Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Food and Water Security – Save the PHA

They say that future wars will be fought over water, not oil. Or maybe I’ve been reading too many post-apocalyptic YA fiction? Whether that’s true or not, what is very true is that we need to protect our fresh water supplies, not just for now but for the future. Water is something that we take for granted in the Western world .... until it stops coming out of our taps. Living on a farm we are dependent on the smooth running of our borehole pump. We are dependent on the underground aquifer or stream that our borehole takes water from. If the pump breaks, or nightmare scenario, if the water level falls, our taps don’t flow any more. We have rain water barrels to fall back on, but we get that pump fixed pretty darned quick. Without water from underground we couldn’t live here, unless we got a whole lot better at storing our winter rain for all year use.

So this is a long introduction to explain why I was so dismayed to hear about the recent decision to re-zone a part of the Philippi Horticultural Area for building. The PHA is a large agricultural area within the Cape Town city area. It grows about 50% of the city’s fresh produce. Not just fancy salads for Woolies, but the staples like cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots. It also acts as a clean water catchment area feeding the winter rains into a major aquifer. This aquifer is vital to provide fresh water to all the surrounding communities.

To get a better feel of the importance of the area watch this video where Rob Small and Nazeer Sonday talk about their campaign to save the PHA, (here's their Avaaz petition to sign) and why it's so important to all of us.

Cape Town is lucky in that is has plenty of good water – that is why it was settled in the first place. But the city is growing so much that existing water supplies are being put under pressure. The last thing the city needs is to compromise a major water collection area like this. Building on the land would divert most of the rainfall to storm water drains, probably resulting in worse flooding elsewhere and wasting all that water. And that heart-string cry of ‘housing for the poor’? Well there is other land available to build on in the area, land that is not such good agricultural land, nor so important for water catchment either. And the houses proposed by the private developers who want to build are unlikely to be aimed at the very poor either.  So let’s concentrate on the main issue here.

Food security is another crucial issue at stake here. With transport costs rising practically every day, it makes economic sense to grow produce as close to local markets as possible. That is what the PHA provides. A place within the city that supplies half of the fresh produce needed to feed its people. It gives the poorer communities in the area access to fresh vegetables at reasonable prices sold directly by street sellers and small local stores, and it supplies the big supermarkets in the city too. Take away this prime agricultural land for building and what do you get? Food must be grown further away, transport costs escalate, food prices go up too and many more people can no longer afford to buy fresh food.

This isn’t just about the very poor no longer affording fresh vegetables, the truth is that many of them already can’t. Beyond that there are plenty of people with steady, reasonably paid jobs who are struggling with grocery bills and finding it difficult to feed their children properly. Since we came to South Africa in 2002 our average weekly shopping bill has not just doubled... it has quadrupled. And that is with me being a canny housewife and cutting down over the years, not going on a foodie spree! Plus we have a veggie garden and fruit trees to supplement our shopping. So I don’t know how those on the minimum wage manage to feed themselves and their children any more. Wages certainly haven’t gone up by even half in that time.

Back to the Philippi Horticultural Area  - the development plans seem to have crept under the radar almost until it was too late. The re-zoning of 300ha has had preliminary approval by the mayor and is due to go to the next level. The Save the PHA campaign is starting to gain traction but it needs the support of everyone to get taken seriously by the people who make the decisions. So please, please sign the Avaaz petition here – let’s reach the initial goal of 10,000 signatures. Sign and share with everyone you know.

It’s not just Capetonians who should be getting worried. It’s everyone world over who cares about our future – who cares that we and our children and our neighbours' children will have fresh water and fresh food to eat in 20 years, in 50 years. Let’s hope that we can do enough now so that we all still have enough water then not to need to fight any wars over it.

Sign the Avaaz petition to save the PHA here. And please share it on with everyone you know!

More facts on the PHA application here.

