Friend Isaac Cann, Dr Kobayashi, and Rod at a seafood restaurant


side dishes


Food looking like art

A very important part of Japanese culture is its food and cuisine. Japanese people are very proud of their cuisine and are really happy to share it and try to explain it: We are willing learners! Japanese cuisine is delicate and delicious, and always visually appealing and beautifully presented—often a work of art on a plate.

In Hokkaido we’ve had many opportunities to savor some of the best and most loved or famous dishes. For many Japanese people—particularly when they have visitors—the day is structured around the meals, especially lunch and dinner, and there will be serious discussions as to what kind of food and restaurant, and where. Often (mostly) they make a reservation, to make sure of getting a table because many of the good eating places are quite small.


Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb


Preparing okonomyaki


One of our favorites is Hokke fish

On our recent visit we were in Hokkaido for a week, 5 nights in Sapporo the capital, and two nights on a road trip. We were treated twice to a Hokkaido speciality, called Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, for dinner and to wonderful seafood places twice for dinner by hosts Dr. Kobayashi, Satoshi and Max. There’s always lots of discussion about the menu, and what dishes to choose, all with the aim of having us try new and/or special things. If the host knows that we like something in particular, they will always try to order that too.

Traditional style zashiki seating on the floor can be done two ways: sit at a low table with legs crossed on the floor; or sit at a low table with a sunken floor for your legs. As westerners used to sitting up at a table, we tend to find the second way a little easier, so our hosts would try to find that for us. For any zashiki seating, all guests remove their shoes first.


Tempura at a seafood restaurant

bbqbrolleyOne evening all lab members arranged a BBQ party at the lab, which was also an amazing feast of fish, vegetables and slices of meat. It was doubly memorable, as the evening started out with light rain and the students were valiantly cooking on the open grill with umbrellas! Luckily, the rain did stop.

Our other 2 nights in Hokkaido were on a road trip with Satoshi and Max, and each evening they cooked up a storm in our chalet in the hilly countryside, with the same careful attention to detail and the same careful choice of ingredients and dishes. We are truly honored and very lucky. More about the road trip later.


Okonomyaki for lunch


Soba noodles for lunch another day


Students cooking at the BBQ party

Lunch is often soba, or ramen, or okonomyaki (Japanese-style pancake), also done with the same discussions and careful choice. Rod and I have declared to Max and Satoshi that our Hokkaido tradition must now always include soba noodles, and hokke (a fish, smoked Atka mackerel) and that’s made them very happy.

I will write about Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, soba, and okonomyaki separately, as well as the road trip, but here are some pictures from the one evening at a great seafood restaurant in the maze of underground “streets” in the JR complex, and some from the lab BBQ, which was a lot of fun.




Our group at the seafood restaurant

Itadakimasu, or Bon Appetit!

Itadakimasu is often said with one’s hands put together under the chin and with a slight bow—-this is from the Buddhist origins of giving thanks, so some people liken it to a simple grace.



JR Tower and complex. Note the huge clock

JR Tower Art Project

We have just spent a week in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. Why were we so lucky as to be there? Friends and colleagues from the University of Hokkaido in Sapporo, the capital city of the island, invited us and we were delighted to accept, as that was where we lived for a couple of months a few years ago. It was wonderful to return and to get re-acquainted with some of the people, places, and things we remembered.

The university is not far from the JR Tower and mall, an enormous complex that’s spread out around, above and below the JR (Japan Railways) train station. This is a magnet for anyone in the city—for transportation, for shopping, eating, and just generally hanging out—all year but especially in the winter when people can get around in all the underground tunnels without having to brave the snow. An interesting factoid: Sapporo is the city with the highest snowfall in the world (almost 600 cm/236 inches per annum).


Snowfall facts at the Hokkaido Museum, Sapporo

The JR Tower sponsored an art project, called “Northern Window Open to the World”. There was an open competition of works of art by young Hokkaido-connected artists who are globally active. The aim is to explore new possibilities of art using many different types of art forms for an urban public environment adjacent to a station.

The works that were chosen are dotted around the complex on different levels, and I had fun one rainy afternoon tracking down as many as I could. I managed to find 7 in the time I had. It seems that many local people have became very familiar with some of the pieces and just stand around them, but I also saw lots of people stopping, admiring and taking pictures, as I was.

Kan Yasuda has Key of Dream, Italian white marble of Carrara, in the atrium of one of the main entrances. (see below)



Yasuda’s “Key of Dream” in the atrium


Noriko Tamura has The White Wind Sonata, acrylic paint on canvas, a huge canvas on a wall by an escalator going down to the lower levels (see below). It’s a stunning piece.


