On the side

First day of December

The first of December is officially the day we “start” the festive season here in our home. Our tree gets decorated today, we switch on our fairy lights, hang a garland and listen to the first Christmas music. Then we end the day with a nice dinner by candle light.

To kickstart December 2007, a little ambiance…

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A full moon in Andorra…

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved and set him free”, said Michelangelo…

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Shimmering crystals…

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Preparations…

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A portion of dessert…

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Nostalgia…

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Montlouis moelleux…

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Lanterns in the snow…

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A White Christmas…

After all the decorating and cleaning up afterwards on this first day of the season, an easy meal is the only option. This vegetable dish is quick, there are no measurements and the hardest work is just peeling some onions and poaching an egg or two, which can be left out of course! Open a bottle of wine, finish off with a scoop of ice cream and a sauce of your choice – I love a berry coulis, but when push comes to shove, I can enjoy a vanilla ice cream just on its own. Sit back with an espresso and enjoy the lights and music and spirit of Noël.

May your December be filled with gratitude and joy.

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Vegetable gratin

  • vegetables of your choice, cleaned or peeled and cut into chunks - in the photo: sweet potatoes, red onions, brussels sprouts, parsnips and mushrooms.
  • a pickled lemon, diced
  • 2 branches of fresh rosemary
  • 2 bayleaves
  • a  few slices of a creamy camambert cheese
  • a poached egg for each person
  • créme fraîche (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
  2. Place the chunks of vegetables in an oven pan and drizzle libereally with oil. Season.
  3. Tuck the bayleaves and rosemary inbetween the vegetables.
  4. Bake the vegetables until tender.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve a portion into an ovenproof bowl.
  6. Add a dollop of créme fraîche (optional)
  7. Cover with a slice or two of Camambert cheese and put under the grill until the cheese has melted and the vegetables have a nice caramelized appearance.
  8. Slide a poached egg onto the cheese and drizzle some olive oil and finish off with some ground fresh pepper.
  9. Serve warm with brown rice, quinoa or a whole wheat bread.

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Mariaan’s “vetkoek”…. for apples and thyme…

It is an experience….a memory that doesn’t stretch too far into the past and has actually nothing to do with my mother or grandmother, or my childhood at home. Neither does it stay only a memory, and neither was it created in the kitchen. But it does take me down wander lane and I remember, and it does evoke a smile and I do have whiffs of aromas floating around me.

It is a memory that takes me back home. To where the mountains meet the seas and the vineyards in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Where a part of my heart will always be swirled up in the howl of the South-Easter wind, the gay dancing of the African sun and the misty spray of the winter rains. It takes me back to family. And it takes me back to friends.  To Mariaan and her vetkoek.

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On our visits back home, a regular stop is at Vredenheim where we stay with good friends. We step into an old home, where the smell of wooden floors and the sound of farm life remind us that we’ve been away. Time falls away after the first coffee with an accompanying koeksister and we catch up on how much the kids have changed and grown, their exciting first jobs and the latest boyfriends…We tease about each other’s grey hair and giggle about all our new little habits.  We dig into the latest gossip and ooh about the recent marriages and sigh about sad losses.

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As the sun sets magically over the mountains, the evening comes alive with  the clinging of wine glasses and popping of corks, feminine giggles in the kitchen and woody cracklings of the starting barbecue fire. It is time for braaivleis, traditional way. Real wingerdstompies (vineyard stumps) ; no gas or bought charcoal or brickets or fancy tools. Fresh meat. Fresh simple salads. And vetkoek, drizzled with golden syrup, or draped with spoonfuls of homemade apricot jam.

We sit back by the cleared table; dishes cleaned, last coffee of the day. We start telling our stories, filled with history and culture, nostalgia and invention. We exaggerate, we colour, we gesture, we interrupt, we laugh.  And finally, when the moon starts nodding and the night becomes very quiet, we move on to our rooms, content with being who we are and where we are.

An old memory has come alive, pulsating with the excitement of new details and it will always be the same and it will always be different and it will aways be precious.

Mariaan’s vetkoek

  • 1 c lukewarm water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 500 g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 11/2 tsp melted butter
  • Oil for deep frying
  1. Pour half of the water over the sugar and dry yeast. Leave aside for 15 minutes until foamy.
  2. Mix the salt in to the flour. Pour the flour onto a flat surface and make a well in the middle. Pour the yeast and melted butter into the well.
  3. Mice with your fingers and add more water until you have a dough that can be kneaded. Knead well, cover and leave aside in a warm corner to rise until twice the original size.
  4. Heat up the oil and test with a small piece of dough….if sizzling, the oil is ready.
  5. Keep the temperature low. Pinch a round ball from the dough, the size of a walnut.  Flatten and stretch it out and fry in the oil until a nice golden colour. Remove from the oil and drain on toweling paper.
  6. Serve with a nice honey, or syrup, jam of your choice, grated cheese or a filling of curried ground beef, or chicken…any filling of your choice. It is delicious slightly warm,  but is just as great cold.
  7. If you want it real easy…..ask your baker for a handful of his bread dough, go home, pinch off some pieces and just deep fry it!

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This is an entry for Apples and Thyme. See Inge at Africanvanielje and Jeni at the Passionate palate for more.


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