Friday, November 12, 2010

Strawberry Tarts for the Queen of Hearts

When there are strawberries growing in the garden, berries glowing scarlet, abundant, luscious, fragrant, demanding to be picked twice a week before the tortoises take bites out of the biggest juiciest ones, it isn’t hard to decide on the main ingredient for dessert. Strawberries with shortbread, a pavlova, a strawberry cream sponge or just plain berries with pancakes and a dash of balsamic vinegar, you hardly even need to get creative when the strawberry itself takes centre stage.

School bake sales are another matter. The school encourages healthy snacks like fruit, but I couldn’t work out how they could sell the strawberries on their own without complicated calculations of 20c per berry, 'her strawberry’s bigger than mine', and so on. An image came to me unbidden of those delicious French patisserie tarts with luscious fresh fruit delicately coated in a glaze that preserves freshness. Crisp pastry, succulent fruit and just a smidgen of extra sweetness from the glaze. I wasn’t expecting to achieve the heights of the patissier’s art just like that, but anyway went in search of a glaze recipe to try and at least get close to the tantalising image in my mind.

Discarding recipes that instructed you to use jello or apple juice in the mix, I came up with an easy recipe that did actually work in the way I’d hoped, coating the fruit with a translucent glow without making the pastry soggy. What I liked about this one is that it uses some of the strawberries for both colour and flavour, so no need for any ersatz colouring to be added.

After that it was just a case of making pastry, blind baking lots of little tart shells, and then putting them together with the best looking strawberries and a dollop of glaze.

Glaze Recipe for Strawberry tarts

1 cup of chopped strawberries
1 cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch

Cook the strawberries in the water until tender enough to push through a sieve.
Strain and push the pulp through a sieve back into the pan.
Mix together the sugar and cornflour then stir it into the strawberry liquid.
Cook stirring until it thickens and clears.
Spoon it over the prepared pastry cases with strawberries in them.

I used the sweet pastry recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, which worked perfectly for these.

I couldn’t resist trying one before it had cooled properly, even though it was by now 10 o’clock at night. It was almost perfect, with crispy crumbly pastry, a bite of lush strawberry and smooth sweet glaze to meld it all together... not French, not perfect in looks with my rough and ready pastry skills, but just right for kids and adults to drool over at breakfast and beg to taste them before they even get to school. Now there are only four left ... how will we work that out this afternoon?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Shiny, Happy Hair

Heading for the shower on Saturday morning, I armed myself with a box of baking soda/ bicarb and a bottle of apple cider vinegar. Diluting them as per the recommended dose of one tablespoon to a cup of warm water, I shook them up in old shampoo bottles and stepped in to the rush of hot water to try out this crazy idea of replacing shampoo and conditioner altogether with these more mundane ingredients.

After I read about shampoo-free hair care on Simple Mom last week and got all enthusiastic about it, there was a little resistance to the idea from my husband, who can’t stand the smell of vinegar and isn’t over the moon at my brilliant discovery of vinegar as a surface cleaner. He was worried he would no longer be able to hug his wife without feeling nauseous. Middle Daughter was fascinated by the idea and attended the hair-washing experiment in person, a useful audience as I was able to get her to sniff for any vinegar residue after rinsing!

I’m pleased to announce that the experiment was a resounding success! The bicarb felt a bit strange as I massaged it in instead of shampoo, like water in consistency but just slightly squeaky. Then the vinegar rinse went on and I could immediately feel my hair getting smoother and shinier. The best thing was that it rinsed off completely, leaving not a trace of vinegar smell, even while still wet, and my husband’s fear s were groundless. He was able to hug me as much as he wanted!

Overall, once dry, my hair was softer and shinier than after shampooing even with conditioner. My scalp hasn’t had any dry flaky skin at all for the two days since, whereas usually it does immediately after shampooing. My hair is a bit floppier than usual, but that is a good thing, as it tends to bush out rather after shampooing now it’s layered and only gets shiny and smooth after several days, when it is about time to wash again.

