Everything’s peachy

Where did December go?  Actually, where did 2019 go? It’s hardly imaginable that it’s a year ago that I talked turkey.  Three things defined last month:  fire, Christmas and peaches.  All in the space of three weeks.

The fire, nothing like those happening in Australia, did leave a trail of destruction.  It started on the other side of the mountains to the south of the village.  Fanned by strong winds, it crossed the mountains and burnt its way through the valleys and kranse, down east of the village.

At one point the fire line was about 7 km long – just on this side of the Sondereinde Mountains.  To give you a sense of scale:  McGregor’s main thoroughfare, from the top of the village to its entrance, is just over 1 km.

On the other side it was much longer and destroyed an entire wine farm.  On this side of the mountain, friends of ours lost a family home.  Although it was used as holiday accommodation, it had been built, stone for stone by the family patriarch.  It was razed to the ground.  Also destroyed was the nursery essential to the propagation of proteas which is the farm’s major source of income.  I wrote a little about this here.

The smoke in the valley – as seen from our front stoep.

As I’ve mentioned, we’ve had our own experience with fire; so we don’t panic.  We watch and wait.  Also, having that the privilege in one of my last projects, to work with firefighters, I do know that if evacuation was on the cards, we’d have been told.  Instead we were asked for refreshments for the teams.  We, and the village obliged.  It was the least we could do.

An unedited sunset view of the fire line to the east of the village. The wind was blowing it towards Jan Boer and Marky Sparky’s farms.

 

The same fire line about 10 minutes earlier, from the road on the edge of the two farms.

Then, two days later, the wind dropped.  Just like that.  It allowed air reconnaissance and aerial firefighting in inaccessible areas.  By Christmas Eve, they were mopping up and happily, that evening, Jan Boer told us that the fire had gone around the homestead.  Marky told us that it had stopped close to, if not on, the boundary of their farm. It was a very long night for them, the 23rd of December.

Christmas in the village was fire and smoke free.

Normal programming resumed and we headed to the local on the Friday after Christmas.  Then Jan Boer arrived – as is his wont.  As he walked by, he looked at the regulars and said:

“There are peaches in the bakkie (pickup).  Kry vir jou“.

For various reasons, this hasn’t happened in a few years, so us “oldies” rushed to the kitchen to find a suitable receptacle.  Armed with a wine box, The Husband and I filled it to the brim with beautiful yellow cling peaches.

Yes, they’re a little blemished and a bit bruised, but that’s a small price to pay for what are, effectively oorskot (under grade, surplus).

Then came the big decision:  what to do with nearly 8 kg of peaches.  After some serious consideration, jam won.  I’d made chutney before, but not jam.  Also, there had been requests for peach jam at the market.  I have memories of peach jam from boarding school.  We didn’t get it often, and when we did, it was devoured with gusto.  I remember the golden slivers and the syrupy sweet taste of the somewhat runny jam.  The deal was sealed.

I looked for recipes in my trusty books and then consulted GoG.  Browsers at the market often ask, “Does this contain sugar?”

Well, jams and marmalades do contain sugar.  A lot.  Sugar’s a preservative so they’re essential to the process.  It also helps with setting.  When the fruit is naturally sweet and one doesn’t have a sweet tooth, sugar content does really become a conundrum.  In my search I happened on a recipe in which the ratio of sugar to fruit was very different from what I expected:  less than half to the quantity of fruit.  Usually it’s 1:1.  What’s more, the quantity of water is minuscule which a little extra liquid courtesy of the juice of two lemons.

I gave it a bash and decided not to peel the peaches.  I’d learned about that the hard way when I made chutney a few years ago.  I also decided to keep some slices so that the jam is chunky.

Peach Jam

Yield:  1,5 kg

Ingredients

2,5 kg yellow cling peaches

1 kg Sugar

2 lemons – juice and reserve pips

2 sticks cinnamon

½ cup boiling water

What to do

Stone and roughly chop the peaches. It’s not really necessary to peel them.  I admit, I don’t like the fur, so if I eat them fresh, I peel them.

Warm the sugar in the oven at 130°C for about 15 minutes and then pour the warmed sugar over the peaches and cinnamon (in a large saucepan/stock pot) and then add the lemon juice and boiling water.  Warm slowly over a very low heat until the sugar has dissolved – shake the pot every now and again to loosen and to make sure that the contents don’t stick. Do not stir  – stirring before it’s dissolved will probably cause the jam to crystallise.  I learned this the hard way.

