Saturday, February 28, 2009

Harvest time

Almond Harvest

Comatose after a full-on Sunday lunch last weekend, I dozed on the sofa and read for a mere hour or so until I was dragged out for a stroll. The family congregated in the orchard, to check out the fruit trees and we suddenly realized it was harvest time, so we all set about picking almonds from our three trees and filled two plastic bags with our bounty, cracking open some of the nuts with our fingers and eating them still fresh and almost milky.

One tree had managed to return to its grafted roots and so had a double harvest – almonds in the centre and cling peaches around the outside where new shoots had sprung up from the original stock that the almond had been grafted on to. We’re supposed to cut it all out to retain the almond, but they were good peaches! And then we spent the rest of the afternoon (and they are shortening now as sunset starts to get noticeably earler) shelling the outer husks from the almonds.

The girls rescued all the ladybirds that had been calling the almond husks home and set up a refugee shelter for them in a yoghurt pot filled with leaves. My love of ladybirds has been shaken by this news on Cooksister, so I spent too long trying to identify whether they were alien invaders or our usual loveable indigenous variety to really enjoy them as usual. However the girls looked after them very well and some of the ladybirds liked the new set up so much that they didn't even fly away home when the yoghurt pot lid was left off.

As well as the almonds we picked green plums and loads of cling peaches, which are the canning variety but are also delicious eaten fresh, so I haven't got around to preserving any of them. I'll have to go and see if the birds have left us any on the trees and get a second harvest. this weekend.

Autumn's tendrils have retreated again and today is hot summer once more, but the shortening days and last of the fruits are a reminder that summer's days are numbered and we'd better make the most of swimming and warmth. The kids, as usual at the end of summer, are sated with swimming and less interested in trekking down to the pool. Yesterday they were happy for hours on the trampoline in their swimming costumes, with the sprinkler turning it into a bouncy water slide. Amazingly their were no injuries and it gave us two solid hours of dozing on the sofa with our books on a sultry afternoon, to the background of distant shrieks and laughter, and strains of Waterloo from the CD they'd put on and then abandoned to run outside.

WTSIM Plum and Apple Crumble

We are yo-yo-ing between summer and autumn here in the Cape, though it's almost unheard of to even have a wisp of autumn in February. Usually we are gasping from the heat of a week of 40 degrees, suriving only by constant immersion in the pool and living off salads and braais... bread-baking a trial to undertake only when the relative cool of evening brings the temperature down a notch or two. This week we’ve had two or three mornings of light mist, chill and dew that sent the kids off to school in warm tops and long pants, and last Sunday it was crazily cool enough to cook a Sunday lunch and even brave a hot pudding, so that I can blog it for Johanna’s latest WTSIM event, the theme of which is hot puds.

Writing this a week later, when we look set to be hotting up for a scorching summer day, my seasonal antennae are totally confused and even thinking about hot puddings is enough to bring me out in a light film of perspiration, but it tasted good enough last Sunday and the kids were all really happy to be at the roast chicken and roast potatoes again. We’ll be back to braaiing again today though!

I had big plans for the hot pudding theme, to strike out in a new direction, and I’d rifled the recipe books and come up with Nigel’s Lemon Surprise pudding to try. But then time pressure and oven space constraints sent me hurtling back to the familiar domain of fruit crumble and custard, which turned out to be a better choice for the weather, which was coolish summer rather than the chilly winter that the lemon pudding is aimed at combatting.

Since the plum, apple and cinnamon combination turned out so well in the sweet quiche recipe, I went back to that and, though I went looking for variations and found Jeanne’s grown up spicy plum crumble, I ended up just going the child-friendly cinnamon spice route. I was glad I had as even our son went for seconds and ate up the whole lot.

Plum and Apple Crumble Recipe
6 generous portions

For the topping
150g flour
100g butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
75g sugar
100g oats
2 tablespoons water

8 large plums
3 green apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Rub the butter into the flour and spice. Stir in the oats and sugar, then add the water and mix so the mixture has rough crumbly texture. Chill in the fridge till needed.

Stone the plums and cut into chunky pieces. Peel and core the apples and cut into similar sized pieces. Butter a roasting dish or other oven proof dish and put all the fruit in, so it covers the base and at least half fills it. Sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon. The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit and how sweet you like it. Spread over the crumble topping and bake at 180C for about 40 minutes till golden. Serve with lots of custard or cream...or both!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rambling Mouse

Some of our sloping ceilings are lined with thatching reeds, which gives them a warm feel as well as helping with insulation. Sometimes though they are a bit too natural... as when just now a vigorous rustling came from overhead, forging a path upwards and then a sudden plop, as a fat little mouse fell 15 feet to the floor by my desk, through the gap at the top of the reeds. He looked surprised for a moment, then carried on along the floor and headed round the corner into the bathroom, as our cat looked on impassively, with hardly a whisker twitching. So I guess the mouse is now having a change of scene under the bathroom floor, reveling in the fact that the cat is apparently on vacation. Said cat is now sitting as close to the keyboard as he possibly can, practically on top of the virtual mouse, tail flicking with barely suppressed impatience, as it is almost time for his supper. Perhaps he was worried that the mouse would spoil his appetite?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Interview

