Saturday, February 28, 2015

Design Indaba Expo 2015 - Beads on a Necklace

So many beautiful things and eyes only big enough to hold a part of it!
Design Indaba Expo really needs to be visited several times to be able to take it all in. If you’re like me and prone to overwhelm after a couple of hours, there’s just no way of seeing and appreciating everything.

I went this morning with my sister-in-law, who has worked in the craft and design industry for many years and knows lots of people involved. Our morning turned out like a string of beads on a necklace, stories and beautiful objects interlaced to create a very personal impression of the whole. I'll share a few of the beads that grabbed my eye and ear and leave the birds-eye comprehensive picture to others with more experience of the scene.

So much depends on the random direction you take at the beginning of an exhibition, that first half hour when you are fresh and full of interest in everything reaps the most enthusiasm and excitement. After three hours when feet are tired and brain overloaded, you hardly notice things that would have delighted you earlier.

My first memory bead is made up of these gorgeous fabric designs by Design Team – lovely colours, modern African imagery.

 Then stunning mohair weaves and dyes from Hinterveld in the Eastern Cape – soft 75% mohair. My SIL fell in love with a rich blue blanket, tie dyed with a ripple pattern and one of a kind that was on sale having been made as a private label for a company that never took it up.

Touchee Feelee’s stunning hand-painted images digitally printed on to top quality fabric really stood out, even among a sea of other cushion and fabric creations.

Then I came across a project I’ve been reading about online recently– the EcoBrick Exchange, who are aiming to build a school in the Eastern Cape with their stunningly simple idea of combining recycling and sustainable building by using plastic soda bottles stuffed full of non-recyclable inorganic waste, as building materials. They are also making shelves, furniture and all sorts from these free building blocks and need more sustained funding and support to get their school completed.

And I was in awe of this floating ceiling of books at the Book Exchange, which is raising funds by selling and accepting donations of pre-loved books to provide a library for a local primary school.

 Perhaps my favourite single piece of the day, because its concept to me encompasses life the universe and everything, was this turned wood potjie pot sculpture. The potjie pot is such an iconic South African everyday item and here it is an exact replica made in wood, but if you look inside there’s an astronaut floating in space in the base and tiny cave paintings all the way around. It’s called FuturePast  by Mlonolozi Hempe and Atang Tshikare. The photos really don't do it justice or show the tactile nature of the wood grain - I just loved it. More about the collaboration and better photos of the piece here.

 A story all by itself is the Dreams for Africa Chair. A true icon, this is a chair that has travelled and been photographed with all sort of famous people and ordinary people all round the world. Created by beading project Woza Moya, it developed wings and an independent spirit of its own and now, after being an ambassador for South Africa for several years, it has been purchased by a collector who will give it an honourable place to rest its wings. We talked for ages to Paula Thomson, who was the project co-ordinator and the chair's guardian, and there is something of the mythical and other worldly about the whole story.

 The last bead that shines brightly came from Monkeybiz . Last year’s Design Indaba brought them to the attention of the Haas Brothers which has culminated in the dynamic collaboration at GUILD that I wrote about in my last post. We chatted to Joan Krupp, who was bubbling with energy after a visit to the stand from Rosita Missoni, who at 84 is still full of energy and had just given an inspiring talk at the DI Conference. The dynamic founder of Italian fashion and design company Missoni was comparing the intricate bead designs of Monkeybiz lions and animals to the knitwear patterns that made Missoni’s name and was really taken with the Monkeybiz menagerie.

So exciting to feel that Cape Town is attracting international figures of this stature – it really is a world design capital in fact as well as name!

Tomorrow, Sunday 1st March is the last day of Design Indaba Expo, so if you're in Cape Town get along to the CTICC. You'll make a thousand discoveries, probably all different from mine and come away dazzled with beauty and colour.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monkeybiz and Haas Brothers Collaboration in Cape Town

Cape Town is a happening place for design and craft. Not for nothing was it Design Capital of the Year last year, which for me culminated in the Make It New exhibition, where beading, recycled crafts, ceramics and sculpture rubbed shoulders with cutting edge furniture and fabric design. Now we’re all looking forward to seeing what’s in store for us at Design Indaba Expo and the GUILD international design fair both starting this week in Cape Town.

