Mandela Day deferred

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It’s taken us over a month to complete the project we started in celebration of Mandela Day on 18 July – to create a study/play room for the farm kids living at Vastrap. Instead of 67 minutes, we worked on and off for 35 days and it all finally came together yesterday! This being the year after Madiba’s death and the year we celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, we wanted to do something extra special. Children and education were two things very close to Madiba’s heart so we thought this would be a fitting tribute, but at the same time also very necessary to improve the lives of the kids living in our community.

Over the past year Quentin has employed a dedicated team of builders to upgrade our staff accommodation and facilities. As part of this project, a large new ablution facility was built and an extra room was added on for the purpose of housing temporary workers we employ for specific projects, such as sheep shearing and fence mending. At the back of our minds we also thought the room could be used as a homework room for kids since they often don’t have a quiet place to study. In the meantime, having a new baby myself, I also became more aware of the little pre-schoolers who don’t have much to do in the day. My right-hand man in the garden, Tseliso has a 1.5 year old daughter and there really is no place for her to go until she turns 6 or 7, which is unacceptable given the importance of early childhood education in cognitive development. There are about 50 kids living on our farm with their parents and grandparents, ranging from 1 year to 18 years of age.

As Mandela Day approached, I became more convinced than ever that we needed to do something for them, but I knew that I couldn’t do a proper job without help. New toys are ridiculously expensive and there’s no way that I could’ve bought enough things to fill a playroom. After Quentin generously agreed to move out the workers and to allow us to set up the room for the children, I sent an appeal to friends in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to ask their kids to spend 67 minutes clearing out their playrooms of things they didn’t need. Well, we shook the tree and were overwhelmed by what fell out! We did two trips to Joburg with cars packed full of things plus a trailer for bigger things. Then we had to take the bakkie to Bloemfontein to collect a whole lot of furniture and toys from friends there. It really was amazing!

After the craziness of our auction passed, I had time to go and look for second hand furniture to use as storage and desks for the older kids to work at. I found an amazing shop in Ladybrand that had everything I needed at affordable prices. I got some blackboard paint and dedicated yesterday to putting it all together with the help of our builders, Tseliso and Livia’s nanny Matshepang who also has two young boys. We had such a lovely day creating order out of initial chaos! Unpacking all the boxes we found a treasure trove of books, puzzles, lego, blocks, colour books, exercise books, games and toys for little kids. We connected a DVD player to the existing TV and set up the radio. We also were able to create a nice chill out space using two beautiful beds we were given. We will keep all our recycled paper from our office and make sure there is a constant stock of pens and crayons. It was a cold and rainy day, but the large windows made the room feel bright and cheerful. Livia joined in the action and the little kids just watched in awe as the whole thing unfolded. They were totally overwhelmed and I don’t think they really understood that this is their room now. I left before the school-going kids got home, but I’m sure they’re going to have a great weekend exploring and hopefully studying too! I cannot thank everyone enough who helped make this a reality.

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Time flies when you’re busy!

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Over the past two months all our energy has gone into the organisation of last Friday’s Vastrap Boran Auction. It’s the second year that we’ve held the sale on our farm so the workload was slightly less than last time, but still very demanding. I was in charge of all the marketing and entertainment logistics while Quentin took care of all the animal preparations. The weeks leading up to the auction are full of lists that need to be ticked off systematically and lots of stress about who’s going to come and whether there’ll be enough buyers! Quentin and I work really well as a team though and it was very satisfying to see everything come together on auction day. Click HERE if you’d like to see some photos from our website.

While all of this was going on, our little Livia has continued to grow and thrive. I can’t believe she is 7.5 months already! She is becoming a real little person with a very inquisitive mind. She loves to sit quietly and observe the passing scene, but she’s also becoming more vocal making new sounds every few days. She was very much part of the auction action, observing all of our frenetic preparations and joining in the fun on auction day. She was an absolute angel and was fascinated by the animals and very happy to be passed from one adoring aunty to another!

