Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tortoises can't Jump

This percipient remark was delivered, a propos of nothing, in the bathroom by my youngest. I rack ed my brains as to what it could refer to, meanwhile just agreeing in a humouring mum way with her.....

We'd been to feed the tortoises earlier, taking them some overripe watermelon, which they love, tearing off great chunks of rind and all (these are BIG tortoises, asylum seeking endangered Cape Mountain Tortoises that we provide a safe house for). The children love watching them eat, squatting down in a semi circle around them, an admiring audience. Every now and again a child will leap up to go and check out the other tortoise and if she gets to close or her shadow falls on the torty a huge husssss, like a jet of steam from a steam iron, emerges startlingly from this reptilian face. The children ask why. Assuming parental omniscient role I reply, "you gave him a fright, with your shadow falling over the food, maybe he thought you were a predator...or you just made him jump."

Several hours later this inexact use of language is thrown back at me as she washes her hands. Disbelievingly, obstinately, you can't fool me - "Tortoises CAN'T jump"

Balsamic Vinegar revamps Pasta Sauce!

I’m so happy, I’ve discovered a minor variation on my stock pasta sauce recipe, which I have used so many times I was starting to get bored of it, and it is now officially revamped. It’s amazing what a difference in taste there is just by adding one or two new ingredients. 

I was leafing through Marcella Hazan’s ‘Marcella’s Kitchen’ and side by side on the page were a recipe for a tomato sauce with rosemary and balsamic vinegar and one for a tuna and red pepper sauce. I love rosemary for its clean spiky aroma and have just started trying it out in a pasta sauce with bacon  My usual tuna recipe had tomato and thyme in, but I thought I’d take Marcella’s tomato sauce recipe, add my tuna on top and see how it went. Well I loved it, a tickle to the tastebuds which have been sadly understimulated recently, the kids ate marginally more than usual, hurray! So with this scientific try out I deem the recipe to be successful enough to pass on to you all.

Penne with Tuna, Tomato, Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar
For 450g/1lb pasta
8 tablespoons olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2 sprigs rosemary
450g/1lb tinned tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tin of tuna drained

Put the olive oil, thinly sliced garlic and rosemary sprigs in a frying pan over a medium heat. When the garlic starts sizzling add the tomatoes, with salt and pepper and cook for 10-12 minutes.
When the pasta is just cooked – really al dente – drain and put back in the pan and toss with the sauce over the heat for 1 minute. Add the tuna, stir, then off the heat stir in the balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.

I wondered whether the balsamic vinegar might be too much for the kids, but the flavour isn’t at all intrusive, just blends into a warm, mellow robustness.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Recipe for a South African country school run

Take one Opel Astra Estate, suitable for a three child family.

Instal said family, 5 minutes too late in the morning due to protracted searches for missing shoes.

Add one employee’s child who walks 7km to get to us for a lift to school.

Stir the mix well and season with off-key songs and gentle squabbles.

After 5 minutes add another two children, (employees’s children from a friend’s farm), don’t worry about seat belts any more, there’s room in the back.

Decant three children at son’s school. Replace with one more child and proceed briskly to the kindergarten.

Scoop the remaining mixture into the prepared kindergarten and leave to bake gently for three and a half hours.

At the end of the morning repeat the procedure in reverse. Driving carefully of course to allow baked goods to settle.

For a spicy variation, every now and again, squeeze in another cup full of friends to come home for a play date.

Accompany with a crisp winter sunrise over the mountains.

Warning: please do not try to replicate this recipe in Europe – local Health and Safety regulations apply.

P.S. Wanted - one minibus or people carrier in good condition, low fuel consumption and cheap, alternatively a magic carpet would be much appreciated.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reunited and it feels so good!

