Paperback Writer

I love reading a book that leaves me feeling like I have a strong affinity with the author or the main character. Some might say that empathy has never been one of my strong points so perhaps literature enables me to feel this connection with people that I otherwise find rather difficult to do in real life.

My first recollection of feeling empathy with a fictional character was when I was in primary school in Port Elizabeth and my mother would take me once a month to the North End public library. It was not as beautiful as the main library in town but it was still a charming old building with high arched windows, wooden shelves going all the way up to the ceiling, narrow windy staircases and wrought iron balustraded walkways. I loved the smell of wood and books and the quiet of the place. It was here I discovered Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. There were about 8 books in the series and by the time I had finished one, I would be desperate to get to the next. I so loved Anne Shirley that I was devastated when she passed a remark about a girl called Kathleen – something along the lines of her being pleased that her name was spelt with a K because spelt with a C, the name is so smug. I was cut to the quick, as my name is Cathleen, spelt with a C. I have to admit things were never quite the same between Anne and me after that!

Later, J.D. Salinger introduced me to the wonderful Glass family and Franny, in particular. Although Buddy Glass is my favourite Salinger character, I wanted Franny and Zooey as friends. Often during difficult times, I turned to my “bible” Franny and Zooey for comfort, even taking it with me when I went in to hospital to have Kiera. My GP, Walter Savage, who delivered both my children, spotted the little book on my bedside table. “Don’t you think it’s time to move on?” he said!

There are authors who, after reading their books, I feel like I know personally and in fact, on a few occasions have even come close to writing to them to express my admiration and affection. Paul Theroux, Isabel Allende and Barbara Kingsolver are three that come to mind at different times in my life. And now I have another, Helen Macdonald, thanks to my friend Chris who very kindly sent me a copy of Macdonald’s book H is for Hawk. I’ve just finished it and I really didn’t want it to come to an end. If I’m reading something light, I usually read it in one go – almost to get it over with so that I can find out who dunnit. With H is for Hawk, I savoured it for as long as I could, like sucking on a sweet for ages before it dissolves. She writes so beautifully that you have to read every word, sometimes repeatedly, like this sentence, which I find so incredibly moving:

We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.

Every time I read that it means something else to me.

I came across this quote today on Brain Pickings:

It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

I think Helen Macdonald not only makes herself clear to herself but she helps us see ourselves more clearly too. If I had a tribe, she would definitely be part of it and I wish I could invite her for dinner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Food Glorious Food

I think it is safe to say that baking is not my forte. When the children were younger I did make an effort to develop these skills by attending a Basic Bakery for Beginners course at the Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I learnt how to make pâte à sucre, pâte brisée, crème pâtissière and some very elaborate cakes and tarts. Immediately after the course, fired up with enthusiasm, I rushed across the road to a kitchen shop (run, rather incongruously, by a bodybuilder) and bought all the necessary equipment. And that, I’m afraid, was the end of that. The fancy stuff got put away and instead I bought a book called “Muffins and More” by Barbara Limon and Daphne Zarenda and a muffin tin. And for a while, according to an essay Kiera wrote when she was at school, I became “Muffin Mom”, churning out muffins at the drop of a hat. Then I discovered an excellent home industries shop in Clarence Road and a mother at Alex’s school who sold the best homemade biscuits ever and my baking days were over. And other than a few muffin-making forays, I’ve more-or-less steered clear of the world of baking ever since.

Someone who has mastered this art is Sharyn Breval, who owns a home-based speciality cake business in Nottingham Road, called Sharyn’s Cakes.  She is known for her bespoke wedding and celebration cakes and, in fact, she made Kiera and James’ delicious wedding cake and red velvet cupcakes, which I wrote about in my post I’m Sticking With You part 2 cont.

I first met Sharyn about 4 years ago when we did aqua aerobics together at Fordoun. When the classes ended we lost touch, until last year when we bumped into each other in Nottingham Road. I happened to mention that I had become rather reclusive and she urged me to sign up for bridge lessons with Lenora and join her bridge club in Gowrie Village so as to be more sociable. I am so pleased that I took her advice as I am thoroughly enjoying playing cards, as well as getting to know some very nice people.

