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.