Sunday, June 30, 2013

The country, as it passes by

A journey to and from a delicious lunch in Koringberg, with a quick stop to buy proteas beside the road.

The last time I drove up here, on the N7 (the road to Namibia), it was dry, dusty, hot, brown, white.

Now it is green. Up, and down. 

Young wheat. 

On the way back to Cape Town again I saw blue cranes stepping through it.

Then the dark blue mountain appeared.

Devil's Peak and the mountain, just before 6pm.

And then President Obama's traffic jams swallowed me up.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Planting to eat

Our lunchtime radishes in Cape Town, today, fresh from the pot where they were pulled. The secret with radishes, for me, is to forget that they are there. Plant them, walk away. Don't look back. Come back in six weeks.

The other night we ate wonderful rainbow chard (South Africa is the rainbow nation, you know) from the garden - torn from the midribs and sauteed/steamed briefly. Arugula makes it into salads - though I nearly decimated my mom's patch. It grows in almost full shade. So does the chervil. Good lessons.

In Brooklyn, the Frenchman is gardening. Watering, weeding, picking blueberries and black raspberries. He's leaving the fava beans for me. I will dry the seeds and plant them in the fall, and maybe give some away. I am not sure how the fig cuttings are doing. I must ask. If they are well I will pot them up and get in touch with the short list of people who asked for one. As for the fig...well.

Let's just wait and see.

Friday, June 28, 2013


It was one of those Cape Town days you hear about. A clear blue pause in the middle of sheets of wild rain and wind.

The kind of day that says, Hello? Remember this? And, Why would you want anything else?

The answer is complicated.

Or is it?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Morning in the Kruger

 Olifants Rest Camp. I kept the breakfast sugar in a rooibos tea tin.

Mornings took on a new pattern in the Kruger Park. They started early, in the dark, with Vince's alarm chirping him awake at 5.30. I am not naturally an early-in-the-dark kind of person, but it was surprisingly painless. The early nights helped a lot, and I found myself becoming sleepy at 9pm. Unheard of.

Breakfast Box: coffee, sugar, mugs, teaspoons, rusks, jam.

Vince would get up, unpack the Breakfast Box and start the espresso on a hot plate if we were in a rondawel, or over our Cadac gas stove if we were camping. Then he heated milk, and filled our flask for the road. All in preparation for the Dawn Drive, starting when the camp gates open at 6am, and when you are supposed to see the most animals. I still wonder if it's not a hoax. We always saw our best animals later. But the dawn drives were fun. The sun low and red, the air cold. We would leave in two sweaters and come home in T-shirts.

Balule Rustic Camp

So we'd drive for a couple of hours, or park and watch some water hole or river, and wait. And listen to silence, or fish eagles, and smell clean air, or that sweet, mysterious scent in places. And then we'd come back home, because every place we stayed was home, and have fresh coffee, and rusks, or perhaps some toasted buns with butter and my mother's apricot jam.

And I'd read the paper. Of course. The SAN Parks Times. The content is wonderful and highly informative, regarding this park and others, often written by researchers in the field. The editing is poor - bad grammar and punctuation - and boy, do they need a proof reader. But it remains a publication with great promise, and enriched our experience and appreciation of the park enormously.

Sometimes, there was company: the cleaners - who always arrived with daylight to clean out the previous night's braai ashes and change linens in the huts - hustling vervet monkeys out of the outdoor kitchens.

Once the sun hit the grass birds and local critters emerged. Tree squirrels, dwarf mongooses, starlings, barbets, hoopoes and the occasional bushbuck.

A life I could get used to.

Our Trip so Far:

Day 1 - Cape Town to Bloemfontein: 12 hours, many miles
Day 2 Bloemfontein to Dullstroom: smoke in the heart of the country
Day 3 - Dullstroom to Tamboti:  bushveld
Tamboti - Camp Life: wild fruit and winter flowers
Tamboti to Olifants: small owls and long necks

Eating burdock stems


On a sparkling day in Cape Town, with the sun appearing for the first time in several cloudtangled week, it's hard to remember that back in in my other home, the hamlet of New York City, a prematurely hot, sticky summer has descended like a sodden, steaming duvet.

(Comforter. Do you say duvet or comforter? Does anyone say eiderdown?)

But that reminds me about burdock, the weed with large furry leaves, whose flowering stalks are now perhaps attaining some serious elevation. But before they are six feet tall, should eat them. Really.

Burdock root is usually known as gobo - and is cultivated as vegetable in Japan, and also Hawaii. But this is all about the easy-to-harvest-stem.

Here's my story about edible burdock - recognizing it and how to use it -  in the current edition of Edible Manhattan.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The best Cape Town salad

One of the most beautiful and most delicious salads I have ever eaten (I have eaten a lot of salads).

The Round House. Good food.

Cape Town winter hike

On a brisk day with clouds roiling around the mountain, lifting and clearing unpredictably, we drove up Old Kaapse Weg to go walking above Silvermine. At the top I stopped to snap this picture of Tokai and Constantia. 

