Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Winter in the Karoo

Winter has officially arrived – well as far as we here in the Karoo are concerned. 
Definitely soup, comfort food and fires weather. 

And although it is very difficult getting up early in the morning, once up, it is nice to be dressed warmly with a freezing cold nose and pink cheeks for a change.  In a month or two we will be sick and tired of the weather, but for now we are enjoying the change in seasons.  Of course, knowing that the next season is Spring makes it worthwhile having to endure the cold.

I enjoy the late afternoon scenes and sunsets, but once the sun has dipped behind the mountains, the cold descends very quickly. Nights are so clear and crisp in winter and Kate has enjoyed being able to take stunning photos.  She finds the centre pivots especially interesting as seen below.

Well, we can all be pleased that we don’t have to do the job which our current guests are doing.  They are professional divers.........in the Karoo???  Yes, they are working on the refurbishment of Grassridge Dam which is not far from us.  And although they have spent many weeks on and off with us, we hadn’t been to see them on the job until Friday.  We certainly have a new and profound respect for them!  It is quite an operation and a lot of equipment is necessary.  But I am in awe of them diving into freezing water, staying under for up to an hour at a time and doing work that most of us would consider dangerous on dry land.... drilling, breaking up huge rocks etc etc.........and all by feeling their way as the water is muddy brown and visibility nil. The weather has been particularly cold – Friday brought sun, wind, rain and sleet and Saturday was icy cold with wind coming off the distant snowy mountains!  Monday was minus 3 degrees and bakkies battled to get going in the early morning - before sunrise when their day starts! So, imagine going off to work knowing what awaits.  Brave and tough men each and every one of them and so nice as well. 

We really enjoy having them here with us and providing all their meals which are much appreciated.  On Sunday they had a melt-in-the-mouth tender Karoo lamb roast and veggies with Chocolate Cake for pudding / afternoon tea.  And supper was beef and vegetable soup, homemade bread and Macaroni Cheese. I have decided to share my recipe which I always use for the Macaroni Cheese which our family enjoys and any leftovers freeze well for a quick and easy light meal.

Quick and Easy Macaroni Cheese

1 cup    Macaroni (dry)
2 cups  Milk
2           Eggs
1 cup    Cheese - grated
1 Tbs    Butter
1           Tomato - sliced thinly
2 tsp     Maizena
2 tsp     Dry mustard
Salt and pepper
A dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Boil macaroni in salt water until tender and drain
Put cheese in a bowl and reserve some to sprinkle on top
Add mustard, maizena, salt, pepper and cayenne to cheese
Add eggs one at a time and mix well
Boil milk, butter and macaroni together
Add to the mixture in the bowl
Pour into a buttered dish, sprinkle cheese over the top
Decorate with tomato slices
Bake at 180 deg for 30 +- minutes until browned and set
Serves six

Until next time, stay warm and cosy!


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Back to our Blog at last!

It has been weeks (actually months) since my last posting.  And I can hardly believe how this year is flying by already.  Since December we seem to have been on the go constantly.
Our darling granddaughter, Emily, spent part of January with us before she and her Dad and Mom and little brother left for Montreal, Canada. She had such fun ‘on the farm’.  She particularly enjoyed the chickens plus going with Grandpa in the bakkie, swimming, playing with the kids next door, playing at the river, baking with Granny, swinging and so much more. She and young Hayden Bitcon from Bahrain had a ball swinging on a tyre swing as can be seen below. It made me realize how much there is for young people to do on farms – I wish more children had the chance to experience getting out and about with no need for the constantly attached cell phone and couch potato TV  time most common during holidays.  Once they get involved with helping with the chickens, going into the veldt in the bakkie and breathing the fresh air while looking at fascinating rocks and stones I often hear “this is so cool!”

