Wine tasting in Franschhoek

On Saturday, Al and I drove an hour outside Cape Town to Franschhoek (“French Corner” in Dutch), which is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa.  Our plan was to go wine tasting and also check out a few of the area’s restaurants.


The day started off cold and drizzly.  Our first stop was a restaurant/wine bar called, appropriately, Bread & Wine.  We got a charcuterie board/cheese plate and two glasses of wine (sauvignon blanc for Al, chenin blanc for me).  Yum.

Cheese plate number 1

Next, we headed to a winery called Leopard’s Leap, which looked from the outside like a cool, European library, and looked on the inside like a trendy boutique hotel that mated with a cool, European library.

The wine was pretty good but nothing to write home about (blogging doesn’t count).

Even though Al was driving and I was free to get as boozy as I wanted, I ended up dumping out most of my wine, since apparently the South Africans believe in very hefty tasting pours.  I think the girl at Leopard’s Leap must have served me the equivalent of 7 glasses of wine. Whoa, nelly.

I call this picture “Ghost Pillar”

After Leopard’s Leap, we checked out Rickety Bridge winery, which had the best wines we tasted all day.

The tasting system there was interesting: you sit down at a table, a waiter comes up, you tell him which wines you want to taste, and he brings them.

Theoretically, you could taste all the wines on the menu with no charge, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that you will purchase at least one bottle at the end.  We bought a couple of bottles to take home and our second cheese plate of the day.

Cheese plate number 2

Then, we headed to Grande Provence winery, which was in a really beautiful space and had an attached gallery full of contemporary South African art.  Pretty cool.

Grande Provence tasting room

Our favorite part of Grande Provence was the fireplace.

Our last stop was The Kitchen, a restaurant attached to Maison winery.  Another very cool space.

Our hosts in Cape Town, Hillary and Alfred, had recommended The Kitchen for having great food, but when we got there (close to 4), the kitchen was closed and they were only serving – you guessed it – cheese plates.  So, we had our THIRD cheese plate of the day, plus two glasses of rose. Nom.

Cheese plate number 3

By the time we drove back to Cape Town, I was conked out in the car.  Al took a picture of me while I was sleeping and left me in the car to go show Hillary and Alfred. Thanks, honey.  I won’t post that one, but I’ll share this one instead:

Wine tasting makes us happy

Overall, I was impressed with the wine and food in Franschhoek, and it was a really beautiful, peaceful place.  As we drove around, we kept comparing the surroundings to other places: Sonoma, Krems an der Donau (Austria), even Virginia – but it was actually pretty unique. We both really loved it.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll be coming back here again.

Thanksgiving in Cape Town

Happy Black Friday! May none of you be trampled to death today and may you all enjoy many leftover-turkey-and-stuffing sandwiches!

Protea flowers, Cape Town

Al and I are in Cape Town. We came down yesterday morning and are staying at the beautiful home of Al’s former boss, Hillary, her husband, Alfred, their two sons, Boden (7) and Asher (16 months), and their two gentle Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  They live in a lovely, leafy Cape Town neighborhood full of flowering trees and narrow, quiet streets.

A nearby street

We spent the early afternoon yesterday hanging out with Hilary and Alfred and their kids and dogs, which was really fun.  Al gets along well with dogs and kids of all descriptions, which is one of the reasons I love him.

He’s a natural

Yesterday afternoon, we also took a walk around the neighborhood and gaped at how gorgeous Cape Town is.  The weather is perfect – sunny, warm, and breezy during the day and crisp at night – and the vegetation is lush and green.  It actually really reminds me a lot of Northern California: the plants, the weather, the smell of the air (eucalyptus and flowering trees), the brown and green hills and clear blue skies — it all feels very familiar to me.  This morning, we went for a run in Kirstenbosch, a nearby National Botanical Garden that reminded me strongly of Golden Gate Park (except minus the creepy drifters living in the bushes).  I really love how green it is here.

View from a parking deck – looks like San Francisco (with a mountain)

Last night, Hillary and Alfred were kind enough to host Thanksgiving at their home for a large number of people, including many adorable kids.


