Saturday, June 28, 2008

WTSIM Summer Pudding

It still seems so strange to be spirited into the middle of an English summer, the weirdest thing being the evenings that stay light until ten o’clock. The children are in bed, but still wide awake and chatting away, unconvinced that it really is bedtime, even though it’s way past their normal time.

We’ve had soft summer weather, some sun, some cloud, a threat of drizzle that fades to nothing, warm enough for T-shirts, with a gentle breeze now and then that teases you into a warm top, if you stay still too long. It’s hard to remember that we still need to wear sunscreen even under a cloudy sky.

Out in the garden the children have discovered wild strawberries nestling under their leaves and found that they are only sweet once they are red all round - the one in the photo looks completely plastic but tasted wonderful!

Today was the village street fair and my mother had our roles all organized – our son was to run the marble race that Grandpa used to do every year, with a wooden marble run that takes two marbles hurtling down parallel to see which is the fastest. She ended up manning it herself most of the time, as he wandered around watching all the other attractions.

I helped on the bric a brac stall and took my children’s money from them as they repurchased several of the things that we had donated, including half my old keyring collection! They couldn’t believe the purchasing power of three quid in bric a brac and have now amassed a collection of ceramic birds, soft toys, little boxes, cushions, bags and stuff that will need to be fitted into their cases on the return journey … I was kept so busy inventing prices for pots, ceramic knick-knacks, a playstation and all sorts, that I didn’t take any photos at all, even of my two older children, who had been persuaded into presenting the bouquets, after the fair had been pronounced open.

The hardest part was clearing up at the end, when we had to sort the leftovers into piles for the dump or to take to a charity shop. It was hard for me to send anything to the dump, when it was perfectly good to use still. In South Africa there is always someone who will be able to use something, however well-worn it is. Here we had to send a load of mismatched glasses and unwanted electrical goods to the dump, as nobody could think of anyone who would take them off our hands.

When I saw the theme of this month’s WTSIM event hosted by Jeanne was Berried Treasure, I knew that I’d be making a Summer Pudding at least once after I got here and in fact my mother had already planned one for this weekend, just in time for the deadline.

It has always been one of our favourite family puddings, the epitome of an English summer. Purple berry juices transforming stale bread into a luscious, jeweled slice of flavour to be smothered in cream and savoured. The classic version has redcurrants and raspberries in I think, but ours has always majored on blackberries, with raspberries and loganberries and had apple in to bulk out the berries. Blackberries are really an early autumn berry but my father was always an industrious gleaner from the hedgerows and usually picked enough to freeze for the rest of the year. You can use any sort of berries for this but they need an edge of sharpness, so strawberries and blueberries on their own would be too bland and sweet.

Summer Pudding Recipe

500g / 1 lb mixed berries

500g / 1 lb cooking apples

½ - 1 cup sugar

1 loaf stale white bread

These quantities are approximate, as it depends on the size of the bowl you use and how many berries you have. This does a medium size pudding basin. The sugar needs to be added to taste as the berries vary in sweetness. You are aiming to sweeten them enough to be pleasant but not sickly sweet.

Slice the bread thickly and cut off the crusts. Line a pudding basin with the slices, patch-working them together so that there are no gaps.

Peel, core and chop the apples and put them in a pan with a little water and sugar and stew gently for 5-10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the berries, which can still be frozen, and plenty of sugar.

Warm them over a medium heat, but don’t let them boil. As soon as a simmer is reached they are usually already tender enough, as you want the berries to retain their shape.

Spoon the stewed berry mixture into the bread-lined bowl until they are level with the top of the bread. Any left over juice can be kept to pour over it later. Put a layer of bread slices on top to seal in the berries.

Put a saucer or small plate that just fits into the top of the bowl on top of the bread layer and weight it, so that the berries are compressed and the juice soaks into the bread. Leave it for at least twelve hours and make sure that it stays weighted down.

