Day is Done

 

“O, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born; as if to say to insensate man, “Behold! thou hast one more chance! Strive for immortal glory!”

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Every day the new dawn offers us a chance to start over for the better. And each day we manage to screw it up by unconsciously repeating previous days’ bad habits. I am a repeat offender of many faults which include drinking too much wine and wasting time, among other things. Of course, none of us is perfect but I would think that if something bugged me that much, I should be able to change it. But come 6 pm the first glass of wine has been poured and more often than not I’m toasting absolutely nothing. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow, or perhaps not. I think we really need to internalise the notion that tomorrow is not guaranteed before we are jolted out of our complacency. And there’s nothing like confronting mortality to get one going.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

During the dark days of Thabo Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism, which disputed the existence of HIV or its role in causing AIDS, we became aware that our employees on the farm were showing symptoms of HIV / AIDS. No-one was comfortable to talk about the disease back then because there was so much stigma and ignorance attached but I had watched a friend and colleague (a remarkable woman who had so much to offer the new South Africa) die of the disease because she was too ashamed to admit that she had AIDS. I could no longer keep quiet on the subject, like I had done with H, so I asked Mike, my brother, who is a doctor in Phuthaditjhaba, to come and speak to our workers, and those of our neighbours, about HIV / AIDS and its treatment. He brought a Zulu-speaking man with him who had been very ill with AIDs and had made a recovery after taking anti-retrovirals (ARVs). After the talk, everyone came forward and asked Mike to examine them. They all showed signs of AIDS and he advised them to get tested. Our farm worker and our neighbour’s domestic worker were the only two who asked for our help to get tested.

Since the state-run clinics were not keen to test for HIV (the government was trying to keep the statistics down) I took them to McCords Hospital in Durban to be tested; both were found to be positive. Then began the long and agonising process of getting them on to ARV treatment; first there was training (in those days the treatment was a lot of tablets taken throughout the day and the patients had to understand that once they started they had to take the medication for the rest of their lives); and next came the TB treatment. Our farm worker was really at death’s door by the time he finally started taking the ARVs. My worst memories of that time are of him and I sitting for hours on end in the waiting room at McCords surrounded by emaciated people (some as young as 12 years old) while the hospital admin staff treated everyone as if they were invisible.

Our employee made a fantastic recovery once he started the treatment. Sadly, our neighbour’s domestic worker developed complications due to also having been infected with hepatitis B and she had to come off the ARVs because they were shutting down her pancreas. She died a few years later, but not before she became an advocate of making HIV / AIDS less stigmatised in her community.

Our farm worker has been healthy for the past 12 years, however in January this year he developed cryptococcal meningitis which one only gets if one has a low CD4 count (which would only happen if he had stopped taking his medication). Since then he has been in and out of hospital until finally he was sent to the TB hospital in Richmond. We went to visit him there last week and I was impressed with the hospital but surprised to find it virtually empty despite having a physiotherapist, dietician, occupational therapist and social workers on duty. I was shocked to see how frail our farm worker had become despite assurances by the doctor that he was getting better. Time will tell. I have to say I have been angry since the visit – angry with him for stopping his meds; angry with the doctors at Northdale for discharging him when he was so ill and waiting 6 months before referring him to Richmond; angry with H for dying because I sure could do with her company right now; and angry with myself for squandering the time that I have by procrastinating and drinking too much.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll turn over a new leaf.

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By Your Side

 

Recently I popped in to our local hardware store to collect some lagging for our water pipes which keep freezing up whenever we have any frost. I got to chatting to John, the owner, about the weather, as one does, and I mentioned how difficult it had been for me to acclimatise to the cold having just come back from visiting Kiera in a very hot Washington DC. The conversation then veered off into how one’s life changes when the children leave home and how hard it is having our offspring scattered around the globe. (His daughter lives in some godforsaken place in Australia and he misses her terribly.) I commiserated with him over the fate of parents who, when their children leave home, are left with the dogs and then the dogs bloody well go and die. “It’s a cruel life”, he said.

It reminded me of the first verse of the Roger McGough poem, A Joy To Be Old:

 It’s a joy to be old.

Kids through school,

The dog dead and the car sold.

