Sunday, December 30, 2012

Summer Festival on 21.12.2012

There was so much hype about Mayan calendars and the end of the world potential of 21.12.2012, that, now the date has been and gone and we’re all still here, it seems a slight anticlimax: just Christmas as usual, presents under the tree, too much turkey stuffing, and torn pieces of wrapping paper still decorating the floor.

Not that we were expecting the world to end. Our take on the numerological significance was that it might be a major energy shift, the start of a new way forward. So we went as far as shifting our summer festival one day, to celebrate it on the actual day of the solstice, 21.12 itself instead of on the nearest Saturday. How better could we deal with a portentous date than by gathering  friends and family together in our circle and creating some positive energy around us all.

The day was hot, hot, hot, and friends came Friday-late, after last bits of Christmas shopping, finishing off work and escaping the clutches of town. They disappeared into the swimming pool to cool off and so all the preparation was even more last minute than usual. But our festivals have a way of panning out and it all came together in perfect timing, so that we went into the circle in the soft half-light after sunset, when the heat had faded from the day and a warm glow lingered in clear skies.

Our summer festival theme is air, so it was about making windmills, flags in chakra colours, prayer flags and blowing bubbles, anything that blows in the wind and captures the lightness of air.

Our long table was filled with a confusion of windmill making, salad preparation, tea and champagne drinking, with the Christmas tree in the background for the first time, mingling festivals and reminding us of the next one on the list... usually we get the tree on the day after the festival, but with Christmas on the Tuesday already it seemed a shame to leave it so late.

The vision prayer has become a fixture at our festivals now and had a strong energy said all together, and if the energy shift is about new beginnings I can’t think of a better prayer for it:

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 next morning I went into the circle early, as the sun was rising, and the energy felt  wonderful, full of beauty and vibrancy, or perhaps it was just the flags catching the sunlight and the cool morning air.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Abundance of Ducks

Abundance is one of those wonderful words that we use all too often. Unspecific, it conjures up visions of harvest festivals, cornucopias of plenty, everything we need, just when we need it. We add it to our list of positive intentions for the year; love, health and abundance, our grown-up Christmas wish list for our families.

Sometimes though I wonder whether perhaps we should have been slightly more specific about what we wanted in abundance, especially now, when our ducks have produced brood after brood of ducklings, which seem to be thriving all too abundantly, with far fewer casualties than most years.

Ducks are notoriously bad mothers. My sister-in-law has regularly been traumatised by losing ducklings to birds of prey, snakes, or simply to their mothers letting them get cold and wet on a chilly spring day. Several years back it got so that the only way of raising the next generations was to take them away from their mothers and raise them under a light until they were big enough to weather the big wild world on their own.

Setting up a pen to raise the first brood this year

About three years ago we were down to one lone duck after an eagle picked the rest off one by one, and we had to advertise in the lonely hearts column for two more ducks to keep him company. Last year however one mother duck successfully raised two broods, immediately laying a second clutch of eggs after her first eight ducklings were whisked off to be raised in safety. We were suddenly up to twenty or so ducks on the farm.

This year her offspring have proved remarkably dedicated to their reproductive duties and, over the past month, no fewer than seven mama ducks have emerged from the bushes proudly leading lines of fluffy yellow or brown ducklings. The first two broods (of eight and twelve respectively) were duly taken to a safe warm box of straw to be raised. The next ones were herded into the duck pens with their mothers to be kept safe from predators but take their chance with the vagaries of ducky mothering abilities. Mamas five and six were also penned in  a big run on our stoep to keep them safe.

By the time we got to Mama duck number seven there was nowhere left to pen her, so she was allowed to roam free. She’s amazed us by only losing one duckling so far and being a remarkably good mother. She supervises water play and calls them out to get warm and preen feathers after they've had long enough. She keeps them warm and hidden away at night and has restored our faith in ducks instinctive mothering skills. We then started feeling bad about one penned mama who was getting very frustrated with her captivity, so we thought we’d give her a shot at raising her ducklings free range too. They were a week old already, still cute and fluffy but not as tiny and vulnerable as newly hatched ones.

