Little Creatures – III

Last Friday, April 22nd, was Earth Day. In celebration, here is a series of pictures of bees doing their thing in the autumn roses that spill on to our veranda. Why, you might ask, is my attention on such an apparently insignificant little creature?

Last Friday, April 22nd, was Earth Day.  In celebration, here is a series of pictures of bees doing their thing in the autumn roses that spill on to our veranda.

Iceberg_bud2016

Why, you might ask, is my attention on such an apparently insignificant little creature?*

bee_iceberg3_2016

Well, it is these creatures that are responsible for ensuring a goodly supply of food and wine for the world.  Bees pollinate most food and fruit crops that are not self-pollinated or pollinated by other means, like wind.**

bee_iceberg1_2016

They disappear into the depths of flowers collecting pollen and doing the very important job of fertilising the plant.

bee_iceberg5_2016

Bees, however, are threatened.  Virtually world wide.  Ironically, the African bee, and particularly the Cape Honey Bee (Apis mellifera capensis) is aggressively invading hives, not just north of the Cape Province of South Africa, its home, but north of us, where it is is invading the the hives of African Bees (Apis mellifera scutellata).

bee_iceberg2_2016

In Europe, it is Apis mellifera scutellata that is invading the hives of European Honey Bees (subspecies Apis mellifera mellifera, A.m.carnica, A.m.caucasia, or A.m.linguica).  It is hybrids of these species, i.e. A. scutellata and one of the European bees that has given rise to the Africanized Honey Bee, colloquially known as killer bees.

Ironcially, while Africanized bees are wreaking havoc on the American continent, it is American foulbrood, a larval disease of honeybees, caused by the Paenibacillus larvae bacterium, that is killing off our Cape Honey Bee (A Capensis).

bee_iceberg1_2016

You may remember our goal of having our own bee hive?  Well, that was not to be.  Bee Keeper came to fetch his hive:  bee-filled hives are much in demand around us during spring.  They are located in their dozens along the perimeters of vineyards and orchards.  Not for pollen and nectar collection, but rather to ensure that each of the beautiful blossoms is visited by bees so that come summer and autumn, there is a harvest.

Every day is Earth Day.

* except for those who may have been stung, and more particularly, if they are allergic….
**grain crops, like wheat, oats, or corn, which are grasses, are usually wind pollinated;  figs are pollinated by wasps.  That’s another story, though.

References

South African Bee Industry Organisation
Times Live:  American disease threatens South African bees
Introduced Species Summary Project: Africanized Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata)

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Sugar and spice

Those of you who follow my blog know that at the height of summer and into autumn, we are blessed with a surfeit of produce, not just by our own garden, but also by the local farmers who are happy to share produce that they cannot send to market or to the local cannery. here are only so many fresh plums one can eat, variations of plum salad that one can do, so the obvious solution was to bottle or some how preserve them.

Those of you who follow my blog know that at the height of summer and into autumn, we are blessed with a surfeit of produce, not just by our own garden, but also by the local farmers who are happy to share produce that they cannot send to market or to the local cannery.  This produce is under- or over-sized and/or damaged in some way that makes it commercially unacceptable.  Such it was when Boer le Roux, on one of this season’s hottest mid-summer days, delivered this box of goodies:

LeBoerPlumsGrapes2-16

Either way, the produce is evidently neither inedible or unusable.  But the question that is almost a mantra,  “What to do with all of this when there’s only two of us?”  was top of mind.  There are only so many fresh plums one can eat, variations of plum salad that one can do, and it was far too hot. at 37º Celsius (100º F+), to consider plum duff.  Besides, Christmas had long gone and, actually, plum duff doesn’t have plums in it

The obvious solution was another round of bottling and preserving.

Hmm….yes.

We are not very good at eating fruit preserved in syrup, or as conventional jam, for that matter. As I was contemplating this, I remembered Claire McDonald of McDonald’s book, Sweet Things, which shortly after Christmas, Mr Mac had kindly lent to me, with permission that it could live with my collection of recipe books for a while.  Its major focus is sweets and desserts, but when I had first plumbed its depths, I had spied a recipe that had appealed to both my palate and which might provide a solution to the current problem: a spicy plum jam.  She serves it with venison and recommends it with grilled lamb chops.

SpicyPlumJamCollage

I gave it a bash.  It’s definitely not a jam in the “received” sense of the word, and which the Oxford dictionary describes as a “sweet spread or conserve made from fruit and sugar boiled to a thick consistency”.  This most definitely is a spread, and includes fruit and sugar, boiled to a thick consistency, but it is not really sweet, but rather, as one would expect, spicy with a tangy and piquant flavour.

Here’s what I did (and what I learned):

Spicy Plum Jam

Ingredients

2 kg plums
800 ml vinegar (I used white and red wine vinegar for different batches, and even used both for one, with no ill effects;  the colour was better with the red wine vinegar)
1 stick cinnamon
25 g mixed spice
2 kg granulated (white) sugar

What to do

McDonald’s recipe says to halve the plums, but when the plums are the size of nectarines, I found that it was better to quarter them.  She also says that one doesn’t need to worry about the pips because most of them “obligingly float to the surface”.  Well, that might be the case in the UK, not so in South Africa, I discovered.  Certainly if the plums are not ripe.

