Friday, December 26, 2008
This picture sums up a summer Christmas for me. A miniscule smidgen of cake consumed alongside copious slices of watermelon for a late tea, followed by a gentle stroll around the farm just after the sun had gone down. It was cool enough to have a hot Christmas lunch with roast potatoes, bread sauce and the whole caboodle, so we indulged mightily until we could scarcely move. I'm happy to say that we managed to make more inroads into the cake this morning, with the help of visiting family, and are dealing well with the leftovers.
The fridge should be nice and empty by the time we go off on holiday on Sunday. A week away at a house in Knysna, near beaches, lagoons and boats and more family... then two days on safari, for our first time ever, all courtesy of my mother who is staying with us now. We have to pack lightly with six of us in the car, but I'm going to find room for some of the art materials that I got for Christmas and have a play with paints and pastels.
The children got Twister for Christmas and so are now in a tangled heap on the ground, amid constructions of 'Planx' (another present that Dad has also been enjoying), and wearing sparkly princess jewels and dresses (not Dad though).
The star on top of the Christmas tree is bowing lower as the tree wilts slightly in the dry air. We'll leave it up when we go and come back to a needleless tree skeleton probably, but it would be too sad to take it down so soon. We get back on the 6th, so it will be the first thing we do when we come home, putting away the decorations and sweeping every last needle out of the house on the last day of Christmas.
In case I don't get back to my blog before then I'll say Happy New Year now too. May it be peaceful, prosperous and full of happy surprises!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
We chose our tree carefully from the ones flourishing at the back of the farm. There were loads of big ones and loads of tiny self-seeded baby pines, but it took us ages to find a good shaped tree the right size this year. In the end we decided on a siamese twin tree. Two trees had grown so close together that they made one tree, so we cut them together and they are now looking festive, if slightly drunken from some angles.
The two dolls houses both got a tree this year. There were so many seedlings that we just pulled a couple up for the doll's house family to celebrate with.
We had our Summer festival yesterday, which was lovely, so now there is nothing else between now and Christmas. I anticipate a flurry of making marzipan and icing the cake, wrapping presents, painting the rest of my presents and finishing off last bits of work.
The other Christmassey scent of smoked gammon, which has been tantalising me every time I open the fridge, will pervade the whole house on Christmas Eve, when I am going to cook the hams, mingling with clove notes and cidery fumes, and we'll have them cold with salads and cold turkey on the day itself. Cinnamon will find its way into the couscous salad, aslo filled with mang and toasted almonds, so those traditional spices redolent of Christmas will still get a look in despite the hot weather.
Hope you are all having a wonderful lead up to Christmas!
Monday, December 08, 2008
It’s 38 degrees C out there and was hotter yesterday – summer has come blasting in, making it hard to think of Christmas. Baking and spicy scents of cinnamon pervading the house just don’t really work when you are melting in the shade. Candles, firelight and warming spiced food are so much part of the Christmas atmosphere to me that it is hard to get in the mood sometimes.
Christmas carols waft through the house, shimmering like snowflakes: ‘earth stood hard as iron, frosty wind made moan’. They demand huge leaps of the imagination, as we swelter in T-shirts trying to think of a Christmas present to make that does not involve sewing felt – just thinking about felt makes me hot.
Christmas as a hot weather festival hasn’t really made it into my sub-conscious – here people take off for the beach and have big barbeques for Christmas, but it just don’t feel right to me! I need turkey and ham, Christmas cake and mince pies, candles and frosty carols... here’s wishing for cooler weather, so I can restore the illusion of Christmas festivities for my inner child!
Sunday, December 07, 2008
My husband is fond of quoting his father’s adage “Any fool can be uncomfortable”. This means that camping for him is not a matter of roughing it, but more about assembling the barest minimum of comforts and then adding some more. As we are at the beginning of our camping career we haven’t got anything like the amount of equipment that would create a home from home, and not enough space in the car to transport it. Last weekend though our friends had suggested a weekend foray to a beautiful place in the mountains that we’d heard about from all and sundry, and rashly we agreed to go even though end of term madness was in full flow.
So into the car went the tent that their aunt had just bought for the children for Christmas in honour of the class camp. Out went the borrowed family-size tent that took up half the luggage space in the car and didn’t allow room for the foam mattresses. Back in went the mattresses taking up 2/3 of the available space. A mental shopping list was started there and then: item number 1 – blow up mattresses.
An ill-timed stop off in our local town to buy rolls for lunch and a camping lamp delayed our journey a bit – it happened to be the last Saturday of the month, when the whole world flocks to town and queues at the cashpoints to draw out their wages, then potters through the super-markets en famille.
However the mountains aren’t too far away for us – only and hour and a half, so a game of I-spy and a packet of Sugus (Opal fruit type sweets) was enough to get us there fairly painlessly.
And the reward was the wonderful view from our tent.
Mountain rock pools, with accommodating tadpoles willing to be caught and relocated, cool breezes and sunshine, shady trees in a space a long way from anywhere much. All those rocks and mountain streams created a powerful energy – peaceful and deep.
Older bones are less resilient than they used to be and sleep harder won these days. The foam mattresses weren’t quite thick enough to make-up for the sounds of late-night revelers nearby; for Youngest, nappy free at last, who didn’t make it through the night and had to move into Dad’s sleeping bag half way through; for the barking dogs, which belonged to the campers who had set up their tent next to the ablution block and which decided that it belonged to them, defending it volubly against any night-time wanderers in search of the toilets; for the guinea fowl, who provided an resounding dawn chorus in the trees close by. If you have never heard guinea fowl, think peacocks, or roosters that are off-key and competing with each other – they are Loud. Nature in the raw also provided backing vocals by the Haadedaas, whose strident call sounds like the name they bear.
A rather grumpy set of adults emerged to greet the stunning dew splashed view of the sunrise. The list of essential shopping before the next camping foray grew longer: chairs; a second tent for Mum and Dad to sleep alone; extra thick blow-up mattresses; ear-plugs.
