A month of Sundays? No, two years!

Two years ago, around the time, my regular blogs became increasingly sparse, as one chapter in my life ended, and others began.  One of these was Sunday Suppers @ The Sandbag House.  This post talks about that.

Would you believe that this Sunday was the second anniversary of Sunday Suppers @ The Sandbag House?  Since then, menus go out weekly to a WhatsApp group and via various social media and e-news channels in the village.  The menu for last night’s supper, except for the soup, is exactly the same as that Sunday’s.

Last year, at around the time that we marked the first anniversary of Sunday Suppers, we implemented a suggestion from regular diners, and started a book in which they could leave notes.  It’s also an interesting and easy way to keep track – mostly of the countries from which our village visitors come.  In the last year, we have hosted folk from England, Ireland and Scotland;  Sweden, Denmark and Germany;  Spain, Italy and India.  We’ve welcomed old friends – from far and near – and made new.  I’ve even been surprised by university friends, neither of whom I’d seen since those days, who came to McGregor – especially for Sunday Supper.  That was a trifle nervewracking, I confess.  Then they recommended to friends, Sunday Supper @ The Sandbag House.  And the friends came.

The lovely notes that folk leave are a delight and add to my general enjoyment of cooking and feeding people.

Not long into the journey, friend and photographer, Selma decided that she wanted to document (her word), a Sunday Supper @ The Sandbag House.  Her photographs are infinitely better than I could have wished, given my lack of experience, then.  We did have great fun and, I have forgiven her:

I don’t want to be in front of the camera, I whined.

You won’t be, she assured me, batting her blue eyes at me, smiling broadly.


She lied

All photos in this collage and the header image: Selma

I’ve learned

I have learned a great deal from Suppers @ The Sandbag House.  Not least that we can do it, and I have learned that I can do things I never thought I could.  Don’t get me wrong, I have most definitely not morphed from being a home cook into a chef, but there is truth in the old adage, practise makes perfect.

At the beginning, not only do I like doing pretty tables, but I figured that if the tables were pretty enough, people would forgive the food.

Bottom left and top right photos: Selma

Like wine and cheese do, I’ve improved over time

Perfection has not been realised, but there is most certainly a signficant improvement in things like desserts – never my forté – and how they are presented.  I discovered that I can bake and make mousse.  Panacotta’s next.

The other thing I’ve learned, is how to better manage portions and plating.  I’ve gone from slopping things about (or over diners – which nearly happened when we had a group of 10!), and serving vegetables in side dishes that don’t get eaten (and wasted), to plating entire courses.

And now

As we enter year two, I also hope to resume posting more regularly.  I have been bloggin elsewhere and various developments in the last few months have enabled me to consolidate most of my blogging activities.  Virtually all have been on the blogging-cum-social crypto platform, Steemit, and/ or on to that platform via other applications like Instagram, as well as, now, WordPress.  On the blog roll, there are posts that deal specifically with events there, which also explains the guff at the end of this (and each) post and which you are more than welcome to ignore – or not.


Also, as I go through the process of updating posts from the early days, to this now self-hosted site, I apologise belatedly, and in advance, for the spam that email followers may get in their inboxes.  It will be sporadic (and probably herald a “virgin” post, as I will do this as and when I get the opportunity.

I am back

So, for those who have kindly told me that they’ve missed my blogs, I’m back!  Do browse through the blog menu to see if there is anything earthshatteringly interesting that you’ve missed, and which was published elsewhere.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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Twenty-one Years, Twenty-two Turkeys and a lifetime in between

This Christmas we did our twenty-first turkey together our Weber kettle braai.  It might be the last.

Twenty years ago, before I met The Husband, I lived in a little cottage in Cape Town.  My kitchen was grandly equipped with a TV grill (who remembers those?), a borrowed electric frying pan and a counter-top two-plate oven and stove combination.  That year, I moved out of the house I had shared with the ex-husband-to-be, leaving a kitchen I loved.  Except for the “moaning minnie”, more usually known as a lazy susan, in the corner cupboard.  Anyhow, as usual, I digress.

Back to my little cottage of which I have fond memories but no photographs – no digital cameras then, let alone cameras on brick-sized mobile phones – so your imagination will have create its own pictures from my recollections.  Even though my culinary exploits were seriously restricted by the limitations of the equipment at my disposal, I managed to have more than the odd dinner party.  The menu, however, could never include a Sunday (or any day) roast of a size that might feed five, let alone the proverbial five thousand.  As Christmas approached, I realised that I had a problem.  A big one:  the turkey.

I was determined that my first Christmas as a happily single woman would not only be in my home, but that, come hell or high water, it would include a turkey.  Homecooked.

Bear with me as I digress.  Again.  Necessarily.

Another challenge I had to confront, also of a culinary and entertainment nature, was a complete dearth of the accoutrement required for a braai (barbecue).  Sacrilege in any self-respecting South African’s home.  For the odd occasion when I did want to braai, I was able to borrow from longsuffering and supportive friends and pay in kind, i.e. with a space in which to braai, eat and party.  We had lots of those.  Of course, I got to clean up;  a happy trade-off.

I needed both an oven large enough to accommodate a turkey. And a braai.

Discovering the Weber

My first real memory of the Weber kettle braai goes back to the late 1980’s, early 1990’s when I still lived in Johannesburg.  It was being touted as the new, next best thing.  Especially for roasting whole chickens.  In those days I lived on my own, and truth be told, rarely ate meat.  That, and living in an apartment with a very small balcony, meant that space – especially outside – was at a premium, all of which conspired against the braai.  I do, however, remember an excellent meal with a friend, not long before I moved away. Yes, it was the ubiquitous chicken and again, yes, it was in a Weber.  Not long after that, I left Johannesburg for the Eastern Cape to join the-then-not-, and future-ex-husband-to-be.  Thenceforth, and ‘till my new life as a gay-divorcee-to-be, and the turkey conundrum, I hadn’t encountered the Weber again, or given it even a passing thought.

Fast-forward five or so years and I had to make a plan.  I was already self-employed and those who know anything about self-employment and consulting, know that it’s neither glamorous nor lucrative, particularly when your clients are non-profits in the post-school education and training sector.  Add a dose of starting-from-scratch, and there not much in the budget, so when a project on which I had been working suddenly yielded a windfall – in November – the shopping list of essential nice-to-haves included one Weber kettle braai.  After all, a turkey is just a big chicken, isn’t it?

