Monday, October 29, 2007

A Goodnight Kiss

Youngest has developed her own individual goodnight routine. Whereas the older two submit to a goodnight kiss and hug from us and just about whisper 'night night' under their breath back, occasionally treating us to a perfunctory hug, she has an unbreakable ritual that has to be gone through.

First I give her a kiss, then she solemnly kisses me on each cheek alternately, three or four times over, moving my face with her hands to get the right angle. Then come two kisses on the lips and then we have to rub noses. At the end I get a hug and a "mama, I love you" delivered in dramatic rendition, possibly taken from a Victorian melodrama. To which I have to reply "I love you too".

If she isn't completely happy with the delivery of her line the first time round, she will then give it another go, drawing out the syllables in a die-away manner. Then she will snuggle down contentedly, satisfied that we have suitably communicated our love.

I have no idea where this all came from - the kissing on alternate cheeks has a definite continental flavour and I often experience that flicker of uncertainty about how many times we should meet cheeks, just as when moving between Italy and France and their different conventions, I used to end up miscalculating and bumping cheekbones or else thin air. She makes no bones about it though and grabs my face firmly with her hands, to make sure that I don't get it wrong or cut short the performance.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

WTSIM Strawberry Cake

Belatedly catching up with the food blogging world I checked out this months wtsim at SpittoonExtra today, to find that the theme is cakes - a subject after my own heart - in particular layered cakes. This immediately brought to mind the strawberry sponge cake that I made for youngest's birthday, which I unfairly tantalised you with here a little while ago. So I thought I would risk repeating myself and give you the recipe this time too.

Her birthday falls at the beginning of our strawberry season, and apart from the year she was two, when overindulgence in strawberries had given her an allergy rash, she has demanded a strawberry cake for her birthday every time.

When you have good strawberries to lavish on a cake, all you need is a simple background to frame them. A plain sponge cake with just a hint of vanilla, proper cream whipped with just a smidgen of sugar to enfold the strawberries and relieve any residual tartness …no more. Anything else would be overkill and distract your taste-buds from the strawberry stars of the show.

Any Victoria sponge recipe will do, as long as it is a generous one and not too dry. Here is the recipe I used for a good basic sponge cake. It comes from Nigella Lawson's 'How to Eat' and takes advantage of her propensity for using a food processor to whip up a cake batter in a few hassle free moments - just what I needed in the last minute rush of getting a birthday ready, when I was thoroughly disorganised and still had the treasure hunt to think up and presents to wrap. The cake turned out light, moist and springy and completely restored my faith in sponge cake recipes after a few bad experiences.

Strawberry Sponge Cake Recipe

For the Cake
200g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
225g caster sugar
225g soft butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk

For the Filling
250ml cream
500g ripe strawberries
1 tablespoon caster sugar
icing sugar to dust

Oven 180C/360
2 x 21 cm cake tins (I used slightly smaller ones than this but it worked fine) greased and lined.

Put all the cake ingredients in the food processor, except the milk and blitz until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and mix again. Check consistency - it should be of a soft dropping consistency. Add the rest of milk if needed. Pour equally into the two tins and bake for 25 minutes until the top feels springy and a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 1 minute in the tins then turn onto a rack to finish cooling.

When cool, whip the cream till fairly stiff with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Prepare the strawberries. I usually cut half the amount into quarters or chunks to go with the cream inside and just halve the rest to go decoratively on top. Spread a bit over half the cream in the middle and spread over the strawberry chunks, press the top layer on gently, then decorate the top with the rest of the cream and arrange the halved strawberries on top. If you like sift icing sugar on top, but don't over-do it, you want the scarlet strawberries to shine forth in all their glory.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Eating out with the kids

Taking the children out to a good restaurant is something we only do occasionally ... well we only go out to good restaurants occasionally ourselves, so they pretty much go when we go, apart from our once a year wedding anniversary escape. We have never been anywhere that is too posh to admit young children and they usually behave well, as long as there is somewhere they can play once they've finished eating.