Dinner was potluck style, and our contribution was the aforementioned labor-of-love/just-plain-labor pumpkin pie, plus two store-bought pies from Wooly’s, a few bottles of wine, and some salads.

La mesa

Others brought veggie dishes, bread, mashed potatoes, more wine, and, of course, TURKEY.  Everything was delicious.

My plate

We went around the table and said what we were thankful for.  This is my sixth Thanksgiving of being thankful for Alastair.  I’m also thankful for great friends and family, good health, and the opportunity to live in a new place and pursue my dreams.  Life is good, you know?

Thankful for this guy

The moment of truth of the night came for me at dessert, when my pie was served.  Luckily, it was a hit.  In order to verify that it was, in fact, delicious, I had to test several slices.  I approved.

Hillary and Alfred were wonderful hosts and it was fun meeting their group of friends here in Cape Town.  The only disadvantage is that now I don’t want to ever go back to Joburg. Sigh.

Tomorrow, the plan is to go wine tasting.  I’m feeling a little sick (sore throat, headache, etc.) but my disgusting boils are subsiding, so I’m optimistic.  I’ll report back soon.  Enjoy the rest of your long weekends!

Pumpkin pie

To take my mind off my many health woes, I spent this afternoon making a pumpkin pie from scratch. And I mean SCRATCH. Scritchety-scratch.  This was my first time making pumpkin pie, so I was going into this thing blind.  And, since canned pumpkin and pre-made pie crusts don’t exist in this country, I was forced to get sort of Helga Homemaker and make everything myself. And it went pretty well, until I dropped the pie.  But we’ll get to that in a sec.

The final product

The first hurdle I faced was figuring out how I was going to get pureed pumpkin.  A survey of local grocery stores and markets turned up nada on the canned pumpkin front.  This meant I would have to buy raw pumpkin and puree it myself.  Getting the pumpkin was not a problem: I found raw, cubed pumpkin at my local fruit/veg market. But to puree it, I needed a food processor or a blender. I had brought my amazing, blocky Cuisinart food processor from home, but it turns out that it requires 650 watts of power to run (this is a lot) and the largest step-down transformer we could find in Joburg only went up to 100 watts. Ruh-roh.  So, I was forced to buy the cheapest immersion blender I could find, instead.  While I was at it, I also bought a rolling pin and a pie tin.  Since I had already bought the other ingredients for the pie, I was set.

Next, I set about making the pumpkin puree-able.  Going off of this recipe, I popped my cubed raw pumpkin into the oven at 200 C for 45 minutes… but afterwards, the pumpkin was still pretty hard. I ended up leaving it in the oven for almost 90 minutes, until it was soft enough to smash with a fork.

Roasted pumpkin

While the pumpkin was cooking, I made my pie crust following this recipe (from a South African!), which turned out to be shockingly easy.  I felt so proud of myself, rolling the dough out with my new rolling pin.  I wanted someone to observe me doing this and say, “wow, look at you, rolling that dough like a pro!” but no one was there, and actually, I look terrible, so it’s probably best no one witnessed any of this process.

Dough, glorious dough!

When the pumpkin was finally cooked, I used my new immersion blender to puree it into velvety, orange goodness.

Aw yeah.

Then I added in the spices, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract, and poured that bowl of deliciousness into the pie shell, which I had flattened, more or less, onto the pie tin.

It was hard not to chug this. But I resisted.

Then I popped that baby into the oven at 170-200 C for about 45 minutes.  There was some mid-baking temperature adjustment because our oven is kinda wack.  I tested the pie’s doneness with a fork and when it was firm but moist, I slowly, painstakingly withdrew it from the oven, an oven mitt on one hand and a towel in the other.  I was inching it out of the oven when something – I’m still not sure what, but maybe a pie-stress-induced-seizure? – happened, and I dropped the pie.


It landed on the open oven door, praise Jesus (seriously) and did not flip over, but the side of it got kind of squashed.  Al was sitting out in the other room watching a show called “Space Mysteries” and eating gummies when he heard me scream in agony.  I then threw a really predictable type-A hissy fit about ruining my perfect pie.  Al tried to convince me it looked more “homemade” this way, and I appreciated the effort, but no.  It looked SO BEAUTIFUL before and now it’s ruined. RUINED, I tell you.  No one will love you now, pie!

