Saturday, January 30, 2010


Corgi gardening assistants.

Blue and white agapanthus.

A hadeda - the local, suburban version of pigeons.

After a morning spent gardening for my mom, part of which involved standing in a bikini on a ladder, in the swimming pool, with gloves over my elbows (I don't do spiders), pruning ivy from the waterfall into the pool (it was complicated)...

...I braaied some little lamb chops with Ethiopian berber pepper, lemon and marjoram, heated some quiche Lorraines and made a salad of hearts of gem lettuce with the teeniest tomatoes I have ever seen, and a Verjus vinaigrette with a chopped leek from the garden.

Friday, January 29, 2010

False Bay blue

It had been years since I'd traveled along the eastern arm that cradles the deep blue of False Bay in a mountainous embrace. The western side is the familiar stomping ground of Kalk Bay, Foxy and Boulders Beaches and Cape Point. To start in the east you must brave the boring half hour drive to Somerset West, the bleak architecture of Strand and then at last curve up the slope past the popping turquoise of Gordon's Bay.

The road is beautiful and windy, with the bay an expanse of deep blue to the right, with mountains on the left. We pulled over at the viewpoints - always situated on a blind curve to keep you awake - and watched the watery white horses in the wind, sometimes coming into a cove that was protected and calm, then feeling the bite of the southeaster on the car again as we turned back into it.

The Steenbras River mouth, above, is a British Columbian blue and green, and we bundu-bashed on foot over hot rock and coastal shrubs to get closer.

Then we came upon this long beach, complete with solitary surfer, and shark that Vince spied from the road.

We were heading for Pringle Bay, and spent long enough to take more pictures of the bright water, to eat a boerewors roll and toasted sandwich with Castles, and then moved on to Betty's Bay, where we were surprised to see a sign for penguins.

By now we were beyond False Bay, but these penguins have friends near Cape Point, in a bouldery bay that is more protected than this one.

Our new, all cluster Wild Card didn't help us with the entry fee (R10 = about $1.40) but we enjoyed watching the birds and the dassies that live with them, which eat the unbelievably thorny and unpleasant-looking shrubs that creep close to the water. Dassies seem to have lots of fleas. Scratch scratch scratch.

The wind howled here too, and it was quite chilly despite the hot sun. This site is remarkably fragrant with accumulated penguin and cormorant guano.

The birds are used to non-threatening humans and completely unafraid.

We drove home the long way, cutting into the interior at Kleinmond, and driving up to Sir Lowry's Pass through the orchards of Grabouw and Elgin. One last stop at the top, where we could barely stand straight in the wind, and we headed down, me gripping the dancing steering wheel for all it was worth. After that it was traffic all the way.

We are planning our side trip - we are thinking of starting in the Karoo, then heading for the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, then the eastern Free State, back to Lesotho and into KwaZulu -Natal over the Sani Pass - the highest and apparently scariest pass in southern Africa - and into the Drakensberg. It's pretty diverse, and I'm hoping for new flowers. I haven't been to the Free State or Drakensberg since I was little, and both have summer-flowering geophytes.

I need a Book.

This weekend I'm looking forward to hiking in the Lemoenkloof with Marijke and a friend who has a permit for research purposes: it is closed to the public, even though it is behind Table Mountain and apparently accessible. Can't wait to see what we find.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

World Cup in Cape Town

We drove round the far, eastern side of False Bay today, past transparent turquoise bays (Vince saw a shark) and rocky coastline and back over the mountains and down Sir Lowry's Pass in a howling wind that shook the Volkswagen bus before depositing us in bumper to bumper traffic all the way to Cape Town, caused by FIFA-inspired roadworks. The World Cup is in June.

More than the pristine water, the African penguins, the dassies, the fynbos or the awe-inspiring traffic, it was the bands of small black children playing soccer in the whipping sand and dust of the Cape Flats, between this arterial freeway and the shanty towns that form a brittle shell around Cape Town, that remain with me.

This was their only open ground to play on. Sloping steeply down to the road in some places, on uneven playing fields overflown by litter, some groups played with ball and sticks as goals. Others were organized into squads with men coaching them, feet away from whizzing traffic. Between an overpass, the freeway and an off-ramp, on a triangle of grass - possibly the only grass for miles around - small boys hopped like grasshoppers in a leg-strengthening drill.

World cup mania escapes me, as I am not a soccer-, or a sports fan in general. But these children in the glare and wind of a late Cape afternoon made me see it in a different light. For them it is not a traffic nightmare, a tourist boom, a cash cow, a headache. It is a dream. And that is the only thing that will get them out of where they are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Snoek braai

For our snoek* braai I made a gremolata with summer savoury from my mom's herb garden. The same savoury that grows in Brooklyn on my terrace. It seeded freely, and is now very happy in Cape Town.