My husband is back from the wedding weekend, the vibe in our house feels right again - it's amazing the difference it makes having him absent. Everything felt two-dimensional, we progressed through our normal routines and activities, even had some fun but some vital energy was missing - I even had a hard time being inspired to blog! It's pathetic I know! We're grown-up (I think) and he missed us just as much if not more. You see up till recently he's even worked from home, so has been woven intricately into the daily fabric of mine and the children's lives. For the last month he's been commuting into Cape Town every day, which feels very strange and then to be away for the weekend as well.. The decision has been made. Next wedding we all go, marathon journey, pee-stops and all.

It was great this evening, the sun broke through the clouds, as it was setting, giving a soft dampish light over the newly green hills and we all went for a walk around the farm. Dad, Mum, three kids, four dogs, sun catching the tops of the restios (wild indigenous grasses), children capering through them and throwing themselves into the sand...cue pastoral music, the song from my title or a margarine ad....It was truely idyllic - one of those times you go aaaaah and appreciate your life and the little angels instead of ranting about them!

And the rock cakes went down a treat in Knysna too.

5 things meme

I confess to being a blog/internet novice. Here I've been thinking that two of my new blog friends have been too busy to post anything all week and all I needed to do was click the refresh button up top...duh!

Well now I've caught up with you again, (enjoyed reading all your posts and seeing kansasrose's pics) and found that Meredith tagged me to do this 5 things meme (what does meme mean in English?) so here we go.

5 things in my fridge
a lot more than 5 but here are the more interesting:

Parmesan cheese my mother brings proper parmigiano reggiano vacuum packed from England when she visits and I treasure it till next time
Black olive paste from Riebeek Kasteel a town near us, the South African olive industry is growing fast
Home-made marmalade, apricot and strawberry jam I started making it a couple of years ago to deal with our excess strawberry crop and now can't stop
Play dough also home made but distinctly grey looking now from too many excursions
Respitron syrup a herbal supplement to boost the respiratory system that my son has every day

5 things in my closet

we only have one too-small antique pine cupboard that was meant as a hall coat cupboard and is just too narrow to take a coathanger, so they have to go in at an angle, with the result that it is stuffed to the gills. We neither of us like fitted cupboards, however useful and can't afford to buy the beautiful antique wardrobes and linen presses that we'd like, so have lots of suitcases and plastic boxes in the loft to take the things we don't wear.

Clothes my husband's and my jackets, shirts and trousers and dresses I hardly wear.
rucksacks and duffel bags in case we go somewhere
birthday presents for the kids one hiding place they haven't yet found
knitting jumpers I started twelve years ago and never finished
dry lavender I pick from our bushes and throw bunches in every now and again

5 things in my car

One roll loo paper for snotty noses on school run
Acorns the kids fill their pockets outside kindergarten every day
Crumbs kids - no explanation required
Crumpled newspaper to soak up an oil leak from some sort of tool that my husband transported
2 of clubs no idea why

5 things in my purse

homeopathic arnica pills for bumps and bruises
asthma inhaler in case of sudden allergy attacks in my son
pink sunhat middle daughter's
spare knickers youngest's and a permanent necessity still
S.A. ID book and UK passport a document dichotomy
one gumnut from the bluegum trees, the kids make gnomes from them oops that's six you choose one to drop

As for tagging 5 more people, I'm new to this business and you guys have used up all the people who look at my blog...but if you haven't yet done this and read this post consider yourself tagged :) (first time I've done a smiley...definitely a novice!)

Rock Cakes Recipe

I despatched my husband off to a family wedding this weekend, a batch of rock cakes for sustenance. His niece was getting married near Knysna, which is a five and hald hour drive away. Not too far for the weekend really, but take three kids with you, it can turn into a seven hour marathon of pee-stops, squabbles, "are we there yet"s, and so faint-heartedly I quailed at all of us going together just for a weekend. The children accepted this without a blink and happily sewed felt pictures as wedding presents.

By the way all weddings in the children's consciousness are based on the ones in The Incredibles and in Shrek, so churches and brides in white veils were the requested images to try and portray in my expertise goes as far as cutting out flowers, stars, moons and even birds, but brides in white veils?! The church we managed and my son even sewed a cross on the steeple, but luckily my daughter accepted the notion of flowers being bridal enough and youngest daughter is still into abstract designs of sewing on beads randomly with help from me to make sure they are secured.

