Wednesday, April 30, 2008

WTSIM breakfast

Breakfast on a school day is a bleary-eyed assembly of cereal packets, a 2l milk container, with maybe some raisins and banana for embellishments. We've always been a family that collects an extensive assortment of different cereals, each one of us having a different preference and some, like me, combining four of them in a very specific formula. When I'm breakfasting against the clock, with one eye seeing that the children eat something, one hand hurriedly spooning yoghurt into Youngest's bowl after she's spent ten minutes making up her mind what to have, I don't need the burden of any decision making process on my part - I can cope with the exact same breakfast every day, as long as I do have some. Going out to do the school run on an empty stomach would be unthinkable, put the day on emergency adrenaline mode ever after.

So when Johanna announced a WTSIM breakfast theme, it was hard to know what to write about. The full English breakfast fry-ups are my South African sister-in-laws' domain - once in a while we are invited to one or other house on a weekend morning to overindulge in bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and fried potatoes.

I have fond memories of breakfast in Italy on days off, when we'd saunter down to a bar in Siena, that was merely functional looking but well known for its pastries, and slowly down a couple of cappuccinos accompanied by pastries from an enticing range of flavours that always had you wanting to try the next one and the next. In the end I settled on a favourite which had a tang of orange zest and sprinkling of raisins.

I could of course depart from my normal breakfast pattern and experiment with a brand new recipe, wowing my family with muffins or a fancy bread, but with us only just crawling out of the flu slump, last weekend went by un-embroidered with culinary adventure.

Sometimes the children beg for pancakes for breakfast and occasionally I give in, in the hope of earning a few brownie points to start the weekend off. So I thought I'd give it another go tomorrow for the May Day holiday.

It usually ends up with me slightly frazzled at the edges with so much pre-breakfast activity, eating one or two pancakes hastily at the stove while the children douse theirs with cinnamon sugar and apricot jam and scoff them as fast as they're cooked. Tomorrow I resolve not to get flustered when the first pancake sticks irrevocably to the pan. I will just ditch it and the rest will turn out perfectly. Of course writing about these before I've made them this time round means that I haven't yet got a photo to illustrate the post with, but if I sneak it in belatedly tomorrow morning I can still make today's deadline for the WTSIM event!

The nicest, easy recipe I've found is of course one of Nigella's from her book Feast, for banana and buttermilk pancakes:

Banana and Buttermilk Pancakes

1 ripe banana
150g/6oz plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 egg
250ml/ 1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon caster sugar
30g/ 1 ½ oz butter melted

Liquidize all the ingredients except the butter to a smooth batter in a food processor.

Stir in the melted butter when you are ready to start frying the pancakes.

Use a heavy bottomed non-stick frying pan or griddle.

Heat it to medium hot and dollop tablespoons of the mixture on to it. I usually fit four at a time on my biggest pan. (They turn out like what we called drop scones in England, not like the sort of pancakes that we had on Shrove Tuesday)

Flip them after about a minute, once the underside has set and allow to cook on the other side - check after half a minute.

Pile them onto a warmed plate until you have cooked the rest or serve straight into the mouths of the hungry hoards. Mine like these with cinnamon sugar.

I mix a teaspoon of cinnamon with a tablespoon of caster sugar and they just sprinkle it over the pancakes. Apricot jam is good or honey too. This recipe makes enough for three hungry kids and two abstemious parents.

Of course if I were breakfasting at the Nelly here in Cape Town my unswerving cereal habit would be abandoned in a flash. The tables piled high with every sort of breakfast food imaginable, cornucopias of fresh fruit, encyclopaedias of pastries and baked goods, as well as a hot counter where the eggs are freshly cooked in front of you however your whim dictates, not to mention the stunning setting of old world grandeur and lush gardens, would rather dim the appeal of corn flakes, oats and rice krispies and lead to scenes of over indulgence too painful to contemplate! Just as well that it's my husband that contrives breakfast meetings there occasionally rather than me!

I have to say that my mouth is drooling at some of the breakfast recipes I've seen on everyone else's blogs so far, almost enough to convert me to cooking weekend breakfasts properly ... !

