I did finally get to take a picture of Jenn in Puerto Vallarta!
It’s great living in South Africa, and since we’ve moved here, we’ve done what we’ve done every other place we’ve moved to – Be Tourists! You can be sure I’ve Googled, gone to Trip Advisor, read Fodor’s and every magazine article I can get my hands on before we even settle into the car to begin our adventure. Of course, the obligatory camera hangs around my neck.

Having been a Creative Memories scrapbooking consultant in a previous life, I totally understand how important it is to have pictures of your adventures. I also appreciate why people want to have their picture taken with identifiable backgrounds. That's why I never hesitate to walk up to people taking pictures of their family and ask if I can take a photo of them all together with their camera. And that’s why my daughter Jennifer & I spent – seriously – thirty minutes taking pictures of people in Puerto Vallarta! People just kept handing us their cameras. Apparently, a cruise ship had just docked.

I also understand why some people DON’T want their picture taken under any circumstances. Can you say “self-conscious”? I see it in their eyes: “I’m too fat; My hair’s a mess; I look awful in this outfit….” When my daughter Sarah used to duck out of photos I was taking I would remind her that one day she would be asking “Where was I when you guys were having so much fun?” The people who love us already know what we look like and their affection for us doesn’t change when we don’t look good in a photo.

By the way, I get just as irritated as everyone else at the people who always look good in photos. How do they do that?

I am saddened by the photo takers, though, when I can tell that they’re so wrapped up in getting “the shot” that they don’t truly experience the moment. People who walk up to the Lincoln Memorial having given their companion explicit instructions on the angle, the background, the lighting; have their picture taken; then walk back so their companion can have that same great shot. But neither of them took the time to comprehend the greatness of the man, the wisdom of his words, or the beauty of the monument. They’re going to tell their friends they were there, but they can’t honestly say they experienced it.
PictureOh, did someone take my picture kissing a hippo?
The same thing happened when we went to see Jessica the Hippo. In a nutshell, you’ve got a hippo that was raised by humans but lives in the Blyde River as a wild animal. She comes to a dock at her humans’ home to be fed and she allows women to kiss her snout as she drinks sweetened rooibos tea. Can you imagine! You can touch – kiss, even – a wild animal. You can watch as her eyelids and nostrils open and close, feel the wiry bristles on her snout, feel her breath as she opens wide her mouth to receive the sliced sweet potatoes. I forgot all about photos while I was having this incredible experience!

But I saw people not even looking at the hippo, only looking at the camera, while they were feeding her. Firstly, do not stick your hand near a hippo’s mouth without watching said hippo! Secondly, what are you going to tell your friends when they ask what her skin felt like, what color her tongue was, how big her tusks were?

PictureJill is totally in the moment
On the other hand, I saw a couple from Lincoln NE last week totally wrapped up in what they were experiencing in South Africa. They were in the moment. They looked into the leopard’s eyes, and rubbed his fur, and listened to his purr. They weren’t talking about the next place they were going, they were enjoying where they were NOW. They listened to the lions call and the birds chatter and the hippos snort. Truthfully, I was afraid they didn’t even bring a camera – that would have made me sad! Then I realized that they did indeed have a camera and they were using it wisely; somehow, they had hit a wonderful balance of snapping a few pictures that would bring back the memory of their experience.

May we all do the same.

PictureDrakensberg Mountains with baobab tree in forefront.
We’re back from a weekend safari to Tshukudu Bush Camp (http://www.tshukudubushcamp.co.za) near Hoedspruit, in the province of Limpopo. The game reserve was separated from Kruger National Park – the place everyone goes to see the Big 5 – by a fence. We went on a tour arranged by Big Tau Safaris (http://www.bigtausafaris.co.za) with co-workers of my husband, and it was SO easy!

Louis owns Big Tau Safaris and he is certified to guide in every province in South Africa. Very knowledgeable as to wildlife and African life in general, he really kept us entertained from the moment he picked us up. It’s about a three hour drive from eMalahleni to Hoedspruit, but Louis drove us through Dullstrom (Emnotweni) and a few other fun places along the way, all the while sharing information about the countryside we were traveling. We went up and down the Drakensberg Mountains – the Ndebele people live at the top. We passed two rivers, the Oliphants and the Blyde, that were flooding over their banks because officials had opened the sluice gates on the local dams.