Groote Post, where we went for our anniversary, came up trumps last weekend, as a place to visit in a mixed group of adults and children. They'd laid three places appropriately for the kids, without wine glasses, had thought of a few child-friendly options to propose, even though they had no 'kid' menu, and asked what the children would like to eat at the drinks ordering stage, so that they could start their food cooking while we were still leisurely perusing our menus and chatting.

This must be the first time I've had such thoughtful service with kids in tow. Usually restaurants are only to happy to comply with requests to divide adult portions on to two plates etc. but to have a solution already thought of and swiftly executed was great, leaving us to relax and enjoy our meal too.

We'd been given the big table in the Voorkamer (the entrance hall), so the children were able to run outside to play on the lawn and the jungle gym and feed dry leaves to the chickens in the run, without disturbing any of the other diners, plus we could still keep an eye on them through the open door, as we savoured our starters. It felt like we had our own private dining room and we were surrounded by beautiful antique furniture ...I'd love to move in there tomorrow!

The kids all chose steak rolls with hand cut chips and salad - the steak was the tenderest I've had in ages, pink in the middle and seared on the outside. They tucked in appreciatively, but a few adult eyes glanced acquisitively toward their plates and were eventually rewarded with the leftovers, when they ran back outside to play.

Our delicious lamb pie with mashed potato, butternut puree and vegetables and a wonderful gravy

We were able to enjoy adult conversation over our main course and then call them back in for chocolate brownie and ice cream, while we went for a berry tart that was refreshingly tart but finished us off completely. I was ruined by my motherly tendency to clear the kids' plates as well as my own, which had me finishing off corners of brownie as well as my own dessert!

The kids' chocolate brownie.
Please note in the background that our son has inherited the family trait of taking a book along, just in case...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Late October

Late October means late spring here in SA. A rash of warm weather has sent the carpets of flowers to seed and dried out the fields to a parched gold in a matter of a couple of weeks.

Late October means a sudden outbreak of gardening fever, and wondering why it's been so long, when I enjoy it so much, only to be forcibly reminded by spasms in my back, just why I so rarely weed my herb garden.

Late October means that the sun steals through our bedroom windows and tickles the children awake before the morning alarm clock sounds, sending us forth bright and early to arrive at school five minutes before the bell, instead of two minutes after as we too often do in winter.

Late October puts paid to weekend lie-ins - a recent innovation in any case, with winter darkness having lulled the children to sleep in at weekends until the luxurious hour of 7.30.

Late October means braking to avoid tortoises crossing our dirt road.

Late October means a visit from Granny and Grandpa bearing a crop of new children's clothes harvested from the end of season sales in England.

Late October means that mulberries and strawberries are ripe and juicy begging to be picked from trees and plants.

Late October means a bucket of Biotex in the bath in the forlorn hope of soaking purple juice stains from brand new primrose coloured T-shirts.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I've been stuggling to balance my life recently. My clear three hours work slot in the mornings, isn't really enough, when I get a client with a big proofreading and editing job and a deadline of yesterday.

My blog has been an abandoned space recently, with a crazy week last week of trying to get ahead with my work blog, prepare the house for my parents' arrival on the Thursday, think ahead to Youngest's birthday the next day and make enough time to spend with them all.

Charlotte's post came to mind, when the very evening of their arrival, I got an urgent e-mail from a potential client with an e-book that needed editing …preferably yesterday. I put aside Saturday to do it in, relying on my parents to keep the children entertained and vice versa.

Friday was the birthday - sacrosanct, devoted to presents and baking cheese biscuits for the party, picking strawberries for the birthday cake and oops! thinking up a treasure hunt. Middle daughter's birthday had been a triumph of inspiration and planning, at least in retrospect. Youngest's was a case of last minute winging it.

We had to go and sign some papers in our local town, just before the party and, all the way in and back, I was mulling over stories for the treasure hunt, working out possible clues, hoping for inspiration - it duly arrived, enough at least to keep a five year old happy, and I ran about like a mad thing on my return, fifteen minutes before the guests were due to arrive, to put the clues round and hide the treasure.