So, I went shopping:  it had to be the big one, i.e. the 57cm job.  Duly purchased, it came home and was assembled and instantly tested.  It was beautiful and it worked.


The acid test would be the turkey and, lo and behold, it worked.

The next twenty – years….

Not long after that, I moved into another cottage and of course Weber came along.  It became the preferred cooking mode for braais, roast chicken and, for The Husband and I, a particular leg of lamb.  It was his first visit to my home, introduction to my parties, and the cooking of that leg of lamb, his first introduction to the wonders of the Weber.

That happened in December 20 years ago, but neither the month, nor the Weber saw a turkey even though it was safely ensconced in the deep freeze.

Therein lay the rub.  Said turkey had to be addressed:  it could not live in the deep freeze until the following Christmas.  As it happened, somewhere between that leg of lamb and Easter of the following year, The Husband and I had become “an item” and we decided that the turkey had to be dealt with.  It could not, as an erstwhile friend had suggested, that January, be a late Christmas celebration.  It just couldn’t be.  The notion made me feel ill.  That Christmas was one I shall never forget;  it had not been just sans turkey, but it was sans my mother, and had been spent with my grieving father.

I’m not sure if you have noticed that the average size of turkeys has shrunk over the last twenty-odd years which, my former poultry farmer husband confirms, is a function of the market and the demand for more tender meat.  Anyhow, that turkey 20 years ago was still of the larger variety and when there are just two of you, a lot of turkey can be bit too much of a good thing.  So it had to be shared.  Over Easter, the weather in Cape Town is usually nothing short of spectacular.  It’s not too hot and although the South Easter can howl, it’s less likely then, than in late spring and early summer. It’s a great time of year to entertain outside (and visit Cape Town and the Winelands) and as my “new” cottage was as spatially challenged as my previous one (and current kitchen), most entertaining had to be al fresco.

The Weber’s second home and the first shared with The Husband.

Invitations extended, our attention turned to the turkey.  As anyone who’s cooked a turkey knows, it’s not just a case of taking it out of the deep freeze to thaw; it cannot thaw too quickly – it’s fowl after all and can attract all sorts of nasties.  This means that one lives with a dead turkey for quite a while.  We decided that said turkey would be marinated in, among other things red wine (of course!) which meant it would have to be turned and cosseted.  In the process, The Husband (then not) named that turkey, Fred;  thenceforth, every turkey that we have cooked, has been named Fred and cooked on the Weber.

That was the beginning of The Husband’s epiphany.  It was not long after this that he became not just a Weber convert, but a Weber advocate.  In the next two decades, the main course virtually every celebration, not to mention innumerable gatherings as well as meals for just the two of us, have been cooked on that Weber.  Fish and fowl, animal and vegetable.

Weber moved to six houses with me, five with him, and from Cape Town to McGregor.  It has lived under cover, in the elements and now in its advanced age, in the shed, protected from the heat, hail and other elements that McGregor endures.

Christmas 2018

In 2018 we did two Christmas turkeys because we did a Christmas in July as part of our Sunday Supper offering.  There have also been years that we have done more than one turkey over Christmas – as a contribution to someone else’s meal.  Every year since 1998, bar 1999 when my mother died, a turkey has been prepared in the Weber and eaten at our table – shared with waifs and strays, friends and family, and friends who are family.

Fred XXI ready to go: stuffed, trussed, “hat” on, and finally, Weber’s lid in place.

Although we have now built an enclosed braai (room) which is used at least weekly, our now very delicate and well-worn Weber is still used for every roast that we do – not just turkeys and chickens.  Roasts for Sunday Supper are always done on the Weber and our guests always comment that the smoky flavour adds so much to the meal – which includes the gravy which is made in the drip tray which I deglaze with various liquids.

Roasted pork neck with gravy – all prepared courtesy of trusty Weber

The advanced age and delicacy of Mr Weber means that he may have to be pensioned off.  Bits that can be replaced, have been replaced; legs have been riveted back on.  Sadly, though, his belly’s wearing thin as are some other vital bits.

To get a replacement, we may have to hock the house!  The first one cost just under R700 and when I looked at the Weber website, a new one will cost more than R4,000.  Mr Weber will continue receive tender loving care until we have a stash of cash for a replacement.

There it is – until next time

The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

All photos (other than otherwise stated) including the photos of photos are my own.

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Charming Chutney

November is apricot season around our village and lorries laden with crates of golden, ripe fruit make their way down the hill, past our house to the markets and/or to the canning factory in a nearby town. Everywhere one looks, there are apricots, and so it was on Friday evening when we arrived at our “local”, also frequented by the farmers from hereabouts. We hadn’t long arrived, at the local, performed the necessary greeting rituals, and acquired our drinks when The Husband leaned over to tell me that Jan Boer had informed him that we had a tray of apricots to take home.

“O koek!” I thought (as they say in the local lingo), “that’s a very lot of apricots for just two of us!”

Chutney is an important feature of traditional South African cooking, and particularly those South Africans with Dutch and Malay heritage.  It’s an essential accompaniment to curry as well as being an ingredient in a number of traditional recipes including bobotie.*  As are apricots – in chutneys, in jam – and which are also eaten dried, stewed or fresh.

November is apricot season around our village and lorries, laden with crates of golden, ripe fruit, make their way down the hill, past our house to the markets and/or to the canning factory in a nearby town.  Everywhere one looks, there are apricots, and so it was on Friday evening when we arrived at our “local”, also frequented by the farmers from hereabouts.  We were a little later than, usual and as we walked in, there was a crate of apricots with a pile of cardboard trays next to it, sitting on the tailgate of one of the regulars’ bakkies.**  We hadn’t long arrived, performed the necessary greeting rituals, and acquired our drinks when The Husband leaned over to tell me that Jan Boer had informed him that we had a tray of apricots to take home.

“O koek!” I thought (as they say in the local lingo), “that’s a very lot of apricots for just two of us!”


Last year, we also had the fortune to be given a load of apricots.  Those I preserved in syrup – not as successfully as I would have liked – but I do use them from time to time (and check Instagram for pictures of an apricot sorbet made with these – recipes to come in due course).

