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Food and Travel: Tasty Ways to Miss Being in the Dark!

A RHETORICAL question to Zimbabwean readers, but those perusing this piece online might think about it.

Have you had a major power cut lately? If so what did you do to make it seem shorter, more livable with?
When we were without water recently and I booked in at Rainbow Towers for the night, to be able to at least shave, shampoo, shower and…well you know…? Kathy and Larry (“the lawyer”) Norman made fun of the fact at the Innsider Expo, Wild Geese.
“But under the circumstances doesn’t everyone?” I asked.
An ad in the Herald of Total Honesty warned the few of us in the northern suburbs who read it to expect a mammoth Zesa-outage the following Sunday as maintenance was carried out.
We’d have no supply from 8:30am to at least 1830. On leaving for an annual trek to the races at noon, we’d had no more than a 14 minute cut, mid-morning.  It might have been just 14 seconds!   Sitting on the stoep drinking tea, reading, the radio died. I stepped indoors, turning off various plugs and switches to miss being surge-zapped when the utility returned.
Exactly 14 minutes later I answered the phone and heard the fridge/freezer on. I’d forgotten to unplug it.
At Borrowdale races, various folk confirmed they’d been cut off around breakfast; the complex presumably used a huge gen-set as everything worked except lifts.
The HRIB-(formerly Henderson, Rugg Insurance Brokers) sponsored raceday is a not-to-miss event. (Read about it in Sunday’s Standard). Far more than racing happens. Having arrived at 1220, I forced myself to go just before 9pm, the party still swinging lustily.
I crawled into kip — exhausted –– at 9:30; 15 minutes later Zesa crashed. When we have no power, we have no water. The bore-hole pump’s also kaput. For some extraordinary reason Zimbabwean homes have no domestic cold water storage facilities.
On one of the hottest days of the year I went to work after a damp-flannel rub down and shaving from a cup half full of tepid water which happened to be left in a flask. It’s hard to do creative (or any) work in such conditions.
So, probably to the amusement of Larry the lawyer and his spouse, I booked into Meikles Hotel that night, mainly to shave, shower, shampoo…and what not.
Bonus was the prix-fixe table d’hote dinner in a surprisingly full La Fontaine restaurant.
$18 covers starter, mains, pudding, cheese board, coffee and petite-fours: grand value, as the accomplished resident pianist tickled the ivories.
Sadly his silvery sounds were often drowned by the strident American voice of a woman at the next table who made (note didn’t receive: that could possibly be forgiven) at least 16 calls on a Blackberry in under an hour.
I must ask why she didn’t make them before entering the Edwardian-style eatery, or why not leave them (and enjoy her fillet steak) until after dinner?
Candidly not many five-star restaurants would tolerate such behaviour, annoying — as it was — many neighbouring tables
Anyway I enjoyed a good minestrone soup, thick with vegetables and pasta and richly anointed with parmesan cheese which, the next day, would have been great minestrone. Peasant-style broths using leftovers are always better having bubbled and squeaked in the stockpot at least overnight. Other starters were smoked chicken salad or flaky vol-au-vents, filled with mushrooms, cooked in a white sauce.
I was tempted by tempura fried tilapia fillet with parsley potatoes and lemon beurre sauce or aromatic beef curry with rice and sambals, but settled for a fair-sized pork schnitzel on creamy mash, with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, sauerkraut and sauce Robert. It was a superb presentation, tasting delightful. I’d also fancied flambéed pepper fillet steak ($15 a la carte) but didn’t think I’d the appetite for it.
After a little pleasant fresh fruit salad from the retro trundling dessert trolley, I skipped the tempting cheese board, tea or coffee and petite-fours, ready for a really good night’s zizz in one of Meikles luxurious rooms.
The power was off from 9:45 pm Sunday until 3pm Friday: six days (over 135 hours), one of the most frustrating aspects being that Zesa didn’t actually believe we were out for much of that time. It was like a scene from Monty Python:
“Hello, it’s Miller here again…Look here, we’re still without Zesa.”
“Oh no you’re not; we reinstated your area on Tuesday.”
“Oh no you didn’t.”
“Oh yes we did!”
Obviously I couldn’t spend a week in luxury hotels. Other plans were made. Chigubhus were filled at various sports clubs, the water heated by gas.
Reading was out of the question.
My laptop, fully charged at the office, had enough power for a couple of hours’ music or to watch a roughly 90 minute film.
Being in no hurry to reach total darkness (and be told again by Zesa everything was OK!) I dawdled in a club on Thursday, then diverted to Newlands for late supper at Blue Banana.
This is a Thai restaurant, tied-in (pardon the pun) with Baobab Grill steakhouse. I meant to go more for Western cooking, but the tom kha gai soup (described as clear chicken broth) proved to be an opaque Siamese-style chicken and mushroom soup, redolent of lemon grass, coriander, lots of tasty fungus, lemon juice and coconut milk with wonderful flavour and a delightful after-tingle on the palate.
Sitting on the stoep, catching the slightest breeze on a breathless night, main course was a splendidly subtly under-stated medium-strength Thai-style lamb curry (plenty of it) with white rice, a mixed onion and tomato sambal I had a second helping of, great chutney and the Bangkok equivalent of a chapatti.
I was set to skip pudding, until hearing “strawberry surprise”: something heavenly, featuring crushed berries folded into icing sugar, served on a crumbly biscuit base with ice-cream and strawberry coulis.
Soup, mains, pudding, three local lagers $27. (They also serve a splendid $10 three-course credit crunch lunch.)
Blue Banana/Baobab Grill, Newlands SC. Tel 252269/75. Open lunch Monday to Friday; supper Monday to Saturday.



Dusty Miller

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