And read Sarah Duff's piece about the PHA and a second one  asking why Cape Town foodies aren't already out there protesting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Spicy Chocolate Meringue Intrigue

A light and chewy cinnamon meringue with a luscious splodge of white chocolate cinnamon cream, bound together with fine ribbons of chilli chocolate and of course a strawberry perched on top for a burst of contrasting freshness and acidity. I loved the combinations, as the burst of fire from the chocolate melted into the chewy delicate meringue. You could also make smaller meringues and sandwich them together with the chocolate cream.

The why behind using cayenne in a dessert? This was the other half of the Robertsons challenge for Freshly Blogged: we had to use cinnamon and cayenne in both a sweet and a savoury dish and the sweet one had to include white chocolate. Having a whole load of egg whites left after the Amarula ice cream of the previous week, and because I thought meringues would be the perfect foil for the warm spices, this is what I came up with.

One word of warning – white chocolate can be a tricky thing to work with. Mine was perfect one minute as I was beating it and then the next instant had turned to a bowlful of lumpy curdled mush. I managed to rescue it, by warming a spoonful with some more cream over a low heat and gradually beating the rest back in. But rather beat it by hand in the first place, so that you don’t go past the edge of no return – it’ll be less stressful that way, I promise! It will thicken further as it cools completely.

Yes there was a little tearing of hair out and cursing in my kitchen... and I heard from several other bloggers that they also had near disasters with their chocolate, so don’t worry if it happens to you! Living way too far from the shops to nip out and get more white chocolate I had to find a way of reclaiming mine, and luckily it worked really well and restored my chocolate cream to appropriately luscious creaminess.

Here is my recipe written up for the challenge:

Chocolate Meringue Intrigue

White chocolate is a natural partner with cinnamon, but I also wanted dark chocolate to hold the fierce heat of the cayenne in the dessert. So I came up with silky cinnamon meringues topped with a white chocolate cinnamon cream and swirled with the spicy warmth of dark chilli chocolate, balanced by the freshness of strawberries – a melt in the mouth intrigue of spice, chocolate and sweetness.

Cinnamon Meringues
4 large egg whites at room temperature
200g caster sugar
40g soft brown sugar
1 tsp Robertsons cinnamon
Pinch cream of tartar

White chocolate cream
80g white chocolate
250ml cream
½ tsp cinnamon

Chilli chocolate
60g dark chocolate (Lindt 70%)
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 tsp Robertsons cayenne
½ tsp Robertsons cinnamon

Cinnamon Meringues
Preheat oven to 150C
Sift together sugars, spice and cream of tartar.
Whisk egg whites to firm peaks.
Add sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time, whisking until it is incorporated. The meringue should be glossy and form peaks.
Spoon mixture in heaps onto two trays lined with baking paper.
Makes 12 large meringues.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm. Switch off heat and leave to cool in the oven.

White chocolate cream
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Allow to cool. Stir in cream and cinnamon. Whisk by hand until the mixture thickens (beware, If over beaten it separates). It thickens further when cooled completely.

Chilli chocolate swirl
Melt dark chocolate with butter in a double boiler. Stir in the spices. Allow to cool but use within the hour as it will set hard.

Assemble the meringues
Spoon a generous dollop of white chocolate cream on top of each meringue. Place half a strawberry on top. Swirl with the dark chocolate in spiral ribbons. These can be assembled a few hours in advance or eaten straight away.

This is the other half of the last challenge that I made for the Freshly Blogged competition. My Hot Tuscan Crostini I’ve already posted about.

Adieu Freshly Blogged. It was fun while it lasted and good luck to the rest of the fab food blogging contestants!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hot Tuscan Crostini or Finely Chopped

If you’ve been following  my blog you may have noticed that I’ve been somewhat caught up in the Freshly Blogged challenge for the last six weeks. Every week a new list of ingredients, every week a shopping treasure hunt to find the requisite ingredients in my local PnP, every week a new recipe to devise, write up and photograph. Well last Monday I got chopped, but I’d already cooked and photographed that week’s challenge. So never one to waste a perfectly good recipe I’m going to share it with you anyway.

My husband says he has his wife back. . I have to admit that it did get to be a rather all-consuming, obsessive, adrenaline rush, waking up on weekend mornings way too early, head buzzing with ideas. In fact it pretty much took over the last six weekends, so now I’m over the initial disappointment and chagrin, it’s quite nice to have an empty weekend stretching ahead. Perhaps a chance to fill those yawningly empty rusk and biscuit tins, to take pictures of the spring flowers, play with the puppy... and chill with the family.