My very old Milo Mutt has been deaf for some time now. He also shows signs of what I think is doggie dementia in that, for the most part, the character of Milo is no longer recognisable. He simply exists in a world of his own and appears very confused most of the time. When he is on the move, he is constantly underfoot and in the way. He drives us crazy by following us around and always standing just behind us or in doorways and passageways so that he can keep tabs on where we are. And when he is taken out for his late night piddle, our patience is sorely tested (especially in the middle of winter) by the incessant dithering that goes on. When he is not on the move, he can be found sleeping, gently snoring, on his bed in the bedroom.

However, there are moments when the old Milo reappears. He is still a trooper. Dogged (as in dog·ged ) is the word that comes to mind when he slowly eases his arthritic body off his bed first thing in the morning and lurches down the passage, through the kitchen and garage and into the garden where he finally releases the pee he has been holding in. His tail, which has been held straight down during the journey, suddenly springs back up as we tell him what a good boy he is, even though he can’t hear us. Sometimes he doesn’t quite make it but we give him an A for effort anyway.

Later in the morning, come rain or shine, he takes himself off up the driveway to Edna’s wee house. If her door is closed he barks to be let in and then he makes a beeline for the titbits that she leaves out for him in the kitchen. When he is finished, he turns around and walks straight out and back home. Recently, instead of turning left at Edna’s front door to come back, he sometimes gets confused and turns right and gets a bit lost. But he doesn’t let that deter him from his daily dose of Edna’s leftovers.

And most afternoons, if he is awake when it is time for walkies, he insists on accompanying us all the way, slowly and laboriously on wobbly legs. However, on the home stretch the spirit of Milo the Younger seems to kick in as he races down the driveway at breakneck speed. We hold our breath as he careers around the corner, missing the garden shed by inches, and into the kitchen where he waits excitedly for us to catch up and give him his treat.

Earlier this year he lost his sense of balance and I really thought that his time had come. But he rallied after being put on cortisone and antibiotics and that’s the trooper in him. So despite being deaf, doddery and demented, I don’t think that he is quite ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just yet.

top left: Milo's first bath; bottom left: drinking tea out of my mug when he was little.

top left: Milo’s first bath; bottom left: drinking tea out of my mug when he was little.

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Milo, 15 years old, October 2013

 

 

 

 

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Food Glorious Food

I have a favour to ask. Alex pointed out to me recently that most of my recipes are for chicken and that he would like more ideas for cooking cheaper cuts of beef and lamb. That has me stumped. I don’t have a big repertoire of red meat dishes, and those that I do cook are not usually the cheaper cuts. So if you have an old standby, an economical and simple beef or lamb recipe, please share it with me in the comments section.

In the meantime I want to share this recipe (adapted from Sarah Graham’s book Bitten) for roast chicken which, after many years of roasting chicken, I have decided is the only way to go for meat that is succulent and full of flavour. We buy all our chicken from a woman called Zoff who farms free-range chickens here in the Midlands. My four, fat floozies are definitely not intended for the pot.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp finely chopped mixed herbs (Sarah Graham uses fresh lavender leaves and fresh thyme leaves, but I like to use chives, sage & thyme)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • About 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Mix the butter with the herbs and seasoning.
  3. Use your fingers to stuff the herb butter under the skin of the chicken.
  4. Place the lemon halves and any leftover fresh herb leaves and stalks in the cavity.
  5. Place the chicken in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, add in the onion and garlic and pour in half the wine. Cover with a lid or tin foil and cook for 45 minutes.
  6. After 45 minutes, pour the juices from the chicken into a small saucepan, and then return the chicken to the oven, uncovered. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the skin is golden and crispy.
  7. Add the remainder of the wine and the chicken stock to the saucepan, and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes until it starts to thicken. (I know it is not the done thing in foodie circles but I have to confess that I always use a bit of Bisto to thicken gravy.)

I like to keep ready-made herb butter in the freezer. It’s a good way to preserve herbs and since butter is back in favour (yay!) you can pop it into any number of veggie dishes as well. You simply mix 250 g butter with chopped herbs (you can do this in the food processor – chop up the herbs first and then add the diced butter). And a tip from Jamie Oliver is to:

“Get yourself a good-sized piece of greaseproof paper and place the butter into the centre. Fold the paper over and roll it around until you have an even-sized log. Twist up the ends to seal then pop in the fridge or freezer until needed.”