PictureSteven & I by the baobab tree in the orange grove
We’ve had a lot of rain and it was even raining when we left eMalahleni. But we urged Louis to drive toward the patch of blue sky we could see through the clouds, and ever obliging, he got us to the sunshine! We stopped to see a Baobab tree, which are HUGE trees that were brought to South Africa by elephants, who ate the fruit elsewhere and pooped the seeds in Limpopo. Louis told us the trees are 80% water. One of the trees we stopped to see was in the middle of an orange grove – quite a difference in size!

After lunch at the Baobab restaurant and a quick stop at the PicNPay in Hoedspruit for meal supplies, Louis drove us to the Tshukudu (which means rhino in the Sotho language) Game Reserve. The Tshukudu Bush Camp is self-catering, which means you’re responsible for your own food and refreshments. It is not the most luxurious game reserve accommodations we’ve enjoyed. There were no warm cloths to wipe the journey’s dust off your face or tiny shampoos and lotions in the bathroom; no wi-fi or TV. But the thatched cottages are clean, the beds are comfortable, there’s hot water AND air-conditioning. There are two other accommodations, the lodge and the tent camp in the reserve, which undoubtedly create a different (not necessarily better) experience.

There’s a pool, an indoor dining room with a satellite TV, a community outdoor dining area, a community kitchen, and a boma. A boma is an enclosure; in this case just outside the kitchen, with tables and chairs around a big fire pit. The staff keep the fire going, and use a shovel to bring coals from the fire to the braai (grill) for cooking the food. There is also a dormitory area where learners stay on educational field trips. Behind the boma there are two sets of stairs. One leads to an elevated observation deck. The other leads to a suspension bridge that takes you to a blind overlooking the dam.

When we got there we were greeted by Deon, the park ranger and man in charge of the bush camp; his miniature dachshund Flinters (Afrikaans for tatters); and his favorite cheetah, Ntombi (Zulu for little girl). We had a few minutes to carry our luggage to our cottage before we went on our first game drive. When we came out to join the group, everyone was getting their photo taken with Ntombi. Of course we wanted our turn, too!
Deon getting loved by Ntombi
Nothing like a cup of coffee with a cheetah!
Something caught her attention just as the shutter snapped
Last Thursday, Steven woke up with a nasty lesion on the calf of his left leg. It had a black center and he thought it was a spider bite, but he couldn’t feel a “core” to pull out. Friday he had two more: one on his left forearm and one on his neck. He wrote me a note asking me to field strip the bed, as he was not interested in getting bitten again.

I stripped the bed down to the mattress, washed all the linens in bleach, and put the mattress pad outside on the line – I even pulled the bed out from the wall – no spiderweb, no indications of spiders anywhere.

When he came home Friday night, he felt awful. He thought he had the flu, so he started taking flu medicine. Saturday and Sunday he still felt awful, and had bad headaches. Monday morning he woke me up to ask me to schedule an appointment with a doctor. He had a rash from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

The doctor let him share his tale of spider bites, but after an examination and a couple questions, she asked “Have you been recently to the lowveld?” He said, “Swaziland, but that was two weeks ago.” She told us it often takes 10 days for the symptoms to show up. And he had all the symptoms.

Tick fever (rickettsia) is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. They pick it up from animals in the wild, then transfer it in their saliva when they bite people. African tick bite fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are caused by the same bacteria, but I’m happy to say, the African tick bite fever is much less severe.

Once he started telling people about his experience, he’s heard lots of stories about what they went through when they had it. It’s not uncommon here.

Fortunately, the sickness responds well to antibiotics. The doctor started him on those and pain meds. A testament to the severity of the headaches is that Steven took the pain pills. Before we left Nebraska, I threw away bottles of pain killers from the time of his back surgery because he refused to take them, choosing instead to just deal with the pain.

Another good thing is that there is no recurrence of symptoms; once the meds work their magic and eradicate the bacteria, Steven will be well. Praise God for modern medicine!

In all our married life, I have been the one who attracts the ticks. Steven jokingly told someone the other night that when we were warned about the ticks in Swaziland, he had counted on the fact that his personal tick magnet would spare him the agony. Not this time!