It was at one of our social bridge games that I mentioned that I volunteer at the local farm school once a week. Sharyn then, very kindly, offered to come and do baking with the littlies. So last week she visited the Curry’s Post Primary School to introduce the children in grades R, 1 and 2 to the wonderful art of baking.

There was such excitement as the children gathered in the school’s new Science Centre. They donned their plastic aprons (courtesy of the Nottingham Road Spar) and perched on the lab stools, eyes wide open in anticipation. Sharyn had prepared cupcakes for each child to decorate. Once they had been persuaded not to eat the cakes, the children were given bowls of icing sugar and encouraged to examine the taste and texture of it. “Mnandi” they all agreed, licking their fingers. Sharyn showed them how, when mixed with a little bit of water, icing sugar turns into a paste. She then added drops of the most luminous food colouring and there were murmurs of amazement as the white icing transformed into beautiful, bright colours. The children iced their cupcakes and took great care in decorating them with a variety of sprinkles, also kindly donated by the Spar.

Next, Sharyn showed the children what happens when you microwave a marshmallow. Everyone, including the teachers, watched in fascination as the marshmallows puffed up and became deliciously gooey. The children then sandwiched the marshmallows between Marie biscuits before smothering them with more icing and sprinkles.

It was a real hands-on learning experience, resulting in lots of sticky fingers and a bunch of very excited children all keen to visit the Science Centre again!

baking with Sharyn

baking with Sharyn

Afterwards, I waxed lyrical to my mother about how much the children had enjoyed the baking session with Sharyn and how much Thandi’s daughter, when she visited us during the holidays, had enjoyed helping me make a cheesecake. I described how I let her climb on a stool and mix the ingredients and lick the bowl. I paused and waited for my mother to say something along the lines of “That’s nice dear”. But she couldn’t resist pushing that little button again – “It’s funny” she said “but I don’t remember you doing that with your own children”. Grrrrrr!

In the interests of frugality and self sufficiency, I have started  baking again and fortunately still have all the paraphernalia, as good as new. Perhaps one of these days I’ll unearth Christina Martins’ pâtisserie recipes, but in the meantime I’m keeping it simple and sticking to foolproof recipes.

This recipe is from Muffins and More.

Best Banana Muffins

Makes 12

Ingredients

  • 4 medium bananas
  • 200 ml (¾ cup) sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) melted butter
  • 375 ml (1½ cups) flour
  • 5 ml (1 t) baking powder
  • 5 ml (1t) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Mash the bananas and add the sugar and egg. Mix in the butter. Add mixture to sifted dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake at 180ºC  for 20 minutes.

Sometimes I add a handful of chopped pecan nuts.

Notes on the above

  1. According to Limon and Zarenda, “the secret to successful muffins lies in the mixing. To mix, the liquid ingredients are added to the dry ingredients in a few quick strokes. Mixing is kept to a minimum. This will leave the batter lumpy, but this is how it should be. If the mixture is overbeaten, the gluten in the flour will develop and toughen the dough, causing tunnels. The batter should not be mixed until it can be poured from a spoon, but should rather break into coarse globs.”
  1. I’ve started using Champagne Valley, stoneground flour (GMO free, unbleached with no preservatives or additives). And organic sugar. And it really does improve the flavour.

Also from Muffins and More is this recipe for:

Easy Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 300 ml (1¼ cups) flour
  • 5 ml (1 t) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 125 ml (½ cup) oil
  • 250 ml (1 cup) sugar
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Sift together the flour and baking soda. Mix together the remaining ingredients and add to the flour. Stir until blended. Pour into a greased medium loaf tin and bake at 180ºC for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 160ºC and bake for a further 15 minutes

(I haven’t made this since I stopped using seed oils so I’m not sure what I could use as a substitute. Any ideas?)

This is the cheesecake I made with Thandi’s daughter.

