Not killing mother

In December 1999, I spent my last Christmas with my father.  Three days earlier, we’d bade my mother a final farewell.  As I’ve probably said before, her death was a shock.  Six weeks prior, she’d had surgery.  By all accounts, it was successful although the procedure meant a protracted stay in hospital.  Cleared of nasties, she was doing well and then suddenly took a turn for the worse.  Back in ICU;  back into theatre, twice; organ failure and dialysis; in and out of a coma.

Skipping the long version

If you aren’t inclined to reading, scroll down to the short version.

Things in common but not friends

Let me be clear.  I loved my mother, but she and I were not friends.  It was, to say the least, an uneasy relationship.  We had little to say to each other and although we would have had things in common, now, I doubt they would have been enough to have transformed our relationship.  Some of my profound enjoyment of traditional crafts – knitting and crochet – I get from her. And cooking.  She was a good cook.  My parents’ dinner parties were legend.  The celebration for my 21st birthday was a garden party which, except for the cake, she catered.

Mum and me at different times in our respective lives.

This collage, is of photos of Mum and I.  At different times in our lives. The first time I came across the one of her in the centre, it was like looking at myself.  I’ve never forgotten that weird feeling.  The bottom right photo is one of me, at about the same age.

Opposites in magnets (and in life), attract, but the like poles repel.  Perhaps that was my mother and I:  too alike. It took fifty-odd years to acknowledge that – even after she had died and I found that photograph.  More than twenty years ago.

No conversation – then

Having little in common, there wasn’t much to talk about. I don’t remember any profound or really adult conversation with her.  Only once, that I can remember, did I ask for advice about cooking.  When I cooked my first Christmas turkey nearly thirty years ago.  Next time I wanted to ask her advice about something – also cooking related – some eight years later, I couldn’t.  Although it made me momentarily sad, it did make me remember her kitchen ritual for the sauce I had wanted to make.  Also for a Christmas meal:  traditional British bread sauce which is traditionally served with roast chicken or turkey.

Not a baker

After she died, my sister wasn’t interested in our mother’s personal recipe book – to which I refer, pretty frequently.  My now famous chicken liver paté, and which I sell at the market is hers, and in that book. She also had two different editions of the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.  I got one, my sister, the other.  I still use it and it taught me how to make marmalade and it’s my go-to for certain basics.

While my mother was an excellent cook, she always said she couldn’t bake.  One vivid memory of such an effort was a birthday cake.  My sister had commanded pink.  Pink. Very. Pink,  it was.  And hacked sculpted to turn it into a cake shaped cake.  For years and for some reason, I believed that I, too, could not bake.  That I have become a relatively accomplished baker of certain desserts, shortbread, biscuits and now, sourdough bread is, to say the least, ironic.

A selection of baked desserts that I used to serve at our regular Sunday Suppers

The absence of conversation, however has changed.  Over the last year or so, I’ve had more conversations with “mother” than I had with my real Mum in the thirty six years I knew her.

Blame it on Lockdown

Last year (2020 in case you’ve forgotten), and when we were in hard lockdown a chef friend in the village started a Facebook group – what’s for supper? It started, among other things, my now ritual photographing of our supper, stretching the imagination (and the budget) as far as it (would) will go.  The other starter was, literally a starter:  a mother or natural yeast for making bread.

Having been scared of yeast, I resisted baking bread.  Also, it’s not something one can do on impulse.  Until then I had tried baking bread a couple of times and had long wanted to literally do it from scratch.  That included my own “mother”.  With no other distractions, let alone plans, and with encouragement from Pixie who, at that stage, had her own, well established jar of glop, I started my journey.

Uncle Ritchie and Auntie Doris

The first “rule” of making one’s own mother, I’m led to believe, is giving her a name.  Of course, being who I am, I was not going to give her a conventional name.  Not female.  I chose “Uncle Ritchie” because he was the only baker to trade I’ve ever known.  I remember the bakery next door to his and Auntie Doris’s (she of my birthday cake) house. And the big ovens…  Nearly forty years ago, it was demolished to make way for a block of flats (apartments).  I digress.

So, in late March, my sourdough journey began.  I mixed equal parts of flour and water in a jar, religiously closing the top, feeding Uncle Ritchie every day.  On day two, I think, there were a couple of bubbles.  Then, a few days later.  Nothing. Dead.  Like baker Uncle Ritchie has been for the last thirty something years.

I killed suffocated him. I’d closed the lid too tight. He couldn’t breathe.