I always think of it as a waste of electricity to roast something on its own in the oven. I usually put a baking tray of potatoes and pumpkin / butternut in the oven as well. But I know that Alex is not crazy about roast potatoes and pumpkin (what is wrong with that lad?) so perhaps one could tuck a few other vegetables in around the chicken to cook in the wine, like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, green beans and perhaps some mushrooms.

Otherwise, a Mediterranean Vegetable Bake would be tasty with roast chicken. This is an adapted Jamie Oliver recipe.

Ingredients

(basically anything will do as long as they are roughly the same size, but here are some suggestions)

  • 1 red and/or 1 yellow/orange pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into 4 pieces.
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges.
  • 2 courgettes, sliced into 2cm chunks
  • 1 brinjal / aubergine, cut it into quarters, then into 2cm chunks.
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes
  • 1 handful button mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic, in their skins but squashed
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Arrange the vegetables in a large roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. (I like using Melissa’s Cook’s Sea Salt with Chilli, Lime and Coriander.)
  3. Scatter the rosemary over the veggies and drizzle well with olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly.
  4. Roast the veggies for about 50 minutes (so put them in at the same time as the chicken). Give them a good stir every now and then to ensure that they cook evenly. They should be soft and caramelised.

And here is another tip from Jamie:

“If the vegetables seem crowded in a single roasting pan, divide them between two. Overcrowding the pan will stop enough heat getting to the vegetables and they will steam rather than roast.”

(I never knew that!)

Alex phoned me a couple of weeks ago to say he was cooking one of my recipes for chicken breasts in spicy yoghurt and wanted to know how long to cook them for. He made me laugh when he complained that in Cape Town the only place he could find deboned chicken breasts was in Woolies but the trouble with shopping at Woolies was that you always came out with a lot more than you intended buying when you went in. I commiserated with him as this is a problem I know only too well.

I’m reading a book at the moment called A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson. It is a compilation of 99 written accounts of things that made a wide range of characters throughout history happy. Following each account, George Myerson gives a short commentary on the writers and the context of the stories, with information about what was going on in their lives at the time. I have been reading one story a day and it has made me more mindful of those little moments in one’s day when everything just seems right.

Myerson writes:

These focused glimpses of other lives and times add up to a bigger idea. They bring real human happiness before our eyes. We can see here the potential for joy hidden inside ordinary life….. For many of us in the twenty-first century, happiness has become a riddle, a goal that remains strangely nebulous. Politics and economics, education and psychology all have happiness as their promise or end. But we need to grasp the happiness that is a strand of everyday life if we are to make good on any of these promises.

Who would’ve thought that such a moment of happiness could spring from a casual conversation between mother and son, about recipes and shopping at Woolworths?

Alex sent me this picture of his Chicken Baked in Spicy Yoghurt, with the ready-made salad and garlic rolls that he had not intended to buy. I was impressed by the addition of the fresh herb garnish.

Alex sent me this picture of his Chicken Baked in Spicy Yoghurt, with the ready-made salad and garlic rolls that he had not intended to buy. I was impressed by the addition of the fresh herb garnish.

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Don’t Fence Me In

 

Last Sunday morning, as I gazed in wonder at the beautiful bushbuck munching on aggies in our front garden, I was oblivious to the little bugger’s intentions with regards to our allotment. She has virtually annihilated every vegetable that managed to survive winter thus far, plus a newly planted bed of broccoli and cauliflower. I didn’t begrudge her the agapanthus because they will grow again come Spring when she moves on. However I do resent the fact that she took advantage of my naïveté and goodwill and left not a single edible thing behind.

In the words of the Band’s Robbie Robertson:

Now, I don’t mind chopping wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest
But they should never
Have taken the very best

(The Night They Drove old Dixie Down)

Next year I hope to be better organised and plant rye grass in the field as winter feed for the buck. In the meantime I think we may have to enclose the allotment to keep her out, as much as I don’t want to do that. She must be hungry. Oh, I hate to be in conflict with nature!

