Monthly Archives: November 2013

Highveld storm season

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The start of a storm

The start of a storm

That’s not a nuke test you see in that pic; that’s a typical exquisite cumulonimbus building up in preparation for a storm. Actually, that’s just a small part of the cloud formation – it was all I could squeeze in the frame.

We’ve been seeing quite a few clouds like that one now that Johannesburg’s summer storm season has burst upon us in full force. Allow me to share with you the adventure of a Highveld summer storm…

…oOo…

It usually starts with a blazing hot day in the middle of summer. You’ve barely started work and your skin is already shiny before the clock hits 9 a.m. You’re based in an airconditioned office, though, so at first you don’t notice that the temperature is still rising.

At midday you pop outdoors for your lunch break and wham! the sun fries any part of you it sees. The shade isn’t even a relief anymore. You treat yourself to an ice cream (maybe) because, well, isn’t it just a gorgeous day… but your discomfort sends you back to the artificially cooled office pretty quickly.

By about 2 o’clock you look out the window to observe that huge white clouds are bubbling up into the sky, shining a blinding snowy white in the baking sunshine. The sky is still blue, but a bit of a breeze has picked up, and subconsciously you know what’s coming.

Around 3 p.m. the tension in the air outside has infected everyone. The wind is gusting more strongly now, and the pretty puffs of white have become ominous towers of grey and black. People start hurrying without realising it, just as the birds swirl and dive for shelter. It’s still hot, but you can feel the heat is about to break.

You race to your car the moment work ends, muttering how everyone (else) throws their driver’s licence out the window when the weather turns exciting. Join the queue of traffic and you sense a communal ripple through the hive: people hurrying to fetch their kids from school, wondering if they left the washing on the line, nervous about reaching shelter despite the comfort of their modern cars.

Then suddenly – splat! – a big fat droplet plops on your windshield. Splat! Splat! And whoooshhhhhhh! – the faucet opens full blast. The heat snaps, the visibility is zero, the air is warm and wet. Wiper blades swish and lights barely break through the waterfall as you crawl along on your homeward route.

And the thunder! Rolls and cracks and splits in the sky; lightning snaking out for the nearest hill or high point. A smash of thunder right above you makes you yelp. The heat of your breath mists up your car windows, so on goes the fan, since you can’t crack open a window without getting splattered.

If you’re lucky you might miss the hail this time (or it might miss you). If not, you’ll be stuck in your tin can in stop–go traffic with the hard white stones hammering down on you. Poor pockmarked car.

But the hail, like the heavy rain, doesn’t last that long. Within half an hour it’s over: the shower slows to a patter and the thunder rolls off to the horizon. Finally you make it home in one piece, thankful that you remembered to unplug all your valuable electronic goods the night before…

…oOo…

The great thing about Jo’burg’s summer rain is that it’s not like the stifling muggy humidity of Durban, where the warm Indian Ocean smothers the coast in low grey cloud blanket that traps the moist heat. Nor do we have the hot, persistent winds of Cape Town’s summer or the endless drizzle of their winter. No.

Jozi’s storms are electric and dramatic! They build up and blow up and often do damage… and then just as suddenly the clouds fall flat and float away, leaving behind sparkling sunshine and rainbows.

The world smells fresh and clean. The warm wet roads are left steaming after the downpour. Leaves and petals and bits of debris have been blasted against walls and windows, but the foliage that’s still intact twinkles with a thousand raindrops. The heat is gone and so is the tension of those enormous clouds. All the dirt of city life is washed away, and the evening draws to a close with the songs of crickets and frogs filling the air.

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A harvest of health

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Just think of all the beautiful sunshine that was poured into these natural delights!

My resolution to eat a salad as a main meal every day for 30 consecutive days has been going splendidly. I feel so blessed by the bountiful ‘harvest’ I’m able to buy!

Of course, I’m in a city in the twenty-second century, so unfortunately my fresh produce doesn’t come to me with bits of soil still clinging to it… One day I hope to have a little patch of land where I can experiment with growing a few of my own fresh goodies, but for now I buy the freshest and the best selections I can for my money and convenience, and it’s a blessing.

This is one way I measure wealth: when my fridge is full not just of food, but of good food that hasn’t been fiddled with too much between God’s hand and my plate 🙂

There are so many diets and eating plans out there, some of which totally take over people’s lives. That’s not for me. I’m just content to make small changes for the better wherever I can.

If the label says ‘organic’ and I can afford it, I’ll buy it. And on the other end of the spectrum, if the best-before date is in a year’s time, I don’t really want to be putting that stuff in my body!

I know most of my readers will be heading for their northern-hemisphere winter now, so salads may not seem very appealing. But may I encourage you to balance out your cold-weather comfort foods with fresh produce whenever you get a chance.