It looked better before, I swear.

But I did taste a little bit of the filling that fell out, and daaaaaaang. It was good.  So it may not look perfect, but I’m hoping people will enjoy it tomorrow.  Inner beauty and all that.

Until then, happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a joyous, turkey and stuffing filled day of family, friends, and food coma.

Adventures in healthcare

Today was interesting!

Remember that thing on my hand? It got worse.

Then, last night, I developed a gross rash all over my chest, neck, and face that looked like a collection of bug bites/zits.  My whole face and chest itched like crazy.  And then I woke up this morning with my bottom lip swollen up. Not cute.

So, as is my custom, I took a trip to the hospital to see what was going on.  Honestly, I don’t really count a country as truly lived in if I haven’t gone to the hospital at least once.  In every other country in which I’ve spent significant time (except Cuba, dang it!), I’ve gone to the hospital.  It’s just what I do.  It’s my thing.

A brief reminiscence: in Brazil, I went to the hospital multiple times for multiple issues (herniated disc, blood-work); in Argentina, I visited an eye hospital; in Chile, I had to see a dermatologist because an ill-advised navel piercing had become infected and then, a few months later, just to make sure I really had a feel for the Chilean healthcare system, I had to go to the emergency room for rabies shots after being bitten by a stray dog; in Mexico, as a child on vacation with my family, I got pneumonia, and then, when I returned in college, I had recently sliced off a large portion of my finger so had to go to the doctor to get my bandages changed and get antibiotics to prevent infection.  There are probably other incidents I’m forgetting/blocking out, but let’s just say I’m no stranger to developing world emergency waiting rooms.

Today, given the fact that at least one part of my face was swollen (never a good thing), I decided to play it safe and go to the Morningside Clinic in Joburg to see what was ailing me.  And, it turns out, they had no idea.  The nurse and the doctor thought the rash looked like chicken pox, except I’ve already had chicken pox, and I don’t have a fever or other signs of illness (except for a small sore throat this morning). They took bloodwork and ruled out any viral infections. Everything came back completely normal. Hooray?

I took this sneaky sideways picture at the hospital, to prove I was there.

So, after four hours, I was discharged with a prescription for an anti-itch/anti-boil-carbuncle-and-other-disgusting-skin-ailments cream, and turned away.  So now I’m sitting here with this stuff slathered all over my face, debating how long I need to leave it on before I can go to the gym.  On the other hand, I also sort of don’t want to leave the house because I look like Quasimodo’s acne-ridden female cousin. I took a photo of myself to post here but it was too shocking, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

So, I’m relieved that I don’t have any sort of pox (chicken, guinea-fowl, or otherwise) because we’re going to Cape Town tomorrow to stay with a family with small children, and I wouldn’t want to have to cancel our trip.  I guess I can deal with just looking gross, although I am worried that I might scare the kids.

Anyway, the good thing about this experience was that I was pleasantly surprised by how easy things are here, healthcare-wise.  Our insurance covered most of the hospital visit and all of the medicine.  There weren’t complicated forms to fill out.  Things were pretty straightforward.  Way to go, South Africa.

Okay, back to my bell-tower.  Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone.


Today is one of those days that has been consumed by chores. Which happens, sometimes, when one moves internationally.

I got up this morning at 6:40 to drive Al to work, came back home, and then got back into bed for two hours.  Don’t judge me!  I had woken up with a sore throat and a headache, this thing on my hand (which I have begun to think of as a puss caterpillar bite) was hurting, and it just seemed like bed was the best option.

I got up again at 9:30 and began my day, much later than usual, but feeling much improved, and set out on the Great Chore Adventure, which involved the following:

1) Purchasing a modem/router and a crappy little corded phone, which for some reason is necessary for wireless internet in ZA – why, I ask you?

2) Getting a set of keys made for Al, finally.  Yes, we’ve gone nearly a month with only one set of keys between us.  Again, don’t judge us.

3) Buying a few little presents for the little boys of the family we’re staying with for Thanksgiving. This was undeniably the best part of my day.  And what does it say about me that when I’m in a toy store, I seriously consider buying things for myself? I had to stop myself from buying a My Little Pony and a Sylvanian family (remember those? they still exist!), just to have around the house, to play with, I guess.