The interview meme is doing the rounds again and I can't believe that it is already a year and a half since the last time I did it. Back then I sent questions to Charlotte and yesterday when I saw she had done another interview I couldn't resist asking to be interviewed by a real journalist - fame at last!! If you'd like me to interview you, leave me comment asking for questions and I'll think of some. These are the questions Charlotte asked me:

1. Your blog is a little quieter than it used to be. Are you a) tired
of blogging, b) too busy with with real life, c) blogging under a
pseudonym somewhere else? Discuss.

It is definitely b. I still love the blog world and am reading blogs as much as ever. Right now though my creative juices seem to be sucked up by work and everyday life, school, food, sleep, school food, sleep, leaving me with no inspiration to blog at the end of the day. It also has a lot to do with my work involving sitting in front of the computer all day, so that in the evening I hardly feel like sitting down to it anew. But I am determined to keep it going and am hoping for a new blast of inspiration to strike. Until them I’m relying on interviews, memes and food events to keep my blog alive and kicking!

2. Would you rather be a really famous food blogger, a really famous
book blogger or a really famous mommy blogger and why?

I really don’t want to be famous at all in any shape or form, I’m happy with small audiences of friends and family, the glare of the public eye would have me running and hiding! But if I had to choose one it would be as a food blogger – famous mommy bloggers have to take so much flak and open so much of their personal lives to criticism by all and sundry, so that the comfortable and friendly small scale mom blog transmutes into a controversial monster that is a free for all terrain for the mommy wars.. Food bloggers can lunch at wonderful places, talk about delicious meals, cook, enjoy sharing and only let people into their personal lives as much as they feel comfortable with! And for some reason people feel less inclined to criticise your food choices than your parenting choices. I’m not speaking from personal experience here at all – my blog friends and commenters are the loyal and wonderful few who keep coming back even if I don’t post for a week or two.

3. Money is no object. Describe your dream holiday.

A beautiful, comfortable and unpretentious house somewhere gorgeous near water, full of books and shady places to read them, boats and activities enough to keep everyone happy and a magical source of delicious meals completely unorganised by me appearing at regular intervals. Occasional excursions to beautiful historic Italian towns and markets for some art and culture and good friends and family joining us.

4. If Nigel Slater was catering your birthday party what three
recipes would you demand he made for you?

My birthday is in August which is usually still chilly here, so I would go for a really greedy and rich meal eaten overthe course of a nice long evening by the fire.

To start with I’d like him to cook us some grilled fish with lime leaves on the outside braai, so they’d be full of smoky flavour but with an extra zing from the lime leaves. We could start the meal early so he would be cooking at sunset and we could keep him company with a glass of wine by the braai!

Then a bit later we’d have his Italian slow cooked aromatic lamb, braised with orange, red wine and herbs with cannellini beans. Or else the Moroccan lamb shanks with aubergines ...

And this being a fantasy meal where we don’t need to worry about the seasons, we’d finish off with a fig tart with honey and mascarpone and still feel as light as a feather and able to dance till dawn …this is a fantasy after all.

5. You educate your children at a Waldorf school. What does the
Steiner philosophy mean for you and your family?

Do you want the short or the long version!?!

Short: – friendly comfortable school, where our kids thrive.

Long: – read on…

The Steiner philosophy is very broad and all encompassing, not just about education, and we don’t really live our lives by it. We really like his educational ideas and the way the primary schools work with it. Steiner really observed child development thoroughly and worked out what ages were best suited to learning certain things and what teaching methods worked best at which age. (Interestingly several of the new, modern schools here in Cape Town have adopted quite a lot of his methodology and also poached quite a few Waldorf teachers!)

He says that until the age of 6/7 children learn best by non-academic methods, really by observation and imitation and are busy taken up with learning about social interaction and their place in the family and the immediate world around them. Kindergarten is all about play, learning rhymes and rhythms and games, developing co-ordination, but with plenty of free play and physical activity. For our children it meant a really relaxed and positive start to their school lives.

Children in the first three years of primary school learn a lot through the use of stories, starting with fairy tales, then the stories of the saints, old testament and ancient mythologies over the years. Once they get to age 10/11 the stories evolve into history and science and a more academic but still holistic approach.

One of the more controversial things for most people is that the children only start to learn to read and write in grades 1 & 2 at quite a slow and thorough pace. We had to make a leap of faith for this too. I could read when I was five already and my children could easily have learned, if we’d tried to teach them then. However with our son we can now see the results. He started reading at the end of class 2, when he was about 8 and has been a voracious reader ever since. Our middle daughter is slower to read by herself but is doing well and looks set to take off any minute. Her writing is coming on well and that always seems to develop first with the Waldorf approach.

