Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dog Vignette

Three border collies, each leading a child on a red lead, the procession criss-crosses, stops suddenly, flops in the shade Who is leading who? The dogs are certainly in charge, child falls flat on face, picks herself up and hurtles forward as the dog suddenly decides to run. Confusion reigns as the dogs hope for a run chasing a car around the farm. My insistent calling eventually brings the procession jerkily back towards the house, where they all flop back down in the shade and are relieved of their leads.

Our dogs are farm dogs hardly ever leaving our farm and very unused to leads and official walks. They get their exercise by chasing up and down the fence barking or running after our cars and bakkies. My youngest has suddenly decided that we must take them for walks on the leads. This after she decided that as well as a pony she also wants a puppy, a cat, a squirrel, a rabbit and a parrot. We discussed in detail what we would need to do to look after this menagerie. I promised to help her train the puppy (while privately hoping that it would wait to materialise at least until our Senile dog departs this mortal coil) So we are practising by training our adult dogs, who are rather confused but good naturedly participate in the “walks” eventually protesting by collapsing in the sand under a tree and refusing to budge. I have to take the role of Pied Piper as cooperation depends on my calling them encouragingly from the front and am followed up the hill by a black and white tangle of dogs, children and leads..I just wish I had it on video for you!

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Half of my blog’s name has been shamefully under-represented in the last few weeks, not because we haven’t been eating or feasting (we have) but because there have been so many other things going on that food has had to be relegated to a back burner. A few burnt pans and boiled dry steamers lie undetected among the detritus of the last few posts but now it is time to wax lyrical on food once more.

Ham, gammon, call it what you will, a home cooked gammon glazed with mustard is a worthy centrepiece for any celebration. My mother-in-law decreed a party for her 85th birthday, a family summons went out and we prepared a feast for 45 people at our house last weekend. The idea of a braai at lunch time in high summer was voted out (the unfortunate braai master after having braaied enough meat for so many would have been well enough cooked to be on the menu himself), so we settled for a cold buffet lunch and a happily raised ham was on the menu, as well as roast chickens, quiches, salads and much else. A friend of ours around the hill keeps brindled pigs on a small scale, looks after them well and produces his own wonderful bacon, hams, sausages and the rest. Our Christmas ham was unsurpassed: tender, sweet, delicately smoky and gobbled up in no time. This time we had to get two smaller 2kg(4lb) hams as all the big ones had gone. They didn’t quite hit the taste sensation heights of Christmas but were excellent by any less exalted standards.

If you want to cook your own ham, go for the best ham you can from a good butcher or small farmer – large scale commercially produced ones lose out on flavour somewhere along the line.

How to cook your gammon / ham

I take Nigella’s advice from How to Eat. Instead of soaking the ham to get rid of excess salt from the smoking process, I cover it with cold water in a large stock pot, bring it just to the boil, then throw out the water and put in fresh cold water. I then add the rest of the ingredients and bring it back up to the boil again and start the cooking time from this point. Check with your butcher though, if he says that the ham doesn’t need soaking at all then you’ll be ok without this step, unless you’d like to get rid of some of the salt anyway.

To calculate cooking time work on 1hr per kg plus 20 minutes or 30 minutes per lb plus 20 minutes. The meat should be loosening from the bone slightly without crumbling completely to pieces when it is cooked.

Gammon/ham weighing about 2kg/4lbs
1litre/1.5 pints apple juice or cider
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 medium onions
4 bay leaves
8 whole cloves
10 peppercorns
bunch of herbs (thyme, parsley, rosemary)
2 tablespoons brown sugar

After you have got rid of excess salt as above put all the ingredients except the sugar into a big pot, cover with cold water and bring to boiling point. Add the sugar now. Turn the heat down so that the water is simmering not too energetically and cook for the allotted time as above. If you are going to eat the gammon hot you can serve at once. If you want it cold, leave to cool in the stock to retain moistness in the meat. Once it is cool take the ham out of the stock. Cut the tough rind away from the fat and smother the fat and meat with your chosen glaze ingredients.

My favourite glaze is a mix of grainy mustard and dark brown sugar, two tablespoons of each mixed together. Sometimes I squeeze in some orange juice or use honey instead of sugar, then I usually put in a teaspoon of mustard powder too to thicken the glaze. Experiment with your favourite flavours. Mustard is always a good one for ham though. The glaze should be fairly thick, so it doesn’t run straight off the ham again. Put the glazed ham under the grill/broiler for ten minutes or so to set it.

