It was my birthday last week. As boring as all lockdown birthdays are, but my son popped in to visit and brought me these beautiful daffodils. I’ve had to read up on them because I’ve never grown them before. They’re apparently hardy little buggers so I shouldnt have difficulty. The worst that could happen is that our winter might be too mild for them. They’re probably not used to Cape winter storms but they do like frost … eeek..we don’t get any here.
For now, they have a special spot and I keep a beady eye on them to ensure they stay moist. I must say I’m more familiar with indiginous plants but I’ll give these my best shot.
I’m seriously considering not eating food connected to living creatures. I’m not sure I want to go the whole hog vegan (see what I did there?) but vegetarian very very possibly. I’m not into all those stupid in-between words that describe someone who wants to eat what they want when they want but still use a poncy label to make themselves feel and seem better about being fickle.
My problem is I really enjoy certain animal dishes. Take lamb – there is nothing in the world quite as mouth-wateringly delicious as Karoo lamb. Those little wooly creatures are fed on special yummy natural vegetation that is found nowhere else on earth but in this arid beautiful region. There is even an official certification for Karoo lamb. A juicy cutlet with just the right amount of fat, seasoned and cooked perfectly on a wood fire, the way South Africans do so well .. very hard to resist! And a rich lamb stew or curry is a heavenly, albeit very privileged, way to get through a cold winter’s night.
What about chicken? Okay, that I can live without, quite easily in fact. I know I could, especially great big chunks of dry breast on the bone, or drumsticks that always have an undercooked bit in the centre and that yucky long piece of cartilage. Stirfried chicken fillets or grilled wings nicely marinated, ok, ok, I will eat with pleasure, but the rest you can keep. Steak and any other beef products I can also live without, in fact I can’t even remember when I last ate beef. I’m partial to pork medallions done in a creamy mushroom sauce but I guess I could live without them if I had to.
But eggs? What’s a nicoise or tuna salad without a hard-boiled egg? What’s a breakfast fry-up without two eggs sunnyside up, slightly runny and very yellow? A quick snack of scrambled eggs with chopped chives on a slice of perfectly toasted bread? And a fluffy omelette cooked just right with a smidgen of grated strong cheese and a few sautéed mushrooms? How can I be expected to go without this?
I once visited the Mont Saint Michel in Normandy with my son and cousin. They urged me to climb to the top which was sheer torture; I bought a sily touristy memento, and down we came again. My cousin suggested we have a very special omelette. I was, as always in France, happy to go along with anything food related. In a narrow walkway into the restaurant one walks past a large window behind which chefs are seen whisking eggs with energetic vigour in very large mixing bowls. They know when they’re being watched so they speed it up even more.
A waiter brought the menu which my cousin instantly whisked away from me. Instead, she gave me a few options of what sort of omelette we could have. Once we had chosen I stole the menu back and looked at the prices. OH MY GOD. Seriously, I almost fainted. The price of one omelette was the equivalent of a four-course meal for four people. My cousin grabbed the menu back and told me to chill out, this was her treat and that is that.
Oh boy, never in my life have I eaten an omelette so light and fluffy. I vaguely remember the filling, ham and cheese I think, but the memory of that meal will never fade. The world’s most expensive but most delicious omelette. Light, fluffy, and some secret ingredient that I will never know. Heaven.
Anyhow, despite ongoing efforts to think and talk about doing away with animal food, I finally made the perfect omelette this week. I chose a very old but solid pan. My stovetop plates are small so my regular frying pan doesn’t work for something that requires even cooking. This old woman and her old pan made the best omelette – two days in a row. Someone suggested I whisk the egg whites seperately so I tried that this morning and I think I overdid it because it was excessively fluffy; still delicious though and I’m eminently proud of myself. Small pleasures. To be repeated.
Incidentally, I am thoroughly bored shitless with this pandemic though. I love food and I love eating but I want something else to do and think about and write about. (Stunning looking dessert coming out of the oven in a few minutes – tomorrow’s blog, maybe, depends on outcome).
The bird with the loudest cry in Africa is called a hadeda ibis. It’s the bird most South Africans love to hate. We all know them, they’re everywhere. I repeat: the loudest shriek on the continent. When all other birds wake to a new day trilling with joy at the thought of an early worm and tree top rendezvous, the hadeda shrieks his cry across the sky as if to warn the world that he can take whatever crap the day brings. And he can.
This large bird with a long beak isn’t known for beauty although when the light is right the sun reflects the beautiful green-silver sheen of his wings and then one remembers that all creatures have a redeeming feature.
But that shriek … under a normal pre-covid world, ours is a country of tourism. Every morning thoughout the land hapless tourists descend to breakfast on their first morning in Africa asking their hosts ‘What on earth was that creature that woke us up at the crack of dawn?’ Because the hadeda likes to share with the world every detail of his progress to and from his nest every morning and every evening.
When I was a child living in Johannesburg we had one as a pet. Yes. Not by choice, mind you, but we had one nonetheless. I suspect we were his pets. I don’t remember that we ever gave it a name; we probably referred to it simply as ‘the bird’, or ‘l’oiseau’ since we were a French household. Our neighbour’s son brought him home from boarding school after rescuing and healing it. The bird clearly didn’t like the neighbours’ property and decided to come and live with us instead. We had a back door with a screen that was never shut and was permanently wedged open. This screen door, at the top of a few steps, is where the bird took up residence for all the time he lived with us. He seldom budged from there other than to go forage on the lawns, as they are wont to do.
I don’t remember how long he was with us but we became quite used to him. He would call now and again but he didn’t have a mate so was less bragful than he would no doubt later become. We were the only kids in school with a pet hadeda. The neighbours had always been a bit snooty towards us so being abandoned by their rescue hadeda was a kick in the teeth for them and totally raised our status, although we pretended to not notice it. We were privileged, I don’t care what anyone says about the pile of poop outside the back door.
He would fly off once in a while and not return for days. We’d sadly think he was finally gone but the next morning there he was again, just sitting on the screen door watching us. The yard overlooked the ubiquitous servants quarters and the toolshed so there was always activity and company. We had two cats, one of which would sit on the roof of the shed watching him for hours; this stand off never went anywhere, than goodness because the cat woud’ve probably come off worse for it.
Eventually, the hormones and the healing led him to health and the realisation that he was missing out on life by hanging out with unrewarding and ungrateful humans, so one day he took off and never came back. No, it wasn’t like in the movies where the wild animal returns to show off his babies and mate to those who cared for him; we simply never saw him again and imagined him making a proper nest at the top of a tree and raising a family of raucous little baby hadedas.
So now I pretend to hate them but deep down I think they’re awesome and whenever one of them lands on my roof or ventures down into my garden (which is seldom because I have no lawn and two dogs) I feel privileged and it reminds me of my youth in that Johannesburg house and the days when we had a pet hadeda.
Photo taken from Google as I have only blurred shots of it. Strange really considering how often I see them and how full our neighbourhoods are of them. Oh and by the way, they’re not endangered at all, in fact their numbers are on such an increase I suspect they’re planning a take over.
I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.
I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.