No-Bake No-Cheese Blueberry “Cheesecake”

Ingredients

  • 1 packet digestive biscuits
  • 80 g butter, melted
  • 250 ml (1 cup) fresh cream
  • 1 x 385 g can of condensed milk
  • 180 ml (¾ cup) fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 250 g (1 punnet) blueberries
  • 50 g (¼ cup) caster sugar

Crush the biscuits in a food processor and blend with the butter. Press into a 20 cm loose-bottomed cake tin sprayed with cooking spray. Beat the cream until it starts to thicken, then stir in the condensed milk. Add the lemon juice and rind and blend until the mixture thickens. Pour over the biscuits and chill for at least 2 hours. The cake freezes well and is delicious served frozen.

Rinse the blueberries, place in a pot with the sugar and cook over a gentle heat until the berries soften and release juice. Cool completely. Spoon berry mixture over cheesecake just before serving.

Notes on the above

  1. I came across a recipe by Mary-Ann Shearer for a wheat-free crust. I have adjusted the quantities for my 20 cm cake tin. It is delicious and I often use it instead of the digestive biscuits:
  • 1 cup almonds
  • ¼ cup pitted dates
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
  • ± 2 Tbsp water

Grind almonds and dates in a coffee grinder until fairly fine. Add cinnamon and then mix with your hands while gradually adding enough water to form a dough. Press into the cake tin and chill.

  1. To make the berries a bit more luxurious a fruit liqueur can be added. Put 60 ml (¼ cup) dark brown soft sugar and 2–3 Tbsp fruit liqueur (I use Crème de Cassis) in a saucepan over a moderate heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the berries, or any fruit for that matter, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

And finally, the recipe for Seed Crackers from the Real Meal Revolution which I copied from food lovers recipes.

CRACKERS

Ingredients

  • 200 g sunflower seeds
  • 60 g flax seeds
  • 100 g sesame seeds
  • 30 ml psyllium husks
  • 500 ml water
  • 5 ml salt

Preheat oven to 160ºC – do not make it any warmer.
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl and leave the mixture to stand until it is thick and pliable – about 10 minutes. Spread the mixture out as thinly as possible onto a silicone mat on a baking tray (I used 2 baking trays). If you do not have a silicone mat, use the dull side of tinfoil but be sure to use a lot of spray and cook on it otherwise it will stick to the tinfoil. Once spread it should have no holes in it. Bake for 1 hour. If outer edges pretty dry and hard, break them off and spread open the remainder and return to oven. You can continue to bake them till all nicely and seriously crisp and dried out. It took me approximately 1 to 1½ hours to get to this stage – depending on your oven. Once all done remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cooled, break them into any size you like and store in airtight container.
Nice to use with any pates or dips or use as bread with any topping you would have used on bread.

Note on the above

  • I use 1 ½ packets of the Breakfast Seed Mix from Woolworths – it is a blend of pumpkin, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

White Flag

 

As I cast my beady eye around the garden the other day, I was alarmed by the extent to which it had become overgrown and unkempt. Yes, I am allowing the bush to creep up into the garden but not at the expense of aesthetics. So I embarked on a massive clear-up; pruning, weeding, clearing – basically asserting myself again, despite the sure knowledge that in the long run I will lose the battle. At least I shall go down fighting.

One aspect of the garden that really pisses me off is the front lawn. No matter how much it is weeded, it is NEVER weed-free. I don’t use poisons in my garden but last year I was blinded by the desire for a perfect lawn and, in desperation, I resorted to spraying the lawn when dandelions threatened to overtake it. They are an absolute bugger to get out as they have a long tap root. However, for every dandelion killed about 5 other varieties of weeds sprung up to fill the gap. “That’ll teach me” I thought – never again will I resort to measures that go against all my convictions. That doesn’t mean to say that I intend letting the lawn get the better of me. I exacted my revenge by digging up a strip of it and I’m going to plant indigenous grasses to create a sort of meadow effect instead. Thandi, my once-a week-helper in the garden, was rather dismayed. She thinks that the lawn provides a barrier between the house and all manner of wild critters lurking in the undergrowth, just beyond its weedy edges. We’ll see.