So before the girls went off to school today, we caught the whole family, took them to a nice area of bushes and released them. After five minutes of the girls running around after her with the ducklings that had got left behind, mama duck seemed to have calmed down  and have all her ducklings under control. Until, that is, free-range mama duck arrived at the water run-off with her brood. This is where the grey water runs out into a small ditch and is a favourite duck playground and wallowing area.

The newly-freed ducklings rushed off to join the free-range brood and played happily in the water for ages. By the time free-range mama called her family out of the water to preen their feathers, the other ducklings had so far identified with their new friends that they went and joined free-range mama, copying all their movements.
Duck grooming session

Their own mama meanwhile was wandering around quacking desultorily, looking for them in all the wrong places. Even when we shooed her down the hill to join them, she didn’t seem to recognise them as her own. Three of them wandered towards her, then changed their mind and ran back to their new friends. In no time free-range mama had a family of fifteen clustering around her and other mama was quacking around distractedly any time she remembered, in between having a nice bath herself and forgetting about them entirely.

I was inclined to leave things as they were, free-range mama seeming to be quite happy with her extra large family, but in the end distracted mama was given a slightly larger pen area and put back in with most of her babies. One of hers has remained with free-range mama and nobody seems to mind the swap.
Distracted mama duck re-assigned to high density housing

The first hatchlings now have their adult feathers and are ready for new homes. I think we’ll be repopulating the entire local area with ducks at this rate, so if you hear of Cape Town being overrun by a mysterious plague of ducklings next spring,  it may well be our ducks to blame. Unless of course this was a freak breeding season and next year we go back to cocooning our few precious survivors once again.

We are lucky enough to have an abundance of strawberries too this season, so I’m not going to complain about the Universe’s generosity. Just need to get jamming to show that I really do appreciate it!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Birthday Treasure Hunts

“You haven’t organised anything yet?!”

A look of wide-eyed horror flashes over our friend’s face. It’s the afternoon before Youngest’s birthday, I’ve picked the girls up from their school and am waiting at the stables for our son to arrive with our lift-share. The party is still unplanned apart from the four friends invited after school the next day. I’m slightly tense but by no means as panic stricken as the situation might warrant. I always do the skin of my teeth method of birthday party planning these days.

Perhaps I was more organised way back at the beginning of our kids’ party career. That first treasure hunt for our son’s fourth birthday, when the treasure was buried in a tin, in the heap of building sand awaiting the foundations of our house... had I worked that out in advance? I’m sure I would have shopped for the treasure further ahead than the actual birthday morning itself, which is what happened yesterday. With only 35 minutes before picking up girls and guests from school, to do the week’s food shop plus find treasure, it was more a case of grabbing mini bars of Lindt chocolate and hurried phone calls exchanged with my sister-in-law who was out and about in a more frivolous shopping area. But at least I had spent the morning thinking out the story, working out and encrypting clues and they were all in place; not like one party, when the guests had arrived and I was still running around writing and hiding clues around the farm.

For some reason inspiration only seems to come to me at the very last minute... perhaps the angels take pity on me, racking my brains to come up with a new story and new angle after 10 x 3 birthday treasure hunts.

The first years were easy – buried pirate treasure, flower fairies, angels, unicorns and a very simple trail of clues geared for five-year olds to work out. Now we’re on about the third year of pony themes for both girls. Clues have to be more complex and preferably there is some de-coding work involved.

A rather rumpled map of our nature conservation area!

This time the six girls got a map of the farm, with ten trees that had to locate – the back story was that they were trail riding in our beautiful nature conservancy and the map took them to all the beauty spots. They were please to ride only on the trails to keep their ponies safe from snakes and avoid disturbing the wildlife (our grass is long at the moment and the start of warmer weather is bringing  snakes out of hibernation). Each tree would yield a coded clue that would show them the way to a secret part of the conservancy.

So they set off armed with the map and a Schleich pony and rider each (these six girls all have their own collections and play elaborate games together every time they meet). Amazingly they found all the trees from the map, only defeated by one rather too well hidden clue in a poplar tree. They then had ten slips of paper with  a jumble of unintelligible words on.

The code was a simple letter shift A=C  and they all set to de-coding and then fitting the pieces of paper together in the right order. The de-coded message sent them to the sand-pit where our festivals take place, where a jam jar of more slips of paper was buried in the sand.

