Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cooksister’s Braai the Beloved Country event

I’m mulling ideas for a post to enter into Cooksister’s Braai the Beloved Country event. It’s held to celebrate National Braai Day on 24th September and your entry can be anything braai – meat, fish, veggies, potjie, and so on. The only rule is that it must be cooked over an open fire... otherwise it’s not a braai, is it!

It’s all too easy to fall into the same old favourites with our family braais. Everyone loves lamb chops, spicy chicken wings, boerewors, so it’s a challenge to think up something new that will compete for the family affections, but I’m pondering, despite the rain outside that doesn’t really inspire me to shift my cooking activities outdoors.There's the stick bread that we made a little while back but I was thinking of something slightly more fragrant, meaty and sizzling....

Meantime I’m still hoping to win a whole lamb from the National Braai Day giveaway on Facebook – I quite fancy the idea of cooking a whole leg of lamb in a potjie and having an endless supply of chops stashed away in the freezer for summer braais.

If you are in the mood for braaiing check out the rules on Cooksister and post by 23rd September to be included in the roundup. Mmm the smell of woodsmoke and gently sizzling meat - enticing!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dawdling Through The Daisies

The white daisies are in full fling now, the longest season I can remember them having all to themselves, before the pink and yellow daisies muscle in to join the dance and the pure white is dowsed with colour. There is something about the carpet of white that lifts the spirit, far more than the patchwork quilt of later spring, pretty though that is. White is said to be the favourite colour of unicorns and white daisies in particular, so there must be at least one or two prancing through our meadow, don’t you think?!

Our border collie watching to see if it's a walk or a photo dawdle

Yesterday was too beautiful to spend entirely at the computer, so come and join me on a wander through the daisies... while they’re still blooming so beautifully.

A flame of orange - the pincushion protea is a beacon among the snowfield of daisies

More white on the apricot tree

The white bench camouflaged - can you see it?

Wandering back up the slope to the house where work and laundry beckons... or maybe you'd like to come in for tea?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Spring Flowers and Sunshine

The weather in a South African spring is just as erratic and variable as an English one. The biggest difference being that the erratic equation includes a whole lot more sunny days in between the rain storms. August here is the equivalent of February in the northern hemisphere and we've been sitting out on the stoep in the sunshine with our cups of tea,  warming our bones from the chill of the house inside... then it's impossible to resist a wander among the daisies before returning to the computer to freeze the toes again.

The spring flowers are going ballistic, knowing that they have to fit in their flowering season while they still can, before the rainstorms tail away and they face another summer of dry, dry heat.

So to cheer us all up (and who doesn’t need cheering up right now?!), here are some of the brave flowers currently celebrating spring on our farm. With a huge storm forecast for the weekend they are busy partying while the sun still shines.

For more spring flower pictures here are some flower rhapsodies and posts from previous years.
Colours of Spring
Spring blooms
Daisy Chains
Spring Flowers Road Trip
Spring Decorating

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Winter Braais – Stick bread

Winter weather is no reason not to braai in South Africa. In fact, still, cold winter nights, when you huddle round the fire toasting hands and faces while your back freezes, are often better for braaing than summer evenings, which are rarely still and often have a roaring south-easter blowing. In summer the braai-master is often abandoned to the heat of the fire, sweating and toiling against the rising wind, ash blowing everywhere, while everyone else disappears into the shady house on the pretext of making salads.. .OK that’s an exaggeration, but the lure of a fire in winter really does make it more companionable, drawing everyone outside to warm themselves as the sun dips below the horizon and the darkness falls.

Stick bread is the perfect way to keep kids and adults occupied while the rest of the food cooks. I’d never made it until we went to a friend’s house recently. She had made a batch of bread dough in advance. All the kids had spent the afternoon finding and refining sticks of the right diameter, so as we adults arrived we were sent in search of our own sticks too. They had to be smooth and about the diameter of a cooked piece of boerewors (our coriander spiced South African sausage). The idea is that the dough is wrapped around the stick, cooked by rotating it slowly over the hot coals and then is pulled off the stick to leave a hole just big enough to slide in a piece of boeri. Simple but brilliant!

Also great fun for kids and adults alike.

Here are step by step instructions in case you’d like to have a go next time you braai.

1. Make a batch of a plain white bread dough.
2. Find a smooth stick for each person eating at the braai. Make sure it is clean with no splinters! The diameter isn’t too critical but it should be about as wide as a cooked sausage if you will be eating it hot dog style.
3. Once the dough has risen and been knocked down you can start, as soon as you have the go ahead from the braaimaster... make sure he has been warned that you will need extra coals for your bread baking, so that it doesn’t interfere with the far more important task of cooking the meat! It actually works best if you have two fires, one for the meat and one for the bread, so they can both be cooked at the same time without too much crowding.
4. Now the fun bit -  break off a piece of dough and roll it into a long sausage shape. Wind it around the stick, coiling from the top down with no gaps. Firm it up and press it all together.
5. Go to the hot coals and hold the dough over the fire slowly rotating the stick. It helps if there is an edge to rest it on. The dough will gradually puff up and then turn the golden brown of the perfectly cooked loaf. Remember to keep turning the stick so that it cooks evenly on all sides.
6. Once it is cooked, slide the bread off the stick carefully – steam will pour out from inside and it will be HOT!
7. Put in any sauces, mustards and chutneys then slide in a piece of boeri cut to the right length and enjoy!