I was asked to write a preview article for a Cape Town Sunday supplement interviewing a few of the exhibitors, which came out yesterday. There wasn’t nearly enough space to include the full story that Kate Carlyle of Monkeybiz told me about their exciting work and I agonised all the while as I cut it to the essence. So I thought it would be great to share it with you whole and uncut here.

Monkeybiz have been working in collaboration with cutting edge LA designers The Haas Brothers on some fabulously funky creature creations for GUILD, which opens 25th Feb till 1st March. Over to Kate to hear more about it:

A Monkeybiz bead AFREAKS creation

Monkeybiz was born in 2000 with the goals of alleviating poverty and empowering women to become breadwinners within their communities, to revive the art of beadwork bringing back the traditional method and contemporising design and colour, and the third goal has been to provide a platform for beaders to become more than crafters and enter the realm of the individual ranked artist.

Tell us about your collaboration with the Haas brothers for GUILD 2015. What was the aim for this project?
We met Simon and Nikolai Haas at the Design Indaba Expo 2014 when they were exhibiting at Guild. Our first encounter was when they came to our stand and were excited and blown away by the Monkeybiz story, our colours, designs and unique pieces.  Simon and Niki are amazing artists who find inspiration in the smallest detail and managed to see great potential for a collaboration with Monkeybiz.

The aim, certainly for Monkeybiz, in working with The Haas Bothers has been to stretch and extend our capabilities and potentials, to use techniques and methods learnt in workshops from visiting artists, and to move from the craft -only world into the Art realm. Monkeybiz is honoured to work with such phenomenal, generous and stimulating mentors as Simon and Niki, who have been incredible with their openness and extensive knowledge.  This is the first major collaboration with such prestigious artists where Monkeybiz has been given the opportunity to launch their talented beaders.

The birth of the Haas SISTAS became a reality!!

How long have you been working on it? What was the process?
We first made contact with Nikolai and Simon Haas in February 2014, when the conversation started on the collaboration. In July we were sent drawings and had our first major conversation on really getting down and dirty.  There was no particular format we could follow as the works are weird , crazy, fantastical, amusing pieces created with humour and imagination…they are called AFREAKS…Starting with a drawing we had to make frames and just start! ….the process was completely collaborative…with almost daily phone calls and photographs of our progress, so that the Brothers could give us their commentary and feedback.  Amazingly, they have been so generous to allow the Haas Sistas to use their own imaginations and interpretations to blossom through the work.

Did your beaders develop new styles or techniques for this collaboration? How much creative input did they have?
Serendipitously 2014 was the year of Monkeybiz workshops for the 450 beaders we have on our register! And two of these workshops given by two world renowned beaders were about 3D beading.  Monkeybiz has revived the art of beadwork in South Africa, where we have taken the traditional form of beading which is a flat beading technique and given it 3D form.  BUT with the workshops we learnt to bead making shapes and forms with no armatures, only with the strength of the bead and thread.

This new collaboration has extended this process to a new level ….Together with the patterns and mathematical brain of Nikolai Haas, shapes have exploded forth, and confidence for many “mistakes” have given the pieces movement and texture. The Haas Brothers have joined hands with the Haas Sistas and allowed an enormous amount of creative input from each artist with very few limitations.

How did your two very different design sensibilities work together?
Because of the mindfulness of Simon and Nikolai of the personal lives of each Sista and the particular specialities and techniques of every person, a great understanding was born for all of us. As the Haas Sistas we were excited to stretch our imaginations and try the New, the Odd, the wonderful…it has been very liberating

Is this a one-off project or are there plans for the future?
No we all have BIG PLANS for the future

You are also exhibiting at the Design Indaba Expo. What can visitors look forward to seeing there?
At the Design Indaba we will be introducing our new range of animals and creatures, Poodles, Dachshunds, Baboons and Porcupines….in stunning new colours and designs………..
The Haas Brother collaboration will be exhibited at the same time through Guild ….incredible and exciting times.

What are you waiting for?! If you're in Cape Town go and see for yourself!

