Magic Melon – IV

As so often happens when there is a new addition to the family, the older sibling’s nose gets seriously out of joint.  Melon has had a hard time of it in the last few years:  first with Rosie’s arrival and then, two years ago, Pearli.

She certainly made her feelings known.  She sent the Cat’s Mother to Coventry and transferred all her affection to The Husband.  We rarely saw her in her favourite position:  on her back, tummy exposed.  A very “un-catlike” habit, and one she has demonstrated ever since she arrived in our home.

Here she’s sunning herself in a winter sunbeam in the office of our Cape Town house in 2011.


Later that year, she obligingly supervised the packing from the dining room table.


Then, once we had moved, she found the coolest spot in The Sandbag House – the foot of the stairs.


Oh, and not to be left out, she takes up most of the sofa.


Then, when the sun begins to set on a hot summer’s evening, she moves into the long shadows of The Sandbag House


We hardly saw a “wheels up” Melon (The Husband’s description), for about a year after Pearli arrived – certainly not in the house.


So when I found her waiting for me to make the bed one morning, which used to be a daily ritual, I realised she’d either given up being cross with Pearli, or she’d begun to forgive me.

And she began putting her wheels up more often.


On my chair, waiting for breakfast.


Warming her tummy while she waits (in vain) for a mole.


Melon has clearly got her magic back.  The Cat’s Mother couldn’t be more pleased!

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Mice and Mince Pies

December 25th, 2015 dawned much as every summer day does, but two things were different.  First, it was Christmas day, so there was no alarm clock, and there was a great deal to do.  Some of it, including the baking of Christmas mince pies and shortbread, should have happened on Christmas Eve.

Secondly, Pearli had suddenly grown up;  she seemed to have become quite sedate; hunting less and not getting into so much trouble, spending much of her day curled up, asleep – like a proper cat.

Pearli doing what “proper” cats do

Or so we thought.

As we were having our morning tea before facing the day, a thundercat hurtled up the stairs.  It definitely wasn’t Melon.  It had to be Pearli. The “footprints” told us so.  Sure enough, Pearli presented us with a Christmas present – the first catch for a very long time (as far as we are aware) – a real, live mouse.  Needless to say, having to deal with that levitated us into the final Christmas dinner preparations.

Most of this is a doddle:  same procedure as last every year for Fred and the shortbread, sans the rosemary this time.

Finally, the mince pies.

Mince pies

For the uninitiated, these are sweet tarts with a spiced fruit mince that is made from, predominantly raisins, currents and fruit peel.  They are traditional Christmas confectionary and the chain stores are filled with them.  Talk radio stations have phone-in shows and debate which store’s is better.  Seriously.

The first effort and was more than thirty years ago.  I was living in Johannesburg and had nowhere to go, and had been invited by a lovely family to join them for Christmas lunch.  Not one to go empty handed, I offered to bring the mince pies.

Clearly my penchant for eschewing the store-bought is ingrained because I decided to make them.  It didn’t enter my head to do a practice run.  Anyhow, in making this decision, I also decided that I would not use my mother’s pastry recipe:  her pastry was made with lard and I always thought that it was too thick.  Particularly for dainty mince pies.  For the life of me, I cannot recall what pastry recipe I used (It may have been a hot water one), but I do recall that I rolled it very thin and I  ended up making what became known as the “Million Mince Pies”.  Notwithstanding the fact that they were eaten and enjoyed, for the following year or so, I was enjoined to limit the number!  Too much of a good thing, and all that jazz….

So, although there are recipes for fruit mince, it is something I do not make.  Why?  Well, some of it has to do with getting my act together and getting things done ahead of time, and when it comes to Christmas, I’m not very good at that.  The planning starts on 15 December, if I’m lucky, but usually nearer 18th or 20th and the mince needs to be made at least two weeks in advance.  Anyway, from a jar, it’s more than acceptable and I can “doctor” it to make it my “own”, without breaking the bank. More importantly, the individual ingredients are jolly (!) expensive and it would be false economy to make it.

Or so I thought:  Mr Mac, one of the village foodies, a former Michelin-rated restaurant owner and hotelier (in Scotland) and a Scot, has just lent me a fabulous recipe book, written by a friend of his.  It contains a great mincemeat recipe.  I am now resolved to make fruit mince this winter, in preparation for next Christmas, as well as some other fabulous Sweet Things….

Back to the mince pies:  unlike when I make quiche for supper, or to order, at Christmas, I make pastry.

I have no idea where I got this recipe, but reading it, it must have been part of a promotion in a magazine, and for a particular brand of flour.