Tea and rusks in early morning sunshine helped restore a little equilibrium and the children had a great time, plus it is a beautiful place that we would like to go back another time to explore some more. But in the end the best thing about camping is the wonderful night’s sleep that you get, when you arrive home exhausted from fresh air and sleep deprivation, to crash out at 8.30 in the comfort of your own bed and sleep without stirring until morning!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
This has been a week of discovering the joys and discomforts of camping. Having never spent a night under canvas since my teens, I suddenly had two consecutive bookings for a night out in nature.
The first was my son’s class camp, that I was inveigled along to, as a parent helper: a night away with 24 kids and only just enough tents at a campsite on the beach, with 30 loaves of bread and a ton of sausage to sustain us.
It was a beautiful campsite, literally on the beach, with flat grassy lots to pitch our tents and an ablution block with hot running water – luxury compared with the camping of my youth, which was more of the scout camp, roughing it variety.
All I had to do was keep an eye on the kids and make sure that none of them headed out to sea, help pitch tents, which are a whole lot easier to put up these days than I remembered, with their pop up poles and so on.; plus try my hand at lighting the fire and braaiing half the shed-load of sausage that fond parents had sent along to make sure their cherished offspring wouldn’t starve.
My husband is usually the one to braai in our house, as a good South African male - it is a gender thing! But I hadn’t watched in vain and managed to produce a decent fire and cook the sausage without charring it too much. One tent had been forgotten at home and another turned out not to have the right poles, so the boys were re-allocated six to a tent, fitting in like sardines in a tin.
With the beach right there at hand we hardly had to organise any activities at all - they went from collecting crabs and coralling them with seaweed, to making kelp horns, to fishing, to splashing in the chilly water, to playing cricket and finding starfish. The girls, on the verge of adolescence, seemed to dive into the showers at every opportunity and spend ages in their tents eating chips and trying on make-up, until chased back out onto the beach, turning back into children again as they splashed in the water and dug in the sand.
I had a foreshadowing of what it will be like in a couple of years when Middle Daughter reaches that age and wanted to stop the clock and make these childhood years last longer...
A day full of unremitting sun and salt exhausted them enough for them to sleep eventually, once scary stories had been told and screeched over, until their teacher patrolled the tents to quiet the chatter at 10 o’clock. I managed to find a reasonably comfortable sleeping position on my foam mattress and the sound of the waves on the shore lulled me to sleep too, though dawn broke far too soon.
I felt sorry for the young couple who had set up camp on a deserted site earlier that day only to have us arrive and shred the peace and quiet with girly screeches and boyish hollering, as the bunch of 10 and 11 year-olds took over the air waves. They were up at dawn packing up their tent and trying to get a recalcitrant bakkie started, and I watched them push start it with a slightly guilty feeling, while I endlessly stirred a pot of 30 eggs in an attempt to scramble them for breakfast without burning them into an inedible mess.
A sunburned lip was my souvenir of the trip – Botox for free – plus a fine collection of shells. Our son brought home about forty stones he’d collected on the beach, weighing down his rucksack until it could hardly be lifted, plus sunburnt feet and backs of legs that made him tired and cranky on the second morning. I was relieved that we were having one night at home in our own beds before setting off on out first ever family camping trip.
Part 2 tomorrow, when far less sleep was had by all!
Monday, November 24, 2008
The scent of roast chicken wafts through the house – the reassuring smell of Sundays, leisurely family days spent at home, everyone doing their own thing in different directions until lunch gathers them around the table. One nose buried deep in a book, another child intent on an elaborate game with toys and animals, another off at an aunt’s house until recalled for the meal. Sunday lunch is a family ritual that holds fast through winter, but loses ground to Saturday evening braais in summer, when just the thought of a roaring stove at midday would bring you out n a sweat.
Johanna announced the roast for the theme of this month’s WTSIM and I wondered whether the weather would allow me to sneak one last roast in before summer took hold. Luckily this weekend was sunny but not too hot, with a cool wind that dissuaded the children from swimming, so last week’s summer braai by the pool has been followed by a return to a wintry Sunday lunch round the table.
Crispy roast potatoes are the draw card in our house – even without the meat the kids would be happy with a plateful of them. The meat can be chicken or lamb, we hardly ever do beef or pork. This week it was a chicken: lemon-scented, a whole lemon in its cavity keeping it fresh and juicy as it cooks and preventing it from drying out; a clove or two of garlic and some herbs underneath it, with a quartered onion or two grouped around in the tin and a liberal splash or olive oil to anoint the skin. The lemon makes sure there are plenty of juices (don’t forget to pierce the lemon skin) and the onions caramelize to give a wonderful rich colour and flavour to the resulting gravy. One tip I learned from Marcella Hazan is to start the chicken off breast down in the pan, so the lemon juice soaks it and the underside browns, then turn it over for the second half of cooking. It doesn't keep so perfectly shaped but it really does taste better.
Besides the chicken and potatoes we always do a tray of baked butternut, sprinkled with cinnamon and just catching at the edges for a sweet caramelly taste. Some fresh steamed vegetables are needed to offset all this roast richness, something green like broccoli and some carrots or peas.
Roasts are simple enough, once you have mastered the rhythm. Most of the work is in the preparation: peeling and par-boiling the potatoes, anointing the chicken with whatever oils and herbs you’ve chosen, peeling and dicing the butternut. Then you can shove it all in the oven for an hour and a half and leave it to cook, just checking in a couple of times to turn the potatoes and butternut and baste the chicken. Too much attention and you let all the heat out of the oven, losing the necessary degrees to achieve crispness and perfection. At the end there is another flurry of activity, draining vegetables and making gravy, carving the meat. The potatoes stay in the oven until the last minute, so they are as crisp and crunchy as possible and don’t sit sulkily in their bowl going soggy in their steam, while people are called to the table.
I have written a whole article on the perfect roast potato, so I won’t repeat the secret here and anyway, everyone has their own pet way of getting them just right, from Nigella Lawson’s semolina to those who swear by using goose fat for flavour. Mine just require short par-boiling, a shake in the pan to rough the corners and just enough hot olive oil to coat with a bit over, followed by an hour and a half in a hot oven.
