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Churros are crunchy deep-fried sweet pastries that are certainly not for weight watchers.  These delights are usually rolled in a cinnamon sugar and have a distinctive crunch on your first bite with a soft warm center.

It is believed that the charming Churro was invented by Spanish shepherds centuries ago.  These humble people knew that freshly baked goods were impossible to come by as they were high up in the mountains and through many trials and errors, the Churro was born.

Churro paste was simple enough to make and easy to cook over an open fire.  Soon this pastry like wonder became a daily staple for them.

Churro making is a specialized skill in Spain and has been passed down from generation to generation.  The Churro is almost a national symbol in Spain and therefore it comes as no surprise that a Churrero (a person who specializes in the art of Churro making) is held in high regard.

Often sold by street vendors in Spain, who fry them fresh on the street and sell them hot, Churros are also widely available in cafes for breakfast, although they can and are eaten throughout the day as a snack.

These delightful decadency’s can be eaten either plain or rolled in cinnamon sugar and the perfect accompaniment for them is a hot chocolate sauce.

It is a fact that Churros are simply divine, but I find myself asking what it is that draws me to them. I believe that it is the combination of the sugary crunch that is smothered in warm chocolate sauce that sends my taste buds over the edge.  One bite after another leaves me longing for the essence and excitement that is synonymous of the Spanish Culture and makes me want more and more.

With the Festive Season upon us, why not treat yourself and those close to you, with this sweet sensation.  Whether served as a dessert or as a snack with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, this recipe is easy to follow and it will soon become a favorite!

Typically the chocolate sauce is made with plain chocolate, but if you are like myself and enjoy a little spice and experiencing new sensations, this chili chocolate is a taste sensation not to be missed!

INGREDIENTS

For the Churros:

Makes 16 delicious Churros

200g Plain Flour

60g Caster sugar

1 Tsp. Baking powder

1 ½ Tbsp. Olive oil

250ml Boiled water

1 Liter Sunflower oil for frying

For the Cinnamon Sugar:

90g Caster sugar

1 Tsp. Ground cinnamon

For the Chocolate sauce:

200g Good quality dark chocolate, roughly broken into pieces

50g Milk chocolate, roughly broken into pieces

2 Tablespoons golden syrup

300ml Double cream

½ Tsp. Cayenne pepper

½ Tsp. Chili powder

METHOD

Prepare your Cinnamon-Sugar first by mixing the cinnamon and caster sugar together and set to one side.

Prepare your chocolate sauce by adding the roughly broken chocolate into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the golden syrup, cream, cayenne and chili powder.  Stir continuously over a low heat to melt the chocolate, making sure that it does not burn.  Once it has all melted and is silky smooth put the saucepan to one side to reheat after the Churros are done.

In a metal bowl, sift together the flour, caster sugar and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the bowl.

Mix the olive oil and boiling water together.  Pour this into the dry ingredients in the well that you made in the center of the bowl. Beat the mixture with a fork to ensure that the dough is smooth with no lumps.  It should have a soft and sticky consistency to the touch.  Let it rest while you heat the oil.

Fill a large, heavy bottomed saucepan with the sunflower oil.  The saucepan should be one-third full.  Heat the oil to 170C.  If you do not have a thermometer, test the oil temperature by gently dropping a small piece of bread into the oil.  If the bread turns golden brown within 30 seconds, the oil is ready.

With the dough mixture, fill a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle.  Gently squeeze out the Churros directly into the hot oil, snipping the dough off at the nozzle with a kitchen scissors. The Churros can be any length you want, but a guideline of 10cm length is usually recommended.

Be careful not to put too many Churros into the hot oil, as they will stick together.

Fry the Churros for 3 to 4 minutes, occasionally turning them with a metal slotted spoon.  When golden brown and crispy, remove them and place on a baking sheet lined with kitchen paper to drain.

Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture and be sure to cover the entire Churro.

While your last batch of Churros are busy frying, start reheating your chili chocolate sauce, keeping a close eye that it does not burn, by giving it a good stir every now and then.

Once all of your Churros are complete and your chili chocolate sauce has been reheated, it is time to serve up!

On a large serving plate, place a bowl in the middle and fill it to the brim with the smooth chili chocolate sauce. Stack your Churros around the sauce.

Dunk the crunchy Churros into the warm chili chocolate sauce, sit back and allow your taste buds to enjoy the sensation whilst your imagination allows you to drift off.

ENJOY!!

Churros with Chili Chocolate Sauce

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Spaghetti Bolognese

No matter what your cultural background is everybody enjoys the connection and comfort of friends and family and gorgeous simple home cooked food.

I find nothing more therapeutic than getting together with a bunch of girlfriends, cooking dinner and catching up on all the gossip and events.

Have you ever walked into the kitchen while women are cooking?  There is always background music playing, granted you would not be able to hear what it is because everyone is talking and not about the same subject!  The corkscrew is never too far from the next bottle of wine and a nibble is always nearby, just in case the dinner takes longer to cook due to operational reasons.  There are always readily available hands to dice and slice and you will always find the prankster amongst the girls, leading to copious amounts of amusement and giggles. If you were an outsider, looking at this sight you would be wondering how on earth dinner would ever be done!