So, with a plentiful stock of preserved apricots on hand, I figured I’d try to make chutney.  I also had to move smartly because apricots, do not keep well, particularly if they are ripe and ready to eat – as these were.

I consulted my collection of recipe books, only to discover that none had a recipe for a chutney with fresh apricots.  So I had to invoke GoG (Good old Google) and see what I could find out.  Although  I did find a few recipes, I wasn’t entirely sold on some of the spice combinations.  What was common to all the recipes, including in the hard copy oracles I had consulted, was the ratio of fruit to sugar and vinegar.  I could also get a sense of the requisite quantity of spices.

The next step was to determine whether the chutney would have an Indian or Malay inclination.  I consulted The Husband;  we settled for the latter which is characterised by ginger, coriander, fennel, cumin and garlic.

The result:  fantastic!ApricotChutneyBottles2015

I was thrilled to bits with not just the flavour, but also the colour and consistency.

For once, I recorded what I did at every step of the way.  In my notebook.  It’s not a journal, technically, as it’s the book in which I often write notes and ideas for blog posts.

Not that you needed to see this, but I thought I’d show you anyway. No comment about the cat cover!

Apricot Chutney

Note:  the quantities provided below are based on a single kilogram of apricots.  The recipes I found ranged from one to ten kilograms.  I had 3,3 kg, so had to work things out.


All chutneys have fruit, sugar and vinegar in the ratio of 2 fruit to 1 each of vinegar and sugar.  Some recipes call for granulated, brown or molasses sugar, and others for spirit, white wine or cider vinegar.  I had to use what I had available in sufficient quantities and settled for ordinary granulated (white) sugar and the vinegar was a combination of apple cider and white spirit vinegar (roughly 1/ apple cider vinegar).


Apricots, sugar and vinegar

For each kilogram or part, also the following

1 onion
1 clove of garlic
15g of fresh, grated ginger
1 teaspoon each of yellow and/or black mustard and fennel seeds
½ teaspoon each of ground coriander and cumin
a sprinkling of coarse salt (do not add too much salt – the proverbial pinch is really all it takes!)

What to do

Pip the apricots; peel the onions and garlic, and roughly chop.  Blitz in the food processor in batches, transferring each to a large stock/jam pot.


Add the sugar and vinegar and stir, and finally, add the spices.  Bring to the boil, stirring from time to time to make sure that the mixture does not catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 2½ to 3 hours, continuing to stir, until it has reduced, the consistency is chutney-like and the mixture is a deep, rich colour.***


Bottle, hot, in sterilised jars.


The flavour

The flavour surprised and delighted us:  neither The Husband nor I, are fond of a sweet chutney and the apricot chutneys I remember tasting have tended towards being too sweet.  This is has a piquant, warm spicy flavour without serious heat.  I might, with another batch, consider adding some chilli for a chutney with a bit more bite.

So charmed were we both with this apricot chutney, that we tried it with our braai and boerewors (spicy South African sausage) that evening.  We decided that it will make a good accompaniment to not only the traditional fare, but also cheese, ham and turkey.  It’s likely, therefore, to be gracing our Christmas table this year.

*More of this in due course
** Utility vehicle, also known as a ute or pickup, depending on the country in which you live
*** Try not to choose the hottest, most humid day of the summer to do this, as I did:  it was 28ºC when I started cooking and the temperature proceeded to go up 1º every half hour until I’d finished cooking!  I was literally sweating (no, not glowing or perhaps I was!) over a hot gas stove!

Save a printable version of the recipe here.

First published on Fiona’s Favourites WordPress blog in 2015
There it is – until next time

The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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Heritage food: my take

In South Africa, in September, we celebrate our combined heritage.  Like so many countries, we are a bit of a melting pot but in South Africa heritage is also the site of much contestation.  However, I won’t go into that, except to say that Heritage Day precipitates two things.  One is a public holiday and the other is South Africa’s shared love of gathering around a fire on which a meal is cooked.  Yes, the barbecue.  In South Africa, though, it’s the braaivleis* or shisa** nyama*** that is virtually universally traditional.  Needless to say, when this particular public holiday spawns a public holiday on a Monday, Sunday Supper needs to reflect that.  I had already been thinking about the menu, but had not come up with anything firm, when early in September, I get this direct message on Instagram:

“Are you by any chance doing lunch/dinner on Sunday 23 September.  Can you recommend a place to overnight in McGregor! Thought we would come and test your kitchen and catch up??”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks, Dr Groundwater and I had all been – yes, you guessed it, again – at university together.  All of us in the Geography department and she and I in the same residence.  Other than bumping into her at a local market well nigh 20 years ago, and hearing Dr  Groundwater elucidate about the drought and his speciality on a local radio station, I had seen neither of them since those days; other than her following my Instagram account, we are not in touch.  The accommodation part was easy and within a couple of days, The Den was booked for them.

In addition to their advance booking for Sunday Supper, dear friends, Mr & Mrs Gummi, from Cape Town, had asked to book our Little Room and yes, especially so that they could be here for Sunday Supper.  Now, there is something you should know about Mr Gummi.  Not only are he and The Husband dedicated carnivores and bosom buddies who hail from the same part of the world, but Mr Gummi is a former restauranteur and chef.  We met him – and them – in his restaurant.  Now, it’s one thing having a casual braai or a dinner around the table in one’s home, and quite another when, so to speak, the boot is on the other foot:  there is just a little pressure.

Back to the menu.  Of course, it needed a heritage theme reflecting both South Africa and our Scottish roots. It is not practical to do a “common or garden” braai with my kitchen constraints and given that Sunday Suppers now have a set format of starter, main and sweet.  Two things that had been part of last year’s menu would feature:  the starter which had consisted of a paté made with local fish, and the sweet.

The final menu:

The two patés:  I cannot give you specific recipes for either, except to explain what they consist of and how I make them.

Angel fish paté

This is a paté usually made with a smoked fish (snoek) which is a rather coarsely textured, very bony, oily fish.  I prefer to make it with angel fish – the flavour is more delicate than the heavy smoked flavour of the snoek.  Either way, both fish are readily available if one has access to fresh fish or the sea.  We have, for years used the same fishmonger and on our most recent trip, stocked up.  Funnily enough, angel fish is one fish that benefits from being frozen.  Don’t know why.

