Aunt Sarah brought us a new bird feeder. There is a fantastic birch tree right outside the kitchen window with a branch perfect for hanging the feeder. Daniel and Sarah filled it last week and hung it up. The birds love it. There are LBJs* and LGJs** and I think we’ll need to get a bird book soon. They emptied the feeder in about two days and having been coming back in the hope of a refill. I think we’ll wait until there is a food shortage as we are currently in a time of flowing milk and honey (if you are a bird). It will also be better to have a bit of bird distraction for those days when things are a bit dreich and the children needs some diversion.
We are the fortunate recipients of food parcels as part of the church’s pastoral ministry. Several lucky people have had the chance to see the young Kirsten when they have dropped off a ready-prepared meal during the week. Who would have thought that having two kids meant there wasn’t enough time to cook the supper? That said I now know what it is like to be a house husband – exhausting but fulfilling. Moms and Toddlers, Toddler Gym, swimming classes, sessions at the swings, doing stickers, playing with the diggers in the garden, morning snacks, lunch, sleep, afternoon snacks, afternoon slumps if the sleep never happened – and then try and make tea. The meals are hugely appreciated!
Christmas comes but once a year and but once a year do we get to eat mince pies. The best Christmas mince pie recipe in the world comes from my Gran. The best implementation of the recipe is, in my opinion, my sister-in-laws. I’ll justify that in this post using the criteria listed below. This test is conducted completely from memory on two of the three pies. I estimate I have eaten at least 400 of Gran’s and Mom’s pies over the years and the distinctive sensory memories are strong. However, I have most recently eaten Sarah’s pies and maybe those have inluenced my judgement. In the end though, if you ever get to eat one of the pies made with this recipe you’ll forever want one come the Christmas season.
So, what variables/criteria are considered when assessing a mince pie? Scored 1 = good, 2 = very good, 3 = best
pastry texture on the tongue
pastry texture on first bite (whole mouth experience)
pastry taste (both raw dough and the cooked product)
Us McDonalds, we like tea. We drink a lot, a LOT, of tea. Maybe not as much as Louise from Yorkshire but still a lot. I recently had two weeks leave over Christmas and New Year and in 13 days I reckon I swallowed about 50 cups of tea. We also had about 30 people through the flat over that time and while not all of them drank tea – some drank coffee and others just plain hot water – those that did had different ways of making it.
Our way – the right way – is a well established ritual laid down over almost 80 years. Both sets of grandparents had Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea. The Bates side tended to use mugs or beakers while the McDonalds had cups and saucers. Both set a tray, used a teapot with a cosy, had a sugar bowl and individual teaspoons. Special occasions on both sides demanded cups and saucers. (Also, the fact that many of us have worked for Cape Town City Council might have something to do with it.)
The immediate family was a little more relaxed but there was still a way to “have tea”. The tea must be hot hence the cosy. There were outcries if the cosy was forgotten although I think they mainly came from Dad. The pot must also be warmed before making the tea with a little boiling water from the kettle. Again outcries, again Dad, if it wasn’t done. Then 2 bags of Five Roses in the warmed pot and the boiling water poured. Our metal pots (the small one – 2 cupper – and the big one – 5 cupper – both now retired) had untouchable handles if properly done. Another good reason for the cosy. Then five cups with a choice of medium and large and a shared teaspoon. Milk in a plastic sachet in a jug and the sugar bowl with ladel. Milk was always poured first into four of the cups. A finger each for Mom, Ross and Kevin. Bruce got three fingers as he likes it milky. Dad has his black. A ladel of sugar each except Dad although in recent years he has taken to having a few granules to take away the bitterness of the tannins. I am sure that ladel has been responsible for most of the tooth fillings in our family. The remainder were possibly due to koeksusters or condensed milk or bad tooth hygiene or something. Maybe mince pies.
If it was a working tea – i.e. we were playing cricket on the lawn or watching it on TV – then it was taken downstairs in the playroom. If it was an after dinner or special tea then it was upstairs in the lounge. Either way, the tray had to be set, the pot warmed and a cosy used.