I think what this approach allows is more time for children to develop a broad and solid base of abilities: they draw their stories, learn them by heart, practise writing them and thus absorb them very deeply as they learn to read. They first learn the fine motor skills needed to form their letters, learn the patterns of the letters, the feel of them, then they learn first to write and only then learn reading from what they have written.

I like the way that subjects are integrated and the fact that the children remember effortlessly the things they learned several years ago, because they really did absorb them, rather than learn them by rote and then forget them again. They don’t use text books in primary school but write and draw their own main lesson books for each subject, which become really beautiful works of art.

I also like the way that spiritual development is considered important, but is fostered by stories and appreciation of beauty and the world around them rather than any specific religious teaching. They learn the bible stories as stories without any dogmatic baggage attached.

Waldorf gives children time to grow up at a child’s pace – they don’t rush things but still seem to get there, in a much less stressful way than traditional schools in our experience. Our son gets little bits of homework which he usually finishes off himself without any help in 10 minutes or so, while his friend at a good Cape Town school spends afternoons grappling and getting stressed out over his, leaving both him and his mother exhausted and fed up!

I think the two best things that our children have really gained from Waldorf, which they might not have got from a mainstream school, are self-confidence (they are all quite shy but have learned to speak in public and take part in concerts without thinking twice about it) and creativity, not just in the way they draw, but also in the way they are learning to think for themselves.

Having said all that we are looking at more mainstream high schools for our son in two years time, partly because the Cape Town Waldorf high schools are just too long a commute for us and partly because we think by then he’ll benefit from a more academic approach and with the Waldorf grounding we hope he’ll be able to keep a balanced and creative approach to life and hang on to that precious self-confidence.

The Rules of the Interview Meme
1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

WTSIM Plum and Apple Quiche

My head feels like we’re in the middle of winter, fogged up with the cold that the kids were so kind as to bring home from school and share with us. Snowy pictures all over the internet feel totally appropriate, except that our summer has reasserted itself and a hot wind is blowing off the mountains to give us an afternoon of 37C.

And yet, despite the oppressive heat, I’m in the kitchen baking, with the oven on, breathing in the scents of cinnamon, if only I could smell it properly. It’s the last day before the deadline for WTSIM and Jeanne has set us a challenge to do a sweet/savoury swap – to make a dish that is usually sweet with savoury ingredients or vice versa. I couldn’t quite get my head round it to start with, but then I started pondering the quiche. There’s no reason why that combination of pastry, egg and cream shouldn’t work as a dessert, with fruit instead of vegetables, sweet spices instead of salt.

I settled on plums and apples to go in it, with liberal amounts of cinnamon to convince us it was pudding. The plums weren’t very ripe, so I gave them a little help by turning them a la tarte tatin in a frying pan with butter, sugar and cinnamon until they started to soften a little. I didn’t quite get the caramelized effect I had in mind, but it did give them more depth and flavour.

For the pastry I used a sweet pastry recipe from Nigella’s How to Eat, that usually goes with our favorite apple tart. And then the egg and cream mix had sugar and cinnamon added to it instead of salt and pepper. Now I have to confess that I was a bit rough and ready measuring ingredients but I will try to make a guess, so that I can repeat it another time and share it with you, just in case you like the sound of it.

Because it actually did work! Our son , who refuses to eat savoury quiches but loves cinnamon, gobbled up his first slice and had seconds, and it got an accolade from my husband too, who isn’t so hot on egg dishes either.

Next time I wouldn’t serve it as a dessert when we had just eaten a quiche for a main course. Today I was just trying to minimize the cooking by doing two at a time and providing supper as well as a frivolous experiment for my blog, but the sweet quiche definitely deserves being made for its own sake and maybe I will add it to our pudding short list.

I think it was the tartness of the plums contrasting with the sweet creaminess of the filling that made it work, so it would work well with any other tart fruits, perhaps rhubarb or gooseberries would be good.

The Recipe – off the top of my head

Sweet pastry enough to line a quiche dish

For the fruit
6 large plums
2 apples
30g butter
1/3 cup of sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

For the filling
3 eggs
1 cup 250ml cream
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup of sugar

Quarter the plums and remove the stones. Peel, core and cut the apples into thick slices. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the sugar and cinnamon and allow to bubble a bit. Add the plums and apples and turn in the buttery mixture, till they are all coated. Cook gently for 5-10 minutes until they are just starting to soften but still keep their shape.

Line a quiche dish with the pastry.

Whisk up the eggs, cream, sugar and cinnamon.

Arrange the fruits in the pastry. (You can keep the left over liquid from cooking to use as a sauce if you like.) Pour over the cream mixture. Sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon.

Bake at 190C for about 40 minutes until golden and set.

Feel free to play with the amounts. I was doing it by guesswork anyway. You might like more or less sugar depending on the fruit and your taste.