Cooking class(es) with Kurt


cooking-kimchi-with-chef-kurt-mcgregorOn Saturday, 8 July, I had the privilege of joining a cooking class.  With Chef Kurt, owner of The Fat Lady’s Arms.

It was the most fun Saturday afternoon I’ve had in a long while.  Especially on a cold and miserable winter’s day as it was, yesterday.


First –

A disclaimer – and more

Although Kurt is one of our longest standing (ahem…not older…) McGregor friends, I am not sharing and waxing lyrical at his behest.  I do so because it was a glorious afternoon and it’s an initiative hope will flourish.

We have food in common – eating and cooking.  He’s the professional, I’m not.  Learning how to make “new” food is something I relish.  Also, I’ve long been thinking about fermenting things and just never got around to it.  Kimchi, too, I find fascinating.  A few years ago, a Canadian blog pal who lives in Korea with a Korean wife, wrote a fascinating (to me, anyway) blog about the family kimchi-making tradition.  Alas, the post, I cannot find, otherwise I’d send you there.

A confession

Cabbage and I have a love-hate relationship. I’ve eaten kimchi just once that I can recall.  I was underwhelmed but thought that when the opportunity came, I’d try it again.  I’ve been around a few blocks to know that like so many of these things, who makes them, how they’re made (at home or in bulk), etc., etc., makes a huge difference.

I jumped at the invitation to learn more – and from someone who has spent a significant amount of time in the east.  Kurt lived in China for six or so years and although his day job was planets away from food, he spent is spare time in friends’ kitchens, including a “pukka” Korean restaurant.   His interest in eastern flavours also pre-dates that trip:  The Husband and I frequented his and Andre’s first restaurant – in McGregor – even before we moved here.  Already, Asian influences – like the fa-bu-lous duck spring rolls – were menu staples.

The first (parts of the) lesson

There’s an old saying that it’s 90% preparation and 10% doing.  And if there isn’t, there should be.  The first – and a significant of the time in making kimchi is in the preparation.  First, the proper (not quite) dismembering of the Chinese cabbage that had been harvested just that morning,  This, we washed and salted (brined) and set aside.  What followed was a significant amount of chopping the other additions:  daikon, carrot, garlic, ginger and spring onions.

As Kurt pointed out, there are machines that do this work, but two things: cooking-kimchi-with-chef-kurt-mcgregor there is something about hand-made food and then there’s learning knife skills from some who really “does” them.  My knife skills have developed over the years – with practise – but I was making at least one mistake.  Now remedied – with the logic explained.

Once we’d finished playing with knives (mostly), with everyone’s digits still intact, we were handsomely rewarded with a glass of Prosecco.  Partly, I suspect, to soften us up for the middle – and very messy part of the lesson.

cooking-kimchi-with-chef-kurt-mcgregorBecause we used out hands for this part of the lesson, I have no photographs of our mixing the rice “porridge” and chilli into our “choppings”.  I had been a little anxious about this, I admit. I am allergic to chillies.  Although, over the years, I have developed a tolerance, I know that working with crushed, dried chillies is another matter.  Not a problem:  Kurt had latex gloves on hand and I was spared the chagrin of somebody else assembling  stuffing my cabbage with the flavourings that make kimchi, kimchi.

Once we had done that, we had the dubious pleasure of squishing the stuffed cabbage, bar a little, into jars.  And I mean squishing.

I’m not hearing any of those squishy noises…

…said Kurt.  And then he did.  As we stuffed our large (and smaller) bits of marinated cabbage into the jars he had supplied.

To end (the last part of) the lesson

It wasn’t enough for Kurt that we just make Kimchi.  We had to do something with it.  That “with it” was dumplings.

In addition, then, to learning about – and making – a natural, fermented, instantly edible product, we learned how to use it.  I was fascinated by the dough:  just flour and water.  So many cultures have flour and water as a base for a sort of bread staple.  From bread to tortilla and Chinese dumplings.  Unlike bread, and more like tortilla, this dough is made with warm water.  Like with all doughs that need kneading, it will take some practice. Another technique to hone – and learning about the balance between releasing the gluten and not breaking it.

