About Me

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Hello! Welcome to my online travel-food-life journal/virtual scrapbook. I am a poet, playwright, journalist, editor and basic jack-of-all-trades writer. I was born in El Salvador and raised in Minnesota. I have just returned home from a year and a half in South Africa.

17 September 2012

Goodbye, Totsiens

We leave South Africa tomorrow.

I’m in the middle of packing and I just found a pack of peanuts from Turkish Airlines from my flight here.  How can it be that a year and a half has gone by?

How in the world do I do this?  How do I wrap up – summarize – do justice to – say goodbye?

It has been the most extraordinary 14 months of my life. 

I feel like I will never be able to thank people enough:  those here who enriched our experience and those back home who made this epic break-from-real life possible (they who watched our cats and took care of our house and with whom we Skyped each week.)

Right now I am a complete muddle of emotions, memories, hopes, anticipation, happiness and sadness.

Of course I am beyond excited to go home.  To see my family and friends, to give countless hugs and cuddle my cats and get a new job and sleep in my own bed again.

But I am heart-sore (that wonderful term I learned here) at the thought of leaving.  I cannot deny the empty, hollow place I feel in my chest at the thought of getting on that plane tomorrow.  It is the price you pay, I guess, when you find a new place to call home.

This place has taken root.  I have lived a different life here.  I have come to know new parts of myself.  I have learned to love new places, new foods and new people.

What will I do without my rusks and hot cross buns and boerewors and bobotie?  (Clearly lots of culinary experimentation awaits in my Minnesota kitchen.)

What will I do when I long to feel the stillness of the Kgalagadi?

What will I do when I feel like making mince pies with Gill?  Or tasting Anton’s sugar-bean potjiekos?  Or hugging Auntie Angela and playing with baby Micah?

What happens in the freezing cold of a Minnesota December when I long to be in the pool – hot sunshine on me and the 150-pound Rottweiler doing laps?

I will miss Christmas crackers and staying up all night on New Year’s. 

I will miss hearing a minimum of 4 languages (and 4 different kinds of English) every time I go to the mall.

I will miss the proteas and the fynbos and the sea – so much.  The mountains – don’t get me started on the mountains.  I love this country.  From the arid Karoo to the wine lands to the rolling ocean to the mountains soaring everywhere you turn. 

How do you say goodbye?   To the people?  The adventures?

In the time we’ve been here we’ve walked every inch of Cape Town’s Gardens and City Bowl neighborhoods.  We’ve hiked, gone on many a road trip, been on an archeological dig, ziplined, ridden horses through the bush, gone on safari 5 times,  beachcombed, and more importantly – most importantly of all – we’ve spent time with our friends, we’ve celebrated, eaten and laughed with beautiful people whilst here.  We’ve made new family here.  That is the greatest gift of all.

I return to Minnesota with all this in my heart.  With these people, with this beautiful place.  With new words; among my favorites:  liefde, naatjie, potkie, laapie, bokkie, shame, plehzah (pleasure), ag!, dankie, lekker and a few choice swear words that I never learned to spell but which I relish saying with great vehemence.

I return with new poems and new writings that excite me.  I return with a greater appreciation of what is important in life:  love, adventures, family.   I return with a South African family.  I return with a 3rd home.  First El Salvador, then Minnesota, now Cape Town. 

I want to thank everyone who has read my musings and recipes and adventures.  Deciding to blog during this journey was one of the best decisions I could have made.  It has been wonderful to share all these experiences and tastes and places and people with you.  I will continue to blog.  I still have several trips that we’ve taken to write about and I’ll probably blog about the aforementioned culinary experimentations (and crafts and natural health and beauty and goodness knows what else.)   I’ll write about all the things I’ve learned here and the things that have stayed with me, that will stay with me always.

I am so very, very sad to leave.

But nevertheless, I return, heart-full.  With so much gratitude.    

13 September 2012

Recipe: Bobotie

Way back when, I talked about why food would be an important part of my blog.  Well, that turned out to be true, huh?  Just take a stroll through here.