Gravy is another controversial topic. My mother always used the juices from the meat, without any help from Bisto and that is what I like best, while my brother-in-law likes ‘army sauce’, thick brown Bisto blanket sauce, so sometimes we have two jugs on the table. To make my gravy, I roast onions in the pan with the meat to get a good caramelised flavour and brown colour, as chicken juices are pretty anaemic looking. When the chicken is cooked I take it out of the roasting pan and keep in warm, draw off most of the fat from the pan and then add in a liberal dash of wine, some water reserved from par-boiling the potatoes and then bubble it all up. The flavour is usually fairly concentrated, so taste it and see if you need more water. The only problem is it almost never quite makes enough gravy for my family, who love it soaked into their potatoes, even on their third helping!
After at least three weeks without a roast, there were a series of yums around the table as everyone tucked in happily to their favourite meal. The potatoes were shared out equitably, totaling six each and there were very few leftovers. I remember in my childhood, my mother managed to carve a chicken, so one half was Sunday lunch and the other half eaten cold with salad the next day. I think chickens have shrunk since then, as ours was a quivering ruin of bones with a few shreds of leg meat still attached by the end! And they had room for pudding...
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I don’t know whether it was my bright orange silk scarf, or the flu I was warding off, but I seemed to float around the most confusing shopping mall in Cape Town (the Cavendish, if you’re wondering) even with a heavy bag over my shoulder. It is the local mall for loads of Cape Town friends, who treat its tortuous layout with casual familiarity, but I was adrift without a compass.
Desperately in need of a pee, with no obvious signs in sight, I at last found the X marks the spot map of the centre. Pondering its intricacies I was rescued by a kindly young security man, who politely enquired if he could help. I immediately received detailed and step by step instructions to the nearest toilets without a hesitation, or a flicker of amusement at my plight. The instructions were spot on and I found the elusive rest rooms round a corner, up a flight of stairs and across a hallway, just as he said.
Upon entering I was welcomed by an effusive and genuine ‘Hellooo’, by a smiling, tall and elegant woman who was mopping the charcoal tiled floor, in case a drip from the basin should cause anyone to slip. She made me feel like a long-lost friend, maybe she thought she knew me? Telling it back now, I fear I was hallucinating – this has never happened to me before, not even in Harrods or Liberty’s!
The main errand to the bank was achieved and some atypical advance Christmas shopping completed before fatigue set in, the flu was fighting back, despite the floaty orange scarf. I put on Mamma Mia to get me home on a wave of good cheer.
At the petrol station heading home was a truly modern African scene. It is undergoing building renovations and was bristling with men in hard hats, doing complicated things on scaffolding. At the pump next to mine two sinewy men in orange hard hats were trying to trim a short metal rod with a hand saw. Their orange reflective vests were flapping in the gusting south-easter, as they stood round a black plastic dustbin, which they had turned into a makeshift workbench. A half brick on top raised the rod enough to clear the dustbin lid and one man held the rod while the other sawed. It wasn’t working and a petrol attendant came over to help by holding the other end, several more men grouping round to watch. They were still sawing when the attendant brought back my card and I drove off, wondering what would happen in Europe if Health and Safety caught you up to something like that … but at least they were wearing hard hats!
The flu did get me, but I took yesterday off and am feeling well enough to go to belly dancing tonight. It must be the orange scarf doing its work after all!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
This morning I woke gradually, still clinging on to sleep and recalling dreams... then came to full consciousness with a jolt, shrieking silently: “Aaaagh, my bread!”.
Monday morning struck with a vengeance – the batch of bread I’d got going before supper the previous day, with just enough time to rise, knock down, shape, rise and bake before bed-time, had spent the whole night on its first rise – the yeast would be grumpy and exhausted, reduced to alcoholic fermentation to pass the time. The resulting bread would taste revolting and be horribly indigestible.
I’d have to chuck it.
I hate wasting so much good ingredients, purely through my own fault.
It would be shop bought sliced bread from the freezer emergency stash for the kids’ sandwiches and another batch to knead for lunch.
I’m not sure that this is my most memorable baking disaster – the prize for that would have to be the rye loaf that baked into an offensive weapon after an extra hour in the oven – or the batch of crunchies that set my sister-in-law’s oven on fire - but it is certainly one of the most annoying. What’s your worst baking disaster?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
We are in a celebratory mood – our new summer house by the pool is finished, but for a few trifles. What last year was a tin-roofed shelter, with stick walls that allowed the south-easter to whistle through, now has solid plank walls, lined with plasterboard and painted a sophisticated cool grey –‘like concrete’ was our builder’s disapproving comment, as we insisted that was the colour we wanted! We are having a family braai to christen our new space, lounging on the low walls that enclose the front, enjoying the respite inside from the ever-blowing wind. Wafts of smoke fragrant with braaiing meat drift over. Several conversations eddy backwards and forwards, voices weaving and intertwining in a family that all talks at once. Braai tongs in hand our braai-master admires the growth of the wattle tree, now taller and spreading, after a good winter of endless rain. A discussion on what plants to put in the beds, devastated by the building work, melds with some commentary on the latest springbok rugby match.
Screeches erupt from the braai, as a length of boerewors has fallen in the fire – conflicting advice fires in all directions – put it back on,! it’ll be fine – wash it! – not in the pool, in the sprinkler, I don’t like chlorine on my sausage! Order is eventually restored and the conversation tempo returns to its normal animated hum.
The children emerge from the pool shivering in the wind and dress in the dappled shade of the tree, shouting at Amy, the Jack Russell – a total princess who would like a silken cushion to be carried about for her to lie on, but in the absence of such refinements has at last found a comfortable place to curl up - on the children’s clothes.
Hands cold from the pool embrace my warm bare shoulders, wet hair drips down my T-shirt as Youngest smiles affectionately into my face.
‘Lunch is ready’ announces the braai-master in triumph, bearing aloft a pot of sausage and one of spicy chicken wings, as she comes in out of the heat of sunshine and fire. Calm and silence descends as everyone makes headway into paper platefuls of sausage, wings, salad, foil baked butternut and potatoes.
