Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Summer reaches fever pitch

It's fig time in Cape Town, time for my only real fig fix of the year aside from my own little honeyed terrace fruit in July or August. I never find really good figs in New York. And I love them.

Next week Ellen and I head for fig central, the small town of Prince Albert, at the foot of the Swartberg Pass. And where are we staying? Why, at the fig farm, of course. Full immersion.

She arrives late-late at the end of this week and I have being wracking my brains to try and fit in everything a person who knows Cape Town wants to show a person who does not know Cape Town. It's impossible. There is too much. Too many beaches too many walks too many things to eat to climb to buy to smell and to drink, nevermind to look at. So we'll do our best. The Little Karoo trip is perhaps counter intuitive, but I wanted to show her some different country, too. There will be a big sky, the Milky Way at night, no electricity, a town where you order your bread at the bakery the day before you want it, and buy your own milk from the dairy.

Yet in Cape Town there are penguins and turquoise water and orchids and caves and views and gardens and shops and picnics and sunsets and drinks on the beach and vineyards and and and.


In the meantime, there is a plate of figs to eat, a rack of lamb chops to braai for supper, a drink to mix, red wine to chill (just a little), and a lot of daisies to deadhead.

The evenings down here are still long.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Die Kom

The Friedmans live on the Kom beside a grove of milkwood trees. Vince and I call them saucisson trees, because that is how their small purple, staining fruit smells. Which is good if you like saucisson. We do. The trees are protected and it is an offense to chop one down.

Gerald cooked lunch. This was quite something. He is 83 and began to cook for the first time only last year when Yvonne was confined to bed, and he shows every sign of being an natural. Till now Yvonne has taken care of all things domestic, while Gerald worked at a rarefied level of Law. He panfried kabeljou for us, a Cape linefish now - sadly -  on the unsustainable orange list. Not everyone knows that. I have not eaten Kob, as we call it,  in years. It is delicious. It was cooked perfectly, too. With it were steamed courgettes and boiled baby potatoes, and butter and lemon. It is easily the best fish I have eaten in as long as I can remember. Apparently Gerald makes excellent omelettes, too. The man is talented. I promised to send him a recipe for a crumble as he would like to expand his dessert repertoir.

After lunch we walked outside to look at the aloes that grow near the water on the little bite of quiet bay where the water retreats to reveal cobbled rocks at low tide. A group of people was sorting out a seine net, from which an occasional silver fish flapped. Earlier the woman of the group had walked by with two bags heavy and damp. Mussels? I'd like to be eating at their house tonight.

I'd like to have a group of old friends who would help me gather my seine net in at the Kom. And a house, looking down at that water, where sometimes otters are still seen. And to have the aloes to wake me up on summer mornings, with their prickled and utter redness. This is one of the places I would choose to live if I could live anywhere, anywhere at all.

I think they are Aloe perfoliata, or jewelled aloes. Creeping aloes, native to the West Coast. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Driving to Koringberg for lunch

One and a half hours after leaving home, Die Withuis, at Koringberg.

37'C in the shade.

A leisurely, lazy, lovely six hour lunch and visit.

Hard to leave. I was ready to move in.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beautiful thing

When I noticed this strange flower growing in the greenbelt near my parents  house it yelled, all 6 inches of it, Weeeeeeed! An intricately arranged, lovingly designed weed. And loved by aphids. In fact, perhaps a milkweed - Asclepias*. Not one I have ever seen.

I visit that area of pine trees regularly, hoping against hope for a repeat of last year's chicken of the woods, which we found in February. I have not given up.

10.20pm - Update: Asclepias, yes. Weed, no. Then again, how are we defining a weed? To me it's an invasive exotic. Asclepias crispa is not exotic, but South African. Thank you iSpot, once again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jamaica Bay in Winter

While I sit in a cool room on a hot day in Cape Town with the blinds drawn against a noonday glare, preparing to write an article with tips on taking a good picture (...um), may I direct you to some cool white winter images of one of my favourite places in the world: The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

The real photographer in the family (no, not the cat), hiked out there on a snowy day last week to see what he could see. And through his lens the world is wonderful. The pictures are silent and cold and austerely beautiful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Half and Half

When I am visiting my parents my cocktail repertoire expands from everything-prosecco* to include the bottles in their liquor cabinet that time forgot. Like sweet vermouth. So here is a chilled glass of half sweet vermouth, half dry - in this case Noilly Prat, unavailable in this country. Who knows why. I sometimes bring a bottle over from New York. Shake the vermouths up with ice, strain, pour, and I add a thin slice of lime - this one from the tree in the garden. Sip it in the kitchen while things happen at the stove.

Prosecco, speaking of which: My serviceberry cocktail is featured in Cocktails in the Garden on Martha Stewart's At Home in the Garden. And keep an eye out for 66 Square Feet in the March edition of Martha Stewart Living!

(And yes, I have subsequently cut my hair. Good move.)

Cape Town Mystery #1

[This post has been updated to reflect Constantia Village's response (see end).]

I offer you the first in a series of Things that Puzzle Me in Cape Town.

The Constantia Village Shopping Centre is about five minutes from my parents' house. It is ground zero for grocery shopping, from high end, overpackaged Woolworths with its sterling produce and zero in-house recycling, to more day-to-day Pick 'n Pay. Both are major national retail chains which have enourmous spaces in the mall. They make New York supermarkets look really, really backward (Wholefoods excepted). Wide aisles, friendly and professional - for the most part - cashiers, excellent fresh produce, on site bakeries, wine, meat (though I have heard recent mutterings about Pick'n Pay's butchery whose standards have dropped significantly), you name it. In the rest of the mall there are clothes shops and boutiques, a book shop, coffee shops, a biltong shop, a camping supply shop, jewellers, banks, hairdressers and stationary shops. It  is always busy and is surrounded by a vast parking lot to house all the cars that bring people to shop.

