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Koeksister – a South African Delicacy

August 30th, 2015, by David Schwenk

Koeksister - A South African Delicacy

As a child growing up in southern Africa a weekly treat was a koeksister. Every Saturday my mother would park on the main square right in front of Bamfords Bakery. As we got out of the car the aroma of fresh bread and baked goods would assault the senses – I remember it like it was yesterday.

However there were errands to run and first was always the supermarket. Mother was an avid bargain shopper and with three supermarkets in the main street and list in hand, we would visit all three comparing prices of each item on the list. We then returned to each to secure the items they were featuring at the lowest price. Tedious it may sound but the Dairy Den was located between market two and three and served the most delicious soft serve ice cream in a cone. And on special days there was a chocolate flake added making it a Choc 99 – what a delight!

But I digress. With groceries in hand there was the occasional visit to Holdsworths the Chemist (pharmacy) and perhaps the Hobby Shop (my older brother was an avid airplane modeler) and then on to what had been anticipated all week…..the bakery.

As you walked in the overwhelming aroma of sweetness of the freshly made koeksisters prevailed. They were always fresh, dunked in the most glorious of syrups and ready to explode in your mouth. Of course they were purchased and sat like the bait of temptation in the box until we got home and all sat down to lunch as a family. Finally the moment arrived. There were no microwaves in those days so we ate them at room temperature. I can’t imagine that warming them up would have improved them…they were already perfection.

 

Some people say a koeksister is the equivalent of a doughnut but trust me..doughnuts don’t hold a candle to these incredible pieces of culinary delight. All too often I see recipes that say ‘easy koeksisters’ or ‘koeksisters in a snap’ but despite the fact that I am fairly handy in the kitchen my attempts, thus far, to recapture this moment in time have ended in abject failure and so I regard the makers of these creations in the highest esteem.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that after more than thirty years I returned to South Africa and top of my list was securing a koeksister. The first night in the hotel, as a turn down notion, there, sitting on a ceramic tile beside my bed was a miniature koeksister. I thought I was going to weep at how quickly my desire had been fulfilled. I lifted it to my mouth, felt the sticky syrup, and took a bite. Total disappointment. This was not the koeksister of my childhood and I desperately hoped that my colleagues, who had been regaled with tales of my desperate need for a koeksister, were not similarly chomping on this imposter and thinking I was crazy!

The following day, after colluding with our guide, we decided that at some point during the next two days in Cape Town we would stop at a true local bakery and secure koeksisters. As it turned out the next two days were over the top, and more, with some of the most amazing repasts, snacks and delicacies ever to cross my lips and in a state of being continually full, the bakery stop simply never happened.

So just exactly what is this love of my life, this koeksister? The traditional braided version originates from the Afrikaners though there is a Cape Malay version which is spicy and has a sprinkling of coconut on top. While there is much to be treasured in Cape Malay cuisine, the Afrikaner version is, for me, what this is all about! The format is simple – dough deep fried in oil and immediately dipped into cold syrup (the magic moment) resulting in a crisp sticky outside and a melt in your mouth interior. You cannot possibly imagine how good they are until you have had one…..and having the real McCoy requires a trip to South Africa. Yes, you will love Cape Town, be thrilled by the great whites and enchanted by the wildlife – but your first real koeksister bring with it the promise of a life changing experience. Trust me!

KOEKSISTER RECIPE

Koeksister’s Dough
   2 Cups cake flour
   1/2 tsp. salt
   2 tbsp. baking powder
   4 tbsp. of butter
   1 egg
   1/2 cup of water
   Oil for frying

Syrup for the Koeksister
   1 kg of sugar
   1 and 1/2 cups of water
   1/2 tsp. ground ginger
   2 cinnamon sticks
   juice of one lemon

Termites Are Amazing

August 30th, 2015, by David Schwenk

Termites are Amazing

On a recent safari in Thornybush Game Reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, our ranger stopped next to a termite mound. It was about 8 feet high and as big around. The ranger explained that the mound was twice as deep in the earth as it was tall! “Like an iceberg” he said. Astonishing! Now, I’ve never thought much about termites. (Except when I lived in Florida and didn’t want them munching on my house) But when he said the mound was twice as deep as it was tall, I was amazed.

Some mounds can grow to 90 feet high! The mounds contain millions of termites living underground. Deep Inside the mound is an extensive system of tunnels and conduits that serves as a ventilation system for the underground nest. There are also numerous gallery chambers. One chamber contains the queen of the termite colony. Our ranger said that one queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs a DAY!

The mounds termites build are extremely complex in there architecture. They might just look like a pile of dirt but they serve the insects well. The mounds surface at ground level is very porous. So, the outside air can penetrate the mound’s walls and cool the hot air rising from the underground chambers where the termites live. The mound acts as an “air conditioning system” keeping the insects cool in the hot African environment.

The mounds help to create biologically diverse habitat that helps the survival on many, many species. Ants are termite’s natural enemies. When they battle the dead from both sides provide nutrients for the soil around the mounds. A few times that I’ve seen cheetahs they also seem to be lying or sitting up on a termite mound. Cheetahs or leopards climb a tall termite mound to scope his territory for predator and/or prey. Other animals frequent the mounds including monkeys, elephant and mongoose. Their feces and scraps of food also add to the nutrients in the surrounding soil. This allows plant life to flourish and attracts animals. It is a never ending cycle of life around the termite mounds.

Nature is truly a wonder.

Reasons to Safari in East Africa

August 28th, 2015, by Joanna Bielawski

Our Top 9 Reasons to Safari in East Africa

THE AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK: MOUNT KILIMANJARO
After an adventure-filled day on safari, “magical” can only begin to describe the experience of sipping sundowners overlooking your lodge’s waterhole with Tanzania’s snow-clad Mount Kilimanjaro as your backdrop.

RWANDA AND UGANDA: GORILLAS IN THE MIST
From your lush eco-lodge in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains and Parc National Des Volcans or Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, tread softly and observe in wonder the families of rare, habituated mountain gorillas.

LEWA WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY: SAVING RHINOS
Northern Kenya’s popular, family-friendly wildlife-viewing destination, Lewa is lauded for its groundbreaking rhino rehabilitation efforts. Experience an understanding of wildlife, and an authentic interaction with the local community.

MAHALE MOUNTAINS: ENDANGERED CHIMPANZEES
With its golden beaches framed by jungle-covered peaks along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania’s beautiful, isolated Mahale Mountains are home to some 1,000 of the last remaining chimpanzees in Africa.

MASAI MARA AND SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK: THE GREAT MIGRATION
The annual Great Migration of millions of wildebeest and other herbivores across East Africa’s Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world — the perfect “Out of Africa” safari.

NGORONGORO CRATER: WORLD’S LARGEST
Acclaimed for being one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet, Tanzania’s great unbroken caldera is the world’s largest crater. Prepare to be awed as you observe
the calliope of wildlife.

SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE: THE SPECIAL FIVE
Kenya’s pastoral Samburu tribe welcomes you to the land of “the special five” — the Grevy’s zebra, the Somali blue-necked ostrich, the Beisa oryx, the reticulated giraffe and the dainty gerenuk.

SELOUS GAME RESERVE: VAST AND UNTOUCHED
For those desiring a wild and rugged safari in an untouched land, Tanzania’s Selous is the answer. Africa’s biggest game reserve is even larger than Switzerland.

TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK: BAOBABS AND ELEPHANTS
Majestic baobabs dwarf the herds of elephants that feed beneath them in Tanzania’s Tarangire. The park’s permanent river serves as a lifeline for the Maasai people
and a great diversity of wildlife.

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