The girls were so impressed by the results that all three kids tried it themselves at hairwash time yesterday and they also have nice soft shiny hair today, which is easier to comb.

So apart from the fact that it seems to work better than shampoo and conditioner for us, why give up conventional shampoo in favour of some basic kitchen ingredients?

1. It’s natural. Shampoos are full of goodness knows what chemicals and fragrances, all of which we are rubbing into our scalps and possibly absorbing through our skin. We use shampoo to strip away our natural oils and then conditioner to try and replicate the effect of the oils. Baking soda just cleans without stripping and vinegar balances out the ph of your hair and scalp.

2. It’s very cheap. Shampoo and conditioner for the whole family can get quite expensive, whereas this way we are just using a small amount of cheap ingredients that we already have in the house.

3. Better for the environment and sustainable. The fewer complex chemical products that we need to use in our homes and flush away down the drains, the better for our local environment and for the whole planet.

You can read much more about it here if you want more details of shampoo-free hair-care. As for us, we’ll be carrying on the experiment and I’m going to try out some herb rinses to alternate with the vinegar; rosemary first for me and maybe chamomile for the girls.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Un-Halloween Costumes

Halloween goes by without a blip on the radar here. While some communities in Cape Town and around have started organizing trick or treating for their kids, it’s an import, not really engrained in the culture in South Africa and out on the farm it’s not even an option. Reading American blogs though it sounds like the biggest fun is thinking up and choosing a costume and our girls did get to do that this weekend. Our school spring fair had a fancy dress competition and they both entered straight away, as soon as it was announced.

Last year was the first year that it had been put on and almost every little girl went as either a princess or a fairy. So this year, in a bid for diversity, the teachers told them they’d get more points for thinking up an original costume, funny, ugly, different.

Much deliberation went into coming up with ideas. Youngest and I went through an online list of suggestions for Halloween and she came up with a shortlist of six options that we thought we could manage. Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, a gypsy fortune teller, a jockey, Little Bo Peep or a cowgirl. She likes to take time over her decision making, weighing every single option fully before coming to a final conclusion.

Then we went through to the bedroom, where Older Daughter was thinking about her costume. She had only one plan so far: a genuine Chinese dress and parasol brought back from China by her aunt. But she wasn’t convinced it would meet the originality/funny criteria. So when I grabbed my bright red winter dressing gown from the back of the door and jokingly suggested to Youngest that we could also add Father Christmas to her list of options, it was Older Daughter that ran with the idea.

She spent the rest of the day searching out an old Father Christmas hat, making a cotton wool beard and trying on cushions round her middle. We unearthed our old sledge from the garage and she carefully oiled it with linseed oil over the next couple of days. She wrapped up boxes in saved Christmas paper. Filled a black bag with soft toys and practised saying Ho ho ho in a deep voice.

Youngest meanwhile had got her list down to three, then two and finally settled on being a jockey. All this needed was her riding gear plus the creation of some jockey silks, which of course I left till the very last minute. Friday afternoon saw me recklessly cutting out some leftover silky fabric into a vest shape, hand-stitching hems and shoulder darts (sewing machines frighten me to death), as I sat on the bench watching her riding lesson, and then handing it over to my sister in law, who is a sewing whizz, to machine stitch on the contrasting pink triangle and contrive a fastening.

I had the bright idea of ironing the hat band into hems to save stitches and fell victim to the menace of a hot iron in contact with man-made fabrics. Before I knew what had happened the band had shrivelled away altogether and the iron was blackened... I still have to Google a way of cleaning it.... But I salvaged enough fabric from the ruins and the costume was complete.

They both looked great on the day. Father Christmas won a prize, our jockey didn’t. In a way Halloween trick or treating would have been a better option for all-round happiness with no winners and losers, but in the end most of the fun was had already in the costume creation itself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stevia and Mint Tea For Cold Sores

 Ever since reading about stevia in Margaret Roberts’ herb book I have been fascinated. A herb that is sweeter than sugar, but is also good for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and even fights against tooth decay? Too good to be true, it had to be. So when I was compiling a wish list of plants for my herb garden I added it in, not at all sure that it would be available in our area. To my surprise my sister-in-law returned with it that very day, along with two tea tree plants, which I’d also thought would be a rarity item.

