I have written about my Coco baby before, but I can’t resist sharing these photos (see Coco’s Year in the Wars and Sibella and Coco: A love Story). She is a fiercely independent mischief-maker, but eternally lovable to adults and children alike. At once cutie pie and skaramanga. Irresistible, don’t you think?
We are still waiting for it to pour down with rain. It is dry and dusty and generally unpleasant and Quentin is starting to worry about food for the cattle. There was a dramatic storm this afternoon, but it only yielded a few millimetres, not enough to break the winter drought. The best way to see how dry the farm is, is to show you the view from the top of the mountain behind our house. We went up there this weekend while our friends were visiting. There is a very steep and rocky road that climbs straight up a ridge to the top. Past visitors to Vastrap know exactly which one I mean. We have taken many white-knuckled passengers up the mountain for sundowners. It doesn’t look so bad from a distance, but believe me when I say it is steep!
Quentin and his father built the road a few years ago with a bulldozer. It must have been incredibly precarious work, especially the top part which is very steep and rocky. They needed the road in order to access all the grazing that is on top of the mountain. An added benefit is that we don’t have to hike up the mountain every time we want to enjoy the view!
We have an open challenge to our mountain biking friends to attempt the climb. A few people have tried, but no one has ever made it. I doubt anyone has run up without stopping either, so there is a challenge to our trail running friends! This weekend we had the proud owner of 4×4 SUV visiting. He wanted to see if the Kia would make it up the mountain and we happily agreed to the challenge, knowing that his chances were pretty slim without a low-range gear.
Alas, he didn’t make it so we had to load all the passengers onto the bakkie instead. The reward for making it to the top is to enjoy the stunning views looking back towards the Maluti mountains. It was a beautiful clear day, a rarity at this time of year given all the dust storms. The veld is full of bright orange cactus flowers. After enjoying our snacks we made our way down, with the Kia in reverse. Anyone else up for the challenge?
There is something about a farm that completely captures the imagination of little boys. The open space, the animals, and especially the equipment. Tractors, trucks, front-end loaders, combine harvesters and excavators! Their little eyes light up and they cannot help but get completely over-excited at the prospect of leaving their plastic toys at home and getting a ride on the real thing with their hero, farmer Quentin. Three-year old Dylan, one of Quentin’s little worshipper’s came to visit us this weekend. Apart from following Coco around the whole time, his one mission was to ride on the digger. And ride he did.
The digger has a mesmerising, therapeutic quality. Quentin says an hour in the cockpit moving soil is like three hours in therapy, only better. In stressful times on the farm he will sometimes disappear for an hour to go and dig. I think he loves it just as much as the little boys!
Another little admirer is our nephew Alexander (4.5). He visited the farm in August and only had eyes for his hero, Quentin. Much to his glee he got to ride in the combine harvester while the maize was being harvested. One has to visit Vastrap during harvest season to have this special privilege.
Little girls also like hitching a ride, but their excitement is not nearly as complete as the boys. They don’t eat, sleep and dream about big machines. If pressed, I’m sure they would rather be home playing make-believe games about princesses and faeries. At least that’s what the little girls we know like to do!
The willow trees are in their full glory and the veld is turning green in patches. But the agonising wait for rain has begun. There is quite a bit of moisture around because of the snow we had in winter and there have been one or two light showers since the start of September, but farmers all over the district are waiting patiently for the big one. The storm that wipes everything clean and signals the start of the planting season. The earliest rains are normally towards the end of September, but last year they only came at the end of November. Boy, was that agonising and dusty! All the maize planting that normally happens over a month had to be done in 10 days. It was very stressful for everyone. There is rain in the forecast for next weekend, but one never knows if it will materialise. In fact, I should not even be writing about it in case I jinx it. Living in hope, here are some photos of what the farm is looking like at the end of a cold winter and before the first big rains.
We hiked half way up the mountain across the valley from our house this morning. Only half-way up, because we were not feeling so energetic. So we took rest stops instead to enjoy the views, which have already changed so much since winter and will continue to transform as the veld comes alive. There were plenty of birds about and we saw lots of swifts and swallows. All the little-brown-jobs will soon change into their summer plumage – Red Bishops, Golden Bishops and Pin-tailed Whydah’s. So much to look forward to! In the meantime, I am leaving again tomorrow for another week in the city. It gets harder and harder to leave every time.
We had a long overdue meeting of our cooking club on Friday afternoon. It is called “Happy Cooking”, because all eight of us are very happy when we are doing fun things in the kitchen! So far this year we’ve done Chinese, Indian and a master class in bread baking. It was my turn to host the meeting. Earlier in the year I volunteered to do pasta making, because of our trip to Italy in July (see Mid Year Resolutions). After delaying and rescheduling we eventually got six of us together for an afternoon. My friend Vicky who lives on a beautiful farm near Clocolan also joined us. It was the perfect day for cooking – cool and overcast. I restarted the Aga so that we had more space for cooking and Poepsie cat was thrilled to have her heater back! The wisteria creeper outside the kitchen has also sprung into bloom bringing a gorgeous perfume to the air. I love how the purple rain comes alive with bumble bees – poor Coco even got a bee sting on her mouth earlier in the week.
