Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Mumps


Christmas is like a hurricane, sweeping you up in a whirl and depositing you the other side among the debris, not quite knowing how you got there but drawing breath at last.

It smells like Christmas still, Christmas deconstructed, turkey stock simmering as the last vestiges of Christmas feasting are tidied out of the fridge. How can we have got through all that turkey already…and the gammon? Even the jelly is finished. The fridge looks way too tidy and empty.

There are presents still to buy or make but the momentum is gone. Our son’s last minute present making plans were thwarted when he went down with mumps on the Monday before Christmas. Lying on the sofa with a cool pad clutched to his chipmunk cheek he was in no fit state to be stirring lemon curd, or starting a production line of paintings like his sisters. He had just one present made and wrapped.

On the other side of Christmas he surfaced, with a new-found dislike of jelly, as it was the only thing he could eat for three days, and was finally able to make his lemon curd gifts. They are still languishing in the fridge, while he summons up the energy to wrap them and present them to his aunts – the gift-giving frenzy is over, along with the cast off wrapping paper, and the urgency is gone.

Now we are calculating the days until the girls can be expected to show signs of mumps too: +/– three weeks incubation = about when we are planning on going on holiday to the River with friends. So do we go and risk it, packing a large bottle of paracetemol syrup and a week’s supply of jelly, knowing that we’ll be a half hour drive from the nearest town down a bumpy dirt road?

Or maybe they could oblige and get it early next week, so they are starting to feel better by the time we go. Luckily we’ve already exposed said friends to mumps as our son had a sleepover with them just before he went down with it, so we don’t have to worry about sharing the germs!

The positive spin is that it is much better to get mumps before adolescence strikes, so really it’s in the nick of time for these eleven year olds, but our son didn’t find that very cheering while he was languishing on the sofa facing the bleak prospect of a Christmas Day spent unable to indulge in roast potatoes and a surfeit of pudding.

In the end he was able to eat the potatoes, his swollen glands having shrunk to a respectable hamster size, but after four days of not eating he could only manage four potatoes instead of his usual ten!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas is Coming, Ready Or Not

Silent Night is echoing around the house, as the girls learn all their favourite Christmas carols on the recorder.

Paint smears over T-shirts indicate that some serious pressie creation has been going on.

Middle Daughter now has two bagfuls of home-made presents all totally independently made.

Son spends time alternating between computer and book and is relying on a last minute batch of home-made lemon curd to solve all his present dilemmas.

Youngest is steadily amassing her pressies, but is way behind her sister, though keeping her nerve and persevering.

And me? I’ve done the bare minimum of shopping, just enough to provide a present each per child plus the odd stocking filler and am following my son’s example and relying on a last minute painting spree to create the rest of my pressies. Inspiration thrives on adrenalin, I hope.

The Christmas cakes are baked and awaiting their marzipan and icing.
The tree is still growing up at the top of the farm until we go to cut it on Sunday.
The girls have built a stable but we have no figures as yet for the nativity scene. I had the great idea of making our own wooden figures, which fell by the wayside several weeks ago.

And the reason my blog has been such a bare and windswept space…there has been plenty of writing material but a total lack of energy to shape it and put it into words, as the last two weeks have held:
A wind-pummelled two night camping trip with our son’s class, where duct tape was the main element keeping the tents up and poles shattered left right and centre.
Production of the school annual newsletter where each year we are sailing teeth-clenchingly closer to the deadline – this year it was printed at 9am before school’s close at 11am…
Family over here from Australia and consequent feasting.
Son’s class play, where he excelled as cut-throat robber at the first performance and Zeus at the second.
My mother arriving from England for Christmas.
Our belly dancing end of year performance at our house, for which clear floor space was required, a scarce commodity even in our spacious abode.
Much juggling of work with all the above, which made me realize how much more time efficient I could be every week if pushed.

So I am thankful that the girls are keeping themselves so busy with Christmas preparations, churning out cards for me to send to family overseas, keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in our house, so that I can coast along in their slipstream and let the momentum gather in their wake.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kids love it

Today I was writing up some recipe articles for a client and found the words “kids love it…” tripping nonchalantly off my keyboard, as I assured readers that cottage pie is a really kid-friendly dish guaranteed to smuggle vegetables past the green detector into their child’s diet.

Later this afternoon, as I perspired over a hot stove (the weather was actually hot today for a change), making a chicken pie, I realized how inaccurate that generalization really is.

About a month ago I tried out the chicken pot pie recipe from Nigella’s Feast, which her kids apparently consider the highest treat possible.

"Great," I thought, "finally a way of using up cold chicken left over from the roast other than in sandwiches."

It is always the thighs and legs that get left. My family are almost exclusively white meat eaters; even Youngest, who I used to rely on to eat one drumstick, has now turned her back on it and competes with the rest for the coveted slices of breast. So stuck with all this perfectly good leg meat a pie should be the ideal answer…and Nigella’s kids love it, so mine should too.

It’s quite a bit of work with a béchamel sauce and pastry to prepare but eventually, with a fanfare, I produced a golden pie from the oven and bore it proudly to the table.


It was a resounding flop with the kids, who picked off the pastry and left the filling, looking suspiciously at the bechamel as if it were concealing a dreaded poison. The adults were left to enjoy the pie on their own and it was actually pretty good, lasting for lunch the next day too.

I tried it again today, undeterred by the groans from the children when they detected my foul intent.
"I’m using a different recipe," I assured them, "without the sauce."

I’d had a brainwave that I thought would get past their radar. Why not cook the potato dish they all love, without baking it, and mix it with the chicken as the filling for a pie; a bit of creaminess from the potato bake, chicken tucked in between and some green peas for sweetness, none of that scary white sauce stuff to put them off.

Well… it was better. Our son ate the small slice I served him without complaint, afterwards saying he took big bites 'cos you couldn’t taste it so much. Youngest even had a tiny helping of seconds and Middle Daughter ate the pastry and potato and left the chicken. But it’s still a far cry from Nigella’s big treat for her kids.

So I hereby resolve in future to strike those words from my recipes. All I will say about cottage pie and such like is… "MY kids love this, so it’s possible that your kids will, but don’t bet on it."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Dogs Dinner


I often struggle to find something to make cold leftover meats interesting for the family in cold weather. If I do baked potatoes then they always want our traditional accompaniments of grated cheese, baked beans and tuna with them and don’t eat the cold meat, which misses the point entirely. So I was really happy when I tried this potato recipe from Nigella’s Feast and everybody liked it – yes everybody, all the kids, even our son, who is so discerning that it’s hard to feed him a balanced diet.

