And behind the scenes….after…

I have a love-hate relationship with trade shows and festivals.  I have, in my time, been on both sides of the table – stall holder, exhibitor and visitor.  I have also organised a number of conferences, so I have a good idea of what goes into the organisation of fairly large events:  none of it is very glamorous;  it is always hard work.  I must be a glutton for punishment, because this weekend was McGregor’s equivalent of a food and wine festival with a few other things thrown in for good measure.  We (because my wonderful, long suffering husband goes way above and beyond in support of my crazy notions – even though he doesn’t always agree…) were there.  Preparations involved a visit to a town 45 minutes away to get bits and bobs, as well as to the the town in which we usually shop, to order what we needed.  Our offering was Boerewors rolls with onion marmalade, butternut and ginger soup as well as chicken liver paté – all home made.

For the uninitiated, Boerewors (literal translation “farmers’ sausage) is a traditional sausage which can be compared with Chorizo or Bratwurst, except that it is usually made with beef.  It was first made by the trek boers and is always spiced – the dominant one being dried coriander.  Tom, in his time as a rancher, made his own, and every butcher worth his salt has his own recipe and secret ingredients.  For this occasion we chose a Kudu (venison) wors.  

mmMcGregor 2014 collage 2014-09-02

So, after three days’ preparation, two of which were in the kitchen, peeling and chopping onions and butternut to make three kilograms of onion marmalade, 15 litres of butternut soup and 2,5 kilograms of chicken liver paté , we set off on Saturday morning at what seems, for me, an ungodly hour.

All of that said, there is a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes, that outsiders don’t get to experience.  I’ve had tremendous fun at some of the events I’ve participated in, and this weekend was no different.  We worked hard, and we played hard.  Harder, on both counts than we had planned!  Originally, we were not to have worked for two days and had booked for one of the evening functions, which we knew would be an “opskop” (a party with lots of loud music, laughter and dancing)…  As we were shutting up shop, we were persuaded to return on Sunday – and we had sufficient stock to be able to do so.

Off we went to our evening “do”, with all sorts of good intentions… Good company, lovely wine and food and, best of all, toe-tapping music and we eventually turned off the light in the wee hours of Sunday morning, knowing we had to be set up and “smoking” by ten o’clock – just a few hours away. And no, I don’t have photographs of the evening, but I do have a picture of the inside of the tent, taken from our stall, before that day really began.  I was not nearly as bright eyed and bushy tailed as on Saturday!

Inside the tent mmMcGregor 2014Although none of us enjoy days that are too quiet, it does give the stall holders time to talk to each other.  Virtually everyone who comes to these festivals, either as participants or Dried Olivesvisitors, has an appreciation of artisan products, and much is often complementary or we have much in common.  Conversations about business, products and how they might work together are invaluable.  Miss L J Hall's

Miss L J Hall produces the most wonderful range of Worcester Sauces – made in Worcester, South Africa – one of which we have used for years.  She told me that her curried Worcester Sauce is a wonderful accompaniment to butternut soup and promptly gave a complimentary bottle.  Understanding that there is always a cost, the least I could do, was give her a chicken liver paté.  Actually, much sharing andSimply Natural Organic Chees bartering goes on at festivals – a boerewors roll for wonderful wine from Lord’s, butternut soup for wonderful dried olives from Voor Den Berg, pineapples from Bathurst (not far from the town where I grew up), not to mention being able to buy the most wonderful organic cheeses, also from the Eastern Cape.

And then it’s all over – the good-byes, the see-you-next-times, the travel-safelys.  The tent is broken down and soon the grass patch next to the Church looks much as though the festival had never happened.

This is when the locals and the die-hards kick of their shoes and relax.  And so it was on Sunday.   Two benches were pushed together and we all gathered around the table.  What followed was wonderful camaraderie, conversation and gales of laughter that continued well after the stalls had been packed up and the “gates” closed.

After mmMcGregor


Dusk arrived and with it, the cool of early spring, necessitating a move under cover, so the gathering adjourned and moved across the road to the Overdraught Pub at the McGregor Country House ………..


Long, leisurely, Lord’s

We are very lucky to live in a beautiful valley that produces wonderful wine and creates fabulous opportunities for celebrating not just wine, but its talented cellar masters and wine makers.  The Robertson Slow Festival is unique.  It is a genteel, intimate and relaxed festival that spreads itself through the valley.  People come together in a multitude of places, including working cellars – like the one up the road from where we live. 2014-07-19 15.42.26 The Lord’s Cellar is, literally, on the Road to Nowhere.  One must choose to go there –  like one chooses to come to McGregor.  You cannot decide to drop in on your way past.  That’s part of the reason we like McGregor, and Lord’s.  The other reasons are the people – and the wine!  Lord’s wines make any occasion special2014-08-09 16.46.45 Late on Saturday afternoon, we headed up the Road to Nowhere.  The day had started off cool and misty, but had cleared into a beautiful, balmy spring afternoon.  We were greeted, as always, by the ever gracious host, Jacie Oosthuizen.  Lord’s (named for the cricket ground and his passion for the game)  is his brainchild, and is a boutique winery nestled in the mountains and surrounded by fynbos.  Winter is when fynbos is at its most beautiful, so this evening showcased some of the Western Cape’s most beautiful flora. 2014-08-09 17.08.49       It was a slow, relaxed afternoon and evening of friends (new and not-so-new) and families associated with Lord’s, Jacie and his wife, the wine maker, Ilse Schutte, her husband and family who were responsible for the traditional Suid Afrikaanse poitjie kos (South African “little pot” food), home made bread and brownies…   The time flew – wonderful conversation about life and wine, live music provided by our neighbour, Konrad, that had some of us dancing…not quite on the tables, but dancing, nevertheless…2014-08-09 20.58.27

