The Blog

February 2020 and twenty years on

February is the month of love, they tell us.  Well, I can unequivocally say that it is.  No, I’m not talking about Valentine’s day.  It’s now so commercialised that the world has all but forgotten its significance, which may or may not have been romantic love.

That aside, in a 21st century world, the valentine hype does little for the average Jack and Jill;  it creates expectations and stress that aren’t really necessary or appropriate any more.  Does it not just reinforce traditional patriarchal mores and norms?  I think so.  Even when it’s a leap year when women have “license” to be the ”aggressors” in a romantic relationship.  Perhaps the one positive of commercialisation is recognition of the potential for same sex romantic love.  That, however, is the exception to prove the rule.  There remain too many countries where people are persecuted for the persons with whom they just happen to fall in love.

Before I’m accused of being a killjoy, let me assure you that there is nothing more romantic and titillating than being courted.  The thrill of young love – at any age – is not to be sneezed at.  The excitement of discovering shared passions, sharing histories, new interests and the contemplation of a journey into lifelong companionship.

That has been my February for twenty years.  It’s a journey that began, not when I was in my twenties, nor The Husband in his, but rather in our thirties and fifties, respectively.  It was a path down which neither of us ever planned venturing, again. Ever.

None are more surprised than we, that two decades have passed.  They have been decades of happy times and of challenge with some of the biggest ones happening as our love was growing:  deaths of parents (both of us); the demise of businesses and careers.  We moved house (often) and in the last ten, moved town and again encountered the demise of a business and a career shift.  Over the years, we both achieved the same milestone:  before we moved from Cape Town, the home we left behind was for us both, the longest either of us had ever lived in one house in our entire adult lives.

Our Cape Town home

The Sandbag House, this year, as we enter our ninth year here, will now be the longest.

Would we change things, we asked ourselves on the 4th of February (the day it all began) 2020?  No, we both agree.  Not in the grand scheme of things.  Yes, we get grumpy with each other and occasionally, we “miss” meaning.  Usually, though, we are really saying the same things in different ways.

Yes, we walked very different roads to finally meet each other, but meet each other we did.

We soon discovered that there are common places and people in our pre-histories which give cause for pause.  His mother and my father grew up within miles of each other in Glasgow and were not far apart in age.  Their birth certificates were from the same registry of births.  Probably written by the same registrar.  The Husband, when in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) had school friends whom I got to know when they spent their university years in Grahamstown;  on trips back to Bulawayo, they’d overnight on his farm.

In one of my jobs in Johannesburg, I worked on a property adjacent to the farm that he managed.  I was a frequent shopper at that farm stall and where his job required he spend much time.  In Cape Town, and for a year, I was neighbours of close friends who had rented from him on that farm.  When they moved and had a housewarming party, we were both invited.  For the first time, that evening, our paths crossed.

Dates

In those early days we had plenty of dates.  Two remain forever in my memory.

The first was technically not a date, but it’s a story on which The Husband still dines out.  And no, love (I know he’s going to read this), it’s not THAT story.  It was also at a former neighbour’s home.  She was having a party because her son and grandson were visiting from the UK.  I was invited.  As was the husband – unbeknown to each other.  Instructions:  bring your own tipple.  The hostess with the mostest rarely, if ever drank alcohol.  Somehow, The Husband hadn’t got the memo and arrived sans beer.  Ever helpful, I knew a place where beer can be acquired – a little after standard trading hours.

I’ll drive, if you direct.

At that time, he lived some kilometres from Cape Town, in a cottage next to the farm on which he worked.  I obliged.  As a city girl, in my own cabbage patch, the route there, was not the route home.  It’s all about the traffic lights and knowing the right back streets.  He was confused.

Mingling and chatting ensued.  Another guest, some time during the evening, and for a completely unfathomable reason, punched our respective telephone numbers into our bricks mobile phones.  I only discovered days after.

The evening came to an end and he wanted to continue the conversation.

Can I take you for coffee?  Do you know a place that’s open now?

Ummm….  Stomp up and down the road.  No.

You sure?

No.  It would be nice, but no.

So ended our first evening together.

Why then, you’re asking, does he dine out on this?  Because I lied.  Once the area also became his cabbage patch, he discovered that there were legions of places open into the wee hours.

Overdone dinner

That was in the November, and the next month, I had a gathering at my home and I invited him.  Using said telephone number.  He stayed and helped to wash up and went home.  I was impressed.  As was he, with the accurate directions I had provided.  A few days later I had to leave town.  Suddenly.  My mother was on her deathbed.  After her death, and as I helped make arrangements and comfort my grieving father, he was the voice of comfort, sanity and reason; at the end of the brick phone with the still very fresh memory of suddenly losing his father.

On my return, we settled into a pattern of chatting on the phone and the odd outing dates. Eventually, I decided it was time.  My way of showing care and affection for people has always been (and still is) over a cup of tea or coffee or a meal.  It was time.  That Friday, invitation issued and accepted, I braised lamb chops, made my now famous apple cabbage and cooked the potatoes with the cutlets.  Pretty table set, the agreed time arrived.  But he didn’t.  His mobile was engaged.  Something serious was afoot.  An hour later he arrived.  His eldest daughter’s new marriage had spectacularly imploded and she needed help.  Dad was doing what dads do.

Let’s just say, that although the supper was a little overdone, the rest of the evening was so well done that it didn’t end.

It has become traditional that every year on February 4th, we have lamb chops (or lamb in some iteration or other).  Over supper, we happily, gratefully, reminisce and think with amazement, how the years have passed.  We’d have it no other way.

This year was no different except that there is often a division of labour.  The Husband lights a fire to braai (barbecue) and I do the salad and other bits.

Salad (that included red cabbage) lamb chops and wors (sausage) off the braai for supper: February 4th, 2020.

Memorable times

I think fondly of our hike walk around a lake near Sedgefield, when we were on our honeymoon, and even though I followed in his footsteps, I clearly didn’t.  I spent most of my time disappearing down the holes burrowed by the local giant dune mole rats.  Happily, little damage to much more than my dignity.

Our honeymoon view

Then there’s another occasion, a few years later when we’d walked along a bird trail in the same area, and stopped to have a light lunch overlooking the sea.  A lady must powder her nose, you understand.  Especially after a sweaty walk.

I disappeared in the appropriate direction.  Then The Husband’s phone rings.

Hello, love.  I’m locked in the lavatory.

You’re not.

I am.

This only happens in movies or to other people.  Liberated, I gather that much consternation had ensued as the establishment had been open only a matter of months.

I was in hysterics.  Apparently, I was the only one who could see the funny side.

The date of a lifetime

So, at the risk of being completely over the top, the date I do want to remember, in every tiny little detail, I remember in just flashes and vignettes.  With photographic help.  Some of them are my own;  some are The Husband’s;  others are our guests’.  While the details may elude me, it’s a day I’ll never forget, even though I still get the actual date wrong, sometimes.  It’s a date for which he was early, and I would have been on time, until the dear friend doing the driving, had his own idea.

The most important date – in September.

Other than party pooping guests throwing us out of our own fabulous party, our wedding day was the perfect date.

We continue to make memories and have wonderful times reminiscing.  Especially in February, and September, and many days in between.

Post script:

I would have written about this milestone this week, whether or not dates and love had been the topic for this month’s February Your Top 3 contest.  So, I’m making this my cheeky entry.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Where were you when…?

I went cold.  Not because a Cape Cobra had tried to join us for brunch.  The moment The Husband and I rose from the table – in unison – he literally turned tail and headed back whence he’d come.

That was yesterday.

This morning, going through the ritual Sunday chores, listening to the local radio station, I heard the question, “Do you remember where you were on this day, thirty years ago?”

Then it dawned on me that it is the 2nd of February.  I did know that.  Facebook had reminded me and I had wished three folk for their birthdays.