It’s really simple – just diced potatoes cooked in sour cream and milk on the stove and then finished off in the oven with a topping of corn flake crumbs. Nothing fancy but with that soothing creaminess that is the essence of comfort food, and just enough crunch to keep you going back for more.

My husband just got home from a long drive up to Clanwilliam to look at a second-hand car that sounded perfect for us. It was… except that the previous owners were heavy smokers and the whole car was ingrained with the reek of stale smoke, which is almost impossible to get rid of, so it’s back to square one on the car search again.

He’d stopped off at Spur for a steak to keep him going on the return journey and the portions were so huge that he ate all he could and still brought back enough steak as a doggie bag to feed us all again tonight!


The kids were ecstatic – they love steak and I hardly ever buy it. So the dogs didn’t even get a look in and neither did the cats, despite many attempts to get on the table and share the feast. This potato dish went just right with it, along with some garlicky tomato salad.

Creamy potato bake recipe
250ml / 1 cup sour cream
250ml / 1 cup milk
1 kg potatoes
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or ½ teaspoon table salt
pepper
50g / 1 cup corn flakes

Put the sour cream, milk, salt and pepper in a heavy based pan with a lid. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-2cm / ½ inch cubes. Add to the pan. Bring it all to simmering point, cover with the lid and cook at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F. Crush the corn flakes to crumbs. The easiest way to do this is to put them in a freezer bag and roll it with a heavy rolling pin.

Tip the potatoes into a roasting dish, scatter the cornflake crumbs over the top and bake for 15-20 minutes until it is bubbling with a crispy top.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Feet

Feet are fundamental to our well-being and yet we only notice them when they stop doing their job properly.

I’ve been taking my feet for granted all my life, always knowing I can walk anywhere I want to, reserving the right to learn to dance one of these days when I get around to it, expecting them to hold me uncomplainingly when I stand cooking in the kitchen for hours when we have a festival, demanding their services day in day out.

It’s only now that one of them is complaining that I’ve stopped to think how much I rely on them. One of my lateral arches gave me trouble a few years ago. The physio gave me exercises. I stopped buying cheapo shoes and bought my shoes from Green and Cross from then on. I waved farewell to even the occasional wearing of heels and stopped imagining that one day I’d wear those black suede stilettos from my twenties again. (I still haven't thrown those stilettos away, but keep them for the sake of nostalgia and let the girls trip around in them occasionally)

My foot gradually improved and I forgot about the problem again; took my feet for granted once more, even though I now only bought them the best supportive footwear. Occasional reminders kept me on the straight and narrow; back on a visit to England, I found I couldn’t wear wellies to walk the dog and had to buy proper walking boots, and walking barefoot on hard surfaces was no longer the best idea, but my feet worked again.

And now the same one is twingeing again. Suddenly walking the dogs around the farm seems too much to ask , so I’m missing out on the latest family routine of all of us walking round the circle road before supper. I don’t want to go belly dancing tonight in case I make the twinge worse. When we went out for lunch on the weekend we couldn’t just park and casually saunter around the streets window shopping before lunch as I was worrying how long my feet would last out. I can feel that I’m walking oddly, putting my foot down too carefully and probably tensing somewhere else in my leg or back to compensate.

Having something wrong with a foot makes you question your abilities. It underlines all the things that you can’t do easily, if you’re not physically healthy. I feel tentative about everything I do. Whereas I usually leap up to get something or do something a million times a day, now it is suddenly an effort. This little physical insecurity extends into feeling unsure about everything.

And this is something little, a painful twinge in the arch but no more than that. I can't imagine how it would be if it were a serious injury or one that was unfixable. So I’m off to the physio tomorrow and maybe a reflexologist. I want somebody to fix it so that I can have the luxury of taking my feet for granted again; so that I can have a blithe confidence in being able to walk up a mountain, go dancing or just wander anywhere anytime without thinking about it. I want my foundation solid again.

Ten Things Update

A nudge from Marcheline made me realize I haven’t posted for ages. All my writing mojo is being spent on work stuff, so I’m falling back on an update in the ten things format to fill the black hole.

1. It has been raining now for two days and nights, practically without stopping. This is supposed to be summer in South Africa, not in England. Getting a bit worried about the pairs of animals that keep showing up too….
2. We went out for lunch to celebrate our anniversary on Saturday at Bukhara, a great Indian restaurant in town. Excellent food, but I never took my camera so am a totally incompetent food blogger!
3. Youngest brought back a reader from school, sat me on the sofa and read it through to me start to finish. I was really impressed as they start learning their letters from scratch in Class 1 in Waldorf and the others were only reading by the end of Class 2. She is raring to go and catch up with her big brother and sister.
4. My foot has been bothering me all week, with an arch that is misbehaving, so no belly-dancing tonight. Need to go and see a reflexologist or something to try and sort it out.
5. I’ve just received my first ever review copy of a book to review on my blog: Be My Guest by Fay Lewis. Maybe I am a proper food blogger after all! I’m going to try out a recipe or two first, before I write about it so will let you know.
6. Read ‘Little Women’ and ‘What Katy Did’ for the first time since I was a child. Still good stories but I’m wondering what my girls will think of them, with their fine moral lessons set among mild misdeeds, the terrible illness of Beth, and Katie being paralysed for so long.
7. Took our son to the homeopath for some more constitutional treatment. He’s getting dry skin on his face and we don’t want him to get the eczema back that he had as a baby.
8. The children are totally unimpressed with the old Toyota Corolla we are driving about in. We’ve sold our main car and are waiting to get hold of a second-hand Toyota Prado, but it’s taking longer than we thought.
9. We haven’t celebrated Guy Fawkes night since we came to South Africa, and it was a surprise to find out that it is still a big thing in the local communities here, with kids running around setting off fire crackers and throwing eggs and paint at each other. Our dogs were terrified by all the bangs and wriggled right under the children’s beds to take cover.
10. The school Spring Fair a week ago was a hot summer day and I wore my new summer dress for the first time, which seems a distant memory now when I’m back in winter clothes and still cold. Youngest won a prize in the fancy dress competition, dressed as a princess of course.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Designer Labels

Ever since I gave my husband a hard time for cutting garlic on my fruit chopping board, he has had a plan to label the boards and avoid any confusion for the uninitiated into my complex system of wooden boards.

Finally on Saturday he put the kids to work burning names into the wood. I'd envisaged lethal red hot pokers being needed, with major danger to life and limb.