Rinse and repeat

I don’t do well being challenged thwarted.  I was determined to try again;  if Uncle Ritchie wouldn’t oblige, I was sure Auntie Doris would.  She’d come through for me before.  So again, I mixed equal parts of flour and water in a jar, religiously closing the top – not too tightly, but tightly enough to keep the fruit flies out.  I  fed Auntie Doris every day.  On day two, there were a couple of bubbles.  Then more. But I noticed a layer of water forming at the bottom of the jar. A few days or so later the water had risen to the top.

I had drowned Auntie Doris!

Third time lucky

I was not going to accept defeat.  Not from a fungus.

The universe was sending me a message.  I’d resisted, right from the beginning, the obvious choice – my own mother’s name.  Her given name was Ursula, but she was always known as Ula (pronounced Yoo-la).  “Ursula” has significance for another reason:  it’s the name of a former teacher who became a mentor and good friend.  I tried again.

By the end of April, Ursula was a bubbling jar of glop with a veracious appetite and which needed to be used.

It had taken just over a month, bit with hindsight, seemed longer.  As everything did when we were in that hard lockdown.

The short version

For detailed instructions on making your own natural yeast, download them here.

The first sourdough bake off

Having consulted GoG*, I found that although Ursula was growing out of her jar, I didn’t really have enough for anything worth while, and I found recipes for “discard”. As it’s called, and for when mother grows out of her dress jar.  My first effort was scones (or as my American friends call them, biscuits).  I chose those because I wasn’t confident of my kneading skills and, and, and….

For a patch, I made those quite frequently.  I took a batch along or our first skelm social engagement when lockdown restrictions eased a little.  They were a hit.  The recipe’s here.

If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?


Then I graduated to rolls and bread.

Early efforts at sourdough bread loaves and rolls

I’ll save stories of those journeys (and how they ended up on my market stall) for another episode time.

*Good old Google

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

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  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
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Anyone for eggs?

I have always loved eggs. As a little girl, I loved eating Dad’s scrambled eggs; of course I had had my own, but they were much nicer when I perched on his knee, eating them off his plate. He loved his eggs on buttery toast and topped with a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Another “egg” memory associated with Dad, and which I’ve mentioned before, is my (actually Dad….) bidding for the winning egg and succeeding, at the Gonubie Agricultural Show. I guess those eggs must have been quite expensive in the grand scheme of things. Why was I besotted with those particular eggs? I have no idea, except that they were generally a beautiful white, not the brown we are used to, now.  And always double yolkers.Double yolk eggs

Eggs feature quite a bit on our menu;  fortunately, we both could eat them for breakfast, lunch and supper!    There was a time when an egg-rich diet was considered potentially dangerous.  Not so, nowadays, and for two key reasons, it seems:  they don’t contain “bad” cholesterol, and it would appear that there are now even questions about whether cholesterol is the consequence of too much unsaturated fat.  Adding fuel to this fire is the move to a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet – people are Banting bonkers at the moment.  I’m not knocking it as I have been leaning in that general direction for a while…

Eggs are an essential ingredient in many things we eat, often without realising it, for example mayonnaise,  cakes and cookies, rich pastries and of course, in custards, including the savoury custard in a quiche. My home made pasta is egg-rich.  So, we eat eggs, often, and not just for breakfast.


Over the weekend, have sort of a ritual.  I loathe early mornings and am virtually non-functional, so what needs to be done must be done in “auto pilot”.  On a Saturday, because there is no alarm, things are a little more leisurely, but we still need to be at the McGregor pop-up market, and set up by nine o’clock,  so our day begins without breakfast.Speckeldy EggAfter the market, we get home and unpack the bakkie (also known, depending on where you live, as a pick-up or ute), and Tom does breakfast: soft boiled eggs, toast and coffee.  He’s a real egg-boiling pro, and if the batch of eggs contains a speckled one – it’s always mine!  The speckled egg is another throwback to my childhood and Alison Uttley’s wonderful stories about Grey Rabbit and Speckeld Hen;  stories that my granny read to us when she visited South Africa in 1969 into 1970.  A “speckeldy” egg always gets me clucking with childlike delight!

Sunday is a whole different ball game; breakfast is the full catastrophe! Fried egg, beautiful, homemade bacon, fried tomato, mushroom, brinjal, potato… And, needless to say, toast or croissant, and coffee. We love our Sunday brunch which, weather permitting, we usually eat on our lovely, sunny veranda.