The first time I used this recipe, it was not for Christmas, but for a lunch party, part of which involved my “creating” recipes for friend’s aloe-based food range.

aloe tart 2

The jam tart was a hit, particularly the pastry.  When Christmas came along that year, I decided to use the recipe for the mince pies, but instead of making one large tart, I decided to do individual ones as well.  That was about six years ago, and I still do it.    MincePies2015

Tips, not in the recipe, or in my handwritten notes:

  • butter (I never use margarine*);  the oil is canola
  • use a food processor and if you have one that has different sized bowls, use the medium sized one
  • instead of rolling the pastry for the individual pies, break off and press bits of the pastry into the baking tin (a shallow muffin tin);  I do this for the larger tart, too.  This pastry, because of the quantity of fat/oil, is difficult to work with, especially in our summer heat, so “finger pressing” is easier than rolling and much less frustrating….
  • put the pastry that is reserved for the “lids” into the deep freeze while you’re lining the pie dish or pan.  This will make it easier to grate and work with when you’re ready

As I mentioned, I use store-bought fruit mince, and to this, I have added the apple suggested in this recipe, but I’ve also left it out:  it wasn’t missed.  What I always add is brandy – a good glug – and probably more than the 25ml the recipe talks about.  I used to add a sprinkling of granulated sugar, but I’ve stopped doing that – it makes little if any difference.

A White Christmas

So, mince pies and shortbread done, it was time to “dress” the table.  This year, it was a “white” Christmas with touches of red, including in the starter**, and the closest we get to a white Christmas in Africa (and, I gather, in most of the world, this year).


The meal concluded with the usual shortbread and mince pies.  One of our guests, amazed that I make my own, declared that the mince pies were better than those from one of the premium stores.  It has to be the pastry!

And about that mouse –

We have no idea what happened to Pearli’s gift:  by the time we had propelled ourselves out of the bedroom, both Pearli and mouse had disappeared.

*of course if, for dietary reasons, you can’t use dairy, margarine is more than acceptable
**those salad days are still to come…

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

The Pavement Persian Princess

Three years ago this month (December), just after the first anniversary of our arrival in McGregor, we had to say goodbye to our Pavement Persian. She joined Calico and me in as I was “transitioning” from a “past life” and before I met The Husband.  At the time, Calico and I had moved from a house with four other cats, to one with just us.  As we had been when we had left Johannesburg some six years earlier.  A friend figured that we could offer a good home to another feline.  Tasha.

Briefly, she had been acquired from a pet shop, interestingly, also some six years earlier, and needed a new home.  Her owners were going their separate ways and her home was no more.

And so, Tasha arrived in my life.

In the cool of a summer night

Her lineage was clear:  Persian royalty somewhere along the line, but to have ended up in a pet shop, it’s likely she had ascended from a pavement somewhere.

As it turned out, she had been a solitary cat;  her previous owners spent a great deal of time working and socialising away from their abode.  Adapting to a feline sister, and the Cat’s Mother, who worked from a home office, took some doing for this princess.  On all our parts.  Twice she tried to return to her old stomping ground, only to return having discovered that her old home was no more.  The tendency to go back to her old turf was a pattern she was to continue with other moves, including to McGregor, but each time she returned – she must have figured we were ok.

To add insult to injury, not long after her arrival, Tasha developed a nasty eye condition that necessitated extended hospitalisation and surgery.  So when The Husband (then not) arrived on the scene, about eighteen months after she had deigned to finally take up residence, she was still very much in Greta Garbo mode:  a snarling, grey ball of fur that hissed at him (and sometimes me) from under the bed, only to emerge when it suited her.

Supervising The Cat’s Mother in the office

Needless to say, she eventually settled and even accepted Melon when she arrived ten or so years later, in December 2009.

When we moved to McGregor, she was about 18 and about two weeks after we arrived, she went walkabout, having not strayed until then.  I had visions of her trying to head back to Cape Town – some 200km hence.  Forty-eight hours later, as I was sitting and contemplating what I thought was her inevitable demise, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye:  there she was, warily making her way down the hill in the lei water channel.

The lei water (lead water) channel is just the other side of the fence. This photo (courtesy of Shaun King), taken the year we moved to McGregor, shows how dry and inhospitable the terrain is during the height of summer.

Home Tasha came, but she was dehydrated, with an eye infection, and it was hot.  Very hot – about 40ºC (105ºF), a temperature none of us was used to, having not long moved from much more temperate Cape Town.

The trip to Dr Vet and subsequent regimen of hourly administered medication were so traumatic that we thought it would kill her.  It forced us to take the difficult decision to allow her to just be a princess – no medication, but food if she wanted, and water – in her favourite spot.

Very hot and unwell

That evening we said good night to our much loved Tasha, and went up to bed not knowing whether it was also “Goodbye…”

The Cat’s Mother is a coward and the following morning, The Husband was dispatched downstairs.  Imagine our surprise:  not only was she still alive, but she had rallied.