Takenobu Igarashi has Forest of “Terminus”, Terracotta, a textured wall in an open space by a coffee shop in a lower level. Fascinating to see all the different textures and patterns. (see below)


Masayuki Nagare has Terminus, granite, just outside an entrance (see below)


Takenobu Igarashi has Big Clock of Stars, aluminum panel, a working clock on the outside of the JR Tower.


Kazushi Asami has Legs—After Image of a Traveler, stainless steel and paint, on the lower east concourse.


Toshikazu Kanai has Stones with Falling Flowers, granite inlaid with stainless steel, brass and ceramic pieces, just outside one of the entrances. There are three large stones, but one cannot get them all into one photo.







How’s that for a view!

Rustenberg—Gardens, a Labyrinth, and Wines

A Stunning Combo

Tranquil, beautiful, lush, green, pastoral are words that sprung to mind as we drove up, past pastures with cattle, small estate houses, and vineyards.

Rustenberg is a lovely wine estate in a really gorgeous setting up on a hill, overlooking vineyards, in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountains. It’s literally at the end of the road on one of the wine-route roads north out of Stellenbosch, but is well worth the drive.


Gorgeous Cape-Dutch architecture


Schoongezicht, the old Cape-Dutch homestead


Part of the gardens

What do we find?—lots of pretty, white gabled Cape-Dutch buildings; an impressive, modern tasting room; and lovely gardens ringed with huge oak trees. The gardens have small ponds, a gazebo, flower beds, and the jewel—a labyrinth.

Founded in 1682, the estate has a long history and heritage. The Barlow family has owned it since 1941, and various generations have been very involved in all aspects of wine making there. (The Barlow family had made a fortune with an engineering supplies company established in the early 1900s, also buying and selling woolen goods and Caterpillar machinery, among other things. The company expanded into neighboring southern African countries too. The family had also owned Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West from 1941-1987, so were very involved with wine estates).


pergola2The public Schoongezicht Garden, open every day, is next to the Cape Dutch homestead, Schoongezicht, which dates back to 1814. In 2001, Rozanne Barlow, wife of the current owner of Rustenberg Estate, decided to regenerate and restore the garden. She had walls constructed, and converted the 25-meter-long swimming pool into a lily pond, now home to many fish. The charming pergola, originally built by John X Merriman, is covered in climbing roses, clematis and other fragrant climbers. John X Merriman was a former owner of Rustenberg. He bought it in 1892 and helped to revitalize the estate and to promote tourism in this valley. One range of Rustenberg wines is called John X Merriman, in his honor.

The garden is essentially laid out in a formal style with four different areas linked by pathways, and because it’s so harmoniously done one doesn’t really realize that the garden is quite sizable—about a hectare. The garden is a plant-lover’s dream, best described as “English”, with roses, foxgloves, salvias, agapanthus, sedum, anemones, day lilies and many more. There is always something to catch the eye, no matter the season.


A labyrinth is now part of the gardens

The surrounding landscape of vineyards, green pastures and the majestic Simonsberg labyrinthclosermountain backdrop all help to make this garden a magical place.

The garden is open to the public during the week from 09h30 – 16h30 and on Saturdays and Sundays until 15h00.

There’s also a private garden, the Rustenberg Garden, which is open once a year to the public on Rustenberg Day.

Making these gardens even more magical is the labyrinth.




Outside the Tasting Room

As part of the garden make-over, Rozanne Barlow transformed the site where the old tennis court stood into an eleven-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth, laid out in half brick and river stone. Information boards explain the origin and symbolism of the French Chartres labyrinth. We walked a part of it and it is a contemplative experience. If we had more time (and no demanding kids!) it would be nice to try walking the whole thing.

After that it was fun to wander up to the tasting center to do wine tasting, which was great. The Tasting Room is in the old horse stables, which have been beautifully converted architecturally. We all thought it was a great wine-tasting experience. Our hostess lady was friendly and knowledgeable and we enjoyed chatting to her. The wines are world-class, from an excellent terroir—red clay-rich granite soils on a variety of slopes and elevations. No food is available here though.


Tasting great Rustenberg wines



An excellent rose wine

Wine tasting is R40 per person (waived if you buy some bottles). We did buy a bottle of Petit Verdot Rose (R75) to take back for dinner that night, and it was excellent. We also ordered some wines to be shipped back to USA, and you can also order them to be shipped to UK, I believe.

Wine Tasting and Sales open Mon-Fri 9-4:30, Sat 10-4 and Sunday 10-3. Every day, except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday.

Where is it?

