The S Word

These days I often find myself with the telly on in the background and considering my interests it's no surprise that it is usually on one of the food channels. 

I don't often get time to sit and watch a program but I still find the sound soothing and it makes the house feel somehow more friendly, it is also a great way to get some inspiration while planning the weekly menu or shopping list.

One thing I have noticed though is how often the discussions turn to seasoning, you often hear someone pointing out that a dish is over seasoned, under seasoned or perfectly seasoned. I find this a bit puzzling as we all have different pallets so what is perfectly seasoned for one person might be completely unacceptable to someone else yet so many chefs claim to have the answer and seem very indignant if their food is not to everyones liking.

What ever happened to putting some salt and pepper on the table and allowing everyone to adjust the seasoning to their own taste without upsetting the chef's ego?

I know these days everyone is very concerned about their health and I can't even remember how many times I have heard of people cutting salt out of their diet because they believe it to be bad for them, however they seem to forget that we all actually need some salt to function normally. Salt not only helps to maintain the flow of water in the body but the sodium ion itself plays a role in the electrical signaling of the nervous system. In Roman times soldiers even received part of their salary paid out to them in salt, bringing about the still popular expression of someone being worth his salt.

I'm not saying everyone should rush out and start eating salt by the spoonfuls, but I do feel it has been getting so much bad press in the last few years that these days a lot of prepared food come across quite bland and lacking in that little something to make it stand out.

Salt is not just great for preserving food but it also has the ability to enhance other flavors, bringing them together and lifting a dish to new heights. Not convinced? Try and make a basic curry from scratch, adding all your normal herbs and spices but leaving out the salt, once cooked have a taste - then add the salt, give it a good stir and taste again. You will be amazed at the difference, without the salt the flavors will be dull and somehow separate, but once you add the salt it becomes a complete dish with all these subtle flavors coming alive and making it a real joy to eat.

Rediscover this simple, essential seasoning and give your taste buds a real treat. 

The long journey

It's been just over two months since our family arrived in the UK to start our big new adventure. During the past 10 weeks we have explored castles and waterways, walked through historic towns and ancient forests, experimented with new flavors and discovered a few new favorites. Although we are still a long way from being settled in this wonderful country and spend most days riding an emotional roller-coaster we know this is were we want to be and all we can do for now is to take it one day at at time, enjoy the ride and share the journey.

Walmer Castle

The Garden of England

At the moment we are staying with family in the county of Kent that lies South East of London and is known as the Garden of England, driving through it's forests and farmlands it's not hard to see why. The little winding country roads are lined with hedgerows teaming with life and everyday when we return to the cottage we drive through a tunnel of trees with rays of light shining through in places casting light and shadow all around us. Squirrels, peacocks and pheasants are our daily companions on the winding narrow roads, along with horse riders, dog walkers and day hikers, occasionally we might even meet another car - although that is an adventure in itself.

Meeting a car going in the opposite direction on a narrow, winding road can go a number of ways; the right way would be for both cars to slow down, and whomever has the most space on their side of the road will pull over to let the other car pass while both drivers give each other a friendly nod or wave, and this actually happens most of the time, however you also get the rude, grumpy ones who just stare straight ahead, put foot and expect everything else to get out of the way. These are the ones who scare the horses, squish the squirrels and miss all the beauty around them, they should do the forest a favor and just stick to the highways.

Denge Wood
Retail Therapy

Shopping in England is still a bit new to us although we are slowly starting to get the hang of it. It is an adventure trying to buy even the most basic ingredients as the variety and quality of foodstuffs available are absolutely mind-boggling; just after we got here we went to buy some plain white sugar for the kids to use on their cereal but even this turned into a 5 minute debate while we tried to decide whether we wanted normal white sugar, half-spoon white sugar (which is made so that you only need half a spoon full to get the same amount of sweetness as a normal full teaspoon of plain sugar) or half-calorie white sugar (which, as the name suggests, has half the calories as other white sugar but tastes the same)? The result of this is that running into the shop to grab a few basics can easily turn into a two hour debate trying to decide between all the different brands and slight variations available on the shelves. I can only imagine what it is going to be like shopping for Christmas.

The Long Wait

Although I fully understand the reasoning behind the UK's strict policies and quarantine rules for animals coming from other countries I still feel being separated from the furry, four-footed member of the family for 6 whole months is torture. We miss him dearly and can't wait for the day he will be able to come home so we can cuddle and spoil him again. I know he is well looked after at the kennels and I will gladly recommend them to anyone but it's just not the same as having him home where he belongs.

