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.

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!