A Wild Culinary Experience in Africa

This article has been published in newspapers across Canada and shared in various social media venues internationally. 

Danny & I

Danny & I

Livingstone, Zambia was the primordial reality of all of my childhood dreams.

Africa is so alive.

Spirit, movement, instinct, survival all awaken within.

It peels back reality and earnestly offers a nakedness and raw sense of life that takes time for the mind to acclimatize.

The absolute wildness, the awareness of the proximity to the magnificent animals living here, and the realization of being so near the cradle of civilization whispers deeply to the ancient part of our spirit.

It is electric.

Nothing was contrived or commercialized in the way I had childishly envisioned.

You are exposed to borderless animal parks where random zebras show up on the side of the road or a herd of one hundred elephants may hold up traffic.

As the locals say, elephants have no borders.

I stumbled upon an advertisement for a new restaurant that has been receiving rave reviews.

It read: “The Elephant Café: Take a speedboat transfer up to the venue with hippo sightings along the way, interact with elephants on the banks of the Zambezi River and dine on African fusion food, created with wild edibles and locally-sourced ingredients with Chef Annabel Hughes-Aston.”

An event in itself, the squealing ride up the vital Zambezi expertly navigated by our captain, had us zigzagging around hippos and crocodiles, and over white water rapids, spraying us with water under the warm African sun.

The open-air restaurant is a sight to behold.

Architecturally designed partially on stilts in the river, it is a Bedouin-style tent, with lush furnishings inside.

We were welcomed on shore by charming chef Annabel and the elephant handlers.

First, we were to meet three of the sanctuary’s elephants and have the opportunity to feed them.

Then we were to proceed to the restaurant for a Champagne cocktail and chat about their elephant conservation project during a three-course meal prepared using locally grown and foraged ingredients.

It is hard to describe the feeling of being so near these majestic creatures, close enough to look into their eyes and feel their energy.

I wept with joy.

The elephant community of ten here, came from a variety of situations.

Some were adopted as babies when found abandoned, usually due to drought conditions, or rescued from abusive situations, or as victims of an elephant cull (another horror story).

Together they have formed a new family.

Here in the most natural of settings, this sanctuary represents the desperate movement to preserve and increase the population of these noble creatures.

Annabel’s has coined her gastronomy as “Bush Gourmet”.

The dishes offer unique, explosive flavour combinations fusing the familiar with the unfamiliar.

It was, in many ways, the most exciting meal of my life.

It's Annabel’s vision and the epitome of wild creativity.

"For nearly five years now, since moving to Livingstone in Zambia, I have been experimenting with, and fusing, wild edibles and indigenous Zambian ingredients with fresh local produce, mostly grown in my own organic garden," explains Annabel.

"I develop African Fusion recipes, inspired largely by Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, which I refer to as “Bush Gourmet”. I rely on the centuries-old wisdom of my neighboring riverside communities to help in foraging for wild food, while the Zambian chefs with whom I work and train, have led me to the indigenous ingredients in Livingstone’s native markets. It is my sincere hope that by promoting the use of these diverse, and largely unexplored, natural resources, Livingstone’s local economy is also enriched."

Annabel is more than a chef and adventuress.

As she describes, she and her husband Chris Aston live open-air in a “corrugated tin box built on a concrete slab thrown under an old Mongongo tree on the Zambezi River."

She is a gardener, forager and a wonderful writer offering insights into her life through her blog called SavannaBel.com.

Born and educated in Zimbabwe, Annabel ventured to the UK and North America working as a journalist-activist for 14 years.

A passion for her culture and cooking brought her back to Africa where is able to combine all her skills in the kitchen together with her knowledge of farming, to develop new flavours to share.

Annabel works closely with her chef team and community and her palate is ever evolving, offering endless creativity to her dishes.

Recent developments in Annabel’s career have lead her to expand and create a consulting business where is now able help other restaurants create menus based on her philosophy of local, foraged bush cuisine.

She is essentially redefining the cuisine of Zambia and in doing so increasing the chances of local farmers and artisans to thrive.

Stay tuned for news of a book one day.

Africa is gracious and I made many friends in the short time I was there.

Whomever I told that I loved their country and would return, the response was always: “I will wait for you”. 

And I will dream of you.