These sent them back to the herb garden where a Five Roses tea box was hidden in a different herb bush for each girl. The treasure ended up being the chocolate bar, a felt strawberry made by Middle Daughter and some body stickers, fun erasers and a notebook contributed by my sister-in-law. Phew all accomplished and then it was time for tea.

Youngest had ended up making the cakes (one for school and one for home) mostly by herself, with just a bit of my help, while I made bread and got supper the night before. My SIL helped making sandwiches when we all piled out of the car after the school run and there were strawberries that the girls had picked the day before to wash. Lays ready salted crisps, carrot sticks and some mini biscuits were all else required (the traditional cheese biscuits never made it to the top of the to do list this time). Then they all played horses again while I made pizza for supper -gone are the days when guests were packed off home at 6 o'clock... now they sleep over or at least stay until the end of the evening, after supper and a pony movie!

So one more birthday has been ticked off the list and our Youngest is officially 10. I wonder for how many more years the treasure hunts will be required? Our son dispensed with them when he turned 13. Middle Daughter thoroughly enjoyed her 12 year old one, which involved the Code of Claw from the Underland Chronicles and had them all clustered around iPods de-coding from the digital copies of the book that they had all been reading. So maybe I won’t be putting away the treasure hunt hat just yet. My husband is hinting that we should start a tradition of grown-up treasure hunts at Christmas for the whole family.... not sure whether my last-minute creativity will be able to cope with that as well as all the rest of Christmas, but we’ll see! Maybe I could set the rest of the family to devising clues for me to follow to an extra large stash of dark chocolate... now that would be a treasure hunt!

Two more treasure hunt posts: the detective treasure hunt for our son's 10th and the night time treasure hunt by torch light for his 11th.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blog Envy

Reading other people’s blogs is something I love, strolling through snapshots of other lives, finding new friends, enjoying a clever phrase here, admiring ideas and envying tastes of other countries. It’s a distraction from my own life, expanding horizons, filling gaps.

There are times though, when I’m in a grumpy slump that I find myself gritting my teeth, envying in a resentful way rather than a gleeful one, feeling that I fall short because I haven’t achieved those things that I would normally be admiring: that larder stuffed full of home-canned organic produce, that beautifully made art work, that perfectly styled and thoughtfully devised new recipe.

That’s when I have to kick myself sharply, remind myself that my blog only shows the highlights, the public smiling face. While I’m busy going green over some other seemingly more perfect life than mine, there may be readers of my blog who sometimes have to grit their teeth in envy of our seemingly idyllic life.

Because it can be idyllic, but it is also life with all the gritty bits. Some blogs manage to pour out woes as well as triumphs and still be absorbingly readable, but it needs a perceptive honesty and a wry sense of humour to air the downsides of your life as well as the ups. Something I’ve not even attempted here. Not that there are any huge tragedies, but who wants to read about the small wearing  difficulties of life, the price of petrol that makes living on a farm out of town ever more expensive, making you think twice about scheduling any extra activities, the rutted dirt road that shakes all our cars to pieces... I’m not sure that I even want to write about them and give them space, rather keeping my rose-tinted spectacles firmly wedged on my nose, putting my fingers in my ears and going lalalalala....

So instead of berating myself for not having accomplished all the best bits of everyone else’s achievements, I need to accept that we’re all different and get on with my own, even if they seem less interesting and more mundane to me. Writing, posting, social media stuff, interspersed with feeding ducklings, hanging out laundry, picking up kids from school, planning tomorrow’s birthday treasure hunt, a bit more writing, ticking off the list of articles and pushing aside the accounts again until they reach crisis point... again. Seems I’m human, not perfect after all, hard for a Virgo to admit!

So do you suffer from blog envy too? Is it OK to grumble out loud on your blog, or do you also feel the need to put on a smiling face for your readers?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Spring Festival 2012

Our festivals have gained a momentum of their own by now, unfolding each time in different ways with very little management by us. It’s almost self-defeating to plan things in advance. We have a whole list of things we think we should be doing and then everyone arrives at the end of the afternoon rather than the beginning and it all has to be concertinaed in to fit. I’ve almost managed to stop stressing about this now. Our latest spring festival was one of those.

