The quest to use less plastic

plastic free

Jars and lids for cleaning and repurposingThe Husband groans every time some of my regular customers arrive at the market, bulging bag in hand and make a bee-line for me.   I take great delight in these deliveries: they’re usually glass jars (and the odd bottle) that they have emptied and saved.  Sometimes for me to refill or to fill afresh.  Before I can use them, the labels must come off, the glue cleaned and the branded lids sprayed black.  Jars and lids, from time to time cover entire surfaces – like the dining room table – as I clean, sort and save similar jars until I have enough of a particular size and shape for a batch of something.sorted, recycled jars

Saving jars is not new.  I’ve been doing it ever since I can remember and each time I’ve moved house, I’ve had to throw lots out.  I hated doing it because it goes back to the days before recycling depots existed.

Newspaper, brown paper and string

I remember a time before polystyrene trays, cling wrap and plastic bags.  My first memories of grocery shopping – my mother did a monthly shop – and everything came home in large, brown paper bags.  Then, when I must have been about ten, the groceries started coming home in yellow and black plastic bags.  They crinkled and squawked and just couldn’t keep quiet.  Paper bags were much gentler on the ear and we folded them up to store for re-use – if they weren’t  wet or torn. Actually, we seldom threw any paper away.

Newspapers were a fact of life:  at least six, if not seven, days a week.  They, too, were never thrown out after they’d been read.  They piled up for lining the refuse bins, padding, packaging, cleaning windows and starting the fire.  Newspaper is still the best thing for the final touch to the clearest, cleanest glass windows.  Consequently, newspaper, because it’s so rare, is a precious commodity in The Sandbag House.

A trip to the butchery

When I was in primary school, my mother worked only in the mornings.  The between-monthly-shops happened on a Thursday. One of these included a visit to the butchery.  When we went with my mother, it was a highlight.  The butcher, or Uncle Vic as we knew him, was a hulking Yorkshireman with a twinkle in his eye.  The shop had large picture windows and if he was behind the counter – he usually was – by the time we were through the door, he was handing us kids, a Vienna sausage each.  Yes, those red ones nobody admits to eating anymore and which they made in-house.  We loved them and frequently embarrassed my mother by demanding our sausages if they didn’t appear in time.  They came in long strings…and, in my opinion, made the best hot dogs.

That reminds me of my last birthday party at home and before I went to boarding school:  it was in the early evening and my mother prepared hot dogs and home made tomato sauce for a hoard of 12 year old girls.  A fond memory: more for the hot dogs and sauce than for the party, itself.

Vegetable shopping

When I first moved to Johannesburg, and found an apartment, I had not a stick of furniture, let alone a fridge.  Vegetables actually do manage to survive without a fridge and there was an old fashioned green grocer on my route home.  I think that lovely old man was Spanish.  I clearly remember his little shop:  shelves filled with bunches of carrots, parsnips and spinach.  Bins of potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions.  Loose green peppers and tomatoes.  I could buy one of each or ten.  It didn’t matter.

He weighed my single sweet potato, two onions, a green pepper and three tomatoes on an old fashioned scale, and wrapped them in newspaper.  The bunch of carrots – tops and all – were tied together with string as were the bunches of anything: spinach, turnips, whatever. Yes, then he put all my wares, so wrapped, into a plastic carrier bag for the walk home.

After all, it was 1986.  A time when everyone bought and read newspapers and plastic bags were the best invention since sliced bread.

Compost, litter and plastic

compost binRe-wind fifty-odd years to my first memory of living in a house.  My parents built it, and the first part of the garden to be developed was the vegetable patch – with a compost heap – remember, me mentioning my father and the allotment?  From then on, there was always a compost bowl.  There still is.  All vegetable peelings, egg shells, discarded leaves, stalks and the heel of the bread, all go into the compost bin en route to the compost heap.

When I have occasion to cook in someone else’s kitchen and there’s no compost bowl, it feels, to say the least, weird.  Like something’s missing.

In the early days of my market journey I used quite a lot of single use plastic.  I didn’t like it, but it was easily accessible (for me to buy or get delivered) and it was cheap.  My soups and pâtês were all in plastic.

Shifting to glass

Then, three, going on four years ago (I’m not really sure because Covid’s screwed with my clock and my memory), I changed things.  I realised that the market was a fixture in my life. I really wanted my products – my market presence – to reflect my concern for the planet.  I knew that it was likely to cost me more because not only is glass (and metal for the lids) more expensive, but I’d have to factor in the cost of delivery.  My little home industry would never qualify for a free delivery from a factory that routinely delivers to multinational breweries and wineries.  I knew from a previous life, that even small businesses that would buy several hundred of an item, didn’t qualify.

Jars paper bagsI did a lot of homework:  volume, shape and, of course, cost.  I did spreadsheets.  Thought, agonised and bothered The Husband with my thinking.  I figured I could entice locals who bought, to return the jars and get a discount on their next purchase.  I bit the bullet, ordered and around the time of the year that The Husband suggests we to review my costings, made the change.

Real advantages

As it turns out, not only do regular customers return the jars (locals and regular visitors alike), they bring more.  There has been another are some real advantages that I hadn’t expected:  all the products last longer in glass.

Let me explain –

  • Hot products bottled hot in sterile jars means they’re effectively “canned”.  The shelf life of my chicken liver pâtê has almost doubled since I’ve been potting it.  The soups that used to go into plastic, I now put into old mayonnaise and pickle jars.  They’re also sterilised and I pour the soup into them when both they and the soup are hot.  Then the lids go on.  As they cool, as happens with the pâtê, the jars seal to form a vacuum.
  • Cold products, like the salads or the curries that I sell and which have fresh leaves as accompaniments, also last longer.  When I’ve not sold all the meals at the market, a week to ten days later, I’ve gingerly opened the jars to be pleasantly suprised  delighted at how little the contents have deteriorated.  We’ve eaten them with relish and they’ve saved me from cooking for more meal than one!
  • Berries, like strawberries, also last longer in glass.  Our strawberry patch is little and we have to compete with the birds for fruit.  That means we must often save several pickings to have enough fruit for something meaningful.  I rinse them, not just of the dirt they might have collected, but in vinegar and pop them in a jar and into the fridge.  Again, and at the risk of repeating myself, they stay fresher than in plastic. Even Mr Tupper’s ware.


My awareness of the environment, as I’ve mentioned, goes back to my Dad.  My Standard 8 (year 10) Geography teacher entrenched it.  That year, 1978, I have distinctive memories of my first encounter with the greenhouse effect, heat (and pollution) domes as well as the danger of rising sea levels if the polar ice caps melt too much.

That’s how many years ago?


Nobody was listening.  The world wasn’t listening.  The energy crisis of the same era, rather like now, was an economic rather than environmental issue.  Different from four decades ago, the energy crisis, certainly in South Africa, is partly being used as a way of introducing renewable sources of energy. That’s not enough.

