Sunday, June 19, 2016

Midwinter Festival

It’s almost midwinter and the rain that has been lashing down on our tin roof all day is a welcome relief in a country where you spend the first half of winter worrying about the rains not having started properly yet, where dams are still alarmingly empty after the summer drought, where we are all too dependent on a borehole, and a falling water table is a potential disaster. So rain = good.

Except that earlier this week, when a drenching cold front was forecast for yesterday, the date of this year’s winter festival, we were a little bit ungrateful. Luckily the weather angels moved it back a bit; so yesterday the bonfire building, the making of lanterns, the filling of brown paper bags with sand for candles were done under grey blustery skies, the strong wind worrying cautious elders; should we be lighting a big bonfire with forceful gusts ready to carry sparks all over the place?

But the angels had this taken care of too. We decided to keep going with the usual plans, bonfire, braai fire, tables and food carried outside, and once it was dark and we were ready to carry out our lanterns, the wind eased; not completely but enough for it to be fun sitting outside around a bonfire, so that kids with colds could stay out long enough for sparklers and soups, so that we could be thoroughly smoked, and even catch a glimpse of the almost full moon appearing behind scudding clouds.

Our kids are all teens now, but there are still several younger kids to take up the torch of eager excitement and anticipation, to run around in the dark and get a thrill from sparklers and legalised pyromania.

A new highlight this year was the beautiful origami phoenix, made by a 10-year-old friend especially for the festival, to be set ablaze ceremoniously.

It was so meticulously folded with such intricate detail that we were all loathe to see it go up in smoke, but Leo was determined that that was what he’d made it for.

It proved harder to set alight than expected.. he and his sister tried a sparkler applied to its tail, which started to catch and then fizzled out. So he took it over to the bonfire on its stick and dunked it right in to the flames, after which it blazed in spectacular style.

(No-one has been out to the fire remains yet today to see if a phoenix egg has been left among the ashes... but I guess it would be a paper origami egg and so would be now sodden in the rain!)

The original inspiration for our festival, conceived 14 years ago when we’d just moved out from London with two young children, was to indulge in all the winter highlights that otherwise fall in summer here in the southern hemisphere. So the bonfire and sparklers from the UKs Guy Fawkes night, the mulled wine and lanterns from English Christmases and any other fire themed extravaganzas that inspired anyone along the way. The festivals have evolved to be an occasion to gather with friends, to give thanks for the gifts of the season, to connect with the flow of the year and each other. And to feast, run about madly and catch up with friends.

When the kids were younger and several families of friends slept over, they’d be out by the embers of the bonfire at first light next morning, making new mini fires from any still glowing coals. This year we woke to the rain and the damper of high school exams tomorrow, with studying to be done. But there are still the joys of a lunch of extravagant leftovers, a fire to bit lit in the fireplace and maybe once studying is done a movie snuggled on the sofa.

Last year's winter festival.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sourdough Bread Baking Class

My first loaf of sourdough baked at home
Baking bread is something I do several times a week to keep us in school sandwiches. It’s usually white bread nowadays because the kids prefer it, sometimes wholewheat to salve my health conscience. A long time ago it used to be a rye mix and I even developed my own recipe that the Camphill baker of that day adopted, but in all these years I’ve only once tried baking sourdough. It was rejected by the family wholesale and I never had the will to keep baking against the tide of public opinion. Even though I like sourdough bread and all I’ve read about it says that the sourdough process makes gluten and wheat that much more digestible and nutritious.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when Camphill Village decided they would do two classes at their market, one of which was in the bakery learning about sourdough. Camphill Village is a residential farm community for adults with intellectual disabilities just down the road from us, I write for their website and social media and go to most markets, so it was the perfect opportunity to expand my bread baking skills.

Originally the classes were planned as short one hour introductions, but from the minute the six of us walked into the bakery it was clear that Max was an enthusiastic teacher, full of stories that would take more than an hour to share. Plus we were going to bake our own loaves.

Max describing how sourdough works

Meeting the two sourdough starters

We were introduced to the 14 year old starter that has been powering Camphill bread for all this time, nicknamed The Legend, which sits bubbling gently to itself in a cool place in between bakings. It’s fed with flour and water each time some is used and just keeps on regenerating and gaining in strength and maturity. There was a younger 4 year old starter too, much more feisty and bubbly.

