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


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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bedtime stories

I’m really enjoying the age we’re at now. All the children’s books we’ve been hoarding for years, the old favourites from both our childhoods that we assiduously collected in second hand book shops before we left England, now make the perfect bedtime reading for all three kids. We used to have to separate out for story time. Dad would read The Chronicles of Prydian or the Narnia series to our son, while I would read The Tiger who wouldn’t go to Bed to the girls. Now that Youngest is nearly 7 and can concentrate as well as the older ones, we can all read the same books and I look forward to bed time as much as they do. They more often than not decide to forego watching TV after supper, so that they can get into bed earlier and have longer story time.

And the books that started this modern miracle? Victor Canning’s The Runaways trilogy. All of them fell in love with the adventures of Smiler, a fifteen year old wrongly accused of mugging an old lady, who has run away from an approved school until his Dad gets back from sea to clear his name. There is a parallel story of a cheetah escaped from Longleat safari park, who makes a home on the wilds of Salisbury plain. We took a quick diversion after the second Smiler book into Noel Streatfield’s Party Shoes, which has all three of them equally captivated, but once the pageant is successfully staged at bedtime tonight, we will be returning to Smiler to see how he extricates himself from his latest dilemma and whether his father will finally return from sea. After that Ballet Shoes is booked in and our bookshelf is groaning with more of my old favourites which I want to read to them.

I loved all the historical books as a child: Geoffrey Trease, Cynthia Harnett, Barbara Willard, Rosemary Sutcliff but so far our son has avoided them in his voracious excursions into literature. His own choices tend to be fantasy adventure and the bookshops here bulge with endless series of that genre, but very few ‘real-life’ stories seem to have made it onto the modern reading list, except for the eternal Enid Blyton Secret Sevens and Famous Fives. So I am determined to brainwash the kids into some of my old classics while they’re still open to them. I’ve got a feeling though that the books will have to stand on their own merits. Our son usually has his own book on hand as I read and, if the story isn’t gripping enough, manages simultaneously to read to himself as well as keeping an ear open for our story hotting up.

What books are you reading to your children now, or do you remember loving when you were a child? I’d love to compile a list of really well written children’s books that stand the test of time.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

25 Firsts Meme

It's a meme kind of day. Charlotte posted this one this morning and here I am following suit.

1. Who was your first prom date? We didn’t have proms in England then, just a few school dances. Those of us not joined at the hip to a steady boy/girlfriend went as a mixed group and it was hard to get the boys to dance at all.

2. Do you still talk to your first love? No. It was a long distance relationship which was fading for me and I callously broke up with him by phone when I met someone else. He told me not to keep in touch.

3. What was your first alcoholic drink? Probably sweet German wine that tasted of flowers, which we were introduced to in a civilized way by our parents at dinner.

4. What was your first job? Temping as a data entry person in a London office. I’d hardly even made the acquaintance of a computer by then and didn’t know how to type, so it was the lowest of the low in the temping world.

5. What was your first car? A Peugeot 205 in my last year of university. It went well for years until someone drove into me and wrote it off.

6. Who was the first person to text you today? My phone is switched off. Probably nobody, unless the bank is trying to sell me something.

7. Who is the first person you thought of this morning? A swirl of family faces were in my mind as I awoke

8. Who was your first grade teacher? Mrs Holden. I remember learning times tables and colouring in sections of a picture to show which ones we knew.

9. Where did you go on your first flight in a plane? To Italy in my gap year, to learn Italian.

10. Who was your first best friend and do you still talk? Tiggy. We’ve pretty much lost touch, but I did see her at my father’s memorial service.

11. Where was your first sleepover? At Tiggy’s. I remember being given a new red suitcase for the occasion and worrying about being able to lock the door of the loo.

12. Who was the first person you talked to today? My husband.

13. Whose wedding were you in for the first time? My own. I thought it would be wonderful to be a bridesmaid, but when my uncle got married they didn’t have bridesmaids, so my only chance of a frilly dress was foiled.

14. What was the first thing you did this morning? Staggered into the shower.

15. What was the first concert you went to? It probably wasn't the first but the only one I can remember is going to see Bryan Adams at Hammersmith Odeon with my brother.

16. First tattoo? None, but my kids are now crazy about play tattoos. We’ve told them they have to wait for the real thing until they’re 18!

17. First piercing? My ears, but not till I was about eighteen. I was going to do them when all the other girls at school did at about 14, but it was immediately vetoed.

18. First foreign country you went to? France. We were taken to Brittany when I was about 4 and refused to eat anything much because it was foreign. After that it was Scotland for several years. Then later we had several family holidays driving through France again, once we were old enough not to turn our noses up at foreign food.

19. First movie you remember seeing? Can’t remember which came first: the Herbie ones about the Beetle car, James Bond movies, Star Wars.

20. What state did you first live in? England

21. Who was your first room-mate? At school we were in dorms that changed every term. By university we’d progressed to single rooms, but our corridor formed the core of my group of friends for the next few years.

22. When was your first detention? I remember being mortified at being made to stay behind after class to finish or re-do something, when I was about nine, and then hiding rather than go into tea late and have everyone look at me, which of course resulted in a far more embarrassing school-wide search for me.

23. If you had one wish what would it be? I ought to be like Miss World and wish for world peace, but right now I’d settle for a regular and ample income stream... the joys of freelancing!

24. What is one thing you would learn, given the chance? How to paint gorgeous pictures in luscious colours and textures

25. Who will be the next person to post this? Any of you that feel inspired to.