Theoretically, the move away from fossil fuels would see the end of plastic.  But would it?  Nope.  Plastic is recycled and in comparison with a standard human life, indestructible.     And all the information about recycling is confusing.  And plastic – even single use plastic – is incredibly useful.  This Forbes article says it more eloquently and clearly than I ever could.

The intruder

I am often freaked out and angry at the amount of plastic that finds its way into our home.  It’s neither welcome nor do we have a choice.  Products that used to reach the shelves in glass or tin, like Colman’s mustard- and baking powder, are in plastic containers.  Finding loose, unwashed vegetables is well nigh impossible.

Did you know that unwashed potatoes last longer – especially kept in the dark under newspaper – than washed potatoes?  They’re less likely to go green.

Often, there is more than one layer of packaging – polystyrene trays and cling wrap.  Then there’s the vacuum packed (in plastic of course) product that’s wrapped – again – often gently laid on a polystyrene tray and smothered in cling wrap.

Speaking of which, did you know that if you instantly liberate the mushrooms from their plastic and polystyrene prison, and store them in a brown paper bag, they don’t go slimy, and last very well in the fridge?

This begs the question about what happens to the discarded packaging.  Some of it goes into our recycling bins.  Not all of it may:  if it’s contaminated by food, it may not and ends up in landfill.  And that’s the best option.

In my small corner

The magnitude of the problem compounded by how pervasive single use plastics are, might suggest that doing something it at an individual level is entirely futile.  Sometimes I think it is.  Then I think it isn’t.


Fiona's Favourites paper carrier bags I cannot not.  It’s in my genes.  In my quiet way, at the market, and as far as possible, I choose to use paper and glass.  Sometimes, like with pickled fish, I have no choice and every time I make it for the market, I agonise.  Jars, the right size for that product, would make it prohibitively expensive.  One solution – for orders – is to ask customers to provide their own containers.  I do.  They do.

So, at the market, I pack bread, koeksisters and rolls in brown paper bags.  If folk need a bigger bag for all their wares, they can buy a brown paper carrier.  It’s all paper and entirely biodegradable.  Better than that, it’s robust enough to use again. And again.

If folk say, “Oh, I love your packaging,” and ask why I use glass, I’ll tell them.  It’s just my small bit in the quest to be plastic free.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


Fabulous Fungi

It’s a truism that if one’s never had or enjoyed something, one doesn’t miss it. When I was in my 20’s, I discovered that I had a problem with caffeine.  And, a couple of years later, with  pseudoephedrine.  Both give me a buzz, stop me from sleeping and the latter gives me serious nightmares.  That’s more than twenty thirty years ago.  Learning to cope without that after dinner coffee was difficult.  Learning not to drink coffee – even the inexpensive stuff that’s not supposed to give you a kick – after lunch, was equally difficult.

I have learned not to miss it.  I am terrified of medication that might include either.  That first experience with pseudoephedrine was so bad, I still remember the consecutive nights of no sleep. My body and head ached with the worst dose of influenza, ever, in my twenty-something years.  I was exhausted and try as I might, I could not sleep.  I didn’t know why.  In desperation, after three days and nights of sleep deprivation, not getting better and in tears, I phoned for an urgent appointment with my doctor.  She changed the medication:  a nose drop replaced the decongestant tablet.  I slept like a baby – for days – and began to get better.


The way I show people I care, is through cooking and food.  I love cooking; I love flavours as do many of our friends.  Fortunately, neither The Husband nor I have food allergies.  It’s an affliction The Husband understands:  his father was allergic to mustard;  it would send him into anaphylactic shock.  Even in minute quantities.  I have learned to understand it thanks to my reactions to pseudoephedrine and caffeine.  The consequences of too much caffeine although not life-threatening, are such that it’s just not worth that glorious cup of coffee after dinner or the late summer afternoon iced coffee. I’ve learned to live without it after dinner and at least I get to enjoy it with breakfast and before midday.

The pseudoephedrine nightmares stop when the course of medication ends.  I weigh up the benefits of some nightmarish sleep against none at all.

Why the digression?

Another truism (and idiom) is that birds of a feather flock together, so many of our friends enjoy food, flavours, cooking. Some are or have been chefs, restauranteurs and publicans.  One is allergic to mushrooms.  So allergic that even if a smidgeon of mushroom finds its way into a dish, she’s ill for days.  It’s an allergy she’s had since childhood.  We’ve been at dinner parties where she’s eschewed the main and politely only eaten rice (with whatever available condiments) and garlic bread.

I know enough about her enjoyment of flavours to know that if she were able to eat mushrooms, she’d be hooked.  My sharing our marvellous discovery of edible mushrooms in our garden was, though, entirely lost on her.  It made me sad.

If you look behind this chap, and to the left, there are at least another five poking their heads out from under the little rocks.

Mushroom Memories

I grew up with a horticulturist father.  We always had a vegetable garden and it’s from him I inherited green fingers and my constant love of eating our own produce: whether we planted it or not.  Not having grown up in this country, he didn’t forage here, but I know that as a child in Scotland, he did.  This means that when field mushrooms seasonally popped up in the rolling lawns of the gardens he curated, they’d end up on our table.

The rolling lawns of the Grahamstown Botanical Gardens that “grew” my childhood memory’s mushrooms.

One of the workers would pick them in the early morning and bring them to our house.  My mother would “tidy them up” and they’d sit, gills down.  They dropped their spores like dark brown fairy rings on the white ceramic.  I remember my father laboriously explaining what made edible mushrooms identifiable including their smell.  For as long as we lived in that house, and when the conditions were right, we’d have mushrooms from “the gardens”.

Not all mushrooms are magic

Along with his enthusiasm for mushrooms that didn’t emerge from a plastic an polystyrene package, came my father’s caveat that not all mushrooms are edible.  He cautioned against foraging unless one knows what one’s doing.  At that age and stage in my life, he didn’t elaborate on those “other” mushrooms that create magic of a different sort…. That said, although cautious, I’m not averse to finding out whether we might eat fungi that grow in our garden.  There are a lot.  I believe that along with the mushrooms, we have fairies…

Over the years, I’ve photographed the mushrooms that have popped up.  The bit of research I’ve done over the last couple of weeks suggests that the top left two frilly jobs might, just be edible.  We now know, and live to tell, that the mushrooms in the bottom right picture are edible.


Nearly a month ago, The Husband called me into the vegetable garden:

Have you seen the huge mushrooms in the vegetable patch?

We stared at them in awe, not quite sure what to do, and then went about our day.  Then more came up;  they reminded him of the mushrooms that grow out of the ant nests where his cattle grazed in Zimbabwe.  It was Friday.  Then on Saturday, there were more, including this magnificent specimen.  In the interim, I had asked a market mate about them and he offered to bring his mushroom book to the market.  Then I realised that there are inevitably folk with hidden knowledge and talents who’ve been in the village for years.I picked that huge MoFo.  I have two regrets:  not weighing it or taking a photograph of the harvested creature. It occupied virtually the entire diameter of this bowl.  Yes, that’s a teaspoon to give a sense of scale.

