Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saying goodbye to Cape Town.

I had really hoped to fill my last days in Cape Town with loads of blog entries, extolling the virtues of this fantastic city, but as is always the case it seems, life became a little too busy for blogging. We had to pack, of course, and were busy spending time with two very funny friends who dropped into town, and were occupied with trying to get the most out of our last days in the Cape. Saying goodbye to your home is always hard-- it's a central theme of this blog that I centre my life very strongly on where I live, so I get rather attached to my homes-- and it's especially hard when your home is as fantastic as Cape Town. So there are lots more Cape Town entries on the way. I'll either get them up in the coming week, or put them all up when we swing through northern South Africa in March (I haven't decided yet)-- but in the mean time, here are a few of the things that were hardest to say goodbye to in Cape Town.

1) Fairview Cheese and Wine farm-- If I could list in order the foods I miss in Asia, good cheese, bread, and wine would be at the top of the list. All of these things are available at Fairview, a goat farm in Paarl where you can combine an afternoon of sampling wines with tasting incredible artinsal cheese.

2) The Neighbourgoods Market at the Biscuit Mill-- This every-Saturday market is packed with local vendors trading an incredible variety of foods, making this a great place to spend a morning of slow grazing. Beyond that, it's a great spot for checking out some of Cape Town's most beautiful people, who seem to converge here every weekend. We spent nearly every Sat there this year selling our own food, but even though we took our last weekend in town off, we went back just to eat, drink, and enjoy the best spot to hang out on a Sat afternoon in Cape Town.

3) Kalk Bay-- I debate the issue in my mind, but sometimes I wished I could have lived in Kalk Bay. This small artistic community is only half an hour from Cape Town, but feels worlds away-- a vacation paradise of neighbourhood cafes selling well-made crossaints, of small boutique galleries, of beautiful green sea, and deliciously rich ice cream cones. Whenever I felt the urge to get away, a visit to Kalk Bay would go some ways toward satisfying me.

4) The City Bowl-- We were lucky this year to live in Gardens, at the centre of Cape Town's City Bowl. With our home base right there, we were able to take advantage of all of the neighbourhood's attractions: we took picnics in the Company's Gardens, swam at the Long Street Baths, zipped up to Lion's Head for morning climbs, and hung out at a number of local cafes. If there is one neighbourhood that truly defines Cape Town it's the City Bowl, and this year we revelled in all it had to offer.

This year wasn't always easy, but I'm sure I'll look back on it with great fondness. Thanks for everything, Cape Town.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

cocktail hour with primitives: The Capetonian.

The Capetonian is my effort at mixing a cocktail that pays homage to one of my favourite cities. I hint at the city through the ingredients (the use of local Brandy) and the colour (a blush of the city's distinctive shade of pink), but it's the drink's character, a mix of sweetly refined and gaudily boozy, that truly evokes the city of Cape Town. Best enjoyed on a warm sunny afternoon in the City Bowl.

The Capetonian

1 1/2 oz Cape Brandy
1 oz Dry Vermouth
3 Dashes Bitters
1 tsp Superfine Sugar
Soda Water
1 Maraschino Cherry, plus juice

Garnish a glass with a Maraschino cherry, and spill in a little of the juice. In a cocktail shaker, stir together the brandy, vermouth, bitters and sugar with several large cubes of ice. Strain into the glass, and add one or two big splashes of soda, swirling through when done.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

around town/cape town: Cookshop.

Regrettably late in our year in Cape Town, a fantastic cafe opened up just doors down from our apartment. Though perhaps it was a good thing; with Cookshop just down the street, we may rarely have ventured elsewhere.