Proof of the dumpling stuffed with fresh kimchi

My dumplings were a bit doughy, but stuffed with the chopped, fresh kimchi? Delicious.

Playing with fire

I’ve run ahead of myself:  we didn’t just get to play with knives, we played with fire,  The technique for cooking the assembled dumplings was a combination of frying and steaming – all in the same pan.

You know that oil and water don’t mix, right, and that if they do, there are big flames?  And so there were when Kurt played with my dumplings!

All’s well that ended well – handled with the calm that is both the man and his years of experience.

Rounding things out

We went home with our kimchi, recipes and instructions about how to look after it.

But that’s not all

This wasn’t just about chopping, messing with chillies and drinking bubbly.  This was a well-rounded experience, orchestrated with aplomb.

Firstly:  Not only does Kurt explain the whys and wherefores of kimchi and fermenting, but also the well-documented health benefits of this traditional – and trendy – Korean staple.  It’s always this type of cerebral value-add that gets me.

Then, and equally importantly was the quality of the knives – and other equipment – we got to work with.  Proper chef’s knives, and properly sharp.  (I am someone who goes on a self-catering holiday with my favourite knife.)  Properly sharp.  No, it’s not only about the knives:  each workstation had exactly the equipment we needed.  I loved the colanders, the peeler (different from my one at home), the bowls and the swabs for cleaning up after ourselves.

If I’d had one, my only gripe would have been no apron – I had the foresight to take my own.  An oversight Kurt acknowledged and plans to remedy.  That said, I don’t think it’s essential.  If you know you’re playing in the kitchen, you should go suitably prepared for mess.

Last but not least, Kurt’s experience is backed by his training in one a top-rated chef school..

A last (important) word

This was the first of what Kurt plans to be a regular, first weekend of the month event.  At R550 for three hours well spent, it’s excellent value for money.  If you’re not a local this is just another a great reason to visit the village.  The plan is that each month, Kurt runs the same course four times:  Friday and Saturday mornings and afternoons.  For less than a good meal and a bottle of wine, it’s an experience you won’t regret.

I’d do it again.  In a heartbeat.  Especially when it’s something I’ve been nervous of trying without help.  It’s also a great way to celebrate a milestone event with your (foodie) friends.

Until next time
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.


Sourdough – it’s a journey of constant learning

Sourdough bun recipe

I have a to-do list of promises that is as long as my arm (and the other and both legs) of recipes that I’ve said I’ll write up and share. This promise was made two years ago. It’s weird that it’s two years ago. It also seems that the phrase “two years” is running through so many conversations at the moment.

Two years since we were sort of let out

It dawned on me just yesterday, after the market, that it was this weekend, two years ago, that we resumed the McGregor Market. Restriction levels were 3A. Whatever that means. They seemed to change every week.

McGregor Market on a wintery 4 July 2020: Level 3A lockdown restrictions

I remember for three reasons.

  • It coincided – by a day – with The Husband’s birthday. Which we could not celebrate in any meaningful way.
  • The reunion of market pals was happy – almost like a family reunion. It was tentative, though, because we were all still caught up in the fear of this unknown thing that was the pandemic.
  • I added sourdough buns to my regular market fare, and I’ve been baking 24 of them – sometimes more – every week since. I have a customer who has a standing order for between 6 and 10 a week.


The first thing I learned about making sourdough, was that I had to keep mother alive. I have successfully managed to do that for more than two years. At the market the other day, someone actually asked me how old “the culture” was. There was no response when I said just over two years. I wonder why he asked. I had other customers, so I didn’t enquire.

Natural yeast is good for you

A few years ago – I’m not exactly sure how many – I stopped eating commercial bread. I felt hugely better for it and lost weight. A lot. Since I’ve been making bread with natural yeast (sourdough) – I’ve resumed bread eating – daily. In truth, I’ve eaten more bread in the last two that I ate in the previous two years. I’ve not regained the weight I lost. That tells me something a lot. I have certainly experienced the benefits.

Two years later: a confession

In January, I shared my first bake using sourdough with mother. It wasn’t a bread, and which is why I’m only now claiming chapter two with this post. And I am also going to confess: although I promised this recipe to Katie (my plantbased food fiend friend), especially after I re-created it in a vegan version, I didn’t. I just wasn’t sure that I’d perfected it. Truth be told, I hadn’t. Somehow, each week they were different and I was just not sure what I was doing wrong. Two years, and, I guess, about 104 weeks and more than two thousand rolls later, I feel more confident.