Speaking of aunties, my sister Beatrice came to Vastrap for auction week to help me with all the preparations. She is such a beautiful soul and a fantastic cook. She just took everything in her stride and quietly did what was needed – from whipping up the most delicious beef bourguignon and piles of yummy brownies, to playing with Livia and taking care of her bedtime routine. It was really wonderful to have her here and to witness the love between her and Livvy. Auntie Lesley, Quentin’s sister, also spent some time with us on auction day and she and Beatrice got on famously. What a treat to have such wonderful family time while we were busy working! We also loved the opportunity to socialise and get to know some of our fellow Boran breeders better. As much as we love our animals, the people really do add a wonderful dimension to our business and we really appreciated the effort people made to travel from far to be with us. Right now its impossible to feel anything but blessed!

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The Big Freeze!

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The past few days have definitely been the coldest of winter so far. Night time temperatures have plunged to -10 degrees Celsius for three nights in a row with an even colder real feel! This reminds me of the very first winter I spent time on the farm four years ago before Quentin and I were married. That was before the house had proper insulation, an Aga stove and a wood burning fire… a good excuse to huddle close together on the couch watching the 2010 World Cup (not that we needed one)!

While Livia and I stayed warm and toasty inside this morning, Quentin was greeted by these beautiful ice sculptures when he arrived at work. Very brave men indeed working outside today. I hope they can find a little patch of sun to warm their cold bones.

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Harvest Time!

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We’ve had a very busy week on the farm with a house full of visitors since last Thursday. Over the weekend a few of Quentin’s best friends from university visited us with their kids and Ashley was here too for her half term. Needless to say, the house was bustling with activity. While the adults engaged in a happy cycle of eating, drinking, talking and sleeping, the kids had a ball playing endless games of Uno, rollerblading, cycling, laughing and best of all, going out farming with Quentin. It’s quite a busy time on the farm with our Boran cattle being prepared for our annual auction in August and lots happening on the crop side too with planting of wheat and harvesting of maize. For a change there were some little boys in the mix, two of them all the way from Atlanta. Dylan, Anthony and Nicolas seemed to worship farmer Quentin, or at least his equipment. There’s nothing like the promise of a ride on a combine harvester to get them up early in the morning! I mostly stayed home taking care of Livia and organising things in the kitchen, but judging from the photos a great time was had by all. My niece and nephew, Emma and Alexander, also visited earlier this week and Quentin had another little admirer to accompany him on his rounds. It’s just too sweet how much little boys love the farm. The girls do too, but they don’t quite get the same dreamy look in their eyes when they see Quentin or muster up as much enthusiasm about driving out in the bakkie to do a morning’s work. Maybe it will be different for Livia. We’ll just have to wait and see if she’s inherited her father’s farming genes or her mother’s city spirit!

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Babies in the house

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My beagle babies, Hope and Coco have been in the wars over the past six weeks. First, Hope jumped off the back of a fast-moving bakkie and broke her leg at the knee joint. The vet operated and inserted two pins in her leg and then sent us home with strict instructions to keep her as still as possible for six weeks… not an easy task for a 9 month old beagle! Needless to say, she’s been my and Livia’s constant companion over the past six weeks doing everything we do, including a trip to Joburg. I’ve had to take her out for toilets breaks on a lead every two hours and lavish her with treats and toys to keep her busy. On one level it’s been great bonding time since she’s always been very close to her mother, Coco. But on another, it’s been terrible to see her pining to go outside especially when she can hear the other dogs getting excited to go out with Quentin on the farm. How we’re going to prevent her from jumping off the car again I don’t know, but she is almost ready to join the pack again. I’m certainly not going to miss the early morning and late-night trips outside in the mid-winter chill!