Cookshop is an intimate cafe space, with a simple counter inside and breezy seating on the covered patio. The espressos and lattes are made with Organic coffee and the fairy cakes and muffins are tempting, but the main reason to come is for lunch. There is a daily buffet of creative salads, with option including mango and pineapple in a chilli dressing, or lentils topped with almonds and fresh herbs. Otherwise, go for one of the sandwiches on the board, like roast vegetables and hummus in a ciabatta, or free-range chicken on rye. The proprietress had formerly run a stand at the Neighbourgood's Market selling her own line of handmade mayonnaise, dressings and sauces, which have thankfully been incorporated into the sandwiches at Cookshop. Meaning that not only are the sandwiches assembled with care, but that the individual ingredients themselves were crafted with care, to great affect. I've never been a huge fan of mayonnaise, but I would gladly order another roasted aubergine sandwich just for the unbelievable rosemary mayonnaise that dresses it.

Located in Gardens, on 117 Hatfield Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. +27 21 461 7868. Open Monday to Friday from 7 till 4.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Last day at the Biscuit Mill.

Tomorrow is the last day that we will be trading at the Biscuit Mill's Neighbourgoods Market with our Southeast Asian stand, Piesang. This is certainly a bittersweet moment for us-- we've been so lucky to be able to be at the Biscuit Mill, which has provided us with an incredible way to interact with the city of Cape Town, helped us to meet some fun people, and directed some catering jobs our way (and of course, paid our rent)-- all the same, I will be 100% happy not to be rolling 200+ salad rolls every Saturday from now on! It's been great, Biscuit Mill. We'll miss you, and we certainly hope you'll miss us.

And this is kind of late notice, but if any of my dedicated readers (yes, either one of you) would like to jump on a plane to Cape Town and join us for a celebration after the market, I'll pick up the tab for some sparkling wine!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beautiful city.

While Cape Town doesn't have everything I'd like in a city, it is unquestionably the city whose aesthetic style I most appreciate. It's not only the absurd landscape sculpted by Table Mountain, Lion's Head, and Table Bay, and the mingling of temperate and tropical vegetation that I love-- it's also in the offbeat combination of such diverse architectural styles that make up the city.

Just within a short walk around the neighbourhood of Oranjezicht I spotted Victorian town-houses with intricate lace-like fences, the sleek curves of '60s modernism, baroque adaptations of Cape Dutch, and the masculinely handsome details of art-deco. It might seem like these styles might not work, but somehow, they work beautifully. It may take a little getting used to, but the combination is fantastically Cape Town, as distinctive and intriguing as seeing the local bird of paradise blooming just below an imported acorn tree.

Unfortunately, this doesn't include most of the city's architecture post 1965... don't even mention those new hotels being plonked down for the World Cup to me...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baker man.

I am rather lucky to have married a man who can whip up a meringue-peaked layer cake with Amarula glaze and coconut buttercream, as he did for our friend's birthday; I am even luckier that said man can manage to show up to the party looking even better than said cake.

And just like the combination of tropical and refined in the cake, Bordeaux's look has a very Cape Town flavour-- this despite the fact that the individual items in his outfit are all from abroad (the driver's cap is from Urban Outfitters, the t-shirt is from American Apparel, and the shorts were tailored for him in Vietnam).

Cape Town has some incredibly sharply styled residents, and hopefully our year of living here has had some impression on us. Though I'll miss being here in person to check out what Cape Town is wearing, I'll be keeping track on it distantly, though the Style Guide Cape Town. Something of a Cape Sartorialist, this local stylist does a great job of documenting the city's residents' unique sense of style.

*And I'll get a link to Bordeaux's blog entry on that cake once he puts it up on Itinerant Bordeaux.

View of Lion's Head #13.

Long days and late sunsets are a perk of life in Cape Town in the summer. And with the sun setting on the other side of the mountain, the silhouette of Lion's Head continues to glow until after even the whole of the city bowl is bathed in purple nightfall.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Colours of the Cape: Cape Dutch Gold.

