Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tigers on Safari

When the Tiger family came to Africa they wanted to see the Big Five.

Tiger Dad was thrilled to see that here the big cats have spots and it's their prey that is striped.

Tiger Mum wasn't so impressed:

'Better keep Junior tied to our apron strings in this place then.'

'Nice safari hats though'

This tiger family has many adventures and nearly ended up on an all night game trek in the gazanias. Luckily the evening ranger patrol noticed they were stranded without fuel and towed them back to the game lodge.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Citrus Sorbet

Tangerine Sorbet, Naartjie Ice

It's Sunday again already. Just the family for Sunday lunch today, with the children slathering in anticipation of the treat that they knew was hiding out in the freezer. On Friday they had watched as I squeezed naartjies and excavated their skins. On Saturday as I scooped and packed the frozen sorbet into the shells, they each nominated their chosen fruit and this morning, instead of 'Hurray it's Sunday we can have chocolate after lunch' it was 'Are we going to have those naartjies after lunch today?'

From the high excitement levels you can tell that such a labour intensive and artfully presented dessert is unusual in our house. The only thing that could drive me to such lengths would be my blog! I admit it. Showing off to the world spurs me on me to far greater endeavours than does spoiling my family! The occasion today was this months WTSIM, the theme of which is 'Stuffed fruit and vegetables'. At first I struggled to find inspiration on this subject. As a mother of vegetable-averse children the effort involved in stuffing a vegetable has always seemed excessive and, though I'll happily eat someone else's efforts and appreciate their hard work, I'm far too lazy a cook to spend hours on intricate presentation.

I dived into my favourite book about fruit: Jane Grigson's Fruit Book is not just about recipes, it gives the history and background of each fruit type as well as a plethora of different ways of using it both sweet and savoury. I had a dim memory of a recipe for a citrus sorbet that is served in the fruit shells. It had reminded me of Italy, where good gelaterias always have, somewhere in their display freezers, an assortment of orange and lemon ices attractively packed in their skins. Of course the counter attractions of a sublime tartufo nero (black truffle, so called for its round shape rolled in cocoa powder) ice cream usually won - chocolate beating fresh fruit flavour hands down on the indulgence front.

So with naartjies (pronounced narchee - any sort of tangerine, mandarine or clementine is a naartjie here in South Africa) heaped high in the shops at the moment, I bought an extra bag and set to squeezing and juicing. It wasn't a hard recipe, in fact my six year old reckons she is going to make them next time, but it did leave a large amount of the kitchen and kitchen utensils coated in juice.

I should have photographed them when they were newly packed with sorbet, as the return to the freezer frosted over the skins and set the sorbet hard. I would have had to resort to one of those styling techniques that render the food inedible, such as hairspray or varnish to get the perfect shot and there was no way that a photograph was going to take precedence over the eating. I then moved them from freezer to fridge an hour before eating, so the sorbet was soft enough to excavate without risk of injury.

Jane Grigson calls these mandarines givrées and apparently they were all the rage at dinner parties in the late Seventies.

Recipe for Naartjie Ice
20 tangerines/naartjies
juice of half a lemon
100ml/ 3floz/ ½ cup water
icing sugar

250g/8oz/1 cup sugar
150 ml/5 fl oz/2/3 cup water
juice of ¼ lemon

Make the syrup by heating the three ingredients over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for 2-3 minutes. Leave to cool.

Grate the zest from half the tangerines or naartjies and squeeze the juice. Cut the remaining tangerines, so they each have a lid. Scoop out the flesh with a small spoon and press out the juice (I used a sieve to do this). The skins must be left in good shape, but as long as they aren't holed you can stuff them back into roundness with the sorbet. You should end up with about 3 cups of juice altogether. Add the grated zest, lemon juice and water, then taste to see if you need any of the icing sugar. If you over sweeten, you can add a bit more lemon juice to sharpen the flavour again. Freeze this in a plastic container. I usually take it out after a couple of hours to beat it with a fork, then freeze again until it is firm.

Scoop all the leftover pulp from the shells so they are clean inside. Chill them and when the sorbet has set quite firm, beat it again and scoop it into each shell, packing it down quite firmly. Replace the lids, wrap the whole fruit in cling film and freeze again until needed.

Our naartjies were large, the size of small oranges, so I only used 10 altogether and got five filled fruit from that quantity. They were generous portions and most of us returned the other half to the freezer for another day. I managed to battle on and finish mine without too much strain though. It was quite delicious and well worth the effort, very cleansing on the palate and left us all feeling like we'd had a really special meal.