This takes about half an hour.  Once sugar has dissolved, and there is a goodly amount of liquid in the pot, stir well.  Tie the lemon pips into a piece of muslin and suspend on a long string into the pot.  The lemon juice and the pips are the source of pectin to help the jam to set – peaches have no pectin.  You can make peach jam without either lemons or pectin (which is also sold separately), but I like natural pectin and the flavour of the lemon with the cinnamon.  Both are ever so subtle.

At this point, turn up the heat to high and bring to a rapid boil; stir often until setting point is reached. It takes about 1,5 hours and the quantity in the pot is reduced by about half.  Remove the cinnamon bits.  Pot in sterilised jars and seal.

Notes:

  • I was startled at the yield:  a total of 3,5 kg of ingredients yielded about 1,5 kg of jam.  Both times I made peach jam using this recipe.
  • Adapted from this recipe

A last word or three

Regular readers know that I blog from WordPress to the crypto blogging platform, Steemit.  Once a month, @streetstyle hosts an initiative where Steemians “power up”.  Essentially, it’s (re)investing all one’s earnings in the platform.  It’s dubbed “SPUD” or Steem Power Up Day.  Today, I powered up a peachy 40-plus Steem.  I’m not unhappy about this considering I managed only three posts during December.

Also, as I am starting a couple of new projects, one of which will keep me quite busy, I may not be able to blog as regularly as I’d like.  The bug will bit, though, I’m sure and you’ll hear from me.

Finally, may this new decade bring us all what we wish for.  And more.

Happy 2020.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
  • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress.

  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Should you join the Steem platform, you are welcome to contact me on Discord on be sure to look out for the Steem Terminal – a dynamic team of folk who will happily guide you through the apparent quagmire of blogging on blockchain.
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats as well as posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

 

Divine Water – I

We live in one of the more water scarce parts of South Africa and in a region that is drought-prone.  Water scarcity and drought are nothing new to The Husband and I. He grew up and farmed in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Water and farming?  Cattle must drink and eat.  One of his responsiblities on the ranch included the management and maintenance of his section’s boreholes, pumps and reservoirs.  In addition to the thousands of kilometres of fence and the thousands of head of cattle.

Me? My understanding of the water issue is, shall we say, a little closer to home.  I must have been about eight or nine – 1972 or 3 – and drought struck Grahamstown (now Makhanda) with severe water restrictions.  A couple of things happened:  my father transformed the annual plantings in the botanical gardens he ran, from thirsty, to not-so-thirsty plants – in those parts of the gardens not already planted with hardy annuals and indigenous flora.  I encountered ornamental cabbages (kale) for the first time.  It will forever bring back memories of that very dry patch in my then very short life.

Ornamental Kale (Source)

The necessary digression about the Dad’s work is because it did give us an alternative supply of water.  From the Douglas dam.  This water was reticulated through the entire botanical garden and into our garden. The house in which we lived “belonged” to the botanical gardens and we literally went through the back gate and into them.

Although this water was brown and not fit for human consumption, we could use it for bathing and flushing toilets.  And we did.  Dad rigged up a large black pipe which snaked through the bathroom window.  It had an on/off valve with what seemed like a very large red wheel handle.  The house had one bathroom (and four bedrooms which is another story) and no shower.  For a while, and mercifully, it was summer, we washed and cleaned ourselves in plastic bowls.  A practice still used by people where there is no running water and which remains all too common in this country and other parts of the world.

Water

When we moved to McGregor, we knew that we were moving to a village in a rain shadow, and where water was scarce.  The first couple of years that we lived here, rain and water were abundant.

This was the garden as it was when we moved in. When we had visited a month earlier, the grass was long and dry; a fire hazard. The garden, cleared, these photographs (proof of work) show the canvas we had to work with. Photo: Shaun King

The garden, which was rather like a desert when we arrived, needed both water and TLC.  Lulled into a false sense of security, it got both.

Developing a vegetable patch was a not-negotiable and, for reasons not relevant now, there was a hiccough before we settled on the ultimate location and laid it out.  When it finally happened, about eight months after we moved in, it was prolific.

Not satisfied, well, that’s only part of the story, we bought the adjacent plot and started working that, too (pictured top right).  At the time, the price of municipal water was relatively inexpensive and we could afford to fling it around with gay abandon.  And we did.  Well, sort of.  The garden flourished and five years later, in 2016, we participated in McGregor’s annual open garden festival with a tea garden.