GUILD International Design Fair
The Lookout, cnr Granger Bay Boulevard and Dock Rd, V&A Waterfront.
Wed 25th Feb-Sunday 1st March

Design Indaba Expo
27th Feb-1st March
And here's an interview with the Haas Brothers about the project.

Free Art and Design Week Shuttle
Travel easily between CTICC and the GUILD Design Fair via the VandA Waterfront on a free shuttle, every 30 minutes from 10h30 till 19h30. 26th Feb-1st March.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ginger Nuts Recipe

There’s something about ginger nuts. Nowhere near as glamorous as a chocolate biscuit, lacking the festive credentials of shortbread or the kid-appeal of Zoo biscuits, the ginger nut has nevertheless held its own in the biscuit barrel for more than 100 years, sneaking into the shopping basket even when times are tough and choccy biccies beyond the budget.

It’s plain enough to be an everyday, morning cup of tea dunking biscuit, perhaps that’s its secret, and its humble unassuming demeanour conceals a spicy punch to the palate.

Recently I was feeling restless, wanting to bake something different, but nothing too fancy. Ginger was the flavour on my mind, and riffling through my recipe books I came across Delia Smith’s recipe for Ginger Nuts. Instant decision. No weird ingredients, all pantry staples and easy to throw together.

I did wonder how close they’d be to the classic packet ginger nut, but they came out winners all round. Same crackle creviced top, good crunchy bite, dunk well and taste every bit as gingery.

The best thing is that being home-made they don’t have any hidden ‘bad’ ingredients – no e-numbers or questionable fats And the other best thing is that they are far more substantial and satisfying than a packet biscuit, so you don’t end up scoffing half the packet in one sitting.

I took one look at the recipe and doubled up the ingredients,  so if you don’t have a hungry flock of starlings to feed and are restrained in your ginger nut consumption feel free to halve the quantities back again.

Ginger Nuts recipe
220g / 8oz plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
2 rounded teaspoons ground ginger
80g / 3oz brown or white sugar
100g / 4oz butter
4 tablespoons golden syrup

Oven 190C / 375F
2 greased baking trays

Makes about 32 biscuits

Sift together all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, bicarb, ginger, sugar).

Rub in the butter (doesn’t matter if it is soft or hard really, we’re not talking pastry here!)

Mix in the golden syrup and keep mixing until it comes together in a sticky dough.

Form the dough into small balls (the usual walnut size is about right – around 32 in all from this quantity)

Place the balls well spaced on the greased tray. Flatten slightly with a wooden spoon.

Bake for  10-15 minutes until they are a dark gold and firm at the edges. They will firm up more as they cool.

Leave to cool on tray for about 10 minutes then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Don’t eat them all at once, as they keep nicely in an airtight tin!

P.S. I'm just about to bake yet another batch this afternoon. Yesterday after school a daughter dipped her hand into the biscuit barrel and her face fell as it came out empty. So we need a constant supply in the house from now on to avoid those after school blues.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Happy Christmas

Christmas approached in an accelerating rush of presents not yet, bought, not yet made, not yet wrapped; it caught the whole family wrong footed this year, even Middle Daughter, who usually starts making presents in October, was caught short by the reality of high school with exams and projects, and only started making her presents once school holidays kicked in – despite this she was ahead of the rest of us.

Youngest came to me the day before Christmas Eve and stated decisively that she needed go to the crystal shop in a tone that allowed for no negotiation ... so we created a window among the mad rush of Christmas Eve cooking and sped down the road to our nearby village of Philadelphia, where present salvation is to be found in the form of a glittering treasure chest of semi-precious stones, crystals, pretty jewellery, clothes, enough to solve any gift dilemma, as long as you don’t have teenage boys on your list (she had made fudge for her brother so that was OK).

Getting our tree is a whole family affair. We usually bring it in on the Sunday before Christmas Day – the Saturday is taken up with our summer festival and my SIL works in the week and is an enthusiastic tree-chooser and cutter so it would be unthinkable to do it without her.

This year she was on leave so we suggested getting the tree the week before to have it in time for the festival, but with one thing and other it didn’t happen, so the tradition of the Sunday before Christmas held true (to Middle Daughter’s secret relief – a traditionalist at heart).