But I digress, this day was all about the food, and LOTS of it! On the menu: home-made fettuccine with a fresh tomato and basil sauce; beetroot and goats cheese ravioli with burnt sage butter; spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter; and potato gnocchi with ragu/bolognese sauce. All the recipes came from two Italian food blogs: Juls’ Kitchen and The Italian Dish. I had never made gnocchi so Quentin had to be my guinea pig for a few days. In desperation I turned to YouTube to see how real Italian Mama’s do it… it really helped my technique and the ones we made on the day were the best so far. I am keen to try lots of different types made with sweet potato or pumpkin. I also made Nigel Slater’s rose water panna cotta with passion fruit purée, but we were all so full by the end that we could not finish it all! Kathryn brought her pasta machine along which had never been used. Now that she knows how easy it is to make pasta it will hopefully be a permanent fixture in her kitchen.
I have not mastered the art of cooking and taking photos. I was so busy that I did not take ONE photo all day, which really is very unusual for me. My hands were constantly full of dough and flour! So, this photo essay comes courtesy of Heidi and Vicky who were clicking away through the afternoon. The lighting was bad, but as you can see we had lots of fun. A great way to spend an afternoon. Lucky for me there were some raviolis left over, which I have frozen and I made a lasagna with the left over ragu. Buenisimo!
We took some time out between cattle auctions this weekend to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday in Stellenbosch. Our trip was far too short, especially since it was so cloudy and rainy that we hardly got a view of the beautiful mountains surrounding the town. At this time of the year the Cape is lush and green and beautiful – there couldn’t be a bigger contrast with the brown, dry Free State! Arum lilies grow wild along the side of the roads and it takes some effort to suppress feelings of envy towards the lucky people living in the gorgeous wine lands!
Fortunately we have an excuse to visit every once in a while and this occasion could not be missed. My dad has lived in Stellenbosch with his wife Barbara and their kids Johnny and Beatrice since I left university in 1997. It has been said that I have a complicated family: five step-brothers and sisters, two half siblings and one real sister… and that is before counting the in-laws, nieces and nephews! Rather than being complicated, I think it just makes life richer and more interesting. I have loved seeing my dad and his “new” family thrive in Stellenbosch over the past 15 years. Visits to the “Fasslers” are always indulgent, full of activity and most certainly never boring! My dad is a gynaecologist who makes his own “garagiste” wine and dreams of sailing the world in his yacht. Barbara owns and manages one of the top graphic design and photography schools in the country, Stellenbosch Academy, which she established from nothing. My brother is a philosophising Divemaster who spends his free time spear-fishing in the icy waters off Cape Town and Agulhas; and my sister is a kitchen goddess with a love of baking to rival Nigella Lawson! I think you get the picture.
We had an amazing lunch shared with close family and friends. My Dad unveiled his latest 2011 Fassler Cabernet and we were spoiled with a special tasting of the latest Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Just what one would expect from a birthday lunch on a rainy day in the wine lands! The meal ended perfectly with Beatrice’s beautifully decorated chocolate and pear tarts and a decadent cheese board.
My nieces Sibella and Sophia love visiting Oupa John and Barbara. There is always a menagerie of dogs and cats and lots of young people in and out the house to play with. After lunch we all collapsed in a heap and carried on chatting. The girls eventually convinced my dad to make pancakes for supper – as if we needed to eat one more thing! It was a wonderful, chilled out time catching up with family who we don’t see often enough. Happy birthday Oupa John – hope you have a fabulously happy year ahead!
Quentin, Ashley and I had a fantastic time in Johannesburg this past weekend. We always enjoy a little city break at our flat as it gives us a chance to catch up with family and friends. Restaurants, shops, you name it – we indulge in all the things we don’t have access to on the farm! Joburg often gets a bad rap, but there is plenty to do and lots of exciting new developments all over the place. It also has the perfect weather at this time of year as the city comes alive with spring and the smell of jasmine, sweet peas and blossoms wherever you go. I needn’t have worried about missing spring on the farm (see Wind and Fire)!
On Spring Day we decided to do something different and visited a relatively new development in an area of the city called Braamfontein. We are a little behind the times as the development at 70 Juta Street and the Neighbourgoods Market have been up and running for about two years, but we just have never had the time to visit. There was such a buzz and we just loved exploring a new area of the city and appreciating how much is being done to revive the inner city.
On Sunday, after Quentin and Ashley left to go back to the farm, I went for a late afternoon walk with my mother. It was the annual Jazz on the Lake festival at Zoo Lake, which marks the start of the Arts Alive festival that runs through most of September. Jazz on the Lake has been an institution since I can remember and people flock from far and wide to enjoy a day out at the free concert. We walked through the main concert area while the headline act, Lira was performing. The crowd was loving her and it was such a joy to see families out enjoying the chilled and relaxed atmosphere.
I have been away from the farm for a week now. Quentin and Ashley were with me in Johannesburg for the weekend and now they are back at the farm again. I left on Saturday a week ago while a terrible fire was sweeping through our valley (see Wind and Fire). It was such a horrible feeling driving away not knowing what the aftermath would be. Here are some photos that Quentin took the next day of the damage. In a sense this is his first guest post on the Vastrap Farm blog!
This was the worst fire in our area since Quentin came farming twelve years ago. It was fuelled by 75km/hr gusts of wind and not much could be done to stop it. In total we lost about 1 000ha of grazing, but luckily no livestock. One of our neighbours lost every inch of veld and some livestock. A terrible, terrible loss. Many of these photos are taken at the house of friends who share a farm with us, which is about 10km away from the Vastrap homestead. It is a miracle that the house didn’t suffer any damage!