You know, it breaks my heart to see what has happened in the country in the 14 years since we built our house here. In this short space of time I have seen the number of game dwindle drastically. I can remember large herds of buck grazing on our and neighbouring land as they migrated backwards and forwards from the Lowveld to the Highveld. Now there are electrified game fences all over the show, including 3 sides of our property. How I hate these game fences. One of the things I loved in America, as we travelled through Maine and Virginia, was seeing houses butting up against forest without a fence in sight. I moved to the country to escape the confines of city life, but others have chosen to bring those confines with them to the country. And I’m afraid they are the ones who call the shots here.

 

 

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What a Wonderful World

Jack Frost paid us another visit this Sunday morning and left in his wake frozen water in the pipes. Knowing that I would have to wait awhile before I could get washed and dressed, I made a cup of tea and climbed back into bed.

Yesterday was a glorious day. We had breakfast outdoors and lunch on the veranda. I even coaxed my mother outside for tea on her patio until it got too hot to sit in the sun. It is the first time since I returned from my trip to America that I have felt warm. However when we took the dogs for their walkies at 5pm the weather had turned bitterly cold. Fortunately we had filled the kettle before going to bed so there was enough water for tea and coffee when we woke.

As I lay in bed watching the feeding frenzy at the bird feeder, a bushbuck stepped nonchalantly out of the flower bed, munching on some agapanthus leaves, and onto the front lawn. I shot out of bed, grabbed my point-and-shoot and crept up to the bedroom window. It carried on walking towards me even though it seemed to be looking straight at me and stopped about 3 meters away, next to my pot of lavender. I have never been this close to buck on our property before and it was quite mesmerising staring into its huge black eyes. Slowly it turned away from me and walked the length of our garden before it stepped daintily down the garden steps and disappeared.

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Country Road

I spent the weekend of my 57th birthday in the beautiful Allegheny Valley in Virginia, not West Virginia as my choice of song may imply. (I gather that quite a distinction is made between the two states.) The Allegheny Mountains, which are part of the vast Appalachian mountain range, serve as part of the Virginia – West Virginia state line. To get there we drove south west from DC, over the Shenandoah River, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, through the impressive George Washington National Forest and up and over three extremely winding, scenic mountain passes.

rural Virginia

rural Virginia

As I headed in to the home stretch of my holiday I was thrilled to learn that James’ parents, Jim and Jody, were flying up from Miami and that we were all going to spend the weekend with Susannah and Mike (James’ aunt and uncle) at their beautiful farm in the Allegheny Valley. And what a wonderful weekend it was. Susannah cooked us the most amazing gourmet meals and we managed to polish off a lot of wonderful wine. Jim and Jody made my birthday special by taking me to the very posh Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs for high tea – what a treat. I then had a memorable dinner with my simpatico American family. I have to say I have never eaten so many delicious meals in one weekend, ending off with yummy cheese grits and bacon for breakfast on Monday morning before we began the 4 hour trip back to DC.

a special place: the farm in the Allegheny Valley

a special place: the farm in the Allegheny Valley

Kiera in front of the Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs

Kiera in front of the Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs

high tea at the Homestead Hotel

high tea at the Homestead Hotel

celebrating good times

celebrating good times

We are so very lucky that our daughter has married into such a warm, generous and compatible family. It feels like I’m visiting old friends when we all meet up and there’s no need to be on one’s best behaviour, which is just as well because the wine sure do flow! And, as you know, I sure can drink it. As we said our fond farewells we were already planning our next holiday together! Jim is originally from Louisiana and everyone seems keen on his recommendation of New Orleans as our next rendezvous destination.

Before Kiera moved to the States, I had never really considered it as an ideal holiday option. It is, after all, so bloody far away and expensive for us South Africans with our rand being such a weak currency against the dollar. And even when Kiera settled there, we considered our first trip as something we had to do in order to see her. However, since that first visit to America and meeting the “in-laws”, I have grown very fond of the USA and its people and am eager to return to experience more of it. Yes, it is still expensive for us South Africans but one has to cut one’s cloth accordingly, like not drinking wine when eating in restaurants! However, reasonably priced accommodation is not hard to find and one certainly gets better value for money than here in SA, especially when Kiera is making the reservations. So hopefully a trip to New Orleans will not be out of the question in the near future.

