Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodie(s) for this girl!

On my first visit to the States I was trying to find South African products on American shelves. Needless to say I was not very successful, if at all. Yes, in some instances I found products that we also have in South Africa but not the brands and flavors that I am necessarily used to, e.g. condensed milk (one of my favorites)! In South Africa nothing beats the sweet, smooth, creamy flavors of Clover but in America I’ve only found the Nestle brand. It is not bad. It is condensed milk but it is not Clover.

On my second visit I am a bit more like a kid in a candy store and I'm actually finding some real treasures so far. I thought I'd share a few with you.

Weight Watchers Coffee Cake – WOW! WOW! WOW! One of the best snacks that I have found so far! These remind me of the miniature caramel swiss rolls that I’ve discovered at Woolworths. Although I have seen it in one or two other shops nothing beats the ones at Woolies!

There is few differences: Instead of the sugary sprinkled coating of the swiss role this cake is has a crumbly streusel topping and instead of the caramel it has a rich cinnamon filling. Although the cinnamon is a prominent taste (though not overwhelming) I’m reminded quite a bit of the creamy caramel filling of the swiss roll. It’s the kind of cake that makes you want to close your eyes and savior every moment of palette pleasure!

Something new yet wonderfully familiar! Again just WOW! It’s a pity there’s only four servings per box :( I guess it is not called Weight Watchers for nothing ;)

Mounds (coconut covered in dark chocolate) – In the part of America where I am peanut butter is king when it comes to chocolate. I’ve had days when I wondered if it’s not peanut butter it’s not chocolate. For me, however, peanut butter is more synonymous with a peanut butter and syrup or peanut butter and jam sandwich than anything else; certainly not chocolate. At present my absolute favorite chocolate is called Aero Mint made by Nestle SA and it is not available in the US with exception of two chain stores that import it (as far as I know), but they are located a far way from where I am :(

After watching a bit of American television and chatting with some people from other parts of the US I’ve been able to look for a few different possibilities and I have found some, of which Mounds - made by the famous Hershey’s - is one. It reminds me very much of the Niki bar made by Beacon SA but I have to say that I prefer the dark chocolate of the Mounds to the milk chocolate of the Niki.

Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popping corn – Can I just say it: I LOVE the movies! I used to go and see the new releases every week. For me movies are like therapy. Depending on whether I needed a good laugh, a good cry or just to get a busy load off my mind I would choose a comedy, a drama or a good action or suspense drama and around 8pm on a Friday night I was ready to have an awesome weekend.

What is a movie without popcorn! I’ve become so spoiled with choice. In SA we buy our popcorn fairly plain at the cinema - slightly buttered and salted – the rest is up to you. Whether you like BBQ, more butter salt, salt and vinegar, plain salt, sour cream and chives or whether you want to mix it up there’s enough containers, each filled with a little taste of heaven for you to shake to your heart’s content. Yum!

Americans seem to love butter! - A little too much to my liking though. They seem to like popcorn with their butter instead of the other way around. As a result butter is pretty much the only flavor that I’ve been able to find so far, until last week when we went grocery shopping and I had a closer look on the shelf. Much to my delight I discovered Orville Redenbacher’s Tender White popcorn. The Tender white flavor is the only one I could find so far that is not drenched in butter and salt. I keep tripping over the butter when I consider how unhealthy it makes a perfectly pleasurable movie snack – a movie snack with a drizzle of cardiac arrest.

However, it is lightly enough seasoned that should you prefer to add flavor you can, and if it be more butter or salt, then so be it. Different strokes for different folks, but it remains a fact that you can always add, but once it is in it is harder to take it out. Finally I have popcorn that works for me (again)!

And just as I was ready to accept a gentleman’s defeat in the seasoning arena (gracefully settling for lightly salted as an only option) I stumbled upon Kernel Seasons’ Popcorn Seasoning!!! There weren’t more than three flavors on the shelf so I picked the best one which, for me, was the White Cheddar. Three is better than nothing, right?