Now my stevia plants have had a couple of months to settle in, I am finally daring to pick their leaves and try out some of Margaret Roberts’ recommendations. Her 100 favourite herbs book makes it incredibly easy to use fresh herbs for gentle medicinal use. Usually all you need is a quarter cup of leaves infused in a cup of boiling water for five minutes. Then sip. I’m constantly surprised at the flavours, which are mostly refreshing and delicious, not needing any honey, which is an optional extra, to sweeten them.

One of stevia’s properties is as an antiviral and antibacterial herb. I’ve just had a chance to test its mettle against cold sores. Horrible things, making your life miserable just when you thought you were getting over the cold that brought them on. Louise Hay says cold sores are caused by angry thoughts and sure enough this time one showed up on Monday when I was seething about the iniquity of banks. So now I’m a guinea –pig. Will a cup of stevia and mint tea a day help prevent the cold sore from developing, or at least reduce its ferocity? Re-reading the book I see it should be peppermint rather than garden mint and she also recommends adding elderflowers:

Margaret Roberts' tea for Cold Sores
1 tablespoon fresh or dried elderflowers
1 tablespoon peppermint sprigs
2 stevia leaves
Crush and chop the stevia leaves to release the sweetness. Pour one cup of boiling water over the herbs. Allow to steep for five minutes. Strain (or not) and sip.
Drink one cup three times a week to clear the Herpes simplex virus from the body.

So now I have two more herbs to add to my wish list. In the mean time I’m going to carry on drinking my stevia and mint tea. I think it may be helping and anyway it’s delicious; fresh and minty with a bit of sweetness that bursts into intensity whenever you bite into a little bit of the chopped herb floating in the tea. Perfect for sugar cravings too, as it has almost no calories and you can just pick a leaf and chew it whenever the need for a sugar fix overtakes you!

I’m looking forward to making a sweet syrup from stevia in summer to add to cool drinks and lemonade instead of sugar. All it needs is 10 leaves to a litre of water boiled for 15 minutes and you have enough sweetness to save you several cups of sugar. I’ll let you know how it goes and more to the point whether it passes the child-taste-test.

Cultivation of Stevia
Stevia is native to South America where it has been used since the earliest civilizations discovered it and named it honey leaf. It grows fairly easily in South Africa, being quite tough and just needing deep watering twice a week. It dies down in winter and sends up new shoots in spring.

Edited to add, two weeks on: I really do think this tea helped keep the cold sore under control. Although this was far from a scientific experiment, and I also drank a few cups of Melissa tea which helps too, the cold sore never developed into a full blown, crusty, miserable beacon and has healed fairly quickly. It also was less painful and tingly than usual. Margaret Roberts recommends drinking the tea three times a week over a period of time to clear the virus from the body, so I will continue and hope that I get fewer as time goes by!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Banking for Kids – B is for Bank Charges, O is for Overdraft

Bank accounts for children are a great idea. They can keep their pocket money safe, save their birthday money and learn how to use a debit card and ATM. If they don’t spend their money it just builds up until they have enough to buy that huge Lego kit or a computer game they are desperate for. Unless your children bank at FNB that is.

We opened bank accounts for our children two years ago, so that they could learn about banking and taking care of their money. We were happy to find that FNB provided a Future account, designed for children, with a debit card, three free transactions a month and no monthly fees. Money could be paid in and withdrawn at the ATM. The kids duly memorised their PINs and paid in their pocket money. Occasionally they used their cards to purchase a toy or a Christmas present, but mostly they were saving their money.

Until last week, when our 12 year old son tried to purchase a book at Bargain Books. He learned first hand how embarrassing it is to have your card declined,not once but three times, despite being sure that you had enough money for the purchase. Luckily his aunt was on hand to bail him out.