So good luck to everyone else who is busy cooking up a storm for the next round. It has been great getting to know so many of the other food bloggers during the challenge and I’ll be cheering you on from the voting sidelines!

Now for my final recipes. Our challenge was slightly bizarre at first sight. Sponsored by Robertsons, we had cinnamon and cayenne on the list, plus chicken livers, white chocolate and cream. After the initial bewilderment, we read on to see that we had to make two separate dishes, each containing both spices. So a sweet and a savoury both with cayenne and cinnamon. We were allowed three fresh and two grocery ingredients to add to the list.

Predictably many of us were rather suspicious of the chicken livers, never having cooked with them before. But I’d eaten many a chicken liver crostino in Tuscany over the years, and although  that was hardly the most original dish to choose, I reckoned I would go with something that I had a fair chance of convincing my family to eat.

While the traditional Tuscan chicken liver pate is usually flavoured with sage, sometimes with the addition of chopped mushrooms or capers, for the challenge I used the spices we were given instead, together with some parsley, and the combination worked very well, with  the spices complemetning the earthy notes of the livers. Two out of three kids ( you don’t think I’d get our son to even taste these, do you?) really liked them and I’d definitely make them again for an Italian-themed dinner. Because of the challenge, I had to make my own bread from the pantry ingredients, but unless you are already baking a batch of bread I’d recommend just buying a long French loaf. No need to make life harder for yourself unless you want to!

Here is my recipe:

Hot Tuscan Crostini

Chicken livers on the ingredients list took me back twenty years to family trattorias in Tuscany, where one of the classic antipasti was a plate of crostini with a variety of toppings. Rich, deep and earthy, the traditional Tuscan chicken liver paté piled generously on toasted bread is one of those taste memories that remain firmly etched. I wondered if it would be as good with the spicy notes of Robertsons cayenne and cinnamon instead of the more usual sage. It was even better, and two out of three kids  even had seconds.

Crostini toasts

500g bread flour
5g instant yeast
1 tsp salt

Chicken liver paté
4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon Robertsons cayenne
¾ teaspoon Robertsons cinnamon
250g chicken livers cleaned and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
Parsley to garnish

Crostini toasts
Make your own crostini bread (or buy a baguette!). Mix flour and salt. Add yeast. Mix to a dough with about 1 ½ cups of lukewarm water. Knead for 10 minutes. Leave to rise until doubled in size.  Knock down and form into two long thin ‘baguette’ loaves. Leave to rise. Bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes. Cool. Slice into 1 cm slices. Toast under the grill on both sides until golden and crispy.

Chicken Liver Pate
Cook the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add 1 tablespoon of parsley and the spices. Cook stirring for 1 minute. Add the chopped livers. Stir until starting to colour. Add 1 tablespoon wine. Cook stirring for three minutes. Remove from heat. Mince liver to a coarse paste with a chopping knife on a board (a food processor makes it too smooth). Return to pan with 1 tablespoon each of parsley and white wine. Cook stirring for another 2-3 minutes. Moisten again with 1 tablespoon white wine. Add the flour and stir for another minute until flour is cooked and liquid evaporated. Add butter and rest of parsley and stir it in, then remove from heat.

Assemble crostini
Just before serving spread or heap a generous tablespoon of paté onto each toast and garnish with parsley. Can be served hot, warm or room temperature, as a mixed antipasto with other crostini and a few olives.

I will give the recipe for the sweet dish that I made as the other half of the challenge in a separate post...

Look out on Monday for everyone else’s dishes and vote for the one you think looks and sounds most delicious.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Winter in the Western Cape: at this time of year it seems like you blink and you’ve missed it. Having grown up with those long grey English winters which linger for endless months with depressingly short days, our South African winters are a joy.