At the market, we discovered that a knowledgeable Mushroom Man lives in the village and has, forever.  He’s a regular at the market, so when he trundled by, The Husband presented him with the creature.  His eyes lit up –


Are they edible?

Yes, they are de-li-cious!

He told us how this particular mushroom is always associated with ants (termites).  Years ago, he continued, he and a few other folk would harvest these and field mushrooms in the horse and cattle pastures (the then open plots) around the village.  They’d do it in the early dawn and before anyone else discovered the treasure.

He inspected it:  pointed out the gills, that it had a cap and “frill”, deeply breathing in the aroma of earthy mushroom.  He echoed my father’s judgement –

It smells right.

So delighted was I, that in gratitude, I asked him if he’d like it.  His eyes lit up and accepted without hesitation.  He went on to advise that we should harvest the remaining crop because they “go over” quickly. I promptly followed his instructions. This was the first haul.

amaKhowe from our garden with the same teaspoon to give a sense of scale.


Many fungi are parasitic and/or symbiotic.  This mushroom – its name, amaKhowe is isiZulu, and means “wild mushroom”, only grows in the presence of ants.  Termites – of whatever variety – are essential to their very existence:

This mushroom (Termitomyces umkowaani) is a large, finely fleshed beefsteak mushroom with a cap that can grow up to 30 cm in diameter. They have a sweet and mildly nutty flavor. This mushroom species belongs to a variety of mushrooms that depend on the activity of termites for their “cultivation,” and grow in a symbiotic relationship with the insects inside their nests. The termites transplant the amakhowe spores to their nests, where the fungi break down wood and dried grass, decomposing materials like cellulose and lignin, which the insects cannot digest, and [this] form[s] a biomass that is rich in nitrogen and can be consumed by the termites. When it rains in the spring, within 24 hours the fungi produce the aboveground portion of the mushrooms that is consumed by humans.


This confirmed that “our” mushrooms are, indeed, the same mushrooms that The Husband remembers from his youth.  As it turns out, the section of our garden, and those stone paths that separate our vegetable beds are often crawling with large ants.  As I think about it, the garden is a maze of ant nests – ants of different varieties.  We have subsequently harvested mushrooms from other parts of the garden and now watch more carefully – in the hope that they push their way from the depths of those nests.  I am amazed at how they displace earth and stone.

These mushrooms, although emerging in autumn, did follow rain and significant flying ant activity.

The best ever Shroom Risotto

As usual, my mother is a reference for how ingredients were commonly used.  As I recall, she used mushrooms in a sauce (often with red wine) and fried, for breakfasts, and that’s about it.  I, on the other hand, will use mushrooms in a variety of ways.  I’m reminded of another restaurateur friend who wondered what anyone sees in fresh shrooms – they’re tasteless!

They are, if one doesn’t develop the flavour:  slow cooked with olive oil (and butter if you do that), white wine and parsley or thyme does it for me.  Somewhere, I also have a recipe for a light pickle with dill and make a ‘shroom and nut pate…  All are delicious.

Beefsteak Mushroom King

In addition to the isiZulu name, these are known as beefsteak mushrooms, so I decided we needed a meal that made them king.   Not many of them were beautiful, so stuffing and eating them whole was not really an option.  It was either pasta or risotto.  I settled for the latter because it’s a dish that allows complex flavours to develop.

R-L: Prepared with tough skins peeled; two, “perfect” specimens sautéed whole, the rest chopped and sautéed with olive oil, butter and white wine.

Basic Risotto

Risotto is not difficult to make.  Rather, it is like a small child:  you can’t leave it to its own devices.  It’s also best made with arborio (glutinous) rice.  Simply sauté a finely chopped onion in a generous quantity of olive oil and add finely chopped (minced) garlic.  At the same time, prepare the stock (broth) – either chicken or vegetable – and keep it warm.  I use the latter or my own home made chicken stock if I have some (I make and freeze it).  Once the onion is transparent, add the rice and stir to coat and cook a little.  Before adding the stock, add the white wine and once that’s absorbed, repeat the process with the stock until the rice is cooked and the mixture is the appropriate consistency.

Finally, add the bits with which you want to eat the risotto – in this case, the mushroom.  The final two and traditional ingredients is a grating of Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  If you’d like a recipe with quantities and instructions, download one here.   If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

In case you think I’m a soak…

I am aware that this meal seems awash with wine.  I do like to cook with wine, and yes, often it’s in the glass to the right of the stove.  This time, though, it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about the flavour.  There is something about the flavour that dry white wine brings to both mushrooms and risotto that it would be a cardinal sin to omit it.

A last word

Unless you’re absolutely certain that the mushrooms or fungi you forage are not toxic, don’t touch them.  As one wag put it, you only need to taste it once

In addition to the source already quoted, and for South Africans, I found at least two useful (and active) pages on Facebook as well as the Mushroom Guru website.  I have no doubt that there are similar local resources wherever one can forage for fungi.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

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Source: Traci York
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  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications.  From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin.  If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

Carrots, beans and other foods: a contemplation

Unless you’ve been under some or other lockdown a rock for the last few years, you cannot but know about the growing popularity of a plant-based diet. If you read my blog from time to time, by now you’ll also know a few things like:

  • I have long (like, thirty plus years) been a wannabe vegetarian.
  • My father was a gardener horticulturist, and I grew up in a garden that had the biggest vegetable patch in the universe. Growing vegetables and composting is in my genes.
Our emerging vegetable garden just under a year (2012) after moving to McGregor and having had to wait nearly 10 months to get it going
  • I am married to a dedicated carnivore who spent all of his working life in some or other role in stock farming, from beef to poultry and a few things in between – in Zimbabwe and South Africa. You could say, I married Farmer Brown.

A “sustainable” approach to doing things is not a new concept – to me

My 1978 Geography teacher who became a mentor and later a friend, was the first person, that I remember, talking about the dangers of global warming, climate change and environmental conservation, non-renewable resources, like water, coal and oil, as well as the hazards of plastic.

My Standard 8 (year 10) class with Ursula van Harmelen. I am in the front row, third from the right.

Those lessons stuck and I went on to study, along with English, Geography.


Needless to say, The Husband and I both have strong views about this plant-based fad trend that seems to have replaced the keto diet of a few years ago.

However –

“It” should be about more than just food. As a beef rancher, preserving and maintaining natural pasture was central to production, productivity and healthy beasties – his word – cows are still has favourite animal.

Cattle are still grazed in and around the village. This little herd often wanders past our house.

This brings me to a critical point that he constantly and consistently makes when the question of a dedicated plant-based diet inevitably comes up in conversation:

What about people who live in areas and where you can’t grow crops?