The stock absolutely must be frozen for delicious winter soups, it is wonderful for lentil soup in particular. You can use some of it for a couscous salad to go with the ham too. My freezer is now chock a block with containers of ham stock and chicken stock from Christmas, New Year and last weekends party, as soon as autumn hits we’ll be having a soup festival.

Always cook yourself a bigger ham than you actually need as the leftovers are so good you’ll be happy to eat them all week!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Secret

My children came up behind me as I was watching “The Secret” on DVD on the computer, the headphones keeping the secret to myself. If you haven’t yet come across “The Secret” it is a film on positive visualisation – to attract what you want from the universe, whether material or intangible things, you have to emanate thought and feeling waves of the things you do want, rather than spending your time brooding on all the bad things that you don’t want and attracting those things into your life instead. Anyway it is supposed to transform your life, if you can shift yourself into that positive head space, so I was on my second viewing.

The children’s “What are they saying?” made me hit the pause button and try to think how to sum up the message for them: “Well it says you must think about the things you do want and not the things you don’t want, cos whatever you think about most, that is what you’ll get”

A pause as they pondered.
Then: “I want a pony”
“I want a pony too”
“I want a pony and some birds”

Father Christmas is going to have his work cut out this year!

My six year old did then observe me drawing a picture to further visualise the things I wanted to appear in my life and she followed suit, trying to reproduce faithfully the friendly face of her little tiger that has been lost for six months or more and is still mourned at regular intervals, despite friendly unicorns offering consolation. I hope the universe does manage to materialise it for her, she drew a fairy alongside it to help it on its way back to her.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Whirlwind Weeks

The last few weeks have been fairly hectic and I haven't been keeping up with my real life on my blog. There are about ten million things (exaggeration? maybe slightly but it doesn't feel like it!) that I haven't had time to write about coherently - and I don't know where to start. Maybe you'll let me off with just one sentence per thing, in note form, before I have to go and bake for my mother-in-law's 85th birthday lunch tomorrow..we're down to 45 people expected, including the children.

The property development saga: rezoning hasn't been passed for our municipality yet, so nothing will happen for six months or so, but we are dreaming of finding a beautiful farm in a new area further away from Cape Town.

Teaching: any teachers out there, you have my unmitigated respect. After a couple of weeks, just helping out taking a few lessons, I'm feeling not a little frazzled, frequently invisible and wondering how all those real teachers do it!
Two of our school's six teachers, who are Canadian and here from the goodness of their hearts to give expertise, skills, training and plain wonderful teaching to our little school and its children, had their visa renewal denied on a technicality and have spent the last few weeks appealing - this meant that they were not allowed to set foot on school premises under threat of deportation and the remaining teachers have been stretched to the limit, hence my unskilled help being in demand. We heard yesterday that they have now got their permit so will be back at school on Monday - a huge sigh of relief all son included who is missing his teacher. SA Home Affairs department has got a long way to go on attracting skilled people to South Africa.

Oscars: No I didn't get the maths teacher role in the commercial that I casted for, but I was the Director's first choice, apparently the casting director disagreed, couldn't really see myself at the Oscars anyway!

I'm doing all day Sunday workshops with our friend numerologist, art therapist and psychic, learning about her various therapy and healing tools - there is a great group of women on the course and we are all having to go through the therapy to learn it, so it is very intense.
It also means that I find myself back at Monday again, without having had any weekend chill time, as my husband has long Saturday meetings for his work at the moment - we're waving at each other like ships passing in the night.

Kindergarten: I took youngest along to kindergarten this week, for one day and stayed there the whole morning with her. She was very pleased with herself for making some new friends of her own, but not quite confident enough spend time there without me the next day. I'm going to have another go after next week, when things have settled down a bit more at the new kindergarten building.

P.S. Apologies to all of you with Wordpress blogs, I can't comment at the moment so all my words and witticisms are disappearing into a black hole in the Web - I'm still reading and enjoying your posts though, consider me there in spirit.
P.P.S. Charlotte very kindly nominated me in the South African Blog Awards, so I've put a widget on my sidebar - they only have begging "Nominate Me" ones available - I'll look out for "Vote for Me" ones later! Charlotte, I've returned the favour and nominated you for the South African Overseas blog too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What is Valentine's Day about?

What my children know about Valentine’s Day:

Lots of the children wore smart red tops to school today (I hadn’t latched on to this before but red clothing seems to be de rigueur on this of all days – not red underwear either!)