You’ll reap a harvest of health 🙂

Salmon fishing in Johannesburg

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It’s offishal: rats love salmon!

Recently our boys got a taste of smoked trout ribbons and salmon fish spread. (I know, they eat better than some people do. I feel bad about that sometimes. For a second or two. It’s not as though withholding a treat from my bubs will magically feed someone somewhere – it wouldn’t feed anyone at all, considering the tiny amounts it takes to please these guys…)

Anyway, they went crazy for the fishy treats, and I managed to snap a few pics of the fun 🙂

rats eat fish 1

Moon grabbing and Mishka begging

Vodka testing the taste

Voddy. Must. Have. More!

Knight's desperate flying leap to get to his fish

Knight’s desperate flying leap to get to his fish

Definitely Ninja's rat!

Definitely Ninja’s rat!

Mishka asks so nicely...

Mishka asks so nicely…

Teddy bear with his fishy feast

Teddy bear with his fishy feast

Those smoked trout ribbons were their best treat so far, but on a separate occasion I mixed some salmon fish spread with brown rice and veggies for their supper. That was gulped down just as quickly:

Hmmm, need a bigger bowl?

Hmmm, need a bigger bowl?

It looks like a hug, but it’s actually a warning

Mishka's nearly there...

With Tiny out the way, Mishka’s nearly there…

MINE!!!

MINE!!!

Footnote: Just so you know, rats are only allowed high-protein treats once in a while, and even then only in small samplings. Too much protein can cause their skin to become very itchy and scabby, almost like an allergic reaction. Under normal circumstances a pet rat only needs about 10% of its diet to consist of protein, and definitely no more than 18%. Our rats have almost no protein in their staple diet, so treats such as these once in a while are fine. And as with human diets, variation and moderation are vital 🙂

Overheard in an orchard

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Said the Robin to the Sparrow:

‘I should really like to know

Why these anxious human beings

Rush about and worry so.’

Cape Robin chat

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:

‘Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.’

~ Elizabeth Cheney ~

30 x 30 (x 30) challenge

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So! Who’s up for a challenge? :mrgreen:

30 x 30 x 30 challenge

Earlier this week I decided it’s time to tackle Goal #72 on my 101 things in 1001 days list, namely the 30 x 30 challenge of doing 30 minutes of physical activity for 30 consecutive days.

I planned it strategically right at the start of a blazing South African summer, of course.

And that wasn’t enough, so I decided to add another ‘x 30’ on the end of that challenge too. Along with the daily physical exercise regimen, I’ve committed to a personalised detox.

It’s nothing hectic – nothing like my 21-day sugar detox – but I’m cutting out as many fatty foods, processed carbs and sugars as possible for the next 30 days, and I plan to eat a salad for at least one of my three main meals each day. I’ve reduced all my portions too, and I’m stocking my pantry I don’t have a pantry fridge and cupboards with the healthiest foods I can afford.

Or at least I will be, once payday rolls around 😀

But like I said, it’s a personalised detox. I know myself well enough to accept that 30 days without any sugary treats at all is going to be counterproductive – I’ll just give up that way. So each morning with my cup of unsweetened rooibos tea I indulge in a single, small vanilla biscuit. Treat? Check 🙂

Over time I’ve come to accept that some diet fads and detox ideas will never work for me. For one thing, I don’t do low-fat dairy. Period. It’s yucky and a waste of money and full of unhealthy additives. I’d rather enjoy a smaller portion of a full-cream product than mess around with low-fat and fat-free options.

Also, I’ll never stick to a diet plan that involves foods I’ve never even heard of, let alone eaten. If I can’t find it in the shops I usually buy from, it’s just going to be a stumbling block in my detox. Ditto if it tastes gross. You can keep your kombucha and your tempeh, thanks very much!

And finally, I’ll probably never stick to a diet plan that cuts out one or more food groups altogether. Yes, I do intend to give a month of vegetarianism a go e.v.e.n.t.u.a.l.l.y (despite my repeated failures in that area), but I still don’t expect it’ll become something permanent. I like my food, and I love variety in everything, so that’s what my current diet plan is based on 🙂

I started the challenge on the 13th of November, so that it ends the day before my dating anniversary with Ninja… at which point I believe we can celebrate with a well-deserved, detox-destroying romantic dinner.

The salads have been easy to fit in and perfect for the hot weather, but the exercise is obviously the harder part. I often get to walk for more than 30 minutes during lunchtime at work, and there are stairs to climb and weights to lift at home. No excuses!

Being the pedant that I am, I laid out all of this in a handy checklist. And here it is, free for you to download should you wish to attempt something like this for yourself 🙂

My 30 x 30 x 30 challenge

Here’s to good health and achieving our goals!

Zest

Crispy savoury homemade crackers

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We call them biscuits here in South Africa, actually. But I think what Americans call biscuits are more like puffy scones to us, so I thought I’d go for ‘crackers’ instead.