Left: The feisty younger starter  Right: the more mature Legend

Max explained the whole process with lots of illustrative stories – you can’t rush sourdough baking, to get the best flavour the sourdough enzymes and the flour need time to get together and get to know each other in a relaxed way. It’s clear that sourdough is more of an intuitive process than a set of rules and Max was teaching us to feel our way with it. We smelled the starters, and tasted the first stage mixture which had been mellowing overnight to be ready for us.

 Camphill bake in large quantities with an industrial mixer, so we were working in proportions rather than quantities per loaf. The first stage mixture went first into the huge bowl, then the flour and enough salt to offset the tang of the sourdough starter (don’t let the salt get too close to the starter, mix it in with the flour, Max advised, as they fight to see who’s boss) Then add the water and the mixing begins. Seven minutes at most is what it needs, but we stop and check it after 2 minutes to see if it’s the right consistency, adding flour as we’d been too generous with the water (as a rule it’s better not to add flour after the mixing has started, to rather go easy on the water, but it’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong).

Another simple rule of thumb from Max: if the weather is hot enough to wear short sleeves use cold water, if you need to wear long sleeves use warm water.

Once the dough was mixed it was time to leave it to rest. We were hungry by now and dived into the selection of bakery treats put out for us to taste: excellent hot cross buns, rusks and biscuits. Our brains reeling with information overload, we piled back out to the market to shop at the stalls, and I found that Peter had kept me a lovely edition of a Georgette Heyer at his second-hand book stall, always some bargains to find there.

Learning how to shape a free-form loaf

Back in the bakery it was time to shape our loaves. Something new I learned is never to pull off hunks of dough at this stage, but rather to cut pieces off, as the dough has already been worked enough and it doesn’t like overstretching. A floury surface and gently folding the dough over to firm out air bubbles round and round, using palms rather than fingers. Sealing the join, turning it over and easing into a good shape for a free form loaf baked on a tray.

Not my loaf, the cuts here are deep enough

The hardest bit for me was slashing into the dough with a sharp knife, to let air out and give the loaf room to expand. My cuts were too tentative, as I discovered after baking when my crust has risen sky-high at one end with a huge bubble of air underneath.

The next stage was proving on the trays in the steamy proving cabinet. And finally the trays were wheeled across to the industrial oven and baked.

We had another break to relax in the market at this stage and re-assembled just as the market was closing, when our loaves came out of the oven and we all hurried to identify our individual masterpieces.

These we got to take home, and even better, a reason in itself to attend the course, we were each given 500g of the Legend starter to take home with us so that we could carry on baking under our own steam.

Bubbly starter to take home
 Previously I’d thought that the upkeep of a sourdough starter was a bit of a chore. In a lovely novel by Sarah-Kate Lynch By Bread Alone, which hums with the tang of a sourdough starter, practically another character in its own right, the protagonist feeds her starter religiously every day and bakes a loaf each morning. But Max assured us it could keep quite happily in the fridge even for months in between bakings.

I baked my first loaf at home yesterday, very tentative, trying to remember everything from the class, looking at the quantity notes I’d jotted down, but not too sure if I’d got it right. It was a coolish day and all the risings took longer than they had at the bakery, but the end result wasn’t at all bad. I’d got the proportion of salt wrong and put in too much, but it’s still edible and the texture is just right, so I’m feeling like I’m getting somewhere. The family ate it and, apart from it being rather salty, liked it. Next loaf coming soon with half the salt!

So thanks to Max and Camphill Village!

Here you can see all the things that I got wrong: big air bubble, split side, uneven browning but it's not bad for first try!

