Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cape Gooseberry Pavlova for the Taste of Yellow Monthly Mingle

Pavlova with Cape Gooseberries and Passion fruit

The yellowest things in our garden right now are the Cape gooseberries, golden globes hidden away in their papery lantern cases, their tart sweetness adding to the vitamin C overload that is South Africa’s winter fruit salad. We really have more vitamin C in winter than in summer here, our trees laden with guavas from April till August, oranges by the sack-full a whole lot cheaper than potatoes, lemon trees, naartjies (clementines, mandarin, tangerines and the like) small enough to pop into lunch boxes and the prolific Cape gooseberries diverting us from our purpose every time we go to the veggie garden to pick spinach.

The theme of this month’s Monthly Mingle hosted by Jeanne at Cooksister is a Taste of Yellow, the yellow of sunshine and hope, in memory of inspirational food blogger Barbara Harris of Winos and Foodies, who recently died of cancer. Read more about her in Jeanne’s post and why yellow is so appropriate to remember her by.

Our gooseberries were just begging to be included, now growing in prolific abundance for the first time in our garden.

Usually we just eat them straight from the bush, but I thought they would work perfectly with a pavlova. They have the right amount of tartness to offset the sweetness of meringue and enough flavour to hold their own in the partnership. The granadillas, or passion fruit, complement them nicely.

I use Nigella’s pavlova recipe from How to Eat, leaving it in the oven to cool and then assembling it a couple of hours before eating to allow the cream enough time to start softening the centre of the meringue in mallowy succulence, while the outside stays crisp and crunchy. The recipe follows at the end of this post.

Jeanne asked us to share either memories of Barbara or cancer stories in our posts – I didn’t know Barbara or her blog, but a dear friend of my husband’s family who died of cancer nearly ten years ago would be right at home in our food blog community, so I'll share a few memories of her.

Most of my memories of Ursie involve food: 
Home-made bread and home-churned butter from her farm made up the first course of our wedding braai served with gravad lax, simple butter had never tasted so good before;
The huge bowl of fresh fruit salad served at breakfast when we visited them a few years later with young son in tow.
Our tradition of saying 'Blessings on the meal' before each meal came from her.
When we finally moved out to South Africa in the last year of her life, she took me around and introduced me the people she knew in our local community, starting off friendships that gave our small children their first roots in a new home.

Our son remembers making fresh juices with her in their Cape Town flat, while her Sangoma husband was treating toddler Middle Daughter with herbs and homeopathy, followed by an impromptu lunch of potato wedges with mashed avo dip, still one of the kids’ favourite meals.

All this was while she was fighting her last battle with cancer, trying first natural treatments and then resorting to chemo when they weren’t enough. Their border collies Cobalt and Vygie were staying with us on our farm by this time. Used to farm life, the Cape Town flat  that Ursie and Pete were living in while she underwent treatment was impossible for the dogs.

The last time Ursie visited us was the day before our Youngest was born, sitting out on the stoep as a thunderstorm was brewing, waiting to meet this baby that was reluctant to be born and several days past her due date. I remember cutting her hair for her then, wispy with new growth after her last chemo treatment

She did see Youngest before she went; we all visited two at a time when she was in ICU and I took our three week baby in to meet her, only to be asked to leave after a few minutes by a nurse horrified at thought of exposing a newborn to unspecified possible sources of contagion in the IC unit. I was always glad I had taken her in – it seemed right for them to meet, one just starting her life journey the other just completing hers.

She will always be a part of our lives – we have a tree planted for her here, ten years later her dogs are buried near it, but her memory is as fresh as if she were here yesterday. Thank you, Ursie, for sharing your food philosophy with us, simple, home-made with love and fresh flavours. You are still an inspiration to me in my kitchen.

I hadn't thought about it when I chose this recipe, but Nigella Lawson has lost many close family members to cancer, so I hope she would be happy to have her recipe included in the monthly mingle with this theme.

Pavlova Recipe
From Nigella’s How to Eat
4 egg whites
250g/9oz castor sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
A few drops vanilla extract
250ml/1 cup cream
Berries and passion fruit

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
Whip up the egg whites to stiff peaks.
Add the sugar a few tablespoons at a time. Don’t put it all in one go – the important thing is to give it a chance to dissolve as you whisk, so a little at a time works best.
Whisk until the mixture is shiny and satiny and stands up in peaks.
Sprinkle over the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in gently.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and dollop the meringue mixture in a circle roughly 25cm/9inches in diameter. .Smooth it evenly.
Put into the preheated oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 150C/300F. Bake for about 1 ¼ hours. Switch off the oven and leave the pavlova to cool completely in the oven.
Remember to take it out before you heat up the oven for the roast the next day!!
One or two hours before serving, whip the cream and prepare the berries.
Turn the cooked pavlova upside down onto the serving dish. Remove the baking paper.
Pile the cream over the base and then arrange the fruit on top.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tropical Island Holiday

I never really thought tropical islands were my thing. Beach babe I am not. Pale skin that goes to freckles, never worn a bikini in my life – a one piece at least saves one more area of delicate skin from sunburn. But still there is something about the idea of palm trees swaying in the breezes, warm seas and constant T-shirt weather that is especially attractive from the depths of a Cape Town winter. The kids of course had been excited for months – a plane journey, the first in four years, an exotic holiday, the first ever and meeting up with my brother’s family and two small cousins that we hadn’t seen in four years.