“A braai is the most satisfying meal there is," announces my braai-maaster sister-in-law at last, as we heave contented sighs of repletion.
“It’s because it’s all about community, we all take part in the preparation and are together as we put it together,’ answers her sister.
“It’s the primitive satisfaction of cooking over a fire” suggests her husband.
The summer house is well christened. We finish off with apple cake and meringues and milk tart, until we are totally stuffed rather than elegantly replete. More plans are made – electricity is the next thing, so we can have a kettle for tea and coffee. Cupboards so we don’t have to carry all the cutlery and crockery down from the house each time. Nets on the ceiling to dissuade the birds from nesting and adding ‘texture' to the floor – once the present brood of starlings has flown the nest, of course. They are cheeping protestingly now, as our presence has kept the parents away too long and they are hungry. It is time to clear away our feast and leave them to theirs.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Ask about classic South African novelists and you will inevitably end up with a selection of Nadine Gordimer for gritty, struggle, political angst and then some Dalene Matthee for ‘how it was back then in the early days of rural South Africa’ atmosphere. They are both excellent reads, but I struggled with Nadine Gordimer. Escapist she certainly is not and identifying with her protagonists was a challenge – too much gritty reality and human failings for bedtime reading. Dalene Matthee I enjoyed more, the characters sprang to life for me and gave me a sense of the history of this complex country. But I never found the South African equivalent of the English books that are my best reads: books about people, their stories, well-written but without an external agenda. Not surprisingly really, as the past century of South Africa’s history is cluttered with meaty agendas that affect everyone’s lives whether they are politically engagé or not.
Recently I stumbled upon two South African novels in the library that I really have enjoyed. Not because they avoided difficult issues, they were each set in a period of huge drama and political change when Apartheid was flexing its muscles, but because the story was about the people and their personal growth amid cataclysmic events.
Sweet Smelling Jasmine by Jenny Hobbs tells the story of a pivotal year in the life of a teenage girl, just south of Durban, parallel with her later life as a mother of three grown-up children, whose marriage has dried up, but who is embarking on a blossoming affair with a man from that year of her youth. Throughout the novel his identity is kept in the dark, as her teenage life unfolds towards the cataclysmic event that overshadows the whole story. This is small-town life where the races are not yet kept separate and a feeling of tension weaves throughout, but it is cleverly written from a teenage perspective so that more importance is given to the unattainable perfect dress in the shop window, than to the political machinations of the adults around her, though they filter through to her as viewed by her adult self. I loved this book for its human drama as well as the clear picture it paints of its place and time.
Dance with a Poor Man's Daughter by Pamela Jooste is also set in a time when cataclysmic events were taking place and is narrated by a teenage girl. This time the overhanging threat is the shameful razing of District Six in Cape Town, a government resettlement policy that has left a still open wound in people’s consciousness today, when a whole homogenous community, made-up of Coloureds, Jews, Muslims was evicted and resettled according to its component parts and the apartheid policy. It is recounted by a vivacious teenager, living in a family of strong women, whose men are all no good, according to her grandmother. She tells everything as she sees it, recounting adult conversation verbatim, and paints a vivid picture of the community and people, her family, her gangster cousin and her runaway mother, who returns a political activist to fight for their cause. The story is of resilient women, living their lives as best they can amid the changes that beset them and never losing faith in themselves or life itself.
Thinking about it, the difference between these two and my experience of Gordimer, is that both their protagonists grow through the story and retain hope for the future, despite the events that happen to and around them, whereas my memory of Gordimer’s books is of an atmosphere where despair has taken over and the characters disintegrate around it, perhaps at the end salvaging the barest, bleak bone of hope for a featureless future. This is not to say that you shouldn’t read her books – you should - they are excellent literature. But this is when I have to admit that I haven’t re-read any of her books over the last ten years. They are uncomfortable sofa companions for me and I prefer my realism with a little patina of optimism. A story doesn’t have to be sugar-coated, but, for me, there is enough doom and gloom about without voluntarily pulling more of it from the book-shelf.
Despair very soon sinks you in apathy, which gets you nowhere but sagging deeper into the sofa. To live in South Africa today I need to hang on to my hope, sipping it from small details of individual stories, one person at a time, keeping my optimism firmly rooted in the human will to survive and grow.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
At a time when food prices are rocketing, it has been a joy to me for the last two or three months to buy a huge bag of sweet juicy oranges, 24 in the last bag I counted, for only R8.99 in our supermarket (that’s about $1!). If we could live just on oranges we’d be laughing all the way to the bank!
So we’ve been having oranges segmented like grapefruit and eaten with a spoon for breakfast, then, when that palled, we squeezed the juice and drank it. The best of all has been this orange sorbet recipe, which takes all the goodness and flavour of fresh oranges and stores it in the freezer until it intensifies into a dessert that completely satisfies your taste-buds and which is at its very best with some dark chocolate. I made two huge ice-cream containers full earlier in the season. Unfortunately it went down so well with everyone that they have both all but vanished. My sister-in-law was so horrified at the thought of there being none left for Christmas lunch, that I scooped an extra sack of oranges into my shopping trolley yesterday, to make another big container full; this one labeled with a “Not to be opened before 25th December notice”.
The recipe is very simple, even simpler if you have a machine to squeeze the oranges for you, and doesn’t need anything more doing to it once it’s in the freezer. I made it last year with naartjies (clementines) and served it in their scooped out skins, which was a more fiddly business but looked very pretty.
Orange Sorbet Recipe
20 smallish oranges
juice of half a lemon
100ml/ ½ cup water
icing sugar (if needed to sweeten)
250ml/ 1 cup sugar
150 ml/ 2/3 cup water
juice of ¼ lemon
Make the syrup by heating the syrup ingredients over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and it looks clear. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then leave to cool, while you prepare the rest.
Wash half the oranges well, then grate their zest finely. Squeeze the juice from all of the oranges and the half lemon. Mix in the water and cooled syrup and taste to see if any more sugar is needed. Add water, lemon juice or sugar until you get the right intensity and sweetness, remembering that frozen desserts need a little extra sweetness to bring out the flavour. Freeze until firm.
