Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Blessed Abundance

I am sitting on an old stone bench, facing the chicken run. It was built as a step for mounting horses. The warm air has a sweet spring fragrance. The chickens are industriously inspecting the upturned earth in their run after Winifred and the young pigs finished their day’s work of plowing it up for me. It is the golden hour, just before sunset, where everything is still except for the cheeping chicks, clucking hens and twitters of the white-browed sparrow weavers in the honey locust trees. Zizou, our Jack Russell Terrier, has just jumped up to join me. She is leaning against my back and staring across towards Lesotho over in the distance behind me. Next to me is a bucket filled with a lanky cauliflower and a generous picking of broad beans. The cauliflower is for tonight’s chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, a Jamie favourite. I will substitute it for the broccoli in the recipe because that is what we have in the garden. The broad beans will be in tomorrow’s salad for the Quilt Club’s lunch I am hosting. 

Barbara Kingsolver, in her wonderful book Animal Vegetable Miracle, calls this time of year The Hungry Season. It is the time when winter is over along with the last of the stored autumn harvest, but the new spring crops haven’t grown enough to be harvested either. It has been a tough year where our summer harvest was not as good as usual and we also lost all our carefully frozen vegetables, yet we are doing pretty well for the hungry season. I always shop in the garden, pantry and freezer before making the trip to town to buy food.

Last night I picked a bucket of rainbow chard and some young Egyptian walking onions. I cooked them up with 2 slices of chopped leftover gammon and served them in toasted sandwiches with a little grated cheese. The Swiss chard is such a faithful friend. It has carried us through the winter frosts and drought. Once the weather warms up it will probably go to seed, but not before new seeds have grown up in another part of the veggie tunnel to replace the existing bed.

The broad beans are taller than ever and starting to produce what looks like a promising spring harvest. Along with some mange tout peas, we have plenty of greens for the table in the form of self seeded butter lettuce, nettles, rocket, oak leaf lettuce, cabbages, kale and then some young Chinese cabbage and mizuna. The Chinese cabbages have started going to seed in the warmer spring weather, so I will use them whole in stir-fries, flowers and all. As always, I will try to use all my harvest, even if it is not perfect. In the hope that our few cauliflowers would grow bigger, I left them too long so now they are past their best but still perfectly edible. I plan to use them to make Indian pakora with the chickpea flour that needs using in my pantry (It is best served with Chai tea on a rainy day.)

The spring sowing has begun. We have rows of tiny carrots and beetroot, and lots of  hopefulseeds trays for the tomatoes, peppers and brinjals. Last years garlic’s and leeks are looking great and the new onion seedlings are doing well. It’s a good start.

We have plenty of our own pasture-raised beef in the freezer now, which will hopefully last us for a long time. In the not too distant future, some organic free-range pork will join it. The pork is rather too free ranging at the moment: the naughty rascals keep disappearing leaving us searching all over, hence their being put to work in the chicken run this week.

Marigold and Matilda are leading their chicks to bed as the sun dips behind the hill. I will shut them all in securely, feed the dogs, close the curtains inside and then finish making dinner while I watch the last episode of Miss Marple. Decadent Dad is busy in his leather workshop. Our son is at his drawing board. They are each playing their own music selection while they work, so I will wear headphones to hear Miss Marple while I cook.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Still Stretching

It's been six months since I last posted here. I miss this space.

Random songs are warming the mood as the fire crackles in the hearth and Decadent Dad is whistling, just like his Pops, and enthusiastically chopping and grilling our Friday Night Special Night dinner. This institution started in 2000. Tonight we are looking forward to hot baked rolls filled with our own Chinese spiced beef sausage and a cabbage pickle à la Jamie, followed by chocolate Tumble cake, as in chocolate coated raisin and shortcake balls baked into a cake. We will watch a movie and I will knit. Of course there will also be coffee.

I am making a tea cosy for my art deco Susie Cooper teapot that I inherited from my grandmother. I am using a squishy cream-coloured yarn with streaks of yellow, red, green and blue, a mohair/wool/acrylic blend: Toledo by Elle in the Smarties colourway. It will be topped with cream coloured roses and green leaves. I am making it on a whim after joining the Miss Marple Knit-along that A Knitter's Life is hosting. I am binge watching the Joan Hickson series of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie murders while I work on the tea cosy.

Since learning to spin, my taste in yarn has become a bit more discerning but, being Elastic Mom, I can't bear waste and will  try to make the most of my pretty acrylic yarns. Earlier in the month I went stash-diving and put together a Leftovers Diagonal Scarf using a collection of scraps of purple wool that my sister gave me a few years ago. It feels good to turn these bitty pretties into something that is fun to wear. I really like how it turned out. I am sure that some of the wool was hand dyed mohair blend from Nurturing Fibres, there was also eyelash yarn, some recycled sari silk yarn, and the leftovers from the Granny Stripe Blanket that I made for my daughter when we first moved up to the farm. Now she lives faraway and it is her-Hug-From Mum blanket. It is so bright that my son told me it hurt his eyes. My goal is too try to use up my yarn stash before I buy more yarn.

I gave away quite a bit of my stash yarn when I started the Hope Knitters group with the three ladies who live in the staff village up the road. I wanted to give them a way of earning some money to supplement their husbands' meagre incomes. The ladies live in rudimentary houses with outside pit toilets and no running water in their homes, just cold water taps outside. Their lives are hard. They collect wood to warm their homes. They do have electricity, but their diet mostly consists of mieliemeel (maize porridge). Even though we are a little group and the knitting project is a simple concept, I believe that it will bring them hope.

The idea is to start with an incentive pack of yarn, knit or crochet an item, sell it and use the proceeds to buy another skein of yarn. Once they have done all that then they receive another donated incentive pack from me. Then they are free to spend the profits or save them and use any leftovers for personal projects. We have received some generous yarn donations from kind people from Cape Town to America. We happily take leftover yarn and scraps and I put them into 100g packs. Blantina, who works for me has enthusiastically joined the group, and we have occasional visits from a middle aged Basotho man, Ntate Tshupa, who used to crochet using a match as his crochet hook.

Mentoring these beautiful ladies has been exciting and heartbreaking. It is wonderful to see their progress and their delight in selling the items they make. Choosing their well earned packs of donated yarn brings them such joy as they anticipate their new projects. They are quick and keen to learn new stitches and patterns. We try to meet weekly. One lady brings along her two little girls who play with educational toys while their mama knits. When I first started I didn't realise how much my life would change. These ladies have captured a piece of my heart. It has been heartbreaking to see the effects of poverty on their homes along with enduring the brunt of alcoholism and domestic abuse. One of the ladies has left the group because she can't see beyond her personal pain. Then came tragedy of a car accident that killed the young husband of one of our ladies. We have taken a knock. 

Yesterday three of us sat under some gum trees with a view towards the mountains of Lesotho. We stitched and chatted. It was one of those infinite moments where nothing else mattered except that moment.