On some spring festivals everyone arrives before or just after lunch and the kids spend the afternoon building elaborate water sculptures in the sand-pit, other decorating the circle lusciously with flowers and a river of light (candles in brown bags) winds down to the circle. Year by year it gets more elaborate until the list of tasks to complete is almost daunting. This year it was more of an exercise in cutting it all back down to essentials. Only three families were coming and they all arrived at five o’clock or after.

The big kids were immediately despatched to tidy up the circle and the sandpit, then to gather some flowers for decoration. One friend started immediately on the archway with the help of his little kids, others started making flower crowns from real flowers as they chatted over tea. It was the first time that no-one had time to sit down at the computer and write their blessings. But it all came together.

The arch was flowery, two gorgeous vases of flowers arranged by Youngest and a friend stood at the entrance to the circle. The water bowls were clean and fresh. Everyone except the big boys (now at once too old and too young to be seen dead wearing a flower crown) had their own quirky concoction of flower crown aloft. Water was poured into bowls, flowers sprinkled on top. Blessings were said spontaneously rather than written and Middle Daughter played recorder for us at the beginning and the end.

We love it when we have a whole leisurely afternoon for preparation, but it was good to be reminded that the spirit of the festival is there however simply we decorate, however rushed the preparations.

Three quiches, two roast chickens, two plaited loaves, one large salad and a bowl of baby potatoes fed us, followed by chocolate pudding, a pavlova with the first strawberries of the season and a bakewell tart with the last frozen youngberries of last season.

The kids, who are now mostly getting too big to be called kids, all lounged on the sofas, leaving the table to the adults, and the three little kids ran around between both groups. Quote of the evening: our son looking tolerantly at toddler and four year-old running around enthusiastically: “We were like them once.” The whole weight of being fourteen was in those words! He was actually very good with them and ended up with a devoted four year old at his heels the whole evening.

Now the sunny but cool spring day has given way to a chilly wet almost winter day again, but spring has been celebrated in due style!

Because everyone arrived so late yesterday I had plenty of time to play around with my latest obsession: my phone photography apps. I've had this phone for a year now and only now have I really discovered the possibilities- instagram, picframe and a host of other addictive apps. So in between baking bread and quiches and picking flowers I  had time for photographing our elderly cat Fluff enjoying the spring sunshine.

And messing around with the bread dough.
So let me know if I go overboard with the framed photos, cos right now I'm probably having far too much fun playing with them!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spicy Chicken Wings on the Braai

Chicken wings weren’t even on my food radar before I came to South Africa. All skin and bone with only small morsels of playing-hard-to-get meat inside... I didn’t see the point of them at all. Fast forward a few years and I am educated in all things braai by my husband’s family: chicken wings have become a delicacy, fragrant and crispy skin coated in spice, tender, falling apart meat inside, eaten hot from the grill, juggled between scorched fingers but irresistible all the same.

Last weekend was an unseasonably warm hint of summer, perfect for an impromptu first braai of the season. I was cudgelling my brain for a new recipe, original, startling and noteworthy enough to mark the occasion and to make a good blog post for Cooksister’s Braai the Beloved Country event.  My husband requested chicken wings and boerewors.
“But I want something to blog about.”
“Have you ever done a blog post on chicken wings?”
I hadn’t, so there we go, decision made, not startling or original but a braai staple, in our family at least.

 I decided to assert my food bloggerness by devising a new signature spice rub for the chicken wings. Usually we use my brother-in-law’s secret spice mix, which may or may not burn your lips off with its chilli heat, depending on the batch and his inspiration when he mixed it. It has a whole variety of spices and barbeque spice mixes in it, but I hadn’t yet come up with a version that was my own.

I wanted something spicy but slightly more subtle: something to entertain the taste buds rather than bludgeon them into submission. I ended up turning to Jamie Oliver’s section on rubs and marinades for inspiration and adapted his fragrant and hot dry spice rub. It was good but leaves room for more experimentation – the fennel was a bit too in your face at the start, though it mellowed out after the first mouthful, and I wouldn’t mind a bit more of the fragrant cardamom coming through. It’s spicy but not at all burny, no chilli at all, which I don’t think my brother-in-law would approve of!

So I’ll give you my adapted version of the recipe that I used as a starting point. Feel free to experiment with it and let me know what other versions you come up with. I’ll add any further adaptations and improvements through the summer braai season.