The ridge where we would walk was still relatively cloud-free but we'd decided to cancel or turn back if the weather deteriorated. The sun was out at the very beginning...

Despite the difference in season - we usually hike in summer -  our backpacks weren't packed too differently for our proposed three-to-four hour walk: extra, warm layers, something waterproof, water to drink, some sandwiches and juice, and Vince with his entire photographic assemblage, which weighs about a ton.

I was curious about flowers, and hoping to see proteas, whose season is just beginning.

White Protea repens grew in adundance lower down, near the car park.

The reservoir was brimming, full of fynbos-stained fresh water, and its summer lap-swimmers long gone. The wind whipped so much water over the wall that we had to walk the long way around, rather than cross on top of it. We would have been soaked. A light misty drizzle had started, and we pulled our hoods over our ears.

The detour gave us this beautiful view of a stand of Kniphofia, below. Just beyond them we passed an elderly husband and wife pair, he botanizing in the bushes, she crouched in a rain poncho and smiling widely at us, fellow adventurers in the teeth of the northwester. Something about South Africa: Everyone greets each other when out walking. The only people who will not turn out to be European.

Higher up, Leucapsermum buds appeared on the slopes.

Erica lutea, also  known as rice heath. You can see why.

We stood aside to allow a large party of hikers by. The path was quite steep and rocky by this time, and half of them seemed to be on crutches or relying on walking sticks.  Later, when Vince and I had both been blown over by the wind, we wondered how on earth they had made it.

The most common erica on all our walks, Erica hirtiflora, I think. This was the only specimen we saw.

And right on the path, Erica plukenetii

By this time, right on the exposed ridge, we were taking a battering. Vince blew right over. With his heavy backpack he must have weighed over 200lbs. Then I did. I laced my hood under my chin, stuck my head down and ploughed on, holding the hood as close to my head as possible by pulling down on the laces. Where it got in, the wind howled between hood and scalp, buffeting me so that I felt like one of those little balls attached to a bat with an elastic string, boing-boing-boing. Or a ragdoll being shaken by an OCD pitbull with nice breath. Interesting, but nottawhollottafun.

Clouds dropped lower and far away Noordhoek beach was taking a beating from the Atlantic.

Gnidia tomentosa, in a brief lull. Night-scented. Good for gardens.

I couldn't get this pretty little thing growing under a rock on the path not to blow around. Cape snowdrop, Crassula capensis.

The weathered concavities in the Table Mountain sandstone were all brimming with rainwater.

We stopped near here, at a well known shelter used by every hiker on this Amphitheatre route, enclosed by tall rocks and featuring a lichen-festooned and ancient, wind stunted tree. We ate our sandwiches and slurped our fruit juice (our roadtrip favouite: Ceres' small boxes of Whispers of Summer. If only!), and took off our hoods, and could hear, again.

Back on track after our rest, the path often turned into a small stream, clear clean water running across the sand before seeping into the fynbos again.

We were quite relieved to start heading downhill, full circle. Rain chased us from behind.

And near the end, South Africa's national flower (despite Mohammed Moosa's assertion that our national flower is  - was? - a plastic bag), the king protea - Protea cynaroides. As big as your head, and holding more or less still for the picture.

The rain swept in as we drove away, and poured for the rest of the day and night. Four inches fell in 24 hours.

The next post will be about waterfalls.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Proof of life

Fruit photos snapped by: The Frenchman, on his tour of duty yesterday

...on the roof farm above Henry Street...

Although every time I write "farm" I think of the recent op ed in The Times that pressed all my buttons. Even if the clever Marielle Anzelone did write it. I mean, why even talk about urban gardeners  and a "craze to farmify our surroundings"  (really?) in the same breath as habitat deprivation for native pollinators? The gist of the piece - habitat creation through native plantings, and how pollination works - is great, but creating \ a conflict on paper where none really exists is very distracting. Urban gardening and native planting are not mutually exclusive. Gardeners are not the problem.

Here it is.

Greedy Gardeners

Back to the er, farm, which, if you remember waaay back, was created as a sort of urban gardening joke. Before I fell in love with it. Here is a bumble bee (all-American) doing what it does best to blueberry flowers.

Black raspberries, below. 

The cilantro (white flowers) bolted, of course. I'll leave it to set seed for a batch of boerewors.

The farm was kept alive by a simple soaker hose, turned on for twenty minutes every day by Amy and Dinah. I was sorry that neither was able to enjoy sundowners on the roof during their stay, but access to the roof can be tricky, with the lifting of the hatch and the hanging on like a lemur to the ladder.

May 21st

The fava beans are full of beans, now, and some tomatoes are hanging in, but I think I'll do some cheat-planting when I get back. Last year's tomatoes are still a vividly delicious memory.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day and night

There are poppies in bunches at Pick 'n Pay. Our Limpopo avocados have not ripened yet (R20 - $2 - for eight. In Brooklyn they are $1.50 each). In the greenbelt when I walked the dogs between rain showers this afternoon, a duck sat on the racing brown stream and was swept around a bend. A tree crashed in the pine woods across the way. The rain sweeps over the roof again. It is dark outside at 6pm. I watch Grand Hotel and marvel at how good Joan Crawford is, and how bad Greta Garbo.