I'm sure we would have survived the trip and in fact there is another wedding in the same family in August which we have promised we will go to and take an extra night, sneak off school for a day or two. Anyway this weekend we all missed each other. I thought I would just spend extra time blogging and the time would go by quick, but it felt very flat with the vital presence absent, so it wasn't so much fun being glued to the computer after all.

What about the rock cakes? This recipe is a vital element of any holiday in my husband's family. They all have a great nostalgia for family holidays spent at The River, through their childhood, always accompanied by lots of drinking tea and eating rock buns in bed on chilly winter mornings. So whenever we go there now with our family I always bake a batch or two. The trip to Knysna seemed to fall into the same category, time spent with his family talking for hours over breakfast, so rock buns/cakes, felt appropriate.

Here is the recipe.

Rock Cakes
2 cups self-raising flour
a pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
125g/4.5oz butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit(fruit cake mix)
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F

Sift together the flour, salt and spices. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit. Beat together the egg and milk then stir into the dry mix, till it makes a stiff dough. Place in heaps on a greased baking tray. Will make 12-15 cakes. Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden. Cool on a rack.

The warm but gentle spicy note of these is a great comfort eating thing. The butteriness too, you could try using margarine, but it wouldn't be as good. Better use butter and just eat less...if you can resist!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

odd socks

I have come to the conclusion that socks are not naturally monogamous. A foray into my daughter's drawer revealed no less than nine odd socks and no pairs. Could this be a coincidence, or is it just the true nature of socks to go off on solitary adventures for extended periods of time...or else team up with an obviously unsuitable partner for a jaunt together on a childs feet before being forceably reunited with their destined life mate?

Proof that it is not just the messy state of my house that created this situation is Corey's last Tongue in Cheek post - her otherwise immaculate house has the same problem with socks as mine. I have only one practical solution. Buy yourself ten identical pairs of socks, throw out all your odd leftovers, then the socks can contentedly change partners and go off on trips as much as they like, with you being none the wiser, as long as they are careful to keep an even number of them in the drawer at all times.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Baking Day

I had to bake today. We were out of bread, out of biscuits, apart from boring, plain Maries, out of rusks... and for a family in South Africa to be out of rusks is unthinkable. So a gorgeous sunny, crisp winter day outside, kids out there digging in the sand, playing cops and robbers and pretty much keeping themselves happy with minimum input from me, I can set to and get the bread dough going, then put together a batch of rusks.

Now in the UK, rusks are Farleys rusks...revolting processed things for babies to teethe on, which turn into a sticky paste and get smeared all over the furniture. Here in South Africa Ouma's Rusks are a national institution, a rough textured, hard baked biscuit that you dunk in tea, first thing in the morning or for a snack. Often they are have seeds and raisins in or muesli and they may make crumbs everywhere but they don't dissolve into a soggy mush!

I found a recipe for them, when out here for a long visit when my son was a baby, took the recipe back to London with us and it was the one thing I baked regularly, come rain or shine, with my toddler son helping while his baby sister was sleeping..I was only just learning to juggle in those days.

Today it was my youngest helping and at 3 1/2 she's pretty nifty at rolling the dough into balls to pack into the tins. It was pretty good standing rubbing butter into flour, looking out at a view of clear sunny mountains, with kids' voices as they played harmoniously together...kind of need to record the moment for doesn't all come together like that very often.

It didn't last out the afternoon, in fact by supper time I was burning the bread, as I still am obliged to accompany my nifty helper to the loo every single time, and she picks the busiest moments of course, and then dawdles on the way, so I have to find dry clothes for her as get the picture. So it was a grumpy mum getting supper on the table - I hate burning the bread!