All it actually took was some sunshine and a magnifying glass each and it took only a few minutes. Now they are looking for more wooden objects to practise their new-found skills on.

And I'm the proud owner of some designer labelled chopping boards. There is also one called Meat and another named Cheese.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Baked Pasta Cravings

I’ve been craving proper Italian pasta al forno for ages. There’s just one hitch. My kids aren’t really into creamy/mixed sauces… in fact sauces are a bit problematic altogether. The only pasta our son likes is Dad’s aglio olio with bits of bacon in, as it leaves the pasta practically bare, so it doesn’t activate the sauce detector alarm.

When you’re cooking pasta al forno, you need to have an army to feed to make it worth the effort of making meat sauce, making béchamel and then baking it all together with the cooked pasta, so I put off satisfying my craving. And then yesterday I did have an army to feed. The four German students, who have come over with two of their teachers to help at our school for a few weeks, all stayed the night with us so that they could all leave early to drive up to Addo Elephant Park today.

It was nearly a week since I’d shopped. But the teacher we are hosting had cooked spaghetti bolognese for us a couple of nights before and had drastically over-estimated the quantities need to feed a family of five with sauce-averse kids. So there was a ton of meat sauce and loads of parmesan just begging to be used up. I seized my opportunity and it tasted great! So good that we finished up the leftovers cold for lunch today.

Cold pasta al forno, doesn't look as delicious as when it is hot from the oven, but it still tastes great!

Our son declined to even taste it last night, but luckily I’d second-guessed him and shoved some potatoes in to bake alongside the pasta. And I’d thrown together a second pot of pasta for the vegan student with fresh tomatoes, rosemary and chickpeas sizzled in hot garlic oil. And the students made a salad. And I’d baked yet more bread. So it was a feast of carbohydrates that even defeated the three seventeen-year old boys at the table, to produce yet more leftovers.

You don’t have to use a meat sauce for this baked pasta dish. Any sauce with a good strong flavour would work well: roasted vegetables, tomato and basil, porcini mushrooms, whatever you feel like adding to it. It makes sense to make a double batch of sauce, use it to sauce normal pasta one night and keep the rest to make this a couple of nights later, then you don’t have nearly so much work to do for your pasta al forno. The béchamel sauce is quite light and subtly flavoured with nutmeg and only a little parmesan, so it needs a contrasting sauce with a bit of oomph to bring the baked pasta to life.

Recipe for Rigatoni or Penne al Forno

Bolognese sauce made with approx 450g / 1lb meat
Or about 4 cups of pasta sauce of your choice
500g / 1lb penne rigate or rigatoni
750ml / 3 cups milk
90g / 3oz butter
4 ½ tablespoons flour
40g / 1 ½ oz freshly grated parmesan
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons millk
30g / 1oz butter

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.

Make your béchamel first. Melt 90g butter in a heavy based pan. Stir in the flour and keep stirring for about a minute so it cooks, but don’t let it turn dark. Add the milk a little at a time, giving it a chance to warm on the base of the pan and then stirring it in well, before adding the next lot.

Most recipes tell you to heat the milk separately before adding it, which is sensible, but I learned from a friend that if you give it a chance to warm on the base of the béchamel pan before you stir it in it works just as well.

Keep adding milk and stirring it in until it is all incorporated, then carry on stirring until the béchamel thickens to a thick pouring cream consistency. Season with pepper, salt and nutmeg then stir in half the parmesan. Taste to check the seasoning.

Cook the pasta till it is al dente. Take care not to over-cook it, or it will collapse to a dense solid indigestible mass when baked. You want the shapes to hold up and trap the sauces nicely. Toss the pasta with the warmed meat sauce and then with about two thirds of the béchamel.

Tip the sauced pasta into a roasting tin buttered with the remaining butter. Level it off. Pour the milk over, then pour the rest of the béchamel on top. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling. Let it rest for at least five minutes before serving.

Perfect for those in need of a carbohydrate fix!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bedtime

“Are you ready for a story?” I enquire, walking into the kids’ bedroom to see figures balancing precariously on their beds still in their day clothes, flying a small toy figure around in the pull cord of the electric ceiling fan.

“Yes!” they chorus.

I point out the lack of pyjamas.

"You can read to us while we get into pjs," they say, continuing to play.

I decline to start down that slippery slope of insubordination and shake my head in a stern motherly manner.

“I command you,” declaims Youngest, dramatically throwing out an arm in a grand gesture.

“I’m the queen around here,” I reply and exit strategically before we get into an argument that will go nowhere.

From my computer next door I hear fierce whispers, as they exhort each other to get undressed.
“SHE won’t read to us unless we do,” Youngest hisses across the room at her older siblings.

In a matter of minutes I am recalled.

“We’re ready!” and I return to see Youngest just pulling her pyjama top over her head and slipping into bed.

Long may the pull of a good story work as a failsafe bedtime carrot.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Red Lentil Dhal Recipe

I love it when I stumble on a new recipe that’s easy and is an immediate hit with at least one member of the family. I found this dhal recipe when I was desperately looking for inspiration for making packed lunches for a vegan student, who is visiting our school.

We have a group of four students and two teachers from our sister school in Germany visiting at the moment. They’ve raised funds and have come to build a woodwork room for the school in the three weeks they’re here. I volunteered for making sandwiches for their lunch every day and so have been baking bread every day and madly slicing, buttering and throwing together mountains of sandwiches every morning before school.

But how do you provide variety in vegan sandwiches? Hummus two days running and then what? So the idea of making a thick dhal came to mind and I found this recipe on the net, adapted it to fit with what I had available in the cupboard and I now have a new recipe to turn to when my husband yearns for spicy food. He was over the moon when I produced it to go with the baked potatoes last night and we had it spread on bread for lunch today too. I really love the hint of fragrant cardomom among the other spices. The original recipe asks you to roast and grind your own whole spices, which I suspect would be even better, but this version was good enough already.

Recipe for Red Lentil Dhal

1 onion
2 cm root ginger peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 cup red lentils
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup / 250ml chopped tomatoes
2 red chillis de-seeded and chopped fine
4 cups water or stock
lemon or lime juice

2 teaspoons mustard seeds
4 cardomom pods
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chop the onion finely. Saute it in the oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add mustard seeds and seeds from cardamom pod and stir for 1 more minute, then add ground spices and salt.
Stir in red lentils, then add tomatoes. Cook for a minute, then add water. Bring to a boil then cook at a simmer for 30-35 minutes until lentils are tender. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime. Add more water if it is too thick.