What I’ve learned

Sourdough bun recipe

The rolls are never exactly the same each week and you need to watch every step of the way. It’s trial and error and one has to be open to that. I will admit that just in the last six weeks to two months, something has just clicked and I’m getting them consistently “righter” than before. I am so much happier with them now.

What is it, I hear you asking?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’m leaning towards adjusting some of the quantities and instead of using a liquid measure for mother, I’m now weighing her instead. I am also not allowing myself to be tempted to add more water than the recipe says.

The results: much, much better.

McGregor Market
My sourdough offering at the market every Saturday

If you’d like the recipe for these rather delicious (even if I say so myself) buns, you can download it here. If you do download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

As that photo confirms, those buns are not the only sourdough bread I’m doing. I’m doing those loaves, too. I’ve been doing them for about nine months. I’m still not getting things right there, so when I’ve learned what I’m doing wrong, I’ll share that recipe too. Oh, and I’ve also made naan breads – that recipe, too, I shall share. Possibly before the loaves because they are super delicious and given that it’s winter, I’m hankering for a good curry and naan.

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
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.

It’s no bull…

It’s a funny old world we live in.  As I write, we are in day 501 of South Africa’s National State of Emergency (aka lockdown), and thanks to the vagaries of the Interweb and erstwhile hosts, this is the second iteration of a post with this recipe.  The original post was three years ago.

How things have changed since then.

Back in the day

It’s strange looking back.  Those days seem, in so many ways, so carefree.  We invited strangers into our home.  Weekly.

As you know, I have, for the past eight or so years had a food stall at the local pop-up market, and for those who are not familiar with where we live:  McGregor is a village in the heart of the winelands and with about 650 households, dependent on tourism and agriculture.   It’s somewhat off the beaten track (you can read a bit more about it here). Four or so years ago, there was no eating establishment open on a Sunday evening, so I suggested to The Husband that we host simple (ha!) Sunday Suppers in our home.  A service to the community.

The groups would have to be small – the house is small and we’d have to re-arrange things to make it work as a pop-up restaurant.  Also, we are not fans of being forced to sit with strangers, so we were not going to do a long table.  That also presented certain challenges.  Especially in winter when we couldn’t possibly have people spilling on to the veranda and into the garden.

Well, you know, there are two old sayings:

You’ll never know until you try it


Be careful what you wish for

Sunday Suppers @ The Sandbag House

Then using yet another idiom, be careful of words spoken in jest:  Sunday Suppers, for a while, became a regular and expected thing in the village.  But I run ahead of myself.

Camera shy

About a week into this new adventure, good friend and fabulous photographer, Selma sent me a message.

“I’d love to document one of your Sunday Suppers.  Can I?”

“WHAT?  Are you out of your mind?  It’s complete and utter chaos.  I don’t think I want all that sin exposed.  Besides, I’m camera shy and most certainly won’t be dressed for success.”

“No, man,” says she, “It’ll be of your hands and the food, the table, and, of course, the cats.  Mostly the cats.  We do weddings, you know.  You cannot imagine the mess that goes on there, hahaha!”

That last bit is, of course, the most believable part of the statement.  So I discovered. After I was convinced.

“I’m going to be in the village because…, blah, blah, fish paste….”

I was persuaded.  Anyhow, she arrived in the village and said, “I’ll see you on Sunday.  What time do you start prepping?”

“Well, actually, I’m going to be doing quite a lot on Friday so that things are a bit more manageable on Sunday.”

“I’m on my way!”

So began my first (and only) ever experience of being in front of the camera and I do admit that I had fun.  Mostly because Selma loves what she does, is more than good at it, particularly persuading reluctant subjects to conform to her whims.  The results of the two days’ shoot are here and also appear in this and many of my other posts where they are duly acknowledged. She has given me a gazillion fabulous photographs to use.  And I did (and do):  virtually every time I put together the weekly menu which was posted in the local online newsletter and in the social media.

All photos: Selma’s and of that Sunday Supper earlier in July 2017.