I make the paté with fish that’s is left over from a main meal – usually done on the braai – cooked over hot coals, on the skin, not turned and basted with a mixture of olive oil, butter, parsley, garlic and lemon juice.  The Husband reckons he only knows how long to braai the fish for because I make just the right quantity of the libation.  I’m not so sure, but I’ll take it!

The cold fish is separated from the skin and flaked into a bowl into which a spritz of dry white wine is added, followed by a dollop of cottage cheeses, salt and pepper to taste, and finally, in this instance, wild garlic leaves and either chives or green onion tops.

All this is combined until the correct consistency is achieved – without mashing or puréeing – adjusting the quantities and the seasoning as you go along.  If you are in South Africa and using wild garlic (Tulbaghia), be judicious with the quantities.  It is very (the actual word begins with an “f”) strong and it develops over time, especially when combined with dairy.

Stash it in the fridge until you are ready to use it – either in a single receptacle or in individual dishes – depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

Homemade maaskaas (cottage cheese) paté with wild herbs

Making cottage cheese is easier than you think.  In South Africa, you can buy cultured soured milk.  I have, when I could get really, proper (how’s that for English) full cream milk, soured it and made cottage cheese from that.  Full fat milk is getting harder and harder to come by, so at the suggestion of a friend, cheated and bought the maas.  I treated it exactly the same way:

Put a colander into a large bowl to catch the whey and then line the colander with muslin.  Dump in the maas and tie up the muslin.  The whey will drain out and you will need to pour that away if it fills quickly (on to your pot plants or into the compost because it’s actually full of goodness).  It will need to hang for at least 24 hours, but better for 48 and you will have cottage cheese of the most fabulous creamy consistency to which you can add the flavourings you want.

The process followed for my first ever batch of cottage cheese. The first of many

For this supper, I added wild garlic and suurings known in English as wild sorrel.  I grew up eating these sour little leaves and flowers – in the Eastern Cape they are mauve and where I live, in the Western Cape they are yellow and flower in abundance in spring – especially this year.

Wild herbs picked from my garden: Oxalis, Tulbaghia and Portulacaria Afra (also known as spekboom or the jade plant)

A bit like the angel fish paté, adding the seasoning and flavourings is a matter of personal taste, remembering the caveat about the wild garlic leaves, and which applies just as much to conventional garlic.  When you’re happy, either serve immediately – the flavour is better at room temperature – or store until you’re ready to use.

Angel fish paté, maaskaas with wild herbs served with crostini

Springbok loin on the braai

The second course consisted of Springbok loin which had been rubbed in a mixture of spicy plum jam, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil to which I added a teaspoon of crushed coriander seed, a crushed clove of garlic and about a dessertspoon of fresh, grated ginger.  Having marinated for about 4 or so hours, the loins were braaied (grilled) over hot coals until they were medium rare, and then removed and allowed to rest.

Braaied Springbok loin

Some will say that this is too rare but remember two things:  venison is well matured which makes it dry and easy to overcook and secondly, as I have to keep it warm and avoid overcooking as I have to wait for diners to be ready for their main course, I elect to take the meat off when it’s under-done and allow it to rest.

Braaied Springbok loin served with roasted cauliflower and carrot, baby potatoes and spicy plum jam

In terms of quantities:  Springbok is a small animal and one loin serves about two people.

Fiona’s Scottish Milk Tart

The dessert, when I served it for the first time last year, was an instant hit and has become a regular feature of Sunday Supper menus.  It consists of the filling of a traditional South African melktert (milk tart) served with a side of Scottish shortbread in either a lovely little glass or, more prettily in my mother’s Royal Albert coffee cups.

Recipes for both the shortbread and the milk tart to follow in due course.

By all accounts, it was a menu and a meal that was a success!

Post Script

  1. Thanks to Buffalo Creek wines for the award-winning wine that was served with the meal.
  2. Special thanks to Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks and Dr Groundwater for coming to McGregor just for Sunday Supper, heading back to Pringle Bay the following morning, and to Mrs & Mrs Gummi for both visiting and their gracious patience!

* direct translation is “grilled meat” and usually shortened to braai pronounced “bry” – like “fry”

** shisa, according to an online dictionary, means to heat or to burn

*** nyama in many of the Nguni languages, including isiZulu and the one I am most familiar with, isiXhosa, is meat

There it is – until next time

The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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Floundering or flying?

I have been blogging on one or other platform for going on six years, but I have been writing – in one form or another – virtually all my life, and more so all my adult life. Or wanting to. It was only when I started blogging that I really discovered two things: I could do it. People read what I wrote – even the things I thought others wouldn’t read. Then I had something reinforced: writer’s block is real and that sometimes it’s impossible to write through the block.
Then, in one of those funks, just last week, I wrote a post because someone wanted a recipe and, somehow, it just flowed. Was it that the blockage had been removed or was it the writing that did the unblocking? Or the thinking about the writing? Or the cooking?

That’s part of who I am, but only part. I have been, and still am self-employed and like most self-employed people, who do they really like doing what they are doing, am totally under-paid. Just over a year ago, no, nearly two years ago, I threw in the towel doing the work that had been my passion and bread and butter for more than two decades. I started a new business focusing on the village where we live.
McGregor on an overcast winter’s morning
It’s gaining traction, but not generating nearly enough income.
That is the other part of why I am here. I need to be earning more and have skills that are two-a-penny on other online sites and where my offering is considered too expensive. I cannot afford to offer my services at a cut-rate which effectively costs me to be there, so I’d rather take my chances on a platform like @steemit and Weku.
Besides, here I can write what I like, can’t I?
I guess that makes me a bit of a maverick, and it’s taken me more than 50-odd years to acknowledge that while I like working with people, in some circumstances, I am an unwilling team player, and that can be challenging.

Since I reluctantly and in a great deal of pain, chucked in that proverbial towel, I have had a couple of small projects that have helped to keep the wolf from the door, and have started doing things that I like, and which generate income. Cooking and feeding people is one. Every Sunday we open our home to the village and its visitors because there is no restaurant open. Sunday Suppers have become a “thang” as the following few photos show:

And then there’s the food – about which I also write.
For carnivores and vegetarians

I do all of this from our home where I live with The Husband and two cats who also feature in my writing from time to time.