One of these is enough for anyone, as the bread can be a bit indigestible for anyone without a cast-iron stomach, but it is delicious with the smoke flavour of the braai and the crunchy crust, and there is something about everyone standing around the fire cooking their own bread that is the essence of the South African braai – togetherness!

It may still feel like winter but National Braai Day is coming up, (24th September) which heralds the start of the spring braaing season, so it’s nearly time to start thinking of marinades for steaks and sosaties. Check out Cooksister’s post on Braai the Beloved Country last year, which is a definitive blog post on the braai and has a great round-up of recipes. And the official National Braai Day site has loads of good braai tips and is giving away one free lamb every day until the 24th September to anyone in South Africa – you just have to comment on their National Braai Day Facebook posts to get in the draw.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Winter and Tree Planting

The white daisies are really starting to bloom on the farm now, heralding the end of winter and early days of spring. Washing is blowing breezily on the line and the ducks have split up into twos and threes, with bouts of fearsome squawkings accompanying their clumsy attempts to pro-create.  The two pet rabbits are showing desperate signs of the nesting instinct. Their pen is set against the side of the house on a brick floor. Thwarted in their attempts to burrow down they have turned their attention to the walls. We live in a straw-bale house, thickly plastered with a natural clay plaster. A determined bunny can scrape away at it, and bingo, the other day it hit the jackpot, making it through the plaster to discover a whole wall full of edible space to burrow into. By the time I noticed him, Toffee had excavated a deep hole into the wall, there was straw scattered everywhere, which he would stop now and then to nibble, and he was only inches from popping his head out into the kitchen on the other side!  We need to fortify the enclosure so that our house won’t be eaten up by voracious pets!

It seems like winter is over before it began, even though we did have some chilly weather back in June when we were busy complaining about frozen toes. But July was dry, dry, dry, with only one downpour and now we’re into August and the tree planting season is nearly over. Because we really meant to plant some trees this winter. It’s not that we’re short on trees, having planted a couple of thousand since we’ve been here (including the border windbreak trees), but we try to keep planting indigenous trees both for beauty and to improve the environment. There are so many more birds here now that the trees are growing.

The other reason that we need to plant trees before the end of winter is to replace our girls’ birthday trees. Each child has a tree that was planted especially for them. Our son’s was planted on his first birthday and was the first tree we planted on our side of the farm, before we even moved out here for good and built our house. It is a bottlebrush with red dangling flowers that look like bottlebrushes, not indigenous, but not invasive either and very pretty. When Youngest was born we planted a peach tree behind out house and at the same time planted a Pompom tree for Middle Daughter, aged two by then,  who was born in England and hadn’t yet had a tree planted for her.

Easter 2007 - hunting for eggs in our son's bottlebrush tree

On Easter Day the bunny would always hide at least one egg by their trees and sometimes birthday treasure hunts would find goodies dangling from them. But we chose the location badly for the girls’ trees. For some reason, that particular side of the house doesn’t seem to do well, presumably to do with availability of water underground. Last year Middle Daughter’s tree, which had flowered for a few years but hardly grown, finally gave up the ghost. Youngest’s peach tree had fruited one year but then had died back and re-shooted a couple of times, so it was moved into the orchard, where hopefully it will have a chance to grow properly. There was much consternation about where the Easter bunny would leave eggs in future, so this year we planned to plant them each a new tree somewhere near the house .And we haven’t ... yet... and there is only a little while left before it will be too hot and dry again to give a tree a good start in life. So we need to get moving  and go and choose some new indigenous trees at our local nursery.

One year my sister-in-law got all enthusiastic and bought a number of large trees to plant, aiming for quick results and instant height. It worked well around her house, but we are just a little bit higher up the property with much deeper sand and ours struggled to adapt and have hardly gown at all. It seems that bigger trees need just as much, if not more, loving care as small trees do when they are newly planted and if they don’t get it are less resilient, having so much more leaf and branch to maintain. So we’ll be going for smaller trees even though the selection of large indigenous trees at TreeTrade is very tempting. I can just picture us in our very own instant forest clearing....!

So now we have to decide what trees to get: another pompom tree, (dais cotinfolia) very pretty, or something tougher like the Wild Plum, (harpephyllum caffrum) which is green and hardy but not much in the way of flowers? Much as I love our South African indigenous trees, it is at times like this that I feel nostalgic for the English oaks and beeches, majestic trees that you could plant for a child and have grow into mature trees that would last longer than their lifetime. Damper areas of South Africa with natural indigenous forest, like Knysna, can give you that satisfaction, but here in the sandy Swartland, where fynbos is king, the few indigenous trees tend to be small and multi-stemmed, and the trees that do well are alien invaders, such as pines, blue-gum and port jackson,  we are rather going against the natural order of things... still we'll try!

If any of you have got a favourite indigenous tree that would do well in sandy soil, do let me know. Have you planted trees for your kids, or for yourself, for that matter?