We just can’t get enough of these puppies! It’s a full time job taking care of this lot, but I’ve had some wonderful help over the past few days while my sister and my nieces Sibella and Sophia have been visiting. The minute Ashley arrived for her visit last week she insisted that we had to have a puppy party for our cute new babies. I didn’t really know what she had in mind, but I needn’t have worried because the planning began as soon as her cousins were here. The kids awoke with much excitement on Wednesday morning and started to blow up balloons and decorate the TV room. They even drew special cards for each puppy, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any photos of them. While I baked some chocolate-chip biscuits, Sibella attended to the girls’ make-up. As soon as the puppies woke from their mid-morning nap they joined in the fun. Clueless as to what was going on, the rest of us had a great time watching them explore and play. They have completely come to life over the past week and are now fully engaged in boisterous play, which often involves biting each other as hard as possible ending in shrieks of pain! Coco is keeping a wary distance, but reluctantly lies down for a feed every now and again even though she is suffering more and more abuse from their sharp little teeth! Meanwhile I am trying my best to entice them with solid food to help with the weaning process. So far so good. They are looking gorgeous and we love them all to bits. It’s going to be very hard to say goodbye when they leave for their new homes at the end of September.
The puppies have gone from strength to strength over the past week and are an absolute joy to have in the house! They weigh 1.5kg and are walking around more confidently, but only for short periods of time before they all collapse in a heap and sleep the sleep of babies. Their teeth are sharp and Coco is becoming more and more uncomfortable feeding them. I’ve started to introduce some solid food into their diet, but it will take a few weeks for them to be totally weaned. Ashley is with us for the holidays and she just loves them even though they are still a little bit small for rough and tumble play. What a joy to see these little beasts grow and thrive, each with their own little personality! Our little Hope is still the smallest of the bunch, but she is very feisty and was the first to figure out how to lap water and food. She has also developed a little growl and something that could pass as a first tentative bark!
I can finally sit down and write a little bit about my experience organising the first annual Vastrap Boran auction. Wow, it really was a steep learning curve and a very exhausting week, but I’m so relieved that everything went off smoothly with no horrible surprises. I could not have done it without the help of many friends and family members who all mucked in to get things done. As someone commented during a particularly frenetic time, “this really is a case of many hands make light work, rather than too many cooks spoil the broth!” I was in charge of marketing and catering, while Quentin took care of all the cattle logistics and making sure that the building of our new cattle facilities was finished on time. I stepped in at the last minute to finish off the decor. It was a real team effort! So much of the work we did this year will not have to be repeated next year so hopefully it will not be quite as stressful the second time round.
We hosted a whisky tasting and dinner for 50 people at Vastrap on the night before the auction. The next day we provided hot drinks and refreshments before the start of the auction followed by a lunch for 100 people. I have never catered on this scale before and really didn’t know what to expect. Thank goodness for two angels who really helped me so much – my friend Vicky Barnard from Mequatling Angus and my sister Beatrice. They really do deserve special mention even though many other people also helped. Vicky is a seasoned auction organiser, having run one of the most successful Angus auctions in the country for the past eight years. She and her husband Philip have endured relentless questioning by me and Quentin over the past few months and very generously shared all their secrets about what works and what doesn’t. My eyes were truly opened when I went to help Vicky at their sale in July. It made such a difference to see everything in action. As a result, I pretty much knew what to expect on the day and made sure that I had my lists and instructions in place.
Beatrice came up specially from Stellenbosch to help us for the week. She is an absolute star in the kitchen and stepped in to help with a big smile on her face. And boy, did I need the help! With the Coco and the puppies needing to go to the vet and unanticipated errands cropping up all over the place, it was great to know that someone was at home getting on with the cooking and doing it better than I ever could! We had partners in the auction and fortunately some of them arrived the day before and helped with preparations. Debbie Johnson got stuck in with the flower arrangements and Karen Peinke immediately bonded with Beatrice in the kitchen. A real dream team! Not to mention the delicious steak and guinness pie made by Laura and patès made by Heidi for the whisky tasting, and the rusks made by Jenny!
For the auction lunch, we kept things simple. A steak braai with pepper sauce and sides of green bean, baby potato and red onion salad and a rocket, feta and roasted pumpkin salad. I ordered the most delicious mini koeksisters (a typically South African dessert) from Bloemfontein, which were devoured by all. A great trick we learnt from Philip and Vicky is to put some snack packs on each seat in the auction tent so that people don’t get too bored and hungry during the auction. We received many compliments for this little extra touch.
All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better turnout and better day. The weather played along, although it was a tad chilly, but the sun was shining and the wind stayed away. All the cattle were sold and our beautiful white cow Hope MHB 04-11 achieved the top price on the day followed closely by Kelly MHB 04-24. We are sad to see them go, but know that they will be happy in their new homes. Now it’s time for a little break before life returns to normal and we start to think about doing it again next year!