Making that first batch, I cursed and swore, literally sweating over the (real, not proverbial) hot gas stove, fishing out as as many of the little bar stewards as I could find.

For the second and third batches, I was resigned to my fate.  That helped….and the fact that the demand for this jam is such that I can’t keep up!

Back to the matter at hand:  place the plums, duly butchered, into a jam or stock pot with the vinegar, cinnamon and mixed spice.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the pips.  Well as many as you can find.  They are often disguised as bits of plum so are easy to miss.

Once you’ve done that, add the sugar to the pan and gently heat until the sugar’s dissolved.  Bring to a fast boil and boil for 10 minutes or until the jam sets.

SpicyPlumJamCollage

Remember to remove the wood (aka the cinnamon).

To check whether or not you have a set, place a little of the jam (mostly juice) on a (ceramic/china) saucer and put it into the deep freeze for 5 minutes.  When run your finger tip over the jam and it wrinkles, you have a set.  The general rule is that you should remove the pan from the heat while you wait to see if you have a set.  I find that 5 minutes doesn’t really make that much of a difference.

Once you have a set, pour into hot, sterilised pots and seal.

SpicyPlumJamJar2016

Random ramblings about sugar, vinegar, spices.  And all things nice

Since doing this recipe, a rhyme from my childhood, and which my father would trot out from time to time, has been running through my head.  I couldn’t remember it verbatim, so I consulted GoG**, which yielded:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of

Very dated, and this with the rave reviews I’ve had for the spicy plum jam, made me think about what has changed, what’s beginning to come full circle and why fruits and vegetables were preserved, in the first place.  Funnily enough it’s also a conversation I have, from time to time with the African Queen on a Friday evening in the pub.

In a world that’s shrunk because of air transport, we can eat anything we want, in virtually any season, from anywhere in the world.  After all, it’s always summer, somewhere, isn’t it?

Along with this, we have become so accustomed to regularly eating a range of preserves, from ham and bacon, biltong and jerkey to jams, pickles and chutneys, cheeses and yoghurt, that we have forgotten their genesis.  These are, in fact, foodstuffs that have been transformed so that they last longer and/or can be stored and eaten when the fresh stuff wasn’t available.

What is it that does the preserving, what are the mechanisms?  I had thought that everyone knew the answers to those questions until I was confronted with questions like, pointing at the jam and chutney, “Is that sugar-free?”

Me, “Er, no, I’m sorry, it’s not.”  Quizzical look.

“It’s the sugar, vinegar and cooking that help to preserve the fruit.”

“Oh.”

Another prospective customer:  “Are there preservatives in your cottage cheese?”

Well, um, that’s an interesting question.  What to answer?  The cultures, which turn the milk sour and make the curds are either turning the milk, making it “bad” or preserving it.  Take your pick.  My answer, “There are no additives like salt, or synthetic preservatives, if that’s what you mean, no.

“Oh and the flavour develops the longer you keep it because it matures.”

Another, “Oh.”

Another cliché, but a truism, nevertheless:  one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Two sales that didn’t happen.

And my discovery of the recipe for making cottage cheese was little different from that for blue cheese (although much less spectacular).

A bit of a rant

This knowledge and the various preserving skills used to be handed down from one generation to another, from mothers to daughters (usually) and from master cheese makers, butchers and bakers, to their apprentices.  As humanity has “developed” it has moved further and further from the source its food, and as the processing (or “value-add”) has become industrialised and commercialised, both the knowledge and skills have been lost to the average household.

It’s terrifying how few people really think about what happens between earth and plate. The population of many burgeoning cities encroaches on arable land, not only reducing the amount of land available for framing, but also destroys valuable farming know how, much of which cannot be learned from books.  And the journey that our food must take from the field or pasture to the kitchen and dinner table becomes ever longer and more arduous.

Along with understanding the causes of global warming and the effects of greenhouse gases, it would be good if there were greater awareness of whence our food comes from and who produces it.  Perhaps the interest in artisan foods and increasing awareness of our planet will also regenerate this knowledge and understanding, and equally importantly a renewed respect for the farmers who so lovingly and carefully produce it.

Back to where I began – the spicy plum jam

As I mentioned, I’ve now done three batches of spicy plum jam, and there won’t be another until next summer and plums are back in season.  We are, however, continuing to enjoy it:

ChopSpicyPlumJam
With a lamb chop, cooked to perfection, by The Husband, on the braai (barbecue), with boerewors and salads
HotCrossBunPlumJam2016
At Easter with a warm hot cross bun and blue cheese
As a glaze for roasted carrots to make a salad on a bed of rocket, topped with fresh coriander
As a glaze for roasted carrots to make a salad on a bed of rocket, topped with fresh coriander

*I have used the basic ratios and ramped this recipe up and down.
** Good old Google

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Tremendous Trees – II

The colours of the dripping Acacia gum are beautiful. It forms the most magnificent stalactites that deposit resin onto mounds of wannabe stalagmites on the ground below. Unless you are looking for them, though, gummy the piles are well camouflaged and easy to miss.