However, dry times were ahead.  Literally.  The province was in the grips of the worst drought in living memory and about a month later, the municipality instituted water restrictions.  Garden watering was prohibited.  Daily consumption for household use was limited, with penalties for using more than the 15 kilolitre limit:  the more you used, the higher the rate.  We kept alive what we could.  Precious plants were transferred to pots, out of the blazing sun, close to the house.  The Husband installed a grey water system:  any and all water we could harvest went into the vegetable garden.

For an effective three years, we could not water the garden.

It was soul destroying.

What goes up must come down, or vice versa, right?

The Husband, as I keep on saying, ranched.  The section which he managed was also the regional weather station so recording rainfall and the daily minimum and maximum temperatures was part of the job.  The Dad’s job required the same.  My mother wrote the data on the back of her cigarette box.  In her office, she transferred them on to graph paper plastered on her office walls.  This background, coupled with my degree in Geography meant that a rudimentary weather station would happen at The Sandbag House. Eventually.  It was “complete” with the installation of the rain gauge in 2013.  The Husband’s diligence and excellent spreadsheets show some interesting trends.  Recording began about half way through 2013, and although it was a wet year, it wasn’t as wet as 2012 when I had virtually lived in my wellies.

Then the rain stopped.  For all intents and purposes.  We live in a Mediterranean climate with rain, theoretically,  delivered during our winter (mid-year).  However, there is the odd thunderstorm which is accompanied by really heavy downpours that can dump over 100 mm of water on the village in a couple of hours.  These episodes are not always useful because the water runs away, taking top soil with it.  All of that said, and even though there’s been more rain this year, and the drought has broken, the trend is downwards.

Is this climate change?  I’m beginning to think so, especially when we look at the temperatures – recorded over a slightly longer period.

In summary, the days are getting warmer – across the seasons.  The nights, by comparison, are warmer during winter – we’ve had less frost and snow – and cooler during summer.  The latter is most certainly true of this year, to date. A word about this summer (2019 – 2020), The Husband notes that this has been the hottest November and December that we’ve experienced since we’ve been here and, traditionally, February is the hottest month of the summer;  February 2019 was very hot.  This suggests that the upward trend continues.

What is even more interesting is the increase in the number of days when the maximum temperature is 30°C or higher. Also an upward trend.

Drought

Looking at these figures – hardly scientific – and considering them in conjunction with what the United Nations and other authorities are saying about climate change, our figures simply reflect the world trend.  Drought and ongoing water scarcity will become a fact of life.

Long term sustenance

When we started 2019, we entered the third year of drought.  Our garden had returned to its 2011 dust bowl status.  Although we did manage to grow chillies and tomatoes, Swiss chard and the odd lettuce, we had to buy in most of our vegetables.  Winter crops like beans were easier, but the brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower), not so much.  The garden was not nearly as productive as it had been.

I felt as desolate as the garden.

The dust bowl that used to be our front garden

Serendipitously, something happened in June that enabled us to think about how we might go about harvesting our own water.

That, though, is its own story (in a few episodes) which will follow in the next few months.

A last look at 2019

Perhaps it’s apt that my last post of 2019 is one of hope:  water is life and as long as there is life there is hope.  Reflecting on the last three years, they have been difficult.  Not just because of the drought, but because of decisions I had to take.  There have been reluctant new approaches and new beginnings.  This year has seen some settling and consolidation.  For the first time in a few, the blank canvas of a new year has a certain appeal.

There are a few green shoots – not just in the garden as it now begins to flourish.  Again.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on –

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
    • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress by clicking the graphic below.

    • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

Little Creatures – II

Things have been a little crazy at The Sandbag House this last while – we have had a borehole drilled – and we found water!  So, that and a couple of other things has meant little time to actually pour the “brew” out of my head.  Suffice it to say, there is a stock building and the “brew” is maturing.

Anyway, as I am still working through old posts for publication here, I thought see what I still had in my “draft” folder.  This one struck me – it’s the time of year that little creatures emerge, so here we are.  This was first published some time in 2014, and when I was still learning how to drive my then new Samsung bridge camera.

It’s an eclectic collection of photographs from in and around The Sandbag House:

SpiderJan2015
A thirsty rain spider nestled between the stalks of some cut flowers
RedBishopBirdFeederJan2015
A very bullish Red Bishop weaver bird in the feeder, still in his glorious breeding plumage. A bit blurry. Not sure if that was his feathers or the photographer….
SunbirdAphidsJan2015
Sunbird feasting on aphids. Somewhere, I have in the sun – glorious green and red plumage – I must dig it out.
Mr and Mrs Cape Sparrow
Mr and Mrs Cape Sparrow
WagtailJan2015
Cheeky little wagtail grubbing around – actually, I think that’s a hapless dragon fly
Gossamer-winged dragonfly about to be set free
Gossamer-winged dragonfly on the window frame – about to be set free

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
  • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress.