There it is – until next time


The Sandbag House

McGregor, South Africa
Edited slightly after it was first published on Weku 26 September 2018, and is hipefully my first post on @steemit since Hardfork20

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Coming up roses

It’s been a hectic time around here and I confess that I’m just beginning to catch up.  That said, we have another busy weekend ahead, but I’ll save that for after the fact.

The busy patch saw three major annual events in our village, three weeks in a row.  A trail run and a mountain bike race which was preceded by Poetry in McGregor.  Our village was, to put it mildly, bursting at the seams.  Although we are heading towards summer and one of the weekends is “officially” considered the beginning of spring, the weather gods didn’t think so.  The poetry weekend was windy – the wind howled to such an extent that The Husband literally clamped my cloth to the table at the market.  Courtesy of the wind and the dust, my fair skin received a free, natural exfoliation and I didn’t have to cultivate that “windblown look”!  The mountain bike race was wet and muddy….and cold, but the weather for the trail run was mostly glorious!

As I started this post, we had just enjoyed come through one of the coldest days of the year and were again surrounded by snowy mountains and rain.

This photo was taken from our veranda, yesterday, through the rain at about 5.45 pm.

The rain and the cold are good.  The last few winters have been too warm and the pests have been awful. Although the farmers probably don’t need the cold, now, especially not a late frost which could have a serious impact on the grape (and wine) yield for 2019.

There was frost, and those mountains looked like this, this morning.

Impact on the grapes?  Don’t know yet.  Actually, we have enjoyed (really!) the wettest winter in about four years and nature is saying thank you.

Anyhow, as usual, I digress from what I did want to talk about.  Last weekend we had some respite, but it was also a little nervewracking.  I was going to catch up with someone whom I had last seen more than thirty years ago.  We had lived next door to each other for a year at university, and were in the same class for one of our subjects for three years, but had really had not had much more than a passing acquaintance.  We’ve actually got to know each other better since we’ve been friends on, yes, Facebook. Over the years we’ve discovered much in common – not just Rhodes University.

Like vintage things like linen, china and lace;  pretty, fragrant flowers, including roses, eclectic decor tastes and, of course, cats.  These dog roses from our garden have gone to hers in the hope that they will grow.

Anyhow, the face-to-face stuff is different, especially when there are spouses and they are present.  Also, the last time this type of “re-connection” happened, the ultimate outcome was an unmitigated disaster.  Still smarting from that, as I will be for some time, a repeat performance didn’t bear thinking about and, with hindsight, and partly because of what I have now realised, was unlikely.

Ahead of Ms Friday’s arrival, she and “him” were chasing flowers and then she posted this on Instagram:

Photo: Ms Friday

The subsequent exchange went something like this:

“Waterblommetjies!”  I exclaim. “On the menu for Sunday Supper this week…”

“Aah, I thought these might be …”

“Should I try to get for when you are here?”

“I have actually never eaten them! Would love to try them – if it’s not a hassle.”

So the die was cast.  With a twist:  she is vegetarian and, traditionally, waterblommetjies (water flowers is the literal translation) are cooked as part of a lamb or mutton bredie (stew).  My culinary skills would be somewhat challenged as I wanted to do something that retained as much of the traditional flavours as possible.

Waterblommeties are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa and grow in the natural waterways.  This year they have been abundant because of the equally abundant rain.

The traditional bredie includes white wine, coriander seeds, cloves and garlic as well as potato – either cubed or sliced.  Of course, no stew would not include onion, so that goes without saying.  There are a number of equally traditional variations of the bredie and the most common of these is a tomato bredie a dish regularly served up when I was at boarding school, and if I remember correctly, at university, too.  Then there’s a green bean, butternut and cabbage variation.  I have made the butternut and green bean ones and I have also dreamed up my own vegetarian waterblommetjie dish.  But not this time.

Before getting to what I did for Ms Friday, here is what I did for the traditional Waterblommetjie Bredie*

Traditional Waterblommetjie Bredie

Serves 4 – 6 (depending …..)

1,5 kg thick rib of mutton – I used neck and had the butcher cut it into slices rather than cubes
2 litres waterblommetjies + 1 tablespoon salt for soaking
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large sour (Granny Smith) apple, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cloves (whole)
4 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
450 g potatoes, thinly sliced
250ml each water and dry white wine
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
oil for frying
  • The night before making your bredie – which I did in my slow cooker – pick the flowers from the stems – if they’ve not already been picked.  Then soak them in salted water overnight.  Drain and wash thoroughly under running water to remove any sand, grit or other nasties.
Waterblommetjies swimming in salt water overnight
  • Place in cold water, bring quickly to the boil and then drain.  Set aside.
  • Season the slices of meat with salt, pepper and sugar** and brown before placing in the slow cooker layered between the slices of potato and apple
  • Brown the chopped onion, adding a little oil if necessary.  Then add the spices and then deglaze the pan with the water and white wine.
  • Finally, pour the liquid into the slow cooker – it probably won’t cover the contents.  If you have a slow cooker that allows less water, don’t add more.  If you have to add water, you may need to thicken the stew before serving it.  Not ideal if you want to keep it wheat free as I did in this instance.
  • Cook for 4 to 5 hours before adding the waterblommetjies and cook for about another hour or until they have softened quite a bit.

Vegetarian Waterblommetjie Bredie

These quantities fed about four of us

3 robot peppers ( 1 each, red, yellow, green), chopped
4 courgette, sliced
1 large tomato, skinned and chopped
1 tin (410g) butter beans, drained
1 litre waterblommetjies + 1 salt for soaking
1 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cloves (whole)
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
2 potatoes, cubed
125 ml each water/vegetable stock and dry white wine
½ tsp sugar
salt & pepper
oil for frying
No, my challenge, here, was not to “kill” the vegetables, but to somehow develop the flavours so that there was at least some sense of the traditional flavours.
  • Follow the same process for the waterblommetjies as for the traditional bredie.
  • Sauté the onions in the oil and then add the spices followed by the vegetables and liquids.  Bring to a light simmer and then turn off and allow the flavours to develop for a few hours.
  • Then re-heat and transfer to a casserole dish to which you add the waterblommetjies and then place in a moderate oven for about an hour.