The rusk recipe I've written down in an article which I'll get posted very soon when I've dotted the iiiiis and crossed the tttts. Now it's time to go and put another log on the fire, it's chilly here at night now. Seems strange to be reading everyone's blogs on spring and early summer and cherry picking in Provence up there in the Northern Hemisphere, when we're just getting out our hot water bottles, extra blankets and wellie boots!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rosemary, Tomato and Bacon Pasta Sauce

Pasta used to be my kids' favourite - the one thing that I could rely on that they'd all eat. Which was great cos I like cooking it too. It's the perfect thing for when you suddenly realise that it's nearly supper time, nothing's defrosted from the freezer and there wouldn't be time to cook anything else anyway. So we usually have it twice a week.

Sadly this dead-cert crowd pleaser has failed to please recently - maybe I've over done it over the years. I still like it, so does my husband and youngest, but the older two greeted me with groans and 'not too much' as I put a bare spoonful of the stuff on their plates. Anyone would think it was gruel (whatever that is) or gruesome offal. As my son carefully picks every trace of sauce off his pasta and my daughter gingerly munches two single penne before going for the yoghurt (natural with chopped apple - her choice) I wonder why I bother to cook simple things that they (ought to) like. I could cook something ridiculously sophisticated (if I could remember anything) that I knew they wouldn't like and it wouldn't be any different.

Anyway I'm not going to stop cooking it. I'll just feel freer to experiment with other sauces. I've stayed with the same two for ages, because they're the only ones they'll they don't eat those they might as well not eat some other ones too. So my Marcella Hazan books can come out of retirement. I love her books, genuine Italian traditional food, as you'd eat in Italy, not transformed by trendy resturants into nouvelle fusion art.

I was looking for a recipe that I remembered that combined bacon and rosemary as a pasta sauce, an elegant but robust (if it can be both at once) combination. When I looked at her recipe, which was long on butter and parmesan and sounded delicious, I had qualms as I'm supposed to be taking care of my husbands cholesterol levels and bacon, butter and parmesan in the same dish sound like red alert country to me. So I did my own version. Used olive oil and tomato instead, which turned out well (for me not the kids!).

Rosemary, Tomato and Bacon Pasta Sauce

For about 350g/12oz pasta
200g/6oz smoked bacon
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 fresh tomatoes peeled
salt and pepper

Chop the garlic finely. Chop the bacon into small strips. Saute them in the olive oil till the bacon has coloured but not got crispy. Add the rosemary. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes untill all the wateriness has gone and you have a nice dense sauce. Toss with the cooked pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

A handy tip: sometimes the sauce takes forever to reduce, especially if you stand over it. Don't. Go to your computer to check your emails or blog quickly, and miraculously, it'll be done - if you're lucky it will not be irredeemably stuck to the pan.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blogging Mothers

I've spent too much time reading everyone else's blogs tonight, so no time to write much here. It's great to find so many articulate people out there, also mothers with something to say. I'm adding links to the ones I feel a connection too - so far all the humorous, irreverent ones on motherhood, that make me laugh.

So far everyone I've found has been in the States and I feel like a little lone outpost in the wilds of outer blogdom - South Africa. Most of the people I meet here don't even know what a blog is and I was one of them till very recently, so maybe we need time to catch up. Could have something to do with the fact that we're still paying by the minute for our connection, except at night when you can be on all night for R7....hence the fact that my evenings reading on the sofa are a thing of the past and I'm tempted to stay up way past my bed-time - not good on school mornings - bleary eyed mum frantically making three packed lunches, when we should have left already and my son hates being late for school.

Anyway I'm enjoying meeting you all and look forward to loads more virtual conversations...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Kindergarten, Markets and a Lemon Curd Recipe

Cloudy winter skies and full moon. I had to go out after dark (a rare occurence these days!) to go to a parents' meeting at our kindergarten the other night and driving down the three km dirt road from our farm with a moon glowing mistily from behind some stripes of clouds and a faint hint of mountains on the horizon, was one of those moments when you feel blessed, the world is a beautiful place.

