Wednesday, August 31, 2011

(2) Road trip to Pennsylvania - A-N-D we're still going...

OK... So we're still cruising along. We haven't had breakfast yet and the coffee is finished, but we're still smooth sailing on adrenaline! It's not hot and we've not needed to turn the airconditioning on, and at this point (I'm happy to report) I'm still best buds with the passenger seat - lucky for Garett (*wink*). So let's get back to 'show 'n tell', shall we?

I just threw this one in because I loved the silhouette of the truck on the bridge. Cool! isn't it?

Obviously we did not pass through here during rush hour...

Kansas City from a distance. I couldn't help but feel a twinge of familiarity from some photographs I've seen of Johannesburg's skyline.

Some more Kansas City. Driving through here I got a sense that I might feel right at home.

Kansas City in hindsight. Doesn't that just remind you of driving into Johannesburg or Cape Town?

Just to show you a little what the roads look like. (This is just outside of Kansas City of course.)

A little bit more on what the roads look like. This is called an interstate highway. The speed limits on most of them were typically between 60 and 70mph (97 - 113km/hr). With the GPS on the dash Garett made sure we stuck to the limits. He watched me like a hawk.

Uh oh! You know what this means...

...Roadworks! We had quite a bit of this along the way but seldom was it cause for standstill traffic. We were backed up a few times on the way there but maybe only once on the way back. Typically in these zones the speed limit is 55mph (88km/hr) but - as usual - you have those who either can't read or think they're invincible. Who knows what I'm talking about?

R-i-g-h-t! Columbus is a city in the next state: Missouri. They also have 'Toys R us' - a little something familiar... again :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(1) Road trip to Pennsylvania: H-e-r-e we go!

Don't you just love that early morning feeling before a long road trip? I'm not sure if it's the freshness of a new morning, the smell of fresh coffee or the anticipation of the adventure ahead. Needless to say we had all of those wrapped up in one as we set out on our drive from a small county in Kansas to Pennsylvania.

Distance: 1245 miles (2003km) - one way
We opted to drive for a few reasons but one was so that I could see more of the United States; quite a big deal for a girl from South Africa - a country considered rather small in comparison to a few around the world. A huge place to me, of course, but hey! what do I know, right?

Every little bush and tree had me all excited, so I've decided to "show and tell" right here on my blog. Granted not all the bushes and trees were exciting enough to make me grab my camera but heck! this is the U.S of A and I was going to take it a-l-l in! This blog is after all about the way I see it, yes? (*grin*)

Join me if you like and see what I saw. H~e~r~e we go! (Just before we do, though, just note that these are what I like to call 'drive by shootings'. That is when you have one moment to take a picture and you seize it... from a moving vehicle.)

Sunrise on the morning of our departure

We set out at 5:30am. The weather was ideal and it looked like it was going to be a perfect day for driving. Garett and I had been at it for two days over who was going to do how much of the driving but alas I had to make buddies with the passenger seat for most of the way there. A little way along I actually ended up feeling a little bit relieved - note I said a little bit (*wink*).

Animals are not fenced off from the highway and (especially) deer runs across the road all the time, mostly at dusk and dawn (the cooler time of the day hence encouraging deer movement). If you don't see it coming you could end up with some serious damage to your car or someone could even get killed. It could be rather strenuous driving as you can imagine, I'm sure.

Saying that I stepped aside gracefully would be a lie, so let's just say I could understand that he's had a lot more practice in knowing what to look out for, ok? I decided to use the opportunity to take as many pictures of a country that I really haven't seen yet. Always look for the win-win, I say!

A little more sun rising... I just love the way the light reflects on the clouds! I love clouds period. The most beautiful sunrises and sunsets (for me) are ones with clouds.

The first city we pass by is Topeka. Kansas City is next. And, of course, at this point whoever is not driving starts digging around for the change for the toll gate (or the garage card, whichever you use). Guess who did the digging... ;)

Ah! There's the toll gate and I was ready!
The windscreen is not scratched. I've added those funny looking lines to a few pictures as an artistic touch (*wink-wink*)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hey! I'm doing it! I'm doing it! BY MYSELF

I used the self service check out at Walmart for the first time last week. I had so much fun I did it again today! Yay! I would never have thought that something so seemingly trivial can be such an adventure :)

Self service check out? Where I’m from in South Africa I wouldn’t dream of doing that. I imagine millions or even thousands of rands worth of losses due to theft. (As if dishonesty isn’t a big enough problem as it is.)

My instinctive first thought was, “How do they know that people are honest and in fact ringing up all the items that they want to buy?” Then I realized last week that they have an overseeing counter (if you will) supervising four check out points each (two-two in a row together), and if the computer’s voice is turned up loud enough then maybe in the event of something happening a number of other customers will hear that something is not quite kosher.