So, if that was breakfast, what about lunch, you ask.  Well, ever since I was a tot, a favourite sandwich was egg mayonnaise – it still is.  I even enjoyed the ones we got at boarding school!  There can be few things more delicious than lovely fresh bread, hard boiled egg, grated and mixed with home made mayonnaise, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Jazz that up with some fresh parsley, a lettuce leaf and some sliced tomato, and you have a feast!

But you don’t have to stop there:  firm, but not quite hard-boiled eggs (so that the yolk is not quite cooked and a lovely rich, orange colour), added to a green salad are delicious, on a hot summer’s day.

On a cooler day, here’s a thought:  poached eggs on freshly picked spinach, wilted, with tomatoes, topped with a dollop of cottage cheese, grilled.  Fresh fennel goes well with all of these components, so I use it both as a garnish and as an element in the meal – with or without lovely crusty bread.Poached eggs on spinachAbout poaching eggs:  make sure that your eggs are as fresh as possible, and add a little vinegar to the water when you cook them.  Once they’re cooked to your taste, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a cloth (not paper towel – it sticks to the egg and is hard to get off).  Allow them to drain for a little while – there is nothing worse than a poached egg that deposits puddles of water over your plate!


A regular supper, one night during the week, has egg as the main protein, in one form or another: an omelette, a Spanish Omelette, a frittata, or a quiche, accompanied by a garden salad.  A two-egg omelette, with a filling of your choice, which includes cheese, is a really filling and easy meal.100_3048If you’re nervous about folding an omelette, and other than practice, my technique is to make sure that I use a pan that is the right size, and I don’t believe anything is non-stick, so I always add a knob of butter and olive oil.  Don’t overheat the pan….  Once the eggs are in the pan, don’t fiddle with them until you see that the edges are cooking.  Then, with a small egg lifter, draw a little egg towards the centre and allow the runny egg to flow out to the edge.  Once the egg is mostly cooked, add your filling – on one side and then gently lift the other over it.

Another tip about folding omelettes over their fillings:  make sure that you have the pan handle at nine o’clock.  Put the filling on the same side, between twelve and six o’clock.  Then you can comfortably hold the pan and gently lift the other side of the omelette over the filling, and then slide it onto a warm plate.  If you’re left handed, do it the other way round, i.e. have the handle at three o’clock, etc…

Have a look at another supper that includes eggs, cooked in a tomato sauce….




Eating to Live

Friday, 18 July 2014, in McGregor dawned:  a cold, blustery morning.  It was also the first Mandela Day since his death in December 2013;  he would have been 95.  Later that day I was  heading down to our local community service centre (aka the police station) to join a sandwich drive.

This, juxtaposed with my my rant, the previous evening, about dieting fads and food foibles, got me thinking about how privileged I am, to be able not just to have the pleasure of cooking, but of food, in all its glory, when there are people, literally down the road, who do eat to live – when they can.

2014-07-18 13.09.43


For the last two years, a young McGregorite has organised this initiative.  This must have taken Mira much more than just the 67 minutes she asked of us to give, to organise.



18 July 2014 2

So, a bunch of us, of all colours and creeds, from all walks of life, gathered at around 11h00, to make sandwiches.

By about 11h45, this happy band of volunteers had made this huge mound of sandwiches to go with the soup that came from Lord’s Guest Lodge.


I didn’t just join the sandwich drive, I also joined the convoy to deliver the sandwiches and soup.  First, to the Breede Centre which runs a holiday programme of for local children, then on to the informal settlement and the poorest parts of our village.



The sandwiches and hot soup, along with the treats made a difference – at least for a short while.


For me, there was also a weird moment.  There was a time that it would have been inconceivable that I would set foot in a police station to be part of a community initiative:  the police represented the oppressors and meted out their orders.  These orders were usually punitive and harsh;  they certainly did not include feeding people in informal settlements.

Much remains to be done in our country and village of poor and plenty, but that I, and my fellow sandwich-makers were able to comfortably join this initiative, is a consequence of Nelson Mandela who gave 67 years of selfless service.  Halala, Tata.

Eating to live and living to eat?

I enjoy preparing and eating food.  I lost my sweet tooth a long time ago, although I do enjoy the odd dessert from time to time. 100_3048 My preference is for uncomplicated meals which, in old fashioned language, would have been known as “balanced”.  Although not vegetarian, I prefer not to eat meat every day, eating quite a few vegetarian meals – often with eggs and cheese.