 

Harvesting Lavender

Aromatherapy In Naramata

I have always held a romantic vision of participating in a lavender harvest. Lucky for me, my friends Karolina and Doug own Forest Green Man Lavender Farm in Naramata, and my wish was granted. It was as splendid as I had imagined, a sensory overload of purpley sights and smells, sunshine, big straw hats, intelligent and fun loving banter with co-workers and even leaping dogs...it was magical. However, after a couple of hours, the thrill of being inside this French-like movie set will slightly dim -- this is still farm work, and it is hard slogging in the heat bent over the rows. Bonus is that you are semi-stoned by the calming natural perfumed aroma and that your sweat smells lovely - yay!

It was fun to harvest alongside one of my Food & Wine Trails Magazine writers and local blogger, Elaine Davidson, who captured this wonderful photo of my experience. Unlike my pitiful three hour shift under the sun, Elaine and her husband were there for three or four days from 6 am to noon cutting bundles. High fives to them and to Doug and Karolina who do this every year. Read more about Elaine's lavender picking experience and her other adventures on her blog: http://naramatablendblog.wordpress.com

Doug was leading the harvest and explained the art of lavender bundling to me, as well as providing details on the growth cycle of the plant all done, of course, with his usual hilarious wit and candor. I have attached that clip below (scroll down past the photos). Unfortunately my lovely pal Karolina was nursing a wrist injury from another power shift extracting the flowers from the stems so we had to force her back into the shop to try and rest. 

Thank you for the lovely experience Doug & Karolina! Another check mark on my life bucket list. XO

Do plan to visit them on the farm. Karolina is also a beautiful artist and has a lovely art gallery upstairs from the treasure loaded gift shop. forestgreenman.com

Photo credit: Elaine Davidson, Naramatablend blog

Photo credit: Elaine Davidson, Naramatablend blog

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The Small lot Wine & Cheese Makers- by the sea

Just back from another whirlwind weekend trip to the Coast! I am the co-organizer of Garagiste North- a wine festival and wine club that specializes in BC small lot (under 2000 case production) wines. Saturday afternoon we held our 2nd Garagiste North Wine Festival at WISE Hall in East Van. Our inaugural festival was held last year at Meyer Family Vineyards in OK Falls. Our foray into Vancouver was a great success and we are looking forward to our next event this year at The Laurel in Kelowna on September 27th. Garagiste North - Small Guys Festival

Besides the Festival, I had two final photo appointments scheduled for the cookbook – one of Chef Andrea Jefferson’s delicious Quince Cake (that I also got to eat - AH-MAZING!) and one of award-winning cheesemaker Debra Amrein-Boyes at her beautiful farm and cheese shop in Agassiz, Farm House Cheese . The farm is located in the District of Kent in the Upper Fraser Valley of BC’s southwest coastal region. This part Fraser Valley’s dynamic farm community offers spectacular views of the green fields and surrounding mountains. Located close to the natural hot springs resort of Harrison Hot Springs, the region boasts: “Steep canyon-like walls along the Harrison River, the heights and crags of Mt. Woodside and Green Mountain and spectacular views of the Cheam Mountain range along the south side of the Fraser River offer spectacular vistas and topographic relief from the vast expanses of our productive farmlands.” (from The District of Kent website).

This is a world-class cheesemaking operation. Debra is one of only 12 people in Western Canada and the US who has been inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, the “Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon” , which recognizes those who protect and continue the tradition of cheesemaking around the world. She has also written a book for home cheesemakers called “200 Easy Homemade Cheeses recipes-From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt”. Congratulations are in order as well as she just won Best Aged Cheddar Cheese for the 2nd year in a row!!

Chef Andrea Jefferson owns Quince, a bright café and cooking school in Vancouver’s beautiful Kits area. With lunch offerings on the menu, all home made and using the best ingredients, she also offers a freezer section with delicious take home dinner options called “Quince Express”. Chef Andrea’s cooking classes are fun and unpretentious, which is why she won a Georgia Straight Best of Vancouver award for Top Places for Casual Cooking Classes. She also offers a delicious mini gourmet shop with supplies for your home kitchen.

Andrea gave me the most delicious sandwich to go – smoked wild sockeye salmon with capers, marinated red onion, cucumber and mayo on house made flax bread. YOM! Can’t wait to go back for another!

 

Debra Amrein-Boyes, award-winning cheese maker from Farmhouse Cheese.

Debra Amrein-Boyes, award-winning cheese maker from Farmhouse Cheese.

Chef Andrea drizzling caramel sauce over her delicious Quince Cake! Recipe in By The Sea :)

Chef Andrea drizzling caramel sauce over her delicious Quince Cake! Recipe in By The Sea :)