Small dinner parties

We have had occasion, this month, to host two very different dinner parties.  One was a birthday for a friend of ours and her teenage daughter, and the other for new-ish friends into whose home we have been warmly welcomed.  The birthday celebration was mid-week and relatively impromptu, while the other was a little longer in the planning and coincided with the Easter long weekend.  I thought I’d share with you how these two, rather different dinners were put together – from the planning to the table setting.

First off, most of our entertaining is with food that doesn’t take us away from our guests.  What is the fun in having people to share a meal with you if you’re banished to the kitchen because the what you’re cooking demands all your attention?

Simple does, however, require some planning and advance preparation. One of Pearli_Weber_2014the easiest meals to produce with the minimum of fuss is a roast:  a lot can be done beforehand and, depending on what you’re roasting, it’s looking after itself when (and for a while after) your guests arrive.  We always do our roasts on the Weber which has two benefits – you can roast your vegetables under the meat which also has the most wonderful smoky flavour.

Tom and I are a great team in which there is good division of labour:  he looks after the fire, and the nyama (the Nguni word for meat) and the vegetables that are cooked in the juices that run out of the meat as it cooks.  The menu is also usually a joint effort and its planning takes into consideration our guests and the time we have at our disposal.  Entertaining during the week and with little notice can be a challenge.  It’s not a 10-minute trip to the local supermarket or butcher to get something that’s not in the pantry cupboard, nor is there a premium food store from which one can select items to make up a gourmet meal in the blink of an eye.  Then, I admit that I an my own worst enemy:  I work until late-ish, so time is at a premium and then, to make matters worse, I’m not good at taking short cuts.  So, acknowledging that I make the rod for my own back, I cope by doing careful planning which starts a couple of days (or more) before the event, itself.

The birthday dinner

Table_April2014As her birthday was on a week night with school and work the following day, this was a simple, two course meal with a Brut Methode Cap Classique from Lords, a local winery, as an aperitif. We did a topside of beef on the Weber with fresh, creamed spinach from the garden.  Of course, there was gravy made by deglazing the pan in which the roasted potatoes and butternut and had been cooked.  Potentially the most complicated part of the meal (partly because I’m not a great fan of desserts) was the berry crisp:  a relatively healthy dessert made with frozen mixed berries and topped with a butter and oat crisp, and which was baked for an hour or so in the oven.  The great thing about this dessert that it must rest for an hour or so, which makes it good to do in advance (I did it as soon as I came out of the office, and it went into the oven while everything else was being prepared).  Serve it with cream or Greek yoghurt.

So, in addition to South Africa’s answer to a good Champagne, this simple meal was special because I set a table that was different, and which included items that are special to us, and have their own stories to tell.


 Long Weekend Get-together

Since moving to the village, we have been fortunate to meet new and interesting people.  Not all live permanently in the village, so getting together can be tricky, and we were delighted to discover that over the Easter weekend, our respective calendars were included the same free evening.  Wanting to 100_2836reciprocate their hospitality, we decided to stick to our tried and trusted recipe and have a roast – leg of pork – on the Weber, with the usual suspects happily cooked underneath it.  This time we had wine braised leeks (leeks are to be the subject of another post…) and the traditional apple sauce and gravy with the roast.2014-04-13 18.23.03Because it was a holiday weekend, we decided that we needed three courses, and in South Africa, it is traditional to eat pickled fish over Easter.  The thing about pickled fish is that you cannot make it today, to eat tomorrow – it must pickle – so I made it the weekend before.  People think it’s difficult to make, partly because it’s often deep fried before being placed into the pickling sauce.  I don’t do this:  I don’t like deep fried anything, so the fish is baked (a tip from a Cape Town local) and then the warm sauce is poured over it.  Allow this to cool and then store in the fridge.  Because of the vinegar and sugar content, pickled fish can be kept comfortably (in glass rather than metal or plastic) for as long as three months.  If you have the fridge space and you like pickled fish, make a big batch!

The dessert was also something typically South African:  pureed brandied peaches whipped into Greek yoghurt and topped with cream.  Both the dessert and the starter were plated, which, along with a pretty table, added to the sense of occasion.


So, two quite different dinners that were variations on single menu:

To begin – MCC or pickled fish
The main bit – Roast beef or pork with seasonal vegetables and the traditional accompaniments
To end – Mixed berry crisp or Brandied peach whip

And the best part: because quite a bit was done before people arrived, we spent virtually all our time actually with our guests!