Over the last few weeks I have heard and read much about converts to the Banting diet, and similarly also heard what the detractors are saying about it.  Also, over the past few months, I have made certain choices about my own eating habits:  in mid-January, I decided to try to do without bread and potatoes.  During the week.

I know from previous efforts at diets that they are deadly:  for personal harmony and for the weekly menu, particularly if it’s not just me that’s to be considered.  So, I decided that those were the only two things that I would change – and only for me.  I continued having my evening tipple and cooking dinner in exactly the same way as I always had.  Lunches, for me, are salads which include either lots of cheese or cold chicken and, sometimes quiche or soup (there is always a protein, and with most tasty protein, there is fat).  As time has progressed, I have found myself avoiding other starches, 100_3046particularly rice and commercial pasta.  I make my own pasta, and as I’ve mentioned before, that has had an impact on the quantity we eat per serving, so I’m still eating that.  Also, when we entertain, I still make and keep our guests company with dessert, and the menu choices are not influenced by my particular proclivities.

Since I’ve been thinking consciously about these choices, and as more and more people are Banting, I have realised that for some, their conversion to a particular eating regime has become an all or nothing affair.  Similarly, I am astounded, respect but fail to understand, people who go on diets that make them feel as though they are living in hell.  Each to their own.

So, my “almost-no-carb-journey” has been a relatively easy one because I’ve not cut it completely.  I have taken on board, with great relief, that full cream milk and butter are ok.  (Tom has never approved of low fat anything…)  I have long rejected margarine because of the way it was made, and what it consists of (and it tastes horrid).  A few years ago, on examining the contents of yoghurt, come to the conclusion that Greek yoghurt was better for one than the low fat options that are full of sugar and starch stabilisers!

And then, there’s more:  Having stuck to my choices, I no longer get hungry and consequently am not eating as much.  I am happy 100_2530to stop eating when I am satisfied.  I thought that I would find it difficult to stick to this when I was travelling;  it hasn’t been.  It’s easy to “lose the chips” and order a burger without the bun.

And what has all of this meant in terms of my own well-being?  I have certainly lost weight – my friends and my clothes are telling me so.  I don’t have a scale, so I couldn’t tell you how much.  I feel better in myself and have more energy.  And best of all, because I do still get to enjoy a slice of toast and Bovril or pizza, and my glass(es) of wine, I really don’t miss the bread and potato.

So, I do eat to live, and I live to (cook and) eat!

Sensational sandwiches

A sandwich is a sandwich, is a sandwich – or is it?

Since mid-January, I have forsworn bread and potatoes.  I thought that it would be difficult, but it hasn’t been.  I think that the main reason for this is that I made a decision that this was a choice rather than a rule.  It was also my choice and no-one else’s.  Why do I make this point?  Well, I figured that if I allowed it to govern every meal I cooked, particularly over the weekend, I’d make everyone miserable.  The upshot is that it’s the 5:2 approach – as far as possible….

We have a wonderful pop-up market in McGregor.  You don’t always know what or who will be at the market.  That means that you can’t be guaranteed bread, but when there is bread, it’s beautiful, often really healthy.  There are a few bread makers in the village.  One is Hester, who sadly doesn’t bake bread as often as she used to.  Her potato Ciabatta are fantastic, wood-fired chunks of tasty bread.  In addition to being great when fresh, they also make the most fantastic crostini that you can top with almost anything to make a really easy, sexy sarmie.  To make crostini, heat the oven to about 200 Celsius and lightly brush each slice on both sides, place on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes.

2014-02-02 15.35.54

A spread of pesto, with tomato, cheeses, gherkins, pickled bell peppers and fresh herbs, in different combinations make a feast!

Corlie is another baker in the village.  She makes a few lovely breads, and one we are particularly fond of, is a part rye bread.  She makes it with molasses which gives it a lovely soft, spongy texture with a delicious malty flavour.  I made this sarmie – unplanned – with what I had in the fridge:

On a slice of thin-ish bread, layer slivers of Camembert or brie, a warm, quick-fried slice of brinjal (warm is important – it begins to melt the cheese, and brings out its flavour), and top with a slice of fresh tomato and salt and pepper.  Now spread a generous dollop of pesto over the second slice of bread and put the lid on your sandwich!100_2881These (even if I say so, myself) sensational sarmies are favourite Saturday or Sunday afternoon late lunches for us – in the garden – with a glass of wine from our lovely valley!