Fragrant spice rub for chicken wings
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons nigella seeds*
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove
½ cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves garlic crushed
Salt and ground pepper

*I used the nigella seeds that came in my FBI goody bag, but they aren’t easy to find. Fenugreek was what the original recipe asked for if you prefer to try that.

In a heavy pan over a medium low heat, toast all the whole spices lightly, stirring occasionally.
Either pound the spices to a powder in a pestle and mortar... or give up half way and pour them all into a coffee grinder and do the whole job in about two seconds flat. Clean the coffee grinder out well afterwards!
Crush the garlic cloves and mix in with the ground spices. Add salt and a bit more ground pepper to taste.
Rub the spice mix into the chicken wings and leave the spices to permeate for a few hours before braaiing.

Then let your wings sizzle over hot coals, turning frequently, while you sip a chilled glass of Tangled Tree * butterscotch chardonnay, as the sun dips below the horizon and you pretend it really is summer.

This post is in honour of Cooksister's annual Braai the Beloved Country event, whcih takes place on south Africa's Heritage Day, 24th September, otherwise known as National Braai Day.

My entry last year was this ostrich and butternut kebab recipe, also a darn fine thing to cook over the coals!

Look out for Jeanne's round-up of braai recipes on Monday.

*I'm really enjoying sampling the range of Tangled Tree wines that I won in their competition last month - all very palatable, full of flavour and accessible. I'm saving the Chocolate Cabernet Sauvignon till last!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Spring, Veggies and Bunny Bouquets

Spring is fickle. One minute wooing you with bouquets of daisies, the next blowing a gale and laughing manically as it catches you in a shower of rain. Luckily our vegetable garden seems to thrive on this callous treatment.

The cabbages are pictures of bursting health, we have an enviable broccoli crop this year, and while for some bizarre reason our last carrot planting failed, there are new rows beginning to show promising signs.

An evening walk - Youngest still immersed in book
Most mornings we walk around the farm road to try and get at least a bit of exercise before freezing in front of our computer screens for the rest of the day.

We walk purposefully along, stride up the hill until we reach the veggie patch, where I veer off the road and start gathering a bouquet of greens. Bunny bouquets for the two rabbits and two guinea-pigs, who must have the healthiest diet of any caged pets: beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, cabbage leaves, broccoli leaves, rocket gone to flower, spinach, lettuce, radishes.

Picking all this fresh food for them delights my frugal-disguised-as-green-living soul. All they need is the outer cabbage leaves, the lower broccoli leaves, the thinned beets from overcrowded rows, the radishes that have got too huge for us to eat.

It’s free for the gathering, unlike the extortionate bag of designer guinea-pig food sold to my husband in the pet shop, where the girls chose their new guinea-pigs. State of the art flakes of dried fresh food, guaranteed to have a residue of vitamin C and originate from real apples and carrots... like eating your salads in the form of breakfast cereal.

The bouquet looks so pretty that it’s a shame to let it drop to the floor of the cage... the guinea pigs stand up on their back legs and squeak desperately until I hand it over. It’s polished off in twenty minutes flat. Thereafter any time we go past the back door heart-rending squeaks ask for more, more, more.

Inspired by all this free goodness I made a Thai green vegetable curry for supper last night, hoping to convince the kids that this is an edible option. I put in plenty of potatoes as a base (they will all eat potatoes at least!) then added in the just-picked broccoli and spinach. All I can say is that three out of five of us ate it quite happily and at least our son will eat plain rice till the cows come home... what was that vitamin deficiency linked to rice-eating, I wonder?

And spring on our farm continues to look gorgeous, every time the sun shines and brings the daisies out in a blaze of dazzling brightness.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sun Safe

In my lifetime we’ve gone from a tan being the ultimate goal of every summer holiday, and a sign of health and beauty, to having a suspicious love/hate relationship with the sun. Yes we love sunny days, yes we need sun to make the plants grow, but let’s keep it off our skin in case it gives us skin cancer, let’s slather ourselves with strong chemical sun-screens at all times before going outside, let’s protect our eyes with wrap-around sunglasses.