On Saturday with my dedicated in-house baby sitting service, I managed to spend seven clear hours at the computer and finished the editing and proofreading of the e-book, setting aside Monday morning for any revisions. Sunday I kept myself away from the dreaded machine, except to decorate my poor sad blog with some strawberries to cheer it up.

Monday was when my precarious balance toppled. The e-book had come to me in multiple files and now needed formatting, plus there were some more separate files to edit. I was enjoying the project, (a really useful book on breastfeeding) and liked the clients, so wanted to do my best for them.

But computer time is completely intellectual, your physical body gets no recognition. By the end of the day, when I had taken just a lunch break and a tea break, (after having forgotten about picking the kids up from school and having to phone up to say I'd be late), I was chilled to the bone. All my energy had been focussed and directed into my computer. I was irritable and snapping, muttering savagely under my breath, when an email wouldn't send, a veritable prima donna at her first performance!

I'd done the work, but had had to abandon all the other parts of my daily routine, the physical things, the nurturing things, the emotional and spiritual things. It amazed me how physically wiped out I was, it was like I'd had a fever - my head ached, my digestion had shut down! I went to bed with a hot water bottle and my winter pyjamas.

So now I need to find ways of balancing crazy deadlines with home life and being realistic about how much work I can do in a day. The trouble is I enjoy the work, I was feeding on the buzz of getting it done and creating a pleasing, integrated book from a jumble of differently formatted files.

Anyway today, I enjoyed sauntering over to my sister-in-laws house to do the laundry, looked at the flowers, tasted some ripe mulberries from her tree, edited some copy for another client, set some bread dough to rise, wrote a bit, sat with youngest as she had her snack ..that is balanced. Hopefully I'm learning to pace myself. Any tips on keeping your sanity and your family intact under pressure of deadlines are gladly welcomed!

P.S. I think under the circumstances I'll give NaBloPoMo a miss this year, no need to add more deadline pressure to my fledgling professional balance!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Strawberry 'stravaganza

Sorry I haven't been around for a while ...I've been unavoidable detained in our strawberry patch. Strawberry season has arrived with a fanfare!

Youngest asked for a strawberry cake for her birthday and a fairy treasure hunt.

Strawberries inspired me to bake my first pavlova of the season.

and there were no leftovers!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Muggles Beware

I try to keep my blog a cheerful place filled with flowers and flavours, so it goes against the grain to keep reporting when the really newsworthy gories happen. I have to confess now that my posts about our wedding anniversary, though genuine, cover up a deeper, darker subsequent week of doctor's visits. But how to report it?

Dragon Attacks!?!

It has come to our notice, that below the seemingly untroubled waters of Suikerbossie Farm, disturbing events have been concealed. Popular lore states that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but then why has this family been detected twice this week at the doctor's surgery needing emergency treatment?

"It wasn't lightning, it was hot coffee" insists harassed mother of three, who had to be taught how to dress her daughter's scalded arm last Monday.

In the light of subsequent events, we wonder if dangerous and restricted magical creatures are being reared at this 'farm', where the inhabitants refuse to comment.

That same mother drove herself to the surgery needing stitches for wounds, allegedly caused by her own border collie, but which might just as well be dragon attacks.

'He lashed out out me, when the vet was taking out his stitches' she asserts, denying any connection with illegal magical creatures.

Could the seven-year-old girl have been burnt by too close contact with a dragon? Further investigation will uncover the truth.

We are all recovering well, though the doctor did offer to reserve a suite for us at his surgery, and are keeping our fingers crossed that the third accident was the flat tyre that stopped my husband in his tracks on the way to a meeting on Monday.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Spring Flowers - a Photographic Road Trip

Gorgeous mature coral tree at Groote Post

Not only did we eat a wonderful leisurely lunch in a beautiful place for our wedding anniversary, we then indulged ourselves by going for a pottering drive along the quiet, dirt roads and stopping every kilometer or so, whenever I saw a flower I just had to photograph.

