Peppers and a morning bun

PeppersOne week until Christmas! Our shopping is done, work is starting to wind down, and we have lots of family time coming up. Keith’s mom will be staying with us this weekend. We have dinner reservations at the Charlatan tomorrow – can’t wait to try it! We’re looking forward to spending the weekend relaxing, maybe seeing a movie or trying Baker Miller. Tuesday night we’ll head to Cleveland. A few of my sisters have tough work schedules this year, and we just found out Tuesday that the whole family will be together! I cannot wait.

Speaking of family, my mom sent me this beautiful pepper garland from Pike Place Market. She was in Seattle last weekend because Will was swimming at Junior Nationals (!!!), and sent me this. Wasn’t that thoughtful? It’s a string of Thai peppers. I absolutely love it and can’t wait to cook with them.

I was in San Francisco this week for work and managed to squeeze in a trip to Tartine Bakery to try their morning bun. Light, flaky, with a hint of orange. It was the perfect pre-dinner snack, and I was tempted to buy their cookbook.

Have a great weekend!

Tartine

South African Safari

Elephant plainsWhile Cape Town was great, the best part of our trip was safari. Booking a lodge was a bit more difficult than booking a hotel. There are lots of options in different parks and private game reserves, and most are quite remote. I made a list of lodges in the various parks from Trip Advisor and other travel blogs, and then gathered pricing and availability on each one. It’s a highly manual process since most lodges don’t have an online booking tool. The pricing and amenities for safaris can vary a lot, from glorified tents with self-guided game drives to all-inclusive luxury lodges.

We stayed at Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in Sabi Sands. It’s a Virgin property with about 10 rooms in total. It’s pricey, but the level of service was exceptional. Our room was cleaned twice a day, there was fresh milk stocked in our mini bar for coffee/tea, and each night, the chef came out before dinner to verbally deliver the menu for our multi-course meal. I loved the intimate atmosphere of the lodge, and we would absolutely stay there again.

We had safari drives from 5:30-8:30/9 each morning and again from 4:30-7:30/8 in the afternoon. Breakfast and dinner immediately followed each game drive, and they were quite casual. Guests normally went straight to dinner after the drive. In the middle of the day, we would nap, swim, read, and relax. Lunch was served from 1-3, and we had tea and snacks prior to the afternoon drive. Our lodge was located in the bush, so we would see elephants, monkeys, and impalas throughout the day.

All guests have the same ranger and tracker for their entire stay, and my understanding is that they try to pair up guests based on trip timing and duration. Keith and I were alone for the first two game drives, and were then joined by two British couples. Our ranger Calvin drove the land rover, and our tracker John sat on the front of the vehicle. John has been a tracker for 25 years. His father was also a tracker, and he would ride his bike through the park when he was 10 years old to visit his dad. Needless to say, he’s quite experienced. He spotted a chameleon on a tree in complete darkness when we were driving back one night!

We were also joined by Shawn, a junior ranger who just finished 8 months of field research on elephants in Botswana. Calvin and Shawn were so knowledgeable about the animals, and their passion was infectious. We saw lions (male and females), lots of elephants, buffalo, rhinos, leopards, zebra, giraffe, baboons, monkeys, hippos, impala, kudo, and lots of other antelope I don’t remember, birds, bugs, and snakes. The park is very conservation focused. Rhino poaching is a big problem in the area, and several times a year, the rangers have to take a polygraph test to confirm they’re not involved in poaching.

The other night, Keith and I were talking about future trips, and I was trying to convince him that we should go on another safari in the next year or so. I just loved it so much. The photos below are my attempt to capture some of the beauty we saw.

Leopard cub Elephant closeFemale lionsAntelopeZebraBaby elephantBuffaloMale lionGiraffesLeopard mom and cubRhinosElephants drinkingEmma cameraEKTree

Cape Town – Wine Country and Woodstock

EK wine countryI have a few more Cape Town photos to share, from a hotel/farm in wine country and a market in Woodstock. Aside from our time spent outdoors, these were some other highlights.

Babylonstoren garden Babylonstoren farm shop Babylonstoren sign Babylonstoren latte Babylonstoren greenhouseWe started our day in wine country with a visit to Babylonstoren, a farm, hotel, and winery, discovered just before our trip thanks to Erin. We paid a nominal entrance fee to walk around the gardens and then got breakfast in their greenhouse restaurant. The farm is so picturesque, they have rows of olive and lemon trees, fruits and vegetables. Chickens and ducks roam freely, and they make olive oil, jams, cheese and bread on property. We ate the most delicious scones with fresh cream and jam for breakfast, and I really hope we get to stay at the hotel someday.

NGM Table Keith bitterballen Paella TartsWe had planned to check out the City Bowl Market for lunch Saturday, but when we arrived, someone told us it had recently closed due to low attendance. We headed to the Neighborhood Goods Market instead. The market is predominantly food stands, with long communal tables for people to eat. We had a great time trying different dishes and listening to music. TribalNeed was playing right outside the market, and the place was packed with people eating and listening to him. If you find yourself in Cape Town on a Saturday, this market is definitely worth a visit.

Christmas Time

Christmas cardsWe got back to Chicago Thursday morning and we’re quickly catching up on everything holiday. This weekend was filled with cookie baking, tree decorating, and general coziness. I left the house for 45 minutes Saturday – flour shortage. I spent the morning writing our Christmas cards, and we spent the evening decorating our tree.

We are hosting our second annual Christmas party next Saturday, and I spent a good chunk of the weekend baking cookies. I have shortbread in the freezer, sugar cookies waiting to be iced, and thumbprint cookies ready to be filled. I also made rye bread and some soup for dinner last night. It felt good to be back in the kitchen after eating in restaurants for two weeks.

Christmas is easing the post-trip hangover, and I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family over the next few weeks!Sugar cookie prep Cookies

Scenes from Cape Town

CT BeachCape Town is a breathtaking city. The mountains provide a beautiful backdrop, and there are miles of coastline and beaches. We rented a car for the last two days of our stay so we could visit wine country and drive along the ocean, but walking and taking cabs is also a great way to see the city. Here are some photos from our hikes, drives, and walks.

EK Sunset selfie Chapman's peak Keith cape point <3EK Chapman's peakChapman’s peak is a 9km drive along the Atlantic Ocean, and my cousin, who visited Cape Town in June, told me not to miss it. We decided to drive it on our way back from wine tasting, which ended up being a great decision because we timed the sunset perfectly. The vista points were full of people enjoying the view. It was pretty spectacular. If I lived there I would want to bike it so I could take in the views at a slower pace.

Bo-KaapThe colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

Table mountainA shot from the top of Table Mountain. We hiked up from the road below.

Camps bay from Lions headThe view from the top of Lion’s Head. You can see all of Camps Bay and the surrounding beaches.

Keith Table Mountain EK Table Mountain Emma table mountainPost hike.

Penguin Penguins beachAfrican penguins at Boulders beach.

Not even a week later and I already want to go back to this amazing city!