During February we were involved in preparing for Kate and Ruaan’s wedding in March.  There was a pool to be installed plus other garden improvements which were long overdue and are a welcome addition.  A garden is never finished, thank goodness, and work goes on as and when time allows. My Granny was an avid gardener on the farm next door and I have this clear picture of her with her old straw hat on going about her job of continually increasing and improving her garden.  If I have just a small bit of her in me, I am lucky.  Mind you, my mother wasn’t known as ‘Stella Blom’ for nothing – always snaffling slips wherever she went and still does to this day, much to my father’s irritation!  And why not?! – it is a joy to have bits and pieces in one’s garden which remind you of where they came from and the people who so generously gave them to you.  Makes a garden so much more special.
The wedding was a very special day – farmy and down to earth.  It rained for two days solidly before the big day much to my horror.  But thankfully, the sun shone on the bride and groom for the afternoon and everyone had a good time.  The speeches were the best and funniest I had heard at a wedding in a very long time.  And the help we had from our family and friends was quite something to behold.  It is just fantastic being part of this close community – something which not many townies may ever experience!
cradock farm wedding

And now more chicken news as always. Young  guests, Cameron and Luke from Johannesburg, had the full benefit of our darling new baby chicks and were a great help putting them to bed and giving them big dollops of love.  We have two lots of babies – one of twelve and another of seven.  All surviving and thriving – but enough now!  We started with six laying hens and six bantams eighteen months ago and have had a few losses to creatures that prowl in the night but our gains have been enormous – currently we are up to thirty two of all ages, sizes and colours!  So now, we need to find homes for the cockerels as there are currently six which compete before sunrise and I imagine our guests could start demanding chicken pie on a regular basis!

 Our 'little' lamb which is now called Lambie was introduced in a previous blog.  He has grown into a lovable, mielie munching teenager who loves Kate as his own mother.  Mind you, when he sees me he comes running - always hoping for a tasty morsel or two.  He has taken to headbutting our gardener Michael and I watched with great mirth one evening as we were putting the chicks to bed.  He had one stick to herd the chickens and one to fight off Lambie.

Next blog, I will give you a recipe for Macaroni Cheese which is a favourite in our family.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fruits, Fowls & Father Christmas

I thought I would talk about the activities keeping farmers busy at this time of the year, but it is quite prudent to talk about what is keeping farmers wives busy right now!  With the abundance of fruit starting to ripen, jam making is in full swing.  And the aroma of apricot jam bubbling away on the stove is such a vivid reminder of my youth growing up with an extremely industrious mother, grandmother and aunts who were the most excellent farmer’s wives I have had the privilege to know in my life.

Apart from apricot jam, stewed apricots are dead easy to make and are delicious with cream or custard.  We had guests overnight – in fact my dear cousin Liz who is the eldest of the brood of six who grew up in this house, her husband and two grandchildren – and I realized that we had no fruit juice in the house.  It was a hot and thirsty day and I thought for a few seconds  (actually panicked ever so mildly) and then a thought occurred to me that we had apricots but how to use them for juice?  So I took some of the stewed fruit with its juice, gave it a few seconds in the blender and added iced water and there it was, juice declared ‘delicious’ by our guests young and old.

The trees are groaning with fruit this year and so far luckily no hail to damaged fruit and trees yet.  Just birds and monkeys in their elements.  So we are picking plums and apricots every day as they ripen.  The figs are starting to ripen slowly and in the new year they will be needing attention.
As I sit here looking out at the garden, a beady eyed fowl is checking me out hoping to find a way to get in as she has a fascination with inside the ‘big’ house right, more than ever.  She has taken to sneaking into one of the bedrooms to lay her daily egg, much to my horror and our guests delight.  On Monday morning while our guests were having breakfast she snuck onto their unmade bed and sat there for at least an hour before depositing her beautiful egg in a conveniently cosy nest in a fluffy blanket.  The guests were amazed that she stood her ground and did not budge while they pointed and took photo’s.  They had to leave and when I went in to check on her, there was the egg still warm and snug.  Since then she has returned every day (without being detected while we all go about our daily work) and now lays on a bookshelf!