  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Narrative, a crypto blogging platform
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities

Designed by @zord189

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Raining happiness

It’s been an awful long time since we had a “proper” rainy day.  I have, over the last couple of years, done an awful lot of whining about drought and not enought rain.  Every drop of rain has been celebrated.

Especially when it’s what we call “real” rain.  The last episode of any note, before today, was in March when I celebrated with this photograph:

Although we had 50-odd milimitres in two days. The dust was washed away, and the earth loved it, but it didn’t have much impact on the garden which has been thirsty for months.  Because it is prohibitively expensive (and stupid) to use municipal water for the lawn, what was our little oasis a few years ago, still looks like a dust (now mud) bowl.

The Husband started recording the rain in 2013, and this is the the annual rainfall, and to date (and as I write), the rain is still falling:

2019 at the time of writing (23 July)

116 mm
2018

249 mm

2017

141 mm

2016

170 mm
2015

323 mm

2014

382 mm

2013 – 9 months to December

425 mm

I honestly can’t remember the last time the day dawned and was cold, grey and wet.  Today is such a day.  As I write, it’s mid-morning and so dark, it’s necessary to have the light on.  It’s so miserable that for the first time in a couple of years, I have a black cat curled up on my lap.  Away from the cold and wet.

This is the view from my desk – the wind is driving the rain ahead of it at 45°.

I promised, at the beginning of winter that although I’d would complain about the cold, I’d not complain about the wet.  So, this is a sight for sore eyes:

As I share my glee at the rain, I am also aware of the folk whose who might not have shelter, whose homes are flooded and who must brave the cold and wet.  Sometimes the world is not a kind place.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • I blog on two platforms:  WordPress and Instagram, and the former auto posts to Steemit.  Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.
  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities

Designed by @zord189

Let me help with your English writing
Rates depend on the depth of edit required
More about why I am offering this service here
Contact me

 

When the dog barked

Gale force winds are not unusual in South Africa, especially the Western Cape coastline, and into the Eastern Cape.  These winds are a feature of summer and winter, with the winter storms accounting for the Cape’s original appellation as the Cape of Storms.

We’ve had more than our fair share this year and wind, in combination with fire, can wreak havoc.  As it did two years ago on the Garden Route, and as it does every year in the townships of Cape Town, leaving thousands with just the clothes on their backs.  Eighteen months ago, a school friend, now living in the Garden Route area, had to evacuate her home.  She, her husband and their pets lived in their vehicles for days, fighting the fire around their home.  As I write, not far from their home, six fires are raging and one has destroyed more than 85,000 hectares of vegetation – much of it in the mountains.  According to this report, the plume of smoke is visible from space and the biggest fire has left a scar four times the size of that left by the 2017 fire.  Eight lives have been lost.

In my home town, Grahamstown, I heard that people were also being evacuated this morning, but mercifully, during the course of the day, there has been heavy and good rain, which has doused the fire – for the moment.  I remember, when I was about eight or nine, my father, then superintendent of the botanical gardens, joining the firefighters to fight a fire that raged for days – over those same hills.  I remember the constant smell of smoke and ash falling gently from the sky over the town and his red-eyed exhaustion.

I have had the privilege to work with firefighters;  one of whom was Fire Chief during that 2017 Garden Route fire.  Their courage, skill, knowledge and dedication in the worst of circumstances, is not to be underestimated, whether of wild, veld fires, house fires, or of those tragic fires in informal settlements, not to mention industrial and mine fires.

Until one has had one’s own brush with fire, one has little concept of how unpredictable and how terrifying it is.  Especially when the wind blows.

Two years ago this month, I had an unexpected request to work in a spot that meant a road trip and The Husband happily came along for the ride.  Well, actually, he did the driving.  I pointed the camera at various things.

FionaCameraNov2016

Here follows one of my now not unusual digressions:  notwithstanding the drought, work and taking an almost-wrong-turning, it was a pleasant and pretty trip; spectacular in places.TreeWheatFieldNov2016

A lone tree standing out against the golden stubble of harvested wheat.

WheatlandsHayNov2016

The bales of hay for much-needed fodder, waiting to be collected and stacked.