Yet she got the best lines.

"The music has stopped."

I had to smile. I felt that way when the Frenchman left. How such a quiet man can leave such silence behind him.

He writes and says: The terrace and roof farm look great [no one has seen the farm for weeks, as neither Amy nor Dinah could manage the heavy hatch]. He says: Blueberries as big as cherries.

My worlds pull apart.

He will take pictures of pots and I will send instructions. Pull this. Leave that. I wonder if the Cape gooseberries survived. They were pinpricks when we left. The cat's grass must be sawgrass by now. How about tomatoes?

Outside, in the wet, frogs click in the reeds.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tamboti to Olifants

We left Tamboti, driving east, across the Kruger Park, and then north to reach our next night's rest camp - Olifants. I had booked a rondawel on the edge of the camp and was looking forward to the view I had seen in pictures: the wide curve of the Olifant's River 100 feet below, Mozambique in the distance.

But first I saw an owl. About the size of teacup. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye - a pale shape diving into long grass. So we stopped. Then the shape emerged, holding something, and flew to a nearby tree branch. A pearl spotted owlet, with its breakfast, a yummy grasshopper. This may have been my favourite sighting of the whole trip. It's all downhill from here.


Next, came our first giraffe. Beautiful, improbable creatures. With blue tongues.

An aside: I am not going to stuff all my posts with animal pictures. The world is full of them, and does not need more that are simply so-so. But these were our first animals, and we were quite excited. For once, though, being there did not mean, for me, that I had to record everything. That was a new experience.

The ugly warthogs in a patch of burned veld. I think this may have been a deliberate burn, as part of a vegetation-management scheme, and to give new winter grass to animals. Mitch Reardon's Shaping Kruger (Struik, 2012) became a constantly-quoted source of information for me, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in Kruger.

The pajama brigade. 

I even bought my first pair of proper pajamas since teenagehood in honour of our camping trip, where privacy evaporates the minute you unzip your tent. My pajamas had pants and a button down shirt and everything. Thank you, J. Crew. I sat and sipped hot coffee in a camp chair in the early mornings, in my brand new pajamas, wrapped in my mother's huge grey cashmere shawl. 

Elephants. Every time we had to drive near them, especially bulls or moms with small babies, my heart would instinctively tighten. I found them formidable and we behaved very cautiously near them. If we stopped it was at a little distance, and while I always turned the engine off (good park etiquette), I was also always ready to Go.

We met these buffalo (we think) again many days later, under very different circumstances, when Go! was the order issued to me by my husband. An unusual occurrence.

Driving. We took it in turns. We both like driving, and within a day we were accustomed to the new rules. Speed limits of 50km and 40km per hour, and turning off the ignition if we stopped for a while to observe an animal. But not before letting the windows down for photos. We drove with windows up, against dust, as much as for cool air in the later, hot afternoons.

And then we stopped on a beautiful bridge, crossing the Olifants River, and where I experienced a phenomenon that chased me through the park. A sweet scent, like flowers, blowing down the river. I never found the source, though I sniffed every flower and tree I could find.

You are allowed out of the vehicle on bridges, within two designated yellow lines about 60 feet in from each end (I am guessing the distance). My cousin tells us to beware of leopards, here, at the bridge ends - sick old leopards who hide out and jump on you. People have actually been killed in this way in the past, but it is extremely rare.

We stopped on this bridge many times over the next few days. There were always hippos to see, a crocodile or two, fish eagles, and their glorious, African cry, an elephant walking across the sand, and once, three armed rangers or South African Defence Force soldiers (we hoped) only visible through binoculars, tracking something or someone far upstream. It was one of many signs that reminded us we were in the middle of what amounts to a war against rhino poaching.

At the time we were in the park, 331 rhino had been killed. This year.

Irony: a man who was prominently involved in the Rhodesian bushwar, retired SADF Major General Johan Jooste, has now been employed by SAN Parks to head the fight against poaching because of his expertise in this type of terrain. Except now he's on the right side. (Rhodesia gained independence in 1980 after a protracted guerilla war against its white minortity rulers - greatly aided by the South African government at the time - and was re-named Zimbabwe. Everything was hunky dory until its head of state, Robert Mugabe, once a hero, went bats.)

Moving along...

In the afternoon we reached Olifants, the camp, which I loved. 

Our rondawel looked down over the river, whose rapids could be heard as we sat on our cool stoep. A fish eagle cried. The hippos started their evening grunting - like repeated blasts on a bass saxophone. In the day they often lie on the sand like bloated ticks, but then amble down to the water to submerge themselves, and later come up to the river edges again to feed during the night, during which they are very vocal.

In the distance, at dusk, we watched a large herd of elephant cross the river from right to left, minute forms in this landscape that had no limits.

We felt very far away. As though we had been cut loose from what had been tying us down.

Our Trip so Far:

Day 1 - Cape Town to Bloemfontein
Day 2 Bloemfontein to Dullstroom
Day 3 - Dullstroom to Tamboti
Tamboti - Camp Life