We’ve had a hectic time over the past week, but now we can breathe a sigh of relief that our auction is over and that everything went off well. I will do a separate post on the auction, but first an update on the puppies! They have grown in leaps and bounds. Coco was not too well at the start of last week so I bundled them all off to the vet for a night of treatment. Thankfully, she is looking much more perky so hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here. The puppies have thrived throughout and had many admirers during auction week. One little female and one male are still looking for homes, but many people have expressed interest so we’ll just have to wait and see who the lucky families are that get them. We are keeping one little female and she will be called “Hope”, in memory of the beautiful cow that achieved the top price at our auction (see Hanging with Hope). She is the smallest of the litter and has a white spot on her bum, just like her mother. My sister, Beatrice was with us for a few days and she helped with the juggling of cooking and puppy-loving duties. Keeping Coco well fed is quite a business because she’s not at all interested in eating puppy pellets. I have resorted to boiling chickens and blending up a calcium-rich mixture of meat, bones, stock and pellets.
We took these photos on Saturday, but they really do seem to grow and change every day. Back then they weighed about 1kg and couldn’t support their bodies on their little legs, but this morning some of them are quite mobile. They have also outgrown their nursing tub. Coco was getting very uncomfortable squashed in with them so we’ve moved them to a more spacious bed where they can stretch their legs more. I will have to “cage” them in somehow to stop them from wandering about too much though, because they’re not quite clever enough to make it back to the bed when they stray. This morning I was woken by the cries of one of the males who went wandering about and couldn’t get back to his mama!
We had a long-overdue meeting of our cooking club last week hosted by Heidi at the White House (so called because it’s painted white inside and out, including the floors!) Last year, we had lots of fun making pasta and all the girls had requested that we have another session to brush up on our skills (see Happy Cooking Pasta!) It is always great to get together on a Friday afternoon to share our common interest in cooking and learn something new. We kicked off the day with some champagne to celebrate the happy news of my pregnancy. I sipped on a small glass! Vicky bought bags full of lemons for everyone from her garden, which added an amazing splash of colour to the table.
Most of us have our own pasta rollers, but some of us have been too nervous to use them. After this session I think we are all sorted and ready to show off our skills. We experimented with different flours, like cake flour, ’00 and semolina and how they impact on the texture of the pasta. The semolina is much courser and requires a lot more kneading, whereas the ’00 flour very quickly results in a smooth fine texture. It really depends on individual taste which one you prefer and also the kind of pasta you are making. We use a general guide of 1 egg to 100g of flour with a touch of olive oil and some extra water if needed to bind it all together. Depending on the consistency you are after you can combine the different flours. For example, I like to use 1/2 white bread flour to 1/2 ’00 flour for ravioli pasta because it creates something more robust that won’t fall apart easily with a wet filling inside. For fettucine ’00 flour creates a beautifully smooth texture, but Wendy’s boys (who have become pasta making experts since our last session!) prefer the bite of semolina pasta. That is the beauty of it – you can do pretty much whatever you like! We all had a go at kneading and rolling different kinds of pasta which were then combined with different sauces. Laura made a delicious saffron and prawn sauce, which we paired with fettucine infused with saffron water. We also made a butternut and pork filling for ravioli, which goes perfectly with burnt butter and sage – a firm favourite with all of us. Wendy made a red pepper pesto, which we combined with the thin spaghetti pasta. All totally delicious!
We also experimented with a slightly different kind of “pasta” called malfatti, which is a spinach and ricotta gnocchi served with a napolitana sauce. This has been a staple recipe in my family for years and is a perfect vegetarian alternative. Good quality ricotta cheese is hard to come by in a small town so we decided to make some after reading a very easy looking recipe on the Bartolini Kitchen’s blog (click HERE for the recipe). It is so simple and totally delicious! Absolutely perfect for the job. Making the malfatti is a messy business because you have to roll the little balls with your hands. Our mixture was slightly too wet and extra messy, but still worked out well. We used the recipe from Tessa Kiros’ book Twelve, with slight adjustments to reflect the way my mother taught me.
After far too many courses we moved on to the all-important desert! Heidi presented affogato made with home-made ice cream which was amazing and some Italian pastries called crostoli. Some chocolate salami bought in Clarens rounded it all off perfectly.
After such exertion there was nothing left to do, but fill a glass of wine (Cola Tonic and soda for me!) and enjoy the last rays of late afternoon sun. On the way home, I couldn’t help thinking of all the poor people sitting in Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic in cities all over the country. What a pleasure to be the only car on our farm road home. It’s only a pity about all the potholes I had to negotiate to get out of town!