Yes there is nothing like the electricity that sparks the air, when a group of girlfriends are in the kitchen.  It is the very essence of womanhood and fills the kitchen with radiance, warmth and love.

With today’s fast modern society, people are becoming more distant from each other and are losing that comforting connection of love and friendship.  It is not done purposefully, but with work and family commitments it simply becomes so much easier to send a fast Facebook message from the office or a quick text from your blackberry on the daily commute home, just to say hello and let your girlfriends know that you are thinking of them.  It is due to all of these commitments that one can so quickly lose track with the ones you love. I am guilty as charged and it is due to my constant work commitments that I have had the urge to dedicate this piece to my girlfriends. There are some of you that I have not seen in years and some that I might have seen in the last few hours.  I believe that time spent together should be quality above quantity and if I were at home I would Love nothing more than a girls night in with all of you  and what better way to do it,  than over a few bottles of red wine and a decant dish.

This classic dish is so simple to make, with a cooking time of roughly 35-40 minutes.  Leaving you time to focus and get back in touch with the most important people in your life – your girlfriends.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves 6 glorious girls

INGREDIENTS

500g Dried spaghetti

50g Parmesan cheese, grated

BOLOGNESE SAUCE

2 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Finely chopped onion

2 Crushed garlic cloves

450g Minced beef meat

125g Smoked chopped bacon

2 Tbsp Tomato puree

300ml and a dash for good luck Red wine (readily available from the bottle already opened)

400g Chopped tin tomatoes

125g Mushrooms sliced

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Salt & Pepper to taste

Sprinkle of mixed herbs

Make your Bolognese sauce first, allowing more time for the flavours to enhance.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan, then add the onion and fry over medium heat for +- 10 min or until soft and golden.

Add the garlic and cook for +- 1 minute, be careful not to burn the garlic or it will produce a bitter taste.

Stir in the minced beef.  Use the back of a fork to break up the minced meat in pieces.  Add the chopped smoked bacon and allow to brown evenly.

Stir in the tomato puree and red wine.  Bring this to the boil; add the tomatoes, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of mixed herbs and salt & pepper.

Bring back to the boil, cover and simmer for +- 20 minutes.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add your spaghetti.  Cook according to instructions on the packet.

Drain the pasta and add to the Bolognese pan.

Toss all together, taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Take the pan to the table and let everyone help themselves.

Lovingly sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top of your helping.

There you go, a quick and satisfying meal that can be made while discussing the latest fashion craze, your newly sprouting grey hairs, crows feet or the wonders of baby’s first tooth!

Make sure to fill up everyone’s glasses with some seriously good red wine and sit back and watch your girlfriends, slurp back this delicious dish and give thanks to your glorious girlfriends.

Sisters & Spaghetti

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Solms-Delta

South Africa boasts many magnificent wine estates and it comes as no surprise, that as I am Proudly South African I have decided to share my secret, seasonally influenced fizz with you all.

It is that time of the year were friends and family gather together and toast to a year’s memories that have passed, but will never be forgotten.  Being a firm believer that these memories should be treasured and celebrated, what better way to do so, than to serve only the best wine.

It is my fond memories that have inspired me to invite you to enter one of the most beautiful wine estates I have visited.

Situated 15km outside the village of Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa in the heart of the Cape Winelands is Solms-Delta.  This 320 year old picturesque Franschhoek farm with breathtaking scenery and warm hospitality is a true legacy to the Cape.  Driven by his South African roots, world-renowned neuroscientist, Professor Mark Solms revitalized this Delta wine estate, nurturing and cultivating Cape wine-making traditions and captivating the very essence of the Old Cape.

With all of the passion, initiative, dedication and hospitality on this estate, it comes as no surprise that a joyous and celebratory wine was created.

Cape Jazz Shiraz, a Petillant style wine, with a 100% Shiraz grape variety is a fusion of fun and liveliness. Low in alcohol, it is the perfect accompaniment to any celebration. Whether it’s a get together of fabulous friends over the weekend or the anticipation of ringing in the New Year, this refreshing sparkler will most certainly steal the spotlight and you will be praised for your wonderful wine taste!

Opening a bottle of Cape Jazz Shiraz makes me feel as if I were tapping into a fountain of youth, festivity and a lust for life and is therefore my reason why I choose to share this red-coloured fizzy with friends and family for any reason to celebrate.

This well-priced wine upholds the Solms-Delta quality and is reasonably priced. It is available for purchase not only in South Africa, but in the UK, Europe and the US.  For further information please visit the Solms-Delta website at the bottom of this page.

Not just a wine estate, Solms-Delta boasts decadent dining. You will be enraptured by the impeccable quality of a very unique and modern take on traditional Cape cuisine.  With a unique name from the Afrikaans language which is untranslatable.   Fyndraai is a fine Cape kitchen boasting culinary heritage.   Built into the site of the farm’s original wine cellar, you will step onto a glass floor which exposes the original foundations that were uncovered during extensive archaeological diggings. The interior of the restaurant is elegant and walls are adorned with 19th Century restored photographs of people of the region, together with colour shots of today’s farm workers.