Anyway, the point is: here’s a recipe for the easiest, crunchiest, thinnest, spiciest savoury crackers you’ll ever make at home… courtesy of my dear mom’s collection of recipes from years of kitcheneering 😉

Four main ingredients

Four main ingredients

Crispy savoury crackers

Ingredients

1 C cake/all-purpose flour

2.5 ml salt

1 ml pepper (1 ml? Seriously? Why not just say a pinch?)

1 ml cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)

15 ml butter

1/2 C cheddar cheese, finely grated (I like mature cheddar for this)

Cold water

Method

1. Sift together dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Rub in the butter.

3. Add the cheese and just enough water to make a stiff dough. (Add it bit by bit and ‘cut’ it gently into the flour with a knife.)

NB: Avoid any unnecessary kneading and pressing. This is the only tricky part of the recipe. Your dough should be dry-ish to the touch but sticky enough to form a messy clump:

Don’t overmix or add too much water!

4. Roll out very thinly. What I mean by thin is this:

Roll out thinly

Roll out thinly

If it’s three millimetres thick, that’s about the max 🙂

Thin now = crunchy later

5. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter of your choice and place crackers on a greased baking tray.

6. Prick the crackers with a fork several times each.

Pricked and primed for the oven

7. Bake for approx. 20 minutes at 190 °C. Afterwards, leave them to cool on the tray and they should just pop off easily.

NB #2: They burn very suddenly! Please keep an eye on them after the first 10 minutes and take them out when they start to look golden. They’re irredeemable when burnt but they’re fantastic when caught just a few minutes before that :mrgreen:

Golden harvest!

Golden harvest!

The idea is that you then use them as a base for any savoury topping you like… if you can stop yourself from eating them all before you prepare the first topping!

Perfect with savoury toppings or eaten plain

Perfect with savoury toppings or eaten plain

I’m sure you could change the spices in this recipe as you like, even adding dried herbs or changing the whole recipe into a sweet cracker instead (mmm… with cinnamon and cardamom perhaps… served still warm cracked over cold ice cream…). Ah, I was born to bake 🙂

Something more

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Here’s a poem I wrote recently… it seems fitting for a Friday, for those of you who may also be tired from another long week in the corporate world 🙂

Something more

 

Give me anything but this:

dry humming aircon

with redistributed germs

and a stale smell that hangs

between the walls and the tightly shut windows.

 

Give me something more than this –

this tiny cubicle

with the blankness of a desk

asking for work

and bearing paper burdens

 

Oh, please! Give me something more:

get me far beyond the city,

the concrete and the brickwork.

Get me out where my spirit

paints the world as a canvas wide

and leaps to the height of the cirrus

in exuberance at being alive.

© Zest – Sunshine Scrapbook

It happens to the best of us…

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It’s almost inevitable.

Somehow, one day, you (or your better half) will accidentally leave the rat cage open, lock up the house and drive away…

It’s so easy to do, especially when you just stuck your hand in the cage for a quick goodbye to sleepy ratties:

sleeping rat

Irresistible and innocent

But of course they always sleep with one eye open, just waiting for the sound of your car engine to drone away. And then!

Freedom!!!

Freedom!!!

So when Ninja and I got home yesterday, the first thing we saw was the empty rat cage and the door standing wide open.

Gulp!

I immediately closed the main house door and checked and closed the bathroom, while Ninja stepped carefully into the bedroom calling out for our furbabies.

But a minute later it was over.

Moon and Knight came running to Ninja within seconds, and I scooped up Voddy and Teddy as soon as they appeared. I was actually quite chuffed that the boys happily came running to us as soon as we called them 🙂

Phew! That’s the first time we’ve given them a run despite ourselves, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The boys were pooped but clearly happy to have had an adventure. They’d only been out for two hours; thankfully they didn’t destroy anything during that time…

What we really need is a cage door locking mechanism that will show us at a glance whether the cage is secure or not: sort of like those door indicators you see in public toilets!

Creative creatures Part 2

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This isn’t going to be the post you thought it would be.

Platypus

Platypus – Wikipedia

Because while I was ferretting out a few crazy critters to yak about, a little bird told me something fishy: instead of being an eager beaver I’d have to chicken out, since my post would just be a copycat version of something done much better elsewhere. My readers would quickly smell a rat and bug me for a better post. Besides, since my previous post‘s views were nothing to crow about and, not wanting to flog a dead horse, I decided I couldn’t bear to doggedly pursue this monkey business any longer.

And so, I present to you two links that will lead you to the Bored Panda site, which definitely does the topic of strange and unusual creatures much better justice than I ever could:

http://www.boredpanda.com/strange-animals/

http://www.boredpanda.com/unusual-animals/

Have a sunny day! 🙂

Zest