I was left fantasising about an elegant dinner, where small clementine or tangerine sorbets would be followed by a bitter chocolate torte and coffee with petit fours...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Winter Wonderland

An early winter with snow gleaming decoratively on the distant mountains for the second time already this month, bringing a chill to the air, even when the sun shines brightly and coaxes us back down to T-shirts in the middle of the day.

These South African children of mine have endowed snow with a mythical wonder. I tell them of snow in my childhood, a rare delight once or twice a winter even in the South-West of England then. We used to make the most of it, building snow-men, throwing snow balls and sliding down bumpy hill-sides on plastic sacks, getting soaked, muddy and bruised but exhilirated in the process. My son’s eyes were wide in amazement – “Did your parents let you?” he asked wonderingly, the thought of parents knowingly letting their precious children get soaking wet, freezing and muddy on purpose, too alien to comprehend for these children of a warm climate. They would love to experience snow, but I wonder how they’d cope with the being numbingly cold that goes with it?

In a quest for that mythical winter wonderland, I took them ice-skating for the first time ever the other day. The ice rink is at Grand West casino, a Disneyland type fantasy building trying to impersonate a grand chateau, that not only houses the casino, but all other forms of city entertainment: cinemas, fast food, go-karts and other child rides, a mini golf and a plethora of fast-food restaurants as well as the full-size skating rink. There is also a mini child rink in the middle of the food court, where an artificial night sky has stars twinkling down at you and the twilight makes it hard to read a book, should you be able to tear your eyes from your children anyway.

My skating experience being limited to a couple of goes as a teenager, I declined to risk my ankles on the main skating rink and sat on the bench next to the kids’ rink, keeping track of their progress. They started off gingerly enough, youngest having me accompany her round the outside, holding one hand for a couple of laps, but very soon they gained confidence and by the end of an hour and a half’s dogged circling of the perimeter, my son had got to the stage of skating freely around the rink reaching a record of four circuits without holding on, my six-year-old had got speedier and had managed a length holding hands with her friend, without holding the side and youngest.. ..well she had amazed me with her determined plugging around the edge, always holding on but keeping going, despite bigger children pushing past, and every time she came off for a breather and a biscuit, going straight back on for another go. I had to drag them off at the end of the hour and a half session and they can’t wait to go again.

As for making snowmen, we might have to wait a little longer, though my husband’s niece sent photos of several inches of snow and ice on the road last weekend in Plettenberg Bay, which being on the South African coast is a first in recorded history event. This global warming is making it jolly chilly around here. But we have a roaring fire going and our straw bale house keeps the warmth in nicely and we’ll tuck ourselves up with hot water bottles too and not even mention central heating, which is moreorless non-existant here in South Africa.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pastry Puff

A Sunday scattered with downpours of rain, chill wind blowing, oven blasting a leg of lamb into aromatic submission, crisping roast potatoes to golden nuggets and a fire blazing in the hearth. Friends to lunch, bringing the pudding with them, though we were unable to resist adding a bowl of our precious guava fool to the menu too.

Pudding was a feast of flavours –a light, buttery, puff pastry square to which we added as we pleased: whipped cream; strawberries; passion fruit; jams and preserves -the pastry melted in the mouth, as light as a cloud.

Talk was of food, of Moira’s passion for pastry and how it has grown into a business. Now she makes the only commercial, ready-rolled puff pastry in the world that is organic, made with fresh churned butter and no preservatives. I heard more than I wanted to know about what goes into normal commercial bakery products, including a chemical to relax the dough and speed up the process, that is also used as a hair relaxer. Moira started her company, Dorset Pastry, to recreate the perfect buttery pastry she had found elsewhere in Europe, but missed when she moved to the UK. She worked out a process to make her puff pastry commercially, with butter and without the chemicals, and though it is time consuming, the pastry having to rest in between each folding and rolling and being made over two days, the end result is definitely worth it. She also sources her organic ingredients as locally as possible. This was the first time we’d heard of her pastry, but in the UK Harvey Nicks and Harrods leapt to stock it after her very first food expo back in 2002.

She is reluctant to export her complete pastry products out here, because the concept of local ingredients and reducing the distance food has to travel is part of her philosophy and so is over to investigate setting up a production base here. I hope she does, as the packets she brought us as a gift are going to be devoured very quickly!