This applies to significant parts of South Africa: close to home, the Karoo. We live on the cusp of the Karoo – classified as a semi-desert. The recovered productivity of our vegetable garden is thanks to the investment in a borehole. Not too far away, is a “proper” desert, the Kalahari. Significant parts of central west and north Africa, are not arable and where communities, like those in the Sahara and the Sahel who live (or try) as they have for centuries. Yes, people forage, but they also hunt and/or keep livestock often leading nomadic lifestyles. If they could not eat meat and use animal products, they’d not (have) survive(d). As it is, these cultures are threatened; that, however, is another discussion for another time.

The conflict in many of these regions is associated with either the shortage, or decimation of, natural and traditional resources because of population growth, climate change and politics. The same applies to indigenous communities on other continents.

Busting the farmer myth

Back to The Husband: he refers, specifically to Matebeleland, the part of Zimbabwe where he ranched – free range – cattle in the late 70s. At the time, he was part of a team (in a multinational company) that roundly rejected the use of growth hormone in animal husbandry. Contrary to popular opinion, many (good) stock farmers are animal lovers, who treat their animals with great respect and humanity and are very concerned about the environment.
Before he fell into stock farming, The Husband was an aspirant vet. Agriculture and farming, are (with water) the source of life, never mind, livelihoods. He abhors, and hated working in, the broiler chicken industry and, similarly, dislikes the practice of feedlots, all of which have become necessary. Agriculture has had to consistently and constantly increase production to keep up with demand.

Demand driven by both population numbers and the almost universal shift towards a “western” style diet which has seen red meat consumption burgeon.

Ethics and spirituality-based choices

Other arguments for dietary choices are based on ethics and spirituality (or religion). These I understand and respect. When someone says to me that s/he will eat nothing with a face, I get it. I also acknowledge, in my own admittedly hypocritical Piscean way, on working very hard at not thinking about the journey an animal must take from pasture to plate.

Climate diet

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a discussion about the climate diet. Of course, I listened with only half an ear, but thought (with my Geographer’s brain),

That sounds to me like “proper” seasonal food: eat what’s mostly indigenous, in season and available locally.

McFadyen also introduced the concept of “flexitarian”: someone who moves between omnivore, vegetarian and vegan. This is just like me, and, more reluctantly, The Husband, who admits to being most comfortable as an omnivore. He waxes lyrical about how humans’ dentition proves that we are designed to be omnivorous.

Fact checking

I did a little research ahead of writing this because one source to which I’d only paid half a mind wasn’t enough. Initially, what popped up suggested that one had to eschew all meat and dairy in favour of a plant-based diet. On further delving, my research revealed that my instinctive understanding was on point: the climate diet is part of living more lightly (being among other things, carbon and environmentally conscious) and, particularly, a climate-friendly lifestyle. Again, I came across “flexitarian,” a notion making its way on to menus in a country with as many dedicated carnivores as South Africa, Australia.

“Climating” one’s diet, is essentially how I grew up, and how we live. We:

  • live in an alternate technology home which is, by and large, more energy efficient than a conventional build
  • have solar water heating (off the grid is a pipe dream…)
  • compost and recycle
  • eat from the garden. A lot (of one thing at the moment…)
The spring vegetable and herb garden eight years later (2020) with a borehole and “normal” winter rains that broke the three-year drought
  • eat between three and four meat-free main meals a week and on a Monday, the meal is often entirely plant-based


  • as far as practical (budget is a big consideration), we get our meat, other fresh produce and groceries from local suppliers
  • we limit our shopping (with lists and meal plans), as far as possible, to one 50-odd km round trip to the nearest town per week
  • we cook (with gas or The Husband braais) – from scratch. When I don’t cook, I use up “leftovers” which are not really left over because I’ve planned meals around them. I also cook more than we need, to freeze for those evenings when cooking is a chore and not a joy. They do happen!
  • garden surplus and gleanings are processed into chutneys, pickles, preserves and jams


I’ve often described myself as a salmon – swimming against the stream. My shift away from eating meat pre-dates the current trend. When I lived alone, before shacking up with anyone settling down, I rarely ate meat – at home or when I dined out. I just simply didn’t. In this country, many men’s preferred diets are vleis, rys en aardappels (meat – preferably red – rice and potatoes), so until pretty recently, menus (especially in platteland country) tended to red. Now, when we dine out, my (now more varied) choices remain mostly vegetarian or vegan.

The Husband, happily, has always enjoyed vegetables so I didn’t have the hard task of introducing them to his diet. In the same meal. I did give The Husband a baptism of fire, in a sense. Twenty-one years ago, not long after we’d got together, a vegetarian friend came to dinner. The menu: roast vegetables with parmesan cheese and a mixed salad. All set, and waiting for said guest to arrive, his question:

So, where’s the meat?

My reply:

There isn’t any.

He admits that I correctly read the thought bubble above his head: he was contemplating the closest burger joint to which he might escape if he was still hungry after dinner!

He didn’t. Escape. He wasn’t still hungry…

Not really

Although I suggest that introducing more and more meat free meals was a compromise, it wasn’t really. I am lucky that not only does The Husband enjoy vegetables, but he’ll try anything at least once. If he enjoys it, he’ll eat it again. And again. Folk who follow me on Instagram will know that when I try a new vegetarian or vegan dish, my notes often include The Husband’s response. The highest accolade is not: “delicious” or “you can do that again”, which he says quite often, but rather, “you can add that to your regular repertoire”.

The upshot is that our diet is as climate-friendly as it can be, and it is “flexitarian”. That is the compromise: I prefer to cook one meal rather than two, and after all these years, it seems to be working for us.

About those beans and carrots

It’s taken a while to get to the point: there are times that although I do have a weekly meal plan, the planning fairy deserts me and the already sparse headline is reduced to “veg something”. The “headlines” are prompts and not much more. If, by the time we get to that point in the calendar and my imagination remains a wasteland, after checking the garden and pantry for ingredients, and I’m still not inspired, I turn to the interweb. Usually it doesn’t take long to find something that gets the juices flowing. This happened late last year when I discovered carrots and fresh coriander (a classic combination) in the fridge. There are always beans in the cupboard and, at the time, there was a little roasted butternut.

In the end, that evening’s supper combined carrots, haricot beans and harissa served on a bed of wild rocket, topped with the roasted butternut and fresh coriander. All piled on flatbreads.

Truth be told, I didn’t follow the recipe properly. I used harissa and just winged it. It was sufficient of a hit to get a “you can add that to your regular repertoire”…

The next time I made it, I did pay proper attention to the recipe. Partly because I couldn’t find the piece of paper with my notes and because we had wonderful green beans in the garden. I figured that they’d make a great addition: just as carrots like coriander, so green beans like cumin.

I “lost” the butternut and harissa, and instead of using white (haricot beans), I used red beans. I’d forgotten about the rocket until I looked at the photograph, but it wasn’t missed. This time, instead of flatbreads, I served the dish on a bed of one of South Africa’s traditional staples, umngqusho, which consists of dried corn (samp) and dried beans that are soaked and boiled until soft. On its own, it’s a meal, but rather bland and traditionally served with a type of local spinach or a sauce – with or without meat. But I digress. As usual.