Dogs in plaid pants and suspenders? You look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want these, too.

I ended up settling on safari Legos (!) for the six-year-old and an elephant rattle/push toy for the one-year-old.

We’re in Africa. These Legos were an inevitable purchase.

4) Hunting down long overdue household items such as a fan, clothes hangers, and storage containers.

5) Buying food so I can make dinner for tonight and tomorrow.

6) Setting up the router/modem and crappy little phone and calling the telephone company to set up wireless internet, which we now have – YES! Triumph!

7) Cleaning our filthy kitchen (yet to be done).

8) Tidying up our ridiculously messy second bedroom and hanging up all the clothes we’ve been strewing around the house since, you know, no hangers (also yet to be done) – seriously, stop judging us.

9) Cooking dinner (yet to be done).

So, today is not going to be a big writing day. Although, I did spend an hour crafting a detailed email of restaurants and bars in Sao Paulo that I recommend for my cousin, who’s going there for work for a few weeks.  So the day wasn’t a complete waste, right? (By the way, if anyone wants to see this list, let me know, and I’m happy to email it).

Okay, back to chorin’ around.  See you all on the flipside.

Web MD

Can someone reassure me that this, whatever this is, will not kill me?

Since I don’t have the patience to wait for any qualified advice, against my better judgment, which is already somewhat questionable, I just went on WebMD to check my symptoms, which are mainly: 1) unidentifiable weird bite/sting thing on my hand, 2) slight pain emanating from said bite/sting thing.

The WebMD symptom checker questions alone scared the bejeezus out of me.

One of said terrifying questions: “Have you been bitten, stung, or had contact with a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar?” First of all, how would I know if I’ve been stung by a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar? Isn’t that WebMD’s job, to tell me if I have been stung by a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar? And also, PUSS CATERPILLAR?

Another probing question: “Do you have a blister, painful sore, or purple discoloration at the site of a bite or sting?” Well, yes – I mean, this thing looks pretty blistery, and it hurts. So I clicked on the “yes” button, which brought me to another series of questions, one of which was: “Have you had a blister, painful sore, or purple discoloration at the site of a bite or sting for 24 hours, but you do not have any other symptoms of illness?”  I think so? Has it been 24 hours? I don’t know! Probably? I clicked “yes.”   I was shocked by the results.

For once in my life, WebMD told me that I “may wait to see if the symptoms improve over the next 24 hours.”

Wait, what now? “Wait to see if the symptoms improve?” Does. Not. Compute.

LITERALLY every other time I’ve had even the tiniest twinge of illness or pain, WebMD has told me I’m dying.  It has either flat out said, “You’re dying,” or it’s said something like, “You’re probably dying, but call an ambulance and rush to the emergency room just in case some talented doctor there can work magic and pull your quickly dwindling life from the jaws of death.”

Now that WebMD’s telling me I “may wait” to see how things develop, I don’t trust it.  I don’t trust it one bit.

I should make it clear here that I know better than to go on Web MD, but I just have no self control.  I have a long history of diagnosing myself with diseases that I don’t have (various types of cancer, immune disorders, tropical diseases, and psychiatric illnesses, to name a few), under the terribly off base and alarmist guidance of WebMD.  The problem is, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. And I’m always open to suggestion.

The worst part of my WebMD addiction is that on the rare occasions where I have actually been seriously ill, and WebMD should have been like, “Red alert, red alert, get thee to a healthcare provider,” it’s led me completely and totally astray.  For example: remember that time I had typhoid fever?  So, I was feeling horrible – sweating, shivering, no appetite, piercing headache, body aches, weakness, and joint pain.  I felt like crap on a cracker, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t the flu, because, for one thing, I wasn’t coughing and, for another, the flu has never made me lose my appetite before (I’m a hearty one).  So I went on WebMD to see what other terrible illness I could have been suffering from.  I put in my symptoms and WebMD diagnosed me as suffering from – wait for it! – pregnancy.