If you want more information, this is the website we used to confirm the diagnosis:


The animals are free to roam
I’m so glad South African conservationists think far ahead of their time. The government, recognizing that tourism can be used to generate funds for conservation, works hard and spends a lot of money to ensure that this incredible country and its flora, fauna and wildlife remain available for everyone’s enjoyment. The South African National Parks (www.sanparks.org) manages 19 or 20 parks, depending on which guidebook or website you’re reading.

More than three percent of the land in South Africa is occupied by national parks, nature reserves and game reserves. The most famous, Kruger National Park, is also the oldest, having been established in 1898. We’re going to tour Kruger, which is in our province of Mpumalanga, but there are plenty of close reserves worthy of a visit.

One is Rietvlei (Reed Marsh) Nature Reserve, established around the Rietvlei Dam, which provides 15% of the water for Tshwane (Pretoria). When they acquired the dam in 1929, the City Council of Pretoria didn’t open the property to the public, but still had the foresight to  bring animals in.

zebras hang out with the herds
We drove about an hour to get there, all dual highway until the last 5 minutes. There’s a nice bathroom, educational center and office where you pay your R40 ($4.50) per person to go in. They give you a plastic card with a number on it, so I’m assuming that’s how they keep track of how many cars go in and come out.

There are blacktop roads and dirt roads, encompassing huge fields of grass with the occasional tree sticking up. The animals are free to move wherever they like, and you can see paths they’ve created. There’s no walking allowed except in designated areas, and even there you have to watch your step. Some of the piles these animals drop are pretty big! There are four bird blinds and at least one panoramic platform where you can stop and sit to see what you can see. There’s a beautiful braai area with restrooms and braais and picnic tables. There’s a restaurant that also has a picnic area.  They offer guided hikes, guided horseback rides, guided tours of the lion reserve.

We haven’t done it yet, but our neighbor recommended taking the horseback rides. She said the wild animals don’t recognize you as separate from the horse, and they don’t mind the horses, so you get some up-close and personal encounters.

I believe these are the easiest animals to spot!
When we got online to plan our day, my eyes glazed over from all the information. But it’s important to know what you’re getting into: First & foremost, do they have bathrooms? Is there a restaurant or are there picnic grounds? Can you drive a regular car or do you need a 4x4 vehicle? Rietvlei seemed like the perfect place to dip our toes into adventure, and indeed it was.
see the ostrich?
Charles is about four years old
no horns!
Four of the Big Five can be seen on the reserve, namely: rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard/cheetah. The term “Big Five” originated as a hunting term for the five deadliest animals to encounter on a walking safari back in the early 20th century, when Hemingway and Roosevelt were among the big game hunters. Now the Big Five are icons for South Africa.
We took the guided tour to see and hear about the lions. They have an adult male and two adult females who came from a zoo that didn’t have the ability to care for them any longer. In a separate enclosure, they have a young male and two young females who came from an attraction here that allows people to handle and feed the cubs. Once that happens, they can’t be released into the wild. Not only do they not know how to catch their meals, they associate people with food and that makes them too dangerous to be loose on a reserve. The males have had vasectomies because they’re related to the females. They don’t castrate them because, among other things, they need their hormones to grow their manes. To train the lions not to jump on the tour bakkies (trucks), the rangers would ride in the bakkie with water guns and squirt water in the lions’ faces when they came near. The lions don’t jump on the trucks any more, but they sure don’t like them!

We saw white rhino, too. Poaching is such a terrible scourge on the rhinos here, black and white. People kill the animal simply for its horns. They’re trying all kinds of ways to bring the number of kills down: they prosecute poachers with a vengeance, there have been great conferences to educate and try to get the countries where people buy rhino horn to make the purchase illegal. They even cut the horns off at the reserves, so people have no reason to kill them. Neither the number of rhino, black and white, nor their location, is made public in an effort to prevent poaching.

270 species of bird have been identified on the reserve (I recognized the ostrich right away!). There are over 1600 head of game, including blesbuck, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, Burchell's zebra, waterbuck, reedbuck, springbuck, mountain reedbuck, steenbuck and grey duiker. All those “bucks” are antelope or deer, and my untrained eye can’t tell the difference. I think it’s mostly the size and shape of their horns that distinguish one from the other. We saw huge herds slowly moving across the veld (field), and there were usually zebras with them. I expect that I’ll have a better understanding of what’s what by the time we leave.