PS The light wasn’t great yesterday, so these photos were taken this morning and the pastry has lost that fresh out the oven gleam – though it still tasted pretty good, when I scoffed it after photographing every angle!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Orange and Apple Tart Recipe

Jane Grigson's recipe for an orange tart, brings sunshine to a rainy day

Venturing out of the culinary doldrums today, I decided to carry on with the fruit theme I seem to have been pursuing recently and try out a recipe from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book for an Andalusian tart. The rain had been howling horizontally outside all morning, even finding its way into the house, as the force of the wind drove it back up the corrugated roof and in through normally adequately sealed joins. Dogs moped dismally outside on the stoep, banished from the house for their damp smell and the bucketloads of sand that cling to damp coats and get redistributed around the house. Children devised elaborate rules for indoor cricket, in which youngest was grudgingly allowed to participate as fielder and then, magnanimously allowed to bat with a 10 ball grace period. The wielding of the cricket bat in front of the glass-paned doors caused a few qualms, despite the soft ball and underarm bowling, but the prospect of the alternative scenario had I banned it, of children drooping around dismally too, was enough to make me turn a blind eye. So instead I set out to bake purely for fun and interest, a novelty right now and therapeutic too.

This tart is in her Oranges section, which I was riffling through looking for a remembered recipe that I could use for the next WTSIM event, the theme of which is stuffed fruit and vegetables. (I found it – a recipe for a tangerine sorbet that is frozen in the tangerine skins. I’m going to try it out this week and will post the recipe then.) This tart jumped out at me. I love simple fruit tarts....I love pastry altogether really, but only usually make it for a treat. This recipe simply combines apple and orange in the filling, without any egg or butter, and turned out very flavourful and not too rich. The pastry holds that element of butter and richness that makes it a proper ‘pudding’ and the fruit just shows itself off to perfection. I wasn’t sure if it would be well received by the family, but they all loved it and had seconds. The only thing was that it was difficult to cut through the whole orange slices elegantly. I might try doing overlapping half slices next time.

Jane Grigson is of the old school of cookery writers who expect you know a modicum of basics and just tells you to use a sweet shortcrust pastry base and add some grated orange zest. I turned to Nigella Lawson’s sweet pastry recipe and foolproof method from How to Eat, that I use for my favourite apple tart of hers.

Sweet Pastry Recipe

120g plain flour
30g icing sugar
80g butter
1 egg yolk
grated zest of one orange

Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a dish with the cold butter cut into cubes. Put it all into the freezer for 10 minutes. Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon iced water and a pinch of salt and put into the fridge until you’re ready to go. After the 10 minutes are up, put the flour mixture into the food processor and blitz until it looks like fine crumbs. Add the egg mix and orange zest and blitz again. Cautiously add more iced water, drop by drop until the pastry starts coming together. Scoop it out and into a ball, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for half an hour. Then roll out to fit a 23 cm flan dish.

Orange and Apple Tart Filling

500g/1 lb eating apples
2 large oranges, preferably seedless
3 tablespoons apricot jam
juice of half a lemon

I used Golden Delicious, but here they do actually have a flavour.Use any good flavoured eating apples, Jane Grigson recommends Cox’s or Bleinheim Orange.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Boil all the peel and cores in 1 cup/ 1/4 litre of water to extract the flavour. I peeled the apples straight into the water, so that by the time I’d finished coring and slicing, it had had long enough boiling and the slices weren’t sitting around going brown. Strain the water into a shallow pan and cook the apple slices in it gently, turning them in the water. Cook until they are soft and most of the water has evaporated, turn up the heat at the end if necessary. Mash the apples with sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Peel the oranges to the quick, getting rid of all the white pith and the outer membrane, and slice them thinly, taking out any pips.

Blind bake the pastry case for 10 minutes at 200C/400F. (Nigella has a great section on her method of doing this in How to Eat.) Spread the apple puree evenly in the case, then arrange the orange slices on top. Bake at 200C/400F for 15 minutes. While it is cooking boil up the apricot jam with the lemon juice to make a glaze. Once the pastry is nicely browned take the tart out and brush with the glaze. Serve hot, warm or cold. We had it warm with vanilla ice cream, due to a lack of cream, but I think cream would be better, though the children would definitely disagree!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vitamin C

My fingers waft that reminiscent scent of tangerine at me, that even now connects in my brain with Christmas, those pathways etched irrevocably in my childhood and never reprogrammed on moving to the Southern Hemisphere. Now in South Africa they are rechristened naartjies (pronounced narchees) and herald a late autumn fruit bonanza.

My weekly shop, that I so ungratefully dismissed yesterday, yielded a veritable rainbow of vitamin C rich fruits to combat that lingering cold and raise the spirits: 5kg sacks of oranges for R9; 3kg bags of naartjies for R7; guavas that my youngest loves to eat and she carefully selected four just for herself;

grenadillas or passion fruit with their burst of fragrant pulp; Williams pears that will have to sit on the window sill for days but will eventually ripen to succulence; as well as those standard big bags of crisp apples – one royal gala and the other golden delicious to see us through a week of snacks; not to mention avos and bananas. A weekly supermarket shop has its highlights when you live in a country where all these fruits grow and come into season filling the shops with fresh, flavourful and cheap cold cures.