With a menu as rich in diversity as the South African culture itself, it will tantalize your taste buds and there is a little something for all palates.

Why not try the combo of Cape tempura fried black prawns and pan-fried sea scallops served with lemon flavored pear puree, enhanced with rooibos (red bush tea) and citrus balsamic syrup. Looking for a more meaty meal?    Award winning Karoo loin coated in wild herbs, combined with its own marinated grilled fillet, accompanied by fennel and rosemary braised onions and vanilla potato custard with wild mint flavoring.  Something sweet? Try the Banana and maple pudding with wild sage indigenous herb syrup and nutty ice cream.

The food is made with much attention to detail, one can almost taste the chef’s loving hand with each bite.  All meals are served by smiling and eager waitrons that have all been recruited from the resident farm worker families or from the Franschhoek area and have undergone intensive training, which reflects in the top-notch service you receive.

Catering for all walks of life, Solms-Delta offers perfect picnic baskets for that family outing, right along the estates lush riverside forest. With plenty of space for the kids to run around, while Mom and Dad enjoy one of the many wines available for purchase on site.

Why not gather friends and family and sit back and enjoy a wine tasting and food pairing while listening to the sounds of the on site musical heritage programme – Music van de Caab, who deliver mesmerizing sounds with affluent music traditions from the Cape winelands.

Wine Pairing at Solms-Delta

Whether you live in South Africa or if you are planning a holiday to this Culture Rich Country with an abundance of natural beauty, Solms-Delta is a must visit if you are in the Franschhoek area.

Looking back at my memories this year, I will most definitely raise my glass of Cape Jazz Shiraz and toast to a wonderful wine and an amazing wine estate.  Cheers!

For more information on this magnificent wine estate, please visit their website:

www.solms-delta.co.za and all of your questions are guaranteed to be answered.  If not feel free to contact one of the many helpful staff members who are always available to assist.

All that Cape Shiraz Jazz at Solms-Delta Wine Estate

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Gliding down the calm waters of the Bosphorus strait, enroute to one of the world’s oldest cities, I feel a sense of excitement rise within me.  The soft glow of the morning sun reflecting on the mirror like water and the soft sea breeze blowing, makes me drift away a few thousand years ago. I imagine a city, filled with treasures and tales of the ancient world.

When I think of Istanbul, I am captivated by old world splendour, empires, Sultans and their great palaces, harems filled with belly dancers and much more for my imagination to run away with.

Research shows that Istanbul’s first inhabitants date back as far as the second millennia BC.  They settled on what is known as the Asian side of the city under the rulership of a Megara King Byzas who duly named his colony the Byzantium’s, which is a Greek name for a city on the Bosphorus.

Having undergone constant sieges and battles of power, this city; steeped in history has been ruled by many. It was however the Ottoman Turks who took over the last rule in 1453 and their reign lasted until after World War 1, where allied troops occupied. After years of struggles between occupying forces, The Republic of Turkey was born and Istanbul has grown into a unique modern city.

Today Istanbul caters for every individuals need.  Whether you are interested in culture, music, sport, business or education, Istanbul has got it and believe you me if they don’t have it, they will get it for you.  The business-like mentally of the Turkish always seems to amaze me. The currency is Turkish Lira and generally you will be able to get good value for your money.

With so much to do in this sensational city, I would highly recommend that you diarize all of the activities that you want to do and the sights that you want to visit.  Major sights can get extremely busy and it would be wise to start your morning early as the queues of people move so slowly, it reminds me of a snake charmer trying to lure his lazy snake and watching it unwind slowly before your eyes.

I have been fortunate enough to visit Istanbul on numerous occasions and have been able to see sights on a leisurely pace.

Transportation, whether it be public or private is fairly inexpensive and readily available.  Whether you are driving on the roads or are in a taxi, buckle up and take a sedative because these Turks don’t mess around!  I couldn’t help but notice that on my first taxi ride into the city, my white knuckles, pounding heart and sweating forehead were definitely signs on anxiety.  Be prepared to have an advanced driving course behind your name or to be as tough as nails and not bat an eyelid as you can count the grey hairs on the taxi driver in the car ahead of you, because time is money in Istanbul and you’ll get to your destination as fast as the taxi is able to push over the car in front of you, out of the road.

Now I LOVE to shop and it will come as no surprise that the very first place I ever visited in Istanbul was the one and only, glorious Grand Bazaar.  With vibrant colors draped throughout this bazaar, gold glistening from every nook and cranny, the hustle and bustle of buyers and sellers, this is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.

Being located on the crossroads of trade routes, since the beginning Istanbul had a thriving commerce, and bazaars were stocked to the brim with worldly items and traders ready on hand to bargain.