Then, the food

Putting out the menus also meant that I got requests for recipes – from a Swedish guest (more of that another time), and from friends, as happened here:

So think about it I did, and here’s what I sent:

Slow cooker Oxtail

(serves 4 with mash)

1 oxtail (probably about 800g to 1kg)
4 – 8 carrots (peeled (or not) but left whole) – makes for prettier presentation (and they don’t turn to mush)
1 onion finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic
vegetable oil
1 cup beef stock (250ml)
1 glass red wine (125 – 175ml)
1 bay leaf
Fresh / dried herbs of choice:  thyme, rosemary/McGregor Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons seasoned flour (+ extra to thicken towards the end of cooking)
Salt & pepper

What to do

Roll the oxtail pieces in the seasoned flour to cover and then brown in a large frying pan or skillet, with a little oil.  Place in the slow cooker.  top with the carrots.  In the pan, add a little more oil if necessary and sauté the onion until glossy and transparent.

Add the herbs of choice and sauté for a little longer.  Then add the stock to de-glaze the pan.  Then add all the liquids to the slow cooker.  If the oxtail isn’t just about covered, add a little more water.

Cover and cook on high for about 5 hours. If you have more time (like 7 hours), set the cooker to on auto or low, and let it be.

About an hour before serving, check the consistency of the gravy.  If not to your liking, remove a little of the liquid and add it slowly to a dessertspoon (or more) of flour until you have a smooth paste.  Gradually add this to the stew and leave for an hour.  If you are using commercial stock (cubes), only add salt at this stage,  but if you add the potatoes, wait until just before serving because potatoes tend to absorb the salt.

Serve with mashed potatoes, the whole carrots and a green vegetable like beans or broccoli.

Download the recipe

A while ago, I decided (for my own convenience and yours, to create downloadable versions of the recipes I dream up.  The Slow Cooked Oxtail recipe’s available for downloading here.

If you download recipes, please follow the link buy me a virtual coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

Of course, one could serve this with polenta or rice.  My friend served hers with rice (one of the children doesn’t like potatoes).  If you serve with mashed potatoes, give them a zing, and which I did last time I served oxtail for Sunday Supper, by adding about a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard to the mash.

So it was

For nearly three years, we opened our home to anyone, at least once a week and it’s no bull that, for a while, Sunday Suppers became a village fixture.

In the kitchen ahead of “Selma’s Sunday Supper” and in front of her camera that July 2017.

By the time guests arrived, the sin is mostly dealt with and guests were greeted with a warm fire (in winter) and pretty tables.

Just one of Selma’s awesome shots from that shoot.

A last word –

We still get asked if we do Sunday Suppers.  We haven’t since February 2020 because we’ve wanted to preserve our (mercifully Covid-free) bubble.  For the moment, our stock answer is that we might.  That said, the village now has Sunday dining offerings, so there’s no real need. For those who really, really want a Sunday Supper experience, we’ll make a plan:  with the proviso that there must be between four and ten to make it viable.

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 appplications.

    • 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.

He was not Mike

Just under two weeks ago, I collected my team for a job.  As she got into the car, C asked –

Have you heard about Michael?



Let me explain:  there are several men in the village whose names are Michael.  There are several who are “Mike” and whose names have additional monikers.  Like “Two Dog Mike” because – you guessed it – he has two dogs.  There were two Michaels.  One, always identified by both first and last names.

Michael – just Michael – with his childhood friend, Billy – was one of the first people we met when we came to the village.  Always reserved, always polite – sometimes painfully so.  Always  in a freshly pressed shirt.  Always, like James Dean, with the collar turned up.

When he dispensed a rare hug – and in nine years, I only had one – I think he was as surprised as I.

Often, on a Saturday morning, as we headed to our market duties, he’d be walking into Tebaldi’s, his restaurant.  He’d always wave cheerfully.  A little before Christmas, that walk was a little less firm and the wave a little less cheerful.  The collar was as stiff as ever.  The Husband expressed concern.

For various reasons, we’ve not had occasion to dine out as often as we used to.  We do, however, have some indelible memories of Tebaldi’s and Micheal.  When we had not long moved to the village and travelling for my day job, the evening I returned from a trip, my kitchen didn’t see me.  Tebaldi’s often did.  One of those was particularly balmy and we asked to sit on the veranda looking on to the rose garden.