Steven is the one who always sees animals in the wild first. “Look for what doesn’t belong,” he always tells me. We drove quite slowly and used binoculars to find animals. Then we used the zoom lens on the camera to get the pictures. We took hundreds, and were only really impressed with a few. I opened a picture folder on my laptop that is reserved for five star pictures only! There’s only a couple in there now. The good news is, we’ll have lots of opportunities for photos. I trust that we’ll get better and better pictures.

Rest assured, I’ll share them with you!

beautiful beads!
Eli enjoys leaning on the doors & playing with the keychains
This is Lily's favorite set of doors. She's constantly opening, closing, opening, closing, opening.....
Some of the key chains are quite elegant, like this gold tassel
Makes sense -- leads to the blue bedroom
that's not all, folks!
When we moved into our new home, I felt like a matron in a 19th century English manor – there were keys for every door! Rather than a large ring of keys to wear on my belt, though, there’s a board full of hooks with labeled keys. There’s also a key in almost every keyhole.

I took a picture of many of them (not all), and you can click on the photo to enlarge it if you like.

In NY we have a key for the front door, the back door, the garage and the shed; here we have 26 keys for the upstairs, downstairs, & outside gates. That is a lot more keys than I’ve ever had to keep track of; and frankly I’m more than a little nervous about misplacing one or more of them.

The doors are beautiful wood, some with windows, ALL with locks. Some of the keys are old-fashioned skeleton keys, with warded locks. You can see through the keyholes, which have a long channel that have projections, or plates, inside them. There are bits at the end of the keys matching those projections and that’s what enables them to lock and unlock the doors. The part that you hold in your hand is called the bow. The part that connects the bow and the bits is the shaft.

 I was surprised to learn that warded locks were invented by the Romans two thousand years ago. Some of the keys were quite elaborate during the era of ornamental metal work and their designs included leaves, crests, seals….Those are the keys that are so popular in decorating today. My keys have plain bows, but I have to say that most of the key chains are quite lovely.

Warded locks are quite easy to pick (from what I’ve heard), so in the 20th century, more secure lock sets were designed. The lock sets on the doors to the outside of the house are more modern and secure; the keys would look quite familiar to my friends in the US.

Already I’ve locked myself out of the house a few times! I have to learn to always carry my house keys in my pocket, because when you step outside, the doors automatically lock. You don’t dare to “hide” your keys outside your home here, so I had a spare key made and gave it to someone I really trust and who lives within walking distance. Our house keys are normal size, but the chain is big and bulky due to the remotes we have to carry: security for the house, security for the complex, garage door, car… That’s my excuse for not having them in my pocket at all times, but it’s not really a good one.

Something that strikes me as ironic is the fact that we no longer have a car key! Our leased white Toyota Corolla has one of those push button starters. It also automatically unlocks when you get close, which is quite handy. There are several other features, but I’ll share my thoughts on driving here another day.

Sarah made me laugh last week when she said you know you’re getting close to a place where there’s a lot of Black & Veatch employees, because the parking lot looks like Toyota vomited white cars all over. I must admit, I’m grateful for the parking lot attendants who notice who gets out of which car. Earlier this week I walked out of the mall and had no idea where my car was and I saw a smiling black man in a safety vest waving at me and pointing to my car. They are totally worth the R5 tip, totally! Perhaps I should let them become the keepers of my keys!

Some keys we don't leave in the door, we lock the door & throw the key somewhere else
This Dutch door configuration has a rather ugly keychain
Clever idea -- use a bracelet on the keyring
More lovely beads
I've seen lots of lizards around the house, but this is the only dolphin
Covers to keep little Eli's fingers safe
We knew when we were preparing to move over here that there was no sense in bringing any small appliances or personal care appliances along, as the electric service here is different than it is in the USA. I just didn’t realize HOW different it was!

Being the daughter & sister of electricians does me no good (here or in the USA) because none of the three of them would let me do a mindmeld to share their knowledge. I have a general understanding of how electricity starts out strong at the generating plant, then keeps being reduced in power at various stages of distribution until it gets to your house at 220 volts, which gets split into 110 volt for most of the wiring (lights and receptacles), and stays 220 for some of the large appliances. In every country except the US and Japan (I believe), 220 volt is the standard for residential wiring.

By the way, I have to use (some might say overuse) the word “receptacle,” because that is the part that accepts the plug. I’m as guilty as the next person of calling those things in the wall “plugs,” but receptacle comes from the Latin word receptaculum which means to receive, which is what it does – receive a plug. My thesaurus shows no other words for an electrical receptacle. We can’t even agree to understand that “plug” is being used for receptacle, because I’m going to be talking about those, too!