I used the newest leaves, as it has a strong flavour, and some flat leaf parsley, a few tiny cloves from the garlic she grew from seed, a little lime zest from the tree that grows near the swimming pool.

Our old, brick braai area has been decommissioned and turned into a paradise for potted succulents, so I used the Weber. Webers are not pretty. But they do the job. The two fish had been lightly smoked, courtesy of Woolworths, and before putting them over the coals I laid many fat lemon slices on the grill, then put the fish over those, skin side down.

By the time I flipped them the fire side of the lemon was black, but the fish side still juicy. A nice grilled citrus smell wafted over the garden.

We started with a pungent ajo blanco with green grapes, then moved on to our snoek, potato and green onion (from the garden) salad, and green beans. Fruit for dessert.

The leftover snoek made a very good pate the next day, deboned and whizzed in the food processor with a little cream cheese, mayonnaise, lime juice, onion and hot red pepper. You can do the same thing with any smoked fish. It is addictive.

Now off to eat some more fish at Kirstenbosch before attacking the plant sales area...

* Snoek, in South Africa, is an oily, barracuda-like fish, with a flavour reminiscent of bluefish, if you are North American. It is typically braaied over coals, or salted and dried, or smoked. It is good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Porter Estate Produce Market

The Indian Curry how her little leaflet describes her:

This is Naz and those are her samoosas. They are The Best.

She sells them every Saturday from 8am till 1pm at the Porter Estate Produce Market. They are R5 (about 70c US) for 4 in a packet, and she makes curried beef, potato, and spinach with feta. They are extremely fresh and crisp and I can barely stop myself from wolfing them down on the spot. They also freeze very well.

I asked Naz for permission to take her picture for 'a blog that sometimes has posts about food,' and she looked bemused but was willing. She does not have time to have an email address. She is too busy making her dhals, rutis, samoosas and Indian meals. You can order meals and have them delivered to your home or pick them up in Glencairn.

If you are Capetonian and want to be fed, I would visit her and taste what she has - it is all quite delicious. Perhaps she'll be persuaded that email is in fact easier than phone. I don't think I'm gutsy enough to post her number on the web...but contact me if you'd like it.

By 10 am the market is jammed, so be warned.

There is a R5 entrance fee and if you come in via the Manor House, there are some bumpy roads, so leave the Porsche at home. Actually, I think they only shop at the Neighbourhood Goods Market in Salt River (an excellent market, actually, if you sharpen your elbows well and don't mind being anchovied by the crowds, or being crushed in the street by a Porsche 4 x 4).

You can also have a substantial breakfast at a long wooden table, with moer koffie. There is also an espresso stall. Next time I'll try it. Moer se moer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hikes in Cape Town: Noordhoek Ridge from Silvermine

It took us a week to get up off our rear ends and into the mountains. And then it was a drive of fifteen minutes and three traffic lights before we pulled into the busy Sunday parking area at Silvermine on the west side of Ou Kaapse Weg (the east side has a lot of other walks). I had never hiked high enough to look down onto Hout Bay, on the other side of the peninsula, and this route promised lots of flowers. You can see our hike here, thanks to Vince's GPS and Garmin Connect.

Checklist for hiking:

We told someone where we were going
Factor 50 sunscreen
Good shoes
Map (Silvermine)

We didn't take warm jackets, which was stupid as the weather changes very fast in the mountains. Warm temperatures below mean little. By the time we finished the path behind us was shrouded in cold cloud. Even stopping for lunch for 15 minutes chilled me, as we were facing the wind.

Above, on the dirt road leading away from the Silvermine Reservoir (packed with families in the water and picnicking), I saw Something New. Lyn McCallum and Marijke Honig have agreed that it is probably Aristea africana, but we await expert confirmation. Brilliantly blue, growing about 7" high in bone dry soil.

In amongst the green of varied fynbos we kept coming upon patches of colour and miniature gardens. Here a Helichrysum, possibly dasyanthum, but not growing where books say it should, which is near the sea.

Below, Pseudoselago serrata occured frequently, and looks as though it would be at home in a well-behaved perennial border.

Rounding a corner, we left the reservoir and the people behind and started to catch glimpses of the views to come.

Tall, puffy Hermas villosa.

Spectacular and impossible-to-miss Crassula coccinea. An easy and rewarding plant with which to test one's ID skills.

Everlastings, Helichrysum vestitum ( I think).

To our left, walking up towards Noordhoek Ridge, Long Beach at Noordhoek suddenly gleams white.

This richly pink little erica started to appear beside the road.