Edited to add: Well if I thought I got frazzled just making pancakes on an empty stomach, adding a camera into the mix didn't really help to make a serene start to the day! It nearly did go into the mix and get sprinkled with cinnamon sugar! And the pancakes disappeared mid-photo session. Still you get the idea and the sun was slanting in through the window for a true South African autumn morning scene.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Literary Feasts

Yesterday was one of those days when you've run out of steam and wade in slow motion through the hours until you are vaguely surprised to have reached the end of the day without even having washed the dishes from the night before.

I had, in my defense, after a recuperating doze in the sun on the swing bench, reorganised the bookshelf of children's books with the help of Oldest son, so that they are now cunningly arranged in alphabetical order and reassembled from around the house all in the same bookshelf. They are more than just books. They are a treasured nostalgic collection of all my personal childhood favourites, some that have done the rounds of my husband and his siblings, then his nephews and nieces and finally made their way back to us, plus others that we have collected in second hand bookshops when we were in the UK. Really good books don't date, their pages just start falling out.

The flu fortnight has left us all low on energy reserves, but with all that reading aloud on the sofa, I've made the wonderful discovery that all three of the children are now old enough to enjoy some of these jewels of stories. Even though Youngest punctuates the narrative with constant requests for an explanation of a word or a concept, she can happily listen for as long as I will read.

I've now got two books on the go that I'm reading to them. I started off with The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfield. This tells the tale of an ordinary family of three children, the oldest is a talented ballet dancer, the youngest very musical and the middle one nothing in particular. Streatfield is so good at drawing recognizable portraits of children and the dialogue reads well even though the book must be about sixty years old by now. Though the kids often think that grumpy Jane is rather rude, they really enjoy the sympathetic portrait of her, that shows that you can be bad tempered but still lovable!

Then the two children who had recovered from flu went back to school, so I started another book for Middle Daughter, The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston. The others came back from school and started listening to it, so now they are all engrossed in that too.

The Green Knowe books are some of my very favourites from when I was a child. They tell the story of a boy called Tolly, who visits his great-grandmother in the ancient family house. She tells him stories of the children who lived there centuries ago, and eventually he has tantalising glimpses of the children, who play hide and seek around the house and garden with him, and he gets to know them as friends. This second book in the series tells the story of Susan, the blind daughter of the family who lived at the turn of the nineteenth century, and is also part treasure hunt as Tolly tries to find the family jewels that were lost or stolen back in that time, to save his great grandmother from selling a treasured painting of the other sixteenth century children. Youngest is loving the story but is frustrated in trying to understand the crossovers of time and how Tolly can sometimes see and talk to Susan in her time….this is seriously challenging my powers of explanation, I can tell you!

My husband has also read The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner to them over the last week and their aunt has been reading Olga da Polga by Michael Bond, so a veritable literary feast has been gorged on, even though they've hardly eaten a bite of real food while they've been sick.

They are all nearly better now, though poor Middle Daughter keeps suffering a blocked Eustachian tube, which sends her into sobs of pain, usually at bed-time, and has our stress levels going through the roof. Luckily it's a public holiday here tomorrow for Freedom Day, so we have another day of rest, before two whole days of school, then the May Day Holiday on Thursday…so Friday has officially been declared a holiday too. Plenty of time to finish our books!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth, Eskom and more on Teeth


Youngest has her first ever wobbly tooth! She proudly showed it off to me this afternoon and then was excited to discover that it is in fact not just one wobbly tooth, but both the bottom front ones wobbling in unison. Middle Daughter whispered to me that she suspects that I am the tooth fairy, but I am hoping that she'll keep quiet about that until Youngest has enjoyed the thrill of at least one visit from the tooth fairy.


Big Brother Eskom is Watching You!

Yesterday in honour of Earth Day, Charlotte wrote about Emily's Ecojustice environmental challenge for anyone who wants to cut down their environmental impact - read about it here. I blithely commented that I can rely on Eskom to do my bit for me - we're having scheduled two hour electricity outages every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 8am-10am, to help control South Africa's energy crisis at the moment.