We’d not booked but Michael strutted us to our perfect spot:  he knew that we prefer to be somewhat set apart from the crowd.  As he got to the table, he swooped, scooped up the reserved sign and said:

Welcome!  There you are…

We looked at him quizzically as he deposited it on another table.

Oh, they’re visitors.  You’re local.

Leaning against the wall next to the table was a rather rustic, but short ladder.  We didn’t pay much attention but as the late summer sun set, the resident hen hopped and perched and hopped her way across the veranda (and the chairs and tables).  Her final perch: the ladder just above The Husband’s right ear, and where she roosted, her head firmly tucked under her wing.

A fowl of a different variety, and also resident at Tebaldi’s and Temenos

Another, equally memorable evening was in the dead of winter.  Somehow, we were the last guests and Michael presented us with a complimentary post dinner port.  What precipitated the gift, I don’t know.  Perhaps a gentle hint that we were over staying our welcome? It didn’t feel like it.  Unusually, the music for that evening was not opera.  He loved opera – reflected in the restaurant’s name.  Somehow, the two of us – with Billy and, most unusually, Michael – ended the evening propping up the bar and having a rather loud sing-along.  One of The Husband’s fondest memories of Michael.

From time to time, Michael would appear at the market looking for some or other item for the kitchen – in the hopes that he could avoid a trip to Robertson.  Occasionally, I was able to oblige.

My last memory of Michael – a couple of weeks before Christmas – was his sitting and enjoying a  pre-service glass of wine.  I remember asking how he was, and after the walking stick.

The legs haven’t been working so well, but I am much better, thank you.

He did look better than when The Husband had commented a couple of weeks earlier.  Natter led to a more serious question and conversation about my range of products at the market.

He asked me to drop samples of certain items.  I did.  I thought it odd that it was Billy who sent a message of thanks.

Three days before New Year, the President spoke, and the country went back into a lockdown.  Other than the market, we don’t get out.  We did, though, miss Michael and his wave.

It was that other “C” that took Michael.  Mercifully, it was quick, sparing him the indignity of a too long illness.

Cruelly, that other “C” robs us – and many who knew and cared for him – of the opportunity to pay our respects to the man we shall always remember.

Michael, we hope that you are resting peacefully with your maker.  We send our condolences, love and strength to Billy, your family, the Tebaldi’s and Temenos team and to all who love and care for you.

Good bye, Michael.  Godspeed.

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.

A Taste of France – II

This simple chicken dish sounds exotic, but it isn’t really.  What adds an extra dimension to it is the Herbes de Provence.  I’ve written about them before, and use them quite often.  Those blogs, alas, are lost somewhere in cyberspace.  It turns out to be a mixed blessing.  I’m refining quite a few of my recipes and the idea of a book is beginning to develop some momentum.  Just yesterday, I was chatting with a school friend in Melbourne, Australia.  She’s been one of my staunches supporters and helped instigate this blog about six years ago.  Some of the recipes I use are inspired by chats we’ve had. On Sunday Suppers, when I said we were coming up to the third anniversary, she said

Wow! I really enjoy seeing your posts and your menus come to life.

I do love it that I have friends, some not seen for a gazillion years, who virtually join us at our table.  All through what I share here, Instagram and via Facebook.  It’s coming up three years since we started hosting Sunday Suppers in The Sandbag House.  Because we’ve not been able to host Sunday Suppers since march, I’m writing up recipes on a Sunday afternoon instead of cooking up a storm.  It’s strange.  It also seems apt to be sharing a recipe that was the main course for that first Sunday Supper, and one that takes one travelling.  Without leaving McGregor.  We also have to come to terms with this new virtual reality.  I imagine that international travel will, for the forseeable future, be severely curtailed.

Travelling through one’s food

Perhaps then, it’s apt that today’s recipe is influenced by provincial French cuisine.  Hearty, warming and comforting.  This chicken casserole is a great dish for cooler autumn, winter and early spring.  You could also cook it in the slow cooker, but I prefer doing it in the oven.  I think it would also be fabulous done over a wood fire in a cast iron pot.  Because it’s effectively a stew, it’s a long cook, so it gives busy parents time to get children tidied up and sorted while it cooks itself.