I’m quite relieved that I’ve got my gardening mojo back. Books are spread out on the dining room table again, designs are being plotted as we speak and it’s even got Edna going through her books and giving me advice on what plants to use. She once told me that when she was a little girl all she aspired to was having a garden of her own. Wherever she lived she always created a lovely garden and she never employed anyone to help her, even grassing an entire tennis court on her own. And it’s only now that she is 91 years old that she grudgingly allows Thandi to help her in the garden (and her house) with things that she cannot manage herself. When the sun shines, she’s in her garden, in her element.

I love my mother very much but she does drive me to distraction sometimes. I read somewhere that our parents always know exactly how to push our buttons because they put them there in the first place, and omigod can my mother push my buttons . Mondays are curry days and I prepare enough to feed Peter, me, my mum, Thandi and Kho. To start with I toned down the volume of the curry to make it more palatable for my mother. However, whenever I asked her the next day how she enjoyed the curry she would reply “Oh, you mean the stew”. So eventually, I thought “fuck you” and amped up the curry powder. She claimed to enjoy it but I have my suspicions that it landed up in the bin. You just can’t win.

I am really enjoying my volunteer work at the Curry’s Post Primary School. There is something so rewarding about seven little kiddies being so delighted to see one!

IMG_0569_edited-1

 

IMG_0555

 

hate to admit, but I do have  favourite

hate to admit it  but I do have favourites

there's always one

there’s always one

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When I’m 64

The entry into my 59th year wasn’t as auspicious as I had hoped. I had flu, a broken premolar, mouth ulcers and perioral dermatitis (which I only discovered, and started treatment for, when I saw a dermatologist a few days later). I was, quite frankly, a bit of a mess. I’m not sure why this was the case and thankfully I am now on the mend, although the tooth still needs to be capped. Fortunately my friend, Judy, was visiting at the time. She kept me company while I languished in bed watching telly and Peter, bless his cotton socks, made us endless cups of tea (during the day) and kept our wine glasses full after sunset.

Growing older is one of life’s great ironies. We’re so fucking relieved to have made it this far, but as we thankfully receive each additional year on earth so we degenerate a little bit more. I’m not complaining though since I don’t have any major health problems or any real aches and pains. What I have is down to just normal wear and tear – touch wood. I would go so far as to say that as I get older, I feel like I am a better person; more intuitive, less judgmental and all round more happy.

It’s a strange thing. Ever since I discovered that what I thought was socially inept behaviour on my part was actually a consequence of being an introvert, I have stopped being so self-critical and become much more relaxed in situations that previously I would have run a mile from. It definitely helps knowing that one is not alone, nor odd, in feeling alienated in certain circumstances where everyone else appears to be in their element. It’s a bit like having a disturbing recurring dream. Once you fathom out the message that your subconscious is sending you, the dreams stop.

When I was a child, many a Sunday evening was spent playing games around the dining room table. We played board games like Monopoly and Scrabble and my dad also taught us card games, like poker, chase the ace, sevens and pontoon. As a result, I love playing games, not from a competitive place but for the sense of togetherness that it creates. However, I have never felt comfortable playing games with people other than my friends and family. But last year, in an attempt to be more sociable, I signed up for bridge lessons in Nottingham Road and landed up playing club bridge once a week and social bridge twice a week. I often find myself marvelling at the fact that I’m sitting at a table with people I don’t know very well, playing a game that I haven’t quite mastered, and I’m actually enjoying it. I was fortunate to join a class at the same time as Margie, who is a delight to play with and has now become my regular partner in the club (and when she is not available, Peter steps in).

I think that bridge is quite a good game for introverts because chit chat is discouraged, except of course when one plays social bridge. Ironically, now that I feel more comfortable being quiet (after reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet) I seem to be joining in the general natter more easily.