There was also an unspoken signal that emanated from somewhere that told us when to pour the tea. Tea always has to brew for a period to ensure that special reaction (“Aaah”) when sitting back with the perfect cup. Often it was Mom: “That tea is going to be poison if you don’t pour it soon” (possibly why Bruce likes his weak and milky), or one of those silences that occurs on the quarter hour in any conversation. Once it was poured and everyone had settled back with a suitable biscuit or scone or piece of fudge there was a collective, appreciative sigh as the first sip of tea was savoured.
Seeing this article from the New York Times made me think about the way we braai back home, and the way it is done in London.
In South Africa there are a few different schools of thought when it comes to braaing.
My uncle Malcolm is a staunch supporter of the carefuly planned, measured and timed braai. The food is ready when the rest of dinner and the guests are ready. The amount of meat (and vegetables) to be cooked has been taken into account and the amount of braai fuel adjusted accordingly. More often than not the meat is already cooked by the time the guests arrive. Doing it this way allows the braai-er complete control of the braai environment and the only interference might be the delivery of a cold beer, nicely poured, to a waiting hand.
A favourite is the “bring and braai” and, when done well, is an efficient and effective process with everyone getting a good portion and variety of custom-cooked meat. When done badly meat comes to the table in waves with chicken invariably still part raw or last off the grid just as the pavlova is about to be served.
Similar to the “bring and braai” is the last minute braai a.k.a. spontaneous braai (not spontaneous combustion). You’ve been at the beach with a bunch of mates and rather than let the party end you decide to carry on into the evening. People pick up the bits and pieces on the way back and all muck in to make it happen. Usually the party atmosphere makes up for the slap-dash nature of the evening and the braai is a success. This is a Cape Town
Some people have the knack of making the braai last until well into the evening and, when everyone is absolutely starving, deliver everything in one fell swoop. Quite often beer is to blame but often is a result of not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Large family gatherings, in my experience, most often end up like this. This educational video explains the long established hierarchy around the braai and is a good reference for delegating tasks to various people.
The English “barbeque” on a wobbly disposable bed of 15-minute (if you’re lucky) coals. This is usually only good for a 6-pack of budget sausages as there is not enough meat in them to harm you if they are not properly cooked after your 15 minutes are up. Now banned from most public open spaces these are often left in disgust as the would-be braai-ers have gone to get a curry instead.
What are the marks of a good braai?
All important is a solid bed of lasting coals – this shows a good eye for quality charcoal and wood, good fire laying and lighting skills and the patience to wait for the fire to be just right.
Quality meat: no veggie burgers or budget pork sausages!
Timing: starting the fire in good time for it to burn down to the solid bed of lasting coals, cooking the meat in stages to all finish at the same time is a good skill to have
Solid preparation: a good supply of cold drinks, ice, sufficient meat, marinaded in time, ingrediants for salads, desserts, paper plates and cutlery, enough chairs for the ladies, an umbrella for the sun, blankets and rugs for laying on the ground, a ball for the kids to play with while they wait.
Peripherals: a variety of snacks including Knicknaks and biltong (pringles are now a cake and should be served alongside the pavlova), sweet chilli sauce and cream cheese dip, good tunes.
Now, is this a collector’s item or what? Some of you, I expect, will say what. But, I mean, how can you not collect one of these? Look at the fantastic “Limited Edition” written on the front. And the branding – two more famous names could not be found in such a perfect symbiosis! As for the taste – I am afraid that will have wait until I can buy another one as this piece is going to retain its pristine plastic sealing wrapper (you can even see the perforations if you look closely enough). But imagine it – briney, yeasty yet smooth and warming. My mouth is watering at the thought…
Get out and buy yours today at a Waitrose near you.
several spoons mayonnaise (Cross and Blackwell preferably)
2 x sliced bananas
Empty the beans into a suitable bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise. Add the sliced banana. Chill in the fridge until ready to eat. Serve with a lekker braai.
Now, some of you might think a suitable bowl would be the toilet bowl. Others might disagree about the mayonnaise. Still other might get so far as to chilling the salad in the fridge until ready to eat. And then never quite getting around to it. I can’t understand the objection to such an essential item on the table at any braai. Bruce swears by it. I would be interested to hear your point of view.