If you are local to Cape Town and are interested, there will be a repeat of the bread baking class, as well as the class in the cosmetics workshop about essentials oils, at the next market on 1st May. You do need to book as there are limited places. Details  here 

Full disclosure - I do the social media for Camphill Village and was invited on the course free of charge, but there was no requirement to carry on baking at home!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Matric Nostalgia and a New Website

A request for a picture of our son’s first day of school came through last week. It’s his Matric farewell dance coming up in April (how did that happen?! Our son is in his final year of school already?!), so we’ve been plunged into a flood of nostalgia going through the ancient archives of pictures on our computers. Sighing and aahing (the kids too not just us!) over how cute they were, little girls in princess dresses, gap-toothed and sparkly eyed, our son dressed as a cowboy, a native American Indian, an army soldier, a pirate, round cheeked with a big smile. Of course we haven’t found a single picture of the first day of school. So he has a choice – in what role does he want to feature at his Matric dance – pirate or Indian, cowboy or army dude?

When I started this blog, coming up for ten years ago, the kids featured a lot – it was never specifically a mommy blog, but they got in on almost every post. Then at some point I felt that it was time to step back a bit and leave them out of the spotlight. The focus shifted to farm life and food, and always our festivals. But I don’t regret a word of those early posts documenting them as small kids – it’s my photo album, my journal, a place where all those funny moments and sayings have been preserved…in lieu of that proper photo album, which I’m always meaning to put together, but haven’t yet achieved.

That nostalgia for past cuteness is a strange thing. I wouldn’t for a minute turn the clock back, as that would mean turning my back on the amazing, interesting individuals they’ve grown into as teenagers, but it’s hard not to feel a little sad that all those baby and little kid days are behind us. Now I know why moms start agitating for grandchildren the minute their kids leave home! Anyway right now we’re in full on teenage mode ever since Youngest turned 13 last year and we went shopping for her first high heels for the Grade 7 farewell. Middle Daughter pointed out that her younger sister got high heels before she did, which didn’t seem right, so she compensated by getting the silveriest strappy high heels possible for the school’s Valentine’s dance. But enough, I said I'd taken the spotlight off them and it’s starting to reflect back in a myriad of highlights from glitter and sparkling nail polish.

My blog has become rather thin on the ground lately, I know. Is anyone still reading this? Anyone? I know Marcheline will stop by sooner or later, and my Mum, but quite understand if everyone else is off reading someone who actually posts more frequently! The reason/excuse is that I’ve been writing so much more for work as a freelance writer over the last couple of years that the last thing I feel like doing on weekends is sitting back down at the computer again.

I’ve been a regular contributor to Neighbourhood, a lifestyle and property supplement in South Africa’s Sunday Times, since it started up in July last year. I’m writing about food: restaurants, cafes, artisan bakeries, chocolate, anything and everything to do with food in the Cape Town area and it’s been great. Sometimes I get to review fine dining restaurants, other times it’s a new deli or cafĂ©. And then there are interviews with all sorts of new businesses that aren’t food related, or spotlights on a suburb of Cape Town, chatting to residents about what it’s like to live there. I fully intended to write up separate blog posts here to share the experiences… but that’s up there in the realistic stakes with my plan to create a family photo album. But here's the news: my husband has built me a new website as a portfolio for my writing work, and I’ve got a Facebook page to go with it.

So if there’s nothing new to read here, and you feel like a glimpse of the Cape Town food scene, head over there. Or if it's the farm and family life that you want more of why not go back into my archives and share the retrospective mood that I've been indulging in.

I’ve just been re-reading my blog posts from 2006 (getting diverted from writing this post by all those vivid memories brought back from ten years ago) and I’m feeling slightly damp-eyed and nostalgic all over again. For my kids and all those little details that I would have forgotten if I hadn’t blogged them; for the early days of blogging when it was a whole community thing, when I made new friends, and we commented on each others blogs regularly, some of those friends I’m still in touch with today, some still blogging, others just on Facebook; and for those crazy days of being a full time mother with three small kids.

So a shout out to all those early bloggers of 2006 and to others who started a year or two later like Marcheline of Mental Meatloaf, and who are running with the baton in the true spirit of blogging now that some of us oldies are flagging. And a special mention to Corey of Tongue in Cheek, who started blogging just before I did and who has posted EVERY SINGLE DAY for the last 10 or more years, delighting followers with French brocante, gorgeous pictures and stories of family life in France. I wouldn't be doing what I do today if it hadn't been for my blog and I'd have missed out on knowing some lovely people! I feel like starting a retro blog meme all of a sudden, any takers?!

