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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Gardener's diary

With some help all the roses have been dug over, moats created and filled with a handful of fertilizer, potting soil and my own homegrown compost.  I could not resist having another ‘go’ at the bushes with my cutting shears – taking off more errant shoots and old wood.

My compost heap is a source of great pride. I devote kitchen organic waste to it, veggie and fruit peels mainly, and all the garden cuttings. I occasionally add a bag or two of bone meal and keep it damp. When we extracted compost from the heap last week, it was alive with earthworms. Understandably the Heuglin's robins were the first to visit the rosebeds followed by the orange thrushes.

Bags of leaves waiting for the current compost to be harvested and the new one to be begun.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Won't you have a rusk?

I consider the humble rusk (Afrikaans: beskuit) as one of the great South African contributions to the world of cuisine. Not haute cuisine, of course, but the mundane world of everyday eating pleasure. Most folk from every background in this diverse country enjoy the simple but hearty snack of rusks and a cuppa – tea, coffee or hot chocolate on a cold winter’s evening.  I start the day with rusks and coffee, a ritual that has been eagerly shared with a succession of Thatchwick dogs, and now taken with Kaela and Flash.

A rusk is a hard, dry biscuit which is achieved by double baking. First the rusk dough  is formed into shapes or cut into shapes and baked. The individual rusks are loosened from each other with enough space for the air to circulate between rusks and returned on baking trays to a low oven to be dried out for a couple of hours.  Versions of rusks can be found in the baking repertoire of several countries.  Ours are traced back to pioneering days when provisions had to keep without proper refrigeration or storage for long periods of time. My rusk baking took on new dimensions when Ruth gave me these rusk pans with a contraption to make neat indentations into the wet dough.

In South Africa rusks and coffee have found their place onto  the menus of some upmarket coffee  shops specialising in local fare, like Karoo CafĂ© on Lynnwood Road. Commercially baked rusks appear on supermarket shelves and are an essential item at small home industries.  I disdain buying rusks as the supermarket goods are just not good enough. Home industry offerings are excellent but pricey. Beside to whip up a batch of dough, more or less according to my favourite recipe, takes a flat 20 minutes. I say ‘more or less’ as I am not a stickler for exact amounts and improvise my rusks with abandon.  My recipe calls for raisins and I add cranberries; sunflower seeds and I add pumpkin seeds and chopped pecan nuts if I have any; All Bran Flakes or muesli, whatever is in the cupboard. An addition that I never miss is a cup of coconut and treacle sugar in place of standard refined white. If the mixture seems a bit stiff due to the unconventional ingredients, I just add a little more cream or buttermilk.
Jethro loves Granny’s rusks and I suspect his parents do too. A dozen or so bagged in clear cellophane and tied with a ribbon makes a thank you or birthday gift or a comfort  package. Kaela is a special fan. When I take out the bowls and baking trays, she takes up her place of vigilance on the kitchen floor and stays put watching the oven until the first phase of baking is over.   

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gardener's diary

My denuded rose garden after hours of hard work this Saturday. I was left with sore hands after gripping the shears and a few scratches after I had impatiently tossed off the leather gloves.  My technique is first to tackle those straggly winter roses with the hedge shears. Does that make you experts flinch?  This is a tip I picked up from a DVD on rose pruning by an Australian expert. After chopping the spindly canes to a manageable size and removing the debris, I return with the pruning shears and  begin to prune with care.

 Altogether I pruned approximately 45 bushes throughout the garden. Standards, miniatures in pots, climbers, which incidentally I believe benefit from pruning, tea roses and floribundas.  Now I m ust spray them them with lime suphur, build up the  moats and fill  them with my own homegrown compost.

These are the roses in early summer glory in Vienna.

Ruth and I celebrated the roses of Vienna with two poppy seed pastries and cappucinos on a park bench on a hot, sticky Sunday in June. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


The secret to a happy birthday is to arrange the celebration yourself without waiting, often in vain, for someone to do that for you. Friends and family are keen to participate and will go to great lengths to make the celebration a success but the initiative remains yours.

This year I chose to have an early morning coffee and croissants get together for my friends. My daughter and grandchildren stopped over on their way for a country weekend. Ruth brought a red velvet cake and cupcakes. I ordered plain, almond and chocolate croissants from the excellent fresh bakery at Woolies.
Plump strawberries caught my eye as I entered the store and were the perfect accompaniment to the pastries. A selection of jams and cheese rounded off the menu.

We chatted till lunch time.  The evening was special. Friends invited me out to a dinner/chamber concert at a restaurant. Spicy butternut soup, grilled chicken breasts with spinach filled on a bed of garlic mashed potato, macaroons and coffee interspersed with Schubert, Hadyn and Khachaturian played on clarinet, piano, cello and violin were delicious to the ear and the tastebuds.
 An aside on aging:  the members of the quartet were so young, vibrant and enthusiastic. Their journey is beginning. A day after my birthday a forty-something friend commented to me, “I enjoyed your party. But your friends – they are soooo old! When I got home, I felt good. I realised how young I am!”  
Just a few of us oldies!

Friday, July 12, 2013

A month of incidents

Brightly coloured window frames on an apartment block create a pop art composition in Linz.Ten days in June were spent visiting Austria for an international conference combined with sightseeing.

But a tumble just three days before my departure - tripping over my hasty feet - in my own backyard left me with torn tendons and acute pain. Not the best way to start an overseas trip. But the splendours of Vienna eased the pain as Ruth and I scoured the city.

 Our first dinner in Vienna was schnitzels at a leafy tavern. The cold weather that had accompanied the floods earlier in June had given way to hot summer days.

Sight seeing trips (in posts to come), a busy conference, new getting acquainted with colleagues from across the globe, the long haul home followed almost immediately by an out-of-town workshop for doctoral students, a joyful reunion with my dogs("Thought we were abandoned in the kennels! De Luxe boarding does not make up for home, sweetest home!" reproached Kaela), Jethro - mornings while preschool is out for the holidays, an avalanche of emails and catch-up, and a flurry of birthday parties including my own, has filled the rest of June/July to date.

PS Composing this post has tested my determination to keep up blogging again. The text 'freezes' and will not allow further editing. The fonts return to Normal (which is small to my eye). An being in a constant strikeout mode does not allow insertions. I need a techie!