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)


dinahmow said...

I have read, with a sort of inner glow, Marie's pieces about this place. And, even further back, I have memories of people I knew who lived in your country and who cooked and grew and loved such things.

Marie said...

Made me cry a little bit. I would like to work there, too.

the sourcerer said...

I can imagine you there. X