Thursday, January 21, 2016


The donkey on the last quarter of Christmas cake looks comfortably cool with his hooves plunged in snowy icing, isolated under the cake dome in another world… the very opposite of the rest of us, sweltering in South Africa’s current heatwave. There’s something not quite right about the conjunction of Christmas cake and forty degrees of sunshine, to me at least with childhood memories of Christmas cake gobbled up beside a roaring fire.

We still eat it, trundling in from the school run, dumping heavy bags and getting out homework (school has started for real now, despite the heat) because it’s delicious and we can’t resist, but a rich, heady fruit cake isn’t the ideal teatime treat, when the only comfortable place after about nine in the morning is in the swimming pool. What we should be eating are luscious, chilled  slices of juicy watermelon, or home-made ice-cream, smoothies thick with frozen berries from the garden... (we do have those too, but we're stubbornly diligent about making our way through the last of the cake.

Our straw bale walls keep the worst of the heat at bay for at least half of the day, but by late afternoon we are desperate to fling open doors and windows, and only the still fierce heat outside makes us wait just a bit longer for the promise of a cooler evening breeze. On days like this the only thing to do is get most of the work done in the morning, so that when the heat overwhelms the brain with sluggishness you feel justified in collapsing with a book beside a fan, or seek relief in car air-conditioning by heading out on the school run.

Everything's dry, dry, dry, the moles looking for moisture by the sprinkler. Can you feel the wall of heat?

We scan the weather forecast several times a day, elated when heavy rain is forecast for Saturday, frustrated and disappointed when the forecast shifts and offers a measly light drizzle as an alternative, then later loses any hope of rain at all. Two degrees lower is cause for celebration, not concerned that 38C is still darn hot… it’s a reprieve from the horror of 40C and upwards and we cling to faint hopes.

On the bright side it’s still cooling down at night most nights. In the small hours before dawn cooler air flows from somewhere magical and trickles in through an open window, so that we pull a thin sheet over ourselves with the luxury of snuggling under something. When we wake properly at 5.30 or 6 the first thing to do is run around the house opening every single window at its widest to fill the house with that coolness before it dissipates over the next two hours.

The best place to lie in the middle of the day

The toughest thing to judge is exactly what point to run around shutting them all again – is that breeze still cool, or is it getting warmer than inside now? Get it wrong, sit at the computer too long and forget to close the windows, and the house fills up with hot dryness again and there is no getting away from it. Then, once the sun has dipped below the hill and I can bear to cook supper, we eat outside lingering at the table until it’s dark, long after the kids have cleared their plates and disappeared off, because finally we’re cool and the house is still too hot inside for the sofa to hold any appeal.

Most summers we have a period like this, but in recent memory it has been only a few days, here and there, perhaps a short spell in November and again in February and March. This is the first year that we’ve been here that the heat has been something to endure over a long period of time.

With the whole country groaning under drought conditions, we are luckier than many. We have water. Though our vegetable garden is drying out and producing very little, we are able to keep our trees alive.

The gleanings of a dried out veggie garden

There are almonds to harvest, tomatoes to pick up off dried out plants and make sauce with, the last few mielies (corn) to pick. The leeks have gone to flower and make weird and wonderful summer flower arrangements. .And when I head to school to fetch the kids and nip into the local town for the bank or shops, it’s right on the beach and the temperature drops to a blessed 28C, pleasant summer hot, beach weather.

All we can do is pray for enough rain to fill depleted dams, for it to fall where farmers need it most, and where firefighters need its help. (Scary fires are raging in the wine farm area of Simonsberg, there was a bad one up near Elgin and another in the Cedarberg, the list goes on, the land is so dry that bush fires start at the merest spark)

Here’s hoping for temperatures to ease off to more bearable levels, so that we can grumble about something else for a change, like the free-falling rand, for instance!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chicken Pie Recipe

A couple of years ago, in honour of a birthday present Le Creuset pie dish, I made a chicken pie that finally ticked all the boxes for my kids. Attempts back in the mists of time had left half the family lukewarm and, let’s face it, if you’re going to all the effort of making a chicken pie from scratch you want a few wows, some applause, at the very least a series of ‘yums’ running around the table. Finally however I’d found the right recipe for my family, creamy enough without being too rich, not too dry, no weird / scary vegetables lurking in the depths. That was a while back now and recently I started getting some less than subtle hints from the kids that they’d like another taste of that chicken pie.