Hopefully this will have made a change from the soya sausages that his host family have rustled up for him so far. It's good for me to have a culinary challenge now and again too, otherwise it's easy to get into a rut and just cook the same old things day after day. Anyone got any great ideas for easy vegan meals that will fit in to the packed lunch category?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birthday on a School Day

A birthday falling on a school day leaves you out of breath and gasping from the onslaught of cake, presents and wishes, even when it’s not your birthday. Youngest was seven the other day. She was a bit fed up that she had to go to school on her birthday. After all, it’s too tantalizing opening up pressies over breakfast and then having to go off and leave them in a pristine, untouched state on the table. The one consolation was that we had promised to pick her up as soon as she finished, instead of her going into aftercare until the older ones came out of class, as she usually does on a Monday.

She was over the moon with all her presents, especially the horse themed ones. Middle Daughter had had the idea of making her a stable out of wood for her toy horses; she designed it herself and enlisted Dad’s co-operation for the woodwork, spending most of Sunday out in the garage supervising and then painting her creation. This stood proudly on the breakfast table enveloped in a sarong to be unveiled the moment the cereal had been dispatched.


And then more presents enticingly swathed in pink crepe paper with ribbon and roses arrived with her aunt, to reveal a riding academy set with horses and jumps, fences and mucking out equipment. How can a girl possibly go to school when all these treasures await investigation. But she did, without too much complaint, clutching a big chocolate cake with Smarties on that she’d decorated the night before.

I’d planned to get some work done and then kick in to party planning mode. One lot of visitors were leaving and two more arriving on the same day, but I thought I could scribble a short recipe article or two before baking the cake… until our domestic help called in sick. I looked around the house, in its usually post-weekend chaos and gave up the idea of work… changed beds, swept floors, baked cake, as my husband washed dishes and put the playroom to rights. It was of course raining. The treasure hunt was still to plan, though I’d got ahead of myself and put the treasure bags together the night before.

By the time Youngest returned from school the treasure hunt clues were distributed and I’d got the story thought up: about a Princess whose job was to take care of the royal unicorns, only to have Bad Baron Bolligrew kidnap one of the foals, when she refused to sell him one. We had to track him down and rescue the baby unicorn, following the magic notes she’d been able to leave for us.

The dogs were fascinated with my putting round of clues, especially Amy the Jack Russell; I’d planned to use the pet carry box to put Youngest’s toy unicorn in with the treasure. Amy still reckons that box is hers. She arrived at our house in it, as her previous owner used it for her to travel in. Now, as soon as I opened the door to put in the treasure, in she shot and lay down next to the stuffed unicorn, refusing to come out. This was obviously some new game just for her, one that she was more than willing to play. Eventually I got her out, replaced her with the treasure and whizzed around the rest of the route tying clues to trees and fences with silver ribbon.

Youngest nibbled a bit of bread for lunch and then disappeared off to play with her horses. I’d naively thought that she’d enjoy helping make cheese biscuits with me for tea. Usually the girls love doing that as part of the party preparations, but time was at a premium; horses were more important that any old cheese biscuits. Plus there were phone calls to receive from overseas aunt and Granny.

I made the cheese biscuit dough myself quickly, whipped cream and sliced strawberries and put the cake together before zooming off to collect the rest of the party invitees from school. She’d spent ages deliberating over who to invite and in the end luckily decided on just a few friends, so the car held them all.

The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur.
Sandwiches made, with starving kids hoovering up the crusts the minute I sliced them off.
A shower of rain descending just as we set off on the treasure hunt, necessitating a return for rain jackets, but damping no-one’s enthusiasm for clue-seeking.
Two more sets of visitors duly arriving.
Sandwiches, cheese biscuits and strawberry cake consumed and Happy Birthday sung.
Beads to be threaded to make necklaces, beads all over floor, visiting toddler retrieved from vicinity of beads.
Youngest torn between playing with her friends and wanting to get out the horses again, in the end being drawn into a game of block block.
The last child guest leaving, signalling time to cook supper for the adult guests.
Youngest happy but tired, wishing there was more time to play with her presents, but bed-time had been reached already.
A chapter of Noel Streatfeild’s A Painted Garden read and then lights out.

School day birthdays really are a rush… maybe it’s time to move the party to the weekend, but it has always been so much part of the birthday itself for our kids, that a birthday without a party just seems rather dull.

The next morning Youngest got out of bed and dressed in record time, before I’d even got out of bed. By the time I came through from my shower she’d got her own breakfast and was playing happily with her horses.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

When Spring Turns To Summer

Signs that spring is surging on towards summer:

Last week the yellow daisies swathed the sand in thick blankets. A few days of warm sunny weather have dried them out and the golden carpets have faded away to dry stalks that rattle as you brush past.

Balmy evenings with glowing pink sunsets tempt you outside, just when it is time to cook supper.

The first braai of the season happened last night, instead of last week when it was National Braai Day. The master of the braai is almost completely recovered from an unidentified virus that laid him low for two whole weeks, and was able to resume his duties and do a fine job of cooking the chicken wings, chops and boerewors.

The watsonis are tall and stately and coming into full bloom to replace the fading daisies, as a last splash of colour before summer bleaches us to pale straw once more.

The first swim of the season officially took place on Friday, when the girls took the plunge after a warm day had taken the edge off the chill of the water. They had to be dragged out protesting, because we were being eaten alive by the miggies (midges). Their brother deigned to join them the next day once they'd checked it out.

The lawn has been mown for the first time this spring, but this intrepid self-sown gazania was spared.

The last term of the school year starts on Tuesday, but we're looking forward to a summer of braais and swimming, even though today a cool wind and misty morning made a Sunday roast more than welcome and had us reaching for our fleeces again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pony Show

I learned to ride as a child. Living in the country it was what girls did and riding was an afternoon activity once a week at school. All the girls rode, so I did too. I was OK at it, but never in the prize winning league. My memories include: being unable to convince ‘my’ pony to go over any jumps ever; being left hanging from a low branch by another pony determined to find the shortest way home on a cross country ride; and losing a toenail when a dozy horse accidentally lent on my foot when I was holding him the stableyard. I’m sure there were good bits too, trotting along country lanes, spending time grooming and catching ponies instead of having to play football on riding afternoons, but of course it is always the dramatic incidents that burn themselves in Technicolor on the brain.

I left riding behind as I moved into my teens and my only subsequent close encounter with a horse years later in Italy left me with a broken rib, when I fell off it rather gracefully as it shied at a pheasant and bolted for home.