This house has lots of 15 amp receptacles – but not in the bathrooms, because that’s against the building code. There are single and doubles. Each receptacle has a switch that controls the power to that receptacle, which is quite handy when you’re conserving energy or you want to control an appliance with the flip of a switch. When the power is on, you can see a little red indicator. Every receptacle in our house has 3 holes. The problem is, not every plug has three prongs!

Plugs look very different here in South Africa. There are going to be quite a few pictures because I could never even begin to describe everything. Some smaller appliances (blow dryer, curling iron) have only two prongs. BUT two prongs might be flat or round. The good news is, you can purchase extension cords or adapters in any configuration. So a three prong receptacle easily becomes three three prongs, two flat prongs and one two round prongs. Or three flat prongs. Or one three prong, two flat prongs and one two round prong. You get the picture?

Don't look, Daddy!
different plugs on curling iron & blow dryer
obviously men set up the codes for bathrooms
Sometimes you just need two plugs in one spot
my little electronics helper
Oh, and let’s not forget the all-important  adapter for the United States computer and cell phone charger! Seth and Sarah made sure we were each hooked up with this little can’t-do-without-it beauty. It fits every plug imaginable PLUS has the additional luxury of a USB port down on the bottom! Steven was issued South African computer and cell phone, so he doesn’t use his anymore, but believe me when I tell you I depend on this baby!

When there are three prongs on a plug, one of them is the ground, or as they call it here, the earth connection. South Africa has no safety fuses, so an open circuit is supposed to cause a circuit breaker to trip at the breaker box (which is called a distribution board or DB). We know about the DB because when the power goes out, we have make adjustments to the breakers before we can flip the switch for the gas generator to power the house.

Beside the DB in the closet under the stairs is our electric meter. Practically all electricity in the country is supplied by the public utility Eskom (Electricity Supply Commission) and is prepaid. That means we can buy our electricity at the grocery store or the gas station! It also means that the first thought that pops into our heads when the power goes out is “Oh no! Did we run out of electricity?” You can buy any amount of electricity you like. We usually buy R1000, and we get 743.4 kilowatt hours. ($107.68 or 14.5 cents per kwh)

By the way, Steven works for a company that is a contractor for Eskom. Witbank/eMalahleni (which is the Zulu word for coal) and the surrounding area are home to many plants that use coal to generate electricity as well as the mines the coal comes from. Coal is used to generate about 77% of the electricity in South Africa; nuclear power generates about 6.5%. Eskom is building new plants and revamping old plants as they try to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for power.

There’s a big push for power conservation here, and creating energy from renewable resources. It’s a great place to use solar energy to heat water, which is pretty standard. Eskom is providing the labor and materials to put switches on the geysers (geezers), or hot water tanks, so they don’t draw power during peak usage periods. In the evening, there are public service announcements along the lines of “Have you turned off your geysers for the night? Are there any appliances or lights on that aren’t being used?” And I just saw an Eskom ad showing a family getting prepared for winter by buying extra blankets and sweaters, NOT firing up the electric heaters.

We worked to conserve energy when we lived in the USA and we still work to conserve energy here; it’s the right thing to do.
 I can’t resist any longer; we have to step onto the patio. You know it’s a special place because there are FOUR ways to get in! Entering through the double doors from the dining room (Entrance #1), you cross a little wooden bridge with rocks and trees growing on either side of it. Lily and Eli love this entrance, but we have to keep it locked when they’re here because the doors get off the tracks when little girls open & close, open & close…..Above the bridge is a glass ceiling (I haven’t hit it yet) with louvered panes on the sides in case the rain gets to be too much for the trees & rocks. To the right (Entrance #2), there’s the door from the kitchen. Another door opens to a closet holding an old freezer that we’ve unplugged (don’t ask me).

There’s a small countertop with a sink and a cupboard next to that closet. We store our drinking water in the cupboard and refill the container on the counter quite regularly. We spend R60 (@ $7) every two weeks for drinking water. We fill a 25 liter dispenser, two 10L containers, and six 5L containers. That’s for drinking and for making coffee and tea. There’s a whole house reverse osmosis water filter outside the scullery that Steven backwashes every two weeks (the municipal water is quite dirty here). And there’s another RO to filter the filtered water under the prep sink in the kitchen. That’s the water we use for cooking and cleaning fruits and vegetables.