The sorbet keeps well and is even better a week after making. Hide it at the back of the freezer if you want it to last till Christmas!
Friday, November 07, 2008
Here are the rules:1) Add the logo of the award to your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you (as shown above).
3) Nominate at least seven other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog
So, in no particular order, I nominate:
Mary Alice of From the Frontlines
Charlotte of Charlotte's Web
Hen of Diary of Domestic Hiss
Jenny of Prairie Farmeress
Corey of Tongue in Cheek
Meredith of Poppy Fields
And I had to leave out loads more blogs that I love to read to keep it down to seven, so please feel a bit of blog love coming your way, even if I haven't linked to you right this minute!
Now I'm hitting the sofa with a bar of Lindt Intense Orange chocolate and a mug of Rooibos tea - the weekend has begun!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
It's a normal school day filled with the usual rush to get breakfasted, sandwiched and out of the door by 7.30. This morning it is different though - an air of excitement and celebration riffles across the cereal packets, the TV is on and Dad is leaning forward soaking up Obama’s oratory. The children gravitate over there, forgetful of the need for hair-brushing and shoes. The girls vaguely grasp the idea of someone having won something important, but aren’t quite sure what and why.
They watch attentively as Obama is joined on stage by his vice-president and both their wives.
“Who won?” Middle Daughter asks.
“Barack Obama,” we say.
“But who won?” she repeats, perhaps thinking that this is the name of the game.
“The black guy,” I explain, with only two guys to be seen on the podium.
“ Oh, the brown guy,” she corrects me, happy to get her facts straight and be able to focus on the right guy as the winner.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Spring is really here, the warmer weather, as always, ringing the final knell for any lingering spring flowers. A week of sunshine without rain and the flower fairies are hard put to it to keep their blossoms alive, as the sandy soil dries out in a flash of a lamb's tail and before we know it the garden is fading and thirsty.
A last celebration of spring, as the girls made a fairy garden, while we were braaiing last Saturday, in the last remnants of daylight after the sun had dipped below the horizon.
Hard at work they ran about the garden collecting blossoms and carefully embroidering them into a tapestry fit for a fairy queen.
A garden of blooms for the fairies to dance under the starlight - seizing the moment to enjoy the ephemeral beauty before sunrise shrivels it to dust.
A fairy circle with a mountain of rose quartz to bring love and warmth to all around.
And the first fruits of our veggie garden - alas no strawberries this year but loads of tender peas. Every pod had its peas counted to see whose age it matched. All those with six went to Youngest - the eight-pea pods to Middle Daughter and the in betweens were fair game for anyone - a chore became a fascinating game of counting and excited chatter. Enough peas for supper and some for the freezer. With mint they were delicious, though Youngest prefers them raw.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Ryan, the son of our coloured gardened/farm worker drew it a few days ago and I grabbed it to photograph to share with you. He goes to school with our children, his fees paid by a sponsorship fund we’ve just set up, and he spends most weekday afternoons here playing with them, until his father finishes work. Our children look on him as an extra member of the family by now – he gets invited to all their birthday parties. It is taken for granted, even if the girls are only inviting other girls for the main part. He’s an honorary brother.
In the picture he has drawn our son as the leader, then himself, followed by the two girls, all armed to the teeth off on some perilous adventure. What I like about it is that they are all the same shade of brown: he sees them as the same as himself, until he made a belated attempt to give Youngest light coloured hair – a dawning recognition of a difference, but only as an afterthought.
It reminded me of another illustration of how our children perceive colour these days, using it as a descriptive term rather than a racial pigeonholing, and saying that a friend is 'light brown' or 'dark brown', rather than 'black' and 'coloured', which are the racial identifiers used by the adult world around them. To them it's just another physical characteristic like hair or eye colour and I hope they never have this perception clouded as they grow up.
I’m sure together they will vanquish the mysterious fire that is engulfing the tree and any dragons that lurk off- stage and stride victorious into a new world that they claim for themselves.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Sunday means sweets after lunch and our son left the table swiftly, to assemble his selection from the stash of goodies given to them recently. They each have a packet of Italian Baci, brought from
“I like the chocolate bit,” he says blithely, oblivious to my designs, “so I suck the whole thing and then spit the nut in the bin.”
Foiled! Not even I would be interested in the nut after that!
At lunch we were amazed to find that our son could discourse knowledgeably about the American presidential candidates, knowing the names of all of the ones from the first round, as well as who is currently ahead in the polls. “Obama has 63%,” he says authoritatively.
Impressed, we enquire how he knows all this. Do we have a budding political genius like Jennifer Lopez’ son in Maid in
He dashes our fond hopes without more ado and reveals that he’s been playing a game online, called Commander in Chief, involving all the presidential candidates, where he has to shoot the bad guys to protect them. The name of each of the candidates is attached to their figure and he is on first name terms with Hilary.
“How do you know which are the bad guys?” I ask.
“They wear masks,” he replies.
Of course… I should have known.
Apparently he has also been paintballing with Hilary and Obama, though one time he played on McCain’s side, until his father pointed out the error of his ways…
Friday, October 17, 2008
I didn’t post about poverty on that day, though I did write a long comment on
We have to grow a tough skin in our daily life. There is no way that you can solve all the problems of everyone you meet, wave a magic wand and make it all better. You have to concentrate on helping a few people in as constructive a way as you can and get on with your lives. At the moment we are putting a lot of energy into our school, finding sponsors and fundraisers to keep it going into another year, so that as many children from disadvantaged backgrounds as possible can get an education that gives them a future.
The school provides them with a secure and stable educational environment but there is nothing we can do about their home lives. There is a long political history to these informal settlements that I won’t try to explain coherently here, but this one has a large proportion of people from the
Up till recently this has always seemed a relatively peaceful community, away from the tensions that affect some of the
This is all hearsay. I wasn’t there. We hear it from the domestic workers at Camphill, who philosophically shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives; from the children at school, a few of whom lost their houses in the night, and others who were afraid to go home after school, in case their house would be gone. We see the damage when we drive to school, where a second night of fighting and toitoiing has left the debris of bonfires in the middle of the road; where the school sign has been torn down and rest sadly half burnt at the side of the road; the new banner advertising registration month for the school that went up only that morning has disappeared altogether.