Quarantine is a necessary evil but the fact that the UK's quarantine rules are changing from January 2012 shows that there are better ways of making sure that the animals coming into the country are healthy and that separating them from their families that love them for such a long time is just cruel.

JD (aka Lumpy) is the most gentle, loving dog that steals hearts wherever he goes and I can only hope that he will remember how loved he is and that we are all waiting for him to join us on this big new adventure.

JD (aka Lumpy)

What is tradition?

One of my favorite blogs is Life as Mom and recently I saw that she was looking at traditional foods from different countries, which got me thinking, what is traditional South African food?

We are a country made up of people from many different cultures and backgrounds, and inevitably, different tastes. One person might feel that pap and wors is the true backbone of South African cuisine while someone else might argue that it is bobotie or 'bunny chow'.

But what does 'traditional food' really mean? Is it the food that everyone in the country eats most regularly or is it the food the country is best known for?

Lets take America, I have quite a few American friends and I know from their food blogs that they enjoy a wide variety of different cuisines, yet when we think of American food the first thing that comes to mind is burgers. When ever we have been invited to or even hosted an 'American' evening everyone expects that there will be burgers on the menu, even though logically we know that not all Americans eat burgers all the time.

The same goes for other countries, mention England and we thinks of tea with freshly fried fish and chips, or Scotland with their haggis and deep fried mars bars and of cause everyone knows the Italians only eat pasta and pizza.

But what about us here at the tip of the African Continent? What do people really know about our food? I'm sure some will think we all eat mopani worms (never tried it thank you) or crickets (again, no thank you) and although I am sure there are perhaps some people who would enjoy such things they are not at all commonly available ingredients.  I for one would not even know how to get my hands on one mopani worm let alone enough to feed a family of four, besides we prefer pasta or a good currie.

There is one type of 'food' though that is enjoyed by most people in our Rainbow Nation, although its not really a food but more an occasion. This would be the well known South African braai, and no this is not the same as a barbecue or a grill, it is an event and as South African as blue skies, biltong and Table Mountain.

National Braai day is celebrated on the 24th of September every year as part of our Heritage Day celebrations, with Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its official patron. South Africans from all walks of life, all cultures, ethnic groups and social standing all love a really good braai and there is always a story of how someone had a braai in the rain, snow or storm somewhere in the world wheter on top of a mountain, deep in bush or the middle of a desert. Its the glue that holds our nation together, the one thing we can all agree on and the one topic of conversation that always brings a big smile to a South African's face, no matter where in the world they now happen to live. We have a doctor friend who always tells of how a small group of South African doctors had a braai on the roof of the UK hospital they were working in at the time in the middle of a bitterly cold English winter while it was snowing. They bought the little portable braai from a local shop keeper who thought they were crazy asking for it and just kept telling them 'but it's winter' before eventually giving in and letting them have it.

We even have our own Braai Boy, who after a dare from friends in 2009, to braai every day for a year, has now become so well known that almost two years later he is still at it, not only braaing for his own family but also being involved in braai events all over the country.

What makes a braai different from a barbecue or a grill?

 A propper braai starts with the fire, although gas has gained in popularity and I personally prefer the speed and cleanliness of gas, for it to be a true braai it has to be a wood or charcoal fire. Half the fun is in watching the men trying to get it going and then sitting around and visiting with your friends while you wait for the fire to reach the right temperature.

The next part would be your meat and other bits that you intend to cook on the fire. This can vary greatly from person to person, although most South Africans would think it absolute sacrilige to cook burgers or hot dogs on a braai, it has to be some sort of sausage and at least one or two types of meat, which can be marinated or coated with a spice rub. Other popular things you might find cooking on the fire would be corn on the cob, braai bread, mushrooms, potatoes or oepsies (bacon or other cured meat on a stick, marinated in a sweet sticky sauce and then cooked on the fire) to name but a few.

Side dishes are just as important at these gatherings and there are as many variations as there are people. If its a payday braai you might be served a selection of salads, dips and snacks with your meat where as the last braai before the end of the month migh see you only getting a garlic roll or pap - either way, both braais will be equally enjoyable as the most important thing to remember about a braai is that its not just about the food, its about family and friends sitting around the fire sharing a laugh and making memory that can last a life time.