This year’s tree was the one SIL had picked out already, tall and elegant it only just passed the raised stick test for height (any taller than that and even our ceiling is challenged). Carried home in triumph and set up in a tub full of bricks, roped to the wall and adjusted for uprightness, then it is over to me for the putting on of lights. This brings out the most irritable side of me, so don’t get in my way when I’m unwinding strings of lights from their coat-hangers, clambering up ladders and teetering there with broom outstretched to get them perfectly wound around the topmost branches.

Middle daughter is looking poised to take over these duties any time I bow out and did a fine job with getting the tinsel up high, she and Youngest doing most of the putting up of decorations. Son put up those ornaments nominally his, and disappeared back to a gaming conversation with friends on his computer.

Then Monday and Tuesday were both shopping days – husband having hurt his back carrying in the tree, so I did his share of driving around looking for wish list items as well as my own. I felt like a cave dweller out foraging all day for rare and desirable pieces of rock or berries, as I shuttled from specialist computer shop in the back streets to mega-store and shopping mall, eventually staggering home with a few hard-won prizes to go under the tree.

Apart from the brief foray to the crystal shop, Christmas Eve was spent in the kitchen, steaming up as the gammon simmered for slow hours, red onion marmalade for gifts cooked down, and building up the stripes of different colours in the jam-jar jellies, to the sound-track of Christmas carols and the despairing cries of kids trying to finish off and wrap their presents. By 4.30 when I had to ferry the girls down to take part in the Christmas play at Camphill, I hadn’t wrapped a single present, but other than that everything was ready.

Almost time to relax.

The play over, girls exchanged their gifts with their friends, and then had to be torn away from them and back to a quick supper and family Christmas carols, when we always have to sing our way through the entire book of carols. This left all the wrapping to be done from 9pm onwards, including Father Christmas’ wrapping (he needs so much help these days), so it was after 11 before the kids were quiet enough for us to at least pretend they were asleep and stuff their stockings, which they still insist on hanging at the end of their beds. And then collapse on the sofa in a daze of tinsel and sellotape.

The view from the sofa at almost midnight

Then the day dawns early, and stockings are opened, attended by Bracken and including a flurry of messaging with friends... now we know we have teenagers.

It turns out to be one of those precious cool Christmas Days, overcast with occasional showers of fine rain, this is a good thing in the middle of a hot dry South African summer, meaning we don’t have to do any watering, and that we can have the children’s favourite roast potatoes and veggies to accompany the turkey and gammon, instead of boring old salads.

My mother and the girls on Christmas morning, and George smiling too!

 And this year our lunch went smoothly, without last year’s drama of fire fighting, only enlivened by the sighting of a large cobra beside the bunny cage, which sent the snake catchers out in force just before the food was on the table. The snake went off and hid, was sighted again on Boxing Day and we’re still checking the  bunnies regularly to make sure there are two of them.

Crackers, too much pudding, a rustle of wrapping paper, movies and finding room for Christmas cake at supper time, family Christmasses at home are a treasured part of our family recipe book.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!  (especially Marcheline, who I know is reading, because she comments even if I haven't posted anything, just to keep me on my blogging toes :) )

Wishing you all a wonderful year ahead full of much joy, love and laughter.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Jam in the Morning

The kids leave for school in a flurry of lunch bags and ten-ton rucksacks, piling into my sister-in-law’s little red car at seven in the morning. There’s a momentary lull. I finish my cup of tea, sometimes I haven’t had my own breakfast yet, but then there is another tug of demand. George is patiently waiting for his walk, lying out on the brick path. His eyes are focused on my movements through the doorway. If I don’t seem to be coming soon enough, he’ll be at my side with a plaintive whine, then bound to the door again if I move half an inch in that direction.

At this time of year I take my basket with me every day. Our walk around the circular dirt road takes us past the veggie garden and the orchard, and there is always something  in urgent need of picking.We had so many carrots last month that I picked 20 kilos and took them down to sell at Camphill market. We were giving them away to friends, juicing them like crazy and eating them at every meal. Now we're down to just a few baby carrots, but have gallons of green beans, sacks of spinach, loads of leeks, and the courgettes have just started producing, so I have to  pick them every morning otherwise they seem to turn into marrows overnight.