This time round, I did a much, much better job. The addition of the green beans took it to another level. They enhanced an already an already versatile dish that can be eaten as a cold or warm side salad or main meal. Using the red, instead of white beans didn’t affect the flavour. In future, my choice will be guided, to a large extent, by the visual impact I’d like the salad to make. If it’s to be a side on a platter, I’d probably choose white beans.

On the umngqusho: as I said, it’s bland. Before plating, I stirred through some finely sliced sweet chillies (deseeded) and some fresh tomato chilli sauce left over from another meal.

The verdict this time round:

you can add that to your regular repertoire…

The full recipe, and my notes, are available for you to download here and, if you do, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

A last word or three

My ruminations on dietary choices are partly a function of ongoing conversations that happen around our table, and partly rising to the tongue-in-cheek challenge from my blogpal, Katie (on WordPress and on the Hive blockchain as @plantstoplanks). Unlike The Husband, she is a dedicated herbivore. That said, we have much in common including our love of cooking, food and flavours, which transcends the Atlantic and our specific dietary paths.

Since 2104, people around the world have been encouraged to participate in “Veganuary“. Back on the blockchain and in a “community” in which I play a little, it was suggested that we document our journey (or not) to a plant-based diet. It did give me cause for pause and provided the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Also, some of my blogpals, anyway, have been waiting for the first 2021 Fiona treatment of some or other topic. How could I disappoint them?


None of the above is intended as either a judgement of, or attack on, the move to plant-based foods – there is much to recommend that choice. Nor is it a defence of my choices, but rather contemplation of a constant conundrum.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • In search of English writing, research and editing services, look no further: I will help you with –
    writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers

    formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
    more information here
  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications. From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

When the dog barked

Gale force winds are not unusual in South Africa, especially the Western Cape coastline, and into the Eastern Cape. These winds are a feature of summer and winter, with the winter storms accounting for the Cape’s original appellation as the Cape of Storms.

We’ve had more than our fair share this year and wind, in combination with fire, can wreak havoc. As it did two years ago on the Garden Route, and as it does every year in the townships of Cape Town, leaving thousands with just the clothes on their backs. Eighteen months ago, a school friend, now living in the Garden Route area, had to evacuate her home. She, her husband and their pets lived in their vehicles for days, fighting the fire around their home. As I write, not far from their home, six fires are raging and one has destroyed more than 85,000 hectares of vegetation – much of it in the mountains. According to this report, the plume of smoke is visible from space and the biggest fire has left a scar four times the size of that left by the 2017 fire. Eight lives have been lost.

In my home town, Grahamstown, I heard that people were also being evacuated this morning, but mercifully, during the course of the day, there has been heavy and good rain, which has doused the fire – for the moment. I remember, when I was about eight or nine, my father, then superintendent of the botanical gardens, joining the firefighters to fight a fire that raged for days – over those same hills. I remember the constant smell of smoke and ash falling gently from the sky over the town and his red-eyed exhaustion.

I have had the privilege to work with firefighters; one of whom was Fire Chief during that 2017 Garden Route fire. Their courage, skill, knowledge and dedication in the worst of circumstances, is not to be underestimated, whether of wild, veld fires, house fires, or of those tragic fires in informal settlements, not to mention industrial and mine fires.

Until one has had one’s own brush with fire, one has little concept of how unpredictable and how terrifying it is. Especially when the wind blows.

Two years ago this month, I had an unexpected request to work in a spot that meant a road trip and The Husband happily came along for the ride. Well, actually, he did the driving. I pointed the camera at various things.FionaCameraNov2016

Here follows one of my now not unusual digressions: notwithstanding the drought, work and taking an almost-wrong-turning, it was a pleasant and pretty trip; spectacular in places.TreeWheatFieldNov2016

A lone tree standing out against the golden stubble of harvested wheat.

WheatlandsHayNov2016The bales of hay for much-needed fodder, waiting to be collected and stacked.
There are wind farms everywhere: on every road and virtually around every bend. I can’t make up my mind if they’re fascinating, benignly waving their arms at one, or a blight on the landscape. The turbines are huge. In the bottom, left photograph in the collage above, you will see a turbine blade on the ground, bookended by the portable toilet and the picnic gazebo, which give one a sense of how long it must be: turbines can have a diameter of 40 – 90 metres.

Our destination was the seaside, mostly holiday, village of Paternoster.PaternosterNov2016

The sea was brilliant; the colours, exquisite, but the wind howled. The apparently calm sea was very deceiving.

Then, the morning we were to return home, a dog barked. At 4 am. It was a very agitated bark. Neither of us went back to sleep, so an hour later we resolved to get up, pack and hit the road.

Good thing, too, because an hour or so after we were back in McGregor, we were fighting fires. Literally.

The Husband, Jan Boer, and a few other locals monitored the fire that was across the road from our house. As I was taking this picture and the one below, the wind suddenly changed direction and the fire jumped the road and the fence. Into our plot and vegetable garden.

I turned tail and ran back home and unceremoniously dumped the camera. Friends and neighbours arrived from everywhere, including friends en route to a wedding, not caring that they would be.

Our two hose pipes were already in use, dousing the flames across the road, so every bucket and hole-free receptacle was dragooned into service. Cool boxes, catering equipment and dustbins were passed from hand to hand, and every available tap was used to fill them.

An hour and a half later (which felt like the longest day) after it jumped the road, the fire was under control, the fire service was on the scene, and the camera was retrieved from the tree.

The hose pipes came back blistered and burnt. Small price.

The aftermath: incinerated telephone lines, charred, smoked vegetables and homes unscathed. Mercifully. Dust, ash and moonscapes.

 Within a week, even though no rain fell, the reeds in the vlei across the road, were sprouting.

Thanks to that barking dog, we had been home to fight that fire. A day I shall never forget.

Two years later, the drought has broken, but it’s dry again. It’s the wind, that dries things out and as we have a Mediterranean climate, rain after October is rare, leaving the vegetation tinder-dry, not helped by unseasonally hot temperatures.

Eighteen months later, these photographs that I took in late winter, show not just the recovery from the fire, but also the drought.

Our garden is greener and the vegetable garden has crops in the ground. The sad remainder of an orange tree that succumbed in the drought, though, is a reminder f the drought. On the other hand, the vlei across the road, which had been denuded, was awash – not just with water, but the most magnificent showing of arum lilies that I have ever seen in my time in the village.

The power of nature to recover is not to be under estimated.

Nor though, is fire.

There it is – until next time

The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Tremendous Trees – II

In 2016, The Husband did a bit of work for the friends of the local nature reserve, Vrolijkheid.  He moved the visitor’s kiosk from one spot to another and generally refurbished it.  During the course of the job, the concrete slab had to be damped down twice daily.  One Saturday afternoon, I went along with him.  Camera in hand.


The dry, hot summer had taken its toll. The veld was tinder dry and the mountains clear in the afternoon distance.