Smiles are better than Vitamin C for banishing colds!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All Passion Spent!

Passion fruit husks

Today I spent the bulk of my computer time sending out my articles to article sites - a laborious and repetitive task, that is eventually rewarded by increased amounts of links out there in cyberspace, beckoning people and search engines to our websites and boosting their page rankings. Basically you attach your author biography to the article with a link to your website in it and anybody can use the article for their sites for free as long as those links go with it. Your writing isn’t repaid in monetary terms but in the increased visibility of your site.

As I stood over the stove this evening, head thick with a cold, desultorily stirring some chicken and carrots into a stir fry, again, because I couldn’t think of anything more inspiring that the children would eat, I pondered the wording of my article biography that I’d been mechanically pasting onto all those articles: ”..and is passionate about food.” If only they could see me now! I’d never felt less passionate about food. I thought enviously of those real food blogs like CookSister, where they experiment with new flavours, revel in their cooking and photograph it attractively before tucking in. Years of feeding children have dulled the edge of that passion, at least that’s how it feels on a coldy, autumnal evening. Shopping once a week at a supermarket doesn’t quite compare with browsing a market in France or Italy for seasonal specialities and how I wish I could sample the temptations of London’s Borough Market with a bottomless purse and no kids in tow!

Having had that little grumble, let it be said that I now do a mean Sunday Roast and the smell of new bread from the kitchen is pretty enticing right now, even from the depths of these culinary doldrums. Plus I take heart from the archives of my family history books. Apparently my brother and I were taken across the Channel to France for a summer holiday in Brittany, aged about 3 and 5. We refused all foreign food provided by the hotel, including the roast beef that was usually our favourite at home, because French Roast Beef wasn’t the same as English Roast Beef....

Thursday, May 10, 2007


My six year old daughter was relating a folk tale that she‘d heard today. We were all sitting outside on the swing bench on a rare still afternoon, warm sun on our backs, having finished a long overdue nail cutting session.

There were lots of ‘and thens’, ‘uummms’ and convoluted sentences and it took us a while to get the hang of it. It boiled down to an age old tale: young man marries princess; she falls sick and dies but a magic silver snake, that he finds, brings her back to life; unfortunately it didn’t bring her love for him back to life. On a sea journey she plots with the captain to have him thrown overboard. Luckily his servant saves him and he makes his way back to her father’s palace. She returns with a story of how he’d fallen sick and died on the journey. The king, her father, reveals her husband, hale and hearty and pronounces her punishment – she and the captain are to be put onto a holey boat and pushed out to sea to the mercy of the elements. (Great, gory stuff these old moral tales!)

My daughter finished her retelling and lapsed into silence. Then she said:

“ I don’t like that she was put into a leaky boat. I think her punishment should have been to go without food and water for a day.”

My son puts in seriously:
“Oh seven days at least.”

Then he turns to me and asks: “Would she survive for seven days without food and water?”

An earnest discussion follows between the two of them, about how long she could be left without water, without expiring and when food would become appropriate.

Eventually it was decided:

No food or water for three days; then she could have a loaf of stale bread and some water each day for three more days and after that she could have dinner.

The jury have reached their verdict and determined the sentence, Your Honour!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Learning Letters the Waldorf Way

Yesterday evening we had the first parents’ evening of the year at my children’s school. I sat in my six year old daughter’s classroom, looking through her books and paintings, at her finger knitting and the drawings on the wall. Leon, who works on our farm, was there too, looking at his son’s books attentively. I take Ryan to school every day with my children and he pays the minimum fee, which is still more than a state school. He is ambitious for his youngest son and wants him to learn good English and get a good job, so he makes the big effort to pay the fees and attend parents’ evenings. I could see a little furrow of incomprehension on his brow though. Our school is a Waldorf school and the Waldorf approach to learning letters is completely different to anything the government schools advocate. I could see him wondering - why are they still on drawing pictures and just a few letters?.

This morning he was busy cutting out capital letters from a magazine, to show his son the whole alphabet and the names of all the letters. I leaped in to reassure him and try to explain a bit how the Waldorf system works and found I needed to talk it through in my head first to make it comprehensible in a few clear words.

