Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Falling through the rabbit hole and other excuses

I have been absent from these pages for the last few months.  It was not that I wanted to neglect my little blog or my kitchen, but life took a bit of detour and I followed obligingly.  Let me try to explain - I got involved with the organization of a local Christmas Market at my kids' school.  So involved in fact that I was the chief in charge and it being a charity thingy, it meant that I did a lot (as in a lot-a-lot) of the things myself.  It was like falling through the rabbit hole one day in September and only being spit out into life resembling normality at around the middle of December.  

Don't get me wrong, I loved it!  I enjoyed the process and the people and had a blast with some new friends, but boy, it took over our lives.  I had no spare time for weeks and weeks.  None, nada.  So, unfortunately, the blog, the kitchen even the family all became very much neglected.

I will not bore you with the details save for one.  We created all the decor out of plastic bottles collected from the recycle dump at school.  It was by far my favourite part of it all and it taught me a great deal about the possibilities of the things we toss into the bin so carelessly.  

It's a bit early for 2012 resolutions I guess, but mine is simple enough - just to get the camera out and start blogging.  I've spent the last few weeks  finding my feet in normality and doing simple things with family and friends.  Now I have most of my old energy back and think it is time again to bake and blog and share.  See you soon....

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weddings, flowers and cakes

No food today, just a sneak peak of some flowers I did over the weekend for friends' wedding.

It was a held in a beautiful setting, between Sabie and Hazyview and we could not have asked for better weather.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Spring supper with sushi-style salad

I wanted to have this post ready last night, but technology failed me, and thus this post only finds its way into cyberspace tonight, a day after the official start of spring.  

Spring is a bit of a misnomer around here.  My previous page was of a snowy week and bitter cold weather.  All that has come and gone quickly and have been replaced by summer temperatures but no rain yet.  Today was down right scorching, coupled with a howling wind as dry as a desert.  And of course veld fires that came very close to our greenhouses.  

The wind has died down thankfully and in its trail left a clear evening with starry skies and a tiny moon.

As you may have noticed, we like to eat salads when the temperature sours.  Salads with substance; a meal in a bowl sort of dish.  And one of our all time favourites has to be this sushi-style salad.  It all started with us craving sushi but not having the time or the dexterity to make our own.  And thus, the ingredients of sushi found their way into a salad bowl.  

The purest might shudder, but to us this is perfection.  

My children love sushi and will eat the beautifully crafted morsels any day with such gusto that many a sushi chef have smiled a modest smile on seeing them, rice and other bits in a messy circle around them, stuffing a platters worth into their mouths.  They love this cheats version just as much, if not more.  

You have to try this, even if you fancy yourself a non-sushi eater.  Leave the nori and the ginger and the wasabi out if you please.  Just make sure the rice is cool, but not cold and the fish super fresh or smoked even.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weekend baking and macarons

All of last week had been bitterly cold and we even had snow very near us; the first in eight years.  You can imagine with snow being such an infrequent, rare beauty around here, that news spread quickly and thousand of people made the trip up the mountain to see and play.  For some it was a once in a lifetime experience, our nanny included.  She went home with some photos to show to the neighbors.  And the kids went to school with a bunch of photos too.  We absolutely loved the outing.

But now it seems that spring has finally arrived.  The trees and the birds are all showing signs of new life.  The greenhouse is full of orchid flowers and the Clivias are in full bloom.  If you know me, you will know that I am not a winter person.  I come alive too as soon as the chill leaves town.  I need heat to function at full speed.  

And so with the onset of spring, I returned to the kitchen, albeit a bit reluctantly.  I wanted to be outside, digging dirt and planting, re-potting, sowing...  However, I had promises to keep and so ended up baking a chocolate mouse cake with black cherries, two vanilla sponges (lemon curd and strawberries, carrot cupcakes and sweet potato cakes.  And of course macarons.  It has been a while since I have made these and we really craved them.  Just plain with sweet cream.  Perfect.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A trip to Mozambique

We needed a mid-winter break and left the cold, gloomy weather behind for a few days and escaped to Mozambique, to a little coastal town of Xai-Xai, not too far from Maputo.  Some friends kindly gave us the keys to their little piece of heaven, a house near one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

We live very close to the border of Mozambique, but I am always amazed at the difference between the two countries.  It is literally less than two hours on a highway to get there, but cross that border and time seems to disappear.  The country was ravaged by civil war for many years and only recently started the slow process of recovery.  Remnants of a brutal war are still strewn across the landscape in places, but the war torn patina has slowly been replaced by fresh coats of paint and a desire to progress.  Yet, time still seems to matter less there.

I love living in Africa.  It is not for everyone and it requires a somewhat skew outlook on life more often than not.  But people in Africa are proud, regardless of how poor they are and people can carve a living out of literally nothing.  Never say never seems to be the driving force of this continent.  

Africa is not always the grim pictures you see on television.  People are content, smiling.  

There I became somewhat philosophical about food too.  It made me realize that food is a necessity; something you eat to sustain yourself until the next meal comes around.  There are no take-aways and few supermarkets and you get what is available, no imports or shipments of special vegetables.

I saw skinny woman working for hours to catch crabs and each one caught, fried quickly over a few smoking twigs.  Eaten as is, no starch, no salad.  Men toiling with a fishing rod for a few fishes, no trawlers or sushi chefs in sight.