Pinecone-like Leucadendrons, but which kind? Their new foliage seems red. En masse, in the wind, these beautiful shrubs make the landscape undulate like a richly furred animal pelt

Vygies - Mesembryanthemum, another flower whose identification eludes me: there are so many. And so many are pink...

Below, (over exposed) Gnidia tomentosa - perhaps scented at night, like some of its kin.

I thought that identifying this white erica would be a cinch. It was everywhere. Erica mammosa is a candidate - it varies from red to pink to white.

Brunia alopecuroides, with its mini pinecones.

At our first lookout point we could see both sides of the long curved Cape Peninsula. To Vince's left, False Bay.

To his right, Noordhoek.

While he took pictures, I poked around the rocky outcrop. In one of the typical bowls formed in the porous rocks, I found some scat.

Was this a kitty litter tray al fresco? Fur and insect exoskeletons...

In the shade of another rock I found a thin film of cold, clear, clean water.

And on these, evidence of clean air. Lots of lichen.

Back on the path, a butterfly posed conveniently on the red crassula. It is Meneris tulbaghia, known as the Pride of Table Mountain.

"If it were to disappear, several plant species that depend exclusively on the mountain pride for pollination would face extinction. Other than Disa uniflora these include the cluster disa Disa ferruginea, the nerine or Guernsey lily Nerine sarniensis, and the red crassula, Crassula coccinea. All have one feature in common: red flowers."

Table Mountain - A Natural History, Anton Pauw and Steven Johnson. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, 1999

Our path branched left to the lookout point at Noordhoek Peak, where we wanted to stop for lunch.

Roella triflora grew between the stones.

And so did this mystery. Each tiny flower hung pendulously on a threadlike stem...

Behind the cairn on the peak, another Watsonia tabularis. They had been dotted about all the way here, so that it was possible to take their beauty for granted.

This one had a visitor. Click on the picture for a larger view and see what he had for lunch...

A few more steps, and the pay-off for the hike up. Straight down to Hout Bay.

The wind was quite cold here, but the rocks were warm.

After looking at it all for a long time we moved around to the sheltered side and ate our delicious beef pies from the Porter Estate Produce Market, cheese sandwiches, droewors, and Ceres fruit juice. And contemplated the route ahead.

The map warned of a difficult spot for those afraid of heights (moi moi moi) and said danger, but Vince thought the contours on the map didn't look too scary.

So far, so good.

I recognized Erica cerinthoides, which has distinctly hairy flowers.

Below, top left is where we'd come from, Noordhoek Peak.

Below us to the left lay the Hoerikwaggo Trail, a six day, five night hike from near Cape Point to Table Mountain. You can book for a one, two or three night stay on the trail at the moment. Food and overnight gear are transported to your overnight camps.

And ahead of us lay our path, straight up. I'd been nervous on a previous scrambling bit, and so Vince decided to head into the fynbos to follow a ridge and gradually join the next one. We stuck to the rocks as much as possible, to avoid squashing flora.

This detour found many gardens in the rocks. well as beautiful rock shelters and formations. I thought about snakes a bit.

Below, Corymbium africanum.

And at this elevation, we saw repeatedly an erica I'd never seen before. Its habit made it easy to identify: it was always wrapped over or around a rock. Erica nevillei.

Below and behind us, Chapman's Peak Drive. Protea cynaroides, or king protea, and South Africa's national flower, in bud in the foreground.

After a steep descent, with a steeper ascent to the Constantiaberg ahead of us, we (OK, I) called it quits and turned right, heading back towards the reservoir at Silvermine.

On this white, apparently erosion-prone track, I found a little pink erica growing in pure sand.

Pink jewels.

These fat lobelias on long, thin stems had also followed us all the way from the start: Lobelia coronopifolia.

My favourite, Pelargonium myrrhifolium.

And a last stand of watsonias.

Having walked the Skyline or Panorama Path, we'd not doubled back to do the slightly lower but almost parallel Amphitheatre Path. It is apparently very good for flowers, so we will return.

Two swimmers were doing laps in the 350 m long reservoir as we walked past. Today Marijke told me that she was the one doing backstroke.

She says, "The colour and feel of the water is difficult to describe - amber bubbles with each stroke, and after a while that lovely tanniny taste of fynbos water."

Books used for Id'ing:

Wild Flowers of the Table Mountain National Park, Terry Trinder-Smith (text), Mary Maytham Kidd and Fay Anderson (illustrations). Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town, 2006.
Cape Peninsula - South African Wild Flower Guide 3, Mary Maytham Kidd. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town, 1983.
Hottentots Holland to Hermanus, Lee Burman, Anne Bean, Jose Burman. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town, 1985.