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

Friday, May 08, 2015

A Foreigners’ Guide to Load-shedding

Homework by candlelight
Some things are uniquely South African, like braais, fynbos, vuvuzelas and Table Mountain. Now we have one more thing to bewilder and confuse visitors from abroad and overseas readers of our social media platforms: load-shedding.

Load-shedding has consumed all of our energies and channelled our collective frustration into a froth of social media invective and subversive wit for the last several months now. If you’ve seen the word Eishkom once you’ve seen it a thousand times, but if you’re still in the dark (pun alert) about what we’re talking about, here is a short guide:

Load-shedding is when the power to your whole area gets switched off for a few hours, usually when you have a cake in the oven, an important deadline to meet, or a very exciting rugby game on TV. You may know in advance that it’s going off, or you may have no warning at all.

In theory a schedule is all  worked out and clearly defined. You can look up your area's schedule of 2.5 hour slots online and see what times are allocated to your area.

For each area there are three scenarios: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3.

Stage 1 is relatively benign – one of your three daily time slots alternates over three days and some days you have none at all.
Stage 2 you have one slot every day, sometimes two.
Stage 3 is the killer, two or three slots every day

But here is the wild card.
You never know if there will be load-shedding at all, if so what time it will start, and which stage will be put in place.

It might start off being announced as Stage 1 and then suddenly change to Stage 2 with less than a minute’s warning. Or they might say all day that there will be no load-shedding, only to put Stage 1 in place a minute before 6pm, which is when our time slot starts, crashing all our computers.... again.

So what is that Eishkom thing all about?
Eskom is South Africa’s national energy provider.  Eish is a very South African word expressing exasperation or disbelief, with a long drawn out vowel sound to funnel all that frustration. A natural match.

Why are Eskom doing this to us?
It’s not just to browbeat us into submission and make those new-age hippies advocating alternative power accept the need for more nuclear power stations built by the Russians (I think... unless you subscribe to conspiracy theories). Our national power demands have gone up and the infrastructure is all suddenly getting older (apparently Eskom didn’t see that one coming) and is in urgent need of maintenance. Some of our shiny new wind power farms are working, others are standing there not turning and waiting for parts that never come. We have lots and lots of free and gorgeous sunshine, but it’s too expensive to harness it (why?).

Because this is a light and fluffy post I won’t mention that pundits tell us this is only going to get worse, or how bad this is for our economy, and can reassure those who are thinking of coming over here to visit our beautiful, hospitable country that all the essential infrastructure is still working – hospitals don’t get load-shed, most hotels and restaurants have generator back-ups and much of the CBD isn’t targeted at all. If you come and stay with us I can promise candlelit dinners cooked over our gas hob, braais and, without the distractions of computers and TV, long chats on the sofa in the dim candlelight.

We’ll survive. Our computers might not and our cakes may all collapse but, to look on the bright side, (call me Pollyanna if you want) this might be just what is needed to get the solar industry to go mainstream and to motivate a whole lot of us to get off the grid, so that Eishkom won’t need to build any more nuclear power stations after all. Here’s hoping!

Fellow South Africans - if you haven't yet got a reliable load-shedding alert system, try Gridwatch, a Smartphone app from News24, that works pretty well... as long as Eskom give anyone advance notice that is!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Guilt-Free Chocolate Discovery

Edited to add: Before you get as excited as I was about this new chocolate there has since grown up a storm of controversy around it. Its labelling is misleading at best - there is sugar in this bar, it just comes from honey according to the makers, but it isn't going to be any good for diabetics or paleo people. They do a diabetic bar apparently, but check it all out  before you buy and don't go by the over optimistic labels shown below! Shame as it's very tasty! Here's the manufacturer's statement.

Oh my word! I have just discovered the chocoholic’s dream fix – a bar of dark chocolate that is sugar-free, fat-free and perfect for sharing with banting friends (or is the sharing aspect a down-side? Will have to think about that).

Basically this bar is all chocolate, no weird ingredients, and it is smooth and dark, just how I like my chocolate. Only problem is it disappears too quickly – the bars look nice and big, but they are thin, so the temptation is to keep snapping off a bit more and a bit more till it’s all gone. But then that happens with any good chocolate in this house.