I do remember

Thirty years ago, February the 2nd was a Friday.  It was the opening of parliament and it was to be F W de Klerk’s maiden address.  It was the beginning of a new decade, and a new era.  We had no idea what the future would hold.  We had an inkling, and great deal of hope.  At the time I was working In a job where I was seeing out my last month.  The ninth month of hell.  Not because the people were awful.  Nor was the company.  It was the mindlessly, endlessly boring job.  Not that I had nothing to do.  On the contrary, I was busy and even took work home.  It just didn’t stimulate me.  It didn’t rock my socks.

My office was like a cell.  It was on the top level of a parking garage in the bowels of Johannesburg.  The only natural light came from a long fanlight set so close to the ceiling that I’d have needed a ladder to look down at the street below.

My boss knew that in my spare time I volunteered with a street children organisation in Hillbrow.    She was also a former police woman.  Her husband was still in “the force” as it was known then.  However, and ironically, he was not mainstream police.  Nor was he part of that other, more secret branch of the force.  He was a founding member of the child protection unit and they were all too familiar with, and sympathetic to, the street children “problem”.  The irony continues because some years later when I worked for a national children’s charity, we collaborated with the police and that unit to start National Child Protection week which is still an annual event in South Africa.

Returning to that day:  I had a good rapport with my boss and we had an unspoken understanding of each others’ politics.  In those days, in certain many contexts, with certain people, certain subjects were taboo.  It was just before lunch and Bosslady, very unusually, burst into my office.

Have you heard the news?

No, why?

Let’s remember that thirty years ago, there were no mobile phones, no social media, let alone email.  The closest we got to instant communication was a telegram delivered to your door by a man on a bicycle, telex or fax.  Our firsthand news came via telephone – landline.  If one had an answering machine, a message might be waiting.  For the rest, news came from the news media:  newspaper, radio and television.

De Klerk has unbanned the ANC.  Nelson Mandela’s being released.

How do you know?

My husband…

I sat at my desk, aghast.  Delighted.  Gobsmacked.  Thrilled.

Alone.

There was no-one near and dear with whom to share the news.  I did not have that kind of rapport with either my boss or my colleagues and subordinates.  I didn’t know whom to phone.  Anyway, it would have been a personal call on the company dime.  I had no radio in the office, let alone in my car (the first – a very second hand Renault 5).  I do remember wishing I’d started my new job – at an independent school – run and staffed by anti-apartheid activists.

Freedom

I have no recollection of what I did after work that day, but I do remember what I did ten days later, on February 12th, the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison:  a free man.

Nelson Mandela leaving the prison gates after 27 years. A free man.  Source

It was a Sunday and once a month we’d take “our children” from the halfway house in Hillbrow, into the country where our “other” children were more settled.  Always a bunch of volunteers, the children and staff.  The volunteers would make contributions by way of meat, salads and treats for the children.  We’d play games in the sun, chat and just generally have a fun, lazy day in the sun over a lunch braai (barbecue).

A typical Sunday outing to our Magaliesberg project. These photos which include me with four of the boys, were taken in 1988 by a Canadian visitor.

That particular Sunday, I deposited my passengers and headed home.  At the time, the Yellow Peril (aka aforementioned Renault 5) lived in a rented space that belonged to a friend’s apartment.  She, until she became too ill to do so, was part of our Magaliesberg outings.  She is on the extreme right, in pink, in the bottom photograph.  It was not unusual for me to pop up and say hi, as I did that afternoon.  Maxine had grown up in Johannesburg and especially in and around the cosmopolitan communities that were most devastated by apartheid.  Her stories:  how I wish I’d listened more carefully and written them down.

I digress.

Maxine had the television on, her oxygen tank her only companion.  We all knew that that was D-day.

It hasn’t happened yet.  Let’s have a cup of tea.

So we did.  As we sat discussing the significance and events of the previous ten days, we watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison.  A free man.  We graduated from tea to sherry and thence to wine.  I have no idea what time I headed home down the block.  I do remember our sitting waiting, and then in rapt attention as Nelson Mandela gave that first address to the people of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, flanked by Walter Sisulu, his former wife, Winnie, and Cyril Ramaphosa, reads first address to the people of South Africa since his trial. Picture: Leon Muller

Thirty years

Fast forward thirty years.  I cannot believe that it is thirty years.  It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.  I go cold.  So much has changed and there is still so much to do.  It also dawns on me how the world turns.  For one of my birthday pals, that February 2nd thirty years ago, had so much more significance for her.  Funny that we’ve known each other more than 30 years – we were at Rhodes together;  neighbours in the same residence in our first years.  Neither of us celebrated our birthdays at university – they fell outside term time.  Of course I knew about her journey with V, and until today, didn’t think how special a gift she had received on her birthday in 1990.

That brings, me, in a roundabout way, back to the cobra:  both she and I love our gardens and their life;  we both have more than a passing interest in sustainable living.  It’s what’s reconnected us so many years later.  It’s not the first cobra we’ve had at The Sandbag House, and it certainly won’t be the last.  This one, did give us cause for pause.  Not for us, so much as for our Christmas guinea fowl family.

There were twelve in the clutch. They were probably 2 days old here.

They are very difficult to count, let alone photograph.  We try do do the former pretty regularly;  I do the latter very badly.  When I can.  There is a reason for the expression bird brain:  Mrs Guinea isn’t the best mum. Dad was, in the early days, superior.  In the baby album collage below – random photos of their progress – you’ll see one hunkered down near our little stone wall.  That’s Mr Guinea.  All twelve are nestled underneath him.  Mum was most definitely taking a break.

In the last six weeks, they have diminished in number to less than half.  When they were seven, The Husband and I spent an early windy evening in the dry leiwater sloot (irrigation channel) that runs past our house:  the babies had fallen in and couldn’t get out.  Talk about quick and little!  Eventually we’d scooped all seven out to scamper through the fence.  All this while Dad had a go at The Husband for messing with the kids.  And Mum?  Well she was chattering up and down the fence, like a headless chicken not sure whether to thank us or not.

Then there were six and then, on Friday, there were five.  That evening, The Husband said he wasn’t sure about Little Five.  He’d been commenting on the little straggler for a while: a dreamer, lagging behind and then chivied up to catch up with the family.  On Friday, The Husband thought Little Five was was poorly.

Sure enough, yesterday, there were only four when we did a head count.  I snapped the bottom right pic when I got home yesterday afternoon.  Sure enough:  four.  Perhaps the cobra did have brunch after all.  Today, as it was 40°C, we hadn’t seen them, but a moment ago, we were still grandparents to four guinea fowl chicks.  Ignored by Gandalf the Grey and Princess Pearli, The Husband’s wondering when they’ll move in.

A last word:  something else had been on my Sunday agenda. Until I went cold.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

How Steemit has impacted my Life – a dunce’s explanation and some random thoughts

A bit about Steemit has been on my writing list for a while.  Initially intended for my blogpals who are not on that platform, but after this call from one of Steemit’s major proponents, asking how Steemit has impacted Steemians’ lives, I thought it was time to actually do it.

What is Steemit?

Firstly, a non-tech, and a crypto-dunces’s explanation. Steemit is a social, crypto-blogging platform that operates on a blockchain. Source

That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s begin with the crypto bit.  I doubt that there’s anyone who’s not heard of Bitcoin, a virtual currency that is not formally (centrally managed).  It’s traded between people without the ubiquitous middle man.  A network of nodes verifies transactions through cryptography and records them in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Source

Steemit is a platform where one can either invest in, and/or earn, an alternative crypto currency:  STEEM.