But at least it's a regular slot, now we know about it, we can plan ahead and our indispensable computers have back up now. My clever husband has got a truck battery wired up to the UPS, so that we both have at least two hours work time in reserve after the power goes off.

However I have sneaking suspicion that Eskom are tracking mentions of them in blog comments worldwide, as they took me up on my blog comment pledge today: we had our regular 2 hour black out in the morning, then the lights came back on at 10 sharp (or 10.05 anyway which is extremely sharp when you're on Africa time). I went to celebrate by switching on the kettle for a cup of tea. A lethargic whisper emanated instead of the usual roar from my previously enthusiastic work horse of streamlined Italian design.

Ten minutes later it still hadn't boiled. Still it was under guarantee and maybe the power outages had given it a nervous breakdown, so as I was doing my weekly shop anyway this afternoon, I packed it up in its box to take straight in for replacement.

A bit later we also noticed that the water pressure was non-existent. Help - a power surge must have blown the pump too. An SOS to the electrician went out.

As I returned from picking up the kids from school Eskom played its wild card and the power went off AGAIN. This time our computer back up batteries declined the challenge, gave some rapid beeps and blacked out my computer.

So we spent an entire afternoon rediscovering traditional values, without the benefits of modern conveniences: my husband read for two solid hours to Middle Daughter on the sofa, where she is in her third day of flu residency. I would like to say that I harnessed up the pony to a trap, to head off to town to market… but that would be fiction taking over …so I used our petrol guzzling car instead.

I traded in the mal-functioning kettle. They didn't have the same smartly designed model in stock any more, so I lost my cool, rational, tasteful approach and chose a space age, gimmicky one that lights up in different colours when it boils and has a huge window so you can see the water boiling! At least it would entertain the children and it was made by a reputable British manufacturer...

I arrived at our gate at the same time as the electrician, who had come to save us from the trials of a night with no water. I walked in through our door to find power had just been restored and miraculously, wonder of wonders, the pump was now working just fine. The brain cogs ground slowly into gear and at least ten minutes later I started wondering if perhaps the kettle had not actually broken at all.

Maybe I have traded in a perfectly good, well designed kettle, for one that looks like it's about to launch into space at any minute, for no reason at all…aaagh!

We must have been on half power for the second half of the morning - lights working fine, but pumps and kettles and battery chargers not functioning at all well.

So this energy saving day turned out not so green after all. One perfectly good kettle is winging its way back to the manufacturers and the electrician had a wasted journey, but at least I can relax in the glow of my new lava-lamp-lookalike kettle and wonder how to turn off the light in it to save energy at night.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Colours of Autumn

One thing I miss here in South Africa in autumn is the annual show the trees put on in England transforming the towns and countryside with splashes of my favorite colours. Piles of crunchy, rust coloured leaves to kick through in the park, twirling yellow leaves floating down from a tree to catch and make a wish, bright flaring red, oranges and golds drenching the landscape with brief fiery colour before the grey of winter sets in.

Here we have another palette. Bright cerulean skies, once the fog has burned off. Warm brown earth highlighted by swirling white trails of dust as a tractor ploughs. Bleached straw stubble, burnt black fields. Flaming orange flowers of the wilde dagga lit with sparks of emerald as the sun birds feast on its nectar. Deep blue of the ocean on one horizon, misty violets and indigos of the mountains on the other. A few more weeks and the green of winter will envelop the landscape, softening the harsh dryness.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sick as a Dog

Our enthusiastic support of the hard-working medical professions continues unabated.

Last week we scored:

1 call out of GP at 8pm to reassure us that our feverish and spasm-wracked, flu-ridden son would survive the night. (Thank goodness for South Africa's private health care, where it is actually possible to have a doctor come to your house still)

1 visit to homeopath 3 days later with 2 still feverish children, to get remedies that would avoid the necessity of antibiotics.

1 visit to vet with one small Jack Russell who had stomach pains after helping with our refuse disposal process - she got the antibiotics.

Now we have:

1 Youngest, back at school after a week off and only coughing a bit.

1 Oldest son, nearly better with his temperature normal at last, but with a mysterious rash that comes and goes for no good reason, who stayed at home again today because he slept badly and woke pale faced and feeble.