The veggie garden is currently full of spinach, leeks, carrots, green beans and a ton of onions - such a blessing!

We had tearing winds just when the plums came ripe, so I was picking up wind-falls every morning and evening.

George keeps busy while I pick, chasing off the guinea fowl and peacocks.

The plums ripen within a day to dark purple and dripping with juice

This last two weeks we’ve had an entire tree of plums all coming ripe in one week. At the same time as the apricots, which all had to be stripped from the tree and jammed with great urgency, as they’d been ‘stung’ by fruit flies. So every morning I’ve been making jam, great pots of it, sometimes two, and every evening I’ve been preparing the next lot of fruit for the next lot of jam.

Part of today's strawberry harvest

We’ve got enough plum and apricot jam now for the year, but our strawberry crop has been woefully late and sparse. Only three pots of strawberry jam sit on the shelf, swamped by an ocean of plum and apricot. But finally the berries are getting going and I picked four ice cream containers of berries first thing this morning. Enough for several pots of jam, for my sister-in-law to make strawberry ice-cream, and to have some left over to eat. Phew – our jam self-sufficiency is safe for another year!

Apricots on the way to jammy deliciousness

The jam isn’t the only reason I’ve been neglecting my blog. I had a long succession of writing deadlines through September and October. Great for my work, not so great for me wanting to sit at the computer and write some more in my free time. So there were a whole load of things I was going to write about here, now just a distant memory and a handful of photos on Facebook: our spring festival, a visit to the Oranjezicht City farm market, the Make It New exhibition of Western Cape design and craft, project managed by my sister-in-law that I helped behind the scenes with, and then there was the Camphill Music festival with Freshly Ground playing live just down the road from us. All these things deserved a post all to themselves.

Maybe they’ll get one, after I’ve finished making jam, baking Christmas cakes and have survived the end of term whirlwind of end of exam parties, prize-givings, concerts and all that malarkey. Real life is taking over here and not leaving me enough time for my virtual reality! Anyway,  Marcheline, I’m still alive and well, if slightly sticky and enveloped in a veil of jam fumes!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

La Mouette

We don’t get out much. At least not if getting out means restaurants, city life, happening events and all that jazz. Living on a farm means that most of our getting out is looking at sunsets or moonrises, walking dogs, going to the market, or if we’re very lucky the razzmatazz comes to us. I’m thinking of the music festival at Camphill Village in two weeks where Freshly Ground are coming to play, almost on our doorstep and we are really looking forward to it. But every now and again I come across somewhere in town that niggles at me until we just have to go. La Mouette in Sea Point was one of those places that grabbed me from the first time I read through one of their tasting menus.

Chef Henry Vigar opened La Mouette in 2010 with his wife Mari and business partner Gerrit Bruwer. Between them they have created a wonderful restaurant. It manages to be comfortably stylish without being pretentious, the atmosphere is cosy, friendly and relaxed, and the food? Well the food is what I was there for and it lived up to my expectations and beyond, when we went there a couple of weeks ago with friends to celebrate my birthday.

The menu looks straightforward, no flights of fancy in naming dishes: mushroom soup, beetroot salad, fish pie, crispy pork cheeks, roast chicken, mushrooms on toast, waldorf salad, rhubarb crumble. But the flights of fancy are in the myriad pops of flavour in every dish, keeping us engaged and full of anticipation as each new dish was presented. I can’t remember another meal where I have had such a voyage of flavour exploration and have finished the meal replete and satisfied, without a trace of that overfull feeling that too often follows a celebratory dinner. Contemporary with French and South African influences, Henry is big on authentic seasonal flavours, has just enough fancy twists to make things sing without going overboard, and keeps the surprises coming course after course.

First off a plate of delectable breads, from miniature vetkoek to small cheese muffins along with dabs of aioli and dips. Then the mushroom soup came along, in the form of an abstract arrangement of cheese and truffle croquette, cubes of mushroom jelly, parmesan crust arranged in the bowl. At the table the soup itself was poured over, so that every spoonful came with a different zazz of extra flavour. Next up a beetroot salad, with a gorgeous peppery goats cheese, candied pecans, sumac and a hazelnut dressing.