Back to the patio…Next to the counter, there’s a built-in braai (BBQ grill) behind the large piece of framed needlepoint. Below the braai there is a cubby full of wood. You would think it was for burning in the braai, but NO! It is for decorative purposes only, thank you. There is a small packet (bag) of wood sitting on the tile floor that is suitable for burning. We haven’t used the braai yet because Steven uses his largest South African purchase to date, his Weber (here they say weeber) gas braai for grilling.

The resin picnic table is covered with a flannel-backed vinyl cloth and surrounded by six resin chairs with cushions that make them quite comfy. This is where I spend a great deal of time. I have my quiet time with God here first thing in the morning. I have breakfast and lunch with Evelina (our domestic worker) and Collins (our gardener) at this table. This is where Sarah and I sit to visit while the kids are playing in the back yard. I read magazines and the Witbank News-nuus out here. If the wi-fi was strong enough, I’d probably do all my computer work here, too!

South Africans enjoy the outdoors. They have beautiful gardens where they entertain. Sarah has a lapa near the pool at her house, which is a thatch-roofed not-so-small outdoor building that holds their braai and refrigerator and a table and chairs. The point is, it’s not in the house.

We don’t have a lapa, but we have this great room. What I love about this place is the glass walls. The sun coming through the glass really keeps the room warm, which is nice in the fall and winter. When it gets too warm, though, you can open the walls (Entrance #3)! They’re accordion panes and you can have an open air patio with a couple flicks and a push. I saw a show on HGTV where they installed these and I thought to myself “How cool is that?” Well, now I know the answer: REALLY COOL!

The double doors from the living area (Entrance #4) were barricaded with houseplants, but Steven and I did a little rearranging and have things situated now so we can get more light into the sitting area and have access to the patio from there.

We bought a stereo system so we could have some music out here. I still haven’t found a radio station that consistently plays music I like, so I’m constantly fiddling with the dials. Steven has a radio in the bedroom that he has set to Jacaranda (that’s a flowering tree here) Radio, which plays kind of easy rock at night. The DJs speak Zulu (I think) a lot at night, and Afrikaans (I’m sure) in the morning. Seth and Sarah have helped me get the music off my computer onto my phone so I can listen to it through the stereo. That way I get to listen to music I know I like: classical, Christian, country.

So glad you could join me for a peek at this wonderful room. Now you know why it’s my favorite!

Entrance #1 from dining room
Entrance #2 from kitchen
Now you see it...
Now you don't!
Some of my resources for quiet time!
Entrance #3 Open....
Entrance #4 from sitting area
Slice of Orange & Almond Upside-Down Cake, anyone?
If you’ve come back to learn about my favorite room (the patio); sorry. I’m in the kitchen today.

 Anyone who knows me understands that any cooking I do is BY THE RECIPE. Some people (my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, my daughters….) cook by the “a little of this, a little of that” method. That doesn’t work for me. So imagine me coming to South Africa, where they measure with the metric system AND ingredients are called by different names & grown in different seasons AND we’re in a high altitude AND the oven registers in Celsius. What’s a girl to do?

I decided to buy South African magazines! It’s fall here, so the magazines feature recipes with seasonal ingredients. They list ingredients with grams. They tell you to preheat the oven to 170.  They call ingredients by the right names, so when I have to ask for something in the grocery store people don’t get a dazed look and start pointing at the farthest aisle, saying “Look over there.”

Most people try to be helpful. The other day I was looking for cornstarch for my strawberry rhubarb crisp. I carefully searched every label in the baking aisle, even looking for something that offered itself as a thickener. Not a thing. So I tapped a lady on the shoulder and asked “If you were looking for a thickener for a strawberry rhubarb crisp, what would you use?” She looked puzzled, said “I have no idea. But my son’s a chef and I’ll ring him up.” She called him, said some stuff in Afrikaans, then I understood “Ah, Maizena.” Then she marched me over to the SAUCE aisle, where Maizena makes thickener for brown gravies, white gravies and plain CORNFLOUR. Steven squeezed a box and when the white dust flew out the top, he said, “It’s cornstarch.”  Crisis averted.