A few weeks ago,  I finally had a few days without major writing deadlines, when I could abandon the computer early without a qualm, so I went looking for that chicken pie recipe as a starting point. Could I remember where I’d found it? I searched here on my blog, because if a recipe is that good the safest place to record it for posterity has to be here... only the failures came to light. Nigella’s pot pies may have wowed her children, but mine evidently have different tastes. I went back into Facebook archives to see if I’d mentioned it there. No joy. Finally I dusted off some recipe books languishing at the back of the pile under the kitchen counter (possibly two years worth of dust, it was hard to tell!) and finally found my source in Gordon Ramsay’s Cooking for Friends, given to me on the same birthday as the pie dish. I hadn’t followed the recipe to the letter, but it was what I’d based my successful pie on, so I was in business.

What I like about this recipe is that it uses the minimum of pots, just one in fact plus the pie dish, so you don’t end up with piles of washing up, and you could prepare most of it in advance quite easily and just post the pie into the oven in time for supper, if you were ever that organised. It’s also easy enough to substitute any vegetables that your kids find acceptable instead of the original mushrooms and baby onions that Gordon advises. I ended up using roughly chopped onions, carrots and potatoes because that was what I had, but peas could easily replace the carrots and, if I were making it for adults, leeks and mushrooms would be perfect too. Plus it’s relatively quick, apart from leaving things to cool before putting it all together.

Because I can see myself searching frantically  for the recipe again in another two years time, I’m posting my version here as a permanent reminder.

Chicken Pie Recipe

800ml chicken stock
2 sprigs thyme and bay leaf
500-600g chicken breasts
300g onion roughly chopped
200g vegetables chopped (potatoes, peas, carrots, leeks or mushrooms)
50g butter
50g flour
100ml milk or cream
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons water
Pastry made from 250g flour / 125g butter / 6 tablespoons iced water or enough ready-made pastry to line top and bottom of a 23cm pie dish

Bring chicken stock to a simmer and poach the chicken breasts in it with the herbs for 10-12 minutes until cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. Then chop into bite-size pieces.

Add onions to stock and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the rest of the vegetables according to size so that they are all cooked to al dente tenderness at same time. Remove to a plate to cool.

Boil the stock until it has reduced to about 1 ½ - 2 cups in volume. Tip it into a jug.

Melt the butter in the pot. Stir in the flour to make a thick paste. Keep stirring for about 3 minutes to cook the flour. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring in thoroughly until you have a thick smooth sauce.

Add the milk or cream, stir well and simmer, stirring often until the sauce is thick and creamy.

Mix together the chopped chicken, cooked veggies and sauce and leave to cool completely.

Line a 23cm pie dish with pastry. Add cooled filling in an even layer.

Beat up the egg yolk with water to make an egg wash. Brush a little around the edge of the pastry. Put the top layer of pastry on, trim and crimp the edges. Cut a cross in the middle. Use any trimmings to make decorative leaves to go on the lid if you wish. Brush the whole top with the egg wash.

Bake at 200C/400F for approx 35 minutes until the top is golden and the the filling is bubbling.

 Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Garam Masala Recipe

Once quite by chance I bought the perfect garam masala mix. It was aromatic and light, but also had warm depth, the whole spectrum of spicy notes, high and low. Several favourite recipes became dependent on it... and then I finished the packet. And couldn’t find the same brand again, anywhere. I tried other brands but they were disappointing, with the subtlety and shading of a brick. Eventually after many requests for that spicy bean soup, whose vital ingredient was garam masala, I did what I should have done ages before, I googled garam masala recipes, found two which sounded right and made my own.