Both were served with plain white rice (which, I confess, I loathe) and butternut roasted with wild rosemary as well as a cucumber sambal consisting of grated cucumber, salt, vinegar and dill.

And then…

By all accounts, the bredies were a success but not the real focus of the evening which came to an end at the witching hour.  I forgot to take photographs of the main course, so that picture is of last week’s Boontjie Breedie (green bean bredie) but when all is said and done, I do have a wonderful memory of a great evening. With lots of nattering between “him” and The Husband, and, of course, Ms Fiday and I and wishes for doing it again…..
Oh, and much more tangible:  homegrown, homemade chilli powder from “him” and a lovely new Friday Bag as a mate to my five-year-old one!
* This recipe is my own and combines a few recipes that I found on the internet and in my copy of Magdaleen van Wyk’s The Complete South African Cookbook
**I left the sugar out the first time I made this – it was an unexpected mistake I won’t make again
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A taste of France

After a break from Sunday Suppers – it’s been cold and it’s also low season. But that’s not what I really want to write about.  I started this post last Monday, at about 05h30, intending to and it seemed that all hell broke loose in a manner of speaking.  This is now the fourth attempt having nearly lost the draft entirely!

We have a slew of events coming up in the village – over three consecutive weekends:  a poetry festival, a two-day trail run and then a three-day mountain bike race.  My day job has been keeping me busy:  cancellations, re-bookings and lots of to-ing and fro-ing as folk decide what they want to do.  And then changing their minds. Again.

Among all of that, we’re also doing work on one of the cottages, about which I have told you before, and will again, when all’s said and done.

So back to last week’s Sunday Supper which is a winter-warming favourite but doesn’t do well for vegetarians.  At this time last year, because things were so slow, I stopped advertising a vegetarian option, but a village swallow, Jill, berated me.

“You don’t do vegetarian!”

“I do,” I retorted, “you know that!”  She regularly buys fare from me at the market.  “Besides, I went on, the ad does say that a vegetarian option is available – you just need to say.”

“I know she said.  But I need to be enticed….”

Anyhow, it’s good to heed potential diners and I took her advice and began including the actual vegetarian option with each Sunday supper menu.  Well, it paid off:  she and her husband have been a few times, and she more often than that – with her girlfriends – one such evening was this with friends, including one from England.

Anyhow, I digress.  Only slightly;  when I design the menu each week, it is with vegetarians (lacto ovo – I confess that vegans present a greater challenge) in mind.  The first course, which is always (well only once it hasn’t been) a soup, is always vegetarian-friendly.  The second course has two protein options to accommodate veggies, but the sides must work with both dishes.  Because I have spatial challenges in my kitchen which makes doing elaborate meals a complete no-no.

Ok, so back to this particular menu which had, as you guessed it, a taste of France.  We are fortunate to have innovative people in our village and one such is Lavender Lady who packs and markets McGregor Herbes de Provence, a fabulous blend of herbs, beautifully presented.  So pretty, that when they are included in a dish, they are part of the table decor.


This week, they were the champion of the menu.

Well, as you guessed it, our veggie guests booked for dinner:  they were winging their way back to England the following day.  Anyhow, they kindly raved about the bean casserole and I facetiously said that I should write it up.

“Yes,” said Steve who has been a regular follower of my other blog for some time, “You should!”

I have already shared the Oxtail recipe, so here’s the recipe for the bean casserole.

Green bean casserole with McGregor Herbes de Provence

This recipe makes two generous portions, so for more people, ramp up the quantities.


About 300 to 400 g green beans
1 tin chopped tomatoes or an equivalent quantity of passata*
1 onion, chopped
125 ml red wine
1 – 2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
¼ red, yellow and green peppers – cut into strips – not too long
½ – 1 teaspoon McGregor Herbes de Provence (or to taste)
panko/breadcrumbs for the topping
grated cheddar + a hard cheese – finely grated ** for the topping

Sauté the onion in some olive or vegetable oil until glossy. Add the garlic, chopped and the tomatoes with the McGregor Herbes de Provence.  Bring to a light simmer and then add the red wine.  Simmer and reduce by about half.  Then add the pepper and allow to cook through, but not become too soft.

The key to this casserole is not “killing” the beans.  I loathe green beans that have gone olive grey-green because they’ve been over-cooked.  So the secret is to cook them separately.  I left them whole and placed them in a pot of cold water with a little salt.  As soon as they came to a boil, I ran them under cold water and set them aside.

To assemble, place the beans in a casserole dish (I used individual dishes) and then cover with the sauce.  Top with a layer of cheddar followed by a light sprinkling of breadcrumbs and the hard cheese.  Bake in the oven until the casserole is golden brown and bubbling.

Our other guests were first-timers:  a South Africa tour guide and four travellers from the UK.  This is what all our diners had to say about that Sunday Supper.

* I would have used fresh tomatoes if had been in season, but right now, in the middle of winter, they’re prohibitively expensive.  If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you probably need about four or five – blanch, skin and chop them and add them to the sautéed onion.

**I used a local very mature gouda known as locally as a Boerenkaas and which is hard and tangy.  Montagu Mature also a great substitute for Parmesan and which I source from a nearby town and also hand cut to sell at the market.

If you would like a to save the recipe, you’ll find it here.

Until next time, and after the current flurry, over and out from

The Sandbag House
South Africa

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Faux Daikon Pickle

One of the many wonders of living in McGregor is the fresh produce.  From our garden and generously shared with us.  We are often blessed with garden loot and I have to think of what to do with it.  Like the other day when I was presented with a bunch of Icicle radishes that look just like mini Daikon.  And their grower told me, they have a similar flavour and texture.

We were heading off for our break, so what was I to do with a bunch of giant radishes?

Being too Scottish to chuck it in the compost heap, and following her suggestion, I pickled them using a Japanese style recipe.

Japanese style pickled radish

500g radish/Daikon
1 cup warm water
½ cup rice/apple cider vinegar*
2 tablespoons salt (I used coarse sea salt)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar

cloves garlic – 1 for each jar
chillies – to taste
carrots – also cut into crudité**

Trim the radishes and cut into crudité.  Place in cold water while you prepare the brine by simply dissolving all the ingredients together.