1 traumatized dog, whose nerves have been shot to pieces by the visit to the vet, injections and a day fasting, who thinks we must be the cause of her stomach pain and trembles reproachfully whenever we look at her.

1 Middle Daughter who has taken over the sofa duty, having woken up this morning with all the initial symptoms of full-on flu like her siblings' last week.

This week we propose:

1 visit to homeopath to do something about son's rash if it doesn't spontaneously disappear overnight.

1 postponed dental operation - we had finally made the difficult decision to go ahead, only to have Middle Daughter succumb to the flu lurgy, which means she won't be able to have it this week anyway.

10 different sets of pills, potions and lotions to be dispensed hourly, 2 hourly or daily to the various members of the family to treat all their various ailments.

2 substantial doses of Echinacea daily to sleep deprived parents, as parents with flu would be the last straw for the newly recovering kids.

Thank you for all your kind comments and sympathy. I'm hoping to find a new blogging theme soon before I start spreading the germs virtually!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Tonight I broke one of my cardinal culinary rules. In an attempt to provide the preferred comfort food of each member of my still sick family, I cooked three different meals for supper.

It was nothing complicated, but I usually refuse on principle to start conjuring up alternative options when anyone doesn't like the proposed meal. They can eat part of the meal or have some bread or yoghurt if it is really impossible for them to swallow.

Youngest and Oldest have been sick for nearly a week though, so some pandering (à la Pollyanna and the calfsfoot jelly) was in order. Our son always demands rice and baked beans, his idea of a perfectly rounded meal. Youngest likes pasta. Middle daughter, the only one not sick, but suffering from a sore tummy (maybe so as not to feel left out, who can tell!) really wanted an omelette and isn't too keen on the other options. I made a deal. She could have an omelette if she laid the table and then I would tell her how to cook it herself.

This solved the problem of my brain fusing as it can do when dealing with too many different saucepans at once… I am definitely not applying for the post of short order chef any time soon.

So to the chorus of coughing, she turned out a very respectable one egg omelette, while the invalids languished and waited for their appetites to be tempted.

They've both had three days of a fierce flu, knocked out on the sofa. Both recovered briefly only to relapse back into a temperature accompanied by cough and loads of mucus and congestion. A visit to the homeopath today provided us with an array of remedies, so I'm hoping we can get by without resorting to antibiotics. We'll see how they are doing tomorrow.

Oldest is desperately disappointed to be missing school. His class had just embarked on a project to do with animals and he was really looking forward to it all. A foray into Google today to research his animal - the zebra - turned up enough information, but he wasn't too impressed when I suggested that he should write in his own words and not just copy the whole site!

I've just realized that with all the coughing and doling out remedies and presiding over a stoveful of saucepans, I've completely forgotten to go to my belly-dancing class tonight. Bother!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Passports, Grass and Teeth

Time spent in queues, time spent on the phone listening to automated messages telling me I'm now fourth in the queue and thanking me for my patience, other phones ringing endlessly with no answer, this is all part of the passport application process, a necessary trial to see if you are patient enough to be allowed out of the country and represent your nation abroad…

Since last week I have established:

  1. That I am unlikely to ever have a hope of speaking personally to the Examiner responsible for our application , to see if he would accept the numerous documents that I did send him, without the vault copy of Youngest's birth certificate.
  2. That the vault copy from South African Home Affairs may or may not come through in time to get her British passport.
  3. That as long as our South African passports come through in time, she can travel on that to the UK, without a Visa and without being suspected of nefarious activities and endangering her entitlement to British citizenship.
  4. That stressing about it won't make the slightest bit of difference to bureaucratic procedure, so I may as well stop worrying about it and get on with my work.

Youngest is now languishing on the sofa, taking full advantage of the unlimited video watching that is the sole privilege of the sick in our house. She made it thought the first three days of term in kindergarten (only having to be carried in protesting for the first two days) and then woke up with a temperature on the Friday. Apparently flu is once more doing the rounds, a sure sign that autumn is truly here.