Our son was fascinated with horses as a toddler, but when he had the chance of a pony ride at the age of four or five, refused even to get on one. His sister followed suit and, as he turned out to be allergic to horses, learning to ride was never on the agenda, even though we live in the country with a dozen studs and horse farms around us.

It was Youngest who seemed to have been born with the intention to ride. This year after a couple of years of wistful reminders, I finally got it together and organized riding lessons for her. Middle Daughter took two weeks of watching to decide that she wanted to learn too. Son had one lesson and no more, due to lack of any real interest, although he was actually pretty good.

So this last year I have had to rediscover ponies almost from scratch. I started off fairly tentatively, holding the ponies while the girls mounted, and being dragged off to whichever succulent patch of vegetation attracted their interest. Last week I finally found that I’d made a massive leap of confidence around them. I took the two girls to their second pony show at their riding school on my own, as a pressing engagement with a rugby match kept the boys at home. Youngest had opted to enter the best walk and trot off the lead class, but Middle daughter, less confident, went for the on the leading rein classes. Both wanted to do the pole on the ground class, where they go round a jumping course on the lead rein, but with all the jumps at ground level.

It was one of the few gorgeous sunny days, we’ve had this spring. Even at eight thirty in the morning it was warm in the sun, but still chilly in the shade of the pines along the side of the show ring. Ponies accumulated, riders searched out riding hats and numbers and consulted the list to see who they were riding. Parents got out folding chairs and picnic boxes and bagged a spot in the shade.

First off Middle Daughter was on Rane, a little grey pony. It was my duty to lead him round the ring and eventually persuade him into a trot. It felt more like being a tow truck as he started off resisting all efforts to do more than walk fast with his neck sticking out horizontally, while I tried to run in the deep sand. Eventually he obliged for a short stretch, just long enough for her to show off her rising trot and for me to reacquaint myself with my running muscles.


Later on, the pole on the ground event made me realize just how unfit I am. Persuading Rane to trot over a course of ten jumps in soft sand had my lungs protesting at this unaccustomed demand for their services. We got around without any mishap, though I’d wondered if I would make the last jump… Youngest was supposed to go on next, but the riding teacher took one look at me and sent someone else out. As I tried to look cool and unpuffed, I was given away by a tickly cough from the recesses of those poor abused lungs. Luckily my husband had arrived by then, jubilant after a triumphant finale to the Tri-nations rugby series. I handed over the reins without any more ado and it was him who led Youngest and Ginger round the course, her confidently telling him which way to go, as he hadn’t had a chance to walk the course.


The girls were thrilled with their rosettes, a first place for Youngest and second for Middle Daughter in the walk, and fourth place for both in the trot. I reckoned all the mothers (not many Dads there due to the rugby match) deserved rosettes too for their clear rounds over the poles. I’m going to have to get in training before the next show.. pony boot camp anyone?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fighting Chance

Traditional weapons aren't much use when the cowboys come to town. But if you're lucky they'll give you a sporting chance and fight fair. Duelling swords at dawn....








Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Up The Cloudy Mountain


Going up Table Mountain in the cable car is an annual treat. A treat because it’s expensive to ride in the cable car. You can walk up the mountain for free, but riding the cable car is priced for tourists and taking the whole family up is a major financial investment.

Revolving 360 degrees slowly over the 5 minute trip in the car, you dangle over precipitous heights and see the city shrink in size as you whiz up the cable towards vertical cliffs at the top. The ocean spreads out before you and the coast stretches away into the distance, our line of three hills identifiable in a misty haze of blue outlines halfway along the map.

It’s a gamble planning a day up the mountain especially in spring. Children go free in winter, so we always try to plan for a trip up then, but it has to be a last minute decision. Weather forecasts get it wrong, fickle winds blow up a tablecloth of cloud onto our mountain, when all around is clear. Rain can sweep in and wash a stream of tourists back into the cable car in a miserable huddle.

The children determined on Granny’s visit as the best time for our trip up the mountain. Ambitious plans for walking up for the first time ever this year were shelved after the flu broke out and the kids all took a long time to recover. The soft option it would be, once the weather obliged. The middle week of Granny’s visit was submerged by rain and trumped by our son’s turn at having flu. The last week started off wet too, but looked set to clear up. She would be leaving on Friday. Thursday it would have to be, if at all possible.

We packed the kids off to school in an optimistic mood. Cool, still and clear, the morning would be bound to warm up. The top of Table Mountain was a clean outline against the horizon as we drove back from school later. We downed our lunch hurriedly and set off, armed with fleeces and jackets too. A thermos of hot chocolate nestled in a rucksack to succour us up aloft.

Patches of cloud wafted over us as we drove towards Cape Town, the mountain always in sight. We kept a close eye on it to make sure that it wouldn’t change its mind and sulk, shrugging a blanket of cloud around its shoulders and turning its back on the world. We got closer and closer, our fingers aching with being crossed, but still the sun showed a firm line of flat mountain top ahead.

Lugging a panoply of jackets, we hardly had to queue any time for tickets, even though there were plenty of tour buses parked. A slight setback, when we found that they’d changed the rules and children are now only free on weekends and public holidays in winter, was eased by using our Wild card which gave us a discount on all the tickets. Surrounded by a group of Japanese tourists we climbed into the cable car and swept grandly and gloriously up the side of the mountain… into wisps of cloud. In those few minutes while we paid for our tickets the notorious tablecloth had swept up the back of the mountain and swirled over the top, draping elegantly over the edge just a little all round.


We emerged into a chill dampness and piled on all our jackets, feeling slightly smug as we watched T-shirted tourists shivering as they strode bravely around the paths.


Tantalizing glimpses of Cape Town in bright sunshine were visible over the edge of the precipice, bright blue ocean contrasted with the grey all around and above. The kids started off happily enough, climbing on rocks and peering over the edge, but eventually the fun of that was muted by being cold. So we found a rock to shelter us from the chilly wind that seemed to come from all directions at once and drank hot chocolate with special cookies from Inge’s deli, bought by my Mum and sister-in-law on a foray to Kalk Bay the day before.

The best packaging I've ever seen on hand-made cookies and great tasting too ... in fact I ate most of these ones!


Luckily Youngest had brought a glove puppet up with her. Perfect to warm Granny's hands...


Every now and again the light would brighten and sun would attempt to burn through the thin layer of cloud that enveloped us. We’d cheer it and encourage it, trying with the force of our minds to transform it into a sunny afternoon, but we weren’t quite strong enough a match for the wind and cloud.


