Tag Archives: comfort food

Plum boozy

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Well, on Monday the north half of the planet tipped over to the Dark Side – and no, I’m not referring to the day’s usual bucket load of news crud. I’m thinking about the arrival of autumn, and with it the frantic last weeks of harvest time for lazy gardeners who have been neglecting their veggie patch. The Hubbit trundled next door with a large bucket swinging from a sticky-out thing on his tractor, and brought it back full of plums.

Okay, full disclosure: He did that a couple weeks ago, when I was inundated with dogs, and the plums in the bottom half of the bucket (we’re talking a 20 gallon bucket here, okay? Nothing small about the Hubbit!) went squishy and oozy and … Well, I sweetly requested more plums, and while he was off getting them I tipped the first lot into the sink.

They had started to ferment. But dang … that many plums was way too many for my few remaining hens. My flock has declined inexorably over the summer; two more fell to a visiting husky last week, and I’m now down to seven. Twenty gallons of fermenting plums is way too much for seven hens, even aided by a large roo.

Plus, I’d been googling plum preserving recipes on various websites, and some people intentionally ferment their plums. Meanwhile, regular fruit canning recipes demand juice. Long story short, it went against nature to waste these organically fermented remnants of juiciness, so I didn’t. I washed them off, picked out the pits, squeezed and massaged, and after adding water and straining off the chewy bits (for chickenly delectation), the resulting juice was quite pleasantly plummy. I put it in a large pot, added a couple cups of sugar and a generous slosh of lemon juice, and let it boil while I got busy halving and depitting the nice firm plums the Hubbit had brought me following his second trip to the neighbor’s tree. (Only half a bucket this time, thankfully!)

I filled seven quart jars and topped them off with the juice. Oh – I should mention, before adding the juice, I made it even more delicious by sloshing in about half a bottle of witblitz, aka mampoer, which the Hubbit insisted on buying on a visit to South Africa about 10 or 15 years ago, even though neither of us is an especially enthusiastic drinker. Witblitz (pronounced vitblits – it means “white lightning”) is the Boer answer to moonshine. It claims to be 50 proof peach brandy but it also works quite well as rocket fuel. Also, turns out it tastes not too bad when it’s been sitting in the back of a kitchen cupboard for 15 years.

In any case, the plum juice is bitchin’, and I know this because one of the quart jars didn’t seal properly during the canning process, so of course ice cream was acquired and … yum-meee!

Juicy plums and ice cream, with a hint of witblitz. Can life get any better? I think not.

Anyway, that took care of most of the plums. This morning, I processed the last of them while chatting with my bestie, Twiglet, via WhatsApp. Dang, I love technology – don’t you? Forget all the nastiness and spying and manipulation … I just love being able to sit at my dining table, sorting and slicing plums, while chatting to someone I love even though she’s clear around the other side of the planet. I ended up with a little over five pounds of sliced, still firm plums, which I dumped into a large bowl along with some cinnamon sticks, a slosh of vanilla, a sprinkle of cloves, a couple cups of sugar, and about five cups of non-witblitz brandy. (You’ll find the actual recipe here.) That’s now in a couple of jars, hiding in the back of a cupboard and waiting for the holiday season.

So much for plums. Tomorrow I tackle the tomatoes. And oh, holy cow, do I have a LOT of tomatoes! Well, one tomato at a time they will be peeled and cooked, and then canned or frozen.

I’m really not good at the domestic goddess thing, generally. Or the farm wife thing. But for all that, I find this work immensely satisfying. It will be so good, in the chill dark of January, to eat food that I raised myself in our good earth under a summer sun.

Do you find yourself feeling sad as the days start to get shorter? Or do you welcome the change in seasons? Would a dop of African moonshine make you feel better about it?

And the winner is…

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… a mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and a peanut butter sandwich. Not fancy, and it makes my stomach hurt, but it’s still the ultimate comfort food.

It was the tomatoes and apricots that did me in, mind you. Kuja stopped by and we wandered out into the veggie garden, and – because she’s not one for half measures – she got busy picking pretty much everything that was ready. I’ve been wanting to do this – no one benefits from food left sitting on the vine – and somehow that resulted in just having to taste a tomato … and then a different one … and another. So my mouth started singing the Halleluja Chorus, which woke up my stomach, and then a few other things happened that demanded action … and so, to end an interminable story, I ate the samn damwich. It was yummy!