This magnificent Karee provides shade from the baking sun in the car park.  Notwithstanding my fascination with all trees, the thorn trees in the shady picnic area attracted my particular attention that afternoon.  Vrolikheid

First, the lichen invited a closer inspection.  Received understanding is that lichen is a good indicator of the prevailing winds because it grows on the leeward side of the trees.  Not so, in the heart of this grove, where it grows on the inside of each nest of acacia tree trunks.  Away from any weather.


Wandering between the trees, these acacias captured me.

Back to Vrolijkheid and Acacia Karroo.  These trees are beautifully old and they drip with resin which, as children, we used to eat.  As I recall, it had a tangy sort of pine flavour and was soft and sticky;  a bit like toffee.  Besides the acacia being a legume with all the benefits of nitrogen-fixing for the soil, it turns out that the Sweet Thorn does have nutritional and medicinal qualities (leaves and pods on which animals browse). The resin was at one point, exported as “Cape Gum” for use in confectionary.*

The colours of the dripping gum are beautiful.  It forms the most magnificent stalactites that deposit resin onto mounds of wannabe stalagmites on the ground below. Unless you are looking for them, though, the gummy piles are well camouflaged.

The deep colour of the weeping bark contrasts with the silver-grey lichen and reminded me of amber.  It made me wonder whether, perhaps, this oozing red gold might be how it starts out.  It might be.

After The Husband had finished the job, he wanted to show me his handiwork, so late one blustery Sunday afternoon, we trundled down to have a look.

As we left, the sun was setting and the southeaster was pouring over the mountains.

* For more about Acacia Karro, growing habit and uses

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • First posted in April 2016 and now with updated photographs.
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd.


Tremendous Trees – I

I love trees, and trees are central to so many things in our lives, from paper to picnics.  They bring people together and drive them apart.  As humanity becomes more and more concerned about its future, trees become contentious and no more so than around our village, including when they (or bits of them have) to make way for the ubiquitous telephone and power lines.

Eucalypts are not indigenous to South Africa and, actually, few trees are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa, and particularly the biome in which we live.  Other than along river courses, where one sees beautiful, shady Karees, have no significant native trees occur in the  Cape Floristic region.  As a consequence, and for timber (furniture, fencing, firewood, etc.), Eucalypts were introduced from Australia.  They are magnificent, but in a region with young soils and little rain, they literally drain the earth of its lifeblood, water.  They have also become invasive, complicated by the fact that they release chemicals that change the soil profile and “scare” away indigenous flora.

The gum trees opposite our house through which I watch the clouds that herald the summer southeaster and the winter snow. The cold winter’s day that I took this photograph, we expected snow out of those dark clouds.

As some of you may have noticed, many of the photographs taken from The Sandbag House feature power and telephone lines.  The view through those gums, into the village, is no exception.

The view (…through the lines…), past our house, on another balmy, misty, early winter evening.  On the right is an avenue of Karees, also known as the “Karoo Wilge” (willow).

So, back to the controversy.  Early in 2015, there was a hue and cry:  the gums along the river that we cross on the way to the village were being removed.  Now, here’s the conundrum:  the earth and humanity need trees.  Lots of them.  I know that the earth is under threat.  But that doesn’t mean that every tree, as beautiful as it might be, should be allowed to wreak havoc on the indigenous flora and the natural water courses.  Those gum trees along the river had, over the years, choked out the Karees and the reeds, destroying the natural habitat for the local fauna and flora.  Little grew under them;  they also sucked up litres and litres of water that should have been staying in the earth, feeding the groundwater system.  It is the groundwater that the river and boreholes rely on during summer, and with the storage dams are essential for irrigation:  no irrigation and agriculture suffers which has another series of knock-on effects and which I shall not belabour.

All of that said, mature gum trees are beautiful, and there’s a favourite spot where, on the way home from Cape Town, The Husband and I enjoy a shady lunch and a glass of wine.  One of the trees is this magnificent gum.


Windfalls and Wondrous Words

Peach Chutney - recipe - Fiona's Favourites

I have mentioned before that words fascinate me.  With my recent foray into making chutney, when The Husband and I were discussing what should go on the label of Jan Boer’s special bottle, he asked if I was going to use the Afrikaans word for chutney, blatjang.  What ultimately went on the label is not important, but it did set me wondering.  Both English and Dutch, and therefore also Afrikaans, are Indo-European languages, so the roots of some words are common.  Often, words are similar, like “day” and “dag”;  “light” and “lig”; and “lemon” which, in Afrikaans is “suurlemoen” (direct translation:  sour lemon).

I discovered, nearly 20 years ago, on a trip to Mallorca, that I could get by, in the Old City of Palma, with less than rudimentary Spanish and Afrikaans to  buy spices, vegetables and fruit:  “pomelo” is the Afrikaans word for grapefruit.  I was very proud of myself when, as a thank you to my host, I was able to successfully shop for the necessary spices and other bits and bobs to make a traditional South African supper of bobotie, boereboontjies and geelrys with melktert for dessert*.

There were many Spanish words I could understand when I saw them written.  For example, furniture shops:  their names included “meubles” which is the same spelling as the Afrikaans word for furniture.

So where did “blatjang” come from?

Before I had satisfied my curiosity, and ending our week in the usual way, at the local pub, Jan Boer (yes, he of apricot fame), sent us home with another tray piled with fruit.  This time, yellow cling peaches.

Windfalls.  They really were.  In every sense.

This summer, the weather has been badly out of kilter:  very little wind in November and December, but some howling gales last month.  With equally unseasonally high temperatures, the farmers haven’t been thrilled and when the harvest is underway, and the wind howls, it can wreak havoc with ripening fruit.

Too Scottish to look a gift-horse in the mouth (with no apologies for the mixed metaphors), something had to be done.  Some were stewed:  summer comfort food.  Retro peaches and custard.

Peach chutney - recipe - Fiona's Favourites

The peaches provided The Husband with something sweet while I was away…

The rest were mostly made into chutney – in some ways a very different process from apricot chutney because of the nature of the fruit:  peaches are furry;  their pips are not easy to liberate and I had decided two other things:  a recipe that didn’t necessitate a visit to the shops meant no dried fruit.  Secondly, it should not have the same spice profile as the apricot chutney.

“Un-furring” the peaches

The first task was to try to “un-fur” the peaches.  Standard instructions for doing this is very similar to those for skinning tomatoes with the added step of blanching them in iced water after their boiling plunge.

Peach chutney - recipe - Fiona's Favourites

Well, as my old Dad would have said, that was a good game, played slow: even with The Husband’s help, those skins were not very obliging.  It wasn’t only the pips that clung to those peaches!  Contrary to all the “destructions” contained on websites and in recipe books, the skins did not just slip off.

After cogitating on this, I came to the conclusion that if the skin clung to that extent, the chutney wouldn’t be contaminated by awful bits of stringy epidermal tissue, and the worst that could happen was that the peach bits would have a bit of extra texture.