Last Saturday we had a surprise visit from Father Christmas after tennis at the tennis club.  He apparently had got lost,  so Michael volunteered to go out on his bike to see if he could be found.  He was found in a land not far from his intended destination, his reindeers absolutely delighted to find Uncle Sinclair’s wonderful, luscious lucerne.  They apparently refused to budge until they had indulged and as it was getting late and he still had make his way to America via Cape Town, he happily hopped up on the bike and arrived full of spirits ringing his bell.  The children were quite beyond themselves with delight and sat wide eyed while he told his story and hauled out their gifts – first making quite sure that they had been ”good and clean and nice” since he last saw them.  He even became reacquainted with some of the fathers and grandfathers who he remembered quite well from many years past.  He declared that he was now 140 years old and still good as new!

And so we head for Christmas next week which seems to have popped up out of the blue this year (time flies when hands and minds are kept busy).
Wishing you and your families good health and happiness for the coming year and enjoy a relaxed Christmas this year with loved ones.
Regards, Anne

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Silver Creek Mountain Band Sunday

If you missed our fabulous humdinger of a Sunday here at Lowlands Country House I am so sorry for you!  We put on a laid back Sunday show featuring the Silver Creek Mountain Band and had close to 90 people turn out for some serious fun. Everyone arrived and found their spot under trees, on the lawns or in the tent.  We served a variety of breads (made by my husband Dave who had many hats on that day!), butter, cheese, preserved figs and jams. 

The band played wonderful music which everyone remembers from the good old days when music was great (the sixties, seventies, before and after).  If you are looking for foot tapping, singing, drinking, eating music then the Silver Creek Mountain Band is a must.  And man, can those three guys do the job!!  Even the younger people love all that music and I know that it was thoroughly enjoyed by absolutely everyone – our staff included who were hopping and bopping in the kitchen.  What a day in many ways.  We had been praying for good weather and up until that very day we had great weather but as lunch was being served outdoors, a gale sprang up out of almost nowhere accompanied by driving rain.  So it was a mad scramble to get the food under cover, the guests out of the rain and umbrellas saved from a journey to outer space. After a short while calm returned, the band cranked up again and we relaxed and had a great afternoon.  For those of you who missed this, we will do it again and again in the future as I can’t think of a better way to chill!  In fact I was so chilled I felt like dancing in the rain and being the latent hippie I most probably am at heart and do the Woodstock thing with no shoes and lank wet hair dotted with flowers.  I’ll tell you it was quite tempting but then I remembered just in time that I am respectable(?) granny and the kids toes would have curled in horror!

Silver Creek Mountain Band have been around forever and now live in Cradock from where they tour around the country.   Do yourself a favour and check out their website to see just how dedicated they are to damn good music and down to earth living – fabulous guys!

The children also had a great time running around, playing and at times listening to the music in fascination.  So good to see teenagers also joining in and enjoying a day on the farm listening to music. 

This darling little boy above, Matthew, was one of the children having a great day out on the farm - chasing chickens, pretending he was a warrior with a reed as his sword and generally being edibly cute!  
We partied until rather late, although there were a few farmers who couldn’t resist a late afternoon kip once tummies were full and went home (you know who you are, you faders!). 
And funny thing about the chickens – while we were setting up, they were fascinated with the activity and insisted on hopping onto every table, chair and lucerne bale checking what these foreign things were on their turf.  Once the music started I imagine they were foot tapping under the bushes in between being chased by the youngsters.  I told one of our little guests how the chickens were born in the basket of pot pourri in the dining room (check back a few blogs) and he is now pestering his mother to borrow the basket so he can also have some chicks ‘borned’ in it.
And I just can’t resist sharing a cupcake recipe with you – actually not so much the cupcake as the icing and decorating which Kate did.  So pretty and quite a good look for a vintage style party or wedding.  The ‘leaves’ are slices of green fig preserve with tiny fresh briar roses.