The Grand Bazaar includes more than 3 thousand shops and is visited by approximately 250 – 400 thousand people every day! The bazaar has an almost grid plan layout with shops that sell similar products grouped together.   There are approximately 61 streets, 4 fountains, 2 mosques, several cafes and a police station inside the bazaar and it will come as no surprise that on your first visit, you are guaranteed to get lost in this labyrinth.   Whether you are merely taking a leisurely stroll through the bazaar, absorbing the Turkish hospitality or trying your hand at the old-fashioned art of bargaining, it is certain that there is a little something for everyone inside!  If you are looking for the latest genuine fake Gucci handbag, tremendous Turkish carpets, hand carved chess boards elegantly decorated with Ottoman Turk history or gold jewelry, variety is vast.  Shop owners or their assistants will stand outside and lure you into their shop, telling you that they have something special for you to see and that the price would be just right for you.  They will amazingly speak your language, even if it is just the basic greeting phrase.

Another Bazaar that I frequented during my visits to Istanbul was the Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market.  As per the namesake, the Spice Market is home to approximately 86 shops, row after row of spices, dried fruits, nuts, teas, essences and sweets.   This is certainly a sensory seduction as your eyes behold mountains of spices.  This is no lie; the colors are breathtaking and the spices are displayed in front of the entrance to each shop.  You simply cannot walk past each shop without having to stop and look at the spices on display and smell them.  If you want to purchase, you are allowed to scoop away at the Spice Mountains and sample them.  The quality is second to none, spices available for purchase range from golden cinnamon, robust red curry powders, mixed herbs and the sultans’ saffron.

The aroma of mixed spices, teas and food stalls inside this little bazaar leave you ravenous and if you do not succumb to the tempting treats inside, you will be pleased to learn that just outside you will find a food market with all of the Turkish delicacies you could wish for.

This is truly an unforgettable experience.

Shopping is a culture in this city and there are many other smaller bazaars and old shopping sites that you can visit during your stay, as well as ultra-modern shopping malls that carry some of the finest brand names.

After a tiresome shopping marathon, why not indulge at a local Hammam.  A traditional Turkish bath was an everyday ritual and a social gathering.  Men and Woman have separate sections and a basic Turkish bath would have a cold section or otherwise known as a dressing room, a hot area with washing basins and large heated marble platforms in the middle and private bathing cubicles around the room.

Be sure to experience a soap massage and you will be exfoliated, scrubbed and massaged from head to toe.  A real treat, only for fans of deep tissue massages!

Looking for a bit more history?  Why not visit the Blue Mosque.   Well known among tourists for its bluish interior decoration, it is the most important mosque in Istanbul.  It stands next to the Byzantine Hippodrome in the old city center and faces another well-known structure, namely The Hagia Sophia.   The Blue Mosque was built by Ottoman Sultan Ahmed between 1609 and 1616. When mosques were built in this ancient city, they were not only designed for worshipping but to serve the community.  This mosque was built as a complex, to include a theological school, a kitchen for the poor and bazaar shops to raise money for maintenance purposes. What makes this mosque so spectacular is the architectural design.  Boasting 6 minarets, four of which have 3 balconies each and the remaining 2 have two balconies on each, making that a total of 16 in all.  These are reached by spiral staircases not for public use and these balconies are used to call Muslims to prayer five times a day by the Muezzin.

The exterior and interior of this mosque could only be described as one of a kind and I feel that even if copied no-one could claim the elegance it holds.  Whether you enter the mosque for  religious purposes or simply for having it checked off your places to see list,, entering this mosque leaves you feeling over-whelmed as this massive interior with one central dome which is surrounded by smaller domes and semi domes, supported by four huge pillars, will soon leave you in awe as you notice the exquisite walls, which are decorated with traditional handmade Iznik tiles, stained glass windows and calligraphy art of Koranic verses and Turkish rugs which cover the entire mosque floor.  One of the most spectacular sights is the Sultans lodge where he used to pray in private away from the general crowd.  This is lavishly decorated fit for only a Sultan, with the finest gold and marble.  Seeing such sights truly captivates me.

A stone throw away leads you to what I think is a much underrated architectural beauty.  What once was an Orthodox Church and later a Mosque is today a Museum.  The Hagia Sophia is truly a preserved diamond in the rough and has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The Hagia Sophia is a fine example of how two different cultures have been blended to form true beauty. The main attraction is the magnificent dome, which boasts another two half domes. The interior, which is richly adorned with verses and images from the Orthodox Christians and Muslims.  Here you will find images depicting the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Saints and Emperors and Empresses, together with traditional handmade mosaic and verses from the Koran.  The merge of the two religions set in an ancient building is prominent and peaceful.  As you wonder throughout this dome, you pick up an aura of a mystical sense, the richly adorned interior, marbled mosaic balconies and hidden staircases certainly attribute to this. But what adds to this sense of mystery are the 4 painted Seraphim’s (God’s Protector Angels with 6 wings) inside the dome.  During the reign of the Orthodox Church, these Seraphim’s faces were displayed for worshippers to see.  It was during the Ottoman Turk rule these faces were covered with 6-7 layers of plaster.    160 years of being covered, only one of the Seraphim’s faces has been revealed.  Restoration to the Hagia Sophia is constantly underway and one can only wait with bated breath for the remaining 3 Seraphim’s faces to be revealed.

There is much more to the Hagia Sophia than just the astonishing interior of the dome, once you enter you will be mesmerized by the sections she hold.