WindfarmsWCoastNov2016

There are wind farms everywhere: on every road and virtually around every bend.  I can’t make up my mind if they’re fascinating, benignly waving their arms at one, or a blight on the landscape.  The turbines are huge.  In the bottom, left photograph in the collage above, you will see a turbine blade on the ground, bookended by the portable toilet and the picnic gazebo, which give one a sense of how long it must be:  turbines can have a diameter of 40 – 90 metres.

Our destination was the seaside, mostly holiday, village of Paternoster.

PaternosterNov2016

The sea was brilliant;  the colours, exquisite, but the wind howled.  The apparently calm sea was very deceiving.

sam_8358

Then, the morning we were to return home, a dog barked.  At 4 am.  It was a very agitated bark.  Neither of us went back to sleep, so an hour later we resolved to get up, pack and hit the road.

Good thing, too, because an hour or so after we were back in McGregor, we were fighting fires.  Literally.

FireNov2016_1

The Husband, Jan Boer, and a few other locals monitored the fire that was across the road from our house.  As I was taking this picture and the one below, the wind suddenly changed direction and the fire jumped the road and the fence.  Into our plot and vegetable garden.

sam_8444

I turned tail and ran back home and unceremoniously dumped the camera.  Friends and neighbours arrived from everywhere, including friends en route to a wedding, not caring that they would be.

Our two hose pipes were already in use, dousing the flames across the road, so every bucket and hole-free receptacle was dragooned into service.  Cool boxes, catering equipment and dustbins were passed from hand to hand, and every available tap was used to fill them.

FireBucketsSootNov2016

An hour and a half later (which felt like the longest day) after it jumped the road, the fire was under control, the fire service was on the scene, and the camera was retrieved from the tree.

The hose pipes came back blistered and burnt.  Small price.

The aftermath:  incinerated telephone lines, charred, smoked vegetables and homes unscathed.  Mercifully.  Dust, ash and moonscapes.

november20163

Within a week, even though no rain fell, the reeds in the vlei across the road, were sprouting.

sam_8653

Thanks to that barking dog, we had been home to fight that fire. A day I shall never forget.

Two years later, the drought has broken, but it’s dry again.  It’s the wind, that dries things out and as we have a Mediterranean climate, rain after October is rare, leaving the vegetation tinder-dry, not helped by unseasonally hot temperatures.

Eighteen months later, these photographs that I took in late winter, show not just the recovery from the fire, but also the drought.

Our garden is greener and the vegetable garden has crops in the ground.  The sad remainder of an orange tree that succumbed in the drought, though, is a reminder f the drought.  On the other hand, the vlei across the road, which had been denuded, was awash – not just with water, but the most magnificent showing of arum lilies that I have ever seen in my time in the village.

The power of nature to recover is not to be under estimated.

Nor though, is fire.

Post script:  Originally posted in January 2017 and updated;  photographs taken with a Samsung bridge and edited in Picasa.

There it is – until next time

Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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There’s a mouse in the house…

Our week began, that Monday, in the wee hours of the morning. 

Foreword

It’s Wednesday and you’re expecting another episode of Pearli’s Pickles.  This week, though, I thought I’d tell a story that includes both Pearli and Melon.  Just because I can.

 

The Huntresses’ Competition

Both Melon was, and Pearli is, a huntress of note, and give a whole new meaning to food-on-the-run!

Pearli_mousebird

Our week began, that Monday, in the wee hours of the morning.  Simultaneous with a scrabbling around behind the headboard, a cat launched herself off a rather soft spot on The Cat’s Mother’s abdomen and into mid-air.  The Husband, who could sleep on a washing line, was dead to the world.

“Humph!” he responded to my urgent, “there’s a mouse in the house!” and turned over…

I went to investigate.

Ginger Melon MP had caught a mouse and brought it upstairs: no doubt, and hopelessly, expecting coos of delight and pride from her humans.

I discovered that she and Tiger Pearl were both trying to corner Mouse: they were staring longingly into the too-small-for-them-space under the bed.

100_3223

Having considered whether, realistically, there was anything I could do to corner and rescue Mouse, and bearing in mind that cats are far more effective hunters than I could ever be, particularly at 2.30 am, I got back into bed, bracing myself for the frenzy that would, inevitably, come.

Mercifully, for both the wee timorous beastie, and the somnolent humans, I soon heard a growling, a squeak and, aargh, a crunch!  A sure sign that one of the cats had caught Mouse.

Melon had, and was telling Pearli, in no uncertain terms, that it was hers!

Then began the process of herding Melon, hopefully, out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden where she might eat her early breakfast, allowing me to crawl back into my warm med bed for some fitful sleep before the real beginning to the week….