Serve by turning the pudding onto a plate and pouring over a little of the leftover juice wherever the bread still shows white. Serve with double cream.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Five Habits Meme…

I was tagged by Tanya to do the Five Habits Meme, so here goes…

What was I doing 10 years ago?
Our son has just turned ten, so ten years ago I was living in our London photographic studio, sleeping in the mezzanine over the main studio and looking after our new baby in the office mostly, whenever the studio was hired out, and spending lots of time walking round Battersea Park with him in the pram. The best thing about living in the studio was that there was always another pair of hands around to hold the baby. The worst, the fact that the phone would ring, or else the very loud doorbell, just when he was about to go to sleep, so I always used to take hime out in the park to get him to sleep. He was also good at sleeping in the car, so spent a lot of time asleep in his carseat on the kitchen table of the studio kitchen/office.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non-weight gaining world:
1. Chocolate.
2. Freshly baked bread still warm from the oven, slathered in butter.
3. Rediscovered in England this trip – McVities chocolate digestives – plain chocolate of course!
4. Cake – of practically any description – if any of you need help finishing up Christmas cake at Easter, I’m the person to invite to tea!
5. Italian pasticceria – but it’s been so long I can now only imagine the flavours...

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:
Same as Charlotte and Tanya.. all of the above…
1. Raw carrot sticks as I chop them for supper.
2. Crunchies, rusks or whatever home-made biscuits I have managed to bake that week. I’ll eat the shop- bought ones, but with the exception of the ones mentioned above, which are not available at home that I know of ( or if they are would be ridiculously expensive), I don’t really enjoy them that much, eating them is more a habit that I can’t quite chuck.
3. Raisins
4. Naartjies – especially clementines.
5. Bread and marmalade – both home-made.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
1. Buy homes for all the immediate family that don’t already have their own...
2. Fund our children’s school with all the buildings they need and sponsor all the children that need it now, so that they can all keep their places secure and so that the teachers can be paid as they deserve. Then help it develop a middle and high school, so that the kids can go all the way through.
3. Travel first class, with beds that fold out, so that we can all sleep on the flight over here! A private jet would be attractive, but my eco-principles might hold me back!
4. Eat out in all the wonderful restaurants that I possibly can, at home and abroad.
5. Build a dam on our property, so that my husband can have the water he craves, or else buy a farm with a river or a lake on it.

Five jobs I have had:
1. Advertising production assistant on a computer magazine for about three months.
2. Tour Manager for a travel company in Italy.
3. Photographer’s assistant to a shoe photographer.
4. Running our photographic hire studio, after I met my husband.
5. Freelance writer

Five habits:
1. Clicking on Bloglines, when I get stuck writing something and distract myself with someone’s blog for a minute or two.
2. Grabbing a handful of raisins, whenever I pass the kitchen counter.
3. Twiddling my hair.
4. Bursting into song whenever a phrase reminds me of a song I know – usually from the late Seventies or Eighties – very annoying for my children.
5. Trying to be exactly on time for everything, which usually translates as being several minutes late, as I usually forget something and have to run back for it.

Five places I have lived:
1. Somerset
2. Rome
3. Battersea, London
4. Streatham Common, London
5. A farm outside Cape Town

Five people I’d like to get to know better:
Caffienated Cowgirl

Mary Alice
Rose & Thorn

consider yourself tagged!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh to be in England!

Green… burgeoning, blossoming green, the English countryside in full flood of a generously watered summer. Trees billowing over hillsides, clouds billowing in the sky. Busy roads, speed traps, impatient drivers beeping, as I struggle with the gears of the hire car. Winding country lanes, one car wide, lined with lacy white cow parsley, jagged with stinging nettles, tall hedges blocking the view except at farm gates, which give glimpses of low rolling hills, patchworks of fields, spreading endlessly to the horizon.

We got here safely and survived the first leg to Jo’burg, despite the fact that our son discovered that he suffers from motion sickness in planes and moaned and groaned into a sick bag for the second half of the flight. Luckily our stop-over at Jo’berg enabled us to dash to the pharmacy for pills to quell the nausea and the endless miles to walk between Domestic and International, the maze of confusing signs, specially designed to employ several staff just to stand around and field bewildered travellers, gave plenty of opportunity to re-acquaint our feet with the ground and get our circulation going in preparation for the next ten hour stint.

Their aunt had thoughtfully provided activity bags with colouring books, puzzle books, crayons and pencils, which helped pass the time and the moving pavements kept the kids busy at the boarding gate, as they went round and round, backwards and forwards. Nobody managed more than three hours sleep on the plane, but had the novelty of being allowed to watch unlimited movies on the in-flight system and we discovered The Golden Compass, the movie of the Philip Pullman novel, which was excellent. I even switched over to it, as it was miles better than the lame romantic comedy that I’d started off with!