Just as I was getting excited about setting my little patient free, Coco came home last week looking very miserable with a hugely swollen shoulder and bite marks on her… I didn’t know what had happened but Quentin immediately recognised the signs of a puff-adder bite. In the middle of winter!! I had to rush her to the vet where she received anti venom, but she was so badly bitten that they kept her there for a few days. Thank goodness it wasn’t fatal and that we were home to get her to the vet quickly, but she’s still poorly and we have to give her massages a few times a day to help the toxins drain into her lymphatic system. I’m not sure how long she’ll be like this, but it’s yet another patient in the house, albeit a less high maintenance one. Hopefully she’ll make a full recovery just like little Hope seems to have done.

In an attempt to keep the two of them more contained in future, there’s a team of guys putting jackal fencing over our palisade fence today… why it’s taken so long for us to do this I don’t know, but we definitely need to do something as they can’t resist the temptation to go off and explore. It doesn’t help that our electric gate hasn’t been working properly for ages either. I’m sure they’ll find and make holes in the fence eventually, but it’s a start. There’s never a dull moment with these two, but we love them dearly and wish them many more happy days with us.

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Nuts about cards and granola!

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We had a lovely Father’s Day weekend on the farm with a few visitors from Joburg and a special visit from Ashley. We hadn’t seen her since the end of April so it was a real treat to have her in the house again. It was quite cold so we all just snuggled up in front of the fire and played endless games of Uno together. I never grew up in a house of card players, but Quentin’s family are crazy for cards especially his mum. Ashley’s caught the bug from her granny and absolutely loves playing Uno and rummy. For some reason the adults joined in with gusto this weekend spurred on by Quentin and James’ competitive streak. We had such a laugh and needless to say Ashley loved it! Livia was so happy to see her sister again and gave her lots of smiles. She is very chilled at the moment and is observing the world from every angle. I can’t believe how fast the time is passing just two weeks short of her six month birthday!

2014-06-16_0011I did lots of cooking before the weekend to fill the house with some of Quentin’s favourite food for Father’s Day. While he drove to Joburg on Friday to fetch Ashley, I cooked my first ever oxtail, experimented with filleting and smoking a beautiful rainbow trout we got from Lesotho, made his favourite cheese cake with vanilla ice cream and a batch of nutty granola. Everything turned out really well and having pre-prepared it all I could relax over the weekend. The only disaster was that the Beagles jumped on the counter and polished off half of the cheese cake this morning after I forgot to put it back in the fridge last night!! I managed to salvage a last little slither for our afternoon tea, but it was such a waste.

I’ve recently started posting photos to Instagram (http://instagram.com/marisdbruyn/) and have been participating in a photography challenge called #clickaday. It’s been quite fun finding things to photograph each day and it’s obviously much quicker than sitting down to write a whole blog post (something I seem to have less and less time for). After posting a photo of the granola on Friday quite a few people liked the look of it and so I promised to share the recipe. The recipe is from the Woolworths Taste magazine with a few of my own tweaks. What I love is that it’s not full of sugar and the nuts are soaked overnight to make them more easy to digest. It’s great to have a stash in the cupboard for a quick breakfast with yoghurt and fruit and even Quentin loves adding it to Pronutro or Wheatbix. It’s very easy to make so give it a try!

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Nutty Granola

(Makes 1kg)

250g raw Pecan nuts

250g raw Almonds

500g Rolled Oats

A few handfuls of mixed seeds to taste (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, flaxseed etc)

3t ground cinnamon

1 cup Agave syrup (can be substituted with honey)

2t vanilla paste

1 cup melted coconut oil (or macadamia oil)

Soak the nuts in water for 8-12 hours (almonds need a bit longer than pecan nuts). Rinse well with cold water and dry spread out on kitchen paper or in the sun. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roughly chop the nuts and combine with the oats, seeds and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Mix the melted coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla paste together and combine with the dry ingredients. Line a large baking tray (or 2) with tinfoil and spread the granola mixture in a thin layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes stirring a few times to make sure it bakes evenly. Don’t leave the room to do something else without setting a timer or the nuts will burn (I speak from experience)!! Cook for longer if need be until the granola has a nice golden colour (if the nuts are still wet it will take longer to cook). Remove from the oven and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick. Leave to cool completely and crisp up. Store in an airtight container.