Back home I logged on to their internet banking and found that he had much less money than he thought. His savings had been whittled away over a period of time by R5 monthly fees. First thing on Monday morning I rang the bank sure that there was a mistake. No, I was informed, the accounts had been changed to include monthly fees the previous year and there were now no free accounts available.

On asking why I had not been informed of these changes, I was told that the onus is on the customer to check their accounts every month. For children’s accounts?

How can a bank like FNB that presents itself as a family bank offer a children’s account and then change it to start charging fees without informing the account holders by letter?

My son has now lost over R100, most of the money that he had left in his account from his birthday, in monthly fees and declined transaction fees.

Our children have learned a lesson in banking that their parents had not intended. Bank fees can run you into overdraft and you are better off keeping your money in your piggy bank.

Needless to say I am outraged, furious, frustrated and all the rest. We are taking this further with the bank, but in the meantime I am spreading the word any way I can. Front page of the papers would be good.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Herb Garden Growing

Has anyone seen my creativity?

I was sure I had it somewhere around here a while back...

Unless I buried it all in the herb garden and it still hasn’t sprouted.

Everything else is sprouting nicely. My rocket is ready to pick already and I’ve got some recognizable parsley and coriander coming up in not very neat rows. There is still a thrill in planting little tiny seeds and seeing them transform into real plants.

Which I will soon be able to pick. And use unstintingly in my cooking. It is however a lesson in patience. Each day I go out there and wonder whether I can just pinch one little leaf to put in a salad. And contain myself and wait.

Luckily some of the other  herbs I planted as bigger plants have settled in nicely.

I’ve been dosing my cold with lemon thyme tea, pinching sprigs of tea tree for gentle inhalation for the kids’ colds, taking a leaf of sage to go with thyme, lemon, honey and ginger for coughs and using the lemon balm/melissa in a soothing tea too.

There is plenty of oregano for tomato sauces and the stevia is getting big enough to try it out as a natural sweetener in cooking. I’ll let you know when I start experimenting.

The catnip is bushing out wildly, unmolested by the cats, who went mad over it and rolled it half to death when I first put it in. The fennel and chamomile have gone crazy and my established rosemary plant looks like an alarmed hedgehog with all its new spring growth.

And the new mulberries are ripening. We’ve been feasting straight from the tree a few berries at a time, but next year, moles allowing, there’ll be enough for berry muffins and summer pudding again.

It’s a growing patch full of wonderful energy, goodness and vitality.

I have a moon calendar on the wall and decided to go the whole way towards biodynamic gardening, planting by the moon, not just when it is waxing but in the most propitious astrological sign too. I know there is a lot more involved than that but am learning a little at a time.

There are a few rose quartz crystals tucked into beds and I’ve been moving them around nearer to any plants that seem to be struggling.

This little basil plant is lagging way behind its siblings, but is looking a little greener on top since yesterday when the quartz joined it... so maybe it really is working!

Even the grass, which is growing all over the garden from the compost we mixed in, has been useful. Whenever the children’s rabbits and guinea pig need feeding I go and weed a handful of grass for them. They convert it almost instantly back to compost!

I'm loving this whole sustainable cycle. Loving the fact that I can pick fresh herbs for teas as natural remedies for all sorts of ailments. Loving the fact that there are all those flavours growing just outside my kitchen.

Soon , soon, soon I’ll be able to try all those recipes that demand bunches of fresh coriander and parsley. Can’t wait.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spring Festival

Life has been flitting past too fast, getting away from me, leaving me with a permanent hair-blown-back feeling. Our festivals mark the passing of the seasons and seem to swoop round ever faster. Luckily they also make me slow down and notice things: the flowers, which have passed from pure white snow carpet of white daisies to gold bronzed dusting of yellow daisies; pypies succeeded by watsonias, tall and elegant in all shades from white to salmon pink to fiery orange; the moon still waxing then and now just past full; the herb seeds germinating and showing themselves in my new herb garden; strawberries starting to ripen in the veggie garden with the promise of enough berries for strawberry jam this year.