Recently, The Husband did a bit of work for the friends of the local nature reserve, Vrolijkheid, moving the visitor’s kiosk from one spot to another and generally refurbishing it.  During the course of the job, the concrete slab had to be damped down twice daily.  One Saturday afternoon, I went along with him.  Camera in hand.

VrolikheidViewtoBonnievaleFeb2016

The dry, hot summer had taken its toll. The veld was tinder dry and the mountains clear in the afternoon distance.

VrolikheidKareeFeb2016

This magnificent Karee provides shade from the baking sun in the car park.  Notwithstanding my fascination with all trees, it was the trees in the shady picnic area that attracted my particular attention that afternoon.  Young Karees interspersed with mature, gnarly acacias.

Vrolikheid

First, it was the lichen that invited a closer inspection.  Received understanding is that lichen is a good indicator of the prevailing winds because it grows on the leeward side of the trees.  Not so, in the heart of this grove, it grows on the inside of each nest of acacia tree trunks.  Away from any weather.

VrolikLichenFeb2016

Wandering between the trees, it was these acacias that captured me.

Back to Vrolijkheid and Acacia Karroo.  These trees are beautifully old and they drip with resin which, as children, we used to eat.  As I recall, it had a tangy sort of pine flavour and was soft and sticky;  a bit like toffee.  Besides the acacia being a legume with all the benefits of nitrogen-fixing for the soil, it turns out that the Sweet Thorn does have nutritional and medicinal qualities (leaves and pods on which animals browse). The resin was at one point, exported as “Cape Gum” for use in confectionary.*

AcaciaResin1_2016

The colours of the dripping gum are beautiful.  It forms the most magnificent stalactites that deposit resin onto mounds of wannabe stalagmites on the ground below. Unless you are looking for them, though, the gummy piles are well camouflaged and easy to miss.

AcaciaResin2_2016

The deep colour of the weeping bark contrasts with the silver-grey lichen and reminded me of amber.  It made me wonder whether, perhaps, this oozing red gold might be how it starts out.  It might be.

AcaciaResin3_2016

After The Husband had finished the job, he wanted to show me his handiwork, so late one blustery Sunday afternoon, we trundled down to have a look.

VrolKioskFeb2016

Everyone’s delighted with the end result.  Including his greatest critic, The Husband, himself.

As we left, the sun was setting and the southeaster was pouring over the mountains.

VrolijkheidSunsetSouthEaster2016

* For more about Acacia Karro, growing habit and uses

©Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Tremendous Trees – I

I love trees, and trees are central to so many things in our lives, from paper to picnics. They bring people together and drive them apart.

I love trees, and trees are central to so many things in our lives, from paper to picnics.  They bring people together and drive them apart.  As humanity becomes more and more concerned about its future, trees become contentious and no more so than around our village, including when they (or bits of them have) to make way for the ubiquitous telephone and power lines.

Eucalypts are not indigenous to South Africa and, actually, few trees are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa, and particularly the biome in which we live.  Other than along river courses, where one sees beautiful, shady Karees, have no significant native trees occur in the  Cape Floristic region.  As a consequence, and for timber (furniture, fencing, firewood, etc.), Eucalypts were introduced from Australia.  They are magnificent, but in a region with young soils and little rain, they literally drain the earth of its lifeblood, water.  They have also become invasive, complicated by the fact that they release chemicals that change the soil profile and “scare” away indigenous flora.

GumsOppSandBgHs
The gum trees opposite our house through which I watch the clouds that herald the summer southeaster and the winter snow. The cold winter’s day that I took this photograph, we expected snow out of those dark clouds.

As some of you may have noticed, many of the photographs taken from The Sandbag House feature power and telephone lines.  The view through those gums, into the village, is no exception.

VrtkrStJune2015
The view (…through the lines…), past our house, on another balmy, misty, early winter evening.  On the right is an avenue of Karees, also known as the “Karoo Wilge” (willow).

So, back to the controversy.  About eighteen months ago, there was a hue and cry:  the gums along the river that we cross on the way to the village were being removed.  Now, here’s the conundrum:  the earth and humanity need trees.  Lots of them.  I know that the earth is under threat.  But that doesn’t mean that every tree, as beautiful as it might be, should be allowed to wreak havoc on the indigenous flora and the natural water courses.  Those gum trees along the river had, over the years, choked out the Karees and the reeds, destroying the natural habitat for the local fauna and flora.  Little grew under them;  they also sucked up litres and litres of water that should have been staying in the earth, feeding the groundwater system.  It is the groundwater that the river and boreholes rely on during summer, and with the storage dams are essential for irrigation:  no irrigation and agriculture suffers which has another series of knock-on effects and which I shall not belabour.

