Thursday, February 23, 2012

Birthday at the Beach

A summer late afternoon at the beach, one of those rare evenings when the weather is perfect, the lightest breeze, warm but not blistering sunshine, blue skies and Table Mountain keeping an eye on everything. It’s a late birthday celebration for one of our girls’ friends, who has the misfortune of a January birthday: too soon after Christmas to get in party mode, still the summer holidays so often away camping, yet she yearns for a proper birthday party with her friends. Her birthday pressies were given weeks ago, so this outing to the beach is by the way of a late birthday picnic – six girls plus a few random brothers.

We’ve been checking the weather forecast all week to catch the right day – for a place that is all about beaches and sunshine, Cape Town summer offers comparatively few perfect beach evenings – the wind blows too often and too hard, putting the sand into sandwiches, sometimes offering a free exfoliating treatment as the South-Easter whips the sand along the beach surface blasting your legs in painful abandon. This time windguru came up trumps – light breeze and perfect temperatures forecast  for Sunday, a small window amid the winds of the rest of the week.

Photo by Patrick Heathcock

From jumping in the waves to jumping down dunes, the girls were constantly in motion, stopping only occasionally to delve into the picnic.

Photo by Patrick Heathcock

With half of the day to prepare I’d decided to go beyond sandwiches and made some mini-quiches. I love the crisp pastry and creamy filling of quiches and mini ones get more crisp pastry to savour. I often don’t bother with them, because they are a bit fiddly, especially if you blind bake them. This time I googled for a bit and found plenty of people who don’t bother to blind bake – one recommended putting the rolled and cut pastry in the freezer for ten minutes before filling and baking. It worked perfectly, the pastry turning out light and crisp. My food photograph leaves a lot to be desired, being taken in situ on the beach, but it gives an idea! The quantities for one 23cm quiche recipe were just right for making 12 mini quiches in a muffin tin, with the pastry rolled out as thin as possible. These ones had onions, spinach, feta and a touch of nutmeg in.

The rest of our picnic was thrown together – the loaf of bread was still hot from the oven – too hot for sandwiches, so I just chucked the butter, jam and cheese into the cool box along with the bread board and bread knife. There were some leftover potatoes from last night’s braai which became potato salad and that was it. Perfect food for the beach.

Photo by Patrick Heathcock

And then there was the birthday cake.

The icing on the cake was a visit from two horses who happening to be taking their riders for an evening trek along the beach and stopped to greet the girls – they learned the names of the horses but not their riders....!

As the sun dipped close to setting, the air grew chill, the sand lost its heat and, to much protest, we packed up before the official moment of sunset – the only trouble with a Sunday evening outing is that grown-ups suddenly start remembering about school on Monday before it’s over!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Memories

When I was at school, Valentine’s Day was when you yearned to get anonymous cards in the post from secret admirers. In reality, if you were lucky, you got an anonymous card with a fabricated postmark sent as a spoof by one of your friends. Unless you had the kind of mum who sent you a Valentine’s card just to make you look good in front of your friends... this was boarding school after all, with post given out by the form teacher before school started for the day.... the anticipation, the suspense, the let down if your name wasn't called, those tell-tale red envelopes the envy of the unlucky no-post-today girls.

At university Valentine’s Day continued to be a non-event. Forget about secret admirers – if you were lucky enough to have a boyfriend when the fatal day came round, you discovered he wasn’t the romantic sort, or else got it completely wrong with pink carnations from the petrol station, instead of the single red rose he gave to the other girl in the student house we shared – dare he! That one didn’t last more than a few weeks more!

When I finally met my husband, it turned out he wasn’t much of a fan of conventional and artificial celebrations of romance either; but he made up for it in hugs and ‘I love you' s all year round, so Valentines’ day swiftly passed out of my range of vision as a major event. We invented a fun little tradition of drawing red hearts on each others hand for the day and left it at that.

Except now our girls are picking up on Valentines’ Day as a special day – Middle Daughter in particular who loves any kind of occasion. She spent yesterday making cards for all the family and her best friends, made heart biscuits with each person’s initial iced in pink. She made sure to wear red and white to school – seems to be the South African way of celebrating Valentine’s Day at school and at work. Both girls joined in with our red hearts on hands again, though our son declined the offer. They get to wear civvies at his school today, but I don’t think a 13 year old's credibility stretches to red hearts drawn on hands!

So I feel a bit of a humbug when it comes to my Red Velvet Heart collection of gorgeous hearts... I spend all year looking for my favourite heart products; Valentine’s Day is the big day for people to give heart gifts and here I am neither giving or receiving a heart myself except in DIY form... still I reckon that hearts are for all year round, not just for February 14th, so I'm not too distressed about it! Middle Daughter's heart biscuits were delicious by the way, as well as beautiful and made with love.

What about you? Are you a big fan of Valentine's or does the day go by unnoticed?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tomatoes in the Kitchen

Last weekend I had a blog post brewing all about summer, heat, tomatoes, sweltering heat and cricket. Due to the aforementioned heat it never got written, as I languished in front of the fan completely absorbed in the The Hunger Games Trilogy. This weekend it is pretending to be autumn. Cool almost chilly winds almost persuade us into socks and warm tops. It rained in the night giving my carelessly forgotten laundry an extra rinse. But there are still the tomatoes.

Heaps of tomatoes arrive in my kitchen from the veggie garden every week, shrieking to be processed. Pasta sauce, pizza sauce, peeled and chopped and stashed in the freezer to save me buying tins of tomatoes for months. Last year with the help of my mother we got enough stashed away to last me till July.

This year I’ve made two huge batches of Jane- Anne's Tomato and Onion soup; one batch of pasta/pizza sauce that I wasn’t happy with but froze anyway. But I haven’t yet got any plain tomatoes processed. So that is today’s task. Blanching them in hot water to loosen the skins, peeling and chopping and parcelling away in bags to be frozen. Wrinkled fingers guaranteed.

I have worked through quite a few tomatoes during the week, inflicting this fresh tomato pasta sauce on our son far too often, but in last week’s heat the tomatoes aren’t lasting as long as they might. Every few days I have to check through the trays to discover the source of the penetrating smell that at first I blame on the dogs. Then there is the laborious business of tracking down the individual tomatoes responsible, removing them and their neighbours from the puddle of their demise, wiping and re-arranging the rest of the tray... the joys of fresh farm produce!

Even though this year we have quantities of tomatoes far in excess of our wants or needs, we haven’t managed to recapture the exquisite flavour of the self seeded tomatoes of two years ago, or even of last year’s crop. I guess there are good years and bad years for flavour, or perhaps our methods are rather too haphazard, leaving a lot to chance. Anyway it’s off to process tomatoes I go.

The pictures are from last weekend, when I made the soup and sauce. The big red cooler box on the table is also full of tomatoes.