Our spring festival is a celebration of water and flowers - flower crowns, flowered archway, flowers floating in water. The girls rushed around gathering posies to decorate the circle - bright magenta vygies, red bottlebrush, orange golden shower and pink wild pear as well as gazanias and daisies. Our son's friends only arrived late, so the usual sand and water-work constructions of engineering genius, getting ever more elaborate every year, weren't there and it was a simpler event but just as lovely as ever.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Building A Herb Garden

Small seeds grow into bigger things. In the case of my herb garden, one seed of an idea has taken root, thrown out off-shoots and taken over completely.

All I planned to do was make another bed. The herb garden was looking neglected and all but the toughest herbs had shrivelled away in the heat of last summer, leaving just my stalwart rosemary and lavender bushes, as well as the scented geraniums that seem to thrive here whatever you do to them. Last year I ended up growing my basil and parsley in a pot, which is crazy seeing how much space we have here.

So this new bed was to be slightly raised, with lashings of compost and organic matter added to make a nice cushy home for the pickier herbs – basil, parsley, sage, oregano and so on. My sisters-in-law planned to give me some herbs for my birthday to re-stock the new bed. That was going to be all.

Then I thought of bricking the main path through the garden, basically just a sandy track worn by the dogs running through to chase cars, with some leftover bricks we had stacked in a corner.

That is when things took on their own momentum. Before I knew it, the whole family had taken the idea and run with it. Now one bed was nicely laid out the others needed to be raised to the same level. No point just bricking the one path, we’ll level all of them to be bricked. And what about the area beyond the bed.

We should lay out that at the same time, and round the rain-water tank… so we’d better make a proper retaining wall that side to build up the area around the olive trees, which is at a higher level than the main herb garden.

Our two farm-workers also joined in the enthusiastic makeover and have been working on the paths and beds all week making everything just so, asking me to decide things every step of the way, so my usual vague, see what happens, not quite ever finishing things off modus operandi has been thwarted. Now I have to live up to the garden, which is obviously planning to be finished and beautiful this year, rather than in some dim and distant future.

Seeing how things were taking shape so alarmingly quickly, I felt that I needed to put my own mark on the garden. The scarily straight and perfect motorway outline of the main path, so carefully worked out with string lines and levels, had to have something to slow it down, to keep the energy meandering among the herbs.

So I decided that I would lay the bricks for the path myself, in a herringbone pattern. And that is why I’ve stayed away from my blog for a couple of weeks. Last weekend I was putting in the time and putting in the bricks. Every day in the week while supper was cooking I’d nip out and put in a few more. This morning I reached the house end of the path. The only reason I’m here writing about it now is because the rain started bucketing down.

The only trouble is, our vision has expanded way beyond the leftover bricks in the corner. We’re going to have to go and order another shed-load of bricks to get all these paths paved and my weekends are sorted for the next month or so! But it’s going to look gorgeous. And once it is all planted up, I’ll have a medicine garden on my doorstep. There are already two tea tree plants waiting to go in and some buchu, as my sister in law couldn’t resist buying a few plants even before we got to my birthday.

So my next project is learning about herbs and their medicinal uses, courtesy of Margaret Roberts’ excellent books and hopefully a visit to the herb lady who lives on a farm quite near us.

I'll post some more photos when more paths are finished and the beds are planted up.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Guava Delight

Spring is in the air and yet the guava season continues. Our trees have been prolific this year, but are considerately allowing their fruit to ripen a little at a time now, so that we can get through one basket before we fill the next and stagger back to the house weighed down with golden globes of perfumery.

At one stage I really did think I was going to get sick of guavas before the end of the winter, but they keep luring me back with their fresh fragrance and unique flavour. Hard to remember the time when I first came to South Africa and found the scent overwhelmingly pungent, in my less charitable moments likening it to cats’ pee.

Recently I’ve been working on finding new ways of processing and preserving guavas, so that they will last us year round. My attempt at guava jelly was an abject failure, or at least not the jewel-bright perfumed delicacy that I was hoping for. Plus I was horrified by the wastage involved in making jelly: all that tasty fruit pulp left behind in the jelly bag. So I moved swiftly on without bothering to perfect my jelly-making skills.