It never ceases to amaze me that a simple discovery about one’s personality could result in such a monumental mind shift. Discovering this has, in effect, changed the way I live my life. What I’ve always thought of as flaws I now think of as strengths and I feel more confident than ever that it’s okay to just be myself. ­­­­­I just wish I could have learnt this sooner rather than later.

S'ne, Thandi's daughter, enjoying the pancakes at Mulberry Hill

S’ne, Thandi’s daughter, enjoying the nutella pancake at Mulberry Hill

firebreaks burnt at last

firebreaks burnt at last

Njabula, aka NInja, serving us on Father's Day at Bosch Hoek

Njabula, aka NInja, serving us on Father’s Day at Bosch Hoek

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

I turned 58 recently.

It didn’t really go according to plan.

No, that’s not true,

There was no plan that it could go according to.

The birthday dawned and

I felt a bit fluey.

So I took to my bed and that’s where I lay

Lamenting the fact that I felt shit, on my birthday.

 

 

I am ambivalent about birthdays. I appreciate that I’m still here but I sure as hell hate getting older.

But on a brighter note, I took some bubbles to school and the kids went crazy chasing them. They called them balloons and when I corrected them, their pronunciation of “bubbles” was totally Mr Bean.

bubble-mania

 

more kiddie joy

more kiddie joy

from top left: Judy feeding the Floozies their greens; harvesting the end of the chillies; aloes in the village; vintage cars at the Rosetta market

from top left: Judy feeding the Floozies their greens; harvesting the end of the chillies; aloes in the village; vintage cars at the Rosetta market

winter veggies

winter veggies

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

What a Wonderful World

It is dry here, so very dry, like a tinderbox, just waiting to ignite. Frost came a month late this year, after a harsh drought. This delayed the burning of firebreaks, which has all the landowners now rushing to get them done before the windy season sets it. Not such a pleasant time of year, but pretty nonetheless.

winter-3-2015

 

winter-2015

winter-2-2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

See What Love Can Do

 

Several years ago, I posted a blog in the form of a letter to Njabulo’s dead mother, Angelina. I was thinking of her recently and how proud she would have been of the person her oldest son has become, just as we are.

Njabulo has worked on the farm for the past year, ever since we had to layoff our erstwhile employee, Kho, due to ill-health. However the arrangement we had with both of them was that Njabulo would have to relinquish the job should Kho recover and want to return. After 6 months in Richmond Hospital recovering from TB and 6 months on unemployment and disability benefits, Kho  has returned with a letter from the clinic doctor declaring him fit for work. I have seen Kho fight back from the brink of death 3 times and for that he should be commended but I sincerely hope that he doesn’t neglect his health again because it will be, I fear, the last time.

Despite knowing that this day might come, Njabulo was understandably quite distraught at the idea of returning to the ranks of the unemployed. We have always believed that he was capable of being more than an unskilled labourer and, to that end, have sent him on various courses (computer and permaculture) and have sponsored a number of attempts by him to get his learner’s license. So when he went for his interview as a waiter at the Bosch Hoek Golf Club, we were on tenterhooks waiting to hear if he got the job. And he did, with immediate effect. He visited us on his day off and we got a full report.

During his 2 days of training he excelled so much that he was asked if he had worked as a waiter before. He replied that his only experience was as a barman at Kiera and James’ wedding reception! One of his duties includes clearing and setting tables. So when he was asked to lay some tables and he responded that he had already done so, his speed on the job earned him the nickname “Ninja” by the chef.

His leaving the farm so abruptly has kind of dropped us in the dwang since Kho will only be starting in July. All of a sudden Peter and I have to get back into farm work but it has done us good to get involved again and, of course, we are so pleased for him. The chef asked Njabulo if we were okay with him starting immediately and he told her that we are his family and that we would want what is best for him. So it was with bittersweet emotions  that he took his leave from us and the farm.

As another fledgling leaves the nest, I wish I could tell his mother  we did the best we could but that her son did the rest and credit must surely go to her for laying the foundation of love.

James and Njabulo in front of their  RDP house

James and Njabulo in front of their RDP house

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment