Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some certain days

I bought this coupon off of Groupon, some spa package with manicure, pedicure, facial, massage... all at seventy percent off. So this week I got ready to be pampered.

Excited to get out of Muizenberg for a bit, I cleaned myself up, showered, even put on some presentable clothes. I figured you have to look semi-decent at a beauty salon.

Got to the train station, waiting for the train, bobbing to some music from my headphones, when something wet hits me.

Pigeon shit. All over my hair, my hoodie and my backpack.

I think this is only the second time in my life that's ever happened to me (the first time I was about six years old and refused to walk outside without an umbrella for the following two weeks).

So I take off my hoodie, wipe off the stuff as much as possible and get on the train. Get off half an hour later, can't find the salon, call them up -- only to realize that Google maps sent me to the completely wrong place.

On the way back to the train station, I'm annoyed and slightly bothered by the smell of excrement coming from my curls and look down at my feet to see why my shoe feels weird: one of my sandals broke, the strap is dangling off my foot.

By the time I finally get to the place I was meant to go to become relaxed and beautiful, I feel disgusting and look like a hobo who just crawled out from under her bridge.

(The whole spa thing ended up being pretty nice though, and I don't *think* they noticed that I smelled like pigeon pooh.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Table mountain in FiveFingers

Our visiting lecturer for Quantum Computing is from Germany. He's also one of the most athletic physicists I've ever seen. And last weekend he put up a sign-up sheet for a "tough hike" up Table Mountain -- of course I signed up.

So did about fifteen of our students, and Saturday morning we set out on our journey, equipped with packed lunches and sturdy boots. Except for me: this was a great opportunity to see what my barefoot-shoes could do, aside from running. Some of the more experienced mountaineers were sceptical. One of the outreach employees, who had brought his two toddlers along and was planning to carry (!!) them up the mountain together with his wife, pointed out my feet to his kids: "Look at her shoes! Doesn't she look like a gorilla?" Yeah, baby.
Baby in carrying crate, on mountain!

Taking a break
The first hour was certainly the toughest, up a steep slope over crude stone steps, without much shade, but with some amazing views of Camps Bay on the western side of the cape. After we had made it up to the first plateau, we took a little break and devoured some bananas, gorilla-style.

Room mate, or monkey?

When the stragglers had joined up and caught their breath, we continued towards the top. On the way we discovered a little cave with a waterfall, an echo valley and several rusty ladders of questionable safety. I took those ladders as an excuse to climb up the rocks next to them, which was remarkably easy with my toe shoes.
Echo valley
Student & waterfall

Inside the cave

Just as we were about to reach "the cave", a dark, dark cavern somewhat off the path, clouds began enveloping us. The followed us into the cave, and all the way up to the top of TM we couldn't see further than about 10m.

Postcard view
We stopped in the little cafe, queued with a million other tourists and warmed up with a cup of coffee -- and just in time when we finished our drinks the clouds vanished in thin air. We got some marvellous views from the table top, and all the way back down.

Me in the postcard
My feet survived just fine in their unusual shoes, though my ankles maybe got a bit more tired than usual. Plus: I turned quite a few heads with my feet, and got to tell a number of them all about barefoot walking!
Far away from everything

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sea Cucumber

In the evening, Emma and I started to consume the liquor I brought back from my recent trip. I was really excited about my recent purchase, the stick blender, so after a few Gin and Tonics we moved on to blended cocktails. The most outstanding of our creations: the Sea Cucumber.

Radiantly green, effervescently refreshing and inarguably healthy (one serving of vegetables per drink), this is the quintessential Muizenberg drink. Invented 3 minutes from the ocean, hence the "sea" moniker; the cucumber should be self-explanatory.

 We imagine that fresh ginger would be a tasty twist on this, as would be the substitution of lime for lemon.