The atmosphere at school is unchanged, an oasis of calm, where these children who have had to learn resilience very young, can come and feel safe from the uncertainty that surrounds them.
We are looking for sponsors for many of these children. The school needs financial help to keep places available for them, so I’m putting the link to the school site to help spread the word. If you feel inspired to link to the site too or know someone who might be interested in sponsoring a child’s school fees, please do send the word out into the blogosphere. Every little bit helps give a child a chance to grow into a better future.
We're lucky.We only rub shoulders with poverty. Our children are growing up with an awareness of how lucky they are. Poverty isn't something that happens in far-off lands when you live in South Africa. The child next to them in class goes home to it every day. It is something that affects real people that they know well. I hope it gives them understanding and humanity as they grow up and I hope that I am learning it too.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
There is a certain plastic fire engine with loads of buttons, that we gave away to Tina, who cleans for us, for her little boy. He is now 2 ½ but was born premature with water on the brain, so has had a hard start to life with much time spent in hospital and he was not expected to live for long. Her love and devotion has kept him going however and he is now getting stronger, though his development is at least a year behind his age. She usually leaves him with a carer while she’s at work but at the moment can’t find anyone, so has been bringing him with her this week.
So the red fire engine has re-entered our lives. The electronic siren, singing voice and exhortations to Grab a Star (I think) that used to drive me crazy when my children were small, are back, playing interminably in the other room, as I sit at my computer.
I am transported back to when my toddler son was given this fire engine for Christmas. We were living in a flat in
It was a strange period in our lives. We were in the flat for only nine months, until we bought our own house further out, but it was the first time I’d been home alone with our son, while my husband went in to work every day. Before that we’d lived at the studio: work, home and baby nursery all combined in the one office space, with lots of people coming and going. I had to adjust to a routine with just one small toddler to base my day around, and soon a new pregnancy that made shopping a sick joke, with the local Sainsbury’s within walking distance, but having an unfortunate mix-up of smells at the entrance, so that instead of smelling the bakery as you entered, it seemed that it was the fish counter that welcomed you (though it could have been my oversensitive hormones).
This was the time when we would go for a slow walk down the street to watch the diggers digging up the street or walk to the local parks to pass the afternoon. I tried to avoid driving too often which would mean losing our parking place and having to park miles away. We had our first ever Christmas tree, bought in the street market and small enough to sit on a table, for which we made our own star decorations out of card and silver foil.
Every morning our son would howl desolately as his father left for work, making him feel awful. He’d spend hours helping me with the washing up, getting us both soaked in the process. This was also when I discovered the Waldorf system, with a toddler group at the kindergarten close by. His discovery of television, which we’d avoided till then but which became a survival tool for those too early mornings with
So long ago but all brought back as if it were yesterday at the touch of a button and an irritating tune.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
I need to get the writing mojo back. It’s foundering beneath all the number of practical things needing doing. It feels like the school is taking over our lives – I’ve got to think about doing the school photos, starting to organize the end of year newsletter, doing packed lunches for the visiting students, cooking a proper evening meal and entertaining the teacher who is staying with us for the three weeks (the students are going on to other school families), communicating with potential sponsors. My husband is overseeing the student’s sports field project, finding supplies, getting the ground leveled, as well as being on the board and making all sorts of difficult financial decisions. And we both need to work for our living as well. Sometimes it all feels too much. How about a nice pre-packaged school where you pay your fees and that’s it. Except that we love the Waldorf system and can see how much it has done for our son at least, who is now far more self-confident than we could have expected that shy little boy to become in his first days there.
I remember his first school concert, when he was in Class 1 and just turned 7. The whole class came on stage hand-in hand to sing a couple of songs. He was in the middle of the row and just as well that they were all holding hands, as his eyes were tight shut. He sang the songs and did all the movements perfectly, keeping his eyes closed throughout, narrowly missing hitting his neighbour with his outstretched arms at several points. He quite unintentionally stole the show!
At the end of last term the oldest class organized a Talent Contest as a project. They wrote to local businesses to organize prizes, put up posters to get the rest of the school to enter. We had no expectation of our children entering, until we heard from one of the teachers that our son had said he was going to do a magic trick for it… It was the first we’d heard of it.
He’s got a book of magic tricks and had been most struck by all the number tricks in it, the kind where you pick a number, double it etc etc and then he can tell you your original number. He planned to go on stage and do some of these tricks. He asked for one of his friends to come for the afternoon so they could practise. The friend duly came, but no practising was done, they were too busy doing other things and when I gently reminded him about it, he said that he might not do it after all. Fine, I thought, he’s chickened out, I don’t blame him.
I mentioned it to his teacher and the next thing I knew she said he was going to have three assistants on stage with him and it was all settled. Dead silence on the subject at home. We hoped that he was doing some practice with his assistants at school.
Finally, as the day arrived, we got more pro-active with our interrogation techniques. We finally extracted the information that he’d worked out exactly what he was doing in his own head, but hadn’t had a run through with his assistants at all. My husband persuaded him to go through it all out loud at home with me standing in as an assistant, him standing at the back of the room to get our son to speak loudly enough. We found a clip board for the assistants to write the numbers on large enough so that the audience could see the figures with the idea of making it slightly more interesting to watch..
Unfortunately his tricks relied on the Maths skills of the assistant to come up the right answer and as an assistant even I managed to add up the figures wrong and spoil the trick once or twice. We came up with a one-liner he could use in this event and got him early to the talent show to have a run through with his designated assistants.
Heart in mouth, we sat down in the audience and the show eventually began, with several lively dance routines, which got the audience going.
He was going to have to come on next and hold the attention of this rumbustious audience. I crossed my fingers.
On he came with his gallant assistants.
Announced his trick.
Told his assistants what to do.
A long pause followed while they huddled all three of them round the clip board, its back to the audience, with much whispering going on.