Though its winters may be gray and dreary, the Cape is much better known for its golden summers. With the open sky and dry air, the sun is free to penetrate every corner of the Cape, filling the City Bowl and soaking the beaches. Perhaps it was in honor of this that the early Dutch settlers plastered the Cape Castle, their sea-front fortress, in an appropriately flaxen hue. The Castle must have set the tone for the style of the new settlement, and the colour brightens up much of the city's early colonial architecture. Thankfully, the shade has also been carried through to the modern day, where it still reflects back the warm light of the sun.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A little frost with your penguins.

In my recent post on Simon's Town, I offered one piece of rather important advice: don't eat in Simon's Town. But I will make one small exception. On the walk between the Simon's Town beach and Boulder's (the spot for penguin viewing) there is a small window right on the sidewalk, offering ice cream by Ice Dream of Hout Bay. The menu is limited to what they can squeeze onto their chalkboard, and focuses on rich interpretations of classic flavours. Perfect for a frosty treat on the walk back from checking out the Cape's antarctic residents.

around town/cape town: Lola's.

Since first coming to Cape Town in 2004, Lola's on Long Street has been one of my most regular hangouts. And it's hard to say why, sometimes. The atmosphere is a little grungy, the food is often too salty or too greasy, and the coffee really isn't that great. But sitting out front, at a sidewalk table on Long, it often feels like being right at the centre of Cape Town, watching the whole city pass by.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Don't shake hands with the penguins.

The last stop on the railway line down the peninsula is Simon's Town, a strange spot of sailors, tourists, and African penguins.

The enclave of Kalk Bay will likely always be my favourite spot on False Bay, but the first place I visited was actually Simon's Town. I had only been in South Africa for a few weeks, the continent still new to me, and as I walked along the boardwalks of Boulders, I was struck by how odd it was that the first wildlife I was seeing in Africa were the penguins.

Likely this is true of many of the visitors who use Cape Town as their entryway to South Africa. For while most people come to Africa to see elephants, rhinos, and lions, who could pass up the chance to see the strange colony of penguins at Boulder's beach? They're tiny and sufficiently adorable to warrant lots of souvenir plush toys, though they whine with a loud braying call doesn't fit their size. It was this call that originally got them the name of 'Jackass Penguin', which they still had when I first visited-- the name has since been changed to the 'African Penguin', allegedly for purposes of classification, not propriety. It is perhaps fitting, as they are the only species of penguin to nest on African soil-- a relatively new development, in fact, as they were only safely able to do so once human development had cleared the coastline of leopards.

Simon's Town has a rather touristy feel, and it is likely owed all to the penguins-- beyond them, there's not much to do in Simon's Town other than stroll through town and enjoy the atmosphere. Originally a British Naval Station (there's still a working naval base here), the town has the look of a British seaside town at the turn of the previous century-- worth seeing, if only because it feels about as out of place as the penguins.

One note, however: As worthwhile a stop as Simon's Town is, remember not to make it a stop over lunch or dinner. The restaurants in Simon's Town are generally aimed at tourists, and as a result are both poor quality and overpriced. We almost made the mistake of eating lunch at one place in town, but when we scanned the menu and saw baked beans on toast for R38 (about $5), we canceled our drinks, got back in the car and headed to Kalk Bay, for a fantastic lunch at Olympia Cafe-- with not a baked bean on the menu.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

around town/joburg: The Zone at Rosebank.

In some of my recent posts on Johannesburg (ok, all of my recent posts on Johannesburg), I've complained about the fact that so much of the city's social life takes place in malls. I feel I should point out here that I am not inherently opposed to shopping malls: I'll be honest and admit one of my favourite activities in Bangkok was spending a few hours worshiping at the commercial temples around Siam. But my complaint with Johannesburg's malls is twofold.

1) Malls are fine as one option, but in Johannesburg they are increasingly the only option. Following Joburg's 'white flight' from the city centre, its residents sought out a social life that was protected within thick walls. As a result, there are now very few places to stroll in Joburg unless you're in a mall-- the last real option for outdoor life, Melville, is getting increasingly sad, rundown and, allegedly, unsafe (The Bamboo Centre an exception).

2) Johannesburg's malls are on the whole rather boring, offering only the same chain stores and restaurants as every other mall.