We bought bread from a man in a little dwelling in a tiny town and when asked for a photo, he insisted on putting on his jacket, posing proudly in front of his wares.

We bought some fish at the market in Xai-Xai and had ourselves a braai.  Very little can compare to fresh fish cooked over hot coals with the sea in the background.  A drink in hand helps of course and so does good company. 

Our days were spent on the beach, swimming, running, playing, exploring...

And at night we relished the lack of electricity and went to bed early with only the sound of waves breaking on the shore as background noise.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fresh peas and another quiche

There is a huge wind storm howling outside my window as I am writing this.  

It seems like a winter of stormy winds and cold, cold nights.  Not normal for here, not this cold anyway.

The mornings are icy and the cold bites through your bones.  Not my kind of weather.  If you know me, you'll know that I am not fond of winter.  Not at all.  

These last few weeks called for a fire in the hearth and lots of hot chocolates and soups.  

The days are wonderful though.  And on weekends we like to spend a lot of our time outside in the garden.  Lunches call for picnic food.  

The peas are just perfect in the garden now.  We strolled down to the garden just before sunset and spend the last hour of the daylight eating peas straight out of their pods.  We eat until we can no more.

Our daily pea excursion has become routine now.  And we do manage to save some for cooking, well sometimes.

I used this recipe and used about half a cup of peas for the filling. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eclaires, choux with cream and chocolate ganaché

We lost all of our chickens.  Every last one.  A genet discovered that they are easy prey and just devoured them systematically.  One a night.  It was quite sad for us, but part of the circle of life I guess.  

I became so used to having lots and lots of eggs available at any given moment and it has been a bit of a rude awakening to suddenly realize I have the flour, sugar, vanilla and mixer ready but no eggs.  No more running to the chicken coop for some fresh eggs but off to the little shop at the garage close by instead.  For now we will not replace them.  We'll wait a while in the hope that the genet moves on.

We had a busy weekend with lots of people coming to visit and friends for lunch and dinner.  That of course translates into more baking and lots of cooking.

My daughter had a little friend over on Saturday as well and I prepared a huge batch of cookie cup batter for them to bake in her own silicone baking trays.  Special girls cakes also calls for special pink icing and lots and lots of pink sprinkles.  They had a blast icing and licking and sprinkling and eating.  They ended up with some pink icing in their hair of course and lots on the cheeks too but with big smiles and happy laughs as well.

When friends came round for tea on Sunday I needed a quick, delicious treat.  Eclairs is perfectly easy and quick and always delicious and always appreciated around here.  They are not difficult, contrary to popular belief and are really worth a try.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Decadent Mousse Cake with a Black Forest Twist

This is a cake I make often for special occasions.  The sort of decadence I like to take along to Christmas Family get-togethers and birthday parties.  It is decadent and rich and yet not sweet, not sickeningly rich tasting and definitely the sort of thing you can eat after dinner.

My sister's little girl turns one tomorrow.  Amazing, how time flies.  It feels like only the other day we were waiting for news of her birth and wishing every inch of the miles and miles of sea between us and her in Canada could just disappear.  Wishing that we could time travel to be with her.  The distance is always worse at times of joy.  Tomorrow is no exception.  The kids are yearning to be there too.  They try to climb into the computer, fighting the strange notion of seeing them, but being worlds apart.

My sister asked me for the recipe of this cake to bake for little A's birthday.  And on the very same day my mom gave me a tin of cherries, some eggs and a jar of cream and asking for a decadent yet light cake with a black forest twist.  Strange coincidence or telepathy?  Not sure, but reason enough to bake the ever dependent mousse cake.  

I had no time to photograph the whole cake before it was sliced and eaten by very happy family members.

We are selling some orchids at a nearby country stall this weekend.  Our town is overflowing with festival goers for the Innibos music festival and we are trying to share some orchid love with some of them.  Hope we see some of you there today.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Croissants for breakfast and some more baking

Croissants.  Love them, adore them.  

I hear the word and think about tiny French bakeries and cobbled streets.  They remind me of a very cold week spent in Dijon and the waft of fresh croissants drifting into our ancient hotel room from the boulangerie below.  They were the reason we crawled out of bed and braved the snowy streets before heading off to the orchid show.

I have always wanted to bake some at home but somehow never got around to it.  

As it happened I woke up last saturday craving some warm croissants.  There are no coffee shops or bakeries close to us and so I decided to make good on my promise to bake some. I baked eight and then sixteen and barely had enough time to photograph them before they disappeared.  

We've spend the rest of our weekend around the house and in the garden and had friends over for dinner and some more popped in for tea.  The children had a friend over as well and the house was full of happy laughs and noises.

It was a busy baking weekend too.  Cupcakes for the children, a fig cake, chocolate fondant cakes for dessert and eclairs for tea.   The fig cake however, was left on the counter to cool and the puppy sneaked in and ate it all.  I guess we have a lot of training left to do before we can leave hot cakes on the kitchen table.

To be honest, the recipe required far less work than what I initially anticipated.  It does take time, because the dough has to rest, but the rolling and folding is really more therapeutic than exhausting.  You can find the recipe on Joe Pastry's very helpful blog here.