It’s different from Bitcoin which has appreciated (and depreciated) in value because it is traded and mined and the market (number of Bitcoin) is capped.  To mine Bitcoin one has to have significant capital and/or IT resources, the likes of which I cannot fathom.  As a combination investment and content-driven social media platform, Steemit offers folk like me, who do not have the resources to invest in, or mine, crypto currencies, to potentially generate some sort of alternative currency.  I like to think of this as a sweat equity investment through the creation of content:  blogs which are published from WordPress to the blockchain using the SteemPress plugin .

A random photo of one of my “real life employers”.

Resource Credits

All users on the Steemit platform, are allocated a number of resource credits when they register and which effectively float the plankton Steemian.  The embryonic whale must build his/her way up to dolphin, and to whale status.  This status is determined by the amount of Steem (currency) she or he holds, and I discussed a little here.  The greater the amount of Steem, the greater his/her power in the ecosystem.  Literally.

A word about the nomenclature

As an account builds up Steem, the eponymous token (crypto currency) generated by this blockchain, so does the Steemian’s power or ability to perform actions on the blockchain.  Each action (comment, vote (like), post, or wallet transaction (movement of crypto currency) uses up resource credits which are replenished over a 24 hour period.  One also builds both reputation and steem and as one does, one moves up the Steemit ladder.  The levels use marine analogies which are very similar to the analogies used in the gambling world.  The smallest accounts are plankton and, sadly (well, for some), much like happens in the ocean, become the fodder of the whales and orcas that inhabit the higher echelons of the Steemit chain.  One earns tokens (Steem) from votes on posts and comments (authoring) and from voting and re-steeming (re-blogging/sharing on the blockchain) (curating).

Governance

By and large, the Steemit blockchain is self-regulated and there is no formal censorship.  Governance is a touchy subject and must be seen from two perspectives.

Content

In the going on three years I’ve been playing in this virtual sea, there have been endless debates about content management and what is quality.  Realistically, “quality” is subjective – rather like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Folk show their support and/or displeasure at posts through their votes (likes) or downvotes (unlikes).  The latter are a little contentious and for the purposes of this post, not necessary to labour.  More than this, though, there is the comment facility which enables one to engage with the writer, fellow commentators and the topic.  Personally, if there’s content I don’t want to see, I skip it.  If there are views I disagree with, I’ll either walk away, or add my 2c worth.  Politely.  I’ll talk about this a bit more below.

Blockchain (i.e. technical)

The technical side of the blockchain is handled by a combination of the owners of Steemit Inc and witnesses.  Much of this is completely mystical and beyond me.  I understand principles.  Not the detail.  I admit I just accept that certain things are so.  The witnesses are investors and, by and large, the people who develop the platform and decentralised applications (like Steempress) that provide user-friendly interfaces for bloggers posting to Steemit and thus to the blockchain.  For big changes on the blockchain, there must be consensus among the majority of witnesses who achieve that status:  they manage nodes and are elected by ordinary Steemians.  The who’s who of the witnesses in the top 100 changes as witnesses receive and lose votes.

And, thank you for asking:  yes, you can remove your vote if you don’t like what a witness might be doing or proposing.

The most recent of the big changes (Hardfork 21 and 22) has seen a major improvement in the quality of content published and with that, the quality of engagement.  The main reasons for this is that the rewards for reblogging, upvoting and commenting (curating) have increased.  The use of bots (paid-for votes) has been discouraged and virtually disappeared.  I admit to initially having been  very concerned, if not opposed to elements of these changes.  Not long after the changes, the demise of the bid bots had a positive impact on my personal rewards (and levels of engagement) on the blockchain.

The even shorter version

Steemit is a platform where one can publish content that is in the public domain in perpetuity.  Every transaction associated with that content is similarly public and recorded for posterity.  For folk who develop content and who want to both protect and never lose it, publishing to a blockchain is the way to go.

This returns me to the issue of governance and self-regulation:  as a platform that continues to exist because creators publish novel material, plagiarism and the theft of others’ intellectual and artistic property is not just frowned upon, it is actively sanctioned.

For some more “authoritative” thoughts and facts about Steemit, read this.

Mixed media and user-friendly back-ends

I have already alluded to the fact that that one can use a range of interfaces to publish to the blockchain.   When I started blogging on Steemit, one had to use www.steemit.com;  the phone apps were are clunky.  That was a challenge for someone like me who knew no coding or markdown.  I’ve learned a little since then, and the advent of decentralised apps and communities with their own frontends not dissimilar to a word processor, have made it much, much easier.

Then there are the apps for those who don’t like to write that these are geared to the Steemian’s preferred medium and/or interests e.g. vlogging, and travel just to name two.

Steemit really is a blockchain for all.

A less random pic of the other current employer.

Steemit and me

My blogging journey predates the advent of Steemit and I have often commented that the virtual world is not very different from the three dimensional one in which we live. The virtual world is inhabited with folk with whom one shares things in common and who can be kindred spirits.  Similarly there are folk whom one would rather avoid.  Then there are the bullies, megalomaniacs and criminals. I was the (stupid) victim of one of these last not long after I returned to Steemit after an hiatus.  It taught me to be mindful of my own security as well as about the care and generosity of strangers in the Steemiverse.  It’s a lesson I shall never forget and which set the tone for me, too, to pay it forward when I am able.

That there are initiatives on Steemit that look out for newbies and which work with them to weather the storms, is testimony to the fact that there are good people in the world.  One of them, @pifc played a significant role in my moving up the ranks.  Its founder, @thedarkhorse arrived as an investor and then began engaging with people on the platform.  The rest is history.  Another, @steemterminal works hard to help plankton that haven’t even reached the floundering stage.  One of its founders @brittandjosie, from the Netherlands, is generous and tireless with her energy.

The corollary to all of this are the people who close doors on one without as much as a goodbye or a “you’ve-served-your-purpose” or “you’ve-annoyed-me”.  Like in the real world, this kind of behaviour leaves one confused and with more questions than answers.  I’m now more considered about how I engage with posts and people.

One of the things I try never to forget:  warm, feeling human beings live behind those noms de plume, so my blood boils in defense of people when I see rude, mean and unkind comments that are simply uncalled for.

People may be hard and crusty on the outside, but inside they’re warm, soft and sweet. Often.

Communities and interest groups

This brings me to a feature not often discussed:  the groups that operate in parallel to the social blockchain on Discord.  Although it’s described as a place for gamers, that I am not.  Discord’s an application that allows one to set up chat rooms and channels based on common interests and concerns.  Like taking care of minnows and plankton.  Or photography.  Or natural medicine.  Or a fun monthly contest run by the folk from @yourtop3.  These communities operate in parallel with Steemit and in synchronous (real) time unlike the asynchronous Steemiverse.

Writing prompts

I don’t often need a prompt to write and I’ve long said I don’t participate in contests to win.  I stand by that.  However, if a topic rocks my socks, I’ll participate.  Boots and all.  One of the things I particularly like about Your Top 3 is that to participate one has to really write:  one must list, analyse, synthesise and justify or argue.  All important techniques if one is to produce a compelling piece of writing.  I’ll chuck in another element:  reflection.  Reflective writing is often the most difficult and high risk type of writing.  This contest allows one to develop all these skills in a safe and fun space.

Perhaps it’s the blue stocking in me, but in my opinion, Your Top 3 is one of the best and well thought-through contests on the blockchain.  It’s receiving well deserved support from some contestants and investors.  Congratulations to the multinational set of brains behind it: @nickyhavey, @cheese4ead, @plantstoplanks and @foxyspirit!   In addition to the contest, each of them brings their unique interests to Steemit and which remain the added connection(s) outside the contest – food, travel, indigenous cultures, language, and, and….