Eventually they worked out the answer, found the correct playing card, held it up to the audience and our son was able to guess the right number.
The audience was patient as they launched into a second trick. This time the huddling went on longer, with hushed arguing over the answer while our son stood quietly by and watched them. Eventually he could bear it no longer and had to go and help them with the Maths, which slightly curtailed the trick, as of course he would now know the answer. We meanwhile were holding on tight to our seats to restrain ourselves from rushing up on stage to sort them out. Wisely he abandoned any ideas of doing tricks number 3 and 4 and retired from the stage in reasonably good order.
I, of course, felt like rushing back stage to see if he was alright, but couldn’t be so embarrassing and eventually he rejoined the audience nonchalantly enough and watched the rest of the show. There were several other acts after that that dried up slightly, so he wasn’t alone in that, and at the end after the judging and the main prizes were handed out, there were smaller prizes for all the others, so he and his assistants got something out of it .
All he would volunteer afterwards was that next time he’d get someone else to be his assistant. A bit later at bed time, rather poignantly, he said that he wished his friend Matthew (who moved away last year and was good at Maths too) was still here.
What impressed me however was that this slight, shy ten year old, who three years ago was keeping his eyes tight shut on stage, was able to hold his ground on the same stage, even while the trick was falling apart around him and the audience starting to get a bit restless, that he had the self-confidence to even think about ‘next time’.
I was the one who was in agonies inside, shattered nerves and the rest. He, unless he is a master of disguise on the emotional front, which could be the case, seemed cool, if somewhat irritated that his friends aren’t maths geniuses like him.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Baking often seems to inspire a blog post. Perhaps that’s why I’ve hardly posted recently – I just haven’t been baking apart from the daily bread, which has become so automatic that it no longer gets the blog juices flowing. Today, after I’d spent an hour in the spring sunshine (yes we have sun! at last!) pulling a pretty flowering weed out of the ‘lawn’, which looked far worse once divested of its spreading bushiness, I was finally inspired to get another batch of rusks baked.
The house was quiet, with the kids over at their aunt’s house, my husband and dogs doing something chemical to the pool to pull it out of its winter stupor. Kneading and rolling dough into balls induced a meditative state and led me on to using up some out of date milk on making a crustless milk tart.
Milk tart is one of the most traditional South African desserts. You’ll find it at every braai, bake sale, tea party, anywhere that friends bring along a dessert. This version is by far the easiest recipe there is for it and can be whizzed up in the food processor in no time at all. It does without the pastry base of the classic milk tart and is maybe a tad less creamy in texture, but it is incredibly moreish and all my kids love it. Plus it uses up milk that is on the turn and with the price of milk these days I hate to chuck it out, so making this makes me feel good.
Even better it solves the problem of how to get enough calcium into our son to meet anything like the daily recommended dose. He’s given up cereal at breakfast, opting for toast and if we’re lucky some orange juice. He doesn’t like drinking milk, has a few slivers of cheese in his school sandwich for lunch. He’ll sometimes finish supper with a bowl of yoghurt. I know there are plenty of calcium sources besides dairy: nuts and seeds, for instance, which he won’t eat at all; dark green vegetables, yeah right, broccoli a couple of times a week is his limit there; sardines, no way; eggs yuk…
So as I broke the eggs into the food processor into the milk and butter, my eyes weren’t seeing the ingredients – they were looking at a pulsing headline in neon – CALCIUM FOOD SOURCE!!
Here is something that he’ll happily eat and get some nutrients in to him. I can bake and feel like I’m doing my job as a mother. Maybe our slight, slim boy has a chance of growing up big and strong after all … though if I produced it every day, I’m sure he’d go off it soon enough.
I posted this recipe about a year ago, but I’ll repeat it here just in case you too need a way to get some dairy into your family or maybe even just because it’s easy to bake and delicious!
Crustless Milk Tart Recipe
¾ cup / 185ml self-raising flour
2 cups / 500ml milk
¾ cup / 185 ml sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 oz / 25g melted butter
½ tsp cinnamon
Put all the ingredients together into a bowl or food processor and beat to a smooth batter. Pour into a buttered pie dish (approximately 23cm/9" in diameter, but it doesn't matter if it's not exact,the finished tart will just be either a bit deeper or shallower). Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top. Bake for 45 minutes at 175C / 350F. Serve warm or cold. It sinks and becomes denser as it cools. If you eat it hot you'll need a spoon to scoop up the soft custardy tart but cold you can pick up the slices in your hand, if it hasn't vanished long before then.
Having said all that I just Googled calcium food sources and found a chart that tells me that baked beans are a good source of calcium. Phew – he loves baked beans, now I can relax!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
* Post at least five current addictions (with some details, please).
* Mention the person who started this meme (Being Brazen) and also the person who just tagged you
* Type your post with the heading "Current addictions".
* Tag at least two people and pass on the above rules.
1. Lindt Intense Orange chocolate – dark chocolate is my secret indulgence. I hide it in the larder and in moments of stress, or just when I feel like it, I sneak in and a grab a few squares. Unfortunately this Intense Orange has also grabbed my husband’s taste buds, so now I have to get it out openly in the evenings and share it with him.
2. Mamma Mia – Jeanne listed this and I am totally in agreement with her – we’ve seen it twice now, once on our movie date and then we just had to go back with the children and friends – it gives you a total wild and wacky teenage high just by going and singing along! As long as you don’t have a disapproving neighbour glaring at you that is.
3. NCIS – we used just to catch the odd episode every now and again, then it became a regular weekly date.. then Kate was shot. Devastated, as it was the end of the series, we had a year’s break and then we started watching the DVD set of series 3. Series 4 was my husband’s birthday present and then series 5 was released in time to be mine! We love the characters, who would think crime investigation could be so funny and so emotionally involving – love Abby the goth forensic girl and Gibbs is gorgeous (except when he grew a moustache at the beginning of series 4!).
4. Messages – I compulsively check my e-mail far more often than necessary. Text messages on my phone, comments on my blog, e-mails, Facebook messages – it is probably some deep psychological fixation – I get messages therefore I exist. They have to be written messages though – I’m useless on the phone!