There are rain storms and bunches of grey days for sure, but in between are those jewel-like days when the sun shines, you peel off your layers and bask outside in T-shirts. You’re almost sure of at least two days a week to get your laundry dry on the line, at least we are here, with a north-facing stoep sun-trap and a nice long line.

And yet you can be chillier here than ever I remember being in England. No central heating, and in these days of electricity price hikes, no electric heaters either. Just the one ceramic fireplace to warm the whole house. When the snow is on the mountains and the wind freezing cold despite the sunshine, we huddle in more layers than the Michelin man, with hats and gloves on inside, wrapped in blankets at the computer and on the sofa. But I don’t miss that central heating one bit.

And here we have flowers in winter.

Protea bush

September bush Polygala myrtifolia

First the tiny gems of oxalis poking their heads up from the sand. Then their cousins of the oxalis family, the longer stemmed citrus yellow sorrel, join in.

These are the ones that our kids used to pick in bunches outside their kindergarten, sucking the sour lemony stems after school, while their mothers chatted and lingered.

Glowing aloes are next, hot coal embers of orange and red. 

The golden shower isn't indigenous ( Pyrostegia ignea from South America)  but it adds a brilliant wall of orange ...

and the yellow daisy bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera) adds the last dash of sunset to the palette.

The September bush (Polygala myrtifolia) seems to flower almost all year round but its hot pinks are just that bit of clashing colour needed to avoid getting all matchy matchy.

Finally the proteas bring some subtlety to the show with their sugary pinks and sculptural form.

And the bees have a ball all through winter, gathering nectar from aloes, protea and the golden shower, so that they make it through to spring in good shape.

I took all these pictures two weeks ago and already spring is snapping at the heels of winter, chasing it onwards with a snowfall of daisies, even while the snow on the far mountains keeps us from thinking winter is completely over.

I’ll have another cluster of flower pictures very soon, as all the early spring flowers are coming out in a rush now, even as the winter ones are still in mid song.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Chocolate Pear Tarts with Amarula Ice Cream

After the challenge of cooking with mealie meal and pilchards of the previous two weeks, last week’s Freshly Blogged ingredient list was a joy to read through. Who wouldn’t be happy to cook with Amarula, dark chocolate, almonds  and pears? But in a way this made it all the harder – how to decide on just one dish with so many mouth-watering possibilities beckoning. One proviso was that we had to make a custard as part of the dish. With that thought, my (and many others’) mind turned to ice cream, skipping over profiteroles and upside-down cakes and picturing an exquisite piece of layered French patisserie with a luscious blob of Amarula ice cream.

At this point reality set in. The weekend already involved cooking a Sunday lunch for 12 to celebrate my husband’s birthday and we were spending Saturday out on an excursion to Noordhoek (the other side of the world from us, tucked behind Table Mountain) to meet a puppy that we hoped would be joining the family. I down-scaled my pastry-cook ambitions to something that would fit in with Sunday lunch. It had to be easy and made in advance, as the oven would be groaning with two legs of lamb and trays of roast potatoes. But it also had to be scrumptious and celebratory to fit the birthday occasion.

I had a brainwave – why not make individual versions of this awesome chocolate tart and use the pears in the tart, to create a home-spun pastry re-working of pears in chocolate sauce. In the end I made the ice-cream and the pastry the night before, poached the pears and made the chocolate tarts first thing in the morning and snatched 10 minutes to photograph them for the challenge once the roast was safely into the oven and before our guests arrived.

Both the tarts and the Amarula ice-cream were a big hit, in fact I ‘d go so far as to recommend making a batch or three of the ice-cream to keep in the freezer for emergencies all year round, but especially for Christmas – there is something about its rich creaminess that spells luxury, comfort and sheer deliciousness.

I can hear my non-South African friends screaming at me in frustration, wanting to know what on earth is Amarula? It's a rich creamy liqueur made from the fruit of the Marula tree, nothing like Baileys but with that genre of creaminess and alcoholic kick. Here's Cooksister's explanation of Amarula.

Once again, if you’d like to vote for this recipe in the Freshly Blogged challenge, I’d be very grateful. And go and see what everyone else made – I think there are several more versions of Amarula ice cream to be found out there!