Wind, wispy clouds and wheat

It's been a long time since we've done that - with kids in the car we're generally trying to whisk ourselves to our destination before grumpiness sets in. We've also temporarily switched roles, it is usually my husband the photographer, screeching to a halt on the verge to catch the moment. This time I was in charge of the camera and it was me shrieking out to him to stop, whenever a new flower flooded my vision.

It is nearly the end of the flower season on the West Coast, the carpets of daisies already gone to seed, but there were plenty of bright patches of colour. So I've put you together a photographic flower road trip for you.

There were so many chinchirees everywhere that is was hardly a crime to pick five, one for each member of the family.

Wild watsonias make spots of hot colour in a dry field by the road, with Table Mountain mistily in the background.

Banks of pink daisies massed along the road side, and trust me Table Mountain is still there in the background!

More pink daisies washing towards the sea.

Pink vygies cluster into the dark rocks at Grotto Bay.

Pretty aren't they!

Wild orange gazanias set the hills on fire.

Wild flowers trying to emulate a municipal planting. Vygies and Chinchirees.

A river of purple winding along the valley.

Pink vygie bushes like confetti along the verge.

I had to put in an arum lily, even though this shot isn't the best as they were still gallantly flowering in all the damp places. I stopped to pick three to take home to remember our wedding day - these were the flowers I carried twelve years ago, freshly picked from a ditch that morning.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Groote Post

I've been longing to play at being a real food blogger for ages, wielding my camera to photograph every dish and capture each nuance of flavour, as I enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the country's finest watering holes. Last weekend the opportunity finally came. It was our wedding anniversary, my sister-in-law had discovered a lovely country restaurant less than an hour away, so we left the children behind and drove off unencumbered to enjoy ourselves.

We'd almost fallen at the first hurdle, as having been sick the week before I only tried to book on the Saturday for Sunday lunch and not surprisingly they were full. Disappointment threatened, but my husband asked them to phone if they had a cancellation, the universe was looking after us, and a few hours later they duly did.

Seven kilometres of dirt road led to this West Coast wine estate, through dry undulating hills scattered with the last blooming of spring flowers. A last turn of the track leads you into a pocket in the hills, an oasis of green and trees, studded with a whitewashed Cape Dutch farmstead and its outbuildings. It's small. What would have been a modest family farmhouse, houses about ten tables, spread through the high ceilinged rooms.

The food was good, unpretentious, country food concentrating on good, fresh ingredients, with the short menus, offering three or four choices per course, changing daily. No attempt at Michelin stars here, just attractive food and interesting flavours.

We decided to share a starter, in order to make it through to the pudding intact, and chose the leek, dill and feta pie with roasted tomatoes. It was full of flavour and not at all heavy, the feta keeping to the background.

The main courses were tasty but unadventurous. My lemon and chilli chicken was succulent but quite plain, the chilli could have danced a little more strongly on the tastebuds even for me, but the chips that came with it were the best I've had in ages and the salad nice but quirkily presented in a tea-cup, which was a bit awkward to eat from!

My husband's lamb curry was good too without breaking new ground.

I wasn't quite full enough to share a pudding. I chose the lemon, almond and polenta cake, which was moist and lemony with that slightly gritty polenta texture.

My husband went for the pear tart, also good with crisp pastry and a rich custard filling over the pears. He gave up the attempt and left me to despatch the rest of it, though I couldn't quite finish.

The service was friendly, unhurried but efficient allowing you a leisurely meal but there were no overly long gaps between courses even though they were full.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, snapping each dish as it came and whisking the food from under my husband's nose to get a photo before he dug in! We hadn't eaten out in a grown-up restaurant for such a long time, that it was also a novelty being able to sit back and savour our food and chat, without cutting up food for someone or supervising outside play in between courses.

We're definitely going back there, in fact I'd better book now for Sunday lunch when my parents come to visit soon.

Groote Post
upon Darling Hills
022 492 2825