Virtual breaking of bread

This brings me to my final point (I think): Steemit has introduced me to new people and new ideas.  I have “met” a Canadian in Korea, @abitcoinskeptic, from whom I’ve learned about working the blockchain and working Steemit.  One of our most memorable conversations had nothing to do with either, but education about which both he and I know a bit from our past lives.   Then there is @iamjadeline who walks a difficult path with a son who has a serious congenital medical condition.  I’ve met compatriots from other parts of my own country, not yet explored, like @joanstewart and @lizelle.  I’ve been encouraged to embrace my more esoteric side by my witchy friend @traciyork (whom you can also find on WordPress).  I’ve been introduced to some of the culture and practices of Candada’s first nation.  Also, from Canada, @thekitchenfairy, an Indonesian woman who’s zest for life is catchy.  She has inspired me to “fiddle” with making muffins – especially vegan muffins which I’d never before considered.

For various reasons, I am, and will be, a whole lot less active on Steemit and Discord for a while.  I will post from time to time, and there are many folk with whom I’d welcome breaking bread.  I often imagine the conversations that would happen around our table in The Sandbag House.  Add to that group @zord189, from Kuala Lumpur, and from the United States, @goldendawne, @dswigle and @blockurator. Oh my word, there are so many.  It would be a veritable Babel.  A cornucopia.  A fusion.  All these people, in their own ways have stretched and enriched my thinking on a range of issues and topics.

Our table around which Sunday Suppers and many fun and engaging conversations happen.  A Steemfriend get together would be such fun!

A last word

I have not repeated my thanks to the folk who brought me to, and kept me on, the blockchain.  I thanked them in my reflections in this post to mark my second anniversary on Steemit.

Like many, I too, can chant the mantra: I came for the crypto and stayed for the community. The potential for earning did attract me, but I was blogging, anyway, and having walked a path, have realised that Steemit is another (receptive) audience for my musings.  They are, as I said, my sweat equity investment in the platform.  At the moment, I’m reinvesting all my Steem in Steemit, and am a regular participant in @streetstyles monthly #spud (Steem Power Up Day), i.e. invest in the platform.  I, like other investors, am hoping believing Steem will moon.

On Steemit, to one and all, I remain grateful.  And to @theycallmedan for the inspiration to ramp this topic up my “to-write” list.

For the rest, not interested in this crypto-blockchain gobbledygook, normal programming resumes with my next post.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Tripping the Light Fantastic

Of late, in South Africa, and as I keep on mentioning, we’ve been having loadshedding.  Actually, if you play(ed) SimCity as I did in the late 90’s, you’d have known them as “brown outs” if you’d grown your city too big too quickly.  It’s about the only computer game I’ve played (other than one or other game of solitaire), and that was on an already ancient ICL Elf and before the advent of a GUI.*

Fortunately, the lights haven’t gone out for nearly seven days. However, the last time they did, when came on, I tripped the light fantastic.  Literally.  They were scheduled to go off at 22h00 hours.  They did.  We had forgotten and were engrossed on some Friday, end-of-the-week easy-to-watch drivel on the box.  Although it was full moon, it was on the wrong side of the house, so it was as dark as night.  I ferreted out my phone and a candle and headed upstairs and asked The Husband who was making our ritual cup of tea, “You’ll make sure all the lights are off, won’t you?”

Never giving it another thought, I settled under the sheet and did a little candle-lit reading before we “turned out the light”.  It seemed about two minutes later that I woke up and the house was ablaze.  So, in my sleeping stupor, I need to turn the lights off.  In case I haven’t mentioned it already, we’re in the throes of a heatwave.  So, heading towards the stairs I realised that the soles of my feet were dry and slippery.

“Put on your flops,” said the little voice in my head.

“Ag, no,” said the other  sleepy, more stupid voice in my head.

Three quarters of the way down the thirteen-step flight of stairs:  slip-trip.  Crash.  M-o-a-n.  Like a the wounded cow I was.  I landed on my posterior which is relatively well padded, but where my spine abruptly ends because the coccyx is long gone.  Because of chairs having been pulled from under me when I was about six or seven.   Thanks to the momentum, I fell backwards with the spot marking an old spinal injury positioned to catch the edge of the step above.

M-o-a-n

G-r-o-a-n

The Husband roused to find a mo(o)(a)ning cow at the bottom of the stairs.  He helped her on to her feet and up the stairs.

Fortunately, I had a card of painkillers in the bedside table and was able to take a couple.  Let’s just say that they didn’t really help.  Everything hurt.  Front, back.  Moving was agony.  The following morning, being Saturday, was market day.  There were things to do.  Somehow, they got done.  The Husband lifted, carried, fetched and bent.  I could do none of it.

But the market I did.  Slowly.  I sold all the jam tarts (bar one which The Husband enjoyed) and the cheese and sun dried tomato muffins that I would normally not have made.

Tarts made with home made peach jam; cheese and sun dried tomato muffins.

My market friend, Chicken Pie Janet, has been laid low with a muscle spasm so I did a few different things I’d not normally have done.  I’d never do chicken pies.  Nothing could ever match hers.

Then it was time to get back into the kitchen to prepare for Sunday Supper.  For the first time in a month, not only did we have enquiries, but they converted into bookings.  We had a full house.

Full House Sunday Supper

The menu for this week’s Sunday Supper was simple.

But.  My usual practice is to prepare the soup and dessert on Saturday afternoon and the main on Sunday.  There should have been very little “big” prep for the main course but I cleaned out The Country Butcher’s stock of smoked chicken and I was concerned that I would run out.  There were be eight diners and ten people to feed (including The Husband and I), and none of them were vegetarians or vegans.

Implement Plan B

I hastily had to conjure up a plan B and remembered the gammon that had escaped Christmas.  For the first time, ever, guests would have options for their main course to which I added melon and ham as an alternative to the mango and chicken.

Chilli Lime Melon and Ham Salad served on rice noodles

In a fair amount of pain, I had to think of the least agonising way to do that, so I cooked it in the slow cooker.  It cooked at the same rate that I was able to move.  Somehow, I got myself through Saturday and by about 6pm, the soup – a banting take on a vichyssoise – and the cheesecake (with grating help from The Husband) were done.  Recipes for these to come – in time.

Sunday dawned and every bit of my torso ached and hurt when I moved.  Just getting myself from horizontal to vertical was a challenge.  Bending from the knee was mandatory and not recommended.  The day was a steady, achy plod to get things ready for the main course and set the tables.  The Husband always rearranges the furniture and sweeps.  He had to help drape the cloths.

Cheesecake with fresh granadilla (TL) and the caremelised leek and cauliflower soup (BR);  the tables ready and waiting for diners.

Chilli Lime Mango Salad – Three ways

This is a great supper for hot summer days or evenings.  Sunday was day two of what has been a six-day heatwave of temperatures in excess of 35ºC (95ºF).  This time, when I set the menu, I trusted the man in the weather app.  It’s also the time of year when we can have diners who are omnivores, vegetarians or plant eaters.  This salad fits all those bills.  It’s built around fresh mangoes, three fresh herbs dhanya (coriander/cilantro), mint and chives as well as onion rings.  The dressing is equally simple:  runny honey, lime juice, chopped chilli and olive oil.

Most of the ingredients for the salad and dressing. Red onions are prettier, but white will do if you don’t have any.

It can be served on a bed of leaves and with couscous, or on a bed of noodles, with a side of green salad.  The choice of protein, as I’ve mentioned, is smoked chicken for the carnivores. For vegetarians, it’s feta cheese with cashew nuts and for the plant eaters, either lose the feta or substitute it with a vegan cheese.

Smoked Chicken and Mango Salad on a bed of rice noodles.

Download a printable version of the recipe here.

A last word or two

It would seem that our diners enjoyed their evening.

With hindsight, and now I’m in a lot less pain and a lot more mobile, I have absolutely no idea how I pulled Sunday off.  Next time there is loadshedding, I hope not to be tripping the light fantastic.

*Graphic User Interface – for the uninitiated.  Invented by Steve Jobs and adopted by Bill Gates and responsible for mice.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Labels, loonies and lawyers

“She’ll read anything,” my mother would say, “even the labels on jars.”