I re-entered my symptoms, omitting certain things each time, rephrasing, tweaking, and every time the results popped up: pregnant, pregnant, pregnant.  When I dragged myself into my nurse practitioner’s office the next day, white as a ghost, sweaty, and barely able to hold myself upright, I croaked, “I’m concerned that I may be pregnant.”  She looked at me like I was insane in the membrane and then said, “Yeah, pregnancy doesn’t look like this.”  (Unless you’re having Rosemary’s Baby, I guess). I was relieved. Because if being pregnant feels like being deathly ill with typhoid fever, I ain’t never having kids.

Anyway. I should know better than to trust WebMD but I’m addicted to it.  Checking WebMD compulsively is in itself a sickness. I wonder if WebMD has that particular disorder in its catalog of horrors. I’m scared to find out.  I don’t want to diagnose myself with anything else for today.


No, I didn’t temporarily lose hold of my senses while trying to spell “neighborhoods” – Neighbourgoods is a fun, partially enclosed market in the central business district (CBD) of Joburg showcasing local merchants selling all manner of goodies: organic wine, raw chocolate, French cheese, thin crust pizza, empanadas, fresh baked bread, fruit smoothies, raw honey, homemade hummus, and the list goes on.  It’s a paradise for people like me and Al (i.e., gluttons).

Neighbourgoods is one of three places in Joburg that I’ve been told I simply “must” visit to experience vibrant city life in this city of malls and walls.  And it was very fun – but true city life, it’s not.  It was more a safe gathering place for hipsters, foodies, and people who enjoy a cold beverage on a hot day.  Al and I sort of fit into two out of three of these categories, if we’re being generous, so we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

We met up with one of my new friends here, Mare, and one of Al’s colleagues, Kitso, for some pizza, oysters, sparkling wine, beer, eggs benedict, and other delicious bites, including beetroot hummus, goat haloumi, and gelato.  We sat outside on the baking roof, ate, drank, and listened to music.  A very nice way indeed to pass a Saturday morning.

Gotta love this beer:

Now we’re back at the apartment, resting up and watching crime shows, until we head out again to watch the Harvard-Yale game somewhere tonight.

Enjoy your Saturdays!

The crime gene

For my thirtieth birthday, Al bought me a genetic testing kit – you can send it away and find out what percentage of Neanderthal DNA you carry, for example, and you can also discover all the hideous genetic diseases you might unwittingly pass to your children.  I know it’s not the most romantic gift, but I am super psyched about it.  And although I haven’t sent in my saliva sample for testing yet, I know one malignant gene that I definitely carry and will in all likelihood pass on to my poor, unsuspecting offspring: the crime gene.

Don’t let the term “crime gene” alarm you: I’m not a criminal. I just enjoy watching TV shows about them.

I come by this predilection naturally, I’m afraid. My mother carries the crime gene, and so did her father.  When I was growing up, I only remember my mother reading true crime books, thick paperbacks with titles like Bitter Harvest, The Stranger Beside Me, and Dead by Sunset.  In the evenings, my mom would always tune into TV shows about criminals: America’s Most Wanted, 48 Hours Mystery, even COPS.  When shows like Forensic Detectives and Cold Case Files started to crop up, these were added to the Early household’s TV repertoire.

Since I was raised by a true crime aficionado, watching shows about murder before bedtime always seemed pretty normal to me, although I do remember asking my dad one time to please not kill me and my mom, since I had seen a show in which the dad did just that. My dad, a bit taken aback, assured me that he wouldn’t kill us, but he couldn’t make any promises about our dog, Max, who was severely misbehaved.  Fair enough.

Bad dog

As I got older, I never got into true crime books but I would watch the occasional crime show on TV, although I preferred Law & Order SVU to true crime.  And, by the way, I don’t trust people who don’t love Law & Order SVU.  Love me, love Benson and Stabler.  The older I get, though, the more and more intrigued I become by true crime.  And I think I’ve hit the true crime jackpot in Joburg.

Here in South Africa, there is, to my delight, 24-hour true crime programming.  We get a channel called, simply, Crime, and also a channel called Discovery ID: Investigation Discovery, which, as far as I can tell, is 99% crime shows, and 1% shows about animals on an African game reserve.   Here are the programs that I’ve watched on Discovery ID so far: Nightmare Next Door, Murder Shift, Who on Earth Did I Marry?, Forensic Detectives, On the Case With Paula Zahn, Disappeared, and True Crimes.

