinner at home is roasted vegetables with chickpeas, topped with feta cheese. I used to be a vegetarian, remember?  Common veggies around here are butternut squash, pumpkin, zucchini (called baby marrow), bell peppers, eggplant (called aubergine), mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.  My second most common dinner that I cook myself is pasta, usually with bottled tomato sauce and some sort of veggie like zucchini or eggplant, again topped with feta cheese.  Feta cheese in South Africa is a bit different from our feta cheese.  It is a milder cheese here and it is not as salty.  I don't much like American feta, but clearly I like it here.

Other food staples in my South African diet are:

Crackers - there is a type of cracker called cracker bread that I really like.
Cottage cheese - TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what we call cottage cheese.  It's more like cream cheese, except low in fat and high in protein.  I absolutely despise American cottage cheese, but I like it here.
Dried fruit and nuts - dried peaches and pears and almonds and cashews are my most common.  You can also get something called 'guava slices' which are fabulous.  I'm pretty sure they're made by crushing up the guava and drying it flat then cutting it into slices, a bit like fruit leather.
Tea - rooibos and honeybush are my favorites.  Both of these are fynbos plants that are made into herbal teas.
My current tea selection, with my super cute tea box.  The bottom of the box says, 'Take a second to think about how scared the tea bags must be when a hand reaches in.'  Indeed!
Coffee - obviously coffee.  Only whole beans, freshly ground and made in my french press.  I take it black.  Many South Africans drink Nescafé or other instant coffee, and all of them put milk and sugar in it.  I'm sorry, but that is not coffee.
Cheese - cheddar, Gouda, feta, mozzarella... You name it, the grocery store has it.  The cheese section is always good in every store I've been in.
Cookies - I have discovered the best cookies in the world.  Actually, it was Hananja who introduced me to them, and (darn her!) I would probably weigh several pounds less if these cookies had never made my acquaintance.  The brand is Cape Cookie Company, and they make an oat and coconut cookie that is sandwiched together by chocolate.  It's like a Samoa without the caramel. 
This is the Checkers in Hermanus, a typical grocery store.  Grocery shopping takes me much longer than it should.  The stores are big enough that you need to look at the aisle signs to find stuff, but I can't read the aisle signs, so I end up wandering in circles until I find what I need.
I mentioned that I often go out for dinner.  Hermanus has lots of good restaurants.  The most common types of restaurants I go to are seafood (again, not shocking considering I live by the ocean) or pizza.  Pizza in South Africa is always thin crust, like thinner than a tortilla.  It may not have tomato sauce, but it will always have cheese and other toppings.  I have had some fabulous pizzas here, with everything from butternut, rocket, and pumpkin seeds to bacon, fig, and blue cheese.  With so many different types of pizzas, I guess it's no wonder I eat pizza a lot.  I've also had good sushi, Indian, bakery sandwiches, tapas, Italian, falafel, and Thai at various restaurants in Hermanus and Cape Town.  Basically, you name it, I can find it at a restaurant in one of these cities (except Mexican food).
A typical lunch I might order at a restaurant... a salad with smoked salmon and fresh baked bread.  And a local craft beer, of course.
This was at the Old Biscuit Mill market in Cape Town, where this lovely gentleman was making me a fabulous market sandwich for brunch.
When I eat at other people's houses, nine times out of ten it's a braai.  I've discussed a braai before.  Basically it's just a barbecue, but a braai is more of a thing here.  It always uses wood.  Gas or charcoal would not be a 'real' braai.  The type of meat you cook could be anything, but the people I braai with usually cook lamb, pork, or boerewors.   Usually everyone brings their own meats, and we share side dishes like salad.  
Two boys and a braai... I don't know for sure what they were saying because they were speaking Afrikaans, but I think Dewald was telling Stefan, "Dude, if you touch my braai again I will hit you with this plate."
Of course no discussion of South African food would be complete without mentioning South African drink, namely wine.  There are like a dozen wine farms within a 20 minute drive from my house.  Wine here is usually very nice and very affordable.  If I spend $8 USD on a bottle, then I'm buying the good stuff and it must be a special occasion!  The most common varieties of white wine in this area are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  However, I seem to have finally acquired a taste for red wines!  Pinotage is my favorite.  It's a very South African varietal, and you can find a good pinotage at most vineyards around here and in pretty much any shop.

OK now all this food talk has made me hungry.  Good thing I have some cookies in my pantry.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Totsiens and Dumela

Remember way way back last spring when I was waiting and waiting to see where in the world I would be placed for my YASC year?  And how I almost ended up in Lesotho instead of South Africa?  Well guess what?  I'm going to make it to Lesotho after all!

HOPE Africa, who partially sponsors the care centre here in Hawston, also works with St. James Mission Hospital in Mantsonyane, Lesotho.  St. James does a lot of maternity care, and since my nursing experience is mostly in labor and delivery, we all decided it would be great for me to spend some time there.  I am so excited for this opportunity to learn from the doctors and midwives at St. James, and I'm frankly very curious to see what labor looks like over here!  I think it is going to be a totally different experience.  Mantsonyane is VERY rural.  There is no NICU for premature babies.  Epidurals aren't an option.  They do cesarean sections at St. James, but only as truly a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted.  In the US, my entire life (or so it felt like at the time) as a labor nurse revolved around the fetal heart rate monitor strip.  At my hospital in Richmond, computers showed us our patients' strips from every room and from the nurses' station.  If I went to the bathroom during my shift, I would ask one of my colleagues to watch my strips until I got back.  That is the way we roll in America.  I will have to tell you more when I actually get there and experience a labor, but I am quite sure this will not be the case in Lesotho.  In fact, I'm not sure they will have electronic monitoring equipment at all, and now I'm really wishing I had gotten Carolyn to teach me to use a fetoscope.

St. James also works with satellite clinics around the Mantsonyane area, because as rural as the hospital is, there are villages in the surrounding mountains that are even more isolated!  I've absolutely loved the community based nursing I've been practicing in South Africa, and I hope I get to experience some of the satellite clinics in Lesotho also.

To learn more about St. James and its work, check out their website!  (Side note:  I'm pretty sure that former YASCer Jared's fingerprints are all over this website.)

In the midst of my excitement about going to another country in southern Africa and experiencing my nursing specialty in a very different environment, I have to admit I'm having some conflicting emotions about this change of plans.  Mostly because it means saying goodbye to Hawston two and half months early.  Suddenly I'm down to my last 5 weeks working at Overstrand Care Centre, I am running out of time to check off my must-do list, and I am really starting to freak out about leaving the people that I've spent the past seven and a half months falling in love with.  I know Lesotho is going to be awesome too and I can't wait to get started there.  But before I can do that I have to come to terms with the fact that my time here is actually ending, and I really am leaving quite soon.  

Until then, I'm going to keep enjoying the work I'm doing right now (Martin is back after his much deserved long vacation, and I have never ever in my entire life been more excited to see someone than I was to see him!) and growing the relationships I've made here.  This weekend I plan to soak up what might be the last of the real summer weather in the Western Cape.  Look out beach, I'm not done with you yet!