The excitement about the plane journey faded somewhere over the Indian Ocean, after a movie or two and when they discovered that sleep deprivation isn’t much fun. By Singapore, when the clock told us it was breakfast time and our bodies told us we should still be tucked up in bed, it was only the excitement of meeting up with Granny that was keeping us all going. By the time we reached Bali we were all finished and the interminable queues at passport control didn’t help.

But eventually after two hours of mad Bali traffic we reached our villa and the holiday began. Abandoning luggage after the merest glimpse at our rooms, we headed for the infinity pool at the end of the garden overlooking the beach and lay looking up at palm trees, starting to believe we were really there.

The villa itself was beautiful. 150 year old carved wood panels from an original Javanese house made up two sides of it, a heavy intricately carved wood ceiling a major feature. Smooth stone floors underfoot and beautiful carved couches and beds.

It’s so soothing to the eye to have so much detail to feast on, especially when you are sick, as both I and my husband managed to be two days into the holiday (flu probably caught on the plane). My brother had his work cut out keeping our kids entertained in the pool, on the beach and on the tennis court, as well as his own two younger ones, while we languished on the day beds and ran through all our homeopathic remedies.

I recovered after a couple of days and was finally able to try snorkelling. The villa had its own little stretch of beach on a reef edged lagoon. The coral had all been blasted from around here back in the Eighties to make cement for new resorts in Candidasa, so an artificial reef had been put in place and all the coral was busy reforming itself. We were able to swim a short distance off the beach straight over endless coral beds full of little fish and it was quite magical. It was safe enough for the kids too and they all got enthusiastic, getting to know where the angel fish hung out. I ended up being a salt-encrusted beach babe after all, even managing to fit in a last snorkel on the last morning in between packing.

One thing that surprised me about Bali, was quite how hectic the traffic is everywhere in the south of the island. All the locals ride scooters, often whole families on one scooter, dressed in their best for a ceremony and loaded up with bags and boxes too. Tourists all ride in cars with drivers and then trucks take up the rest of the space on the road. Everyone weaves in and out of each other in perpetual motion. Admittedly we didn’t get properly off the beaten track at all, but all the bustle was a far cry from my image of laid back island living. So the peace and quiet of the villa and the little village near it was a welcome balm.

We ate out most nights, finding a favourite little warung in the local village within walking distance. Strolling in the late afternoon light along the narrow road through the palm plantations, passing the odd pretty brown cow tethered among the trees, a few pigs, lots of free range chickens, then into the village street, where people were hanging out outside the little shops, young men playing volleyball, roosters in reed cages flanking the road, we got a small insight into real life on Bali. In a place where tourism is the main business it was reassuring to see that the local communities were still rooted in their traditions and tightly knit.

One thing we loved was the tradition of daily offerings: every home, shop and villa has its own temple or shrine, ours had three, and every day little woven baskets of palm or banana leaves are filled with flowers, morsels of food and a little stick of incense as offerings. Other offerings are left on the ground at the main house door. Each day fresh offerings are left – this is so much part of life, that if you are a modern career woman with no time to weave your own baskets and make offerings, rather than neglecting the tradition you pay someone to do it for you. There are women who make a business out of making and placing the offerings for others. Even at the airport the shops had offerings outside their doors. My six year old niece was thoroughly inspired and made plenty of little leaf and flower offerings herself.

One thing I totally failed to do was to keep a foodie record of all our meals in order to blog them later. This I attribute to a combination of jet lag, flu lag and holiday laid-backness. We had a good mixture of Balinese food and western-inspired food. Our picky eater son was able to survive on things like grilled chicken and the odd burger and the girls discovered a new favourite: fish fillet with garlic sauce. I did no cooking whatsoever and even though we were longing for fresh home-baked bread by the end of the holiday it was good to have a break from the kitchen.

We are finally getting over the jet lag now and the Cape winter rain is making the tropical climate a dim and distant memory, but we will treasure memories of the time spent together as a family, getting to know my nieces, my mother having all her children and grandchildren together in one place. And of course my transformation into snorkelling diva!

Cousins getting to know each other

Edited to add: My review of Villa Citakara Sari on Just the Planet. 
Disclosure: My lovely and generous mother paid for our family holiday, but we were given a special rate on our accommodation in return for our reviews here and on Just the Planet. All opinions are my own.