Arrival at Terminal 5 provided more opportunities for exercise, with the transit train not working, but the kids had survived the flight in good spirits and stepped out gamely. We even made it through passport control, with Youngest on her SA passport, putting on her standard ‘looking at strangers’ frown. Then came a friend meeting us for breakfast, mango smoothie wiping out two of Youngest’s spare outfits, the trek to the hire car place and a struggle with fitting three car seats into the back of the medium estate car we’d booked. Our oldest son was resigned to the indignity of a booster seat, but we just couldn’t fit three seats in a row. The arms of the booster seats interlocked and jabbed into the next child. In the end we took him back into the hire office and lined him up against the measuring chart. His head was close enough to the line that he’d pass muster, with marginally thicker shoe soles, so we handed the one booster seat back, feeling like we were living dangerously, in this newly regulated land of three points off your license for the slightest misdemeanour.

Finally we headed out of Heathrow’s concrete jungle, towards the lush green hills of Somerset. The kids slept most of the way, waking only to see Stonehenge through sleep-blurred eyes.

None of them had any clear memories of Granny’s house, our son only remembering playing on the stairs and that the carpet had been green then, so much exploring had to be done and discovering of Mummy’s old toys that had come down from the attic specially to meet them.

They’ve had a busy two days settling in and we even braved the shops to change the wellie boots that Granny had got them for different sizes (with more symptoms of motion sickness discovered in Youngest, though that was probably due to my less than smooth driving as I struggled to discover the optimum gear ration and grappled with the multiple roundabouts, speed limits and traffic of the metropolis of Yeovil!) – they’re jolly fancy ones too here, with fairies and fashion victim girls and camouflage patterns adorning them, much prettier than the bog standard blue ones from our local farmers coop at home.

Granny had arranged for our son to get some cricket with the local boy’s cricket club yesterday and there’s the village street fair on Saturday, so they’re being plunged into English village life already. Middle Daughter said yesterday that she wouldn’t mind living here. Right now they are having a raucous time with a wooden marble run that is now on its third generation of kids and the sound of cascading marbles is echoing around the house from the upstairs landing. Watch your footing as you reach the top of the stairs as one misplaced marble could have you cascading down them too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bright Sparks and Lanterns

Work projects complete. Tick.

Winter Festival over for another year. Tick.

Packing is the allotted task for today.

For tomorrow we fly!

We woke yesterday to the sounds of rain on the roof, children wondering how we could possibly have our winter festival inside.

"It's sure to stop later," I reassured them, "every year we have some rain on the day and then it is always clear enough when it comes to taking the lanterns into the sandpit and lighting the bonfire."

Sure enough the rain did stop, a few rays of sunshine even emerged and it was warm. I optimistically hung out a load of washing and carried on making soup.

Various friends cried off at the last minute, due to children being sick and the thought of damp evenings outdoors not seeming an ideal way to speed their recovery, so we were a select group of about twenty in the end.

Bonfire built, lanterns decorated, wine mulled, soup simmering, we gathered in the damp dusk with lit lanterns and then carried them down the river of light to our circle.

The air was mild and gaps in the cloud let a few stars peek through. Serving up soup and mulled wine,wrapped in layers we were almost too hot and remarked that even at Midwinter it didn't have that foot numbing chill, traditional to Bonfire Night in England.

The kids had a ball with sparklers and a home-made volcano in the sand, the bonfire was eventually coaxed into roaring skywards and the rain generously held off until the sausages were cooked, when its mild drizzle got more enthusiastic and drove us back indoors.

I had made puddings for forty, so after all the soup, bread and sausages we barely made a dent in them. Today looks like a festival of packing and puddings, not to forget of course dipping the dogs whose fleas have been keeping them and us awake and restless at night!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In one week's time we will have flown into summer - an English summer … but it will still be summer with light evenings, green gardens in bloom, Wimbledon on the TV and strawberries for tea!

The kids keep asking when we should start packing and can we sort out suitcases now, what is it like going on an aeroplane, and how fast does it go? I tried to give them an idea of the G-forces of take off, by accelerating fiercely down our dirt road, but don't think I really succeeded in giving a genuine flight simulator experience.

This will be the first time they have been to England since we moved here, Youngest's first time ever. I've no idea how it will seem to them. Our son was only three when we left, he has just dim memories of it. To me when I went back in January, it all was instantly familiar, eerily the same, the only thing that had changed noticeably was the number plate protocol on the cars.