Last but certainly not least, one of the splendors of Istanbul has got to be the Grand Palace.  Guided tours of the palace are recommended and so is the audio tour which you can purchase on the palace grounds.  Having used the audio guide, I felt as if I was transported into the realm of Sultans, Emperors and concubines.    Not enough praise can be given to the Turkish tourism board for a job well done, as this audio guide explains each section of the palace with such detail it truly does leave you feeling as if you are part of the history.  The palace entrance is arched and leads you through to the palace gardens.  Kindly note that there are metal detectors and strict security to pass through before you can walk through these gardens.  With the aid of numbered sections, you are able to punch in your section and receive full commentary wherever you choose to start.  Throughout your tour, you will notice how influential the Sultans and hierarchy were.  Walls and domes covered in the finest mosaic, spectacular stained glass, larger than life gold mirrors hang on the walls and crystal chandeliers leave you breathless. Marbled courtyards leave you imagining how ladies would gather in the afternoon sun and talk.  Walking through the one of the many long hallways, leaves me imagining that I am a bellydancer, shimmying my way through this mighty palace.   Here you will learn more about a Harem and it will leave you feeling pleasantly surprised, revealing how unfortunate young girls were taken or given away from their families.  Overwhelming your senses with nothing but compassion and rage for these young girls, as your mind thinks only the worst. The twist in this story and how you are educated on this tour, teaches you how these young girls lives were saved and through education they were schooled in various subjects and raised to be upstanding young woman who were chosen to be either one of the Sultans wives or to be given away to a highly respected men of power and promised a life of well living.

As a visitor to this mighty city there is so much more to discover and it comes highly recommend to those of you with an active, thirsty mind for knowledge.   I simply cannot find enough words to describe this vibrant versatile old world city.

One of my favorite treats would be to sit and enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee and a piece of locum.  After all of the sightseeing and information overload, I enjoy watching and absorbing the Turkish culture.  The locals claim that by not drinking all of the coffee in your cup and by leaving the coffee bean residue at the bottom, turning it upside down onto your saucer and turning it clockwise, you are able to tell your future by the picture the residue leaves.  I’m almost certain that I saw a world map like figure and I am hoping that is an indication of many more travels to come.

I believe that it is through education and travel that are minds are liberated and this can set one free and breakaway from the average train of thought.  Allowing you to be thankful and admirable for being able to absorb history and culture that is presented to you through travel.

Ladies and Gentlemen I only hope that you can appreciate the Immortal Istanbul that I have had the pleasure to experience.

The Jewel of the Bosphorus

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 Ask any wine enthusiast and I am sure that they will agree with me when I say that wine tasting is a sensory seduction.

While professional wine tasters such as sommeliers undertake rigorous examinations to learn how to analyze and best describe the flavors, aromas and general characteristics of wines, for the average wine enthusiast it is much more of a recreational event, allowing oneself to explore the wine world using a less analytical approach but still using similar terminology.

 I believe that a good wine tasting experience should leave you with a sense of achievement. You should walk away with more knowledge about wine, more appreciation and certainly have bought more wine from the vineyards you were in!

 Wine tasting is one activity that never tires me and if this was an Olympic sport, I have no doubt that I would win a gold medal.  The longer I am at a wine tasting, the more developed my sensory skills become.  (This might be due to the fact that I do not spit my wine out in a spittoon!)

 Your first wine tasting experience should be compared to that of a child tasting their first piece of chocolate.  Your general curiosity should leave you wondering, your first taste should leave you so inquisitive, wanting you to immediately know more about where this taste sensation is coming from, how it was created and where you can find a constant supply.  I have been lucky enough to have visited many wine farms and whilst the majority do follow a similar routine when it comes to tastings – a school-like approach, filled to the brim with information and allowing you to be shown how to taste like the connesiours.  I have however had the misfortune of visiting a few wine farms that have not had proper time management.  Allowing for a very brief explanation about the wine that you are sampling and before you have had time to savor the aroma and taste it, the next wine is being introduced.  In my opinion a good wine tasting should take time, you should experience  sitting in a room full of strangers or even good friends, swirling your glasses and sniffing away at aromas that intrigue your imagination, leaving you feeling like a little child.

 A wine tasting should cover the “five S” steps:  see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor.

This is the basic foundation of wine tasting and the quality assessment of a wine should be achieved through the above method.  There are however further  comparisons with recognized standards  that allow wines to be categorized  according to price range, regions, vintages, styles or certain wine making techniques.

 Please find a brief explanation of 5 steps of wine tasting.

 SEE:  This stage is all about color.  By looking at your wine you should be able to distinguish whether you will be sampling a heavy or light wine by distinctive variations in color.   Red wines that are full-bodied and heavier may appear to have a deeper red color.   White wine shades will vary from anything from appearing to have a golden or caramel color to slight off white color. It is recommended that during this stage, you hold your wine glass against a white background and slightly tilt your glass as it allows the color to run.

 SWIRL:  By swirling your wine gently it is exposed to oxygen.  This is done with most wines, with the exception of sparkling wines as it increases the speed at which bubbles are released. You might notice streaks running down the side of your glass after swirling your wine.  These are referred to as legs or tears and are caused due to the surface tension of the wine against the glass and alcohol content.