Anyway, I still think I’m a winner. Three days of no food? That’s pretty darn good for me! I am going to try to make fasting a regular part of my life, and I need to have another go at keto … although it’s really hard to wrap my head around being completely carb-free when we have all sorts of trees and squashy things and tomatoes right out there.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good. I’m tired, but I feel energized. I’m also as happy as all get out because Peter Pan is back … I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Peter Pan, apart from a brief mention here … Hmm, where to begin?

I’ll begin with a picture and end with a promise to tell you more next time I write. Right now, I need to use this welcome energy burst to Get Shit Done in time for an early night, because tomorrow morning I am once again taking up my quill and reconnecting with Henrietta Gurdy. I’ve told you about Henrietta – I mentioned her by name here, but she’s changed a lot since then. I learned just recently that someone I met at the PNWA Writer’s Conference last year is gifting me her reservation for this year, which gives me just five weeks to make Henrietta presentable.

Anyway … this is Peter Pan…

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He’s a tad more hairy than when this was taken in December 2016, but still the eternal boy. I’ve missed having him around!

And now I must go unskunk a dog. Gotta love life on the farm!

Do you ever find that winning and losing are hard to tell apart? 

The Olde Buzzard and the Easter bunny

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After my mother died we put my father in a home.

Funny how that sounds like a confession! It sounds like abandonment, like kids who don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with a dotty, demanding old man.

In fact it was the best we could do for him. The home – actually two houses on adjoining suburban lots – was a little shabby, but the lawn was green and mowed smooth enough for walkers and wheelchairs, and the tree between the houses was huge, with comfortable chairs set out in the shade. The caregivers were kind. The food was delicious and plentiful. It didn’t feel like an institution, but it was safe, staffed by people who understood how to care for people with his condition.

He had a little room to himself that opened out onto a grassy area. Outside the sliding glass door we put potted plants that used to stand on their stoep – his and Marmeee’s – and a small clay garden gnome that my sister the Kat had given them. The room itself was very small, but we made it big with the framed photographs from their trips to America, and the life-size photograph of the first (and last) trout Marmeee ever fished for, the intensely colorful blanket she had crocheted on the bed, a few books that we hoped he might still be able to read. You know … the random odds and ends that one hopes, against all odds, will make a place home.

Lindt Easter bunny

Oh, and a chocolate Easter bunny. That was a housewarming gift from me; of all his children, I’m the one who has inherited his chocaholic genes in their most potent form. He loved plain chocolate with licorice shoelaces, and as a child I gave him some in a brown paper bag every birthday – and then demanded my share, which he would eke out with a stingy hand. You haven’t been able to get licorice shoelaces for years, but he was happy with chocolate on its own – always plain; he didn’t want any potential chocolate space in the slab taken up by nuts or raisins or other junk.

But that was for everyday munching. Everyone knows Easter chocolate is better – a special treat, guaranteed to make any situation more bearable! (Actually, in the US Easter chocolate mostly sucks. But this was in South Africa, and anyway it was a Lindt bunny.)

I put it right next to his bed where he couldn’t miss it, and imagined him nibbling on it on his first night in his new bed. But when I visited him the next day it was still there, untouched.

I picked it up and brandished it at him. “Oy! You didn’t eat your bunny!” I said.

He blinked at it bemusedly. “Is that mine?”

“Yes, you silly nit! That’s why it’s next to your bed!”

He looked down at the bed he was sitting on (there was space for only one chair in his room) and fingered the crocheted blanket. “Oh! Is this my bed? This looks like the blanket Mom made.”

“Yes, Dad,” I replied gently. “This is your bed. You live here now. And this -” I brandished the bunny at him – “is your own chocolate Easter bunny! You must eat it before it gets old and yucky.”

“It’s an Easter bunny? Well, when is Easter then?” he asked.

“It was a few weeks ago. Never mind about Easter – we’ve already celebrated that. But the store had a bunch of leftover chocolate bunnies on special so I got you one.”

He took it, stroked the ribbon with his forefinger. Said, “I think I’d better save this for Easter. It’s so pretty… It wouldn’t be right to eat it on an ordinary day.”

The next time I visited I took a slab of plain Cadbury milk chocolate, which I put into the top drawer of his bedside table, where he had no difficulty finding it. The bunny was still there … and it was still there a week later when I went to say goodbye before flying back home to Washington. I wonder whether he ever ate it? I like to think that someone eventually slipped off the red ribbon, peeled away the gold paper, and shared it with him. I like to think the taste of good chocolate melting on his tongue brought him a moment of simple pleasure.