Then – I can almost not believe my good fortune – in reading up for this blog I discover with overwhelming joy (for the simple pleasures of life) that they have a staggering thirteen savory flavors (including my favorite: salt and vinegar) and three sweet flavors (including chocolate marshmallow); the latter maybe a little too adventurous for my taste buds but innovative… I’ll hand it to them. The packaging is in no way misleading: not only does it entice me to pick it up off the shelf but it bursts with flavour!

Some delightful finds indeed! I think the one good thing about shopping in a strange country is that I look with different eyes, searching for new products and ideas. Because everything is new to me I have to really look and read vs. just darting for the familiar brands and products that I would usually buy. Initially I felt rather out of my comfort zone but I am slowly warming up to the idea of having a new adventure instead! Strange how changing your mind can improve your vision ;)

So if you have any suggestions of products that you think is simply f-a-b and I should look out for them or try them, feel free to pass them along!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cool vibrations

I would say I started feeling a sense of discomfort the day that I got onto the plane. The night we were supposed to depart our flight got delayed by an hour, so instead of leaving at 11:20pm we ended up starting to board at 12:30am. I went to bed a little bit too late the night before so I didn’t get that much sleep – good sleep, just too little of it – and now my day was becoming a very long one indeed.

I love the window seat, but unfortunately on my particular flight there are only rows of three available on the side by the window. The only bad thing about sitting by the window is that you have to disrupt two other people in order to stretch your legs or go to the bathroom. I try to be as considerate as I can, but I also pray that I sit next to two really nice people. So far – thankfully - it has always been the case for me.

So finally we got to board and then, instead of taking off, we were waiting for (what felt like) forever. Eventually the captain announced that they had a hydraulic problem. They were not taking any chances with regard to safety. We ended up sitting in the plane for another hour and a half and going nowhere slowly while some technicians investigated it.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem for me, but when it gets to 1:45am… By that time half the passengers were falling asleep hungry. We hadn’t listened to the safety guidelines before take off and we hadn’t received ear phones, nor had dinner been served, which is usually done around 10 – 20 minutes after takeoff. To have fallen asleep then you would have a good chance of missing something important. Eventually my eyes felt like sand had been rubbed into it, and I was getting hungry. Dinner was finally served at 2:30am. Consequently our arrival was also delayed by quite a bit and breakfast was served at around 11:30am.

The delay after having boarded effectively caused that flight to be another hour and a half longer than the original 11 hours, which is already a lengthy flight considering comfort and blood circulation. It wasn’t long before I started feeling a bit swollen. Whether I was or not I can’t tell. I couldn’t see properly, and later, because of the delay I didn’t have time to inspect.

Before we knew it we had to rush to the next flight and sit down for another 9 hours. Much to my dismay I discovered that the travel agent had booked me a seat on the wrong side of the isle. She booked me in the 2nd seat of the middle row of four. Now there was only one (very pleasant) young woman sitting between me and the isle but it didn’t take me long to discover that I had a black box of some sort beneath the seat in front of me. This meant that I was unable to straighten my legs for 9 hours. I am 6 foot tall. The whole way I did my best but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being swollen. Again, I couldn’t check, so I don’t know for sure.

Between my second and third flight I got held up in customs for over 2 hours. I missed my connecting flight but had no time to inspect my swollen feeling. At that point I had already been traveling for 30 hours non-stop and I wouldn’t exactly call the naps on the plane sleep, plus we had traveled back in time by 7 hours.

Then, when I got to my final destination, my luggage had been delayed, so I spent another hour and a half on the airport trying to track it down and arrange for it to be delivered. After this we still had another two hour drive home. Finally, after 40 hours of traveling, we got home around 1:30am… two days later in terms of when I started my journey.