 SNIFF:  The aromatic experience of a wine is known as a wine bouquet.  As you gently swirl your wine, smell the aromas coming from your glass and write them down.  The first thoughts that come into your mind, as bizarre as you might find them will leave you pleasantly surprised when you overview them later. The aromas that you picked up may appear on what is known as an aroma wheel.  This is a guide that provides a breakdown of aromas that are commonly picked up on during tastings. These may range from spicy smells such as black pepper and cloves or burnt smells such as burnt toast or coffee. 

 SIP:  Taking a small sip of wine allows for flavors to be perceived.  Once inside your mouth, the exposure of heat allows for your taste buds to be saturated and you may experience the texture, taste and weight of the wine.  By slightly opening ones lips and allowing air in, significantly adds to this experience.

A word from the wise:  When I had my first wine tasting, I was extremely concerned when I saw a group of people spitting out their wines they had just tasted. I found it downright rude and offensive to the vineyard we were visiting.  It wasn’t until my good friend explained that it was an uncommon practice for wine tasters to spit their wines out in to what is known as a spittoon and then proceeding to clear their palate and glass with fresh water.

 SAVOR:  The initial sip of wine whether it may tasting a new wine or a good old favorite, always leaves me in a state of reflection.  Savor these moments especially after your tasting and note the feelings that you have from tasting the different variety of wines.

 Wine tasting can be more complex and if you have enjoyed your basic wine tasting, why not ask the person who hosted the tasting for more information on advanced wine tasting classes.  In this day and age, anybody can do a wine course, be it for professional or personal satisfaction.  Ask about your local community if there are any wine clubs and if not, why not start one up yourself!

Once you get involved, start paring cheese and other delectable dishes with your wines and enjoy every minute of it.

 Life is filled with so many learning experiences.  If you get presented with the chance to do so, take on the challenge.  A simple wine tasting will astonish you and remind you how unique your sensory system really is.    Whether you are fortunate to live in a country with a vast array of vineyards and cellars or if you find yourself on a foreign holiday where you can take advantage of visiting a vineyard, it would not be time wasted. 

 CHEERS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonders of Wine Tasting

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I have always had a sense of adventure and a day dreamers mind.  As a child I would lock myself away from the rest of the world and cast myself off to be stranded on tropical islands, advise my counsel as a Queen in a medieval castle in the hills of a faraway land and be bewitched by bravery and magick in other realms.  Yes thinking back, it is no wonder I chose a career that would entail travelling.     Having seen such spectacular sights leaves me with an enormous gratitude and a reassurance that the world is truly your oyster.  If I have any advice to give to a young adult who is indecisive on what to do in their life, I would say travel.  Go and learn new cultures, get lost in translation, fall in Love with Life and take a moment to be silent and reflect on what you have seen and experienced and give thanks.

One of my many favorite destinations would be Greece.  There is something extraordinary about this country and its cluster of islands.   No matter how many times I go back, I seem to fall in Love all over again.

Steeped in ancient history, with never-ending stories on Greek mythology to present economic struggles, the moment I arrive in Greece it seems as if all of my troubles melt away.

Now there are many islands that are breathtaking, but Mykonos has a myriad of experiences that excite me.

There is nothing more spectacular than approaching Mykonos by boat in the morning; the crisp cool air fills your lungs with a sense of relaxation and zest for life. The shimmering morning light dances over rippling waves making you feel enchanted; it captivates and allures you, welcoming you to an undeniable Greek experience filled with hospitality and warmth.  You’re blinded by the beauty of the whiter than white washed houses as the sun’s ray’s bounce off them.   You are immediately made welcome by locals who are standing alongside the pier smoking and drinking coffee.  Although it is still early in the morning, restaurants and local Kafeneias (coffee shops) are preparing ahead for another busy day of footfall from locals, celebs, holidaymakers and cruise ship crowds.

Accommodations can range anywhere from luxurious boutique hotels, self-catering apartments to backpacking lodges for those of minimalistic needs.

Roaming the streets of Mykonos is a unique experience.  Prepare yourself to get lost in the labyrinth of white washed houses with Bougainvillea and geraniums adorning them, arts and crafts, chique boutiques and restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries that are hidden in every nook and cranny.  Just when you think you know where you are going. you accidentally walk into one of many exquisitely decorated churches.  They are so beautiful they make you lose track of time!

Locals sit back and smile and laugh at you and there are plenty of Yia-sas  (Hello in Greek) to be said, so prepare yourself.  The streets are always busy and a word to the wise, while you are so busy looking at what is around you, taking in the experience – watch out for those motorcycles that whizz past you and even the odd donkey who has decided that the road is his right of way and will not move for you.

Mykonos by day certainly does hold a great appeal and there is something for everyone to do, but at night this little islands explodes and your inner party animal can choose from a range of trendy nightclubs, stylish bars, restaurants and local tavern’s where you can pop in to see how the locals party it up until the early morning hours.  Mykonos is very well-known for being a gay friendly island and it comes as no surprise that you will be in awe at the many nationalities you will come across on your night on the town.

For those wanting to soak up the sun, Mykonos does boast some beautiful beaches. Anything from beaches where the party does not stop, to beaches dedicated to the fashion of bronzing where you will find sun loungers after sun loungers and the familiar smell of sun tanning lotion. For the more adventurous, why not try the nudist beach up at Paradise Beach.  For the gay community there is the famous Elia beach.  You can also take a boat over to Kalo Livadi and Kalaftis in the southeast of the island if you want to escape the crowds on the beach.

The crème de le crème of Mykonos, actually any Greek island would be the food.  From the moment you lay your eyes of a Greek dish, you are hypnotized.  The aroma simply seeps through your nostrils, tantalizing your taste buds and telling your tummy it’s time to tuck in!  The dishes boast vibrant colors that remind you of an artist’s palette.  From the hot and cold meze’s consisting of combinations of cocktail meatballs, lamb kebabs and calamari to a selection of freshly made dips.  Tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber & garlic) Melitzanosalata (Eggplant) Skordalia (Garlic), Taramosalata (Roe), Olive and Hummus (Chickpea) served with fresh pita and stoned breads.   Meze’s are usually served not necessarily as an appetizer / starter, but usually together with drinks such as Ouzo or Raki which allow friends and family to sit and enjoy their social gathering.

Moussaka is another well-loved dish and is flavorsome and rich made either with meat or as a vegetarian meal.

Greeks love their meat, especially lamb. Meat is served with most dishes and can range from a simple meatball to a doner or shish kebab.  But for vegetarians there are plenty of options and ones not to forget are the roasted vegetables, stuffed vine leaves, Spanakopita (Spinach and Feta pie) and the famous Greek salad, with the huge pieces of feta cheese, fresh ripe tomatoes, olives and onions.

For our fish lovers, you will be in for a treat.  Fishing is a thriving business and you will always see the fishermen out, hauling their nets out and bringing back their catch.  You are guaranteed to always eat fresh fish.  Shellfish are in abundance, calamari crumbles in your mouth and my favorite is the grilled or barbecued sardines.  Nothing beats that fresh sea taste!

Sweet toothes will find themselves in a sugary heaven with the decadent baklava, which consists of layered filo pastry brushed with butter, honey and nuts, lovingly layer by layer.

There is also the traditional Greek yogurt with a dollop of honey for those not too fond of too sweet a treat.

With all of these many gorgeous dishes to choose from, my favorite dish has got to be the simple, humble little gyros.

Yes this little pita bread stuffed with strips of lamb, chicken or pork, tomatoes, chips and smothered in tzatziki or garlic sauce just cannot be beat.

I Love nothing more than sitting down at the pebbled beach front, watching as tourists stroll the beautiful Mykonos waterfront, meandering the many lanes it has to offer, sampling the local cuisine and absorbing the Greek culture and hospitality and eating my gyros.  As I sit savoring my delight, I soak up the last rays of the setting sun and am captivated by magnificence of Mykonos and the generosity of the Greek culture.

 

 

Mad about Mykonos

Fins and Facts

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I have always surrounded myself with the beauty and mystery of the sea.  No matter where my path leads me, my faithful friend is always there as if to remind me of how blessed I was, to be brought up along the wild coast, on the eastern seaboard of Southern Africa.

The mesmerizing beauty of this coastline that seems to stretch on forever, still manages to make me feel humble by the mere thought of it.

Ask any local and they will tell you that the Wild Coast is renowned for the rough and treacherous seas, but boasts breathtaking rocky and rugged terrains, with a lush wilderness of green hills, deep river valleys and lagoons.  It is a truly magical place and it feels as if by some divine force, the hands of time have stood still over this area and it has been left undisturbed and unawakened by the greedy outside world.

Having all of this beauty on my door step, it comes as no surprise that as I was growing up it was drilled into my head that nature should always be treated with respect. I was told that nature would always provide, as long as you helped in return.   As a family we never had materialist wealth and our family outings would always be free, just as Mother Nature intended.  We would go hiking in the valleys, camping out and exploring one of the many lagoons. But my favorite memories would always be anytime spent at the sea.  Swimming in the warm Indian Ocean, smelling that fresh sea breeze, rolling down sand dunes and trying to out run your friends on the soft sand…. I could dream on forever!  The one activity that I Loved most of all, was helping the men on their fishing trips.  Myself and my cousins were sent out to collect bait and the person who would bring back the best and most bait, would get the ultimate prize – a chance to hold one of the esteemed fishing rods and only hope to catch a fish.  Today, I am sure that if this was my incentive for collecting bait…. I’d tell them to do their own dirty work!!  But life was so much simpler back then and with any excuse to be climbing about like a monkey, picking mussels of rocks, looking for cockles or pumping prawns – I was definitely there!

Once all the collecting was done and the real work started, I would sit, watching, waiting for hours for one simple catch!!  I would watch how the men would battle the tempest sea, sometimes struggling to stay grounded.  But no matter what happened, when a fish was caught, it was examined and if it was too small…. It was sent back to their watery homes until they got bigger.  Victory was celebrated around a fire, the catch of the day was descaled, filleted and seasoned and put on the dancing flames of the open fire.   Women, children and men would all gather around the fire to admire the catch and to give thanks to the mighty sea for the food we were about to receive.