Rain on the way. At the beginning of the winter we're pleased to see it after endless dry summer days. It's always a worry if the rains start late that we'll have a drought, so the sight of trees gratefully soaking up the rain and putting out new growth, seeds of the spring flowers germinating already, winter bulbs popping up, herbs regenerating is another thing to give thanks for. The children get excited over the puddles, we'll have go shopping for new wellies so that they can splosh happily, the old ones outgrown or worn out.

Our Waldorf kindergarten is small, only ten children, two of them mine, so only five mums and the teacher were there, perched on mini chairs, trying to sew even as well as our kids already do, to make little babies in matchboxes and treasure bags to sell on our market stall. We are always trying to raise funds for craft materials and sponsorship.

Half of our children come from Xhosa families on low incomes and pay a minimum fee and with only ten children altogether it is a struggle to raise the teacher's salary. We all have a strong belief that is important for the future of South Africa to bring up our children to know each other - there are so many different cultures and languages here - 9 official languages: English, Afrikaans and different African languages, Xhosa being the prediminant one here in the Western Cape. Our children are some of the new generation of children that have the chance to grow up accepting and appreciating the differences. So we all fight together to keep our kindergarten going, whether it's sewing matchbox babies or getting my husband to build a web page, which is the next project.

Anyway I brought some of the babies home to finish off and my daughter spotted them and asked how much they are going to be, so I have one customer already! The market is their main chance to spend their pocket money every month, so as long as I've got something on the stall to appeal to children I'm guaranteed some I exploiting my own children?! probably but otherwise thay'll spend their money at the cheap plastic toy stall and the purchase will break before the end of the market resulting in tears...better make sure I sew those babies good and strong!

I usually bake a batch of fairy cakes too (the recipe is in one of my first blog entries) also bought by the kids (the economy is about recycling wealth isn't it - never was too hot on ecomomics) and I might branch out into lemon curd. Home-made jam always sells well to the adults and I've already sold all my strawberry jam from last season, only a few more pots for us to eke out until October when I start making again. Winter is for making marmalade, I love it but no-one else in my family does, so last winter I made some to try, just for me, a very self-indulgent thing for! a mother to do, I know, but tangy marmalade on slightly singed toast is the best thing on a weekend morning.

I ended up with three different sorts of marmalade, according to the sweetness of the oranges, the amount of grapefruit and other variables..but have no idea how I did each one, so this year it will be a whole new adventure. I started running out of adjectives to label each one with: zingy, zesty, tangy, fresh, soothing. I can't get Sevillle oranges here though - they're the ones that are quite sour but make the best marmalade - eating oranges make a too sweet marmalade with no zing, so I have to use grapefruit and lemon to liven it up.

Here's the Lemon Curd Recipe. I haven't made it since last year, will let you know how it goes.

Lemon Curd Recipe

2 large lemons
250g/8oz sugar
125g/4oz butter
2 eggs well-beaten

Grate the lemon zest finely and squeeze the juice.
Place the zest and juice in the top of a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot of simmering water) and add the sugar and butter.
Heat slowly over the barely simmering water until all the ingredients have dissolved.
Carefully add the beaten eggs, whisking constantly and keep stirring over the hot water until the curd thickens.
Pour into sterilised jars and seal.
Keep in the fridge. It only lasts a month or so but in our family has been eaten long before then.

I intended to write a short blog about soup...such is life!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Orange and Lemon Cake Recipe

Another birthday this weekend - this time a grown-up one, when we're not counting the years but it's a nice excuse for a Sunday lunch celebration. My sister in law cooked a wonderful roast lamb with roast potatoes, baked butternut, peas, broccoli and gravy and then, because in our family we never just have one pudding when we could have two, guava fool and choccie pudding, which are both inventions of my mother in law and are now an indispensable part of the family repertoire.

Then the tricky decision is - when to have the birthday cake? If you tag it on to the end of lunch, you don't really appreciate it, stuffed as you are with a surfeit of pudding. Instead of pudding? Unthinkable! So we all go for a walk round the farm to shake down lunch and meet up again for tea and cake later, which surprisingly enough we find room for.