I traveled from a freezing winter in South Africa to a scorching summer (heat wave) in Kansas, US. I now realized – finally - that my feet were really swollen like that of a pregnant woman. They’ve been swollen for about a week no matter what I’ve done so far. To make matters slightly worse I seem to have hurt my ligament in my left heal. Boy! You don’t always realize the muscles you use to make simple every day movements until one of those muscles are hurt and you feel it pulling when you need it to move.

I am well aware that I have a circulation problem. For this reason I’ve been having chilblains in South Africa mostly ever winter for as long as I can remember. Finally I found a solution in the massaging effect of a foot spa. What I had always considered a luxury had become a necessity for me – and it worked like a bomb!

So finally today we went out and got one, plus a menthol cream for the bruised ligament and an anti-inflammatory drug. I’ve used it once so far and my toes already don’t feel like little sausages anymore. I am actually starting to feel like I might just fit into my skin again.

With all the best of intentions Garett (my boyfriend) has surprised me with a ton of skin firming moisturizing cream. Hmm… was he trying to tell me something? I just smiled at the thought of maybe, just maybe the cream is so effective that I now had more foot than I had skin. Turns out the cream is not that good.*wink-wink*

Hopefully I will have my old feet back in another day or two.

Let me introduce you to Mr Foot Spa: the newest addition to our family.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The tame beasts of the Manhattan Zoo

Today we spent a wonderful (and interesting) day at the Manhattan Zoo, so here's my day in pictures. Enjoy!

In the heat wave that we've been having the past month we had thought that many animals would hide away from the sun and that we wouldn't get to see much, but much to our surprise many were out to say hello. If I were a few of them though I would have been out swimming in my watering hole. I wonder why they didn't seem to think of it... Maybe they haven't been watching CNN or The Weather Channel and they certainly didn't get the memo :(

Black and white Colobus

Spotted Hyena

Emu (These look like an ostrich at first glance but they're not. The emu is widespread across mainland Australia.)

Parma Wallaby (South Australia)

Bennett's Wallaby (Southeast Australia)

Snow Leopard (found in 12 countries in central Asia of which 60% is in China) Now imagine being a SNOW leopard in 104*F (40*C with high humidity). If animals evolve I would be swimming in my drinking water - cat or no cat. You could see it was tough on them too. Shame :(

Red-crowned Crane ("considered sacred across the Orient - a sign of fidelity, good luck, love and long life)

Cinereous Vulture (Found from Spain to mainland Chine - also known as the Eurasian Black Vulture) Shame: this fella was panting. He really did not seem to handle the heat well AT ALL. I felt concerned for him.

Amur Tiger (Largest of tigers therefore largest species of cat) - I couldn't decide which one of him to include here. I got about four really nice ones!

Bald Eagle (No matter how I tried I couldn't get around the cage on this one :(

Bob Cat

I found one! I found one! (Eventually I was feeling like "Look! There's a tiger I need a loo!", "Look! there's a monkey I need a loo!", Look! There's a...." lol ;) And then we found it!

Once my eye balls stopped floating I was able to see this b-e-a-utiful peacock! Isn't he just magnificent! His call sounds funny; like he's saying "H-E-L-P! H-E-L-P!" :D

After this we just had to get out of the sweltering heat. Felt a little bit like crawling out of the desert moaning "W-a-T-e-R! W-a-T-e-R! :D - But a pleasant outing indeed!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cupcakes YUM!

I’m not usually good with buying gifts. I like to get something that is practical and that I know the person would like and use. Hopefully every time they do they think of you. I hate it when you have useless gifts piling up in a cupboard somewhere that everyone has forgotten about and it’s just collecting dust – bought with the best of intentions of course.

Needless to say I get stuck when I don’t know what a person likes or need. Often I have then rather done something to spend some quality time with the person, maybe going out to a restaurant for a meal or coffee and cake. I don’t think gifts always have to be something tangible. Time can be a very precious gift too; an opportunity to make memories.