Skinning abandoned, the peaches were “segmented” and added to the pot with the other ingredients.


And cooked.  And cooked.

Peach chutney

For this batch:

2kg peaches, pipped (only half were peeled)Peach chutney - recipe - Fiona's Favourites
800g sugar
800ml wine vinegar (combination of red and mostly white because that’s what I had)
35g fresh ginger, chopped
6 onions (white), halved and thinly sliced
12 cardamom pods, lightly cracked
6 jalapeño chillies, thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enamel) over a medium heat.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved and simmer, stirring from time to time until the peaches are soft and translucent.  This will take an hour to an hour and a half.  After about half of the time, keep an eye on it and stir more frequently so that the chutney doesn’t catch and burn.  Pot in sterilised jars.

Peach Chutney - recipe - Fiona's Favourites

In addition to the different flavour profile from the apricot chutney, peach chutney is chunkier and sweeter which is offset by the chillies.

Oh, and If you’d like a printable version of the recipe, you can download it here.  When you do, buy me a coffee?

Back to the words

Chutney bottled, I returned to my word search.  It turns out that in 19th century South Africa, “blatjang” (pronounced blutchung) had two meanings:  a condiment and a specific dish (sadly, none of my research revealed what that specific dish might have been unless it was merely an idiomatic expression).  The condiment blatjang is described as a relish made from dried chillies and dried apricots, stewed in vinegar.

Regardless of these two meanings, the sources all agree that the word crept into the Dutch and therefore, also Afrikaans, via Malaysia and Indonesia.

As I worked through the various sources, thinking about the spice trade and the rise (or fall) of the Dutch and English as colonial powers, it all fell into place.  The Dutch East India Company centred on Indonesia and had a presence in Cape Town to supply passing ships with essential vittles.  It all makes sense, especially with the strong influence in the Cape from the Malay slaves who not only brought their cuisine, but also their language to the Cape, profoundly influencing the development of Afrikaans from the original Dutch.

Chutney, on the other hand, is an Anglicisation of a Hindi word: “chatni”, which means “to lick”, and which referred to side dishes made of fruit. These, of course, included spices.  The word also seems to have emerged in English in the 19th century and as the English so often do, they made these dishes their own by “pickling” the relishes with vinegar, and calling them “chutney”.

In Afrikaans, blatjang is now accepted as what we now understand in English as chutney, which is as I discovered when I was looking for a recipe for the apricot chutney, is a relish made with fruit, spices and vinegar – with or without chillies and/or onions.

Similarly, with the British Empire, the Indian Raj, and curry having become, in the minds of some, England’s national dish, makes the etymology of chutney absurdly obvious.

If you’re interested

Here is a list of some of the websites I visited in this wondrous word search.

* bobotie is a spiced mince with an egg custard topping
boereboontjies – literal translation is “farmer’s beans” and consists of a stew of tomatoes, onion and green beans and, traditionally with a couple of shin bones thrown in.  Among the party that evening were vegetarians, so the meat was omitted
geelrys or yellow rice is cooked with turmeric, cinnamon and sultanas
melktert – a baked custard tart

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

    • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

    • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
    • I also share my occasional Instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click here or on the icon, and give it a go.

Salad Days I

No, I’m not referring to either my youth or the best days of my life, but rather to logical menu choices during the hottest summer in many, many years.  Certainly since we arrived in McGregor.

The average maximum temperature, this December was 31ºC (89ºF)*, a degree higher than 2014, as was the average minimum, at 19ºC (66ºF).  More interesting, though, are the spikes: the highest maximum was 41ºC (106ºF) as opposed to “only” 37ºC (99ºF) the previous year.  This is the type of heat that we usually associate with February, and when summer crops are virtually all harvested.  The heat, the wind and the humidity without rain, has taken its toll;  the grape harvest has started earlier than the farmers can remember.  Wonder what it will mean for 2016’s wines?

The impact of the heat and the equally desiccating wind shows:

Summer fall:  Neighbours’ willow, virtually naked of leaves.
A glorious, yellow leaf carpet.

And because we water only the vegetables and flower beds, the grass is, in places, crisp underfoot.


In that heat, the menu has to be dominated by salads, but because (as you’ve heard me say so often) one can have too much of a good thing, innovation is important.  There are only so many carrot sticks one can eat and watermelon can do more than serve as a refreshing fruit (especially when there’s only two…).

Watermelon provided the base for the h’ordeuvres for Christmas dinner and was a refreshing and flavourful salad that’s already become a favourite, as has the carrot salad that formed part of the main course.

Watermelon, feta and olive salad

For the Christmas menu, I had planned what has become for many of our friends, one of my signature dishes:  Jamie Oliver’s Thai Watermelon Salad.  It’s one of those recipes that needs all the ingredients, so if one can’t get them, it has to be plan B.  This year, because of the heat, it was impossible to find any fresh coriander.  So, with an enormous watermelon in fridge….the watermelon had to be used…it wasn’t paying rent.  At that late stage, visit to the local shop was out of the question, so I had to make do with what was in the pantry and in the garden.  Another celebrity chef to the rescue: Nigella Lawson.  I had everything except the limes, but there was lime juice in a bottle.  Problem solved.


1 small red onion
4 limes
3 ¼ lb watermelon (sweet and ripe)
8 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
1 bunch fresh mint (chopped)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅔ cup pitted black olives
black pepper

Peel and halve the red onion and slice thinly.  Put this in a small bowl to infuse with the lime juice.

Peal the watermelon, and cut into approximately 4cm / 1½ inch triangular chunks, removing as many pips as possible. Cut the feta into similar sizes and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.

Pour the onions, with the juice over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives.  Gently toss the salad so as not to break up the feta and melon. Add freshly ground black pepper and taste to see whether you need to add more lime juice.


This is a very pretty salad which worked well to add a touch of red to our white Christmas – and is so easy to make which is belied by the really interesting combination of flavours:  it’s all about getting the proportions right.  I’ve done it both with and without mint which has been equally acceptable.

Roasted Carrot Salad

A raw carrot salad with dill was also supposed to have featured on the Christmas menu.  Until The Husband discovered that the gardener had “weeded” the dill that he had been carefully nurturing.  Needless to say, “we” were not amused, so with plan B underway, it had to be “plan Z”.  A few recipes were reviewed, The Husband consulted; Roasted Carrot Salad was selected. I had to make some adaptations.  These and what I’ve subsequently done, come after the original recipe by Morgan Nowicki:


2 pounds (1,8kg) carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 (4 oz) package crumbled Danish blue cheese
2 cups arugula (rocket)

What to do

Preheat an oven to 400ºF (200ºC).

Combine the carrots, almonds, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out onto an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake the carrots until soft and the edges turn brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, return the carrots to the mixing bowl, and drizzle with honey and vinegar; toss until coated. Add the cranberries and blue cheese; toss again until evenly mixed. Combine with the arugula and serve immediately.