So here's the closest thing to an exception: The Zone at Rosebank. If you have to spend time in a Johannesburg mall, make it this one. Because, while you'll find many of the same generic shops and restaurants as at the other malls (yes, they have a Spur Steakhouse), there are a few unique shops that make it worth a visit.

1) Sowearto- A play on the iconic township of Soweto, Sowearto offers t-shirts with a hip, Joburg style. Some are direct references on the city, such as the line of t-shirts featuring Joburg's skyline, or labels from traditional South African products, while others are simply fun, like those of label Mingo Lamberto.

2) Stoned Cherrie- All the clothing for sale at Stoned Cherrie is for the ladies, but still worth a stop as these dresses are practically works of art. Traditional fabrics are mixed with couture tailoring, for a distinctly urban take on African style.

3) The Space- The clothing is, again, all for women here (an annoying trend in Joburg shops), but The Space makes up for it with an incredible selection of home-wares. Items range from simple and classical to funky and irreverent, with a good mix of local designs and imported styles. A great place to find something unique for the home, or to pick up an alternative souvenir for a friend.

Now if only there was a more unique offering for a coffee after shopping. As it is, we'll skip the Spur and head to Vida.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

cocktail hour with primitives: Gin Pahit.

Though our holiday was spent in sweltering Pretoria, we were lucky enough to be able to spend it next to a pool. And since family was involved, cocktail hour started a little earlier than usual. But finding a good drink for pool-side sipping can be difficult, as I'm not generally a fan of sugary sweet drinks where the sting of the alcohol is masked under the flavour of tropical fruit and loads of sugar. I needed a tropical drink with a little more bite, so I opted for a Gin Pahit.

A favourite of the hotel bars and gin-joints of British Malaya (pahit is the Malay word for bitter), the gin pahit is the ideal tropical cocktail: clean and crisp, with a nicely spiced flavour giving it just a hint of the exotic. It's similar to a Pink Gin, but notable for a much higher ratio of bitters, giving it a darker, smokier colour. And perhaps best of all, the drink is remarkably simple-- so you can spend less time preparing it, and more time sipping it by the pool.

Gin Pahit

1/2 oz Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin

Pour the bitters into a glass, and swirl around to coat. Add the gin, stir to a dark rosy colour. Add an ice cube or two, if required. Enjoy.

Monday, January 04, 2010

around town/joburg: Bamboo Centre.

Though I'm always eager to find new hip places to hang out when I'm in Johannesburg, I always seem to end up returning to the same one: The Bamboo Centre in Melville.

The highlight of the centre is Service Station, which must be one of the best cafes in South Africa. It's all brick walls and concrete floors, and the large bank of floor-to-ceiling windows along the front look out over the lush leafy greenery of Joburg's artifical forest. This combination makes for the ideal spot to meet for a late breakfast (pictured above: fantastic salmon scrambled eggs with dill), or for coffee and an incredible baked good. Toward the back, past the towers of baked goods, there's a small deli, with local specialty foods, imported pastas, and a few choice design items for the kitchen. A meal here is so compelling, that one can almost imagine that this is how life in Johannesburg could be: urban and sharply styled, living a life that is surprisingly not closed off or barricaded in.

And after eating, you can continue the fantasy with a little browsing in the neighbouring shops. Love Books has a fantastic selection of handpicked fiction, cookbooks, and volumes on art and design, plus a huge selection of kids books so well illustrated that even adults will want to page through. Among the shops toward the back of the complex, Black Coffee is a well-known local fashion range (though nothing for men, as is unfortunately common in Joburg), and the Blooming Plate has a staggering range of interesting kitchenwares.

Altogether, a great one-stop spot to browse, relax, and enjoy a vision of urban, modern Joburg-- before returning to the reality of four-metre walls and barbed wire malls.

Bamboo is located at the corner of Rustenburg Road and Ninth Street, in Melville, Johannesburg.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Love Jozi?