 

Tempting Buttermilk Rusks

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I’ve started the month of June with a mission to shake some of the post-baby fat that’s settling all too comfortably on places it wasn’t before. Winter has never been a dieting season in my books, but I decided to reconsider when I learnt about the new high fat, low carb eating craze that’s taking South Africa by storm. How difficult can it be if you are encouraged to cook generously with real butter and bacon fat, eat as many eggs as you want and when it’s compulsory to eat the fat left on a lamb chop? That sounds just up my alley! But then comes the sting in the tail… no more rusks with morning coffee; no more rustling up a quick pasta on nights when I don’t know what to cook; no more shared bowls of ice cream in front of the TV with my love. A big sacrifice I think, which is why it’s taken me a while to get my head around it. Most people I’ve seen who’ve tried it are very impressed with the results so it’s worth a go. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll be in this alone. How could I possibly ask Quentin to give up sugar in his tea and coffee, bread, ice cream, cheese cake and more? Most of all, it would be sacrilege to deprive a farm boy of his rusks!

And so I faced the ultimate challenge this weekend of baking a batch of buttermilk rusks knowing that none of them will pass my lips (except the tiniest crumb to check the result!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes to improve on the Amasi rusks that Malefah usually bakes (see Malefah’s rusks) after I noticed a large number of referrals to this blog are via searches for buttermilk rusks recipes. This recipe is from a book I was given recently after we spent a very special family weekend at a place called Halfaampieskraal in the Overberg. The food at Halfaampies is legendary – generous, delicious and made with love. As with most boerekos (traditional Afrikaans food) very little about it suits a diet. The cookbook, Halfaampieskraal Celebrates, is full of their signature dishes most of which are off limits to me now. Still, I can extract an immense amount of joy paging through the recipes and remembering how good a few of them tasted during the long, lazy and luscious meals we enjoyed on the stoep and in their ornate dining room.

This recipe for buttermilk rusks has far more butter than other recipes I’ve used. It makes them beautifully rich and quite crumbly. The trick is to cream the butter and sugar together very well before mixing with the dry ingredients. If I do them again I might try to add a bit more buttermilk, because my mixture didn’t look as wet as in the pictures. They are quite perfect as is though. As rusks go, this one definitely suits the high fat part of my diet with the 1kg of butter used, but alas, the rest of the ingredients are a no go. My love is enjoying them though, which is the most important thing!

Halfaampieskraal Buttermilk Rusks (beskuit)

1kg butter, softened

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

250ml buttermilk

1.5kg self-raising flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1.5 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Whisk the softened butter and sugar together with an electric beater until pale and light. Add the eggs, beat until blended and then slowly add the buttermilk. Sift the dry ingredients and mix them well into the buttermilk mixture using a wooden spoon. The dough must be sticky and dense. Line a large, deep baking tin with baking paper. Spoon in the mixture with a greased dessertspoon so that the balls of dough touch each other (feel free to use your hands!)

Bake for an hour until golden brown (my oven always burns the top if I don’t watch carefully!). Leave the tin to cool on a rack. When completely cool, break the rusks apart along the markings that are still visible on them. Then use a fork to break them in half across the width (I struggle to break them into equal bits!) Place the rusks on a baking tray, crust side down, and leave in the oven overnight on the coolest setting (50-100 degrees) with the door slightly ajar.

Store in an airtight container and enjoy dunked in morning tea or coffee!

Recipe from Halfaampieskraal Celebrates – a visual feast of food, friendship and festivities on a South African farm (Maia du Plessis & Simon Scarboro).

 

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