Jacaranda rain


It’s my birthday today. Yay! I spoilt myself by picking a huge bunch of roses from the garden. I haven’t baked a cake yet, but I’ve been craving the sponge cake with strawberries and cream that my grandmother always made at this time of year. Perhaps I will try it this weekend.

Martha Stewart would be proud.

I’m a Halloween baby, but Halloween wasn’t very big in South Africa when I was growing up. Far more important was whether we would be able to have a pool party for my birthday. Would it rain, wouldn’t it? Would it be warm enough so early in the summer? The other strong association I have with my birthday is Jacaranda blossoms, which usually turn Johannesburg into a sea of purple at this time of year. While we were in town this weekend I was determined to get some good photos of the Jacarandas. Alas, they were not at their peak or I fear a lot were damaged by hail storms in September. I took some photos anyway to share the moment. In a good year, when the Jacarandas are in full bloom, the streets in the suburbs I grew up get covered in a carpet of purple. Driving over the freshly fallen blossoms late at night or early in the morning with the windows down you can hear them popping. I just love that! The purple also becomes more intense when thunderstorms turn the sky dark and moody.

While I was in search of the perfect Jacaranda photo, I visited my cousin Julius van der Wat, who has recently become an artist. Julius is an exceptional person and his talent as an artist was recently revealed in an unexpected way. He has cerebral palsy, which means that he has never in his 34 years held a pen, drawn a line or written his name. Although he has used computers for many years, it was not until he bought an iPad that he discovered art. In only a few months, he has blossomed into a talented and dedicated craftsman with an eye for colour and a unique way of expressing his view of the world. It is a complete revelation, especially for Ouma Hannatjie who is also an abstract artist.

Julius at work on his iPad with his customised pointer designed by his brothers.

While we were visiting he started demonstrating how he works with his customised pointer. Completely coincidentally he was working on a piece called “Jacaranda rain”. In all honesty, they were the best Jacaranda’s I saw all weekend – vibrant, clear and beautiful!

Jacaranda rain by Julius van der Wat.

Ouma Hannatjie wanted me to chose a painting for my birthday present. After serious deliberation, I picked a piece called “Colourful Black”, which is now hanging in the passage outside our bedroom at Vastrap. I think it is beautiful. Thank you Julius!

Colourful Black by Julius van der Wat.

My extraordinary mother


This is an unashamed brag post about my extraordinary mother, Marianne Fassler. She is an icon of South Africa’s fashion industry and has been working her magic ever since I can remember – and that’s quite a long time! I don’t normally brag about her or even tell people she’s my mother, probably because we’re so different and I definitely didn’t inherit her creative genes. After attending yet another one of her brilliant fashion shows last Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, I just cannot help sharing some of the experience. I took some really bad photos on my phone camera, but I’ve added some links to stunning professional photos of the show and a video of the whole thing, which is worth watching for the frocks, the music and to see the gorgeous models in action.

My mother – an original, intelligent, creative genius.

With a very proud daughter.

Front row seats with Charles, Ouma Hannatjie and Oupa Koos.

My sister Hannia with her daughter Sophia.

Colourful Fassler fans.

The show was called Fassler the Remix, a reinterpretation of classic Fassler frocks from the past few years using fabric off-cuts and recycled material. You have to see the clothes up close and hear my mom describing them to appreciate how much thought has gone into each one to achieve something uniquely African and eminently wearable. For example, one of the stunning black evening dresses was made from woven black plastic bags, but it was extremely sophisticated so you would never realise this from a distance! Leopard print has become one of the Fassler trademarks over the years, but there is so much more to her clothes than this.

Video link – Fassler Dazzles all at Fashion Week.

Eunice Driver Photos and SDR Photos 

For more information and photos of previous collections go to Leopard Frock.

My mom’s shows are always a family affair with my stylish grandparents, Koos and Hannatjie immaculately turned out for their front-row appearance. And there are always one or two grandchildren sharing the limelight in their Fassler frocks. At moments like this it is impossible not to be incredibly proud and admiring of all that my mother has achieved and created over her lifetime and continues to do every day.

Gorgeous models.

Waiting to take a bow with Sophia and Emma.

Taking a bow.

A procession of models.

Kisses for the crowd and a standing ovation!

Happy Cooking Thai

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We had a meeting of our cooking club on Friday and the theme was Thai food. I’ve written about our  Happy Cooking Club before (see Happy Cooking Pasta!). This year so far we have done a master class in bread making, Chinese, Thai and Indian food and pasta making. We’ve decided to end off the year baking Christmas biscuits parcels for our local old age home. We have so many ideas and dreams about what we would like to do, but unfortunately not enough time between the eight of us so there are lots of adventures to look forward to next year!

This month’s meeting was hosted by our friend Heidi in her new home, which has become known around town as the “White House”. Pretty much everything with a painted surface inside and out is white, making it a stunning backdrop for her collection of glass, silver and ceramic objects and a quirky, colourful art collection. There are views of the sandstone cliffs behind the house and out over Ladybrand town towards the Maluti mountains. It is situated next to an old Boer War graveyard for British soldiers, which adds even more character to the setting.