On occasion she would decide that I was reading too much, and the book of the moment would be confiscated and put on top of the fridge.  I hated that.  Much of my childhood was, at different times, lived through the books I read.  At boarding school, Saturday and Sunday evenings’ leisure often included a “home movie”.  Reels of film were loaded and projected on to a screen and had to be changed halfway through the movie.

A necessary degression:  the films were often skop, skiet en donner.  Not my cup of tea:  I was am terrified of anything bloody, violent and scary.  Suspense I could manage.  Just.  Not horror.  Most of the time I’d ask to be excused in favour of solitude in the dormitory I shared with three.  I’d happily curl up on my bed with the book of the moment.  If I was compelled to join the crowd, my essential companion was a little cushion.  When things got too much, I’d clutch it to my developing bosom flee as far down the passage, or up the stairs, away from the terror as I could.  When I thought it was safe, I’d creep down and peer into the darkened room, prepared for instant retreat.

A confession

This is another ramble inspired by the @yourtop3 team, with this month’s theme, our favourite authors.   Having nailed my colours to the mast with the team, and having missed the December edition because the wheels fell off,  I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to write about a passionate pastime I now rarely get to pursue.

Get Coffee!

If you’ve got this far, I suggest you get coffee.  This is a long read and I hope, if you’ve not met some of these authors, what follows is enough of a soupçon to whet your appetite.

I couldn’t wait to start school:  I wanted to be able to read and write.  As soon as I was able to read independently, books and I have not been far apart.  I still love reading, but don’t do it as much as I’d like any more.  I have said before, I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite book, let alone a favourite author, or even to confine the choice to just three.

The early years:  school and university

My reading palate (like most things in my life) is eclectic, and I read across genres.  The flavour of the moment has varied considerably, ranging from the classics and modern fantasy to murder mysteries, political thrillers, to crime-inspired non-fiction and biographies.  I’ve not read much modern fantasy in recent years, but I do periodically revisit Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.  Why I don’t own a copy, is a mystery.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read it.  Another read, if not due, will inevitably happen.  Had the option been available when I read for my English Literature degree, I’d have selected that genre as an elective;  it was available the following year.  I did, however, devour the reading list which consisted of among other authors, Ursula Le Guin, including her Earthsea trilogy.  In the ensuing years I read Frank Herbert’s Dune, work by Stephen Donaldson and Richard Adams.

All made enormous impressions on me – for different reasons.  My first cat, Comfrey, was named for the main character in Duncton Wood which was as much for the qualities of the character and the herb, as it was what I needed at the time.  Dune, the first instalment was pivotal and the best in the series.  Subsequent instalments were so disappointing that I didn’t finish the series.  The complexity of the fictional society and its religion, I have never forgotten.  Nor the prophetic use of water as the most precious element in the world.  In case you’re wondering:  I’ve not seen any of the film versions of any of the novels I’ve mentioned so far.  They’re not on the “must see” list.  I did see a little of the Dune series but, as is so often the case, much was lost in the adaptation.

Another author, had I not finished my English degree the year I did, that I’d have loved to study, was John Fowles.  I had a set of his books – not just The French Lieutenant’s Woman, but also The Magus and The Collector and a couple of others.  Why I don’t have them anymore?  Well that’s a story best not told.  Copies of those books are very hard to come by, and very high up on my “must-buy” list.

They mystify it by calling it “literature”

Disappointed though I was, that I could not elect to formally study Fowles or modern fantasy, I chose an author who, in some ways, represented the opposite, for my specialisation:  Thomas Hardy.  Yes, he of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge fame.  Those films I have seen, at school because it was mandatory, or because it was the vogue.  However, a film can’t do justice to the narrative devices that Hardy employs to convey a world either malevolent or benevolent; he does both in different novels.  The course included some of his lesser known novels which are equally compelling, and which also explore similar issues of class, particularly treatment of the rural poor, relationships, the parlous treatment of women by men.

During my studies, I loved some of the early modern literature, including Spencer’s Faery Queene and Shakespeare.  I have noted that the only poetry that I could successfully come to grips with, is Willy Wobbldagger’s sonnets.

I couldn’t deal very successfully with the modern novel.  Paul Bellow’s Herzog was my nemesis.  It’s one of the few times I have been incapable of finishing a book.  I wanted to.  I chose to attack my final year’s reading list during my summer (Christmas) vacation.  That year I had no job and spent most of my days languishing by the university pool.  Book in basket.  Every day.  Book on towel.  Book open.  Every day.  I tried for three months and could make absolutely no headway.  With hindsight, I should probably have put it aside and selected another.  I didn’t.  I persevered.  Even six months on, with one of our best, most hip lecturers, I just could not hack it. Nearly 40 years later, and with a life of living, it occurs to me that it might make sense to me now.  If I fall across a copy, I promise, I’ll try.

Before I leave that era of my life, I must mention two female authors, no, three.  All, in their own ways, make statements about the status of women.  All struggled to publish, and one remains published in her nom de plume.  George Elliot’s Middlemarch still sits on my bookshelf and has been re-read at least three times since I studied it in 1983.  It’ll be read again.

The complete works of Shakespeare – a gift from my parents for Christmas 1980 – next to George Elliot which was part of my 1983 reading list.

Then there is Jane Austen and her take on the gothic novel with Northanger Abbey, as well as her social commentary through Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.  On superficial level, Austen’s novels quelled the nightmares of any teenage girl terrified of not finding love and marriage.  It amazes me how, in the 21st century, these social pressures have not, for so many women, gone away.  My blog pal, Katie (@plantstoplanks) deals with another aspect of these social pressures in this post.

Chick books

More exciting for an adolescent girl, though, were two Brontë novels.  Like Elliott and Austen, the Brontë sisters all published (as brothers) with noms de plume.  I admit to not having read anything from Anne, but the two seminal novels from Charlotte and Emily, live with me.  I first read Jane Eyre in primary school.  It excited and terrified me.  I still can vividly imagine the scenes of that house burning down at the hands of the mad, first Mrs Rochester, and the terror that preceded it.  Of course, the piéce de resistance of the Brontë novels was Wuthering Heights, so full of passion and pain.  Immortalised for the adolescent Fiona in Kate Bush’s 1978 song, written and composed when she was just a teenager.

Mind games

Fast forward forty-odd years, and I can’t remember the last time I spent an entire day alone with a book.  I do, though, have vivid memories of a couple of book Christmas gifts from The Husband that turned me into an unsociable bookworm.  One is from one of my favourite authors in the psychological thriller genre.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (also known as the Millennium series) kept me enrapt.  It’s a good thing it was over the Christmas holiday.  As usual, I’d cooked myself to a standstill:  the leftovers meant I didn’t have to cook for a while.  I read all three in short order.  I’ve re-read them, and I’ll re-read them.  Although the translation isn’t the best, the character development, especially of the two protagonists, is part of what I found so enthralling.  Blomkvist is conflicted and his relationship with Salander surprises the reader no less than it surprises him.  Salander starts off as an annoying enigma who grows on one.  The development of their relationship over the three instalments is only part of what keeps the reader engaged.  The series also explores the dangers and opportunities of the cyber world, entangled with constant and real physical danger.  One is left feeling that resolutions are not resolutions at all.

Alas, there will be no more from Larssen and although his publishers commissioned new novels in the Millennium series, I simply haven’t considered reading them.

In a somewhat similar vein are Dan Brown’s novels.  I gorged myself on the Da Vinci Code and although I’ve not had the opportunity to read all of his subsequent novels, I will add them to the list that have had similar treatment from me – Inferno and Digital Fortress.  While the plots are formulaic and Langdon’s character (now we’ve got to know him) a little flat, I do enjoy Brown’s use of symbolism and how he incorporates literature, history and current affairs into plots that create heart-stopping page-turners.  His were precisely the type of novels that I loved when I frequently travelled on business:  they were a great way to take my mind off stuff and, at the same time, help me to cocoon from inevitably boring or irritating fellow travellers.