The story that I was told at Nature’s Deli, where we happened upon this bar the other day, is that the Swiss technology division who produce the couverture have developed a new natural way of taking the bitterness from the cocoa beans, a bit like decaffeinating coffee, but without using any chemicals. So all you get in the bar is 70% organic cocoa and 30% organic cocoa butter. Then it’s tempered six times instead of just once or twice, to get silky smooth chocolate that melts in the mouth.

If I have any criticism it’s that the packaging could do with a little more work to make it user-friendly. Because the bar is thin it has a cardboard backing and the foil inside is glued to the card, which made it hard to re-wrap neatly. Not something that’s going to put me off buying it though!

The Le Chocolatier factory is in Paarl and their retail shop is in Stellenbosch. You can also buy online or at a few health shops around Cape Town. Oh, and it only costs a few rand more than my other favourite (but mass-produced with no pretensions to organic status) chocolate bar, so it's good value for that amount of foodie halo polishing credentials.

Now I’ve gone and finished the bar, all in the name of research while I was writing this, so I definitely need more, sooner rather than later.

Disclosure: I wasn't asked to review this product and my sister-in-law bought it for me to try, thanks SIL!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Autumn Festival

In almost every festival post I say something about how the festivals have their own independent energy and our autumn one on Saturday had completely its own feel. Whether we invite all and sundry or don’t send out any invitations and rely on friends remembering the date and getting in touch, those who are meant to be there come, sometimes creating a gathering of 40 or more, other times less than 20. This time three families of friends from Cape Town who are regular festival attendees couldn’t come for various reasons and so it was a small group of our local friend-family, with the gang of six girls who’ve grown up together through many years of festivals, in charge of the sand sculptures.

The theme for autumn is earth and harvest. When the kids were little it was all about making sand-castles decorated with shells and harvest things. We don’t have the rich colours of the Northern hemisphere autumn, the landscape is still dry and bleached after a long hot summer, but there are seed heads and dry grasses, restios and the fruits of the vegetable garden to remind us of the season. Now the children are older the castles have shifted to elaborate sand sculptures laboured over for hours, perfect sand balls, and stick and fabric light towers flanking the entrance to the circle.

I usually assemble a basket of things harvested from the farm as a symbolic thank you for the abundance of the garden. This year’s held almonds, tomatoes, a pomegranate, carrot and red onion. Last year’s autumn festival jar of strawberry jam was still sitting in the centre of the circle when I was tidying up, its contents reduced to a third of their volume, but still a healthy colour, not that anyone volunteered to taste it! And an enduring reminder of festivals past is the little almond tree, that grew from one of the almonds left there one long ago autumn festival and has managed to survive against all odds in the hot mini-desert of the sand-pit without any irrigation.

The harvest offerings the next morning, the little almond tree behind.

Our festival yesterday will be remembered for another thing. Earth Hour may be due next Saturday 28th, when we plan to switch off lights between 8.30pm and 9.30pm, but yesterday we had an Eskom enforced Earth Day, the whole day without electricity (due to a fault being repaired), which meant a complete shake around of any plans I’d made for baking quiche, biscuits, roast tomato soup and so on. It also meant that we had no water pressure, so dishes kept piling up on the chopping table while we hoped against hope that the power would come on before friends arrived, so we could do the washing up. It didn’t, so we reverted to the old method of boiling a pan of rainwater, and rinsing in the trickle of water that manages to come through the tap without the pressure pump.

And it turned out it didn’t matter. With most of the guests the kids’ friends, and the only adults our family and a couple of friends who might as well be family, it didn’t matter that things were less than perfect. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t get to the computer to write our blessings and retrieve the St Francis’ prayers, or that I never did make quiche. The bread was baked in my SIL’s gas oven, was burnt and very crusty on the bottom and slightly paler than usual on top, but it tasted good. I jigged the tomato soup recipe to a stove top version, only to remember that I usually liquidise it, which would er... need electricity... and luckily located the mouli-legumes than I use for guava puree, which did the job.

Olaf the Sandman feeling very relaxed!