My sister in law requested a lemon/orange cake, so I found a sponge recipe with lemon in and made up an orangey icing to go on it, which worked well and a nice change from our usual chocolate birthday cake.

Orange and Lemon Cake Recipe
6oz/175g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
6oz/175g soft butter or margerine
6oz/175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
grated rind of a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Oven 325F/170C
2 7"/18cm cake tins greased and lined

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and beat with an electric whisk or put in the processor and blitz, until it is smooth and creamy. It should be of a soft dropping consistency, if it is still a bit too solid add a bit more lemon juice. Divide the mixture between the two lined tins and bake for about 35 minutes till the top feels springy to the touch or a skewer comes out clean.
Cool on a rack.

Orange butter icing
4oz/125g soft butter
icing sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
2 tablespoons of orange juice

Put the butter in a bowl and sift in icing sugar a few tablespoons at a time, working it in. My method requires you to taste every so often...when it stops tasting of butter and starts tasting sweet that is enough sugar, any more and it is too sickly, but everyone has their own taste threshhold so I leave it to you to decide. It's roughly a cup of sugar. Once you have reached the right level of sweetness, add the orange rind and the juice and stir in. Use half for the middle and half for the top of the cake and decorate either tastefully or garishly with silver balls and hundreds and thousands!

The children had a busy time of it, with both Mother's Day and a birthday but did a sterling job of producing cards and presents for both me and Susie. Having her two aunts living here on the farm with us (we've all got our own houses but see each other most days), my youngest often says that she's got three mothers! She was born at home here, so they met her minutes after she was born and she has a strong bond with both of them, which is great. It's such a bonus for the children to have extra adults in their lives on an every day basis, different role models, ways of doing things and perceiving things all makes for a richer experience of life. Plus on a more mundane level, at the weekends they often disappear off to an aunt's house for a while and we get a break and some peace and quiet!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Nostalgia for high heeled shoes!

My daughters were raiding my shoe box, all the shoes that I hardly wear but think I might one day. My three year old teeters in to breakfast in a pair of black suede 3 inch heels...the highest heels I wear these days are on my Blundstone boots. Why am I keeping these shoes that would be agony if I tried to wear them nowadays? Nostalgia, I guess. It's nice to have a reminder that I used to be able to 'scrub up nice' on occasion, even as I sit here in my pajamas and sheepskin slippers the memory of a past self in sexy black dress and ridiculously high heels somehow managing to balance and take photos at a company do, can make me smile affectionately at my old self, which I guess is still in here somewhere and thank goodness that I'm happier now than then despite, or because of those sheepskin slippers!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Not Too Spicy Chicken Recipe - What Kids Will Eat

Today I decided to go wild! Fed up with all the cautious no spice children's food and playing safe so that they'll eat something at least, I revisited my Nigel Slater 30 minute Cook Book, which used to be my standby source of supper recipes BC (before children). Still playing somewhat safe I halved the quantities of spice in his Moroccan style chicken recipe and guess what, the children ate it without a murmur... well loads of murmuring to tell the truth, as in 'I don't like bones in my chicken', but no protests about spiciness.

So new doors of culinary exploration have opened for me. I can get fresh jars of cumin, coriander and turmeric (mine have been on the shelf so long, they can hardly remember the word 'hot') and try out any mildly spicy recipes I can find. Maybe one day I too can be one of those food bloggers, who cite exotic and wonderful dishes they threw together and photographed the other night and who make me feel very unadventurous and dull. Is there such a word as blog-envy?!

My version of the recipe:

Not Too Spicy Chicken Recipe

6 chicken drumsticks or thighs
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cloves garlic
salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
a handful green olives
1 lemon
1 cup water

Crush the garlic and mix with the cumin, paprika, salt and black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Marinade the chicken in this mix for 15 minutes or longer. Put the remaining olive oil in a casserole or shallow pan with a lid and saute the chicken pieces till golden, then remove them to a plate while you saute the onions in the oil that is left over (add a little more if it is too dry). When the onions have softened, stir in the turmeric and olives and cook for 2 minutes. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, pour in the juice of one lemon and the cup of water and bring to a steady simmer. put the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes or until the meat is done. Serve with plenty of rice to soak up the juices.