Thrillers

Evidently, I love a good thriller, so my trips to the airport (especially after moving to McGregor) were planned so that I had time (never enough) at the book shop.  Author whose novels I’ve delighted reading, all my adult life, is Erik van Lustbader.  No, I’m not only talking about the Bourne series, some of which I’ve read, and which falls into another favourite sub-genre – political thrillers – but his other novels which include “pure” thrillers and fantasy.  I’ve dipped into all of them.  Again, I’ve not read some of the more recent work, and they’re on my wish list.  We donated books to a local charity not so long ago, and most of the Van Lustbaders went.  I have no doubt that the “un-reads” will assume their places as I scour the shelves in the local shop to which I (and many in the village) donate their “spent” books and buy “new” ones.  As and aside:  it’s a great way to support the care of the community’s animals.

Returning to the topic, Robin Cook’s medical thrillers have engrossed me for years.  I have a number in my bookshelf and have been fascinated by all his novels since his first, Coma, and which I must have read while still at school.  I remember being beguiled by images of the 1977 film (which I’ve not seen) in a local magazine, when I was about 16.  As soon as I could get my hands on a copy, I was hooked and I’ve been reading his novels ever since.  Having just looked at a full list, I have read many of them and, like Brown’s work, and coupled with Cook’s own background, the extensive research conspires to make the stories all the more gripping.

Law and Politics

It’s an open secret that I have an interest in current affairs and politics – both fiction and non-fiction.  My introduction to political thrillers was courtesy of John le Carré (partly through A C O’Neill whom I mention below) and, around the same time, Gerald Seymour.  In the latter’s case, it was the novel, A Song in the Morning, set in Apartheid South Africa, and which I read in the 80’s, and have subsequently re-read.  I then sought out his novels: all are all thrilling and set in conflict areas and although the characters are often less than memorable, the plots are well thought through with the scenes of conflict and landscapes, well researched.  Two that I vividly recollect are At Close Quarters, set in the middle east, and the Irish conflict story, The Journeyman Tailor.

Crime

My parents are responsible for introducing me to crime novels.  They had entire bookshelf filled with John Creasey’s novels.  When my library books were read and I was bored, I’d fish one out.  I made friends with inspector George Gideon and learned my way around Scotland Yard.  The Toff and I were great pals.  They might have been dated – even in the 70’s – but they were a great read and did little to put me off a life of crime.  They laid the foundation for my affair with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.  I most definitely will not see any of those films.  Tom Cruise, I’m afraid, could simply never live up to my Reacher!  Oh, and having recently heard an interview with Child, he (not Reacher) seems like a downright nice person.

Continuing my partiality for writers whose work is well researched, is my fondness for John Grisham.  I have been reading his novels since before Julia Roberts appeared in one of “his” films.  Different from some of the authors I’ve mentioned, Grisham’s protagonists are a more rounded: they are (usually), ordinary people whose lives resonate for the reader.  The Chamber,  still in our bookshelf, deals with an issue close to my heart – the death penalty.

The South African Connection

A relatively new entrant to the crime genre is Deon Meyer, a South African, who writes in his native Afrikaans, and whose books have been translated (well, I hasten to add) into English and several other languages.  Although he (must) make use of creative license, the characters, especially Bennie Griessel, are not just believable, but recognisable.  He manages to weave current South African reality – socio-political – into his stories without making it appear forced or overt.    Meyer remains on my “must-buy” list.

Even closer to home

On authors who write about this part of the world, I must make mention of friend and old Rhodian, A C O’Niell, whose debut novel, The Rain That Clears The Chaff, is well worth a read.  I lent my copy to someone and rue the day.

My review on Amazon – using a pseudonym

That I happened to know the author at university is a happy accident – it’s the only way I got to hear about the book.  I don’t know whether there’s another novel.  He did tell me that the publisher was asking.  Perhaps I’ll ask again…

Among the books on my bedside table is another debut novel from blog pal (and Sandbag House diner) and coincidentally, an old Rhodian, Briony ChisolmOne Night Only – serendipitously snuggled between Lee Child and Dan Brown.  It’s a great chick book.

Almost there – another coffee?

My reading tastes are not confined to fiction and, of course, I have an ever-growing collection of recipe and cookery books.

They might deserve a post of their own, and keeping the home fires burning, there is a cookbook author that deserves mention.  Nina Shand is also an Old Rhodian who, with her husband, Paul de Jongh, own Millstone Pottery. She’s also a debut author of not simply a recipe book.  It’s a book about food and the pottery.  The food is prepared and served in and/or on vessels they’ve made in the pottery.  The beautiful photographs (taken by a villager) are the vehicle for the food to showcase the ceramics about which Nina also writes.  Another OR and local, designed the book which is full of imminently cookable recipes.  I know – I’ve cooked some of them already.  It’s also had a rave review from our neighbour and a doyenne of South African cookery, Myrna Robbins.  Nina and I have adjacent stands at the market and while away the time between customers, catching up on “stuff”.

I mentioned two book gifts from The Husband that had me riveted.  I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Millennium Series.  The other was a non-fiction and autobiographical story from South African journalist, Redi Thlabi. Endings and Beginnings recounts Thlabi’s childhood friendship with a man who was a criminal, and who was her protector.  It’s a harsh and gentle, gut-wrenching story that left me sobbing.  I’ve not read her second book.  It’s on the list.

A selection of the non-fiction authors and biographies on our bookshelf.  It includes a book from another OR whom I’ve mentioned before.

Mandy Weiner is another South African journalist and a contemporary of Thlabi’s.  Weiner’s speciality is crime and I’m now reading her second book.  Funnily enough, I discovered that we have two copies of her first book, the eponymous, Killing Kebble, in which she delves into the death of the mining magnate.  I am nearly halfway through Ministry of Crime.  It’s taking me a while to get through – I read every night before I turn off the light and often, the spirit is willing, but the eyes are heavy, so if I manage a page or two, I’m happy.  Usually, it’s the same paragraph three times over, notwithstanding how riveting it might be.  And it is.

The top three?

Choosing my top three authors is agonising.  In making the selection, I’ve used a few criteria:

  • s/he must have a body of work – not just a single novel/publication – sorry Nina, Briony and Alan
  • the writing must be as riveting as the content/story line
  • I would be happy to spend money on another of their books – a hard copy – for the bookshelf

The small print

I reserve my right to change this selection at any time after the end of January 2020.  It changed while I was writing and revising….

After serious consideration, and given my present state of mind, my current top three authors, in no particular order, are

  • Mandy Weiner – because I do want a non-fiction author in the mix, and I’m reading her at the moment
  • John Grisham
  • Lee Child

Also, because I can, the runners up:  Stieg Larsson, Deon Meyer and Erik van Lustbader.

And yes, in case you’re wondering:  I do still read labels on jars.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Everything’s peachy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Christmas in the village was fire and smoke free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peach Jam

Yield:  1,5 kg

Ingredients

2,5 kg yellow cling peaches

1 kg Sugar

2 lemons – juice and reserve pips

2 sticks cinnamon

½ cup boiling water

What to do

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

A last word or three

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

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

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

Happy 2020.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Divine Water – I

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

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

Ornamental Kale (Source)

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

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

Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was soul destroying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drought

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

Long term sustenance

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

I felt as desolate as the garden.

The dust bowl that used to be our front garden

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

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

A last look at 2019

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

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

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on –

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

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

Loadshedding survivors’ guide

In March, South Africa, was on the brink of a national electricity blackout.  And we are there again.  Why?  At the time, I said that the reasons are myriad and what one chooses to believe, also depends on to whom one listens.   Now, it seems, we are getting closer to the truth:  acknowledgement not just of the failure to follow through on routine maintenance, but also of the “success” of the project to systematically loot state owned enterprises through the project now known as “state capture”.  The Zondo Commission is unearthing hair raising facts.  The Auditor General is doing the same and his staff are feeling the heat.