England is the background to a lot of the children's stories we read, they've seen pictures and movies and we live in a fairly English culture here at home, but it will be interesting to see whether it seems foreign and exotic to them, or whether they feel quite at home.

I have a last minute rush of work to get done before I even think about packing and we have to have our Mid-winter festival on Saturday - it would be unthinkable to miss having it, just because it seems crazy to have 40 or so people to our house two days before flying half way across the world, so vats of soup, loaves of bread, bonfires and lanterns will miraculously materialise without any advance planning at all.

I also have to put together sponsorship profiles and photos for our school to take with us and for another mother who is going to Germany and is hoping to interest her old school in sponsoring a few of our pupils, the list of kids needing a sponsor is way longer than it should be and I am going to have to dig out their school photos from last year and attach it to the right profile, probably at midnight on Friday, once I've sent off my last article!

All the passports came through except Youngest's British one which is still waiting on the appropriate version of her SA birth certificate - she's going to have to enter Britain on her South African passport, so we have the dilemma: do we hope they will let her through in the British passport queue at Heathrow or should we split up so that my husband takes her through the foreign passport queue, just to be safe? … I mean how many five year old terrorists are there out there, but I'd hate her to get the rough end of the immigration officials at such a tender age.

On a completely different note: I kept Youngest at home today because she had conjunctivitis and had been awake in the night, plus I didn't want her to give it to the rest of the kindergarten. An hour into the morning she came and leant against me at my desk: "I don't know what to do. I wish I was at school" she grumbled … Success! She has finally made the transition from reluctant and recalcitrant schoolgoer to keen kindergartener!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Junk Food Extravaganza

My poor deprived farm kids don't get much fast food in their lives. If we lived in a town there would be plenty of days when I'd be tempted to send out for supper, but out on our farm we just open a tin of baked beans and cook up some rice on days when I've forgotten to de-frost something or have been glued to the computer until 10 minutes before supper-time. It's a lot quicker than going to fetch a pizza from our nearest town half an hour away.

Going out for a pizza is an occasional treat. Making pizza at home is just as occasional and always ends up taking way more time than I think it should, plus dirtying a lot more pans, so fast food it most certainly isn't.

Last Sunday ended up being a total junk food extravaganza … home-made junk food but junk food de luxe! My sister-in-law, having just returned from three weeks away, decided to treat us all to a full cooked Sunday breakfast. Both my sisters-in-law have the English breakfast down to a fine art, including mushrooms, tomatoes and fried potatoes with the bacon and eggs and managing to serve it all hot, bacon crispy. I know I can't compete on this front, so never do. For the kids crispy bacon is the draw card and it's always a question of two packets or three when deciding how much to cook. When they were younger they earned the nickname 'The Bacon Bandits", as they used to run over to their aunt's house on a Saturday morning, when she often cooks breakfast and hopefully join the breakfast table to snaffle a few slices of her bacon, to make up for their super-dull breakfast of cereal.

After we were totally stuffed with our fry-up, that bloated feeling that reminds you why you don't do it too often creeping over us, I asked the kids whether they still really wanted the pizza that I'd promised to make for lunch. Stupid question! What have a few pieces of bacon got to do with lunch, which is at least three hours away?!

The thought of pizza to follow a cooked breakfast was bad enough, but the children had also decreed that their aunt's birthday, which she'd had when she was away, had to be celebrated properly. A chocolate cake with candles was scheduled for tea-time! So if I put back lunch to have pizzas at two, then we had a bare two more hours to make room for chocolate cake…

Abandoning any thoughts of vitamins, nutrition, empty calories and cholesterol we declare it an official junk food extravaganza day and have done with it.

I console myself with the thought that at least they like spinach on pizza, the only form they will eat it in and the tomato sauce is home made, so there will be some vitamins, though that doesn't make any difference to the inevitable bloated feeling that results. There's no question of me making pizza and chocolate cake and not eating it myself, even though I know it's going to have uncomfortable after-effects - and if we're going to do junk food we may as well do it properly.

As well as pizza the lunch table was the scene of an impromptu joke-fest, with us wheeling out all the terrible jokes that we can remember and the children inventing ones that they found hilarious, the punch-lines of which were a triumph of lateral thinking. My husband managed to come up with a line of jokes which all had the same punch line - "Holy Mackerel!" and had the kids groaning Da-aaad, in protest, a pale foreshadowing of a teenager's groan, but definitely Dad was being way too silly!