Lelie Road, Idas Valley, just north-east of Stellenbosch


An unusual Rousanne wine



Championing Cheetahs




What a magnificent creature

Championing Cheetahs in South Africa

Cheetahs—such lean and dignified, regal-looking, creatures.

The logo at Cheetah Outreach is: See it. Sense it. Save it.

You can still see a few cheetahs in the wild in southern Africa (and a small part of Iran) but the numbers are severely reduced (from an estimated 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, to about 6,600 today) and the threat of extinction hangs heavy.


Some people are about to begin a cheetah encounter


Various animal encounters are possible

So, on our last visit to the Cape in South Africa we were very happy to visit a new (to us) place called Cheetah Outreach. It’s in Paardevlei, on the south side of Somerset West (about 40 minutes from Cape Town airport), and is well worth a visit. Plan to spend a couple of hours, more if you’d like to do any of the animal encounters or if you stop to chat to any of the animal keepers, which you more than likely will do.

Entrance is R5 per person (less than US$0.50), regardless of age. You pay extra for the various animal encounters.


dogsignThe animals are in big grassy enclosures arranged in a rough oval around a central area, and in one of them there’s a viewing stand to watch the herding/guarding dogs. In the center grassy strip is a small mobile tea/coffee stand, where we had coffee and watched some visitors going into an enclosure nearby with a keeper and being entertained by the antics of the animal.

This is not a large place but seemed well organized and they are doing a great thing.



Black-backed jackal


Grace, the caracal

The focus is on the cheetahs but they have other animals too—meerkats, bat-eared foxes, caracals, serval, the special Anatolian Shepherd herding dogs, and jackals. There are paid staff, but they also have local volunteers and volunteers from around the world—we had one girl from Australia explaining things to us. The keepers are knowledgeable and tell lots of information about “their” animal, so it feels quite personal. We felt very privileged to see these animals up close and to find out their histories.


One of the bat-eared foxes waits for the keeper, who’s bringing food


The 3 foxes–Janet, Diggory and Firefox–rush to the gate


The keeper feeding the 3 bat-eared foxes

Cheetah Outreach was founded by Annie Beckhellig in January 1997 on a hectare of land (roughly 2.5 acres) provided by Spier Wine Estates. In the first year, the program reached more than 50,000 people, by traveling to educational facilities and other places with Shadow, a young male cheetah. It has successfully expanded and evolved since then.

The mission of Cheetah Outreach is “to promote the survival of the free ranging Southern African cheetah through environmental education and delivering in-situ conservation initiatives.”

Why is this necessary?

The cheetah is threatened with extinction for many reasons: loss of habitat and decrease in prey; presence of other large predators in protected areas, leading to competition for survival; conflict with livestock and game farmers; fragmentation of population, leading to inbreeding and number depletion; lack of self-sustaining captive population; public lack of knowledge.


Even young kids are fascinated by the cheetahs and other animals


This is either Lazarus or Liberty, the serval


And this is the other serval—Lazarus or Liberty?

This Cheetah Outreach is trying to address all of the above factors. School outreach and teacher training workshops are a major part of this, as are funding and co-ordinating a South African Cheetah Anatolian Shepherd Guard Dog project. These dogs are trained to guard livestock from cheetahs and other predators. Initially the dogs worked with sheep and goats, but recently the program has been extended to cattle and even on African game (mostly nyala and springbok) farms. The project helps with buying, breeding, veterinary support, and training of these working dogs, which will help in non-lethal predator control.


Black-backed jackal relaxing


Grace the caracal enjoys a snack

Another extremely important part of their program is using the cheetahs themselves as Ambassadors. Cheetah Outreach has hand-reared captive-born cheetah that are used for this. These lovely creatures can give people the opportunity to see and meet these cats up close, and to learn to care about them and their future. Not all cats are suitable for release back into the wild, but they do make great ambassadors! With the Ann Van Dyck Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, they train cheetah cubs as ambassadors for educational programs around the world. And in fact, some of the other animals are ambassadors too: the servals and meerkats, for example. For us, they could all be ambassadors!

On the way out you pass through a pretty good shop—cash only, but there is a handy ATM right there!


Information about the cheetah’s body, built for speed

 Fun Facts About Cheetahs

—the partnership between cheetah and man is ancient, dating from Cleopatra’s time. Ancient Egyptians believed that a cheetah would carry the pharaoh’s soul to the afterworld

—the cheetah is the oldest big cat on earth at 3.5-4 million years.

—the oldest fossil remains have been found in Wyoming, Texas and Nevada in USA

—the cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. Its top speed is 110/120 km/h (68/75 m/h) and it can accelerate from 0-80km/h (50m/h) in 3 seconds (that equals the Formula 1 Ferrari in 1999).