For those who don’t know this is how it works:

You can line your items up on the conveyor belt (to the lady’s left). Then you press the Start button on the touch screen computer. The lady voice greets you and tells you to scan your first item. You then proceed to scan your item’s bar code just like they do in most stores in South Africa and it makes a beeping sound when it recognizes it, after which it appears on your screen with the total cost for that item. Obviously, if the bar code was not successfully scanned it does nothing and you either try again (and again…) or you can select the option to type in the barcode or select the item from an alphabetical list. The latter option is usually used for the fruit and vegetables. For those without a barcode – those that are sold on weight – the scanning area is a scale at the same time. For those you have to choose the fruit or vegetable from the alphabet list and then the computer either tells you to put it on the scale if it needs to be weighed and calculated, or it will ask you to type in the quantity and calculate it with the unit cost.

Once you’ve scanned (or registered) your item in the computer it is programmed to expect you to put your item in a bag – the two white plates to the lady’s right. These work with a sensor based on the weight of an item. If you don’t put it on there it will tell you to please put your item on the bagging area. It will tell you that repeatedly to the point where you can’t continue without the supervisor’s access code and assistance if you don’t manage to satisfy the computer. There is also an option to select that you don’t want to bag a particular item, e.g. maybe a bag of potatoes or the gallon bottles of water, or something from the hardware section, etc.

I learned a new trick today. If the item is too light to register the weight on the bagging plate it will continuously prompt you in the same way even if the item is in the bag. In this case I press on the plate when I put the item in the bag so that the computer will register the movement. That way we move along much more swiftly.

It is a little embarrassing when the supervisor comes running over to your till continuously to assist you. Last week she eventually just remained standing two steps behind me so that she could intervene whenever I seemed to be in distress. This week I was only assisted once, and I’m not even sure what she was solving, but anyway…

Then, when you’re done scanning, weighing and bagging all your items you select Finish and Pay, select your method of payment and follow the appropriate prompts accordingly. Vuala!!

Then, of course, you have to walk past the supervisor with your goodies no matter which way you leave the store. I’m sure they keep an eye out for any clowns trying to pull a fast one.

I had about the same number of items today than last week but I might have only taken about half the time to ring it up compared to my first attempt!

It gives me a bit of a new appreciation for the check out chappies, but at the same time I feel like I’m learning a new skill and empowering myself – on foreign soil “nogal” (*in a strange country of all places – not somewhere familiar to me where it might have been easier).

When it is your first attempt it can feel a little like stage fright, as if all eyes seem to watch you fumble about. I just smile quietly by myself (at this stage anyway) and think how grateful I am that I don’t have to ring up anyone else’s goodies. They may have to consider a manicure or a foot massage at the beauty parlor (located just beyond the tills in the Walmart) if they had to wait for me to wade through a full shopping cart of items. Then again, I’m sure that thought has crossed the mind of a few of those who’ve waited behind me in the line.

I haven’t been too inconsiderate though: I’ve told them they’ll be waiting for a while. It’s my first time at it. Some have turned and walked away to find another “fast lane” while others have smiled and just stood patiently watching me. Hey, at least they couldn’t say they weren’t warned.

I feel pretty chuffed as I walk off with my trolley of goodies, smiling broadly to the supervisor. “One of these days I won’t need your assistance, old chap! Have a nice day!” :D

Will this ever take over the market place? I’ve had this discussion with a few people. Some choose not to use it as they say it reduces job opportunities. Others think it is convenient but only if you have maybe less than 10 items. Others are simply too lazy to do it themselves if someone else can do it and get paid for it. Others are of the opinion that replacing people with computers certainly is cheaper and might very well be the trend of business towards greater profit in the future. Then again… if fewer people are earning money, won’t fewer be spending it too? Hey, I could be right, I could be wrong but that's just me... What do you think?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

90 Seconds: Uncle Ben sets new record in rice!

“Perfect Every Time” ®… Yeah right! I think that is Uncle Ben's way of saying I’m doing something wrong.

I wouldn’t exactly call cooking rice rocket science but I have been coming up mushy every time. I just can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, and although I’ve not shied away from trying I have been feeling somewhat less enthusiastic.

I’ve used more and less water. I’ve used more and less heat. I’ve cooked it for a longer and shorter time. Nope! Mushy every time.

In South Africa I’m a big fan of Tastic rice. “Perfect. Every time .“® Now that I can vouch for!

(Isn’t it interesting how they have the exact same slogan except for the full stop after ‘perfect’?)

I have a feeling that finally Uncle Ben might just have solved my dilemma! I’ve discovered Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice and thought I’d give it a try. So last night I cooked rice in a pouch in the microwave in 90 seconds flat! Vuala! No mushy. What a pleasure!

I tried the Long Grain and Wild flavour to start off with but it is also available in Basmati, Jasmine, Original long grain, Whole grain brown, Roasted chicken, Spanish, Garden vegetable, Rice pilaf, Chicken whole grain brown, Butter and garlic, Teriyaki, Creamy four cheese and Cajun. Sjoe! No lack of choice there if you ask me.