125g Butter
155g Caster sugar
2 eggs
115g Flour
1 1/2 t Baking pwder
150 ml Milk
  • Preheat oven to 180 and line muffin tins with paper cases
  • Beat together butter and sugar with an electric beater until pale and creamy
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition
  • Stir in flour and milk and spoon into cases
  • Bake for 15 minutes until skewer comes out clean
  • Take out of muffin pan and cool on a rack
  • Ice when cool with vanilla flavoured butter icing and decorate
I make double quantities every time as they are delicious and get snapped up in no time at all.
Till next time when we have a look at some farming activities keeping farmers extremely busy at this time of the year.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Fish....and the fish

As mentioned in the last posting, we had a great Fish River Canoe Marathon once again.  The valley was taken over by hoards of paddlers, partners, families, seconders and various hangers on.
Thousands of ‘foreigners’ here to enjoy the rushing water, beautiful scenery and Karoo hospitality. 
We really enjoyed having all our guests to stay and this was echoed by almost everyone I spoke to.  It was wonderful for us to share what we have with paddlers and their families who made a long weekend out of the occasion.  They children had a great time on the farm. So, every year we thoroughly look forward to sharing our beautiful valley with those not fortunate to live here.

Talking about fish................ well there is a jolly good reason why the Fish River in so named.  Have a look at the photo Kate took of the local fishermen who regularly catch fish in the river and sell them.  Not only are those living at the coast are lucky enough to go fishing!

Our guests were introduced to our lamb who started off life as ‘Snowy’, then became ‘Hansie’ and was called ‘Shaun’ by our little visitors.  Shaun (Shorn).......what an appropriate name for a sheep!!!
He is a Xhosa speaking (bleating?) sheep and responds to his “Dad” Vellie whom he loves and vice versa.

A sad update on my darling chicks – their wonderful mother died a few days ago – cause unknown.  We noticed her getting weaker and weaker over two days and less mobile and despite our valiant efforts to feed her and give her a boost, she expired, much to my sadness.  I did tell her repeatedly that she was a good and brave and kind mother, so hopefully she went off feeling good about herself!  I must be getting soft in the head!?  But she taught me quite a lot about matching, hatching and finally dispatching - a patient and fiercely protective mother.  And, considerately, she waited until her chicks were able to take care of themselves – poor little orphans!

A recipe I have been asked for is this:

1 packet       Tennis Biscuits
1 tin              Condensed milk
1 small tin    Crushed pineapple (440gr)
750ml           Custard
1/3 cup         Lemon juice
·       Make custard, medium thickness
·       Put a layer of Tennis Biscuits in a large glass dish
·       Pour over hot custard and repeat with another layer of biscuits and custard
·       Beat condensed milk with lemon juice and fold in pineapple
·       Pour over top of base
·       Decorate with dollops of whipped cream and crushed biscuits or as desired
This makes a large pudding and is lovely on its own or served with ice cream

Take care – from a sunny and bloomingly beautiful Karoo.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Busy, busy, busy!

We have just survived another Fish River Canoe Marathon once again when this area becomes alive with people, canoes and a great atmosphere.  Canoeists, seconders, family and friends descend on Fish River and Cradock and in between and the locals have to fit in or ......... oh, never mind  - we love it and enjoy the buzz.  More of this next time.
But this area doesn’t only come alive for the Fish.  We have been enjoying the brilliant variety of veld flowers and after the excessive rains this year it has been a particularly good season.  The Kapok bushes are snow white and we have noticed birds making use of the downy white fluff for their nests.  I went off in search of freesias last week which I remember with great fondness from my childhood.  There are certain areas where they grow in amongst the rocks and I wondered if they still did.  Well, to my absolute joy, there they were in profusion – creamy coloured with the edges of the older flowers turning mauve.  Kate and I picked a big bunch and we had them in a vase on the desk to enjoy  their simple beauty and strong scent.  Nature at it’s best!!  If only I could let you smell them somehow – the freesias we all know haven’t  a patch on their wild cousins (probably ancestors?)!  Walking through the veld looking for flowers is so rewarding as one misses so much driving along without seeing all the tiny plants nestling and hiding under rocks seeking shelter from the harshness.
The garden is starting to bloom with the irises, roses, mock orange and banksias showing off most beautifully.  The vegetable garden is beginning to look lush and I have been able to gather spinach, radishe, lettuce and soon peas will be podding and ready for picking.  The strawberries have started flowering and need to be protected soon from the birds plus all the fruit trees are looking healthy and are laden with the tiniest fruit.  Hopefully this year the hail will play ball and stay away or be kind if it has to fall.  It did so much damage last year, so we are holding thumbs.  Can’t wait to be able to bottle fruit and veg this year.
Sweetcorn, carrots, bringals, beetroot, butternut, pumpkins, onions  are amongst the crops planted and being planted plus a new herb garden is being born which is my pride and joy as I have always wanted to have one. 
Now and update on our darling chickens............ the nine babies were doing wonderfully well until last weekend when four disappeared mysteriously while we were away in Morgan Bay attending my nephew’s wedding. I was heartbroken on our return, but have now come to terms with the loss.  Actually the mother is able to cope far better with the remaining five and they are strong and happy and give endless pleasure to the little people who have visited us over the past two weeks.