My goodness, was that an interesting weekend! A real baptism of fire, much harder than I ever expected. After 59 days of pregnancy, Coco went into labour on Friday night. I hardly slept a wink worrying about her and at about 4am I heard the yelps of the first puppy! The first two were out before I could get to her and the third appeared while I was with her. She seemed to know exactly what to do and cleaned them while she carried on with labour. I couldn’t imagine that there could be more… they are each about the size of my hand and she is not such a big dog so where did they all fit in?! An hour or two later another appeared and by mid-day another… then there were five! I thought surely that should be it. I made sure that they were all suckling and put them in a nice warm spot on the front veranda. She was so attentive and loving towards them that it made my heart burst with pride at my baby who has grown up to be a mommy! There are three girls and two boys. Perfect little tricolour Beagles – definitely Roger’s progeny!
If that were the end of it, it would have been a breeze, but unfortunately there were some complications. Later in the day I realised that Coco was still in discomfort. I thought it might just be her uterus contracting or problems with the afterbirth coming out. I was alone at home and totally inexperienced so didn’t know what to do. On the whole she was not in bad spirits so I gave it more time. By the time I realised she needed help, it was already late and we could only see the vet the next morning. So she struggled through the night experiencing ongoing contractions and desperately trying to tend to the puppies. I was up with her the whole time and made puppy formula to help her keep the babies fed. By now she was severely dehydrated and not eating. My heart broke. First thing on Sunday morning we rushed to the vet who helped immediately to clear the blockage. Instant relief, but alas, we lost the 6th. We went home with a bag full of medicine and lots of advice on how to keep Coco healthy and producing optimal milk. I spent the rest of Sunday hand feeding her to get her strength back up. She didn’t leave the puppies once, except reluctantly to go outside to relieve herself. I also continued to supplementary feed the puppies their homemade formula to make sure they were getting enough food. By the evening she was eating greedily from my hands. I made her a special “super smoothie” packed full of goodness to disguise the dry puppy pellets that she didn’t want to eat. We all had a peaceful night with mother and babies set warmly in front of the Aga. This morning the puppies don’t seem interested in the formula I offered them so that hopefully means she is producing enough. From now on my job is to make sure that Coco is healthy and happy so that she can get on with the business of looking after her extremely cute and adorable babies. I am so incredibly proud of her!
So, it’s been a weekend of intense bonding for me and Coco. Bonding on many levels, because I will be having my own baby in January 2014 and this just seemed like such a foretaste of what’s to come. Yes, that is correct, I am four months pregnant with a baby girl and finally able to share the news! It has been so hard not telling for such a long time, but we had to make sure that everything was fine. In February I wrote about the trouble we were having conceiving and our prayers were answered much sooner than we could have imagined (see Keep Calm and Be Patient). It has been a long road to here, but under the considered care of a doctor who really took the time to understand my issues and some small changes to my diet and lifestyle we have done it! I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s starting to feel more real and this past weekend was certainly a big eye opener. Bring it on, I say, but first I think I need some more sleep!
Quentin and I have been in full “auction mode” over the past two weeks, not knowing whether we’re coming or going. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by the task ahead, mainly because I don’t really know what to expect and I have a huge fear of not being organised. It’s that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that a new job brings. Everything takes slightly longer to think about and action and I’m way out of my comfort zone! Thankfully, my dear friend and neighbour Vicky invited me to help at their auction a few weeks ago, which really opened my eyes to all the small things that I need to think about and I got some clever tips on doing things smartly. Oh well, we live and learn and hopefully next year will be easier, not least because we won’t still be building our facilities and won’t have to do quite as much shopping as the first time to get everything set up. I will hopefully also be more proficient at designing brochures and marketing material by then!
While we are obsessing about cattle, life on the farm goes on. It has been a really mild winter and extremely dry. The wheat crop is only partially planted and it is probably too late to get it all done. The summer maize crop is almost harvested. I went out the other day to watch Quentin do his maize trails where they harvest specific rows of crops that were planted with different cultivars of seed and with different combinations of fertiliser and spacing. Each batch is weighed and logged to compare yields. It’s important to do these trials on our own farm because a lot of the regional trials are done in areas that have different climactic and soil conditions and much higher yields than us. Having our own results helps Quentin to optimise his planting decisions each year. Unfortunately, GM maize is huge in South Africa – almost 80% of the country’s maize is genetically modified. At Vastrap we plant about 60%, but I wish it was zero given all the negative studies on the effects of GM on our health and the environment. But, knowing how emotive it can be I’ll leave that discussion for another day…
In between all of this, we are still waiting for Coco’s puppies to arrive! Her tummy is hanging on the ground and I will be on standby all weekend, because it will definitely be any day now. She is being super spoilt with special food and treats and extra love and affection, which of course she is lapping up. I can’t wait to meet those babies, but I must admit to being a bit nervous about the birth. Hopefully there won’t be any complications. Wish us luck!