Mummy and Daddy draw red hearts in pen on the backs of each other’s left hand...strange but we were born into this family for a reason...

The teachers at school had a little red rose each from one of the guys who works at the nursery next door – Mum got one too cos she was being a teacher today.

We get to go to the bank every Valentine's Day – last year they gave out delicious chocolates but this year it was heart-shaped mints. We got lucky at the library though, chocolate hearts in shiny red paper, which we had to eat straight away before they was hot in the car.

So Valentine’s Day is about trawling the town for free sweets and grown–ups being soppy with red pen hearts. Next year we need to work on Mum to get us a new red top for school.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"I am from" Contest

Owlhaven has a writing contest going on at the moment using the "I am from" format. I loved doing this back in June and am kicking myself that I only just saw the contest ten minutes ago when the closing deadline was right now. I quickly entered my one from June but would have loved to have a go at Mary's alternative format, which takes in your whole life rather than just childhood memories. I think I still will attempt it, though there's nothing like a little competition for motivation. She's giving books as prizes and I never look a gift book in the mouth...

Anyway for some good reading go and read through some of the entries by clicking on the Mr Linky button at the bottom of the contest post.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ogres are like Onions

Supper was late tonight. I was already lagging behind schedule, after getting involved in my son's spontaneous mathematical calculation of how many pounds he would get for 10 rand. With the exchange rate currently at around 14 to 1 it was a complicated sum involving remainders or infinite decimal places and he wasn't too impressed to discover that he wouldn't even get a whole pound for his South African money. By this time the clock was skipping relentlessly towards the late supper indicator. I hurriedly tore one of our home-grown onions from the makeshift string hanging in the larder and peeled off the ugly, earthy, outer layers. ( I love that quote from Shrek where he tries to explain to Donkey that Ogres are like onions...they have layers). Underneath these layers was such a gem of iridescent beauty that I couldn't possibly chop it up until I had photographed it. So here you are - a work of art and supper only half an hour late!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Madame Bovary

Since Charlotte wrote a fine post on Madame Bovary for her blog and all that I could remember from reading it many eons ago, when I was studying languages at university, that I’d thought that Emma Bovary was pretty silly, I thought I’d better give the book another go. As a French literary classic there must be more to write about it that that its heroine is silly, perhaps I misjudged her, from the vantage point of insensitive youth?

So I ransacked my book shelves, looking for the stash of French Lit, grown dusty and musty from being carted around in boxes for twenty years, but still never ditched because after all I spent three years learning all this stuff and maybe I’ll need it one day...and finallly I ran Madame Bovary to ground, a plain olive green cover with reams of learned introduction and of course in its original French. If I ever had a translation copy, it hasn’t stayed with me, so nothing for it but to unearth my equally dusty and musty French and dig in.

Well a third of the way through and I’m finding it heavy going, not so much the language, I can skim over any unfamiliar words and get the sense out of the whole, but more because my opinion of Emma is unchanged – she is unutterably silly. I think this is the main point of the novel though.

Flaubert was making a foray into writing about real people in mundane real lives, departing from the tradition he grew up with, of a period of high gothic romance, where the heroines invariably needed rescuing from remote towers, skies glowered, heroes dashed about on chargers and no-one ever thought about what to cook for lunch.

Emma is a languishing middle class girl with her head stuffed full of romantic ideals, who cannot recognise the real everyday love her rather dull husband has for her and lusts after thunderbolts and swooning fits and a luxurious lifestyle. Sometimes she casts herself in the role of saintly wife and mother and renounces her romantic admirer, other times she goes into a nervous decline. She takes up expensive hobbies then casts them aside unfinished. There is a terrible scene, where she visits her new baby who is boarded out at the wet nurse’s house, in a scene of complete squalor and Emma sees nothing amiss, but walks home on the arm of her admirer in a mist of romantic delusion.

This all very interesting social commentary and good for me to be exercising my brain, but I’m finding it an excellent soporific. Two or three pages of an evening and I’m asleep on the sofa. It doesn’t look like Emma is going to get any more sensible or think of anyone but herself, so I’ll just have to be patient with her and thank her for making sure I go to bed at a good early hour every day. Maybe I’d be more tolerant of Emma if I was reading an English translation. Ploughing through numerous paragraphs recounting her attacks of the vapours in literary French does rather alienate my sympathy, but I suspect I’d be in danger of telling her to pull herself together and stop dramatising herself even in English..I must have a prosaic soul!