I found this suggestion for using guavas instead of the traditional quinces to make a paste, or rather a sweetmeat, in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book: my absolutely favourite recipe book on fruit of all time, in fact I'd go so far as to say it's the bible of fruit recipes, so I'd hope they use this book in cooking schools online. Reminiscent of Safari dried fruit snacks, these guava squares have a much better texture and of course they are home made, so a whole lot cheaper…. unless you charge your time by the hour that is. The thing about this recipe is that someone needs to stir the pot constantly for about an hour and a half, as the mixture burps and splutters its way to the required thickness. So this is a weekend job, for when you have several willing helpers to take turns at stirring, or at least entertain you with scintillating conversation as you perch on the counter working on your stirring muscles.

The rewards are a house smelling wonderfully of guava jam and a few months’ supply of reasonable healthy sweeties, to sneak into your kids’ lunch boxes or package as loving gifts for home-sick family members overseas who haven’t smelt a ripe guava in ages.

This is only really worth doing when you have a couple of kilos of guavas to process so that you get a goodly stock of sweets from all your hard work stirring, but you can use any amount of fruit as the sugar is put in according to the weight of puree.

We’ve christened the result Guava Delight, as it is just a bit like Turkish Delight only much, much nicer.

Recipe for Guava Fruit Sweets
(adapted from Jane Grigson’s recipe for  Quince Paste)

Guavas – about 2 kg/ 4lbs
Sugar – about 1.5kg

Rinse the guavas and cut into quarters. Put into a heavy based pan with ½ cup of water. Bring to the boil and simmer covered until the fruit is tender, stirring a few times so that it doesn’t catch. Puree through a sieve or food mill/mouli. Rinse out the pan.

Weigh the resulting puree and return it to the pan, with 750g sugar for every 1kg of puree. (1 ½ lbs sugar per 2 lbs puree.) Cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then raise the heat to medium and cook stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick and is coming away from the sides of the pan. This usually takes us 1 ½ hours and we could probably carry on longer to get it really thick, but we have usually had enough by then! It will splutter and spit as it thickens, so have a glove on your stirring hand to avoid burns from the hot mixture.

Line a baking tray or two with baking parchment and pour the mixture into it to cool. It should be about 1 cm/1/2 inch deep. Smooth it out evenly. Now it needs to cool and dry out a bit in a warming drawer or over a radiator for a day or so. It is ready when it can be cut with a hot knife into squares that retain their shape.

Cut the paste into squares and dip them in sugar then pack into air-tight boxes in layers separated by baking paper. These should keep for months or years as long as they are kept dry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


This story was related to me today from memory on the way back from school in the car; the fruit of Middle Daughter’s class assignment to make up her own story including a list of words, the meanings of which they had to check in the dictionary.

The Maid Servant
Once upon a time there was a maid who worked for a rich man, who had a long beard. One day she discovered that she was pregnant. When she told the man, he felt rage grow in him, and tore at his hair and shouted at her that she couldn’t work for him any longer. She went home and took her dogs for a walk.

Later on he came downstairs and saw some plumage on the table. He felt ashamed of his anger and wanted to say sorry, but then thought he couldn’t. He made a heart out of metal.

The next day he went to her house and said he was sorry and that she could have her job back. She said Yes.

I haven’t done justice to the story in the re-telling here and have probably got some of the words wrong, but hopefully I've captured the drama and high emotion of her story-telling.
I tentatively asked whether ‘pregnant’ was one of the words on her list, thinking it a little strange for a class of 10 year olds.

“Oh no” she replied, “but I wanted to use the word ‘discovered’.”

We racked out brains to think where she could have got the inspiration from for a story involving a woman  thrown out for being pregnant. Not Disney of course (I don't remember that particular re-working of Cindarella), none of the horse books they’ve been reading, and they never watch any soaps. Finally I remembered the scene in Mamma Mia where Donna tells Sophie,
“When I was pregnant with you, my mother told me to go, and not to bother coming back”.
Phew! That must have been the germ of the idea, I was beginning to put it down to a traumatic past life experience!