Pearli’s Pickles will resume next week.

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After the rain – I

Last January I lamented the hot dry summer we’d had. Little did I know that this summer would be worse. And then it rained. Proper rain.

I have been lamenting ad nauseum about the drought.  For three years.  When we first moved to McGregor, I bemoaned the heat, but have not felt it with much intensity in subsequent years.  That said, we had an unseasonal hot spell in October:  February heat.  I did feel that. Why? Because it didn’t creep up on us.  The heat descended like the flame from a rampaging dragon.

However, villagers and The Husband’s records do suggest that summers are getting hotter and dryer.  More of that in a future post.  The wind, too, burns the plants, and the garden has been like a dust bowl.  Then, of course, a couple of years ago, there was the fire.  No matter what one does, everything is gritty, and even the contents of the display cabinet that hardly gets opened, boasts a thick layer of dust.  And the voile curtains don’t bear thinking about.

“Proper” rain has been rare.  Oh, there’s been plenty of promise.

The clouds dance on the Langeberg mountains last October, laugh at us and dropped their load somewhere else.

Then, on Monday evening, and into Tuesday, late spring rains fell.  For various reasons, I was not out and about with the camera, but it occurred to me that I should share pervious photographs of the rains’ reward.  That was at the end of a balmy autumn day, and we watched the lightening jig around us, accompanied by the odd, distant drum roll.  Gradually the drum rolls came closer and the lightning brighter.  For a while, though, we lost interest:  dinner (with guests) was a little more pressing and there was a fire of a different sort that required attention.

Mercifully, and because autumn evenings can turn quite chilly, I’d resolved that we’d not have dinner under the trees.  A good thing, too, because as we sat down to eat, the heavens opened.  It rained for the first time in months – proper rain, we all agreed.  I don’t remember too much of the conversation over our main course: we all grinned stupidly at each other, and raised our voices over the din of the rain thundering on the veranda’s iron roof, to toast blessings from heaven.

In the space of about 20 minutes, about 8 millimetres of rain fell on our parched garden and village.

After dinner, we walked our guests to the gate and noticed what looked like the remains of a small riverbed that had forged a course down the driveway.  In the moonlight, after a good meal and a few glasses of even better wine, we didn’t pay it much leave.  On Sunday morning, though, about 12 hours after that cloudburst, camera in hand, I went to look.  The driveway had, indeed, played host to a not-so-small stream.  Wet mud was still lying on the tarmac on the street corner, and the sun glistened off the little puddles that remained on the gravel road opposite our house.

The air was clear, the hills and mountain ranges, slightly misty.  The dust was gone and our village was sparkly clean in the morning light.

 

Mr Sunbird was so happy about the dust-free Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), that he was oblivious to the camera.

Under the trees from which raindrops had hung diamond-like, the night before, a perfect web.

 

Best of all though, were the elliptical, crystal drops of water, still clinging to some of the leaves.

So far, this week, we’ve been blessed with rain every day and/or every evening.  And over the last two months, we’ve been blessed with divine water of a different sort.  About which I shall share when I have a little more time to cobble together the not-so-short story.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
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  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Narrative, a crypto blogging platform
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats as well as posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities

Giving it Beans – I

When I dreamed up this title, “Giving it Beans”, I knew it was “punny”, but I had no idea that it would end up having such resonance in the days that followed.

When I dreamed up this title, “Giving it Beans”, I knew it was “punny”, but I had no idea that it would end up having such resonance in the days that followed.

The Husband, over the last year or so, has begun embracing the art and science – and it really is also an art – of the vegetable garden.  This is significant because, as I’ve mentioned before, he was a stock farmer in a past life, with no interest in, let alone, he used to tell me, any success with, things that were green and had their feet in the ground.  He was much happier – and more effective – with warm-blooded creatures that ate, breathed and – well, you know the rest of the sentence…!

This season, his tomatoes have been winners, about which we are both delighted – we can’t live without them.  We have grown these for years, but last year’s crop was dismal, making this one a bit more notable.  However, the crop that’s been more spectacular, has been the beans.

GreenBeenPlant

Notwithstanding the fire, which left one end of bean patch rather the worse for wear.

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Before the fire, we’d had a goodly crop, with bean meals for breakfast, dinner and tea.  Almost literally.  One forgets how amazing nature is:  we thought that with this damage, that was the end of the beans.  Nope.  Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

It’s been the most peculiar summer – weatherwise.  We had February heat in November, and February was not as hot as it could have been, and the summer nights have been mostly quite cool, without the oppressive heat we’ve come to associate with them.  Consequently, and in a bastardisation of the “peas pudding” rhyme, we’ve continued to have green beans hot; green beans cold, tra la…

I’ve had to become quite innovative to avoid our having too much of a good thing.