There is no such thing as a standard garam masala in India. Every family has their own combination of spices, some more aromatic, some milder, some hotter. So it’s up to you to find the balance that suits you. For me that was aromatic and relatively mild, enough pepper to tickle the taste buds but not enough to sear them, and chilli an optional extra to add to an individual recipe later. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg provide the aromatics; black pepper, cumin, coriander and ginger the heat and depth.

The recipes I used as a guide were both Punjabi ones, advising you to dry the spices in the sun, once you’ve cleaned them all carefully. It was winter when I was making this, so I took the alternative option and lightly roasted the spices in a hot pan, one spice at a time, so that the smaller seeds didn’t burn. Then once they’d cooled, all I had to do was grind them up in the coffee grinder and inhale the gorgeous aromas.

(TIP: unless you like your coffee chai scented, you might need to grind a few coffee beans and discard them to get rid of all the spice oils before returning the grinder to coffee duty!)

So this is what I used for mine. Feel free to create your own version of garam masala and customise your Indian recipes. I’m never going to buy ready made garam masala ever again, that’s for sure.


½ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup cumin seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 sticks cinnamon
4 bay leaves
1 nutmeg

Other things you can add: 1 star anise, 1 inch dried ginger, mace.

Once you’ve ground up the spices, store them in an air-tight jar and use within a few months, otherwise they lose their aroma and you might as well have bought that sadly flat, dull brand from the supermarket.

Two favourite recipes that are totally dependent on really good garam masala: my Persian bean soup, and Madhur Jaffrey’s sag aloo.

P.S. Just in case you’ve been wondering where I was in August (thinking of you here, Marcheline, as my most attentive reader!), it was somewhere exciting and I’ve got a ton of photos to sort through before I share some of it here... hint, there were huge sand dunes and lots of wildlife.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Seapoint Research Trip with Chocolate

Serendipity on a plate at My Sugar
There are two sorts of days when you write for a living. The ones where you sit at your computer all day, um, writing...  plus the ones where the entire day goes by at your computer not actually writing anything publishable, (make that three sorts), but sending out endless emails to people that you need information or images from with  frequent lapses onto Facebook just to distract you from the fact that not a single word has been written, apart from all those email words which don’t count towards your word count.

And then there are, very occasionally, days like today. Golden days. Days that start out with one plan and end up serendipitously turning into something else. Today we had a client meeting in town at 10, which I planned on following up with a quick drive around Seapoint in Cape Town, to research background for an article that has a looming deadline. So I dressed for a casual meeting,one step up from my work at home winter uniform of jeans and fleece jacket, and headed out with my husband (we work as a team for our web clients) into a sunny but very windy winter day driving along the N7 to town, long views of Table Mountain all the way.

Then just as we hit the N1 he gets a call to cancel the meeting, one partner called away the other one keeping the business going single handed, can we postpone?

So suddenly the whole morning lies ahead of us and all of Seapoint to research. Our first port of call is a little cafe called My Sugar that opened recently and that I will review for another article later on. I’d originally planned on just a quick look in today, but now with no meeting and Patrick desperate for coffee, we grab a table and I settle in to tasting... chocolates. Yes my best... and if ten o’clock in the morning ought to be too early who cares, chocolate is always chocolate and this is the real deal. I’m not going to review it here yet because I need to save the drum rolls for my print article, but suffice to say that if you love good chocolate and good coffee, you have to go there and taste for yourself.

Two perfect chocolates on a plate at My Sugar
Back to the car and ready to go exploring we find ourselves in the road a friend now lives in. On the off-chance we phone to see if she’s around, to find her kicking her heels at home between the arrival of various electricians and window fitters, with plenty of time to chat. A cup of tea and catch up are followed by a personalized guided tour of the back streets of Seapoint, gathering way more detail and local gossip than will ever fit into my article but so much more interesting with a life-long local to show you around than to go researching on your own.

We headed up to the heights of Fresnaye where huge houses are worth multiple millions (R60 million for some), and where stunning views out over the ocean or up behind at the mountain are enjoyed by security watchmen and builders, while absent foreign owners are off enjoying somewhere else’s sunshine. Then we descended to lower levels where the air is less rarefied and more suitable for mere mortals to breathe, muddled along Main Road, pottered along the promenade and went to gaze at the lone swimmer doing lengths in the Pavilion swimming pool, where the temperature was advertised at 13C today, one degree warmer than the ocean. Everyone I'd previously spoken to about Seapoint had told me that it’s got the best weather and is much less windy than the City Bowl. Well today was the day that proved the exception to the rule. The wind was blowing in earnest, palm trees having a bad hair day, but the sun was shining and those veteran die-hard swimmers aren’t deterred by such considerations as comfort.