This is good news

In March, for the best past of two weeks, there was no power for between two to five, sometimes more, hours a day, and I noted that it was likely, that similar outages will happen again over the next few years.  Well, it all began again last week and on Monday, the state-owned electricity utility went from stage 4 loadshedding to stage 6.  Stage 2 means that in McGregor, we are without power for between 2,5 and 5 hours in a 24 hour period, scheduled in 2,5 hour slots.  Stage 4 means that we are without power for 7,5 hours – also staggered.  Stage 6, we had no idea.  Suffice it to say that it was rather startling and the President has cut short a state visit to Egypt.

The March crisis was an act of God:  Hurricane Idai, damaged power lines in Mocambique that supply electricity to South Africa.  This time, it’s also weather related:  wet coal accompanied by heavier than normal rainfall and flooding.

In my original post on Steemit, I noted

The electricity crisis notwithstanding, I have long aspired to being self-sufficient and off the grid – as I explained in this interview, so at the first real opportunity, i.e. when we owned our own home, and had the money, we installed a solar geyser.  The next step was converting from electricity to cooking with gas.  In this instance, it was as much to do with the cooking experience as with the repeated electricity cuts – at cooking time.

In March, I developed a survivors’ guide to loadshedding and I thought it worth sharing again.  Now that I am beginning to recover my sense of humour.  It’s essential to survival:

Loadshedding survivors’ guide

1.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

2.  Pour a glass of wine.

3.  Download – if you get your electricity direct from Eskom, the app.  Or the schedules from your municipality. Prior to this most recent rash, we had loadshedding in 2015.  I uninstalled the app a week before it struck in March;  I’ve kept it up to date since.

4.  Have a sip of wine.

5.  Keep your sense of humour.

6. Pour a glass of wine

7.  Fish out the old Telkom phone that has a handset connected with a cord;  ensure that your stock of candles, lighting implements (matches, lighters, etc.) and solar jars are charged and close at hand.

8.  Have a sip of wine.

9.  Check the schedule and plan your day(s) in anticipation of the scheduled outage.

10.  Check the wine stash.

11.  Invite friends over and braai – timed for when the lights are off.

12.  Pour more wine.

When it’s not practical (or sensible to have friends around and drink lots of wine):

14.  Cook by candles and solar jar (with wine).

15.  Clean:  cupboards the you’ve not cleaned for a gazillion years; sort through the old clothes that you’ve not worn for a gazillion years – throw them out or sort them for a jumble sale, clothing swop or charity shop.

16.  Pour another glass of wine.

17.  Make sure all your devices are charged:  assuming you’re using a laptop, and work for as long as you have juice.  Uninterrupted without Facebook, WhtasApp, Discord – yes, you know who you are – and Instagram

18.  Get the next bottle of wine.

19.  Fish out and start working on the projects that you haven’t worked on because you’ve been distracted by the social media (your phone).

20.  Pour another glass of wine.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Put it behind you. Can you?

It’s no secret that I love vintage items:  glassware, bone china, linen.  Actually, it’s not just vintage;  I love pretty things.  It goes back as far as I can remember, and especially high days and holidays like Christmas.  I loved the sense of occasion and I loved the opportunity to set a festive table.  Favourite among the things I loved being able to use were the Rowland Ward crystal – a wedding present to my parents in 1961.

A Rowland Ward goblet on a vintage table cloth waiting for Sunday Supper guests. Oh, and on the sideboard:  Dad’s most hated lamp. Photo: Selma

Then there are the hand-embroidered, cut-work linen table mats and coasters that Mum had made (with Granny‘s help – the rosebuds in single tread satin stitch) for her trousseau.  The full set is not complete – she didn’t complete it, but it’s complete enough – there were still “virgin” templates and thread when she died.  Each place seting is a different colour – and I can do a table setting for up to six with those.  My favourite is this blue one and, like the crystal, they also grace the supper tables at The Sandbag House.

Melon was good at supervising the table-setting process

Last week there was a post on our village Facebook page:  folk who have things to sell, advertise them there.  This one included coffee plungers and a four-cup tea set.  I needed at least one more single-serving coffee plunger, and I’ve long been looking for cups and saucers.  We prefer mugs, so those last have not been high on the priority list.

As an aside, I should mention that we only do Sunday Suppers once a week, sometimes less often, so investing large amounts of money doesn’t rest well.  Not only is it potentially wasteful, but more realistically, we are exceedingly short of storage space.  I long ago learned that the latest gadget was not a must-have:  when I’ve been conned persuaded to buy the latest fad, it’s often ended up being a one-minute wonder.  I return to either a universal tool, or just doing the task manually.  I’ve discovered, for example, that hand-cutting the citrus for marmalade is not just more efficient (and less frustrating) because I don’t have to manage the bits that escape the food processor, it actually also saves time and washing up.  Only one knife and the cutting board.  As opposed to the food processor’s bowl, lid and blade.

I digress.  As usual.

Back to the other day.  Of course I knew that there would be other items for sale, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found:  a daughter helping her very frail and ailing mother to pack up her home.  This time of the year (November into December) is always difficult for me.  Twenty years ago this December, my mother died.  Eleven months later, in November, my father joined her.  What was happening there hit me like a ten-ton wrecking ball.

It brought back all the memories, sadness and pain of sorting, deciding and packing up their lives.  Although my mother had done a great deal of sorting before they had moved into the retirement complex, the sentimental and precious items had moved with them.  For all intents and purposes, sorting it out after my Dad died, was like packing up my childhood home.

Who wanted what? What would be chucked out? Sold? Donated?

All I could think, and it came spurting out, “This is so hard!  This is such a hard thing to be doing…”

That was acknowledged and the Mum said that she’s going to a “beautiful place” with a manor house and care and, and…

The next thing that occurred to me, and which wouldn’t stay in in my brain, either, was that at least they had the blessing of doing it together.  I left, with more than I had intended:  a bone china jug and side plate, as well as a set of six beautiful, antique tea plates.

An indulgence, perhaps, but I was able to give the honest assurance that they will be used – and appreciated.  They will join the Rowland Ward, linen, Royal Albert coffee set and Mr Fox, all of which grace supper tables @ The Sandbag House.

Top left to bottom right: One of Mum’s breakfast cloths; a tea cloth and the one that was under our wedding cake when we married; more place settings that Mum embroidered; Mr Fox and the Royal Albert Coffee cups for a special dessert presentation.
(Photos: top left and bottom middle: Selma)

It may be twenty years, but she was in my life for thirty six.  In many respects, that was difficult – Mum and I had a scratchy relationship, to say the least.  She was, though, my mother, and my relationship with her is much improved by acknowledging that, and how much we are alike.  It’s not a happy admission.  Of the qualities I admired the most were her can-do, and we’ll-make-a-plan approach to everything.  I seem to have acquired some of that – along with her enjoyment of cooking.

Recipe books:  Mum’s from 1961 – the year she married and the one she gave me.  That was the first Christmas in my own home – 1986 – and the only one they shared with me in my home.

Dad, on the other hand, I adored – a relationship that was interrupted by my first marriage.  We found each other and a healing between Mum’s death and his eleven months later.  Of, The Husband and I believe, a broken heart.  It’s from him I inherit my stubbornness, my green-ish fingers and love of flowers.  And scrambled egg.

Violets in our garden that gave me from their Marshall Street garden – more than 20 years ago. They have moved with me and have, happily, survived the drought.  This photo is from 2017.

Mum and Dad’s things in our home are much more than things:  they keep them with us.  More to the point, Mum and Dad become part of the conversations over suppers @ The Sandbag House.