The distinct flavour comes not from the tomatoes and olives, but rather from the distinctive and unusual combination of herbes that make up the traditional Herbes de Provençe.

The blend I use is made and marketed from McGregor.  They often feature – in their packaging as part of the table decor for Sunday Suppers.

Provençale Style Chicken

This dish is not just easy, but it’s also a great way to dress up chicken.  The addition of olives and the wine add a little touch of decadence.  Especially when we all need a lift.

Oh, and of course, don’t give all the wine to that chicken!


8 chicken thighs (or joints of choice)
Vegetable/olive oil
4 large tomatoes, blanched and skinned (or 1 x tin chopped tomatoes)
1 onion, chopped*
50 g black olives (pitted)
150 – 200 ml dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 – 2 tsp McGregor Herbes de Provence*
Salt & pepper to taste

What to do

Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and the Herbes de Provence.  Brown in hot oil and set aside. Sauté the onion in the remaining oil. Add more if necessary.  When slightly glossy, add the garlic and sauté for a little longer.  Add the remaining ingredients (olives, wine and additional McGregor Herbes de Provence if liked) and deglaze the pan if it’s not oven proof.

Bake, covered, in a moderate oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  Remove the cover and bake for a further ½ hour and until the chicken skin is browned and the liquid has reduced and thickened.

  • Use shallots – they add a different dimension to the presentation
  • If you like a stronger herb flavour, add more at step 4.
  • Serve with rice, mash or hasselback potatoes and seasonal vegetables
  • This freezes well in individual portions.

Download a printable version of the recipe here.

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

Photo: Selma


Post Script

  • If this seems 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 do this, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • 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.


Bags of Provençe

After the fiery end to November, and before the aspirant grand wizard‘s arrival, December started off relatively gently.  We love the long, balmy evenings and spectacular sunsets of summer.  Even if they are viewed over the ravages of the fire and the somewhat charred vegetable patch.

A chef was among the kind souls who helped to fight the fire that afternoon, and very tongue-in-cheek, suggested a new trend:  smoked vegetables.  Particularly courgettes (zucchini).  Funnily enough, we had been told by a restauranteur in Paternoster that he was going to be experimenting with exactly that in the next while.  More of the fabulous food we ate during that trip, another time, perhaps.

Returning to the courgettes:  the moment you turn your back, they transmogrify from delicate, green fingerlings into giants that can be well-nigh unmanageable.

The charred remains of one of the courgette plants and the delicate little courgette – often hidden by the gorgeous golden flowers.

My mother loved giant courgettes – she called them marrows:  she would halve pip, and cut into chunks and boil them to death.  I am my father’s daughter:  he really didn’t enjoy the watery mush that made its way to the supper table.  Not even lashings of butter helped. I rarely boil vegetables.

Local product:  Herbes de Provençe

Not long after the fire, I was given a bag of Herbes de Provençe.  Grown locally, the herb mixture is packed in handmade bags, cleverly made from a combination of (also locally) screen printed hessian and tartan, evoking their origins in McGregor.


The brainchild of Lavender Lady, a McGregorite, whose idea it is to make the traditional flavours of Provençe available in South Africa, and with the longer term vision of creating sustainable jobs in the village.

I grow herbs and use them, fresh, in virtually everything, particularly during summer when they are abundant.  The aroma that wafted out of that bag of dry leaves and flowers was amazing.  I couldn’t work out the different scents.   How does one use them?

“Just add a pinch to whatever you’re cooking,” Lavender Lady said.


So back to the not-so-baby marrows and not being one for waste, they had to be eaten.  Flavourless, marrows are, and full of water, so I figured that the best way to deal with them was roasting.  Not confident that just this would deal with the deficit in flavour, the Herbes de Provençe had their first “outing”.  The result has, happily, become the current go-to way of dealing with the overgrown courgette.