The next course was a choice and of course we made sure that between us we chose both options so that we could taste them all (images above). I'd never order pork cheeks as a main dish, but these little cubes of crispiness were so succulent and delicious that I was left wanting more, and the crackling really did crackle. It came with a celeriac puree, pickled apple and wholegrain mustard. The other option was 'fish pie' on a mustard mash with a mussel, a sea foam and a leek and potato sauce, also melt in the mouth delish

More choices to be made ( images below): mushrooms on toast proved to involve a rich French toast and a truffle sauce over a mushroom ragout together with Bearnaise sauce and parmesan, stunning winter velvety flavour; the roasted chicken was light and delicate with Asian flavours in the pot sticker, pickled shitake, spicy butternut puree and coconut foam.

Almost there and we weren't in the least flagging, just wishing this would go on forever! A fresh sweet savoury bridge in this 'waldorf salad' made up of celery pannacotta with a sweet apple granita and raisin puree. And deconstructed rhubarb crumble was the finale, a base of almond crumble with rhubarb compote and a rhubarb and custard ice cream.

I'd love to go back... well pretty much every month, as the tasting menu changes regularly, but especially in summer, as the restaurant is set back from the busy Sea Point street with a gorgeous big courtyard, trees and of course a fountain, so it feels like a whole other world. The winter atmosphere was also lovely with log fires and several separate rooms in the original old building, so that it never felt crowded even though it was a busy Saturday night.

Our winter tasting menu was R195 per person (for the rest of the year the usual price is R295). One of us also had the wine pairings with the menu which was R335.

La Mouette Restaurant. 
Tel 021 433 0856. 
78 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town.

Disclosure: We paid in full for our meal. No review was asked or paid for and all opinions are my own.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Summer Holiday in Cornwall

Cornwall has its own magic. Whether it’s the nostalgia of endless summer holidays, the ancient legends of King Arthur or the fabled light and skies that always attracted artists to St Ives,  there’s an air apart about Cornwall.

Driving down from Somerset, through Devon, all sleepy lush lanes, verdant hedgerows and trees, trees, trees, there’s a point when the rolling hills open up to brisk sea winds, when solitary wind turbines dot across the landscape and villages are built from stoic grey stone to withstand winter storms.

For some reason we never came west on childhood holidays in my family. Grandparents were in Edinburgh and Norfolk, and it was always north and east on day long car journeys, testing parents’ patience with the eternal refrain of ‘how many more miles?’ So heading there with  our combined families wasn’t a nostalgic return but rather a new discovery for my brother and I, taking our kids there for some bucket and spading and family togetherness.

We were near Polzeath in a big house with ample room for us all up on  a hill above the Camel estuary. There were several beaches within walking distance  (even for my three year old niece though she demanded a shoulder ride every now and then) and it was a wonderful novelty for our farm kids to be able to get about on foot.

I loved the lanes edged by dry stone walls overgrown with flowers, the contrast between the vivid green of the hills and lanes and the steely grey of the local slate, the layers of history that are present everywhere.

The big painterly skies are a common thread with South Africa, but here they were delicate cloudscapes, as the weather blew hot and cold on us, a rainstorm hurtling across the horizon at lunch time, brilliant sunshine for an evening walk.

And we had the kind of weather when you put extra clothes on to go to the beach, but go anyway, only the adventurous going right in for a swim, the rest paddling and defying the waves with sand fortifications and spades.

Another short diversion on the way to the beach at Daymer Bay on the River Camel estuary was to St Enodoc’s church with its appealingly crooked spire and green grassy churchyard.

Apparently it was almost buried by the sand dunes for a couple of centuries before being excavated again in the mid 19th century. There’s a John Betjeman poem about Trebetherick that about sums up the kids on holiday feel of this particular corner of Cornwall.

Four nights was all too short, we could have spent another week or two there.

Girls at Polzeath beach more interested in observing stranded jelly fish than surfing.

The lane leading down to the beach at Daymer Bay
We stayed in Evergreen Lodge, which is perfect for two families or a group of friends - lots of space, big kitchen, long tables, big sofas and a nice enclosed garden. Hope we can go back there one day!