5. Reading blogs - even when I’m frantically busy I still turn to Bloglines for distraction at regular intervals. I read everybody’s blogs even when I’m not blogging myself and turn into a non-commenting lurker. Just tuning out of my every day and getting fresh perspective by reading all your views, stories, rants, raves and musings is good therapy, even if it is just a short term escapist measure and I then have to return to the translation or article that I was plodding through.
6. Marmalade - I love marmalade and have to have a supply available at all times. Nobody else in the house likes it, so when I make a batch it is pure self-indulgence and self-protection. You simply cannot buy proper marmalade in the shops here - unless it is home-made by someone else. It has to have chunky bits of peel in - none of this Golden Shred nonsense! My current combination is Orange, lemon, grapefruit and lime. Perfect on bread or toast and essential to round off lunch with, sometimes if I'm feeling degenerate, combined with crunchy peanut butter!
As if you haven’t already got enough to do I’m tagging Mary Alice and Caffienated Cowgirl!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I know it’s still September – who is thinking about Christmas, apart from over-zealous sales teams and really super organized people (that is for my mother who I know is already preparing to come out and visit us this Christmas and so has started shopping already!)
My eight year-old daughter – that’s who. She has started producing a nice line of Christmas cards, with added decorations and notes.
I promised to find them envelopes (Youngest was creating her birthday invitations at the same time) but promptly forgot about it. This proved to be a perfect example of the benefits of idle parenting, because they then made their own beautifully decorated envelopes. Our paper supply is rapidly dwindling …
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
At bed-time last night Youngest told me which are her favorite two songs. I was expecting something innocuous from Abba given their enthusiasm for Mamma Mia, but No! It turns out the Top Ten for not-quite-six year olds in this house is headed by ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ from the soundtrack to Reservoir Dogs and ‘Don’t want to go to Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse….
No, they haven’t seen the movie Reservoir Dogs. I haven’t seen the movie Reservoir Dogs… it’s just back in the days when we lived in a photographic studio in South London, the happening crowd of photographers were listening to the Reservoir Dogs CD a lot and it rapidly became our baby son’s favorite – he’d bounce energetically up and down in our arms when the second track started with its Ugga Ugga, Ugga Chakka beat and it was a full cardiovascular workout dancing to the first three tracks with him. We told the story of this recently and of course had to dig out the CD to play to him. All three kids now love it.
And Amy Winehouse – well my husband just took a shine to her wonderful husky voice, so she is on the play list in our house with three kids singing along, protesting that they don’t want to go to Rehab – I don’t think they know where exactly Rehab is – probably somewhere cold and very wet – a bit like the Western Cape right now!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
We went to see it, just us two, last week on a movie date and immediately wished we’d taken the children, while they’re still young enough to think Abba is cool. So we went back with friends on Sunday: 4 adults and 5 children all singing along and dancing around in their seats … all except me that is …after the woman next but one to me leaned over her teenage daughter to ask me to stop singing :(
It was during the chorus of SOS with Pierce Brosnan managing to look sad and serious while leaning in the doorway, and I wasn’t belting it out, my voice pretty much drowned out by the high volume sound track or so I thought, but I guess if you’re a teenager it is embarrassing to sit next to a forty something woman with only moderate singing ability – I don’t blame her … much! But it’s obviously festering so I thought I’d better let it out in a mini rant and have done with it:
Mamma Mia is meant to be fun, how can anyone sit through it motionless, without a glimmer of a smile or chuckle, let alone the odd chorus line escaping their lips. If you’re going to watch Meryl Streep and appreciate her fine acting, you can still let the music infect you with a certain lightness of spirit – I mean how can anyone not want to sing along to Abba, unless they really hate it.
I promise I didn’t sing along to any of the solos – I did have that much respect for the poignant moment. All the rest of our group sang along sotto voce to their heart’s content, as I was the buffer zone fielding the occasional pointed look every now and then. Perhaps they should divide the cinema into zones - singing and non-singing zones with a sound proof barrier for those who prefer not to join in.
Anyway for anyone who enjoys Abba or likes a rollicking musical, I highly recommend Mamma Mia – the children were asking when we could get the DVD before the movie had even finished, so I can see many private viewings in the future, with the floor cleared for singing, dancing and such-like embarrassing behaviour – now all we need to do is get hold of some incredibly high platform boots and glittery jumpsuits, a touch of dry ice and a Greek island!
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Our school Spring Fair ten days ago was chased inside the classrooms by gale warnings and the bouncy castle was only in action for a short time before being taken down again in case it blew away
That night the heaviest and blowiest rainstorm in years centred itself over our house and we found leaks where the roof had never leaked before. The power had long ago gone that evening and we sat by the fire, with our sons head lamp lighting our books, until carrying a candles and oil lamps we retired to bed … only for my husband to put his hand down on his side of the bed and find it sopping wet… the roof had never leaked in our bedroom before. Unamused by my rendition of the song in my blog title, he hurried up stairs to position containers under the drips and we grabbed the duvet from the spare bedroom, piled on the blankets and lay in bed listening to the gale playing with our roof.
This weekend we’ve had yet more rain – a sunny warm Saturday pretended that it was spring again and we rashly squandered a few hours of it going to the movies to see Mamma Mia – but then by Sunday morning we woke up to clouds and drizzle again. (Mamma Mia, by the way, was brilliant, we loved it and came out singing wildly and wanting to go back for more with the whole family.)
More rain in the night tested out the repairs my husband had made to the roof and happily we stayed dry inside, but it carried on relentlessly through Monday, turning our dirt road into a quagmire bordered by raging torrents. The new car has made it through numerous times on the school run and now looks very similar to the old car, well bespattered with muck.
The spring flowers are hardly getting a look in this year. The daisies only show their faces when the sun shines and so our photo session at the start of the flower season looks destined to be the only one, as the white daisies are already almost over.
I now feel thoroughly English having had a good moan about the weather, but now I need to remember to be South African too, and be thankful for such a nice lot of rain that will see us through the hot summer ahead, with dams and reservoirs replenished. I only wish we could share a bit of it with friends and family in