I took a break to read an unknown treasure from our shelves – I've no idea how it got there - Exodus by Julie Bertagna. It was a fine antidote to Emma, keeping me up way past my bedtime engrossed in its far too possible vision of the future. It won a Whitbread Childrens Book award and is very strong stuff – see my review over here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

10 Things I like beginning with N

This latest meme comes from Charlotte, who had the letter L, Kerryn got M so I helped myself to N a nice, nebulous theme for a post when monumental change is all about.

Nasturtiums – I’ve always loved these bright cheerful flowers. When we were kids we used to suck the nectar from the flowers. Here in South Africa there are places that they grow rampaging in glorious profusion. Our soil doesn’t suit them so well but I usually have enough for little posies on the table all winter. Their leaves are a source of natural antibiotic too, so you can eat a couple with their peppery flavour if you are going down with a sore throat or other lurgy.

Naartjies – In south Africa all satsumas, clementines, tangerines go under the name Naartjie. In winter we get huge bags of them very cheaply as they grow here – plenty of vitamin C to keep us all going.

Night-time so I can sleep

The Net so I can blog

Numerology – I’ve been learning about numerology, what the numbers mean, how to read charts, a bit like in astrology and how to look into the future. I still have a lot to learn about interpreting though – intuition has to be harnessed as well as the numbers to get any true meaning.

Noah’s Ark – we have a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark with brightly painted wooden animals that is one of my favourite children’s toys – it has lasted through all three but unfortunately Mrs Noah went off a long time ago, leaving Noah to cope with all the animals himself.

Novels – my escapist drug of choice. Recently the kids have been experimenting with the words addicted and allergic and using them interchangeably. Then they worked out that addicted was for things you love – so youngest is going around saying that she is addicted to her unicorn. I explained that addicted is for something that you can’t help wanting all the time and that you feel bad if you don’t have it..well that just about sums up my relationship to novels...good ones of course!

Natural Medicine – we try to use homeopathy, as much as we can for all the family ailments. We’ve just started going to a classical homeopath who sorted out an incipient urinary tract infection in youngest, and saved us from having to use antibiotics. We try to reserve antibiotics for emergencies as they take their toll on the immune system even as they blast the bacteria they are targetting. Homeopathy when correctly prescribed seems to rebalance the whole system effectively and without any side-effects.

Nemesis – “that Greek fellow who creeps up behind you and puts you in the basket” this masterly definition is one of my favourite quotes from Georgette Heyer.

New books there is nothing like the pristine pages of a new book as you flick through prior to savouring a new story by a favourite author. New beginnings – well 'like' isn’t the right word, but new beginnings are sweeping us up and we are beginning to feel a spirit of adventure and following our destiny sparking through the sense of loss and upheaval.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Upside Down

Bouleverse, in a whirl, head over heels, is my state of mind at the moment. My previous posts telling of changes in my life seem pedestrian compared with the broad brush of change that swept us up yesterday.

News just reached us of huge development proposals for our area. We live on the lower skirts of a hill with views of the mountains, a rural area of farms and lots of smallholdings like ours. It is a commutable distance to Cape Town but far enough out to be country. Over the last seven years on our property we’ve established the infrastructure of road, water and electricity, we’ve built our houses, planted trees, cleared alien vegetation and created a beautiful place to live and bring up our children. With two of my husband’s sisters, his brother in law and his mother we have made a wonderful family community.

Now developers are buying up land around us at inflated prices, as some proposed rezoning seems about to allow us to turn into a ‘garden city’ suburb of Cape Town. There doesn’t seem to have been any public announcement of this so it came completely out of the blue. Now we have to decide: do we stay and find ourselves surrounded by an enormous construction zone fof close packed starter homes, for several years, even though our property presumably would increase in value dramatically once it had settled down again, or see if they are paying out enough to make it worthwhile for us to buy land elsewhere and go through the whole building a home process from scratch. There is also the dreaded word expropriation being bandied around, to frighten everyone into playing their game.

I love our house, our view, the special place here where we hold our festivals. When I was learning about numerology, the numbers showed change. Then I couldn’t envisage it, still now I can’t imagine anywhere as nice as this. As I drive the kids to school along a straight country road past a line of hills and small farms, the thought of it all becoming a concrete suburb appals. In a water-scarce country where will they get that from for all those new homes.

I just have to find faith from somewhere, that we will make the right decision for our future, if our destiny lies elsewhere please let us find another home as lovely as this one – if only I could take our straw-bale house with us! Please send a prayer or some positive energy our way.