FYI, when you come to South Africa, they call zucchini “marrow;” eggplant “aubergine” or “brinjal;” ground meat “mince;” roasted red peppers “paprika;” vanilla extract, “vanilla essence;” cookies “biscuits.” Those are a few differences that come to mind right now. These are good things to know if you’re trying to cook here.

I’d be lying if I said my favorite part of entertaining was anything but serving dessert. I like figuring out the menu, picking the music, setting the table – even making the food if it’s for ladies; but I really like making & serving dessert.

Today I had my daughter Sarah and two other ladies who are from the US over for lunch. I loaded up a playlist with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmy Lou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Dixie Chicks…My menu consisted of Grilled Portobello Burgers with Basil Mayo (you’d never know it was Weight Watchers), crudité in a glass, chips, and iced tea (sweet or not). Sarah brought some delicious homemade buttermilk ranch dressing. And, of course, I served dessert and filtered coffee.

Just as a side note, I grilled the Portobello mushrooms and the buns myself. Steven helped me practice turning the grill on and off, and bringing it up to temperature last night. And today I DID IT! It’s so satisfying to learn a new trick.

Back to dessert. There’s a grocery store here called Pick ‘N Pay. They put out a magazine called Fresh Living and it is chock full of recipes. I bought the May issue and was intrigued by a recipe for Orange and Almond Upside-Down Cake. In the description, it says “This dense, intensely orangey cake will become a favourite winter treat.”  That’s when I decided to have some ladies over for lunch – I couldn’t resist the description and couldn’t take a chance that I might eat the whole cake by myself!

It does have a very interesting flavor. I’ve noticed that sweets aren’t as…sweet…here, and this cake follows that pattern.  It is indeed dense and orangey and almondey. It has no flour. It bakes for 70 minutes. I’m not going to keep you in suspense any longer; I’m going to share both recipes with you. Fair is fair; friends in the US will totally get the Portobello burger recipe and will have to puzzle over the cake recipe. I had to do the opposite. Enjoy! Let me know if you try the recipes and what you think.

Orange & Almond Upside Down Cake

3 small oranges, washed

5 PnP jumbo eggs

1 cup (220g) castor sugar

3 packets (300g) ground almonds

1 ½ tsp (8ml) baking powder

½ tsp (3ml) almond essence

Makes a 20cm cake

Line the base and sides of a 20 cm springform cake tin with baking paper and grease with cooking spray. Place oranges into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer over a medium heat for an hour or until soft. Remove from water and set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 160®C. Thinly slice 1 uncooked orange. Arrange raw orange slices over base of cake tin and set aside. Cut thick pithy ends off cooked oranges and remove any seeds, then blend into a smooth puree and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Pour batter into cake tin over orange slices and back for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until cooked through. Cool in tin before turning out onto a plate.

If you’re interested in some other Pick ‘N Pay recipes, go to www.picknpay.co.za (that’s dot c-o dot zed-a)

Grilled Portobello Burger with Basil Mayo

6 ppv; serves 4

¼ c basil, fresh, chopped

3 tbsp reduced-calorie mayonnaise

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

4 medium Portobello mushroom caps (@ 1 lb)

4 sprays olive oil cooking spray

1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste

1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste

4 items mixed-grain hamburger rolls

¾ cup roasted red peppers (packed in water), about 4 pieces

4 slices uncooked red onion

4 pieces lettuce

Heat grill or grill pan. In a small bowl combine basil, mayonnaise and vinegar; set aside. Lightly coat both sides of mushroom caps with cooking spray; season with salt & pepper. Grill mushrooms over medium-high heat, until just soft to the touch, a few minutes per side. To serve, split rolls and toast on grill. Spread a heaping teaspoon of basil mixture on top and bottom halves of rolls. Layer each bottom half with one lettuce leaf red pepper, mushroom and onion slice; top with remaining half of roll and serve.

It’s worth joining Weight Watchers just to get recipes this good! www.weightwatchers.com

Generally the first question people ask when you move is “What’s your house like?” I can’t say that our house is a typical South African home. The company Steven works for has security standards that I’m sure are atypical for most South Africans, and that means we’re in the upper tier of housing here. We live in a gated community with a community room and a community pool. There’s a guard in the guardhouse at the gate, and there’s a guard (or maybe two) walking through the community on a regular basis.