5 cm of cucumber
3 branches of fresh mint
2cl lemon juice
2cl gin
1 Tbs brown sugar (optional)
crushed ice
tonic water

In a blender, puree cucumber, mint, lemon juice, gin and sugar (if using).
Fill a tall cocktail glass halfway with crushed ice.
Pour the green puree over the ice, and fill up with tonic.
Serve topped with a mint leaf.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beet root and hummus, on a sandwich.

It was bound to happen earlier or later -- I'm writing about food.

Last week I purchased the most essential of kitchen implements, a blender. Now I feel like I can actually do some proper cooking, not just cookies and cakes...
The first thing I made was, also very predictable, some sugar bean hummus to go with the sourdough I baked a few days earlier. Next in line was a big pureed squash and sprouted lentil stew. And in the evening Emma and I went nuts with blended drinks.

I used the hummus the following day for some hefty beet root - hummus - sandwiches to take on a hike. Epic picnic food!

Red speckled sugar bean hummus

1 cup dried legumes (I used the most common bean of SA, the red speckled sugar bean)
1 ts baking soda
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 handful parsley
3 Tbs lemon juice
~ 1 ts red pepper flakes
~ 1/2 ts cumin
salt to taste

Soak the beans with the baking soda in cold water overnight, or in boiling hot water for 1-2 hours. Discard the soaking water.

Cover beans with fresh water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until they're done (quite soft, about 1 hour for regular beans).

Strain beans and collect the water.
Blend beans and garlic! If you're using a standing blender be careful not to overheat the motor. If the paste is too thick, add some of the bean water.

Chop parsley, and stir parsley, lemon juice and spices into your bean paste. Add salt and more spices/LJ to taste.

Oven roasted beets

beet roots
tin foil

Cut off parts of the beets that don't look like you want to eat them (roots, stems). The leaves make a tasty addition to soups or salads.

Wash beets.  With a kitchen knife, make little incisions in their skin.

Sit each beet root on a piece of foil, sprinkle it with rosemary and wrap it up tightly.

Roast in the oven for 15-30 min. at 180C. Check for doneness by sticking a knife into the beet and seeing whether the center is soft.

That's what they look like coming out!
Make a lot of these, store them in the fridge and eat them as snacks, chop them into salads or slice them onto sandwiches.

Beetroot - Hummus - Sandwiches

sourdough bread
roasted beets
kim chi or sauerkraut (optional)

Spread hummus on two bread slices. Slice up a beet root and some cucumber, stack both onto the bottom bread. Lay some spinach on top, top with some fermented veg and the second slice of bread.

Too photogenic to pass up a second pic.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

North America!

The other day I went to America. It was really nice!

Why? For one, I went to this workshop on tensor networks, which is ostensibly going to be my PhD topic. It was great to be back at Perimeter, with its unlimited free coffee in beautiful new buildings with couches and blackboards everywhere. It was also great to be surrounded by physicists again for a little while. I know I complain a lot about physicists talking only about physics, but doing a bit of shop talk can be good if you haven't done it in a few months.

It was even greater to have a bit of my independence back.
Not being able to walk outside by night, or really go anywhere by myself makes me feel claustrophobic at times in South Africa. I once described myself as "the cat that walked by itself", from Rudyard Kipling's short story of the same name. The last few weeks at AIMS I was a little less than happy, and thought I was homesick. Very unlike Kipling's cat.
But I realize now that I'm just sick and tired of having to coordinate every movement, every day trip and nightly walk on the beach with some safety-buddy.
In Canada, one night when I couldn't fall asleep, I left the house to go for a moonlit walk around the block. All by myself. That was amazing.

And then, aside from minor western amenities like tempeh and unsweetened soymilk in every supermarket, I enjoyed hanging out with old friends from MIT and PI. Another thing I learned is that while I need my space, some people can't be forgotten so easily. So if you have to go from South Africa to Waterloo and New York City to see them again, it's worth every minute spent on the plane.

The tempeh might actually be worth it, too. And the Ethiopian food in Kitchener (bit of a detour, that one).