Dry pack the radish into sterilised jars and then cover with brine and close.  All the recipes that I found (and this recipe is based on all of them) suggest that these pickles are ready in about 2 hours.  We opened them at the market on Saturday and Rustic Ronnie, she who gave me the radishes, promptly bought the largest jar, pronouncing them delicious and with the intention of using them on her canapé platters.

The finished product: faux Daikon pickle

* I used apple cider vinegar because, as usual, I was not prepared and I don’t keep rice vinegar, usually.  GoG (Good old Google) informed me that apple cider was a better substitute than white wine because it’s less harsh.
** Adding the carrot, I’m told makes the pickle more Korean.  Perhaps my Asian readers can confirm (or otherwise) this?

Post script

I am doing this a lot and I apologise to my followers and mates in @steemitbloggers and @teamsouthafrica – I’m not touching sides and have taken a few minutes out of Sunday Supper prep to do this, and also to keep a promise to a friend who wanted this recipe!

I have at least two uncompleted drafts waiting for attention and I hope that I will have a little more time next week (Monday to Wednesday, anyway) to begin resuming normal programming!

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Taking the ..erm… Bull by the Tail…

It’s a funny old world we live in.  My blogging career (such as it is!), began with recipes and then, because I figured that the recipes on their own were just plain boring, I started sharing some of my associations with them. Then, one thing led to another, and I started writing about other stuff and taking the odd photograph.  So, it’s really been quite a while since I posted anything about my cooking.  Not that I’m short of material, or for that matter, people wanting recipes.  I have long promised Lavender Lady a follow up to the first batch of recipes – she wants to do a book….

As some of you know, I have, for the past five years had a food stall at the local pop-up market, and for those who are not familiar with where we live:  McGregor is a village in the heart of the winelands and with a population of about 7,000 people.  At most.  It’s somewhat off the beaten track (you can read a bit more about it here) and at that time there was no eating establishment open on a Sunday evening, so I suggested to The Husband that we host simple (ha!) Sunday Suppers in our home.  A service to the community.

The groups would have to be small – the house is small and we’d have to re-arrange things to make it work as a pop-up restaurant.  Also, we are not fans of being forced to sit with strangers, so we were not going to do a long table.  That also presented certain challenges.  Especially in winter when we couldn’t possibly have people spilling on to the veranda and into the garden.

Well, you know, there are two old sayings:

You’ll never know until you try it


Be careful what you wish for

Then using yet another idiom, be careful of words spoken in jest:  Sunday Suppers have become a regular and expected thing in the village.  But I run ahead of myself.

About a week into this new adventure, good friend and fabulous photographer, Selma sent me a message.

“I’d love to document one of your Sunday Suppers.  Can I?”

“WHAT?  Are you out of your mind?  It’s complete and utter chaos.  I don’t think I want all that sin exposed.  Besides, I’m neither camera shy and most certainly won’t be dressed for success.”

“No, man,” says she, “It’ll be of your hands and the food, the table, and, of course, the cats.  Mostly the cats.  We do weddings, you know.  You cannot imagine the mess that goes on there, hahaha!”

That last bit is, of course, the most believable part of the statement.  So I discovered after I was convinced.

“I’m going to be in the village because…, blah, blah, fish paste….” I was persuaded.  Anyhow, she arrived in the village and said, “I’ll see you on Sunday.  What time do you start prepping?”

“Well, actually, I’m going to be doing quite a lot on Friday so that things are a bit more manageable on Sunday.”

“I’m on my way!”

So began my first (and only) ever experience of being in front of the camera and I do admit that I had fun.  Mostly because Selma loves what she does, is more than good at it, particularly persuading reluctant subjects to conform to her whims.  The results of the two days’ shoot are here and also appear in this and many of my other posts where they are duly acknowledged because she has given me a gazillion fabulous photographs to use.  And I do:  virtually every time I put together the weekly menu which is posted in the local online newsletter and in the social media.

Photos: Selma

Then, on Saturday, when I get home from the market, Longtime Friend and like Selma, a wannabe McGregorite has sent me a message.  This was the WhatsApp exchange.

So think about it I did, and here’s what I sent:

Slow cooker Oxtail
(serves 4 with mash)

1 oxtail (probably about 800g to 1kg)
4 – 8 carrots (peeled (or not) but left whole) – makes for prettier presentation (and they don’t turn to mush)
1 onion finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic
vegetable oil
1 cup beef stock (250ml)
1 glass red wine (125 – 175ml)
1 bay leaf
Fresh / dried herbs of choice:  thyme, rosemary/McGregor Hebes de Provence*
2 tablespoons seasoned flour
1 dessertspoon Bisto (optional)
Salt & pepper

Lay the prepared whole carrots at the bottom of the slow cooker with the bay leaf.

Mix the seasoned flour with the Bisto if using and then roll the oxtail pieces the flour to cover.

In a large frying pan or skillet, with a little oil, brown the individual pieces.  Place in the slow cooker.

In the pan, add a little more oil if necessary and sauté the onion until glossy and transparent.

Add the herbs of choice and sauté for a little longer.  Then add the stock to de-glaze the pan.  Then add all the liquids t the slow cooker.  If the oxtail isn’t just about covered, add a little more water.

Cover and cook on high for about 5 hours.

If you have more time (like 7 hours), put on auto or low.

About an hour before serving, check the consistency of the gravy.  If not to your liking, remove a little of the liquid and add it slowly to a dessertspoon of flour until you have a smooth paste.  Add this to the stew and leave for an hour.

Adjust the seasoning at this point.  If you are using commercial stock (cubes), only add salt at this stage.

Serve with rustic mustard mash, the whole carrots and a green vegetable like beans or broccoli.

Longtime Friend served them with rice – one of the children doesn’t like potatoes.  What I should have suggested – to give the mash a bit of zing, and which I did last time I served oxtail for Sunday Supper, was to add about a dessert spoon of wholegrain mustard to the mash.

Download a printable version of the recipe here.

So it was, that the bull did get taken by the tail, and fourteen months later, Sunday Suppers seem to have become a village fixture.

In my happy place, preparing an early Sunday Supper. Photo: Selma

By the time guests arrive, the sin is mostly dealt with and guests are greeted with a warm fire and pretty tables.