What I did

Because I didn’t have almonds or cranberries, I omitted the latter and substituted the almonds with pumpkin seeds.  I also elected to roast the carrots in larger chunks – either whole or cut longitudinally and the cloves of garlic were roasted, whole.**  I also elected not to toss the rocket leaves with the carrots, but rather to present them on a bed of rocket.


The result was acceptable, but more acceptable, was the second time I made this, when I –

  • par-boiled and then roasted the whole carrots and
  • substituted the almonds with crushed macadamian nuts which were roasted with the carrots and garlic.

On this occasion, and because I knew that I’d roasted more than we needed, I simply plated the carrots with the cheese and served the leaves separately.  The carrots we didn’t eat, kept well in the fridge for another meal.


 And now, it’s back to the weather…

Certain parts of South Africa are in the throes of a drought;  some say that it’s the worst in 20 years, others 50.  Either way, the figure is moot when some farmers haven’t been able to plant crops and the maize harvest will be the lowest for 20 years. Farmers unable to feed their livestock, are sending animals to other provinces and suitable grazing, or to slaughter.  There are towns without water and which are being supplied by generous members of the public.  So meat, for the moment is cheap, but when that’s gone, that and all other food prices will skyrocket.  Not helped by our currency with is currently sailing through the doldrums.

So, this, the heat and an abundance of tomatoes, and other crops coming, all mean that our salad days are set to continue.

Clouds that promise rain but only bring unbearable humidity.
Clouds that dance around the mountains, promising rain but only bring unbearable humidity.

* Data supplied by The Husband who diligently records the daily maximum and minimum temperatures and the rainfall.
** Roasting minced/crushed garlic can end up with it being overdone and bitter.  Rather roast the cloves whole and then squeeze out the creamy garlic and mix it in with the dressing/liquids to drizzle over the salad.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016


Gazpacho – easy peasy!

This was not what was originally planned for today, but having shared pictures of the Gazpacho that we had this weekend, on Instagram and on my personal Facebook page, I was “inundated” with requests for the recipe.  I hadn’t made it for a while because our tomato crop last season was underwhelming.  To say the least.  This year, we’ve been deluged; it’s the time of the year when The Husband hears, “You can have anything you like for supper (or lunch or tea, or breakfast), as long as it’s tomato!”

We also have a surfeit of bell peppers and we have onions and garlic that were harvested late last year.

Basic ingredients for Gazpacho (tomatoes ready for skinning). Except for the cucumber, all our own produce.

The original recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s 1994 The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook, published by Dorling Kindersley, and which I bought from Exclusive Books at the Waterfront, not long after I moved to Cape Town a year after it’s publication.*

Gazpacho Recipe

What I do

Gazpacho is a no-cook dish.  The closest one comes to a hot gas stove (in my case, anyway), is boiling the kettle to skin the tomatoes.

I’ve followed that recipe to the word, but as you see from my notes, I’ve also altered things to make it my own.  Here are a few of my tips and what I’ve learned in the 20-odd years I’ve been making this:

  • unless you’re wanting to make a thick, heavy soup, leave out the bread;  I find that if tomatoes are really “beefy”, I still need to add water so that the soup is the right consistency
  • if it needs water, chill it first and be careful not to dilute it too much – add a little iced water and taste, repeating until you’re happy with the texture
  • in the absence of red onions, I have comfortably used white, but less because white onion is stronger than red.  Obviously, if you really like the stronger, raw onion flavour….
  • I’ve used red wine vinegar and Balsamic vinegar and my preference is for Willow Creek’s balsamic style Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar;  I use an extra 10ml.  Again, tasting as you go is important, bearing in mind how the flavours change and develop with chilling and standing
  • seasoning is a very personal thing, but I have found that leaving out the seasoning doesn’t detract from the flavour which makes this a very acceptable soup for people who have problems with both gluten and sodium
  • make it the night before, or at least a few hours in advance and refrigerate – the flavours meld and the soup benefits from being allowed to stand.  A good example of what my father would class as “second-day-soup”, i.e. better the second time round!
  • with the vinegar and the high vitamin C content of tomatoes, this keeps very well.  I make it in big batches, both for our own consumption or for the market

It’s pretty served in glasses or glass mugs:


Gazpacho: easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

A glut

It seems we’re not the only ones with a glut, so for those looking for other ideas of what to do with tomatoes, I’ll be sharing my bottling recipe and that for passata in a while.  It won’t be in the next two weeks as I’ll be travelling and will have limited time for “fiddling” in the kitchen…and on Fiona’s Favourites.

In the meantime, two other ways of using tomatoes:

Ratatouille which is great hot or cold, and uses loads of tomatoes and vegetables currently in season

A fresh tomato sauce that can be bottled or frozen

*No, it’s not on page 32…..

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016


Bountiful broad beans

Next to the pea patch, we had a bed of broad beans.  Broad (or fava) beans are another childhood memory:  picking them during a sunny winter afternoon and then shelling them in front of the fire for supper.  We had another bumper crop this year, I am delighted to say, so some are safely stored in the deep freeze.


Ever since I lived on my own and had a patch of ground, I have grown vegetables (or tried to).  The Husband happily tells friends that when he met me, and I had a tiny terrace cottage with an equally tiny back garden, he discovered a couple of enormous tomato plants among the ornamentals.  I have yet to loose an almost childlike excitement with which I greet the first picking or pulling of any vegetable that privileges our garden.  Then I set to thinking about what I’m going to do with it.  Usually, the first pickings are the sweetest and most tender so they get the least amount of “treatment”.  So it was with our first broad beans:  lightly boiled (not to death like my English mother would have cooked them) and as an accompaniment to supper.  However, that gets really boring …

So, in addition to that way, I also use them in salads:  blanch the beans and pop them out of their grey skins and toss the beautiful, bright green cotyledons into the salad.  This salad, in addition to the broad beans, and as the flavours seem to work well together included mint and chives, as well as pepino.  For a little extra colour, a scattering of calendula petals topped it off.

Salad with broad beans, pepino, chives and mint

I have mentioned my love affair with Katie Caldesi’s Italian Cookery Course, and in it, discovered a traditional Italian dip made with broad beans and mint.  I had never thought of including mint with broad beans.  Mint is for peas – or so I had been brought up to think (by that same English mother….)  Anyway, I looked at the recipe and gave it a bash:  essentially, it’s broad beans (popped out of their skins if they’re big – I didn’t with this batch as they were still tiny), mint, finely grated Parmesan cheese, garlic leaves (or a small clove if you don’t have the leaves), all of which are whizzed or pulsed together into a course mixture. Serve on crostini drizzled with olive oil.Broad bean dip

We enjoyed it so much that I now make it quite often and have also used the basic idea, mixed with parsely pesto, as an accompaniment for home made pasta.

Like this week, which has gone in a flash, all to soon, the bean plants are spent and the bed liberated exposing the artichokes we weren’t sure would survive the winter………  More of them, anon….