–the cheetah’s stride is 7-8 meters (23-24 feet)servalsign

—an adult cheetah has over 2000 spots

—cheetahs are Africa’s most threatened great cat

Find out lots more about cheetahs and the Cheetah Outreach on their excellent website. Learn about the animals and see many photos.





Today is World Elephant Day


Tasty grass in Masai Mara, Kenya


Tasty bush in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, South Africa


Masai Mara grass plains

Fifth Annual World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016.

Bringing the World Together to Help Elephants

The first World Elephant Day was on August 12, 2012, and many organizations around the world are trying to help the plight of the elephants, such as WWF, Save the Elephants, and International Elephant Foundation.

In honor of this day and these animals, I found some of our pictures taken at different times. Enjoy!


Water hole at Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


Drinking at the water hole, Pilansberg


At Pilansberg


Follow the leader, Masai Mara

World Elephant Day is a celebration of these animals and a call for the protection of the giant creatures and a promotion of conservation. The African elephant weights roughly 22,000 pounds and is the largest land animal: the Asian elephant is smaller at 10,000 pounds. This great size has not prevented their decimation, however. Nor has the fact that elephants have been potent cultural symbols worldwide, especially in Buddhist and Hindu lore and religion.


Sand bath about to begin at Hluhluwe=Umfolozi


“Gotta get rid of this itch”, Pilansberg


Babies, Pilansberg

Like so many of the wonderful animal and plant species on our earth, elephants are endangered. According to the official World Elephant Day website, only 40,000 Asian elephants remain worldwide, and only 400,000 African elephants.

We are from southern Africa and love all the wildlife there, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for elephants. These huge creatures have an amazing social system, they are very intelligent—it’s been shown that they have feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork, and an ability to use tools.

On our many trips to various National Parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya we’ve spent countless hours watching these giant creatures—and at times, many hours waiting for them to move off the road! It’s a lot of fun to watch elephants and their interactions in a group (from a safe place, of course). We’ve seen them on the grass plains, in wooded thickets, around water holes, and they are magnificent wherever they are.



One of the main reasons these (mostly) gentle giants are endangered is because of their ivory tusks, which are coveted in some parts of the world, leading to a huge illegal market in ivory. Other reasons are habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, usually over territory and crops. But I’ve also heard reports about elephants dying when hit by a speeding train in India.

What can we, as ordinary individuals, do to help?

—Support a ban on ivory trade

—Support any measures that will help stop poaching of elephants

–Support measures to conserve elephant habitats

–Ensure that captive elephants are treated properly

—Donate to one of the organizations if you are able

Following is a nice series of an elephant slowly sauntering along the road in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. You definitely wait until he/she decides to get off the road!



“Perhaps I’ll cross now”…


…”but maybe I’ll go on this side rather.”

Here is some information taken from the official website. It’s both sobering and encouraging reading.


Ivory Trade

In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade.

2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.

The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.

The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.

Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.

An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.

May 2016, Kenya showed that it has zero-tolerance for the illegal ivory trade by torching 105 tons worth of ivory. The largest ivory burn in history.

June 2, 2016, US adopts a near-total ivory ban.

China has made several steps that indicate it might be heading towards a complete ban of commercial ivory.”





July 2016: MEADOWBROOK PARK in Urbana

The Landscape as it used to be in Illinois. Remember, Illinois’ nick-name (one of them) is the Prairie State, as hundreds of years ago much of the state was covered in tall-grass prairie.

We are lucky, as in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, there are many wonderful parks, but in our opinion this is Number #1.

Meadowbrook Park is a 130-acre park with a difference, beloved by the locals, including us! It has the usual facilities, like picnic areas and a large field for ball play. But, the kids’ play structures are different to usual playgrounds—super-sized, and made of wood.



PA291402.JPGMore unusual are the large area of Restored Prairie, and the Wandell Sculpture Garden, a series of large-scale outdoor sculptures that line the three miles of walking trails and fit beautifully into their outdoor setting. The trails wander through and around a broad swathe of re-created tallgrass prairie, and organic and wildflower gardens, plus a large herb garden, and community garden plots. Each sculpture has a plaque with its name and the name of the sculptor, and it’s a lot of fun to wander along the paths and stop to admire the sculptures—some colorful, some whimsical, all interesting. The Celia and Willet Wandell Sculpture Garden opened in 1998, made possible by the Wandell family and donations from area businesses and local supporters. Some of the sculptures are owned by Urbana Park District as part of the permanent collection, and some are on a two-year loan from the artists.