None of this is mysterious, though it is certainly interesting. I find mall culture fascinating, not living near one in Brooklyn, but doing my shopping the old fashioned way - butcher, baker, mango maker.

What is puzzling is the trees. Trees are planted between every nose-to tail row of cars. That's nice. Trees green and cool the bricked lots and provide shade in the very hot summers. You'd think. I mean, otherwise what's the point? Many of the trees are the karees pictured (Searsia leptodictya, formerly Rhus). Now, every single summer, around this time, just as their new growth is starting to make them look like trees again the karees are shaved. Into these weird little flat-topped, jug-headed...things. All their nice new growth is chopped and their shading ability reduced to a spot on a bonnet (that's hood in local parlance).


For crying out loud.

Who can explain this to me? By now, decades after the centre was opened, these should be gorgeous, shady trees. What is the point of the contorted pompoms?

It is a mystery.

Unless: Has it been discovered that the karees make a fruit to which birds are very attracted? Are the trees lopped to within an inch of their lives just as they begin to produce this fruit? Was there one fatal year in which fruit was produced, when redwing starlings descended and when all hell broke loose on the windshields below?

Or is someone who signs cheques just a complete neat freak? Like the man for whom I designed a garden who got angry when it grew.

I'd like to know.

[In my quest for an answer I visited the new website for Constantia Village which now calls itself  "The" Constantia Village...uh, OK. Their introductory blurb reads: "There are very few places in the world where vineyards hug every street corner..."

Yep, and Constantia isn't one of them!

Really? Every street corner. Every. Street corner? C'mon. I hadn't intended to give them a hard time, it's just the trees that bother me but...vineyards hugging every street corner? That's just bad copy. I've thought of three street corners but otherwise am coming up empty. I may have to go out and count. If you know of a vineyard-hugged street corner in Constantia please tell us where it is. If you want to help look via satellite, here's the link.

Quite unwittingly it seems I have stumbled upon Cape Town Mystery #2.]

Update: 1-25-12, 11.56am - Constantia Village responds, and the mystery is solved:

Dear Ms Viljoen

Thank you for your email.  We have for a long time deliberated the benefits of shade versus security. We have strategically placed cameras that monitor the activities in the car park and the growth of the trees would render these cameras useless.  We would love nothing more than to have beautiful shade-providing trees, but we are concerned that this would be at the cost of security.  We have investigated alternatives regarding the placement of the cameras, but it would mean many, many more cameras, which would make monitoring even more difficult.

I trust that you understand our dilemma. Please feel free publish this response on your blog.

Kind Regards 
Jani Hugo

Marketing Manager
The Constantia Village

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Silvermine Amphitheatre walk

I joined Lyn and more of her friends for another hike at Silvermine, starting this time on the west side of Ou Kaapse Weg.

The well known Amphitheatre hike follows the elevated  rim of mountaims which form a horse shoe around the reservoir below.

Solitary and petite, Agapanthus africanus graced the path at irregular intervals, still holding some of the rain we enjoyed overnight.

On the northern side of the rim leucadendrons and pink ericas dominated the vegetation.

I don't know this erica, apparently just opening.

The Constantiaberg brooded in the background all morning - in front of us, behind us, in front of us again.

I think these are all Watsonia tabularis. As usual they occurred regularly throughout the walk.

Below, this seemed to be a secondary inflorescence unfolding fanlike from the main stem.

                                                 Watsonia borbonica.

The rain in the night had filled each of the irregular and frequent bowls in the sandstone - so typical of these mountains - with fresh water.

Another pink erica. One day I will learn the pink ericas.

Crassula coccinea in its ra-ra glory.

Furry-flowered Erica cerinthoides.

    The white highlights are Erica mammosa, and this valley was fluttering with tiny sunbirds.

Coffee and croissant break. My coffee at last resides in a decent thermos. My shoes are known as The Canaries. But they do not sing. Because they are not caged. Uh...nevermind.

Moss pockets, often, and perfect.

Low cloud came and went over a remaining stand of alien pine trees on the ridge. 

A solitary vygie in a moss island on the flat ledge of sandstone.

A late Liparia splendens - mountain dahlia.

                 Leucaspermum growing like trees in the naturally treeless fynbos.

Stunning: Gladiolus liliaceus. It opens towards evening and the colour turns lighter as its scent grows stronger for its nocturnal pollinators. I had never seen one.

This red-tinted leucaspermum with velvet-soft leaves is everywhere.

Lobelia coronopifolia.

                                                 Perhaps Lobelia seritacea. 

And suddenly, rising higher on a ridge, a new view, far over Noordhoek and all the way to the lighthouse beyond Kommetjie.

A late Thereianthus bracteolatus.

 Tritoniopsis unguicularis.

The rocky southern edge of the rim. 

           And over the other shoulder, Fish Hoek and Simonstown, to the south east.

It used to be Peucedanum ferulaceum, but I am told at iSpot that it is now classified as Notobubon ferulaceum.  The little beetles may be in the act of pollination. Avert your eyes.

An Orthnithogalum. Unless it's an Albuca again.

Pelargonium cucullatum growing up through Phylica dioica.

A late Protea cynaroides.

                                            Pretty Chironia baccifera.

And back down on the jeep track near the reservoir we look into the middle part of our horse shoe-shaped hike...

I left my fellow hikers as they were preparing for a dip in the cold waters of the fynbos water-fed reservoir.

It may be the most beautiful city. Because this really is in the middle of the city.