It seems that this devotion to sunscreen has back-fired. Current research suggests that incidences of skin cancer have increased since the general white population took to using sunscreen from the mid 70s onwards. Not only that but some kids are so well protected from the sun that they are suffering from vitamin D deficiency. We need the UV rays in the sun to help our bodies make its own vitamin D. Apparently we also need to absorb full spectrum daylight through our eyes for good health. So sunglasses and filtered prescription sunglasses are having a negative effect.

Living in sunny South Africa we have always been dutifully on the sunscreen bandwagon. Our kids have fair skin, summers here are hot and burny. We’d be bad parents if we didn’t surely? This article has me thinking seriously about re-defining our sun strategies. Perhaps we should reserve the use of sunscreen just for days at the beach rather than for every day going to school? And I should definitely look for a physical sun block instead of a chemical sunscreen. And a new face cream for myself without the chemical SPF ingredients. If you’re interested go and read the article – I’m not going to try and summarize it here, as there’s a lot of information and long scientific names for me to get wrong!

Another article on our need for full spectrum sunlight has me taking off my glasses to go and sit outside in the winter sun for a while, baring my arms to soak up a little vitamin D. This second article on the work of John Nash Ott is based on anecdotal evidence due to the impossibility of getting funding for a controlled scientific study, who’s going to fund a study proving that you can get healthier from free sunlight after all? But it makes sense to me. There are many examples of cancers that slowed their growth or healed once the patient was regularly exposed to full spectrum sunlight.

I guess what it all comes down to is getting some fresh air every day outside in the sunshine, being sensible about how long you stay in the sun and not messing around with artificial chemicals, UV filters and all the rest. Chucking the kids off the computers to go and play outside and build up a natural tan gradually, going for a walk instead of switching on the television... all those usual healthy common sense things, that our parents urged on us when we were kids, and not a quick fix pill in sight.

Are you a sun lover or a shade seeker? Do you use sunscreen all the time or just occasionally?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Marmalade Making

When winter is more than half way through and you reach for the last jar of marmalade on a nearly empty shelf in the larder, you know exactly what you will be doing next weekend. At least I do.

Life without marmalade is unthinkable, even if no-one else in the house eats it. A piece of lightly singed toast, butter melting into it and spread with chunky, tangy marmalade is one of the perks of a dull winter morning. The sunshine lingers in the citrus peel, I’m convinced of it.

So the last three Saturdays have been marmalade making days. A last minute panic at the end of the orange season, while we can still buy bags of oranges cheaply and limes are still sometimes available. Eek... August already and usually I start making in June, where did the year go?  One batch isn’t going to last me out the year, two batches might just, three batches allow for judicious gifts to fellow marmalade lovers. If I do a fourth I might even have enough to sell at the market.

I use my mother’s three fruit marmalade recipe and combine eating oranges (we can’t get Seville oranges here), grapefruit and lemons, usually adding limes or naartjies too. So far this year each batch has had its own distinct character. There’s the batch where I had some rather old, hard limes that I squeezed the juice of but didn’t add the peel; the one where I had no limes at all and put in a naartjie (tangerine) instead for an added fragrant note, forgot about the pot on the stove and just made it in time to prevent it from a repeat of last year’s burnt pot disaster; than then the last one where I finally did have fresh limes and got exactly my favourite balance of sharpness and sweetness.

I frequently forget to label them before putting them up on the shelf, so later in the year it’s a lucky dip when I grab a jar and never know which one I’m going to get. Not quite the way to go for serious product development, but as I’m the main customer I forgive myself in advance!

I’ve finally got the perfect tool for cutting up citrus fruit. At the Food Bloggers Indaba we were all generously given this ultra sharp serrated Wusthof knife by Yuppiechef who sponsored the event. It has made slicing and shredding almost effortless, whereas my hand used to ache afterwards – I now realise the difference between a truly sharp kitchen knife and a dull old one. I’m just wondering how long it will stay sharp after slicing mountains of acidic fruit for several batches of marmalade... and is there any way of sharpening a serrated knife like this? Anyone know?

It seems like every year has to have its marmalade post, just as it has to have its daisy post. Here is the one from 2010 where the marmalade recipe competes with the world cup and the blasts of vuvuzelas for attention. And this 2011 post has sun-drenched pictures of the finished jars of marmalade.

Are you a marmalade devotee or do you loathe the stuff?