Now it remains to be seen what her rather conventional male teacher will make of it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Green Muffin Cases

My inner Scrooge really loves the whole green movement – Reduce Reuse Recycle is a great excuse to save the pennies and polish your halo at the same time. No longer are you stigmatized as being stingy when you re-use your shopping bags, you are now a green heroine, nobly saving the planet as you shop.

Paper muffin cases are a case in point. We bake muffins every week, often double batches for school bake sales. I used to use muffin cases all the time. It’s easier and more convenient. But if you think about it, that piece of paper just becomes litter within minutes, if the kids pounce on the muffins straight away, and it’s just one more non-essential to add to the weekly shop. So I stopped using paper muffin cases most of the time for home-baking, and it wasn’t a big deal at all. I just had to soak the tins a bit before washing them.

And yet there are times when a paper case really does make a difference, like when you are trying out a chocolate chip muffin recipe and envisage gooey melted chocolate going to waste all over the tins. Of course I now had no paper muffin cases in the house after my frugal/green spree of conscientiousness. I’d also nearly run out of baking paper for the same reason, just a few odds and ends left over from a series of cakes, which left me with the stash of butter papers in the fridge.

When I was growing up, butter papers were always saved in the fridge. They knew about frugality in those days, having grown up with rationing and wartime shortages and lived through Seventies coal miners' strikes and all. Saving butter papers was a habit that transferred itself to me, despite our generation's prodigality. A fridge full of butter papers generally isn’t all that much use, not very zen either, cluttering up the place. Quite handy for greasing baking trays, but that’s about it. Except when you need muffin cases at the last minute.

I think they worked perfectly – perhaps not very elegant, but they have a certain green chic about them, don’t you think?!

But perhaps the scraps of baking paper made the more elegant version. They make me think of The Sound of Music, a drift of nuns in sparkling white wimples…

And Marisa's chocolate muffin recipe? The kids loved them, in fact Middle Daughter made them all by herself. Me, I'm holding out for dark chocolate chips for the next batch, with the good dark Nomu cocoa, but then that would be my inner chocoholic, who vanquishes the inner Scrooge every time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chocolate Surprise

It will come as no surprise to my blog friends when I confess to a not-so-secret addiction to chocolate, the darker the better. I have long been a reliable tester of all the big chocolate names, from Green and Black, who seem to have disappeared from the South African marketplace of late, to Lindt with their blossoming and branching out into a multitude of sophisticated flavours (perhaps the reason behind Green and Black’s ousting?), sea salt being my current Wow factor to the taste buds.

After attending the fantastic Cape Town Food Bloggers Conference in March, I found that my blog was occasionally targeted by the foodie PR people. Juno wrote about the ethics and complications of accepting freebies when you are writing an independent blog. Her rule of never accepting freebies to review made sense in many circumstances, but I found myself tested immediately by an offer from Lindt to bring me some goodies to sample. How could I possibly say no to chocolate?

I mean, when you live 60km from town it can be hard to persuade friends that it’s not too far to come for lunch. It’s not very often that you have complete strangers offering to drive out specially, just to deliver you some free chocolate, no strings attached. So I accepted and told them to ring for directions.

Two weeks later on a gorgeous sunny day they did. It turned out that they had already shot 20km past our turning and were in the next town asking at the info office for directions. Of course nobody had heard of us there. We’re quite used to talking couriers and various delivery people to our farm from all points of the compass, so I gave directions again and waited. And waited. Eventually a very sweet little Smart car emblazoned with the Lindt logo and pictures of chocolate rolled up the dirt road to our gate. It was immediately met with impassioned barking from assorted manic border collies, which is the usual welcome our visitors get. I ran out to rescue them and to photograph the cute car in its incongruous country setting... unfortunately the camera battery was flat. The two pretty girls smartly dressed in red stayed safely in the car, handing out to me a be-ribboned box of goodies, then revealed that the info office in our local town had sent them to the next town further on, 30 km in the wrong direction. They seemed quite happy though and it was a lovely day for a scenic drive around the Swartland, so I tried not to feel too bad about it.