See the butterfly on the coneflower

Meadowbrook Park is lovely at any time of the year, but is really gorgeous now, at the height of summer. Tall, bright green grasses cover the fields across to the trees ringing the area. But the dominant color is not just green. Colorful wild flowers, massed, swaying slightly in the breeze, attract bees and birds. We watched a redwing blackbird perch atop a tall stalk with huge yellow flowers, nearby a small sparrow chirped on a bush with some other yellow flowers, a hummingbird hovered, and butterflies fluttered. White Queen Anne’s Lace, aptly named, polka-dots the green, along with pinkish Echinacea, bright blue cornflowers, and masses of purple and yellow, daisy-like wild flowers.


Queen Anne’s Lace



See the tiny hummingbird 

Sometimes you can hear a Chinese pheasant calling and watch for the deer, which are usually here, munching calmly, unworried by humans. A small brook runs through parts of the park and at times there have been beavers who’ve made a dam there.

If this kind of vegetation covered these prairies in days gone by, before the settlers came in and cleared it for farmland, the sight must have been truly awesome.



P7210043.JPGPeople come to walk, to run, to roller-blade or ride bicylces. They walk dogs and push strollers and near the pavilions people can picnic.

Whenever we walk, other runners, walkers, cyclists and dog-walkers pass us. Everyone smiles and greets us, the spirit seems relaxed and friendly. We are soothed by the beauty and perfection of this piece of Nature we are privileged to share.




Entrance to the cellar


Wine tasting

Tasting and Eating at Lourensford Wine Estate is a Gourmet Experience

You can’t go wrong here

As I mentioned in the previous post, this is a lovely wine estate in so many ways; it’s easy to get to, has gorgeous views of the mountains, lovely white Cape-Dutch buildings, excellent wines and wine tasting, a snack shop, a very nice restaurant, a coffee shop and a weekend market.


Lunch out on the patio


The River Garden wine at lunch

Last year we did the wine tasting at Lourensford and then had lunch at their Millhouse Kitchen Restaurant, when we could sit outside, as it was warm and sunny. This year, we didn’t do the wine tasting because we had young children with us, who were clamoring for lunch! The Millhouse Kitchen Restaurant was great again, but we sat inside, as it was June (their winter) and the wind was a bit chilly.

The estate offers Wine Tasting and Wine Sales daily (except Christmas Day and Easter Friday) 9am-5pm. Winery Tours are by appointment only. You can taste at a counter in the Tasting Room in the cellar building complex or sit on the thick green lawns outside in the shade, next to the small water fountains. We opted for outside, and the young man was very happy to carry out the wines to a picnic bench for our party of 4.


Enjoying wine tasting

I have to say that this was one of our most enjoyable wine tastings last year. For R40 per person, you can taste any 5 wines (that fee is waived with a wine purchase). We compared 2 sauvignon blancs, and tasted a viognier and 2 reds (a shiraz and a cab/merlot blend). The young guy was knowledgeable about the wines and the harvests and explained in detail, and the setting was/is superb. The wines are also excellent. He brought the wines out in the order we marked on our tasting sheets, changed glasses for the reds, and gave us two glasses to compare the sauvignon blancs. All very nice.



2RARunchThe Millhouse Kitchen is run by chef Bjorn Guido, whose aim is “to create a neighbourhood feel where his guests can relax and enjoy each other’s company in the beautiful setting of the Lourensford Wine Estate.” I’d say that he succeeds admirably, as the ambience and décor are great, and the servers are all so friendly and relaxed that you do feel at home. The menu is inspired by French and Italian rustic cooking, with an emphasis on fresh pasta, bread and wood-fired pizzas.

Last year for lunch, Rod had a biltong pizza, with biltong, brie and preserved figs, which he pronounced amazing. So this year, he and Kev were hoping for that again, but sadly it wasn’t on the menu!



2bigburger2platterWe tested the antipasti plank, the burger (huge) and a number of pizzas (all delicious). I had spinach, olives and sun-dried tomatoes pizza, and Joanna one with roasted butternut, but that one is not always on the menu, as it’s seasonal.

The house wines are the Lourensford River Garden range, which are very good too. A bottle of sauvignon blanc in the restaurant was R125 (at the exchange rate at the time, that was about US$8.50!). The same bottle to buy in the Tasting Room was R65 (about US$4.50!)2pizza

The Millhouse Restaurant is closed Mondays. Tues-Sat, Breakfast 8:30-10:30am; lunch 12 noon-3 pm; dinner 6:30pm-10pm. Sundays open 8:30-5pm (orders close at 3pm) A “light bites” menu is available for those in between hours.


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