So a few years ago I bought some Barbie cupcakes to bake with my little niece for one of her birthdays. She was just starting to be old enough to help mix, pour and decorate. So I thought we’d make it a memorable experience rather than a gift, and hoping that she would remember it. It would appear that she does. (*smile*)

A few weeks back I was looking after my niece and her friend for a few days during their winter school holiday. Guess what we did? Yip! We baked cup cakes. This time it wasn’t my idea, but heck! I LOVE cupcakes!!

Being the mature adult in this sweet, yummy, dough-y situation is very hard when everyone have their eye equally fixated on the spoons, whisks and bowls that need a good, thorough licking. I know I’m not ten anymore but who cares? That it is finger licking good – literally – is undeniable no matter how old you are!

I just had to keep an eye or we would have had half-sized cup cakes; one spoon full in the paper cup, one spoonful in the mouth scenario. I secretly thought to myself, “If it was me we would have had no cupcakes period”. Now there’s a way to save electricity (*wink-wink*)

If I have a choice though I do prefer chocolate cupcakes to vanilla so what I normally do is to buy chocolate cake mix and baking it in cupcake trays. The part I like best – besides licking the bowl – is the icing. I love the creativity and the whole idea of it not having to be perfect, and no matter what it looks like it usually still taste great. So if all else fails you can always eat it with your eyes closed. Being a kid can be so simple and fun and icing cupcakes makes me feel like one!

The first time I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures – what a pity. This time however, I slipped in a few for you to see. Enjoy!

Fresh out of the oven!

This icing sets so timing is vital. All you need now is that little tongue sticking out - she's concentrating that hard :D

It took a little practice. If the icing dry before you've sprinkled the decoration it won't stick, you see.

Ta-DAA! The superhero ones.

These were my absolute favorites!! The plain icing just WORKED with the vanilla cake! YUM!!

On the downside though… it is usually the adults who get stuck with doing the dishes and what a load it can be. In this case I can say though that it was worth it! ;

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My laundromat in the shade of a tree

It’s been a while since my last blog and I’ve missed it. Goodness gracious! Look at the time. It is again 10pm. Where did my day go? But I made a promise to myself when I woke up this morning and right now I am leaving everything else, hanging my little “do not disturb “ sign out to the world and I am w-r-i-t-i-n-g this b-l-o-g.

With the heat wave we’ve been experiencing in Kansas lately it has been quite a mission keeping the house cool. This means that we are running the air conditioning in one room, circulating that cool air into the rest of the house with a swivel head fan, keeping the windows closed and curtains drawn where there’s direct sunlight and minimizing heat generating activities such as blow drying hair, cooking on the stove and yes, ironing. So I thought I’d take it all outside.

At 104 *F the “tumble dryer” is powered by Mother Nature. This can take as little as 30 minutes or less per load. Only possible problem I discovered yesterday is to watch the humidity. It can leave the laundry feeling a bit sticky if you hang it out for too long.

Within five minutes we’ve constructed this pretty fantastic ironing board in the shade of the tree in the back yard. On my side of the line the breeze was cool and refreshing and everything I needed was right within my reach. Perfect! (The only thing I missed was some vibrating slippers to massage my feet. They’ve been swelling from the high temperatures, so standing for long periods of time is not working too well for me right now. And perhaps a good looking stud to fan me with some palm leaves... Heaven knows I'm h-o-t! I mean IT'S hot! :D

Many things in America is over-sized compared to what I’m used to, and although I often don’t understand the wasteful logic behind it one thing I am VERY grateful for right now is the over-sized ice cubes in the new ice trays I bought yesterday and the huge glasses that they fit into with such ease. (And no, Natasha, these cubes do not fit into your mouth – they’re that big! *wink-wink*)

After a few days of recovering from some jet lag and two days of cleaning and laundry I am ready to take a break and have some fun - looking gorgeous and wrinkle free! It’s just about time! Hopefully I can get back into a comfortable routine with writing my blog :)