Sunday, August 21, 2016

Every story has an ending.

The past three weeks have felt like months.
The days have not been long enough for the mountains of work to be done. The nights too short for sleep.

We've criss-crossed this land, driving vast distances and experiencing huge differences in weather and culture.
On the border of Lesotho, where it is dry and icy,
a kind soul left reluctant blossoms in my room.


I fell in love with the jungle that is the South Coast.
I loved not knowing what was around the next corner.

The hidden doorways...


Peeks into gloomy cupboards.










The gentle decay of beautiful things.


I loved the feeling of our sets before the crew arrived, before the chaos and the disarray.



I loved the long-suffering Indian staff of these large Colonial mansions, following us and closing doors and windows "for the monkeys". The vervets regularly pelted me with date stones as I walked beneath the palms. 

The unexpected pleasure of finding zebras in the parking lot.








I'll miss the huge flowering trees.
I'll miss the smell of burnt sugar that hangs heavily in the humid air. The human cries of the hornbills. The clicking of fruit bats and falling asleep to the lullaby of nightjars.

The leopard orchids that I cosset at home here grow in trees - lush and abundant.

We are in harsher climes now.
I'll miss these arid places too. 
The smell of raindrops falling on dusty leaves.


I'll miss the silent men from the anti-poaching unit who guarded us while we worked at the game farm. They have seen the worst atrocities imaginable. After many days, they granted me this photo - along with rare and beautiful smiles.

I travel home today and I am ready. The tall man has sent me pictures of a lush Spring waiting. 



Farewell Natal.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The woman and the bees.

After our recent stay at BabylonstorenI received Maranda Engelbrecht's glorious Babel cookbook as a gift. That night, I devoured it from cover to cover.

How heartening to read that in 2012, when the book was published, head gardener Liesl van der Walt says that she wants to learn to be a beekeeper, with the knowledge of that wish now being a reality.

For in this garden, things happen that are beyond the realm of reason. Incredibly, outré cucurbits start their lives as crumpled white flowers.

I had forgotten the smell of papaya blossoms and the taste of a ripe tamarillo. I crunched along peach pip pathways, sniffing crushed bay leaf on my fingertips, daydreaming.

We sat at a table in the conservatory one morning, talking to Liesl. Battered panama hat, worn leather pockets on a gardener's apron, strong hands. Wagtails swooped and fluttered overhead.

I asked her if it was unusual to be a female beekeeper in South Africa. She looked down, smiled and said: 
Bye is meesal vrouens, jy weet.
"Bees are mostly women, you know."
I could tell that it was a love affair for her - this story with the  bees. She spoke about the otherworldliness of it all - the vibration of wings, the sound of a happy hive. That waggle dance they do.
She called them wild animals. I liked that.

We walked to the hives.

The bees had clover blossoms on their minds.


The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
- Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Soetpatat.

A few years ago, the tall man planted a sprouting sweet potato in our garden. It made a vine and after a year we dug up three or four tubers. One must have stayed behind, as a new year brought another vine and this time it flowered...


... betraying it's Morning Glory roots.
Yesterday's crop was somewhat of a revelation.




Missing from the picture is the largest one - which we cooked last night, wrapped in foil and nestled in the coals of our supper fire.
With melted butter, salt and pepper, it was fluffy and nutty and utterly yummy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Happiness is a garden and a kitchen.



Having to wake up at dawn last Tuesday morning at the Babylonstoren farm hotel was a sweet misery. The bed was so soft and there was a tiny skylight, high up above us, showing a myriad of stars.
But there was golden morning light to catch.

The night before, after dinner at Babel, we walked back to number five and found that unseen hands had placed a flannel-wrapped hot water bottle in our huge four poster bed. The smell of lavender floor wax brought back fond childhood memories of my grandmother's house.

As for dinner...

The starters were delectable.


The main course was so good that the tall man finished his by picking up his bone and gnawing at it. Later we found out that this behaviour is something that makes the chef particularly happy.
One likes a happy chef.


Dessert made us swoon.






Also, the tall man was wearing my favourite paisley shirt.

Back in our warm bed, I discovered the exceptional bedside lamps. (As important surely, as a sharp knife in the kitchen.)

The extensive library in the house felt as though it had been chosen just for us.
He read The Bird Guide of Southern Africa.
I read The Honey Bee Democracy.




Over breakfast the next morning, we had a good old natter with Babel's head chef. I'm  a little afraid of famous chefs, but it would be difficult to find someone more down to earth than Cornelle Minie.
A chef who doesn't hold her cards tightly against her chest, she shares ingredients and recipes without qualm.


Breakfast was a many-splendoured thing...


I chose guavas and cara cara orange with some rather startling granola. Savoury granola? The thought had never entered my mind. 
Toasty fennel seeds, coriander and a hint of curry.
I loved it.

The carrot garnishing my juice glass might very well have been one of a bunch I'd watched gardener Mariette pulling from the earth earlier that morning.


With the chef, we commiserated over childhoods of cooked-to-death vegetables. On this farm, the garden is the beating heart and the produce is the hero of the menu.


Once a week, to fulfil a daily order, Cornelle walks through the farm gardens with head gardener Liesl van der Walt. They discuss the needs of the kitchen, taking note of what is in season and what is budding and burgeoning. I'm sure that they also have time for a laugh or two.
Because this is what struck me over and over again:
the people who work here are happy.

I had an important question for the chef: what do you cook at home?
Ah: Skaapribbetjie (Mutton ribs). Chicken wings. And if time allows - time for cooking stock from scratch and those important things... oxtail. A girl after our own hearts.


A last walk through the garden after breakfast revealed that even water lilies have Autumn colours.

And that it is the start of waterblommetjie season. I am very partial to these flowers cooked in a lamb stew, with lemon rind.

A stone's throw from the restaurant, Liesl's African honey bees are very happy too.








The title of this post is a quote by Sir Terence Conran. I scribbled it on the flyleaf of a tiny black book which I took with me on my overseas wanderings many, many years ago. In it are my favourite recipes, written in the girlish handwriting of way back then. (Bobotie, Lamb and apple meatballs, my Ouma's date chutney...)


The quote lingers in my mind whenever I visit Babylonstoren.

(All photos by the sourcerer and a very tall man)