So given all that, I couldn't leave South Africa without giving you the recipe for one of its most iconic dishes:  BOBOTIE!

Bobotie is one of those staple South African dishes.  Its origins go back a long way, at least to the 17th century, starting with the Cape Malay culture.  In the intervening centuries it has been modified and adapted by all the peoples of South Africa.  Today, it is eaten by a wide variety of folks and is one of those quintessential "national dishes."

To non-South Africans however, it can sound weird.  Meat and apricots and what?  A firm custard on top?  Huh?  But trust, kids, trust.

South Africans have a particular love of mixing sweet & savory.  And that's what this dish is all about:  aromatic, spicy, a teeny bit tart, sweet, with textures ranging from crunchy to meltingly soft.

Even if it sounds weird, give it a try.  It really is delicious!  It is typically served with chutney, sliced bananas, shredded plain coconut, and yellow rice with raisins (though I admit I'm not a huge fan of coconut so I skipped that and only had a few banana slices.)

(Many thanks to Gill for her recipe!)

Gill's Bobotie

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 kg mince (2.2 lbs ground beef)
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk, divided in half
  • 2 slices bread
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon hot chutney
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Dried bay leaves (about 4-5)

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped apricots
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds


Preheat oven to 320 degrees F (160 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions in the hot oil until soft. Add the mince into the skillet and cook until brown.

Soak the bread in 1/2 cup of milk. Add the bread to the beef mixture. Stir in the raisins, apricot jam, chutney, curry powder, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt, and black pepper (add the apricots and almonds here, if using.) Taste & adjust seasonings.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Whisk together the reserved 1/2 cup milk, eggs, and a pinch of salt. Pour over top of the dish:


Lay the bay leaves onto the top of the milk mixture:

Bake the bobotie until the top is golden brown, 30-40 minutes:

Serve with chutney, sliced bananas, shredded plain coconut, and yellow rice with raisins:

Enjoy your little (or big) slice of South Africa!

12 September 2012

Namibia: Fish River Canyon

Our last stop in Namibia was the Fish River Canyon.  To get there we drove along the Orange River, and what a STUNNING drive it was.

And we got a real treat, we saw a klipspringer!

Like leopards, klipspringers are very rare to see in the wild.  They are very skittish, tiny antelope who are specially adapted to jump from cliff to cliff (thus the name, which even if you don't speak Afrikaans, is pretty self explanatory.)  They actually stand on the tips of their toes, like a ballerina.

Look at this little guy in action:

Very cool.

The next day we went to the Fish River Canyon.   It is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa.  As per Wiki:  It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 100 miles (160 km) long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 metres deep.

People leave stones marking that they've been here, so of course we had to do it too:

Unfortunately, you can't go hiking!

You have to book ahead and it is a 5-day trek.  Boo.  I think there should be an option for day-trippers like us.

We returned later in the day as the sun was setting to get a few more shots:

A hell of a way to finish our 2-week journey.  Goodnight Namibia.

06 September 2012

Namibia: Kolmanskop, Ludritz and Dias Point

Our next stop in Namibia was Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the Namib Desert.  And Namibia continues its streak of being really beautiful and really eerie.

A former diamond mining town, up till the mid 20th century there were hundreds who called Kolmanskop home.  It was slowly abandoned after its diamond production declined.  The last people left in 1954 and since then, the desert has started to take it back.

Sand fills houses knee-high, lovingly-painted stencils chip and fade ...

After roaming around with the ghosts we decided to go to the nearby seaside town of L├╝deritz to eat some lunch ...

and goof off a bit:

We capped off the day by going to Dias Point.  Well, one of the Dias Points.  Dias as in Bartolomeu Dias.  As as it happens, there are several Dias points throughout the Southern tip of Africa.  As Mr. Dias went a-conquerin' he kept leaving these crosses.  "Mine.  In the name of Haysus."  Ah colonization.

It's a beautiful, wind-scraped spot.  And the original stone marker and cross are still there ...

But talk about ghosts.  I think I heard a some howling in that wind.