All of that said, mature gum trees are beautiful, and there’s a favourite spot where, on the way home from Cape Town, The Husband and I enjoy a shady lunch and a glass of wine.  One of the trees is this magnificent gum.

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© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Windfalls and Wondrous Words

Words fascinate me. With my recent foray into making chutney, where did the Afrikaans word, “blatjang” come from?

Before I had satisfied my curiosity, Jan Boer presented us with a huge quantity of, yellow cling peaches.

Windfalls. They really were. In every sense.

I have mentioned before that words fascinate me.  With my recent foray into making chutney, when The Husband and I were discussing what should go on the label of Jan Boer’s special bottle, he asked if I was going to use the Afrikaans word for chutney, blatjang.  What ultimately went on the label is not important, but it set me wondering.  Both English and Dutch and therefore also Afrikaans are Indo-European languages, so the roots of some words are common.  Often words are similar, like “day” and “dag”;  “light” and “lig”; and “lemon” which, in Afrikaans is “suurlemoen” (direct translation:  sour lemon).

I discovered, nearly 20 years ago, on a trip to Mallorca. that I could get by, in the Old City of Palma, with less than rudimentary Spanish and Afrikaans, buying spices, vegetables and fruit:  “pomelo” is the Afrikaans word for grapefruit.  I was very proud of myself when, as a thank you to my host, I was able to successfully shop for the necessary spices and other bits and bobs to make a traditional South African supper of bobotie, boereboontjies and geelrys with melktert for dessert*.

FionaMallorcaBorekos1999
Mallorca, 1999, with the main course of my South African meal (the three dishes, left to right:  boereboontjies, bobotie and geelrys)

There were many Spanish words I could understand when I saw them written.  For example, furniture shops:  their names included “meubles” which is the same spelling as the Afrikaans word for furniture.  So where did “blatjang” come from?

Before I had satisfied my curiosity, and ending our week in the usual way, at the local pub, Jan Boer (yes, he of apricot fame), sent us home with another tray piled with fruit.  This time, yellow cling peaches.

Windfalls.  They really were.  In every sense.

This summer, the weather has been badly out of kilter:  very little wind in November and December, but some howling gales last month.  With equally unseasonally high temperatures, the farmers haven’t been thrilled and when the harvest is underway, and the wind howls, it can wreak havoc with ripening fruit.

Too Scottish to look a gift-horse in the mouth (with no apologies for the mixed metaphors), something had to be done.  Some were stewed:  summer comfort food.  Retro peaches and custard.

PeachesCustard2016

The peaches provided The Husband with something sweet while I was away…

The rest were mostly made into chutney – in some ways a very different process from apricot chutney because of the nature of the fruit:  peaches are furry;  their pips are not easy to liberate and I had decided two other things:  a recipe that didn’t necessitate a visit to the shops meant no dried fruit.  Secondly, it should not have the same spice profile as the apricot chutney.

The first task was to try to “un-fur” the peaches.  Standard instructions for doing this is very similar to those for skinning tomatoes with the added step of blanching them in iced water after their boiling plunge.

PeachChutPrep2016

Well, as my old Dad would have said, that was a good game, played slow: even with The Husband’s help, those skins were not very obliging.  It wasn’t only the pips that clung to those peaches!  Contrary to all the “destructions” contained on websites and in recipe books, the skins did not just slip off.

After cogitating on this, I came to the conclusion that if the skin clung to that extent, the chutney wouldn’t be contaminated by awful bits of stringy epidermal tissue.  The worst that could happen was that the peach bits would have a bit of extra texture.

Skinning abandoned, the peaches were “segmented” and added to the pot with the other ingredients.

PeachChutPot2016

And cooked.  And cooked.

Peach chutney

For this batch:

2kg peaches, pipped (only half were peeled)
800g sugar
800ml wine vinegar (combination of red and mostly white because that’s what I had)
35g fresh ginger, chopped
6 onions (white), halved and thinly sliced
12 cardamom pods, lightly cracked
6 jalapeño chillies, thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enamel) over a medium heat.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved and simmer, stirring from time to time until the peaches are soft and translucent.  This will take an hour to an hour and a half.  After about half of the time, keep an eye on it and stir more frequently so that the chutney doesn’t catch and burn.  Pot in sterilised jars.

PeachChutJars2016

In addition to the different flavour profile from the apricot chutney, peach chutney is chunkier and sweeter which is offset by the chillies.

You can download a printable version of the recipe here

Back to the words

Chutney bottled, I returned to my word search.  It turns out that in 19th century South Africa, “blatjang” (pronounced blutchung) had two meanings:  a condiment and a specific dish (sadly, none of my research revealed what that specific dish might have been unless it was merely an idiomatic expression).  The condiment blatjang is described as a relish made from dried chillies and dried apricots, stewed in vinegar.

Regardless of these two meanings, the sources all agree that the word crept into the Dutch and therefore, also Afrikaans, via Malaysia and Indonesia.