Despite its bad reputation, Johannesburg has some pretty strong defenders. Those who live in the city often love it. Even the fact that the city has so many nicknames (joburg, jozi, egoli) suggests some sort of affection.

But could I love Jozi? Every time I go, I try to answer this question. On this last visit, I looked hard, and tried to imagine myself there. I came up with a few good things about Joburg:
1) The city is greener than Cape Town, as it's set in a huge artificial forest.
2) The residents are allegedly friendlier and more welcoming than in Cape Town.
3) The city is relatively mixed, racially and culturally, which is a refreshing change from Cape Town.

But unfortunately, my list of things I don't like about the city is a bit more convincing...
1) There are too many high walls, too many shopping malls. Who wants to spend all their time indoors?
2) There is some incredible architecture downtown, but the rest of the city is pretty ugly... as I said in #1, too many walls and malls. So much glass and concrete, but no character.
3) Not enough fun spaces-- very few good restaurants or cafes, and if they exist... look at #1... they're probably in a mall or a shopping centre somewhere...
4) Joburg is not a walkable city-- even less so than in LA, which gets that reputation. Put me down on Wilshire, in Santa Monica, or Silverlake, and I'd find cool shops, neighbourhoods, and cafes. Put me down in Johannesburg, and I'd get lost, frustrated... and probably mugged.

So, unfortunately, I still just really cannot see the appeal. But, like I said-- there are loads of other people who do love it. But I feel that I can finally say with confidence that I'm not interested in living in Johannesburg. However, for an alternative take on loving Jozi, check out the Love Jozi clothing line (pictured above, too). As many arguments as I've made against the city, I think their hip t-shirts will make a much more convincing case in favor of it...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Secrets of flying within South Africa.

Several years ago, a number of discount airlines entered the South African market. With them came the promise of revolutionizing travel in South Africa, as passengers would no longer be captive to the high prices forced by the near monopoly of South African Airways (SAA). First came Kulula, and they were quickly joined by 1time, Nationwide (now defunct), and Mango. They offered no frills service for rock bottom prices.

But along the way, something happened. The service remains no frills, but the prices stopped being so cheap. Yet in their advertisements, and in most people's minds, these discount airlines remain the cheapest option for flying within South Africa.

The strange reality is, this isn't necessarily true. After scouring the discount airlines websites, we eventually found that the cheapest ticket available for a return flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was offered, oddly enough, by British Airways. Second cheapest? Flying with SAA. All of the discount airlines were more expensive.

And the effect is that you can essentially get better service, more amenities, and more comfort for a cheaper price. When we headed up to Johannesburg, we walked past the swelling crowds waiting at the Kulula desk, and found literally no wait at British Airways. And of course, the better service continues on the flight, too. Pictured above is breakfast on our BA flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Despite appearances, it actually wasn't bad. British Airways flights are catered by Woolworths, a slightly upmarket local grocer, who provide a healthier and fresher alternative to the usual airline food. And for our lunchtime flight, they even offered wine to drink-- something I'd never encountered on a domestic flight before.

Occasionally, you may still find special deals with the discount airlines, and one-way trips with them may work out cheaper. But if you're booking a flight in South Africa, remember to shop around, because the cheapest airfare may not be where you'd expect to find it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Thank god, it's a new year.

Now-- can we pretend this last one didn't happen? There were some highlights of this year, of course-- I got married, I definitely enjoyed the life in Cape Town at times-- but in short, let's just say that this experiment of staying settled was a big FAIL.

But I'm not going to dwell on the year that's passed. Thankfully, we will soon be on the move once more. The countdown has started, and from today we have 25 full days left living in Cape Town before we head back to Asia. As excited as I am to go, however, I don't want to let my last days in South Africa slip by unappreciated. So for the rest of my time here, it's my goal to post one entry a day for each of the 25 days about South Africa. So enjoy this last glimpse from the cape, and welcome to the new year.

Hope yours is looking brighter too.