I was quite impressed, I have to say. I wouldn’t say it beat my attempts on taste (even though I thought the flavours were well balanced) but it certainly kicked my but with regard to texture. And of course I’ve never been able to cook rice in 90 seconds -anywhere in the world. Plus, it aligned perfectly with our attempts at keeping the house cool. (No, the heat has not let up yet, except for some rain the past few nights. Today however is the first day that we’ve not had such high humidity. Ah, joy!)

At under $2 is it easy to throw a few different packets in the trolley. After all, variety is the spice of life ;)

Some notes on the back of the packet that makes me excited:

No preservatives, No saturated fat, No trans fat, Cholesterol free, Vegetarian… I think I’m picking up a few more of these on my next visit to the grocer!

I don’t know if I would call it a downside, but each packet serves about two people only – reasonable portions, but not large. It might mean no second helpings. Then again, you could always make two packets.

The upside is that it is also perfectly proportioned for a single person. Heaven knows it can be hard to shop for one at some stores, especially the ones where they cater mostly for families. If the portions are too big I find the food spoil faster than you’re able to eat it. I do not look favorably on wasteful living. In this case an unused portion can be refrigerated. Cool! (any pun is definitely intended ;)

Well, we still have stew left from last night but we definitely need more rice! Off to the store I go ;)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bisquick Shake ‘n Poor: pancakes in a bottle

I’ve wanted to cook and bake more but right now – in the heat of summer – every effort is going towards keeping the house cool. Using the oven would defeat the purpose and even dinner on the stove has become a bit of a luxury. I try to plan meals that are either larger so that you only have to cook every other night and just heat it up or add something small to vary it a little every other night. Otherwise I’ve been looking at cooler meals like salads and sandwiches. I can be pretty easy as long as I find a way to have my vegetables.

So coming back to the baking bit, I’ve been eye-ing the baking isle in the supermarket every time we go and thinking what would I like to make the first chance I get. It is in this isle that Garett spotted the Bisquick Shake ‘n Pour, buttermilk pancake mix in a bottle. Taste-wise it turned out to be quite a nice find!

The bottle contains all the ingredients in powder form (including the egg whites). All you’re left with to do is adding one and a half cups of cool water to the container, giving it a good 30 second shake, (check that all the mix has been loosened) and pouring the batter onto a hot greased skillet. The batter can make between 12 – 15 4 inch pancakes (10cm). I think I got slightly more because I made them slightly smaller.

The process was simple enough. Even a child can do it – literally no mess, no fuss, plus, the batter can be refrigerated for up to three days. Ours only made the two day mark though.

Overall I thought the batter was light enough and the pancakes were not dry. I preferred doing them with a slight bit of butter in the pan rather than oil. I found them to have a lovely golden color. To top it off Garett used the American version of maple syrup while I preferred honey instead. Maybe as a dessert one can add a little bit of cream or ice cream to round it off beautifully (as they would say on Masterchef Australia) :)
What a delightful treat with breakfast or a little sweet snack just after lunch! At only $1.74 I reckon it is not a bad buy.

On the flip side of the coin, however, just how healthy is convenient? I found a term on the label that I’ve not been aware of, nor have I heard of it before: partially hydrogenated. It is a process that concerns the oil in the mixture. I found the article rather interesting, but it doesn’t play much in favor of Bisquick. Instead it makes it sound like a good idea to get a hold of a recipe in which you can use fresh ingredients instead. It might take a little more time and effort but it might be kinder to your health (and that of your family) in the long run.

The reality is that we live in a world of processed foods. If we are what we eat it may be good (maybe even important) that we do our homework in regard to just what that is.

*Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it. The fatty acids in the oil then acquire some of the hydrogen, which makes it more dense. If you fully hydrogenate, you create a solid (a fat) out of the oil. But if you stop part way, you create a semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil that has a consistency like butter, only it's a lot cheaper. Because of that consistency, and because it is cheap, it is a big favorite as a butter-substitute among "food" producers. It gives their products a richer flavor and texture, but doesn't cost near as much as it would to add butter. It might also show up as something called mono- and di-glycerides. (Source:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ready, steady, BREAKFAST!

This is what a wholesome breakfast should look like after ten miles of cycling!

When your tongue is hanging out and you’re all tired and sweaty it is effort to make this breakfast, but to eat it - - - NO PROBLEM!!

We have Italian garlic toasted bread with real butter – not margarine na-aah! One slice with honey and one with a boiled egg cut up with a squirt of tomato sauce. We have a slice of ham, a peach and some grapes with a glass of grapefruit juice.

It takes no more than ten minutes to make, but around twenty minutes to eat it. You can’t possibly miss one moment of this pallet tango! You want to savior every bite!

A cool shower to round it all off and I’m ready to start my day!

Breakfast works! And I’m sticking to it!