As I worked through the various sources, thinking about the spice trade and the rise (or fall) of the Dutch and English as colonial powers, it all fell into place.  The Dutch East India Company centred on Indonesia and had a presence in Cape Town to supply passing ships with essential vittles.  It all makes sense, especially with the strong influence in the Cape from the Malay slaves who not only brought their cuisine, but also their language to the Cape, profoundly influencing the development of Afrikaans from the original Dutch.

Chutney, on the other hand, is an Anglicisation of a Hindi word: “chatni”, which means “to lick”, and which referred to side dishes made of fruit. These, of course, included spices.  The word also seems to have emerged in English in the 19th century and as the English so often do, they made these dishes their own by “pickling” the relishes with vinegar, and calling them “chutney”.

In Afrikaans, blatjang is now accepted as what we now understand in English as chutney, which is as I discovered when I was looking for a recipe for the apricot chutney, is a relish made with fruit, spices and vinegar – with or without chillies and/or onions.

Similarly, with the British Empire, the Indian Raj, and curry having become, in the minds of some, England’s national dish, makes the etymology of chutney absurdly obvious.

If you’re interested

Here is a list of some of the websites I visited in this wondrous word search.

http://sesquiotic.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/blatjang/
http://www.etymonline.com
http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com
http://www.dsae.co.za

* bobotie is a spiced mince with an egg custard topping
boereboontjies – literal translation is “farmer’s beans” and consists of a stew of tomatoes, onion and green beans and, traditionally with a couple of shin bones thrown in.  Among the party that evening were vegetarians, so I left the meat out
geelrys or yellow rice is cooked with turmeric, cinnamon and sultanas
melktert – a baked custard tart

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

 

Salad Days I

No, I’m not referring to either my youth or the best days of my life, but rather logical eating choices during the hottest summer in many, many years. Certainly since we arrived in McGregor and when the top temperature was 41ºC (106ºF).

No, I’m not referring to either my youth or the best days of my life, but rather to logical menu choices during the hottest summer in many, many years.  Certainly since we arrived in McGregor.

The average maximum temperature, this December was 31ºC (89ºF)*, a degree higher than 2014, as was the average minimum, at 19ºC (66ºF).  More interesting, though, are the spikes: the highest maximum was 41ºC (106ºF) as opposed to “only” 37ºC (99ºF) the previous year.  This is the type of heat that we usually associate with February, and when summer crops are virtually all harvested.  The heat, the wind and the humidity without rain, has taken its toll;  the grape harvest has started earlier than the farmers can remember.  Wonder what it will mean for 2016’s wines?

The impact of the heat and the equally desiccating wind shows:

Willow_Jan2016
Summer fall:  Neighbours’ willow, virtually naked of leaves.
SAM_5769
A glorious, yellow leaf carpet.

And because we water only the vegetables and flower beds, the grass is, in places, crisp underfoot.

CrispLawn2016

In that heat, the menu has to be dominated by salads, but because (as you’ve heard me say so often) one can have too much of a good thing, innovation is important.  There are only so many carrot sticks one can eat and watermelon can do more than serve as a refreshing fruit (especially when there’s only two…).

Watermelon provided the base for the h’ordeuvres for Christmas dinner and was a refreshing and flavourful salad that’s already become a favourite, as has the carrot salad that formed part of the main course.

Watermelon, feta and olive salad

For the Christmas menu, I had planned what has become for many of our friends, one of my signature dishes:  Jamie Oliver’s Thai Watermelon Salad.  It’s one of those recipes that needs all the ingredients, so if one can’t get them, it has to be plan B.  This year, because of the heat, it was impossible to find any fresh coriander.  So, with an enormous watermelon in fridge….the watermelon had to be used…it wasn’t paying rent.  At that late stage, visit to the local shop was out of the question, so I had to make do with what was in the pantry and in the garden.  Another celebrity chef to the rescue: Nigella Lawson.  I had everything except the limes, but there was lime juice in a bottle.  Problem solved.

Ingredients

1 small red onion
4 limes
3 ¼ lb watermelon (sweet and ripe)
8 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
1 bunch fresh mint (chopped)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅔ cup pitted black olives
black pepper

Peel and halve the red onion and slice thinly.  Put this in a small bowl to infuse with the lime juice.

Peal the watermelon, and cut into approximately 4cm / 1½ inch triangular chunks, removing as many pips as possible. Cut the feta into similar sizes and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.

Pour the onions, with the juice over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives.  Gently toss the salad so as not to break up the feta and melon. Add freshly ground black pepper and taste to see whether you need to add more lime juice.

WaterMelonOlivesFetaJan2016

This is a very pretty salad which worked well to add a touch of red to our white Christmas – and is so easy to make which is belied by the really interesting combination of flavours:  it’s all about getting the proportions right.  I’ve done it both with and without mint which has been equally acceptable.