Green beans with pesto and balsamic reduction. Green beans with zoodles and olives.  Green beans with mushrooms, red onion and topped with grilled parmesan.

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And then, there’s more:  green beans with pasta.  Green beans with passata.

Eventually, in self-defence, and to give us a bit of a break, I preserved some using a traditional Afrikaans recipe:  curried beans.  The recipe I use is in my mother’s recipe book.

MumRecipeBookCover

I have jars of them on offer at the market and one morning I heard a browser comment, “Curried beans!  It’s years since I’ve seen these.”  A local, and a regular customer, says that they’re a meal in a jar.  Also in the last little while, although I can’t remember where, I heard a remark about “traditional curried beans”.  That got me thinking.  The village Piano Man and foodie, had lent me a quartet of recipe books a while ago.  All of them very interesting, and this comment about curried beans sent me to one in particular:  Renata Coetzee‘s The South African Culinary Tradition.

In it, and in my old favourite recipe book, and through GoG,* I found various a version of the curried bean recipe that I’d been using.

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On left, the cover to Coetzee’s book, and the recipe yielded by her research.  On the right, Mum’s handwritten recipe, from Auntie Doris, and dated 1973, with our notes converting from imperial to metric, and for making it in larger quantities.  All three recipes are fundamentally the same.  Mum’s recipe includes water for the sauce – I’m thinking that next time, I’ll reduce the water.

Auntie Doris’s Traditional Curried Beans

4 lb (1.2kg) green beans, cut
2lb (0.6kg) onion, thinly sliced
3tbsp cornflour (maizena)
2tbsp currry powder
3 cups vinegar (white or brown)
3 cups sugar
2 cups water (which I may now omit)
2 tbsp salt

Cook beans – not too much – you still want some crunch.  Pour boiling water over the sliced onions and leave for 5 minutes.  Pour off the water & repeat.  Combine with the cooked beans in a large enamel or stainless steel pot.

For the curry sauce, put the sugar, salt, cornflour, curry powder and water in a stainless steel or enamel pan and boil for 5 minutes.  Add to the bean mixture and boil for 5 minutes.

Bottle in sterilised jars and seal.

The finished product:

As I finally get to publish this post, I reflect that today would have been my Mum’s 90th birthday.

Top, with Mum and Dad and Auntie Doris;  below, mum in the mid-1960’s I think, and 20 years later.

I am also reflecting on the last weeks:  three people in our village are bereft.  All have lost their life partners.  One of them, a daddy’s girl like me, lost her papa and then six weeks later, her love.  One of my oldest, but faraway friends, and who shares my Mum’s birthday, has just lost her dad.  My heart breaks for them all.

Life is hard.  Life is good.  Give it beans.

Next time:  The Fairy Godmother’s Bean Salad

*GoG – good old Google.  Google is old now, isn’t it?

Pearli’s Pickles VIII

The end of winter stirs all sorts of things, including Monster Cat. Why he is nosing around The Sandbag House and Magic Melon and Princess Pearli, only he knows.

Spring is in the air.  We see it in the garden, notwithstanding the lack of rain, this winter.

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Our strelitzia plants (aka the crane or bird of paradise flower) have more flowers than in the last three years.

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The Wild Iris, too, are flowering earlier than I remember.

The end of winter stirs all sorts of things, including Monster Cat.  Why he is nosing around The Sandbag House and,  more to the point, Magic Melon and Princess Pearli, only he knows.  Technically, they should hold no interest for him, but venturing onto their turf, he is.  Mercifully, he’d not been around for a while.  The last time we saw him was in the heat of late summer after Mr J, Street Guard Dog, had trapped him in the hedge.  At the time, I called the Relevant Expert for help, hoping that, at last, Monster Cat would be dealt with.  Alas, Mr J lost interest and Monster Cat fled, but not before I took this photograph of him in the depths of the hedge.

MonsterCatFeb2016

Perhaps Monster Cat was sufficiently put off by Mr J’s show of force because there’s been no evidence of his presence for some time.  Until Tuesday.  It was a public holiday so The Husband and the Cat’s Mother had decided to have an afternoon natter under the tree in the garden.  No sooner had we settled when we heard what sounded like World War III.  Up we leapt and headed in the direction of the fracas to discover fur flying.  Princess Pearli was defending her turf and, yes, you guessed it:  she came off second best.