Some fried aubergine/brinjal/eggplant slices with fresh basil make a wonderfully sophisticated pizza topping for us adults and proved to be my downfall. There was nothing for it but to fall onto the sofa and assume a comatose position until the chocolate cake gets wheeled on to finish us off.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning to Read

The other day I was looking at the shelves of first picture books that the kids all loved as toddlers. Some of their favourites were the Little Tiger books: gorgeous, bright illustrations featuring the mischievous little tiger who always said, "I Don't want to have a Bath" and "I don't want to go to Bed". Since they've progressed onto bigger books we haven't looked at them much and I was considering storing them away or passing them onto little cousins, to regain some shelf space.

Middle Daughter, aged 7, has just re-discovered them though, as first readers.

Today we sat on the sofa and she gallantly sounded her way through most of Little Tiger's adventures as he avoids his bath in the jungle. She is on the verge of reading and is really hungry to master it.

The Waldorf system goes through the ground work of learning letters and numbers very slowly and thoroughly. They first learn the capital letters, with stories and rhymes about them, and practise their shapes until they know them in their bones. Then they learn the little letters and then put them all together in writing.

They learn to write sentences and then learn to read from sentences they've written themselves, so they are already familiar. This slow and steady approach makes reading a natural progression and our son learned to read incredibly quickly once he reached this stage, going from zero to full length children's books in the space of a few months.

I think Middle Daughter will too, as she said longingly to me tonight at bedtime, "How long will it be before I can read?" I told her she was reading already and she did fantastically, sounding out long words like 'spluttered' without being too phased by the conglomeration of consonants at the beginning, and recognising 'jungle' the second time she came across it. Interestingly enough she had more trouble with remembering and recognising 'his', than with the longer words.

I'm betting that she'll be racing through Harry Potter by the end of the year, or at least some Enid Blytons. For now though she's aiming at finishing Little Tiger tomorrow and starting the next one.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Winter Harvest

The beginning of June and we're nearly at mid-winter. Our sorely needed winter rains alternate with warm days filled with sunshine, so kids, snotty with colds, run about in T-shirts and bare feet all day and have to be coaxed into warm tops and slippers as the sun goes down and we light the fire.

Farm is really too grand a word for our small-holding, where our main crop is unlimited space, views and fresh air, but it has been time overdue for my winter harvest of olives. Each time the rain swept in from the North West I kicked myself for not having stripped the one tree that has been nursing a bumper crop, lest the olives be wasted. Luckily they're a hardy fruit.

Olives from one of my five trees. The trees seem to take it in turns to produce a crop - they are all different varieties, only now I've forgotten what they all are.

Last year I had just one jarful of olives, this year a whole colander full. Today I looked up ways to pickle them on the internet and ended up deciding that the way I did them last year sounds the best: soaking them in pure water, changed daily for 10 days, then in a brine, changed weekly for four weeks, then leaving them in a brine solution for several months to improve in flavour. Other ways involve caustic soda, which doesn't sound so great.

Then I just have to decide what herbs to put in with them and we'll have our own wonderful olives. Rosemary and garlic, or shall I try to match the wonderful lime dressing that we buy from our favorite Olive Boutique, except I should have picked the olives green for that one...

My 2 year old lemon tree has four big lemons on it too. This is the first tree that has really thrived here on a little patch of clay. The sandy soil of the rest of the farm is too dry for them. I'm really hoping this one will grow big enough to supply us with lemons all winter.

And the mulberry tree that I mourned, its roots eaten by moles, that had sunk at least a foot into the ground at a drunken angle, has suddenly put out new leaf and thinks it's spring again, with embryo berries on it. The one remaining root was enough for it to make a come back. We'll have to see whether we get midwinter mulberries ripening on it!

Our strawberry plants have reached the end of their lifespan. We need new stock, as last year's harvest was barely enough to feed the family and make a few pots of jam. Three years ago I was drowning in berries. The vegetable garden and new strawberry area is being turned over now. We need to get the new plants in now, for them to have any chance of producing properly in the spring.

If only we could bottle our view with a dash of sunshine, then we really would be on the way to being a proper farm and I wouldn't have to feel apologetic when people ask what we farm and I reply that we really just live here and grow a few strawberries, which we only sell when we can't eat any more ourselves!