Before we could move in, the owners had to have a security system installed, along with a slam gate to create a safe room. The only room in the house that made sense to be called a safe room is a bedroom with no easy outdoor access. That is the room I keep the grandkids in when they sleep here. Adrien is under strict instructions that if the alarm goes off, he is to immediately slam the steel gate and close the wood door and not to come out until one of the four adults he knows says so. We’re not frightened about living here, but we don’t want to be foolish. We set the alarm before we go to bed and I keep the panic button on the pedestal (nightstand). I also keep a bottle of water there, since it never fails that as soon as the alarm is set, I get thirsty! The good news is that this community has an excellent safety record, and there’s no reason for us to suspect that will change.

It’s a wonderful house, full of windows and light. It was built just 8 years ago. Truthfully, it’s way too big for the two of us. But the location is perfect. Our daughter Sarah, who lives with her family just a couple blocks away, found it for us two months before we moved over. Adrien & Lily go to school right across the street from the entrance, so it’s easy for them to come and spend time with us.

The basic “three bedrooms, two and two half baths” description doesn’t do it justice. To set the stage, the owners are an architect and a travel agent. They designed a comfortable home perfect for entertaining. There are a multitude of windows and every window has a beautiful view. There’s a circular drive that brings you right up to the front door. As you step in to the tiled foyer, you can see all the way to the second floor ceiling and the stairs are right in front of you. The baluster is wrought iron and the handrails are wood.  To the left of the front door there’s an office with five windows, a built-in desk along two walls, cupboards & shelves and LOTS of electrical receptacles. To the right of the front door is the “loo.” This guest half-bath was described by the owner as an airplane bathroom – you have to come in and squeeze behind the door to close it. All the toilets have the dual flush tanks; you push the side with one dot when you go number one, and the side with two dots when you go number two. Who knew potty language was universal?

As we step through the double doors and into the living area, we are welcomed into an open floor plan that includes a long living room with a sitting area on one end with lots of windows and double doors into my favorite room (the patio), at the other end is the TV area with a gas fireplace and the dining area is to the right. From the dining area there are double doors to my favorite room (the patio), and double doors to the kitchen. The living area is carpeted, with rugs on the path that would wear the carpet. There’s a beautiful wine storage area, made up of stacked terra cotta drainage pipe cut as long as a wine bottle.

The big square kitchen has a tile floor that has already been the demise of a few glasses and serving pieces. It’s cool on bare feet, too! There is electric floor heating, but we were warned that we could watch the electric meter spinning if we ever used it. The room is loaded with cupboards, has miles of black granite countertop with a prep sink (no hot water), an electric oven, a gas stovetop (handy when the power goes out), and even a built-in garbage bag holder!  There’s a matching granite table with four chairs and another door out to my favorite room (still the patio!).

There’s a Bosch freezer, a Bosch refrigerator and now we’ve stepped into the scullery, which is the cleaning area of the house. There’s a Bosch dishwasher, a double stainless steel sink with hot & cold water, a fair sized granite countertop with another built-in garbage container. The LG laundry unit is a combination washer/dryer. There’s a big utility tub with hot & cold water. There’s an OLD tumble dryer that vents right into the scullery & obviously doesn’t get used much. More cupboards. More doors – one into the two-car garage.

The garage also has lots of storage cupboards, and a very clever idea of lattice attached to the walls for hanging different sized hooks for holding a variety of stuff that belongs in the garage. There’s a gas generator that’s hard-wired into the electrical system. When there’s no electricity coming in from the municipality (notice I said when and not if), there are very clear instructions on how to use the DB box (don’t ask me), start the generator, flip a switch and VOILA! electricity. The floor of the garage is also tile. The owner has also strung some lines for drying laundry on rainy days.

The thought of laundry leads us back into the scullery, although we could go out a side door from the garage to the courtyard, but then we would have to ask someone to unlock the gate to let us into the courtyard beside the scullery, so we may as well go back through the house. The other door out from the scullery is one of those fun Dutch doors with the option of only opening half. That door leads to a stoop and a small room off the stoop that is a bathroom and changing room for the domestic workers. There is a courtyard that has a “solar clothes dryer” (four-sided rotating clothesline). There is a privacy screen that hides another courtyard that houses the reverse osmosis water filter and the heat pump. The window over the sink in the scullery overlooks this courtyard, and there is a tree and other potted plants arranged for the viewer’s pleasure. We could follow a path into the backyard, past the master bath, but let’s go back inside.