They re-asserted themselves and after a brisk walk around the marked paths and a clamber over some tempting rocks, we called it a day.



We’ve been up the mountain for this year and at least we’ll always remember this one. It can’t be a bad thing for kids to experience what it’s like on a mountain in cold and fog and get an idea of what real winter is like in colder climes than ours!

The next day dawned warm and bright and, as I drove my mother to the airport, Table Mountain taunted us with its crisp, cloud-free profile, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt.

This post from two years ago has pictures of what it should ideally be like up on Table Mountain in the sunshine!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Birthday Spoils

Some birthdays are painful reminders of the years passing, hurtling you onwards into incipient middle age. But they can be opportunities for three days of pampering and indulgence, the equivalent of a spring makeover, courtesy of the family pulling out all the stops to spoil you rotten!

That is what I got this year and I feel like a new woman, the wrinkles of age banished by a new haircut, a deep tissue massage to sort out the computer-knotted back and a shopping session with my mother to get some flattering new clothes to replace my baggy old winter uniform of fading jeans and cotton rib Gap pullover from twelve years ago. Not to forget my new film star sunglasses discovered in a sale next door to the hairdresser and secured as a pressie by a hurried sms to my husband.


Thus fortified I took the rest of the day off work and drifted around in a leisurely fashion, stopping by the sofa now and then to throw pills and remedies down our flu-struck son, read my book, planted out the lobelia and pansies that the children bought me to replace my unfortunate nasturtiums and had a photo session with a professional photographer (whose services I acquired for life by marrying him), to capture the glamorous new look, before the careful hairdresser blow-dry was lost forever.

The evening saw a flurry of activity in the kitchen as my two sisters-in-law and mother cooked dinner for all the grown-ups and my husband rustled up sausage and mash for the two healthy children. I was surplus to requirements and so took the unusual luxury of a late-afternoon shower to get the compost from under my fingernails and then went and watched Willow with the children while the others finished getting dinner ready. It was delicious too – tender oxtail stew and chicken and mushrooms with an abundance of fresh organic vegetables brought that afternoon from Spier.

And then a whole weekend to recover from being so spoilt and gradually resume my usual household duties, before Monday demanded the juggling act of work, children and cooking once more.

I hesitated to post this, as it sounded like a birthday gloat when I re-read it, but I want to make sure everyone knows how much my birthday spoiling is appreciated, and now reality is back in place again I want to remind myself of how good it felt too!

Our son is almost recovered from the flu now and starting to boss us all around again, which is a sign of return to normal.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Muffins and Marmalade

I meant to write a post today, but I made marmalade instead.

It was going to be a thought-provoking discussion about real food made with real ingredients, as opposed to shop bought fluffy cakes that fade to nothing in your mouth… but I hadn’t made marmalade yet this winter and spring is knocking on the door. Oranges will only hang around so long and the thought of going through a year without a stash of home-made marmalade is enough to induce panic.

So it is now potted up, six jars cooling in the kitchen. Not enough. I’ll have to make another batch next weekend.

I also threw together a batch of bran flake muffins, in an attempt to use up the reject crumbs at the bottom of the bran flake packet, that my husband can’t bring himself to eat in the morning. We now have the crumbs from about three packets, adding up to about half a packet of flakes. Frugal mode is in place and, as those flake crumbs are about R15 worth of nutrition going to waste, I hunted down a recipe for bran flake muffins that sounded OK, added a mashed banana and tentatively introduced them to my family. Standard bran muffins are not considered edible by my kids and I really wanted them to get along with these ones, which would solve the problem of finishing off bran flakes packets forever.

The kids were outside on the trampoline as I took the tray out of the oven. Bouncing around with trousers descended to their ankles and throwing tennis balls at each other to hysterical laughter. I tried out a muffin in advance trying to decide if it would suit their taste buds. Reckoned it might. I finished the muffin with my tea. Eventually they came in, hot and cheerful, and spotted the muffins cooling on the rack.
“What’s in them?”
“Oh, banana, cinnamon, the usual, just a different recipe” I replied airily.

They tried them, and liked them, even though they had spotted the bran flakes packet on the counter and deduced my attempted deception.
Hurray! Now I can bake off those bran flake packet reject crumbs every now and then and I have another muffin recipe to add to my list.

Bran Flake Muffins Recipe

1 cup plain flour
½ cup wholewheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoons cinnamon
1 mashed banana
2 cups bran flakes (Kelloggs in our case)
1 ¼ cups millk
1 egg
¼ cup sunflower oil

Soak the bran flakes in milk for 5 minutes. Mix in egg, mashed banana and oil.
Combine flours, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon.
Stir the flour mix into the bran flake mix until just combined.
Spoon into greased 12 cup muffin tin.
Bake at 200C/400F for 18-20 minutes until lightly browned.

The kids are now all in bed, and very excited that Granny is arriving tomorrow. We'll all be getting up early to go to the airport. She should be getting on the flight about now, leaving the English late summer to come to our chilly early spring. But the sun is supposed to be shining tomorrow and the daisies will be in full flood, carpeting the field by our gate and sprinkled lavishly, like a heat haze quivering in the sunlight around the house.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bring on the Garden Gnomes


What is the opposite of green-fingered? I had some flourishing nasturtiums growing in pots outside our door. They'd just got to the abundant flowering stage and were looking really bright and cheerful, when I noticed they were covered in blackfly, which were killing off all the new buds. My sister-in-law suggested spraying with soapy water.

I think I overdid it. Or else dishwashing liquid is the wrong sort of soapy water. Instead of green but bug-ridden flowering plants, I now have dessicated looking leaves that are ghosts of their former selves and poor faded looking blooms.

The silver lining is that the bulbs in the pots with them might now have a chance of enough air and sunshine to flower. They were completely drowned in a sea of saucer- sized nasturtium leaves before. I’m afraid I haven’t inherited my grandmother’s gardening gene after all!

I'm not going to show you a picture of what they look like now... it's too depressing!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chocolate Tart


Good chocolate, dark chocolate, seriously bitter chocolate… how dark can you go? Do you stop at 60% or can you take the almost no sweetness of 85% cocoa solids that stays on your tongue with no holds barred, chocoholic, I’m-in-need-of-a-fix madness.

Looking for a chocolate tart recipe for a grown-up dinner party, I was thinking really bitter chocolate in a light pastry case: dark chocolate flavour and richness to complement an orange sorbet and the guava parfait that I’d just discovered. Chocolate with no distractions, was the mission and I finally found a recipe that worked perfectly.