So bad was it that Pearli permitted The Husband to retrieve her, after which Pearli was deposited in one of her favourite spots – soft and warm.  The same Relevant Expert was then hastily summoned to address the nasty lacerations, shock and more importantly, loss of dignity.

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Some of Princess Pearli’s war wounds: those that we could see. The Cat’s Mother keeps finding others.

Quite resilient, though, our Pearli and just a day later, was supervising some or other human activity in her realm.

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Six days on, very much recovered, if not healed, she decided that she’d see to her own lunch and tried to share it with the Cat’s Mother.  Warm mouse is not my idea of Sunday lunch, so she was rapidly removed, with her prey.

Monster Cat, however, is not the only pickle in which Pearli finds herself;  she has a poetic pursuer.  Mr Darcy has matured from an elusive kitten into a poet inspired by his surroundings.

Mr Darcy Corn 2016
Mr Darcy and his inspiration.  (Photograph courtesy of the Dowager Mother)

Mr Darcy’s poetry is exquisite and, according to the Dowager Mother, influenced by “the romantic-pastoral style of Wordsworth”:

The golden corn it blows and blows
The silly thing it never knows
How hard it shall be beaten
And then it shall be eaten

Perhaps, though, this is a love that shall remain unrequited;  alas, Mr Darcy and Princess Pearli’s worlds are such that their paths are unlikely to cross.

Meanwhile, the seasons wait for no-one.  Human or feline.

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Pretty pansies to grace the veranda and our salads
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Young vine leaves adorned by diamond drops of rain in the early morning light.

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…and the sun spectacularly rises and sets every day.

© Fiona’s Favourites

 

Spiders for Sofia

Last week I was delighted to see a post from a blog pal who had gone silent for a while. I had missed her posts: usually of teeny weeny creatures – magnificent shots. I had promised her, a long time ago, when we’d had a chat (on her blog or mine, I don’t remember) about one of her spiders, that I’d share my discovery that rain spiders have a “headlamp”.

Last week, I was delighted to see a post from a blog pal who had gone silent for a while.  I had missed her posts: usually of teeny weeny creatures – magnificent shots.  I had put it down to the fact that she had moved towns and had been necessarily distracted with settling.

Then I read her post and of the difficulties that had befallen her family, and the burden she is carrying.  I had promised her, a long time ago, when we’d had a chat (on her blog or mine, I don’t remember) about one of her spiders, that I’d share my discovery that rain spiders have a “headlamp”.

They come into our house, often, especially during summer, and lurk;  a bit like this chap, behind the bedroom curtains.

RainSpiderCurtains_2016

I grew up with rain spiders (Palystes superciliosus) and soon learned that although they can look fierce, and make themselves look even more vicious, they are actually quite harmless.  What worries me most, is that they seem to like the bedroom and bathroom, and I’d rather not have one at eye level, waving at me from my pillow, or dropping onto my head when I go to the bathroom in the dead of night.  They are not small.

RainSpiderPearliBathroom2016
Pearli sitting next to the wash hand basin, and said spider, above right

When he’s not scuttling across the ceiling, he’s flurrying close to the floor, next to the laundry box, and far too close to my feet for comfort.

RainspiderHeadlamp1
Check out that headlamp which I only saw when I looked back at the photograph (Camera:  Samsung Galaxy Trend phone)

When I was checking the facts about “my” spider, I discovered that the rain spider is also known as the huntsman, preying on lizards and geckos.  More to the point, I learned that it’s the males that will generally make their way into houses – in search of females.  (I don’t get the logic but then, why would I?).  On examining my photographs more closely, it’s evident from the shape of the spider’s abdomen, that “mine” are males.

RainSpider2_2016

The female lays her eggs in purpose-built nests which are amazing works of art

RainSpiderNest1_2016

– and equally amazing engineering feats.

RainSpiderNest2_2016

So, Sofia, at last, here is my spider with his headlamp.  I hope that Palystes Superciliosus also visits you and shares her light, and the delicate strength of her silk with you.

RainSpider1_2016

When you are ready, I am certain I am not alone in saying, that we look forward to your return to blogging, and more of your fabulous photographs and interesting facts about the fauna and flora in your corner of the world.  For readers interested in South African fauna, please do visit Sonel’s World:  not only are her photographs breathtaking, but she provides detailed information about the creatures she’s photographed.

Where not specified, photographs taken with a Samsung bridge (35mm, 16.4 mega pixel) camera.

© Fiona’s Favourites