And my spoils? Well I have to admit that my greedy chocoholic alter ego had ideas of lashings of dark chocolate samples, perhaps unveiling the latest wicked 99% cocoa bar to be tested on that secret sector of food blogging choco-gourmet elite, of whom I had now been elected one of the chosen few...

But nestled in the box were instead some samples of baked goodies from the Lindt Chocolate Studio in town: some miniature macaroons with chocolate sandwich filling, a couple of orange chocolate brownies and a white chocolate truffle…Now they were nice. But not Wow Chocolate Explosion fantastic. In fact my Lindt chocolate stash in the larder rather put them in their place on the chocolate scale of things. Which seemed a bit of a shame after all the trouble they’d taken to get them to me. Plus I think from reading about it that the Chocolate Studio sounds like a fantastic idea, learning to bake with chocolate, make your own truffles and even temper chocolate to a professional level. I’d still love to go there myself and create marvels of chocolate sculpture, tasting just a little on the way.

So thank you Lindt for going to such lengths to send me free samples. I do appreciate it, really I do. Just, if you’re going to be marketing another product, please can I have the chocoholics dark dark version, and I’ll be much more enthusiastic about it, I promise!

All this writing about dark chocolate has got to me. I can feel that stash of sea salt chocolate in the larder calling to me. Tell me what you thought of the Lindt samples if you are another Cape Town blogger who couldn't resist them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back To School

The World Cup is over. There is a back to school feeling all over South Africa, and not just among the kids who have had the longest winter holidays ever in honour of the World Cup. Ours go back to school tomorrow and it’s going to be a sharp shock for all of us getting up in the cold winter dark again and leaving the house before the sun is up. Our internal clocks have adjusted to hibernation mode and our once early rising toddlers are now big kids happy enough to snuggle under the duvet with a book and a torch until the sun finds its way through the curtains.

Five weeks is a long time to keep track of, when you get back to school and have to write “What I did in the Holidays”. Luckily I took photos and so here is a visual reminder for my kids to write from and to fill in the gaps of all the blog posts I didn’t get round to writing.

Our Winter Festival

We had a perfect still and starry night for our winter festival. There was just us and one family of friends this time as many of our regulars had already left on holiday, but it was a really special celebration with a wonderful atmosphere.

We found this prayer in Diana Cooper's latest book and read it aloud together. It felt like it created a powerful energy.

I have a vision where all people are at peace, fed and housed,
every child is loved and educated to develop their talents,
where the heart is more important than the head and
wisdom is revered over riches.

In this world, justice, equality and fairness rule.
Nature is honoured, so the waters flow pure and clear and
the air is fresh and clean. Plants and trees are nurtured
and all animals are respected and treated with kindness.
Happiness and laughter prevail

And humans walk hand in hand with angels.
Thank you for the love, understanding, wisdom, courage
and humility to do my part to spread the light.
May all the world ascend
So be it

The Breede River

We got away to our favourite river for four nights. It’s a wonderful place to go in summer with swimming and boating, but is just as beautiful in winter with aloes aflame and chilly foggy mornings, burning off to still sunny days.

The Weather

It rained, but never on match days!

10th Birthday

 Middle Daughter celebrated her 10th birthday in fine style with a party and treasure hunt.

Day out to the Cape Town Waterfront

A visit to Spur to spend the children's bravery award vouchers from the dentist for free burgers. A walk along the shore towards the stadium in search of the World Cup gees.

Watching the boats come in.

Some brilliant Kenyan acrobatic entertainers risking if not life then certainly limb! Then off to see Toy Story 3, top of the holiday activity wish list. What's with this 3D craze... those glasses give me a headache!

And we finally found the gees, parked right near our car. Ayoba! May this sunny shiny ayoba feeling spread and sustain South Africa even without the soccer fever!