It was a chocolate tart to end all chocolate tarts, as dark and rich and grown up as they come. Served with a scoop of guava parfait and one of orange sorbet it was the perfect ending to a meal. The orange offset the bitterness of the dark chocolate I’d used and the guava added an extra flavour dimension and creamy texture.

Chocolate tart before baking

Chocolate, cream and eggs fill a blind baked pastry case and then bake to a rich and solid, extremely chocolatey filling, where the pastry serves just as a container, a plain foil to its filling. Mine didn’t have the smooth and sleek looks of the official recipe photograph, but it tasted like chocoholic heaven!

I used my own sweet pastry recipe and bought really good chocolate – one bar of Lindt 85% and one of Lindt 65%, which combined perfectly to make it bitter but not so bitter as to shock the palate. I think their 75% would work just as well, but the shop was out of it.

Just out of the oven

At dinner the dessert faded the conversation to silence. Everyone was too busy savouring the flavour combinations and getting exactly the right amount of orange sorbet with a nibble of chocolate tart. I served thin slices, so the tart easily went round the eleven of us, with plenty to spare for those tempted to embark on seconds. I wish I’d photographed a slice of tart plated up with the scoop of orange sorbet and one of guava ice cream. It looked stunning, even though my presentation isn’t quite as neat as it could be. When can we have another dinner party? I can't wait to bake this again!


(Edited to add: This is the chocolate tart recipe I used.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spring Blooms

I was toiling unenthusiastically at the computer this afternoon, when Middle Daughter sidled over tentatively and said she wanted to show me something. It took me no more than a second to abandon my screen in favour of distraction. She took me outside into the breezy spring day and opened my eyes to the new flowers that have bloomed overnight. Several of these pink pypies are blooming among the restios.

These bobbejaantjies ( pronounced bubiankies) have a delicate and elusive scent outside. The girls picked just one of them and put it in water on our kitchen table. Its fragrance mingled with the scent of guavas and I was suddenly transported to an exclusive Parisian perfumery that creates subtle and exotic signature notes for the rich and famous. If I could bottle it, I'd market it as the scent of spring in South Africa, a heady yet subtle blend of fruit and flowers.

Refreshed I returned to the computer, but not to my work. The flowers just had to be posted to blow away the remnants of stuffy flu from our house with a fresh spring breeze.

(Youngest is better now, but the weekend was a story of sunny days spent chained to the sofa and mopping fevered brows.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Guava Parfait and a Search for a Chocolate Tart Recipe…

My cooking mojo has suddenly returned and I even started to get excited about new recipes over the weekend. For too long I’ve been doing the same old crowd pleasers and though I love doing a Sunday roast, it’s nice to have a little variation in the desserts at least.

So I leafed through Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book for inspiration. She is a domestic goddess of the Seventies following in the footsteps of Elizabeth David. She writes really well so it’s a pleasure just to read her books for the evocative prose, but her recipes are also really effective. Usually authentic recipes from the French and English traditions, all the ones I’ve tried have worked really well.

I was riffling through the various chapters on the fruits in season now, oranges, lemons, granadillas, guavas, when I came to a recipe that I had all the ingredients for. Not only that, but it would be remarkably cheap to make, a prime consideration when grocery bills are sky-rocketing here as well as everywhere else. The guavas were on the tree in the orchard, the last few of the season, then all it needed was one pot of cream and three egg whites, a bit of sugar and half a lemon… plus a cardamom pod. The addition of the cardamom was what really grabbed me, a subtle taste-tickling extra to the usual flavours of the guava fool that is on our oh-so-regular recipe list.


It was easy, made a whole big bowlful of guava ice cream (called parfait or chilled souffle by Jane Grigson as it has beaten egg white in, which keeps it soft and easy to scoop) that will easily do two Sundays of friends for lunch. Everyone yesterday was wowed by the flavour (except for Middle Daughter, who doesn’t like guavas) and compliments on the guava ice cream kept on coming the next day.

This recipe is probably mostly going to appeal to South Africans. We get guavas in abundance all through the winter here, but I know that in England at least guavas were rarely available when we lived there. This recipe would work with any strongly flavoured fruit though: I can imagine it tasting fabulous with raspberries.

Guava Parfait Recipe
6-7 guavas (about 250g/8oz peeled)
half a lemon
1 cardamom pod
2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 egg whites
250ml/1 cup cream
½ cup/100g sugar

Peel and slice the guavas. Put them in a heavy based pan with slivers of the lemon peel, all the lemon juice, the crushed seeds of the cardamom pod, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Simmer covered until the guavas are soft. Puree the guavas through a sieve.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff. Whip the cream until stiff too. Dissolve the sugar in ½ cup of water and boil gently for five minutes to make a syrup. Pour it while still boiling onto the beaten egg whites, with the beater on its top setting and keep beating until the mixture is cool. Fold in the guava puree and whipped cream. Put into a freezer-proof serving dish and freeze. No stirring or ice cream machines required.

If the puree is very sloppy you can use gelatine to help it set, but I didn’t and it was perfect. While I was making this I thought that the amount of fruit puree was too little and that there wouldn’t be enough flavour. Once the parfait had frozen though the flavour intensified amazingly and it was just right. You can play with the amounts, if you use different fruit, adding another half cup of cream and more fruit puree.


So what about the chocolate tart of the title? I was trying to think of a dessert that would complement the guava parfait. I’m cooking a grown-up dinner for my husband’s birthday next weekend: a rare occasion, when the kids get put to bed and we can linger over a meal with friends who will stay the night and have no pressure to drive back to town late at night. My mind keeps returning to an image of a chocolate tart: thin pastry filled with a thin layer of rich bitter chocolate, with a French patisserie feel – the sort of thing that you just have a sliver of and eat with a spoon of refreshing orange sorbet ( yes that is on the menu again by the wishes of the birthday boy). I’ve never made one before. So do you have a recipe that you recommend? I’m seeing a scoop of orange sorbet, a scoop of guava parfait and a wicked slice of dark chocolate tart… and I’m salivating already!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Disney and Beyond

Veterans of Disney classic features, our kids now know all the DVDs we’ve got off by heart and are looking for something new in the movie stakes.

They loved Racing Stripes, which led them on to race horse movie, Dreamer and then on to Seabiscuit, which we thought might be too adult for them, with all the background of the Great Depression and family tragedies. But that ended up being their favourite of the three. They enjoyed the grittiness of it and the triumph over adversity.