Tasha recovering from her adventure and brush with death

And she got stronger and stronger.

Tasha in her winter coat, May 2012, when she was about 19.

She coped with the winter by snuggling up to the fire in her basket – she wasn’t able to get up the stairs and curl up on the bed.  It was, however, her last winter and by spring, she was becoming more, and more frail and disoriented.  By the end of November, we knew that the decision was nigh.  We were privileged that Dr Vet agreed to come to The Sandbag House which spared everyone the final trip and some of the trauma of that last goodbye.

Because Tasha had always been aloof and too old to play with Melon, it had always been assumed that the old lady would not be missed.  But miss her, Melon did.  Something had to be done.

So Rosie arrived.  The sisters who never met now lie side-by-side in the shade of the Karee, and where both Melon and Pearli take refuge from the hot summer sun.


© Fiona’s Favourites 2015

Here today, gone tomorrow!

Here today, gone tomorrow just about epitomises last week.

Summer arrived with a vengeance on Monday and the thermometer hit 38 degrees Celsius (just over 100 Fahrenheit).  Overnight, a little swarm of bees took residence in our Cotoneaster.  We were delighted because a couple of months ago, a local beekeeper had put an empty hive on our plot and we’ve been waiting patiently for a swarm to occupy it.  Bee man said to leave them alone.  “They’ve already decided where they’re going….”


Wednesday dawned:  cool and blustery and got progressively more blustery and cold.  By evening it was pouring with rain.  After Monday’s heat, this was all a bit much, so I persuaded The Husband to light the fire; I know he thought I was being extra dramatic.  Wonderful man:  he indulged me.

Firepot 1

When Pearli thundered home, bang-crash-wallop through the cat flap, she was very glad to discover a lovely warm fire.  And the sofa, with its pristine throw, was just the place to dry off.  Of course.


I had planned omelettes and salad for supper, but with the cold, I thought that something more warming and stew-like would be in order.  But what?  Whatever I made would have to have egg or cheese as the protein, and whatever else was in the kitchen, garden, or the fridge.  Thursday is shopping day, so the proverbial pantry was rather bare.

Fortunately, and don’t ask me why, we had a large number of tomatoes and in the fridge I found courgette, sweet bell peppers and mushrooms (these we would have had in the omelette, anyway).  In the garden there is fennel, oregano and parsley, all of which go well with both eggs and tomatoes.  Fortunately we both like egg and tomato.  My dad didn’t, and nor do a few other people I know…

So, in the wok, I made a tomato stew with sautéd onions and garlic to which I added chopped peppers, mushrooms and courgette, with some fennel.  I let all of that brew for a little while – not too long so that the vegetables keep some crunch.  When it was all bubbling nicely, with a good bit of liquid, I made four “wells” in the stew, and broke an egg into each.  I put the lid on the wok and let the eggs poach in the tomato stew until they were ready.

tomato_egg_stew_platedBoy, did we need that warm stew.  It was a cold night and we woke to snow on Thursday morning – summer was gone – and our little swarm of bees had huddled themselves into a tiny little ball.


And by Sunday, winter had retreated.  And our swarm of bees, still here yesterday, was gone.  Our empty hive is still empty.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2014

There’s a mouse in the house…

Both our cats are huntresses of note, and give a whole new meaning to food-on-the-run!

Our week started in the wee hours of Monday morning.  Simultaneous with a scrabbling around behind the headboard, a cat launched herself off a rather soft spot on my abdomen and into mid-air. Pearli_mousebird

Tom could sleep on a washing line, so needless to say, he was dead to the world.

“Humph!” he responded to my, “there’s a mouse in the house!” and turned over…

I went to investigate.

Ginger Melon MP had caught a mouse and brought it upstairs: no doubt, and hopelessly, expecting coos of delight and pride from her humans.  I discovered that she and Tiger Pearl were both trying to corner Mouse: both were staring longingly into the too-small-for-them-space under the bed.  Having considered whether, realistically, there was anything I could do to corner and rescue Mouse, and bearing in mind that cats are far more effective hunters than I could ever be, particularly at 2.30 am, I got back into bed, bracing myself for the frenzy that would, inevitably, come.

Mercifully, for both the wee timorous beastie, and the somnolent humans, I soon heard a growling, a squeak and, aargh, a crunch!  A sure sign that one of the cats had caught Mouse.

Melon had, and was telling Pearli, in no uncertain terms, that it was hers!

100_3223Then began the process of herding Melon, hopefully, out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden where she might eat her early breakfast, allowing me to crawl back into my warm med bed for some fitful seep before the real beginning to the week….