I’m home now – the goodbyes were painful but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here. Life goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

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Better Together (part 3)

On our return to Arlington, I moved into my own apartment, about a 5 minute walk from Kiera & James’ place, a 10 minute walk to the metro stop and a 15 minute walk to the nearest supermarket. Despite being so close, it was quite exhausting walking anywhere because it was so bloody hot and humid (with temperatures going up as high as 35ºC). I tried not to let that put me off and did spend some time venturing out and about in Arlington and Washington DC.

I walked to Whole Foods and the Farmers’ Market with my wheelie shopping basket on a few occasions and it was a treat to stock up on lovely summer berries and fruit pies (some of you may know from my previous trip that I cannot resist American pie). We established a habit of Kiera and James stopping by my apartment on their way home from work (they commute on the metro) so that we could walk together to their home. We would eat dinner, watch a show on telly and then they would drive me back. One evening as we were all walking to their apartment Kiera  commented on how good it would be if Peter, Alex and I all lived nearby so that we could do this regularly. It brought tears to my eyes then as it does now when I write it. I think that I would give just about anything to have my family close.

delicious black raspberries from the farmers' market

delicious black raspberries from the farmers’ market

On a Friday afternoon I visited the wonderful National Gallery of Art which is located on the National Mall and easily accessible by metro. Strangely enough Andrew Wyeth popped up again as they had an exhibition of his work there called Looking Out, Looking InI was also delighted to see the original of Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil as we have a print of it hanging next to our fireplace. But my favourite paintings were the Modiglianis, especially Madame Amédée (Woman with Cigarette)and Chaim Soutine. 

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My feet were killing me after quite a few hours in the Gallery so I strolled next door to the Sculpture Garden where a band was setting up for an evening of Jazz in the Garden. Kiera and James joined me after work and we had prime seats in front of the band (because I had got there early). Kiera bought us a pitcher of sangria and we sat back and imbibed the vibe. It was, in the words of Lou Reed, just a perfect day, we drank sangria in the park, and then later when it got dark, we went home. It may seem strange to those of you accustomed to public transport and walking about at night, but I find being able to catch the metro and walk home in the evening without fear quite awesome!

jazz in the garden

jazz in the garden

We visited George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon on the weekend. The kitchen gardens were gorgeous and I have plans for new plantings when I return home. It is interesting, on the one hand, how unostentatious the house is but, on the other hand, how many outbuildings there are; the kitchen and laundry are separate from the main house, but there are also buildings that accommodated a blacksmith, a spinning room, a distillery and a place to cure meat, making the farm totally self sufficient. This was quite different to anything I’ve visited in the UK, where the stately homes are very grand but dependent on the nearest village for services. Could this be because in America they had slaves to perform all the tasks?

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Washington's dung repository

Washington’s dung repository 

On Sunday, James and Kiera bought buffalo chicken wings, jalapeño poppers and beers and we settled in to watch USA play Portugal. At least James did, Kiera and I abandoned him after a short while to play scrabble – it was nail biting stuff (the scrabble, that is).

Ensconced in my own apartment, I felt very independent and a little guilty for having left Peter at home to deal with a seriously ill employee, my very old Milo-dog and my mum. My mum though has been the least of Peter’s concerns. Kho has not been well since the beginning of the year. Just when we think he’s on the mend, he has a relapse. Not long after I left he became very ill and has been in and out of hospital since. Now it appears that he may have to undergo surgery. I do hope that the doctors at Northdale Hospital know what they are doing.

And Milo is giving him a bit of a run around as well. This is an extract from one of Peter’s emails:

“Milo o Milo – hell bent on giving me sleepless nights. Went off his feed and on Sunday night the squelching of his tummy drowned out the traffic. Last night I was up to him all hours. At one am I took him out and watched him sniff every inch of the lawn, several times, with no result. After 15 minutes – it was freezing – and still no result I invited him back inside and told him to poo away and that I would clean it up and not scold him. Little bugger did just that! From then on he slept through and this morning he ate. You have to admire his ability to manipulate. Anyway, that is all for now .This so called quiet country living is very demanding.”

And all the while I’m having a grand holiday!

Jody and Susannah at Willard's Pit BBQ - a truly American experience

Jody and Susannah at Willard’s Pit BBQ – authentic Southern Barbecue, a truly American experience

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

this is how crab should be served

Maryland Blue Crabs at the Quarterdeck Restaurant – this is how crab should be served

James attacked the crab with gusto

smash ‘em and eat ‘em – James complied with gusto

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