Roast Marrows with Herbes de Provençe

Halve the marrows, remove the pips and discard.  Cut the marrow into sizes that suit you.  I’ve done them  in large chunks like in the pictures above, and also in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Herbes de Provençe roast marrows with pecorino

Sprinkle a baking tray with olive oil and place the marrows on it, skin-side down.  Drizzle with a little more olive oil and dot with butter and then sprinkle Herbes de Provençe over the marrow flesh.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes and then turn the marrows over and return to the oven for another 20 or so minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.

Remove them from the oven and turn them over and sprinkle with a sharp, hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino, and serve warm.

McGregor Herbes de Provençe

This particular blend of herbs is interesting.  There is a number of different combinations for Herbes de Provençe; it was only in the 1970’s that “Herbes de Provençe” became commercially available.  The introduction of lavender was specifically to suit the North American market.  They use these herbe fresh in Provençe, and the include savoury, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, origanum and sometimes mint, all of which grow wild in the Mediterranean.  (As I discovered when I lost myself walking down from Castillo de Bellver back to Palma when I was in Mallorca.  But that’s another story.)

Lavender Lady’s blend, McGregor Herbes de Provençe, doesn’t have the savoury or the mint, but it does include basil, parsley, fennel seeds and lavender blossom.

Herb Butter

It also makes a fabulous herb butter which works well on bread, potatoes and braai mielies (barbequed corn) – or anything else that goes well with a herb butter.

Chicken, grilled with a Herbes de Provençe rub or basting is easy and delicious.  Now I’m planning stews and hotpots with Herbes de Provençe when the weather gets cooler.  Of course, this herb blend would make the perfect bouquet garni for classic French dishes such as Beef Bourguignon and Provençale inspired chicken.

Those experiments will wait for the longer, cold evenings of winter which suddenly become a little more palatable.

Until next time, be well

Photo: Selma

The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

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 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.

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Scotch Easter Eggs in Africa

Two weekends ago, being Easter and a long weekend, the market regulars took it upon themselves to do something a wee bit different for the Saturday Market.  We couldn’t do a night market like we had, the Friday before Christmas:  for many Good Friday remains sacred and the market takes place on church property next to the hall, in the shadow of the church spire.

A sunset view of the spire

So, when the notion was flighted, the challenge was two-fold.  What could I do that was different, and which didn’t need “instant” cooking?  I don’t have the accoutrements for that.  It needed to be something that could be eaten for breakfast and/or taken home. Besides, there are other people that do bacon and eggs, and the philosophy of our little market is mostly collegial rather than competitive.  It’s too small, and the custom too limited to kill each other with competition.

My approach to an offering is based on both my own leanings towards meat-free and understanding that there are increasing numbers of people who don’t do meat and/or gluten.  What could I do that involved eggs (it was going to be Easter, after all) and no meat, preferably eaten with the minimum of cutlery?  It couldn’t be quiche or frittata – for the same reason as it couldn’t be bacon and egg…

I experimented with spinach, egg and tomato.


The theory was good:  egg on a nest of spinach and onion, baked in the oven to be served with a tomato relish.

The results shared among friends on the social media got mixed reviews.  The Husband’s:  it was imminently edible but not on the run, let alone cold.


There was a torrent of unrepeatable, hilarious repartee on my personal Facebook page in response to this picture.  Instagram followers were much more polite.

The vegetarian option was abandoned.  Sometimes I do know when I’m defeated.

I settled for a single offering and one which harks back to my childhood and yet another occasion where I chose a dish based on its name.  I don’t recall which birthday it was, but remembering where we lived the time, I must have been around about this age:

My sister and I (at the back), 1974, in Bots, Grahamstown

Even then, I used to spend time browsing through Mum’s cookery books and one recipe that appealed to me was Scotch Eggs.  It was in this book that now forms an important part of my collection of recipe books.


As luck would have it, Mr J’s mama had presented us with a clutch of little eggs from her fowl family, and my dummy run was a great success.


This time, the response on both Facebook and Instagram was enthusiastic, to say the least.

Decision made, plans were set in place and all that had to be done was the work.  A production line was called for.  Not difficult at all:


Scotch Eggs


As you see, and as usual, I made the recipe my own by adding chopped fennel and parsley to the meat;  I used two variants of a local Worcester Sauce instead of a commercially available one.