Seapoint Pavilion - salt water pools with the ocean behind
By then after so much leisurely and pleasurable dawdling, school pick up time was nagging at our thoughts. Far from our West Coast stomping grounds with dog food to buy, petrol to put in and three kids to collect, we relinquished the urban vibe, calculated that our whole farm with four houses on it would probably not even buy us a two bedroom flat here and pointed the car to Melkbos.

And as this was a day of being a food writer and food trucks are one of the current Cape Town food happenings not to be ignored, we patronised our I love Melkies food truck for the first time for a late lunch (I was slightly jittery on caffeine and chocolate by this time) and had a very enjoyable toasted bagel with scrambled egg and red onion for me and a real proper hot dog for him with red onion, gherkins and sweet chilli sauce. Definitely a good street food experience to be repeated.

I Love Melkies food truck in Melkbosstrand

Now I’ve got enough notes to write my Seapoint article, an almost written review and a whole blog post out of my day, I feel energised and well fed both physically and mentally, and it was great having my husband along for the adventure too, all thanks to the postponed client meeting. Here's to many more research trips with him along as driver and co-ordinator!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our Winter Festival Over the Years

Christmas in summer still doesn’t feel quite right for me, even though my kids have grown up with it. Sunshine, salads and a cold lunch are quite normal for them, though they always prefer it when it’s cool enough for roast potatoes to go with the turkey. So when we first got here we came up with the idea of cramming some of those wonderful winter traditions from my English childhood, sparklers and bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, mulled wine and lanterns at Christmas, into one big celebration of winter.

That first festival back in 2002 revolved around making lanterns and carrying them on sticks in a procession to create our circle (the circle that is now the centre of all our festivals). We then came back down the hill to light a huge bonfire and drank mulled wine. I think we had sparklers that time, if not then certainly by the next winter they had been added to the essential ingredients list, along with soups and boerewors rolls and an avenue of lights made from tea light candles in brown paper bags.

When the kids were smaller the most exciting thing about the evening was being able to run around outside in the dark, while the adults stood around the bonfire warming hands on mugs of mulled wine. Now the older ones have graduated to sitting around the fire watching sparks fly, though nobody has quite got too old for a sparkler or two, and licensed pyromania retains its allure.

Our festival a couple of weeks ago heralded the winter holidays and was a really lovely one. We had new friends join us and the kids did most of the preparation work themselves, with teams  decorating the archway,  filling bags with sand for the candlelit pathway and the boys building the bonfire. The Malawian couple who live on the farm joined us for the first time, intrigued by the whole idea, as in the days leading up to the festival Simon had been working on clearing some of the restios that were gradually overgrowing the sandpit.

Lanterns lit and ready for the procession to the circle

 The chilly wind died down while we were busy making lanterns inside and by the time the sun had gone and we were lighting the lanterns it was almost warm and completely still, the moon well up and the Venus Jupiter conjunction bright in the night sky. It really was magical as we sat in the circle, read our blessings and the vision prayer and coaxed the kids into singing.

Then a few of us rushed to the house to bring the soups and mulled wine out, others put a match to the bonfire and the men started braaiing the sausages around a smaller fire. We had a fine array of soups from butternut to lentil, chicken to beef and barley, as well as a bean stew. Two huge plaited loaves disappeared without any trouble and there were still boeri rolls for those with any room left. We were all loath to leave the fire so it was late before we eventually moved indoors for puddings, some of the littlest having already fallen asleep on the sofa inside, though signs of life returned once the scent of pudding was in the air.

Look for the Venus Jupiter conjunction just over our heads.

Licensed pyromania

Altogether a wonderful festival leaving us all feeling re-connected, to the turn of the seasons, to the earth and to each other.

Read more about our winter festival and building the bonfire