In Class 1, which is age 6/7, the children are introduced to one letter at a time through a story. Then they draw a picture, from the story, which has the shape of the letter in it. M for example is Mighty Mountain and the picture is of two adjoining mountains making an M-shape. At the same time they learn a rhyme: ‘Mighty, Mighty, Mountain Majestic and Massive, aMazing and Magic, Mighty, Mighty, Mountain’ and practise the sound it makes. They also make the shape by modelling beeswax and walk out the shape of the letter on the floor. This is a gradual process over a few days and then another letter is added. It takes the first two terms to make it through the alphabet this way.

But they are not just learning to recognise the letter in isolation and memorising its name. They are learning its sounds, how it fits into several words, they are expanding their vocabulary with longer words and learning their meanings, and above all they are getting a feel for each letter, with all their senses. Thus the letter isn’t just a linear symbol, it already tells a story – it has a use that is clear from the start and is permanently associated with its rhyme, which gives all the permutations of its sounds.

G this year is ‘Don’t Grab the Golden Goose or you’ll Get Glued!’ and goes with the folk tale of the woodcutter’s son with the golden goose that everyone gets stuck to, who ends up making the king’s daughter laugh with such a ridiculous spectacle and so wins her hand in marriage.

Sure it takes longer this way than learning the alphabet by rote, but by the end of the first year, when they start putting the letters together into words and writing sentences, they are already old friends. Bright children can then race ahead to reading fluently early in the second year, while others will take longer, but in the end they all learn to read and write with the solid foundation of familiarity. Children who might otherwise be classed as dyslexic stand a better chance of making sense of the letters this way too.

In the end I decided to show Leon my son’s school books from Class 1 and Class 2 and his progression to writing and its increasing neatness and fluency through the second year. I explained a bit of what I’ve written above and suggested that he gets Ryan to tell him the letters that he knows with their rhymes. I think he understood a bit more by the end, now he just has to convey it all to his wife, so she doesn’t fret that those letters will never come.

The children all chant the rhymes as we come home in the car from school, so I’m getting quite familiar with them too! I like

‘Don’t Despair, Dirty Door will appear’! and

‘Tall, Tall Tree Tower To The Top, Trusty Trunk, Tall,Tall Tree’.

Photos: Some of my son's work from Class 1 and the beginning of Class 2.

Towards the end of Class 2 his writing is already getting smaller and more regular, with just the occasional typo!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Autumn Fruit

One perfect, ripe fig from our tree signals autumn more truely than the weather. We have lurched from first fire of the winter, back to warm and muggy, with the flies having a fiesta in this balmy warmth after the first real winter rains. But the fruit trees tell it like it is.

Our first guavas are ripe too. Youngest likes to eat them straight off the tree and pleads with me not to cook them all up for guava fool, which is one of my son and his Dad’s favourite winter desserts...favourite any time of the year puddings really, as from now until the end of the season I’ll be stewing and puréeing any extra fruit to put in the freezer for Christmas, New Year and any other excuse for celebration. I’m not allowed to reveal the recipe, as it is the intellectual property of my husband’s family! Suffice it to say that it is a fool made with guavas, in a similar method to gooseberry or rhubarb fool – slightly tart fruit purée stirred together with a creamy, custardy mix to a thick custard consistency. And that description gives you no idea of the indescribable flavour, fresh and enticing, of guavas. There should really be a picture of a guava rather than a fig, seeing as the whole post ended up about guavas. I’ll try to do one tomorrow and add it in.

Friday, May 04, 2007

'Ware Pirates

Fearsome pirates boarded another buccaneering ship and seized the treasure today at a small farm in South Africa. Crew missing presumed thrown overboard and no hope of recovery fro the treasure, which has mostly been eaten. No lives lost however, assure local law enforcement officials investigating aftermath of the feeding frenzy.

In other news: our son is now officially nine. How did that happen? Nine is the threshold of leaving behind the fantasy land of earlier childhood and getting to grips with the world and how it works. Just nine can slip between both worlds still, but reading stories seems to be taking the place of make believe play in exercising the imagination. Nine recognises that girls are human too and even worthy of being invited to a boys birthday party (the last two birthdays were boys only, with the exception of his sisters). Nine can have long conversations on the phone with friends and family ringing to say Happy Birthday. Nine can saw wood and sew, write and send out his own invitations to the party and decide on the guest list. Nine is pretty cool.

I had a preview of next year as some of my son’s older friends, though taking part in the treasure hunt, were less than absorbed in the story and make-believe. Next year I need to find a new way of engaging their interest – the story treasure hunt that has served me so well for the last 5 years, needs a revamp if it is to survive the ‘double figures birthdays’, some sort of constructive activity, building things perhaps. Has anyone with slightly older children got any tips? What do you do for birthdays – still a party or do you give those up in favour of an outing with one or two friends?

Despite those few rumblings of growing up everyone had a good time and noise levels were high!