You’d think I’d have trouble sleeping after watching these shows about horrifying crimes – today I saw one about a lady whose husband decapitated her for the insurance money – but, no.  I find these stories fascinating without feeling personally threatened by them.  In fact, one of the hypotheses about why women enjoy the true crime genre more than men do, on average, is because women may pick up useful survival tactics from stories about murder and rape.

But although women are typically more likely to be carriers of the crime gene, men are also susceptible. And I’m starting to think this fascination with true crime might not be strictly genetic after all.  In fact, it might be catching.  To wit: for the last two nights, my husband has requested that we watch crime on TV.  Uh oh.  We’d better get Al tested, too.

Charlize Theron and Afrikaans

Charlize Theron is probably the most famous Hollywood actress to come out of South Africa.  But has anyone else ever wondered why she doesn’t have a South African accent? I looked into it and found this interview with her online.

Check out her interesting explanation of why she has an American accent when she speaks English:

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Charlize, have you had to do a lot of work to lose your South African accent? I’m from Pretoria… and uh…


AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Lekker, lekker, baie lekker…

Praat jy nog ‘n bietjie Afrikaans?


Oh you’re English South African, I don’t like you!

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I only speak Afrikaans when I don’t want my kids to know what I’m talking about.

Exactly, exactly.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Do you slip back into Afrikaans with your mother?

When I go there, I speak a lot; I speak Afrikaans every single day because my mom lives two minutes away from me. I just feel weird speaking English to her, like I’m playing a character or something. But I definitely do when I go back, Yeah, I come back to Los Angeles an people are like ‘Oh, you were just in South Africa’. Definitely. Yes, I get a little bit of that South African thing going (does awful Afrikaans accent) . But you wouldn’t understand that, broer because you speak English South African.

FRANCINE STOCK: Was that something that just happened or was it for career reasons?

The irony is, South Africans will know this, certain parts of the country are predominantly Afrikaans or predominantly English. I grew up in a predominantly Afrikaans environment where nobody spoke English. So you would have English as a second language at school but if you had Spanish, you don’t go home; you don’t practice it, you’re not talking to people. So my English was actually incredibly poor and so in a way I almost learnt English like an American. I spoke very much like a South African and yeah, I couldn’t do both, I admire people who can go back, I mean also I was much younger too, I think if I was older I probably would’ve hung onto one versus the other. I didn’t really have a voice, as in English South African, it was bizarre, and I didn’t feel like I was losing one for the other because I always just spoke Afrikaans. So English was really a second language for me and I learnt it with an American accent, and then people got really upset, ‘You’re not a South African anymore’.

Did you notice the part when Charlize said “you’re English South African, I don’t like you?”  She was joking, of course, but she was referring to the distinction between the two main white ethnic groups in South Africa: English South Africans and Afrikaners.

English South Africans (or Anglo-Africans) are white people of British descent who live in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly South Africa) and speak English as their native language.

The term “Afrikaners,” however, refers to all white Afrikaans-speaking people. Many of them are descendants of the Dutch settlers who have been in South Africa since the middle of the 17th century (including the Boers).  However, there are also many South Africans whose families immigrated from all over the world (Italy, Ireland, Portugal) who consider themselves Afrikaner because Afrikaans is their native language. Confusing, eh?

Afrikaans is merely one of the eleven official languages of the country. However, it’s still the majority language of several regions of South Africa, and, according to the 2001 census, the “primary language of the coloured and white communities.”  By the way, “coloured” is one of the four official racial groups recognized in South Africa (along with white, black, and Indian/Asian).

And even in Joburg, you do see signage in Afrikaans and hear it spoken on the radio.

No idea what this means.

I still don’t get the linguistic politics in South Africa, so I’ll probably be writing about Afrikaans again when I have more to say.  Until then, I guess I should memorize these handy phrases:

Praat jy Engels?  (Do you speak English?)

My Afrikaans is sleg. (My Afrikaans is bad)

Suid-Afrika is ‘n wonderlike land.  (South Africa is a wonderful country)