Roasted Carrot Salad

A raw carrot salad with dill was also supposed to have featured on the Christmas menu.  Until The Husband discovered that the gardener had “weeded” the dill that he had been carefully nurturing.  Needless to say, “we” were not amused, so with plan B underway, it had to be “plan Z”.  A few recipes were reviewed, The Husband consulted; Roasted Carrot Salad was selected. I had to make some adaptations.  These and what I’ve subsequently done, come after the original recipe by Morgan Nowicki:

Ingredients

2 pounds (1,8kg) carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 (4 oz) package crumbled Danish blue cheese
2 cups arugula (rocket)

What to do

Preheat an oven to 400ºF (200ºC).

Combine the carrots, almonds, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out onto an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake the carrots until soft and the edges turn brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, return the carrots to the mixing bowl, and drizzle with honey and vinegar; toss until coated. Add the cranberries and blue cheese; toss again until evenly mixed. Combine with the arugula and serve immediately.

What I did

Because I didn’t have almonds or cranberries, I omitted the latter and substituted the almonds with pumpkin seeds.  I also elected to roast the carrots in larger chunks – either whole or cut longitudinally and the cloves of garlic were roasted, whole.**  I also elected not to toss the rocket leaves with the carrots, but rather to present them on a bed of rocket.

CarrotPumpkinBlueSaladDec2015

The result was acceptable, but more acceptable, was the second time I made this, when I –

  • par-boiled and then roasted the whole carrots and
  • substituted the almonds with crushed macadamian nuts which were roasted with the carrots and garlic.

On this occasion, and because I knew that I’d roasted more than we needed, I simply plated the carrots with the cheese and served the leaves separately.  The carrots we didn’t eat, kept well in the fridge for another meal.

CarrotsBlueChsMacadamiaJan2016

 And now, it’s back to the weather…

Certain parts of South Africa are in the throes of a drought;  some say that it’s the worst in 20 years, others 50.  Either way, the figure is moot when some farmers haven’t been able to plant crops and the maize harvest will be the lowest for 20 years. Farmers unable to feed their livestock, are sending animals to other provinces and suitable grazing, or to slaughter.  There are towns without water and which are being supplied by generous members of the public.  So meat, for the moment is cheap, but when that’s gone, that and all other food prices will skyrocket.  Not helped by our currency with is currently sailing through the doldrums.

So, this, the heat and an abundance of tomatoes, and other crops coming, all mean that our salad days are set to continue.

Clouds that promise rain but only bring unbearable humidity.
Clouds that dance around the mountains, promising rain but only bring unbearable humidity.

* Data supplied by The Husband who diligently records the daily maximum and minimum temperatures and the rainfall.
** Roasting minced/crushed garlic can end up with it being overdone and bitter.  Rather roast the cloves whole and then squeeze out the creamy garlic and mix it in with the dressing/liquids to drizzle over the salad.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

 

Gazpacho – easy peasy!

This was not what was originally planned for today, but having shared pictures of the Gazpacho that we had this weekend, on Instagram and on my personal Facebook page, I was “inundated” with requests for the recipe.  I hadn’t made it for a while because our tomato crop last season was underwhelming.  To say the least.  This year, we’ve been deluged; it’s the time of the year when The Husband hears, “You can have anything you like for supper (or lunch or tea, or breakfast), as long as it’s tomato!”

We also have a surfeit of bell peppers and we have onions and garlic that were harvested late last year.

CucumPepperOnionTomatoJan2016
Basic ingredients for Gazpacho (tomatoes ready for skinning). Except for the cucumber, all our own produce.

The original recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s 1994 The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook, published by Dorling Kindersley, and which I bought from Exclusive Books at the Waterfront, not long after I moved to Cape Town a year after it’s publication.*

Gazpacho Recipe

What I do

Gazpacho is a no-cook dish.  The closest one comes to a hot gas stove (in my case, anyway), is boiling the kettle to skin the tomatoes.

I’ve followed that recipe to the word, but as you see from my notes, I’ve also altered things to make it my own.  Here are a few of my tips and what I’ve learned in the 20-odd years I’ve been making this:

  • unless you’re wanting to make a thick, heavy soup, leave out the bread;  I find that if tomatoes are really “beefy”, I still need to add water so that the soup is the right consistency
  • if it needs water, chill it first and be careful not to dilute it too much – add a little iced water and taste, repeating until you’re happy with the texture
  • in the absence of red onions, I have comfortably used white, but less because white onion is stronger than red.  Obviously, if you really like the stronger, raw onion flavour….
  • I’ve used red wine vinegar and Balsamic vinegar and my preference is for Willow Creek’s balsamic style Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar;  I use an extra 10ml.  Again, tasting as you go is important, bearing in mind how the flavours change and develop with chilling and standing
  • seasoning is a very personal thing, but I have found that leaving out the seasoning doesn’t detract from the flavour which makes this a very acceptable soup for people who have problems with both gluten and sodium
  • make it the night before, or at least a few hours in advance and refrigerate – the flavours meld and the soup benefits from being allowed to stand.  A good example of what my father would class as “second-day-soup”, i.e. better the second time round!
  • with the vinegar and the high vitamin C content of tomatoes, this keeps very well.  I make it in big batches, both for our own consumption or for the market

It’s pretty served in glasses or glass mugs:

GazpachoGlass2016

Gazpacho: easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

A glut

It seems we’re not the only ones with a glut, so for those looking for other ideas of what to do with tomatoes, I’ll be sharing my bottling recipe and that for passata in a while.  It won’t be in the next two weeks as I’ll be travelling and will have limited time for “fiddling” in the kitchen…and on Fiona’s Favourites.