Edited to add: Unfortunately, however lovely I think it is, this recipe wasn't enough to keep me in the competition - I got chopped today along with two others... so you've only got my spice, chicken liver and white chocolate recipes (don't worry, two separate dishes!) to look forward to!

My recipe as posted for the competition:

Chocolate Pear Tarts with Amarula Ice Cream

Chocolate, Amarula, pears and almonds, this week’s ingredients list sent me swirling off in visions of elegant French patisserie... until reality and practicality kicked in. I was already cooking a Sunday lunch for 12 and wanted a delicious dessert that wasn’t too fiddly. Perhaps with a more rustic patisserie feel that wouldn’t demand any last-minute fancy footwork. One which would wow kids and adults without me tearing my hair out just as the guests arrived. I decided to interpret the custard element as a lusciously sophisticated Amarula ice-cream, which I could make in advance. The pears would sit snugly in a bed of rich chocolate individual tarts, with the pear heart shapes adding a quirky touch of visual interest. The toasted almonds scattered on top give an extra textural crunch and contrasting depth of flavour. A definite wow with both kids and adults... one to add to the Christmas dessert list!


Amarula Ice cream
6 egg yolks
100 g caster sugar
250ml milk
250ml cream
200ml Amarula

Easy Sweet Pastry
120g cake flour
30g icing sugar
80g butter
1 egg yolk
Pinch salt
Iced water to mix

Chocolate pear tart
4 pears
1 cup water
80ml white sugar
80g dark chocolate
125ml cream
1 egg beaten
50g blanched almonds

Amarula Ice cream
Beat egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. Heat cream, milk and Amarula, until almost simmering. Do not let boil. Pour cream mixture over eggs, whisking. Put into a double boiler (or a bowl over a simmering pot of water). Cook stirring continuously until the mixture has thickened to a pouring custard. Cool, stirring occasionally to avoid skin forming. Freeze for at least 8 hours. This worked without an ice-cream maker, beating once after 2 hours in the freezer.

Easy Sweet Pastry
Sift together flour and sugar. Add butter cut into small cubes. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes. Beat egg with salt and a little iced water. Put flour and butter into food processor and blitz to breadcrumb consistency. Add egg and blitz. Add just enough iced water to bring together in a soft dough. Wrap pastry and chill for ½ hour. Roll out on floured board to 2mm. Cut 12 circles to fit a muffin tin and line tin with them. No need to blind bake, it works better without.

Chocolate pear tart
Pre-heat oven to 180C.

Peel pears. Cut into quarters and remove cores. (If your pears are very ripe and juicy you won’t need to poach them, so omit next step)

Boil together sugar and water for 2 minutes to make a thin syrup. Put pear quarters in and simmer gently for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Cool in syrup.
Cut each quarter in half and fashion into rough/rustic heart shapes with the outer curve of pear upwards

Break chocolate into small pieces in a bowl. Heat cream to simmering point. Pour over chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir a little chocolate mixture into egg, then mix egg into the chocolate and stir well.

Put whole almonds into a bag and crush roughly with a rolling pin into uneven pieces and chunks. Toast in the oven for 5 minutes until golden. Cool.

Assemble the tarts
Put a tablespoon of chocolate mixture into base of each tart. Put one piece of pear into each, heart shaped outer curve upwards. Carefully spoon chocolate mixture around pear.  Don’t fill  cases right to top, as pastry shrinks a little as it cooks.
Bake for 20 minutes until pastry is golden and chocolate custard is lightly set. Cool in tin for 2 minutes before removing carefully onto cooling rack.

Serve two tarts with a generous scoop of Amarula ice cream. Sprinkle toasted almonds lavishly over ice cream.

Serves 6
Prep time 1 hour
Total time 8 hours

Please go and see and vote for my recipe here on the Freshly Blogged site. Voting is open until 11am Monday 12th August.

Another extra challenge, for this particular challenge, was resisting the appeal of playing with our new puppy, George, who did decide to come and join our family the day before. We've had him a week now and he's settling in well, playing with Bracken, the kitten and trying to persuade the older dogs to tussle and romp.