We had 19 members of the DSG/St Andrews Prep Orchestra with us for two nights last week and it was such fun to be surrounded by such well behaved and enthusiastic young people.  They gave  performances in the Fish River Tennis Club Hall, the Moederkerk and Elizabeth Jordaan Old Age Home in Cradock and I am sure all who heard them were enchanted.

Until next time,

Friday, 9 September 2011

Lambs Galore!

‘It’s raining lambs, Hallelujah’  – or so it would seem!  There are dozens of the most darling little things playing and cavorting all over.  The weather has been sunny and hot and the feeling of spring in the air is exciting and makes me feel productive and looking forward to a bounty of flowers, fruit and vegetables.  The lambs seem to be conscious of the change in the weather as well and in the early mornings and late afternoons can be seen playing together just like children – they chase each other and jump with unbounded joy.  Quite the most heart-warming sight to behold!  Once the sun starts to set, there is an almighty cacophony of mothers calling and lambs answering so they can all be found and settled down for the night close together for feeding, warmth and safety.  Nature is incredible!!  Just this morning I went for a walk and took photos of a sight I found fascinating. It was around midday and really hot and there were at least a dozen lambs in the shade being looked after by a two mothers while their mommies had time off to graze quietly on their own.  When a mother came back to fetch her lamb and offer a milk snack, the mother first smelt her baby’s bottom and once she was sure it was hers, the lamb was allowed to feed.  If a lamb tries to feed off one of the aunties, she shrugs it off and walks away – no free milk/lunches anywhere it appears!

And the birds are equally aware of the glorious weather.  As I sit here with the door wide open to let in the sun and fresh air, the only sound I can hear are birds of all shapes and sizes chirping and calling.  There is a palpable excitement in the air with much nest making and frisky behaviour going on around here. A dove is making a nest in the walnut tree right near the stoep, so we will watch their progress with interest. Doves are cooing and courting, cocks crowing and strutting around importantly, fish eagles soaring high with their distinctive calls and of course the raucous hadedas shouting louder than all the others.  They are either happy to see me and greet me every time I am in the garden or they are warning their friends and family that the ugly old woman is hanging around again, so beware, she’s going to shout at us again and scare the children.  I confess that there have been times when I have told them in my loudest and hopefully most threatening voice to SHUT UP!! 

And now on to the Pecan Pie I have spoken of previously.  I have been asked – actually begged to give it to everyone who has tasted it.  So here it is.  It has an indecent amount of butter (and I confess that I only use butter but margarine can also be used) in it, but every now and then it is such a joy to eat something so decadent and mouth-watering that, oh what the hell, just do it!  I usually serve it with lightly whipped cream.  Ice cream can also be served with it for pudding but I personally find it way too rich.


300 gr        Flour
3 level tsp   Caster sugar
210 gr        Butter (or marg)
·       Rub well together (I do it in the food processor)
·       Keep 1/3 aside
·       Line a tart dish, sides as well

1 tin          Condensed milk
2 Tbsp       Syrup
1-2 Tbsp    Vanilla (Tbsp not tsp!)
100 gr       Pecan nuts (or walnuts)
125 gr       Butter (or marg)

·       Melt topping ingredients in a pot – DO NOT BOIL
·       Allow to cool slightly and add nuts
·       Pour over pastry in dish
·       Crumble remaining pastry over the filling
·       Bake at 180 deg for +- 35 minutes until brownish

When we have guests and I serve this for pudding I usually put the remains out at breakfast the next morning and there are always a few who can’t resist a small piece with their coffee.  Utterly indulgent!