It is this love of the sea that has inspired me to write about a very concerning issue that will simply not go away without any action or support from like-minded people, who in turn respect nature and love the sea and all of its mysterious little swimmers and creatures it holds.  Now is the time to help nature.

Overfishing is the practice of fishing which depletes fisheries by catching too many adult fish, therefore not allowing them to breed and replenish their populations.

Decades of overfishing have finally caught up and there is plenty of research proving the detrimental ecological and economical dangers from this. The allure of more money to be made and unselective fishing practices and specific targets on fish species have finally caught the attention of those in power and I certainly hope that it is not too late to save our finned friends.

Specific targeting of a fish species for monetary reasons, have attributed to the near destruction of delicate ecosystems. These people think of nothing further than their next paycheck and they do not seem to care if they wipe out a particular fish species, as they simply move on to the next best paying species.  Will this continue until there are no fish species left?

Due to the greed and inhumanity of overfishing, laws have been implemented, calling for only one type of fish species to be caught as per the license bought.

For the modest non commercial fishing boat that goes out every day to bring back their catch that would sustain their families and local communities with very little self gain this law is not practical at all.

Fishing for one species often means catching another, and in a mixed fishery where many different fish live fisherman cannot control what they catch. Under new laws, if the fish caught are not the correct species they must be thrown overboard. This means that the majority of these discarded fish will ultimately die, leaving the open aired question of why are we wasting unnecessarily?

Another system that has been brought in to try to save our fish is the quota system.  This system is intended to protect fish stocks by allowing a limit of how many fish of a certain species may be caught.

Let me give you an example of a local fisherman who has a license to fish for cod and his quota would allow him to bring back 100.  Once he has completed his catch and counted out his quota, he realizes that he is over by 50 cod.    As per the quota system, fishermen are not allowed to land any of the over-quota fish – even if they were caught unintentionally.   These fish must now be thrown overboard, some might survive and some are already dead as they may not be brought back in to the docks or a substantial fine will await you or even your license revoked.

I know that for most people reading this, you think that you are not directly affected by all of these new laws and regulations due to overfishing because you do not have any fisherman in your family or you do not live in a small community where fishing sustains the small economy.

Whilst this may be partially true as you may not be affected by having your daily livelyhood being broken down by these laws and regulations, you will however,  notice the sharp increase in price of your favorite fishy feasts and some day you will not be able to find them at all.

So you ask what you can do help?  Easy….

Stay informed – Read up on some of the facts of overfishing and how it may be affecting you’re locality.

Treat your taste buds and taste new species of local fish – go down to your local fish monger and ask them what lesser known species are being caught locally and give it a try!

Spread the word – If you are from a fishing community, why not get friends and family involved.  Let your local officials know how your community feels about overfishing and make sure they explain what they are doing to manage your local waters.   Or simply tell everyone about the consequences of overfishing and what other fish species are out there that are eaten less commonly.

Here’s a true classic that has been altered using a more sustainable fish*

*Starring the oily wonder Mackerel which is rich in Selenium, Vit. B12, Niacin and is low in sodium.

Eating Mackerel can aid in cell repair, maintain healthy reproductive, nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Barbecued Mackerel with a zesty drizzle, chunky crisp chips and pea, feta & mint mash

Ingredients

4 small whole mackerel, gutted and cleaned

3 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil

FOR THE ZESTY DRIZZLE

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 small fresh ginger knob, finely chopped

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons honey

Finely grated zest and juice of 2 fresh limes

1 Teaspoon Sesame oil

1 Teaspoon Thai fish sauce

Light a barbecue and allow the flames to die down and get cool.  You will know when it has cooled down because the ashes would have gone white.

Make your drizzle by whisking 3 Tbsp olive oil and all the other ingredients together in a small bowl.

Put your Mackerel on the barbecue for +- 5 minutes on each side until they are charred and the eyes have turned white.

Spoon the drizzle over the fish and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes before serving

For good chunky chips, get some good size potatoes and cut into thick chips. (1-2 potatoes per person) Par boil in a pan of salted water for 5-10 minutes until just tender.  Drain and pat dry with a tea towel.

Place onto a roasting pan and generously drizzle with olive oil, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.

Toss them to coat in the oil and flavorings.  Cook them in an oven on a temperature of 210 degrees Celsius and keep turning them until they are golden and crispy.  When they are done place them on kitchen paper to absorb oil and serve immediately with your mackerel and mash.

Pea, Feta & Mint Mash

A slight variation on the English version of “Mushy peas” and in my opinion much tastier.

Ingredients

500g peas (Fresh is always better)

100g crumbly feta cheese

¼ cup of fresh mint leaves, finely sliced

Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon

Dash of extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the peas in a saucepan of cold water and bring to a simmer for +- 3 minutes.

Drain well and place in your serving bowl.

Crumble the feta into the peas then use a fork to mash them coarsely.

Stir in the mint and lemon juice and drizzle with the olive oil.

Serve warm.

The combination of the zesty drizzle, the mackerel’s oiliness with crisp chunky chips and the fresh aftertaste of the mint in the mash are simply delectable. Enjoy this feast with friends and family in the splendor of nature and give thanks!