Photo: Selma

Post script:

I’ve been missing awhile, I know, and it’s partly because I’ve been blogging on another platform and building a rep in the crypto world.  If it interests you, you will find me here

Sweet Challenge

Today, I am breaking one of my blogging rules and politics competes with pudding for pride of place.

Where to start? Again, it’s been a while, so I sit here wondering whether I should be wishing you all Happy New Year when the year is six weeks’ old?  What a start to the year it’s been:  not quite like last year’s which by this time, was really sad, and got sadder.

As I write, I am breaking one of my blogging rules because it’s also one of those days on which many South Africans reflect on where they were on 12th February 1990.  I remember that day.  Vividly.  I was living in Johannesburg and it was also a Sunday.  I had for a few years been involved with a street kids organisation in Hillbrow and we had taken the children out for a day in the sunny Magaliesburg.  After returning the children safely to their shelter, I parked the Yellow Peril in her spot in a rented garage up the road from my Yeoville flat.  Then I went to visit a friend:  a fascinating woman, elderly and ailing but in her own way, still young and heart, full of life and hope.  It was her birthday and she had stories of the struggle and of her youth in and around Yeoville in the 1950s and 1960s.  As she reminisced, we shared a glass or two of something (wine, I suspect), and sat glued to the television waiting for a moment neither of us thought we’d ever see.

Nelson Mandela walking free, down the road from the Drakenstein Prison and then, making his first speech as a free man.

Over the week or so, not unlike then, many of us are glued to the television and now, the social media.  Waiting for an announcement of a different nature;  one that will finally confirm the end to the Jacob Zuma era.

Many of us set a great deal of store in the man who held the microphone for Mandela on that day and that he will oversee a return to the values that Nelson Mandela espoused and for which he and so many struggled.

Ramaphosa holding the microphone for Nelson Mandela.  Walter Sisulu, whom I met is on the left of the picture.  Source:  IOL, Picture: Leon Muller

So, from the challenge that South Africa faces to a challenge entirely banal.  I nailed my colours to the mast when I started this blog:  I do not have a sweet tooth, so when I embarked on the Sunday Supper journey, my dessert repertoire was extremely limited, and at best, messy.

A few helpful folk have come to my rescue and have shared recipes with me, but it was a chance conversation with my hairdresser that sent me in search of the recipe for a dessert from my childhood.  For some of us, the ginger tart from the 1970’s is as South African as apple pie is American.  It was one of the ones my mother made regularly and as summer approached, a hot dessert became less and less attractive.  Especially on days when the temperature can exceed 40° Celsius (over 100° Farenheit), and when one can be cooking and serving dinner when the temperature hasn’t dropped much below 30°C.  Like it was when fellow blogger and new friend joined us for dinner on one of the hottest evenings of the summer.

Anyhow, back to the ginger tart.  No recipe was to be found in any of my South African recipe books, so I consulted GoG* and came across a website – in New Zealand, no less – that is rich with old Saffa favourites.  Oh, good, I thought.  Until the fruitless quest for a jar of preserved ginger.

I don’t do well being thwarted.

Fresh ginger abounds, at a price, but surely, preserving it couldn’t be so difficult.  GoG.  Again.  This time a local website.  So now we were set.

Preserved Ginger

This is really easy to make.  However, as with any sugar syrup, be careful not to stir it too much or to cook it for too long.  It will crystallise.  The recipe I found follows, and which I adapted only so that I had no waste, and made more than the cup this recipe yields:


200g fresh ginger, peeled and diced into ½ cm pieces
2 ½ cups water
2 cups sugar

What to do

Put the sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan.  The recipe says that one should stir to dissolve – I don’t recommend this.  Watch the pot and the water carefully – the sugar will dissolve without its being stirred.  Then add the ginger and simmer gently until the ginger is soft and translucent – about an hour.  The amount of liquid will, of course, also reduce, leaving you with a rich, gingery syrup.

Pot in one or more sterilised jars.  Don’t refrigerate.  It will crystallise.

Retro Ginger Tart


150 g ginger biscuits
50 g butter


Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat.  Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until you have crumbs, add these to the melted butter, and mix together.  Then press the mixture firmly into a pie plate and put it in the fridge to firm up – at least half an hour.  This is a little counter-intuitive because the mixture is added when it’s still hot, but trust me (really!) this is a better route to go – the crust is much firmer, and the tart is easier to cut and serve.


1 cup (250 ml or 300 g) golden syrup (remember the days of fresh bread, butter and syrup?)
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground ginger
2 tablespoons (30 ml) chopped preserved ginger – reserve the preserving syrup
2 tablespoons (30 ml) custard powder
2 tablespoons (30 ml) cornflour/maizena
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup (125 ml) cream

Chop the preserved ginger – or not – it depends on how chunky you want the ginger.  Combine the golden syrup, the syrup from the preserved ginger, ground ginger and boiling water.  Add the chopped preserved ginger.  Then mix custard powder and cornflour into the cold water.  The recipe says to add this to the syrup mixture.  I find that if one does that, one can end up with lumps, so what I do, is to use a slightly larger bowl than one would normally, and then to spoon some of the hot mixture into the cold powder and water mix, and then to return the lot to the pot.  Boil for 3 minutes and pour the mixture into the prepared crust.  Refrigerate the tart to allow the filling to set.

Decorate with whipped cream.

Ginger tart with squiggly cream
And to end…

This dish was my mother’s and is the same one she used for her ginger tart, a fact that only dawned on me the second time I made a ginger tart.  The pile of squiggly cream was necessary because, for some reason, the filling cracked, and has done so each time I’ve made this.  Not good for presentation when you have paying diners.  I have given you the quantities as they are in the recipe, but the next time I make it, I am going to reduce the quantity of cornflour and see if that solves the problem.  If it does, I’ll update the recipe.

PS: New beginnings?

As I finished writing this, I was glued to the television, just as I was, 29 years ago, and watching someone as presidential as Madiba was then, addressing the launch of the Nelson Mandela centennial celebration.  Ramaphosa has committed to ridding the country of corruption and state capture, returning us to the values Madiba espoused.  Unity of South Africa’s people and what is best for the country as a whole.  I do hope so.

*Good old Google

Drizzle and Dip

Rainbow Cooking