View of the graveyard.

I arrived at this stylish, elegant location straight from our cattle course so the contrast couldn’t have been greater! I was immediately served a delicious strong cappuccino since I had complained that there was no good coffee in sight at the Stockman School (see The stockman and his love).

Anyone for drinks?

Heidi prepared a feast of Thai food, while the rest of us mostly watched and enjoyed eating it! Many of the recipes were from the Wagamama Cookbook. We had sticky rice with coconut milk and shrimp, prawns with coriander and chilli, sweet corn cakes, fried fish cakes with green beans, char grilled chicken with yakitori sauce and various delicious side sauces. There were also some steamed dumplings sourced from our local Chinese shop and delicious Thai lettuce rolls. My favourite side dish of the day was a cucumber relish or Ayat. It is sweet and sticky with roasted peanuts and cucumber. Yum, delicious yum!

Essential ingredients: garlic, chilli, coriander and lemon.

Cooking in the White House.

Lots of chatter…

While Jenny, Heidi and Wendy do all the work!

Noodles on the go.

Jenny taking care of the steamed dumplings from our local Chinese shop.

The recipes with a cover specially designed by Daisy Grobler.

Table setting with Thai lettuce wraps and sauces.

Jasmine tea.

The banquet table.

A feast of flavours!

The meal was ended off with a light and refreshing litchi and ginger sorbet. A perfect summer desert that we are all sure to make again in the coming months.

Heidi putting the finishing touches on the litchi and ginger sorbet.

Thank you Heidi for a wonderful Thai demonstration and all the effort you made to present it so beautifully. We are very happy, lucky ladies indeed!

Eating is a tiring business!

The stockman and his love


It’s been another week of contrasts and a few “firsts” for me. I spent Monday and Tuesday in the office in Pretoria. The Jacaranda trees were in full bloom, but I didn’t get a chance to take photos. The Jacarandas in Johannesburg are always a week or two behind Pretoria so I will try to capture some of their beauty next weekend when I’m there again. I timed my trip well to coincide with Bosses Day (in fact I had no idea such a day even existed!) and the ladies at the office treated us to a lunch of lovingly prepared biltong and egg salad. A first for me, but delicious!

Biltong salad for bosses day!

On Tuesday night I made a quick pit-stop back to the farm and on Wednesday I joined Quentin at the annual Aldam Stockmanschool. What is that you ask? Well, it is a seminar for commercial beef farmers held annually at the Aldam dam near Winburg in the Free State. I had no idea what to expect, but recently I’ve become keen to learn more about the technical aspects of farming so this is my first step. Yes, city friends, I can hear you laughing, but this is my life now and it is actually quite fun. It is the least I can do for my love, the sexy stockman!

Where in the city can you enjoy this view?!

The course was very interesting, even for someone clueless like me. Much to my relief, there were quite a few aspiring women farmers in attendance. There were experts from Australia, the United States and Canada speaking about the latest trends and technologies to assist with better cow and bull selection and how to run a herd more efficiently. I learnt how genetic analysis is being used to breed more efficient cows, especially in the dairy industry. I learnt how to identify faults in cattle. I learnt the difference between lean and fat beasts, optimal feeding plans, the economics of feedlots, and the latest in embryo and artificial insemination technology. I learnt many things, and as a bonus I also met some very nice fellow-farmers along the way.

A Holstein cow in the hoof smith’s machine.

Jaco the hoof smith in action.

View over the Aldam dam.

Beef carcass demonstration.

On-stage butchery.

To prove that I was really there!

Beef cuts.

I came home gagging for a cup of real coffee and ready to turn vegetarian for a few days after all the heavy meat meals and the butchery demonstration! Not to worry, I’ll be craving a lamb chop by the end of the weekend. But most of all, I came home excited to see how the garden was looking after a little bit of rain and a few more weeks into summer. I was away so long that I missed the best of the first flush of roses. I can sort of see how wonderful it must have been, but I spent a lot of today dead-heading them instead of picking arm loads as I had hoped. At least I know there is more to come and it is such a joy to see how far the garden has come in only a year. I was pretty clueless about gardening too back then, but it is amazing what one can learn when you put your mind to it.

View over the rose garden.

Colourful irises, roses and scabiosa.

Chill time in the bush

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We’ve been thoroughly spoilt over the past week spending some time in the bush. We spent a few days with Ashley at the family game farm in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve and then met up with a group of friends from Johannesburg for a weekend in the Thornybush Game Reserve. It was a real treat from start to finish!

For most South Africans, the bush is their soul place, a place to relax, reflect and enjoy the wonder of nature. In the bush one appreciates the extreme privilege of living in Africa and being close to wild animals like lions, leopards, elephant and rhino. Even when the Big 5 are scarce and hard to find there are so many other beautiful birds, trees, insects and plants to admire along the way. The bushveld was looking beautiful with the grass turning green after the first summer rains and wild wisteria and magnolias blooming all over the place!