My husband is a great one for recounting the stories of movies at the supper table. He was telling them about You’ve Got Mail the other day and they asked if they could watch it. We both love chick flicks and romance with a sense of humour and that and Sleepless in Seattle are our Saturday night fall backs. A quick review in our heads established that there wasn’t anything too steamy for young eyes and we let them watch it over a two night period. They loved it and I was greatly relieved not to be asked to explain what cybersex is. They are now booking Sleepless in Seattle in for the weekend.

Now we should probably worry about the dangers of indoctrinating an eleven year old boy with chick flicks before he’s had a chance to defend himself with the likes of Terminator. However he’s found his own boy thing to balance it out. Throughout the holidays they all three got up and watched Top Gear before breakfast.

I don’t know what it is about Jeremy Clarkson and the team, but they manage to make car programmes worth watching even if you couldn’t care less about horsepower and gaskets. The girls were just as engrossed.

Coming back from school yesterday, our son mentioned that he’d love to get a Ferrari XXX (my shorthand, I can't remember the letters and numbers actually involved) the latest top of the range model, which is apparently really cool. He told me the price in pounds and we converted it to rand. “OK” I said, “if we sell the farm with all our houses, we could just pay for one. Do you think we’d get nine people and eight dogs into the Ferrari?”

So he’s going to be a sports car driving, chick flick watcher. Should be a devastating combination!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Inklings of Spring


This morning I emerged from a fug of computer induced wordiness and went outside for a breath of air and to pick some grass for the guinea-pig and rabbit. I discovered that while I was working in the blinkers of cyberspace, the seasons in the outside world have crept up on me again.

Here I was thinking we were in the middle of winter – winter holidays just finished, log fires in the evening and the children’s winter ambition of driving to the mountains to see some snow still unrealized.

Outside I go in between showers of rain and find that spring has sneaked in and started to re-decorate. The orange of winter is still there in the aloe flowers and golden shower, where the sunbirds still joyfully gorge themselves on nectar, but spring prefers all shades of white and has scattered confetti as she goes.


The almond blossom, delicate blooms that are yet intrepid enough to emerge with the snowdrops, has broken out overnight. A jasmine’s starry flowers scent the path to our front door with opulent perfume.

And the bulbs we planted hardly any weeks ago have already emerged triumphantly and revealed themselves as pale multi-flowered narcissi, towering over the few lowly snowdrops that feel out of place and a long way from home. Even our spring spread of white daisies has sent out a few scouts to see if the time is ripe to roll out the carpet and dazzle us with reflected sunlight.


I hope they’ll hold off a bit longer. Mid July is too early for spring. Hold your breath I want to shout, it’s still winter, even here we might have a rare frost to nip these confident blossoms in the bud. But they know better and the spring roll call of flowers is ushering more and more blooms into the landscape. Even a few pypies (pronounced pay-pees) have been spotted in flower a month too soon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Water

Living on a farm is great – wide open views, plenty of space, fresh air (unless our neighbour has just spread slurry on his roll-on lawn growing operation) and wonderful tasting, unchlorinated water fresh from our own borehole… that is as long as said borehole is functioning as it should. The trouble with boreholes is that they depend on electric pumps. And pumps that spend all day below ground sending water up to fill our tanks, eventually get fed up. And go on strike. They clog up. They blow a fuse. They just wear out now and again, exhausted by the task set them by these demanding farm dwellers.

At regular intervals, usually on a weekend, we find ourselves turning to our rain tanks for our washing water. Our friendly electrician and pump expert is happy to come out at short notice, but not on a Sunday and that is usually when the pump decides to give up the ghost.

So yesterday unshowered and dirty haired, I removed the dirty dishes from the dishwasher where they’d just made it through the pre-wash, hand-washed them in our carefully collected rain water, boiling kettles for hot water, and admiring the lather you get from such soft water. We had guests to a braai for lunch, so there were plenty more dishes to process that evening and another chance to reacquaint myself with the time honoured hand washing method, with buckets of water carried from the tank and every drop counted.

It really makes you think about water more carefully when you don’t have it on tap. The rinsing water got put back into the bucket to flush the loos with. My practical husband managed to link our rainwater tank into the main house pipes, so we did now have a trickle of water into the system, which made all the difference, but we were still very conscious of how long that one tank might last. We managed a (very) shallow bath this morning but left the water in for loo-flushing later.

The electrican showed up half way through this morning. His first report sounded grim. It looked as though the first borehole had run dry. My husband departed to consult and assess the damage with him, so I was left trying to carry on with the editing job I was working on, while emergency measures surged through my brain. He had said that sometimes underground water streams can collapse in on themselves, especially if someone else drills a bad borehole further upstream.

How could we survive on the farm if our underground stream gave up flowing…. I started to dream up elaborate water catchment systems to store our winter rainfall, a huge underground cistern, with an overflow to a dam. Water rationing would have to become second nature, the washing machine water would have to empty into big tubs to be re-used for toilet flushing. But would there be enough water pressure to run a washing machine? Our drinking water would have to be collected from a neighbour’s farm in big containers every few days.

Luckily my husband only left me in suspense with this vision of a post-apocalyptic survival scenario for an hour or so, before coming back to say they’d found and fixed a couple of problems with valves and fuses, there was water in the borehole and they just had to locate a leak in the pipe before switching us back on to the supply. A gust of relief as our lives returned to normal once more.

But each time the pump malfunctions, it is a salutary reminder of how dependant we all are on water. Without a supply of clean water it is impossible to keep on living in a place. That underground rainwater cistern is sounding like a really good idea!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Winter at the Beach

Winter at the beach - blue skies with wisps of cloud high above. Black rocks on Blouberg beach and shoals of mussel shells to hunt through, picking out the iridescent shards worn to jewel brightness by the waves.

Rocks and rock pools to explore, provoking the anemones to defensive closing by dropping unsuspecting sea snails on them. The girls were sure they were eating them, until I said they closed tight because they were frightened. Now we have to look up what they do eat.

You need dark glasses to catch a ball in the bright sunshine.

And the water is too cold to do more than paddle in the shallows... but then the water's too cold on this Atlantic coast in summer too.

Our reward for surviving a week of rain and mountains of laundry - a few jewel-bright days of sunshine and clear skies. One reason why we like the winter better than the summer here. In summer the wind blows too strongly on this beach in the afternoons, scouring your skin and saving you the trouble of exfoliating.

We're back home in the evening chill now getting ready to light a fire and snuggle up for a cold night with hot water bottles and a DVD.