Well I'm impressed that they ate it. Even though as a baby my son happily ate chicken korma baby food, since he went through the toddler stage of rejecting everything except a few basic carbohydrates, it has been a very tentative and gradual process re-introducing things to his conservative palate. We are currently at a halfway house: plain food with no sauces on is ok, ideally roast meat and roast potatoes, or rice with two pieces of chicken extracted from the stir-fry and carefully wiped clean of anything that might be sauce or a vegetable. I'm maligning him, he does eat broccoli and lots of fruit, but the preference is for unadorned carbohydrate, maybe in a previous life he came from a poor Eastern country where they only ate rice - I'm sure he'd be quite happy with that today!

My youngest, unphased by the fashion in food preferences, is quite happy to gnaw meat from a bone, eats soup with the vegetables and asked for more sauce from the spicy chicken...I sometimes feel like our family is an illustration from Jack Sprat and his wife...oh well, as long as the platter is licked clean by someone, even if it is the dogs or chickens benefitting.

By the way, the adults in the family liked the chicken too,, though if I was doing it just for us I'd double the spice quantities, give a kick to our jaded palates (or is it just aged palates - I'm sure my sense of taste has faded since I was a child).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Bereavment in the Pet Family

Tragedy struck today. A week ago we got our children their first small pets - it was my son's birthday and he helped build a cage and then we went to a friend, who has animals to spare, and chose a young rabbit and a baby guinea pig, who were duely christened Speedy and Squeaky. Both very sweet and happy to be handled. Our border collies and cats were intrigued by the new additions and pretty much camped out by the cage, so we put up a makeshift barrier around it, until we could add on an enclosed run for the children to play with them in. Anyway today on our return from school the girls went straight off to see Squeaky and Speedy, I'm busy inside checking messages when I hear an anguished howl from my daughter. One of the dogs has grabbed Squeaky... she dropped him when I shouted and there were no broken bones, but he must have had internal injuries and an hour later died.

This was the children's first close experience of death and we spent the afternoon dealing with genuine grief, all expressed in different ways by each child. My eight year old son, sobbed briefly then went to bed with a headache and didn't want to talk about it cos it made him feel too sad. My five year old daughter said she hurt inside and wanted to cry but couldn't. My three year old felt sad and keeps saying that she liked Squeaky and that she doesn't want any of us to die ever. We had lots of talks about his spirit leaving his body and being happy to know that he was loved so much, and that we will never forget him but will feel less sad over time. When Dad came home from work we had a solemn burial and said goodbye to him.

It felt very important going through these emotions with my children. I felt grief too myself, it's amazing how much one small guinea pig can wriggle into your heart in the space of one week. We will go and choose another one on the weekend and build Fort Knox around the cage so it doesn't happen again.

No recipes today - I didn't bake bread and supper was a mediocre affair - my heart wasn't in it, but tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

White Bread Recipe

Today we made white bread. Usually I bake Rye bread, as a healthy alternative and keep the white bread for high days and holidays, so a mid-week baking, brought on by running out of rye flour and hungry children devouring the last loaf at lunchtime, was a treat for the children. When I make white bread I give them each some dough to make themselves a roll for the next day. Better than play-dough cos you get to eat the result. We get some pretty weird shaped rolls emerging from the kitchen but they are yummy Mummy! Proudly the kids take them off to school for snack-time and even eat the crusts.

This recipe is the easiest way to start out on bread-making, the simplest form of bread there is.

White bread recipe

1kg white bread flour
15g instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
about 700ml water

You need a large bowl or you can heap the flour onto a clean surface and make a well for the water. I use a bowl and mix the flour and salt, make a well for the yeast, then pour the water in gradually stirring with a knife. Once it has formed a dough, tip it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, sprinkling on more flour as you go when it gets too sticky.

Knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it away with the heel of the other, fold it back on itself and repeat. It will start off sticky and lumpy and gradually become smooth. After 10 minutes it should rise up again if you dent it with your finger. Put it in the bowl again, cover with a plastic bag or cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour and a half till it has doubled in size.

Knock it down - squash all the air out of it again- then shape into two loaves, can be round, long, plaited or sculptural! Leave to rise again for 3/4 of an hour, again covering with a plastic bag or cloth, then bake at 200C/400F for 30 minutes. (If the kids make small rolls they'll be done sooner, check after 15 mins).

The great thing about bread is that it'll be edible even if you overbake it, just crustier. My only failure with this recipe was the first time I made it, when I made one huge loaf with this quantity and the centre was a bit underdone, but even then we could eat the rest of it.

Cool it on a wire rack and try not to scoff the lot while it is still warm...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Wild Child Limerick and Birthday Party Food

My newly eight year old son, has been hearing some of the Just So stories at school including the one about how the elephant got its trunk. The elephant's child being overly curious and its then moderate snout being stretched and stretched by a crocodile. This combined with a spate of birthday parties brought on this limerick:

The elephant's favourite child
was normally so meek and mild,
but a trunkful of sweets
and E-number filled treats
and boy you should have seen him go wild.

My son's birthday party was relatively E-number and sweet free, except for the chocolate coin treasure and the birthday cake covered in Smarties, which I reckon are essential...and, now I remember it, my Supermum halo slipped a bit and I supplied marshmallows (which are nothing but sugar and E-numbers!) to toast over the camp fire but it was a cowboy and indian party and what else can eight year olds do with a camp fire!

Otherwise they devoured large amounts of marmite sandwiches and honey sandwiches, ready salted chips, sausages and even the carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes and grapes, all with equal gusto. I probably could have thrown in some even more nutritious food - eight year olds seem to have a permanent hunger upon them, especially after chasing around finding the clues for the treasure hunt.

So it is possible to do healthy food for a child's birthday party without being lynched by a mob of sugar deprived monsters, in fact I think you're more likely to be held up at gunpoint by mini bandits demanding party packs, if they have been on a sugar binge!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Winter Stews

A long time since my last post, due to technical hitches. In the meantime winter has descended upon us here in South Africa, the long awaited rains have started to transform the countryside from brown to green and freezing cold draughts whistle in through unsuspected holes in the eaves. In a country that doesn't know what central heating is, we light a roaring fire, pile on the blankets and go to bed with a hot water bottle. Now we can bring out all the recipes that call for long, slow cooking. The oven on a low heat gently warming the kitchen and filling it with appetising aromas as astew or casserole simmers gently. As unthinkable in the summer to have the oven on for long periods adding to the already considerable heat in the kitchen as it would be to eat a meal of stew and baked potatoes. Definitely winter fare.

The important thing about a stew is to give it plenty of time to cook slowly - think two or three hours or more, so that the meat is so tender that it is falling off the bones. You can and should use the cheaper cuts of meat, the bones add flavour and density to the stew too. Use plenty of vegetables in with the meat for flavour and goodness to produce a hearty meal at no great expense. I always start with the standard base of onions, carrots and celery, then add sweet potatoes, turnip or potatoes or mushrooms. The herbs could be bay leaves, thyme or rosemary. The vegetables soften first in olive oil, the meat is dipped in seasoned flour and browned seperately then added to the vegetables with a tin of tomatoes or the end of a bottle of red wine, some stock or just water to just cover the meat. Then it can sit, with a tight lid, in a 150C oven for a 2-3 hours with no attention needed other than to cook some potatoes or rice to go with it. This works with beef and lamb, chicken needs less time - maybe 1 1/2 hours.

I have yet to try out the hay box method , where you bring the stew to simmering point in the morning, cover with a tight lid, then put in a well insulated box, so that when you come home from work it has cooked in its own heat, partly because I can't imagine getting it together to put anything on to cook early in the morning. Let me know if you are masters of this though - I'd like to try it.