 So it turned out to be a very relaxed and laid back festival, doing what we could and not fretting about the rest. The girls had learned one of the St Francis prayers as a sung version a couple of years ago and so opened our circle celebration with it. We all took turns to say our thanks and blessings straight from the heart and off the cuff, sent golden healing energy to a family friend who is fighting cancer, read the vision prayer together, and then the older girls played a few songs on the treble and tenor recorders, which always sound so evocative and medieval listened to under a starry sky with the chirruping of frogs as the backing vocals.

Willow loved her first festival, having a giant game of hide and seek among the bushes and restios

We walked back to the house under bright stars to flickering candlelight and slight chaos as we tried to find plates and cutlery in the semi-darkness. More and more tea lights were lit until the room had a gorgeous glow and there was just enough food to feed us all. After 8pm when our eyes were used to the warm glow, the electricity came back on again, so that we could dismiss the lurking worry about our full freezers, leave off the overhead lights and switch on just a few side lamps and carry on with the mellow evening. And luckily my SIL had made double quantities of choccie pudding so that everyone was able to have seconds.

More Autumn festivals through the years:
In 2013 it was just us and the same gang of kids, just two years younger.
In 2010 we had some fantastic straw angels and celebrated Earth Hour for real.
In 2009 more straw angels, some great pumpkins and a gorgeous sand mandala.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Harvest and a Recipe for Tomato Soup

It’s our autumn festival tomorrow – the time when we celebrate harvest, the earth and all the good things that come from it. Most years our harvest is a dim memory by now – the strawberries long gone, almonds harvested a month ago and the veggie garden almost bare, struggling to keep going at this end of the summer and thirstily waiting for the winter rains to bring it back to life.

Not this year. This year we are groaning under a super abundance of tomatoes. I’ve been making Jane-Anne’s roast onion and tomato soup in large batches until my freezer is full of it. I’ve been peeling and dicing tomatoes for the freezer. I took a box full to the last Camphill market and sold most of them. I’ve been picking whole baskets every single morning and giving them away to friends. Our staff have been taking home as much as they can carry. And still there are more.

It's messy and overgrown with grass but those falling down tomatoes are tasty!

I think we might have planted just a few too many tomato plants for our needs! But it is wonderful to have lovely rich tasty tomatoes to squander guilt-free in large quantities on soups and sauces. If I were a diligent farmer’s wife I would have been canning them and already have enough for a year’s supply. But I don’t have those proper canning jars and all the online canning gurus insist on new lids and proper seals, so I’m hesitant about trying it with recycled jam jars. So instead I freeze chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato soup until there is no more room, and then think of who else I can give tomatoes to!

One thing is for sure, we’ll be eating tomato soup at our festival tomorrow, plus salad from the garden and maybe a spinach and feta quiche. So the feta isn’t from the garden but the spinach is. And we need to use up all our frozen guava puree from last year’s harvest to make room in the freezer for this year’s guavas, which will be ripening from the end of next month onwards, so it will be guava fool for pudding.

Edited to add: I didn’t get round to posting this on Friday, so it’s a day after the festival, which I’ll post about separately. Friends from Camphill came over on Friday evening and we filled four big buckets of tomatoes for them to take back and share around the village. And still there are more tomatoes begging to be picked!

Tomato Soup Recipe
A roast tomato and onion soup is a fantastic way of getting plenty of oomph out of ripe tomatoes (see link above for Jane-Anne's fabulous version). I was going to make a huge batch for our festival yesterday, but Eskom decreed otherwise, so I had to come up with a stove-top adaptation. It worked and had plenty of flavour, even though it was slightly subtler, and didn’t need the addition of stock to let it down at all. This is it in a rough version. Feel free to change quantities.

6 medium onions peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
20 or so ripe tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cut onions into quarters and then eighths.
In a large pan heat the butter and olive oil, add the onions and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally until they are softening and starting to caramelise.
Do let them catch on the bottom towards the end to get that caramelly depth.
Add the vinegar and stir.
Add in the tomatoes with  a seasoning of salt and pepper, stir well.
Cover the pot and leave to cook at a medium/low heat until everything is tender, 45 minutes to an hour).
If you don’t have electricity, process through a mouli-legumes, otherwise a liquidiser will do!
Check the seasoning and consistency. If it’s too thick let the puree down with some vegetable or chicken stock - mine was just right as is, but it depends on the juiciness of the tomatoes and length of time cooking.

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.