Other tips

  • To ramp up the recipe to make a large quantity (I did 16), I used medium eggs and worked on 105 to 110g of mince per egg.  Weighing out the mince helps with managing portion control and also keeps the final product uniform.  It was a lot less hassle than I thought it would be.  Actually, it made things a lot easier.
  • For perfect hard-boiled, “peelable” eggs, the first thing to remember is that in this instance, fresh is not best.The Husband, as a former poultry farmer who before he retired, was in large scale free range egg production, really knows his eggs:  an egg’s flavour is best developed about three days after it’s laid.  A fresh egg is impossible to peel.  Because eggs have a really long shelf life and because aesthetically you want a perfect egg, you can comfortably buy your eggs 7 to 10 days before you need them.
  • To hard-boil a large quantity of eggs that have no blue ring around the yolk, place room temperature eggs into a pot of cold water.  Bring to the boil.  Boil for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  For a medium egg, boil for 4 minutes.  All of this with the caveat that altitude does affect the length of cooking to get the perfect product….


It seems that the eggs, served with a choice of homemade tomato chutney or curried beans*, were a hit:  sold out and requests for more.


Also on offer at my Easter table was the pickled fish, a South African tradition.

*Recipe to come in the next while.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016


Zoodle Doodles

It’s the time of year when Sannie Boervrou‘s generosity knows no bounds.  Call them what you will, courgettes, zucchini and (not-so-baby) baby marrows, I’ve been making pickles, salad and this year, zoodles.

I had long been wanting a spiraliser, and having done a bit of homework, came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t find one that didn’t have some or other drawback.  So, given my tiny kitchen and dearth of storage space for large kitchen gadgets, the key criterion was size.  The price was a bonus because I found it on a sale.

Home I came, with what looks like a giant, double-sided pencil sharpener.  One side makes spiral shavings and the other, which I discovered the hard way, has vicious teeth, makes spaghetti-like bits of vegetables.


I did post a salad with strips of courgette, last year, but since then, I’ve not just experimented with the spiraliser, but also with the flavours.  Particularly, the vinaigrette.  Because the zoodles have a delicate (some would say bland) flavour.  Consequently, for my salads, rather than using a balsamic vinegar which could be too overpowering, I use a local red wine vinegar made in a balsamic style, and which I often use – good flavour without the heaviness of the traditional balsamic.  In addition to lettuce and forgoing the cucumber (for obvious reasons), my standard inclusion is slivers of red onion.


So, a relatively plain salad, that is a great accompaniment to virtually any meal is really easy.  Depending on the meal, add different fresh herbs for a complimentary or contrasting flavour profile.  Here I used coriander and basil and garnished with a bit of red endive.

Equally, one can add, particularly for colour, and I often do, tomatoes and olives.


What I also enjoyed, and which worked much better than the slivers of courgette, was adding zoodles to pasta with pesto.  I have mentioned (probably ad nauseum), that I make my own pasta.  Anyhow, sometimes, at the end of a hard day, I really just want to do a meal with the least possible fuss.  Served, if possible out of just one dish.  Zoodles and pasta allow one to do just that.


This, simple warm pasta salad consisted of roasted cherry tomatoes, lightly sauteed mushrooms and sweet bell peppers that were served on top of pasta and zoodles through which I had stirred basil pesto.

For those who want to avoid the carbs, zoodles make a super substitute for rice, potatoes and, of course pasta.  I’ve also been experimenting with rosti, but have a way to go to perfecting them….

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

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Magic Melon III

There is something magic about a clear night sky, the moon and stars.  Just after last year’s winter solstice, the sky was a cold, crisp and clear with a crescent moon; Venus and Jupiter very, very close by.

The north-west night sky

Then there is the magic of dawn and the equal splendour of light associated with heavy rain showers.  We had both, together.

From the porch looking towards o the driveway
View, up, to the west, whence the rain had come – in buckets

Even Melon wasn’t going to miss the magic!


A closing comment:  Since acquiring my new camera, I’ve been learning how to use it.  The only one of these pictures that was somewhat “doctored”, other than the odd crop, was the one of Melon.


Updated as an entry to “Hugh’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Week 15 – “Under” because when I read the topic of this week’s challenge, this old post came to mind – the sky, the trees and, of course, melon under the table!

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

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.