In the meantime, two other ways of using tomatoes:

Ratatouille which is great hot or cold, and uses loads of tomatoes and vegetables currently in season

A fresh tomato sauce that can be bottled or frozen

*No, it’s not on page 32…..

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

 

Cool carrots – two ways…

Our soil is rocky and very clayey. Certain root vegetables grow, but very differently from what one would expect. Short and stubby or a bit twisted.

Our soil is rocky and very clayey.  Certain root vegetables grow, but very differently from what one would expect.  Short and stubby or a bit twisted, so they’re right at home!

One of our earlier harvests – around 2104

However, working the garden the last eight or so years, has improved the soil quality:  fewer stones helped along with our own compost and locally sourced manure.  Of course, crop rotation – a necessity – also helps.  Carrots are a crop we can grow all year round – with patience.  They are a slow crop.  They are also versatile because they are great for eating raw and cooked;  hot or cold; in salads and as sides.

Let me nail my colours to the mast.  Again.  I am not a fan of the local traditional carrot salad which is just too sweet, or the salad of finely shredded carrots with pineapple and raisins.  They are in the same category as coleslaw – with slightly less vehemence.

As happens when there are two of you, and a crop is ready to harvest, the choice of accompaniments for meals becomes somewhat restricted.  So it is at the moment:  we have a wonderful (and ongoing) crop of carrots, but there is a limit to the number of carrot sticks one can eat.

But –

I can get quite creative with carrots an love growing heirloom ones of different colours.  A sowing of black ones is hopefully germinating to be pulled in about three months’ time.

Carrots make great table decor. Especially with my bunnies which often grace the Sunday Supper table.

I definitely don’t do boiled carrots.  I had too many of them as a child – boiled to death, they were.

A few years’ ago, thanks to celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, I learned about finishing carrots off in the oven.  I subsequently found the recipe by which time the practice of parboiling* and finishing off in the oven has become a Fiona SOP.  I have to agree with his sentiment that the practice makes the carrots “meatier”;  it certainly does intensify the flavours and it’s become my favourite way of preparing carrots – whether they have Oliver’s treatment or not.

I have also adapted his recipe with a number of variations – with or without the oranges and herbs, using my spicy plum jam as a glaze and with blue cheese and served top of a bed of rocket (arugula).

Rocket and me

Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not overly fond of hot, peppery stuff and for years I really didn’t like rocket in anything other as one of the leaves in a green salad.  When it was the vogue to have rocket with everything, I was often found to be picking it out of my salad or asking for an alternative.  Yes, I can be that customer, and if it can’t be done, I’ll find an alternative restaurant dish.

Then, a few years ag,o we visited Babylonstoren and toured the garden.  I left with their book which is less about recipes than it is about ingredients and combinations that work.

Among these was beetroot with rocket and goat’s cheese (chevin to be precise), which I tried, and about which I shall write when our current crop matures – it’s become another favourite.  The sweetness of the beetroot works really well with the pepperiness of the rocket, rounded off with the saltiness of the creamy blue cheese.

That combination gave me the idea of trying carrot with rocket as I did for this dish – and with the saltiness of blue cheese.

I am now a whole lot more adventurous open to recipes that include rocket and even have a mini plantation emerging in the garden.  Now we have water.

Which brings me back to carrots.

Going back some five or so years, I have stash of carrot recipes, many of which I’d rejected or not tried. Because, well, just because.  Now, though, because of Sunday Suppers, and because I keep an eye open for dishes that are vegan and vegetarian-friendly, I have a somewhat different lens.  Among the recipes Is one with almonds, olives and cranberries.  Yes, you guessed right, it is served on a bed of rocket.

I gave it a go.  It’s a winner and a current favourite.

Carrot salad with rocket, almonds and olives

Best of all, it’s versatile and with various additions or subtractions, it can form a main course for either vegetarians or vegans.

The full, recipes are available to download here

* save and freeze the water you drain off – for gravy or vegetable stock

Post script:

This is a new and improved version of the “original” carrot post first published in March 2015.  There are a couple of other carrot recipes lurking in the wings for another occasion.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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There's just no pleasing some birds…

The Sandbag House and its surrounds are home to a number of feathered families, some of whom are more evident at this time of the year than others.