Dad and Mum after Dad’s 70th birthday lunch in 1998.

It doesn’t matter when one loses a parent – at six, thirty six or seventy six.  It still leaves one bereft, and suddenly one’s world changes profoundly;  forever.  Over the decades, the grief diminishes, but the missing doesn’t stop.  It just changes; it’s easier because it’s less raw.  Until something happens that brings it all back.  You can’t really ever put it behind you.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

 

Comforting favourites

This blog is all about my favourites.  Mostly.  I do write sometimes about the things that weigh, but mostly, it’s about things, people, stuff I love and which make me content.

I have difficulty separating comfort food from favourite food.  I love food, and cooking and my kitchen (actually, any kitchen) is one of my most favourite places in the whole world.  I’ll find my way around any kitchen and cook.  When I travelled to Johannesburg on business, I’d sometimes often stay with one of my dearest friends.  One day, her then partner commented that they were running late and that someone had to see to the supper.  Quick as a flash, her reposte:

Oh, I’m sure Fiona’s already doing something about it.

She was right.

So, technically, what is the difference between comfort and favourite?  Beside the fact that one is a noun and the other an adjective:

Comfort
– [a] state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint

Comforts
– things that contribute to physical ease and well-being.

Favourite
– preferred to all others of the same kind

Source

I have some favourites that are not connected to food:  my favourite animal (cat – unless you hadn’t guessed).  Favourite human – The Husband.  Favourite rugby team:  the Springboks.  Now, food, well that’s another matter, and for me, in many respects, the two are intertwined.  Comfort is all about well-being and contentment, and food is associated with the most ancient of our senses:  smell.  Without a sense of smell, we can’t taste.  I cannot conceive of a world in which I will never taste again.  I have had some experience of that.

Going on twenty years ago, I went on a business trip to Japan.  The timing was less than optimal because it coincided with moving house – the first home that The Husband and made together.  It was also about six months after the my father’s death; my mother had died eleven months before that.  Oh, and although neither had anything to do with the break-up of the other’s previous marriages, we were both going through divorces.  That was just for starters.  As the year progressed, the company I’d invested in, and where I was working, went belly-up, The Husband retired; we got engaged.  Look at that list and Google the things that cause the most stress in one’s life…

I returned from Japan (nearly 48 hours’ travelling with no sleep), having spent five days staffing a stand at a trade show, with a twisted ankle and a really bad cold.  The ankle healed, cold went, but the streaming nose and eyes didn’t stop, and with those streams went my sense of taste.  Well, mostly.  It came and went – largely associated with the extent to which my nose was blocked.  That could be triggered by anything from a glass of Chardonnay and cooking a pot of fragrant rice, to nothing of any consequence.  This is one of the reasons for my preference for Sauvignon blanc.

It’s the only time in my life that the kitchen wasn’t a happy place and I didn’t enjoy cooking.  I was never sure how a meal would turn out.  The Husband still tells the story of our going out for supper one evening (when I returned from yet another business trip), and I chose the least expensive thing on the menu:  a soy burger.  He was appalled.  My response:

“I can taste nothing.  What’s the point of paying a lot of money on something I can’t taste?”

The Husband still tells me I’ve never produced a meal that was not both edible and delicious.  Even then.  I guess he’s biased, but I’ll take it.

What I could taste, though, was salt and sour, so salt and vinegar chips, or crisps as they’re known elsewhere, became my go-to comfort food.  There was a vendor who came to the office daily.  I’d make a daily purchase.  Only salt and vinegar.  Nothing else.  No salt and vinegar.  No crisps.

We ultimately discovered that it was the house:  it was damp and full of mould.  We moved eleven months later and within a week, the symptoms were gone.

I could breathe.

I could taste.

Everything.  All. The. Time.

I still enjoy salt and vinegar chips but eat them less frequently now.  Actually, I can’t remember when I last had a bag.

Ingredients

Now, my comfort foods are determined by taste and flavour – and have history – of course!  The foods are tied into two of my favourite ingredients:  eggs and tomatoes.  Regular readers and watchers of my Instagram account will know this.  Eggs routinely feature – and not just for breakfast.

I’ll eat eggs any which way. For breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea.

Of course, my most favourite way to eat eggs is scrambled.  I wrote a bit about that here.

Growing up, an annual crop was tomatoes.  They are not essential to every meal, but if you’re at a loss as to what to cook, and short of other ingredients, the trusty tomato is an essential standby.  She has stood me in good stead.  Often.  When I’ve suddenly had to produce a meal.  Some might say that a meal without a tomato is like kissing a man without a moustache.  Or eating beef without mustard.  As I’ve “grown up”, I’m not sure about either, and am certain it’s a matter of taste.  That said, we do eat a lot of tomatoes.  Raw and cooked.

As with eggs, I’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea.  When we have a good crop, this is a common exchange:

Me to The Husband, “What would you like for dinner?”

Him, “What are you thinking?”

Me, “You can have anything you like as long as it’s with tomatoes…”

Combine tomatoes with eggs, and I’m even happier.  Poaching eggs in tomatoes?  Great, comforting supper on a cold night.  A shakshouka is my idea of heaven.

A cheat’s Shakshouka – not quite as spicy and with just what was available.

As is homemade cottage pie.

Cottage pie infused with red wine and rosemary, topped with butternut and potato. (Photo: Dennie Pasion who described it as “the best”).

Then there is pasta

Pasta is both a food and a key ingredient.  I make my own, but before I did, and when I lived alone, a pasta supper was a very easy throw-together.  With tomatoes, of course.  I confess, too, that there were times I happily ate pasta with grated cheese and tomato sauce (ketchup).  I kid you not.

Pasta, now that I make it myself, is not the unhealthy thing of commercial pastas:  one jumbo egg to a cup of flour is ample to feed the two of us.  When we ate commercial pasta, we’d eat twice the quantity.

Pasta suppers – with and without tomato.

Most often, our pasta suppers are vegetarian affairs – usually with herbs, if not vegetables, from the garden.

My top three most comforting meals (foods)

Among the meals that bring me most comfort are a traditional roast and gravy – especially lamb with mint and onion sauces, followed by the dishes that I conjur up with the left over meat, vegetables and gravy.  These are based on dishes my mother used to make and which I loved.

If, though, I have to narrow it down, and one must, to just three –

Third place:  Creamy tomato pasta

Creamy tomato pasta – need I say more?

Second place: Fish, parsley sauce and peas

This meal gives the lie to my Scottish roots as it is very English.  Blame it on the Sasenach genes I inherited from my mother.  Fish, parsley sauce and peas.

An added bonus would be new potatoes, boiled with mint.  Or chips.

Top spot:  Tomato soup

The pièce de résistance, though, is tomato soup.  It has always been a favourite and when I’m feeling poorly or when I can’t do coffee (because two cups are the limit for my caffeine intolerance), I will have a cup of tomato soup.  I confess.

My daily fix. In a blue and white mug. Of course.

In my mid-twenties, I had the worst dose of ‘flu – and I do mean influenza – I had ever had in my life.  I lived alone and the only thing that kept me alive going was tin after tin after tin of Heinz’s tomato soup.

“Do you need anything, Fiona?”

“Tomato soup”.

Not chicken soup.  Not chocolate. Just tomato soup.

Fresh tomato soup.

Now I make my own tomato soup with fresh tomatoes.   Add cream and you have cream of tomato.

Two last words:

As I was preparing this, I realised that other than the scrambled egg post, it hadn’t entered my head to share my recipes for roast lamb with its trimmings, let alone the fish and parsley sauce and the tomato soup.  Let me know if you’d like any of these, and I’ll add them to my “to do” list.

And, secondly –

There is a bunch of great people on Steemit who run a monthly contest-cum-writing prompt.  This is rambly my entry.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

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

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

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

On the Steem platform, I am part of these communities