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  Remnants of a brutal war are still strewn across the landscape in places, but the war torn patina has slowly been replaced by fresh coats of paint and a desire to progress.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.