The rest of the family are at the school again this Saturday, building paths, weeding out alien grasses and putting up shade cloth shelters over the kindergarten sand pit. My husband is showing his Leo colours and is on a mission to get parents involved in transforming the school grounds.

We laid 500msq of grass turf last week around the kindergarten, which was previously a desert of dirty dark sand. Magically turning it all green was hard work but very rewarding and we now have proper paths everywhere too, which makes it a whole lot easier delivering a protesting child to the kindergarten door!

Youngest, having just about yielded on the going to school without me, is now fighting a rear guard action:

"Why are you MAKING me go to school EVERY day?"

The other big issue has been that Middle Daughter needs some fillings, not straightforward ones, but in between molars and underneath a previous filling or else the tooth coming out if it is too far gone. Our dentist suggested having it all done in one go in theatre under anaesthetic. My husband is extremely wary of general anaesthetics, so a lot of discussion has been going on over it. We had two options, the local hospital with our GP to do the anaesthetic, or a private hospital further away with a specialist anaesthetist.

A call to our medical insurer revealed that they only cover the costs of children under 6 for routine dentistry under anaesthetic.. . of course. My suggestion of sending Youngest in to have the work done instead, as she qualifies, didn't go down very well.

We chose the private hospital for its, we hoped, superior facilities and more reassuring aspect, then set about discovering the cost. A few phone calls later, reeling in shock, I returned to the dentist to find out the costs of the local hospital. Just the cost of booking the theatre, with some recovery time, costs 9 times more in the private hospital than at the local hospital! So we are now back into discussion mode again.

Has anyone had any experience of dentistry under anaesthesia with their children, or had a seven year old go through multiple fillings with just a local? I think we'll have to do it under a general, as she is very worried about having it done, even though her first and only filling last year was quick and straightforward and she was very patient having it done then. She went into a complete mope for an evening after the dentist gave us the bad news.

And before you ask: we have now started the children flossing, they have always cleaned their teeth, they don't drink Coke, only have sweets on Sundays… I think she is just unlucky in her teeth.

On a brighter note, the sun is shining, we've had our first autumn rain and the air has cooled down. It's cool enough to bake again and we are having a braai tonight!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Passport Paddy

Passports! Who needs them? The whole family except me. Twice over, once for each nationality. Because we're visiting England en famille for the first time since we moved here six years ago and we have to have a passport for each country or else suffer the dire consequences of committing an offence endangering our dual nationality. And these free countries that we live in have such draconian regulations regarding passport applications, that you have to bend over backwards and go through hoops without the tiniest hint of a smile on your face, just in case you're a terrorist trying to disguise your true features by grinning…even when you're seven.

No I'm not bitter and twisted. I have however spent a whole morning queuing in our local Home Affairs for the children's South African passports, with the children getting more and more grumpy. I felt pleased at my perseverance, confident that I'd been efficient and organised. Once I got to the head of the queue it was a simple process and didn't take too long, we didn't even need to show the children's birth certificates, as they are all on the system, ID numbers and all.

Only to receive this evening a photocopied letter from the British Commission in Jo'berg informing me that three out of four of our British passport applications required new photos due to 'teeth showing', 'face not at a straight angle' etc - and, horror of horrors, they need an unabridged birth certificate for Youngest, which since she was born here, means I'll have to go straight back to queue in Home Affairs and I've been told that those take 12 weeks to be issued…..we are due to leave in just under 12 weeks ….aaaaaagh!! It's like playing Monopoly and playing your get out of jail free card, only to throw doubles and land straight back on the Go to Jail square.

So either Youngest will have to enter the UK on a South African passport with a visa (how long will that take to come through, I wonder?) or there'll be a lovely person on the end of the telephone tomorrow morning, who'll tell me that actually the documents I sent will do fine after all, or Home Affairs will process the birth certificate in record time, or … I can't think of a fourth option that's legal…!

So why do the British authorities make it so hard to submit an acceptable photo to them. My sister-in-law also had her application returned because of her photo - she was smiling. Surely the customs people could just ask us to smile when we come through passport control when they want to compare our face with the photo. Wouldn't that make the whole process more welcoming and friendly and pleasanter for them too?