The Swallows have returned

Much like the human swallows that summer in our village, Jack and Jill are back.  They have returned on the same day, 24th September, for the last two years.  This year, it was a very “unspringlike” day:  a cold, grey and miserable Sunday afternoon. The Cat’s mother was sitting on the sofa with Pearli doing her songololo impersonation and, all of a sudden, on her favourite perch, was Jill.
She and Jack built their original nest about three years ago and subsequently rebuilt it last year – a joint effort and with very little fuss.
JilSwallow2015
All that needed to be done as a little sweeping and clearing of the debris from the front door and they were settled.

New arrivals

New additions to the feathered family, are Milly and Monty Martin.  A pair of cliff (or rock) martins.
They, too, have built a nest under the eaves of our veranda, at the corner where the office is, and they keep me company as they flit, fly and float past.  Like Jack and Jill, Milly and Monty worked together to build their new home.
Every morning, Monty waits for the Cat’s Mother’s greeting from the window above, before starting the day’s chores.
Martins2015
From the time that we discovered the nest:  it took a week of hard work, gathering the mud and the grass to build a home for their new arrivals, helped much by the fact that we’d had quite a bit of rain so mud was readily available, and not far away.

Wally Weaver’s Woes

Now, Wally and Winnie Weaver, and the rest of their ilk don’t migrate and are permanent residents.  They squawk and squabble their way through the seasons and live in abodes that overlook a tranquil piece of water in the plot behind The Sandbag House.
WeaverNeigbhourhood2015
Or they did.
It all began during July – the height of winter.  Wally and a few of his mates had been busy.  Very busy.  The process of providing a roof over Winnie’s and other weaver women’s heads is long and arduous.

SAM_4765
Wally taking a break

Wally does all the work while she looks on.
It begins with drawing together two of the reeds and building a frame.
WeaverNestBuild2015
Wally works for a week or more building and putting the finishing touches to Winnie’s new home.
But it is she who has the final say:  if Winnie’s happy with it, she’ll add do the final feathering of her nest.  If she’ not satisfied, doesn’t bother;  she shreds it.
SAM_4796
There’s no hiding the evidence.  It floats on the water below.
Clearly Winnie and one of her sisters were not happy.  Nor were the other Mesdames Weaver:  that tranquil, watery neighbourhood has been abandoned.  Nary a nest to be seen.
Wally was bemused.  How could the colour not have been right, not to mention the aspect and the general flow?
Clearly, there’s no pleasing some birds!
It was back to the drawing board if Wally was to have any success at all.
© Fiona’s Favourites 2015

There’s just no pleasing some birds…

The Sandbag House and its surrounds are home to a number of feathered families, some of whom are more evident at this time of the year than others.

The Swallows have returned

Much like the human swallows that summer in our village, Jack and Jill are back.  They have returned on the same day, 24th September, for the last two years.  This year, it was a very “unspringlike” day:  a cold, grey and miserable Sunday afternoon. The Cat’s mother was sitting on the sofa with Pearli doing her songololo impersonation and, all of a sudden, on her favourite perch, was Jill.

She and Jack built their original nest about three years ago and subsequently rebuilt it last year – a joint effort and with very little fuss.

JilSwallow2015

All that needed to be done as a little sweeping and clearing of the debris from the front door and they were settled.

New arrivals

New additions to the feathered family, are Milly and Monty Martin.  A pair of cliff (or rock) martins.

They, too, have built a nest under the eaves of our veranda, at the corner where the office is, and they keep me company as they flit, fly and float past.  Like Jack and Jill, Milly and Monty worked together to build their new home.

Every morning, Monty waits for the Cat’s Mother’s greeting from the window above, before starting the day’s chores.

Martins2015

From the time that we discovered the nest:  it took a week of hard work, gathering the mud and the grass to build a home for their new arrivals, helped much by the fact that we’d had quite a bit of rain so mud was readily available, and not far away.

Wally Weaver’s Woes

Now, Wally and Winnie Weaver, and the rest of their ilk don’t migrate and are permanent residents.  They squawk and squabble their way through the seasons and live in abodes that overlook a tranquil piece of water in the plot behind The Sandbag House.

WeaverNeigbhourhood2015

Or they did.

It all began during July – the height of winter.  Wally and a few of his mates had been busy.  Very busy.  The process of providing a roof over Winnie’s and other weaver women’s heads is long and arduous.

SAM_4765
Wally taking a break

Wally does all the work while she looks on.

It begins with drawing together two of the reeds and building a frame.

WeaverNestBuild2015

Wally works for a week or more building and putting the finishing touches to Winnie’s new home.

But it is she who has the final say:  if Winnie’s happy with it, she’ll add do the final feathering of her nest.  If she’ not satisfied, doesn’t bother;  she shreds it.

SAM_4796

There’s no hiding the evidence.  It floats on the water below.

Clearly Winnie and one of her sisters were not happy.  Nor were the other Mesdames Weaver:  that tranquil, watery neighbourhood has been abandoned.  Nary a nest to be seen.

Wally was bemused.  How could the colour not have been right, not to mention the aspect and the general flow?

Clearly, there’s no pleasing some birds!

It was back to the drawing board if Wally was to have any success at all.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2015