A beautiful moth.

Since he was little, Quentin has spent family holidays in the Klaserie. It is a very special place and he took me there on our first weekend together as a couple and again on the weekend we got engaged. At the game farm my husband is in game-ranger mode: driving the game vehicle, spotting and tracking animals and birds and cooking food over an open fire. It is glorious to see him in action! His gorgeous blue eyes don’t miss a thing and he usually spots animals and birds that most people are completely oblivious to. On our first day he spotted a leopard sitting on an anthill behind some trees. At first he thought it was a warthog, but on closer inspection a leopard was revealed! It did not stick around long enough to take photos, but it is this kind of opportunistic game viewing that we absolutely love. It is even better when there are kids with us, because they are so eager to learn about nature.

Knock-knock Mr Tortoise, is anyone home?

A family of elephants stopping for a drink.

Quentin taking charge in the outdoor kitchen – lamb chops, beer bread, and fire-roasted veggies.

We were thoroughly spoilt at Thornybush staying at a beautiful self-catering lodge overlooking a riverbed. The weather was a bit rainy for most of the weekend, but we still enjoyed some wonderful game drives led by our ranger Aurela and his tracker, Philip. There were plenty of kudu, elephant, buffalo and lion. In a Reserve like Thornybush one can really get close to the animals because the game rangers are experienced and generally know the animals well. The elephants come much closer than we would dare go in the Klaserie. On our last morning we spent time watching three lionesses walking along the road. They were extremely relaxed and let us follow them for a while. Ashley was really excited to see lion for the first time, but she could not help be a little bit nervous when they walked right past us in the vehicle! Overall, a very special time shared with great friends. Please can we go back soon!

Stylish River Lodge.

Horsing around in the pool between game drives.

Aurela and the Dingo crew ready for a ride on the Land Rover.

Yikes, the elephants are so close!

Buffalo in the rain.

Looking back towards the cloud-covered escarpment.

Waterhole reflections.

Zebra crossing.

Decadent sundowners.

Boma fire.

Relaxed lions.

Spoilt on our last game drive – how we will miss the bush!

Celebrating with Granny Karine


We’ve had a very busy time over the past week, hence my blogging silence! Last Thursday I had a very important mission to drive some very special family to the farm for the weekend celebration of my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Quentin’s sister Deidre flew out from Australia for the occasion and I drove her back to the farm. Ashley and my grandparents, Koos and Hannatjie squeezed into the car with us.

My special passengers on our pit stop in Kroonstad.

On Friday, the whole family headed off to The Rose House near Fouriesburg to start the celebration. This lovingly restored sandstone manor house is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the Free State overlooking Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains. Sheer sandstone cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop and there are even some vineyards to add to the character!

View from our cottages towards the Maluti Mountains.

The Rose House

Sheer sandstone cliffs.

Vineyards in the Free State!

Old farm sheds converted into self-catering cottages.

The morning before we left, Coco looked a little off colour and she had a high fever – typical symptoms of tick-bite fever or biliary, which she had only a month earlier. I rushed her to the vet who confirmed the prognosis and because it can be life-threatening our little patient was packed into the car with us for the weekend. She has never really been off our farm so I had no idea how she would behave, but she was an absolute dream and managed to charm everyone! She also perked up considerably after the treatment at the vet.

Coco with beautiful Princess Ashley.

Coco getting comfortable with the guests!

Kiss and a cuddle.

On Saturday we were treated to a gorgeous lunch on the veranda of Rose House. It is the perfect farm veranda – generous proportions with a spectacular view. The kind of veranda that makes one green with envy! The whole house has been beautifully restored by the owners Trish and John. It was completely derelict when they started, but they managed to salvage many of the original finishes. Trish is an excellent cook and makes the most delicious preserves and syrups using local ingredients.

Veranda with mountain view.

Original “kos-kas” or food storage cabinet turned into a feature on the veranda.

As expected, it was a very special weekend shared with family and a small group of Karine’s closest friends. It was wonderful to have my grandparents there too. I have written about them before (see City Highlights) and how stylish and vibrant they still are at the age of 89. It makes me so proud and happy to be able to share these kinds of intimate family moments with them. It also never ceases to amaze me how they are able to instantly make friends with people wherever they go.

Oupa Koos in his dashing bow tie.

Ouma Hannatjie with Karine.

Of course, the very special lady of the day was Karine, my mother-in-law. It was so lovely to see how happy she was to have her family around her and how much she appreciated having her friends there to celebrate. She is a very kind and loving woman and I am extremely lucky to have her in my life. Many years ago she was also a new farm wife who moved from Cape Town to marry Bill. Of course she made a huge success out of the move and never looked back! She is a super-star granny to Ashley and is always available to play and have fun. Happy, happy birthday granny Karine! We hope you know how loved you are.

Lady of the day, Karine.

With her daughters, Lesley, Deidre and Kathryn.

With Quentin.

With grandpa Bill.

Sharing a trade-mark belly laugh with Deidre.