But if my sister the Egg found it when she went to clear out his room, and either ate it or gave it away … well, that’s okay too. At least it didn’t sit there long enough to get stale.

The ultimate brownie

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When I got back into blogging just a couple and a half weeks ago, I promised myself I would post something every week … but friends, the post that was supposed to go up on Tuesday is just so hard to write – yet impossible to ignore.

So you’ll get it next Tuesday. In the meantime, here is my recipe for brownies. I have had some need of comfort food lately, and I have to tell you, these are the best.

Note #1: For those poor souls who don’t have access to cranberries, these brownies are still outstanding without them. I just like the way the tart cranberry flavor cuts the sweetness of all the chocolate. Maybe you can think of an alternative … candied orange might work, provided it’s the good stuff, not the nasty plastic pebbles that renders American Christmas cakes good for nothing but holding doors open.

Note #2: I’m serious about the quality of the chocolate chips. If you’re not going to use good ones, don’t bother … just buy a box mix of brownie batter and call it good.

Note #3: The baking time is an approximation. They’re done when a knife comes out with no actual raw brownie mix on it. They’re overdone if the knife comes out dry – those chocolate chips are supposed to be soft!

Note #4: I usually double the quantity … but you do you.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town

My brownies never seem to last long enough for anyone to remember to photograph them. Instead, here is a view of Cape Town from the Kirstenbosch Garden, on the flanks of Table Mountain. (If you think it’s peculiar to illustrate a recipe post with a random picture of scenery, take it up with Ellen. Irrelevant photos are her idea – I deny all responsibility.)

CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BROWNIES

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons soft butter (5 oz / 140 g)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa (90 ml)
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
½ cup chocolate chips (use Ghirardelli or equivalent, not Hershey. I like semi-sweet.)
½ cup chopped nuts (I like either almonds or pecans.)
¼-½ cup dried cranberries (depending on personal preference.)

  1. Set oven to 320F (160C)
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat in eggs, then sift in cocoa, flour and salt.
  4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cranberries.
  5. Bake in greased 8″ (20 cm) square pan, about 25 minutes

Enjoy!

Lazy entertaining

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What better to do on a warm, clear spring Saturday than to invite a friend over for braai – sorry, barbecue, because this is America – but whatever you call it, it involves steak raised on our own pasture, and a variety of delicious salady things. Of course, the dessert is unmistakably South African, and that’s what I want to share with you today – because it’s easy, scrumptious, and ideal for any but the hottest weather. Ladies and gentlemen of the kitchen, I give you…

Malva pudding!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 cup milk.

While it’s heating, take 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp apricot jam and 1 egg, and beat well together.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp bicarb (aka baking soda), 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the heated liquids to the egg and sugar mixture, while stirring or beating slowly. Mix well.

Bake at 350 F (180 C) in a covered dish for 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out dry. (Choose a baking dish that has at least an inch clear at the top after you pour in the batter, because you’ll need room to add the sauce.)

While it is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream, 6 oz (170 g) butter, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup hot water. Stir to mix, and do not allow them to boil.

When you remove the pudding from the oven, immediately pour on the hot sauce. (It can take a while to soak in. Be patient, and add all of it. This is what transforms the pudding from a mere cake to something irresistible!)

Serve hot or cold. I like it with plain unwhipped cream, but it’s also good with ice cream, custard or whipped cream.

A variation that I enjoy – and this is what I made today – is what I call “Christmas Malva Pudding”. Every year when I bake my Christmas cakes (dang, I could have sworn I’d given you my recipe, but apparently I forgot last year! That will have to wait until this November!) I end up with a whole lot of excess fruit mix. I pack this into bottles, glug in the brandy, and store it in the pantry. Every now and then I slosh in a bit more brandy to keep it happy. This makes a yummy addition to malva pudding (I add about 1 cup to the recipe above) and brownies (I guess I’ll have to share that recipe one day too!) More enthusiastic cooks than I could probably come up with a host of other recipes that would use it. Any that’s left over in November simply goes into the next batch of Christmas cakes.

Oh – and no, this is not remotely ketogenic. But when your diet choices are about lifestyle, not D.I.E.T, you can allow yourself some flexibility. Just don’t overdo it – because if your body is used to eating low-carb, something this rich and sweet will make you feel yuck. I plan to send the leftovers home with my guest today!

How are you celebrating the changing seasons? Do you have a favorite fall-back any-occasion guaranteed-winner dish that you like to serve?