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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Happy New Year everybody!

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’m so relieved that 2010 is behind me.  Personally, it was a rough year and I sure hope that this new year has some nicer surprises in store for us all!

So in case you didn’t know, I went home for the holidays.  Home being my place of birth: the sleepy hollow of Bulawayo, in Zimbabaloo.  (That’s the new official name, by the way.  Write it down.)  I’ve not been back over Christmas for a number of years now, and normally miss the party bus mass exodus of Zimbos heading home for the holidays.  This results in missing special drinking time with friends from long, long ago.  There are a number of insanely awesome parties that take place (I know, right?), and I usually get to read about them over social networking channels, resulting in my achieving a non-Zen-like state of loser-dom.  It’s vicious.

Sista Bliss and I booked our tickets on a relatively new, low-cost (read dodgy & suspicious) airline called Kumba, operated by Air Namibia.  We overnighted in Jozi with family & flew into Bulawayo on a sunshiny Tuesday.  Or was it a Thursday?  I forget, mashed potato brains as a result of holiday-mode – nevertheless, unimportant.  We flew in, it was awesome, The End.  Here’s what we arrived to:

A rocking metropolis, you’ll agree?

Suffice to say that 10 days with our family consisted of a massive amount of bikini-time, good food and much needed rest. And the occasional scream through the house each day at a staggeringly earlier than normal time, “Its GIN O’CLOCK baby!”, culminating in a keen gathering at my dad’s bar.

Christmas Day was no different.  However, waking up to a very cheeky power cut at 7am and a mountain of food to cook didn’t do much to encourage our loving Christmas spirits; we bundled begrudgingly into the car and sped off to church in the hopes that whilst we were away giving thanks for all our blessings, the electricity fairies would magically come in, wave their ZESA wands, and all would be well again.  Yeah… not so much.  We had to move to Plan B, which came in the form of a Weber kettle braai and shoved the turkey and lamb in there for a few hours in the hopes that we could at least eat some meat with our cranberry jelly and mint sauce.  The power eventually came back on at 2pm, and we were able to furiously rattle the side dishes together, and enjoyed a wonderful, truly African Christmas lunch.

My mum bashed out a complete cracker of a festive punch, and I managed to smuggle the recipe out of the country to bring back and share with you all! I’m calling it Di’s Cherry Blossom Sherbet. You’re welcome!


What you’ll need: (serves 6)

4 Cherry Blossom tea bags

2 Rooibos tea bags

2 liters of water (you can substitute 1L of water for champagne at the last minute if you’re that way inclined)

100ml red berry juice

Juice of 1 lemon

Lots of ice

To garnish: sprigs of mint & miniature rose blossoms

And then…

Boil the water & allow the tea bags to steep for about 10 minutes.  Discard the tea bags and allow the tea to reach room temperature – this can be done the day before.  Add the remaining ingredients just before your guests arrive & decant into a large jug or punch bowl.

After an incredible holiday with our family, Sista Bliss and I reluctantly began the perilous trip home – it consisted of a delay of epic proportions on the first leg of our journey; our plane to Johannesburg had technical problems (read hung-over technicians) and we eventually departed Bulawayo 3 ½ hours behind schedule, resulting in our missing our connecting flights to Cape Town.  Being the silly season, there were no available seats left on any other flights that evening, and we had to again call upon our awesome family to put us up for the night until we could get back to the airport at 5am the next morning to be put on standby.  Here’s a snapshot of Sista Bliss and I two hours into aforementioned delay:

All smiles, see?  I unfortunately cannot show you smiles on the ass-end of our journey.  They simply did not exist. All I know is, by default 2011 is going to be a much happier year, I’m sure of it!

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Fynbos, cityscape & ocean views. Paradise!

Boy-o-boy did I enjoy myself this weekend!  I’m not sure if it was the long weekend or National Braai Day or the fact that I got to hang out with The Co-Pilot all weekend long, but wowaweewa I had a good time!  I hope you guys did too!  I heard someone mention last week that they thought it was interesting that the biggest thing we have in common culturally in this country (or at least that which all the focus has been put on surrounding Heritage Day) is turning raw meat on an open flame, but I think there’s so much more to it than that, don’t you think?

After a wonderful day of braai-ing on Friday there were lots of yummy leftovers which were surreptitiously packed up into a picnic basket & bundled into the car which sped off in the direction of Deer Park.  I’d never been there before, yet heard so many people gush over how lovely it is, so was super stoked when The Co-Pilot suggested we take our carcinogenic picnicings there..

 

Our little corner of picnicdom next to a lovely burbling stream.

It must be said at this point in time that The Co-Pilot is a master of sandwich-making.  The man is known far and wide for his magical skills with bread and fillings.  No two sandwiches are the same, and ingredients range from random to exotic & always delight the salivary glands.  My cue to down tools, pick up a refreshing beverage & assume a position of chillage.

Assuming the position. Boom!

Some of the ingredients we used: Paul's Chilli; Tarragon Mustard; char-grilled peppers; mixed wild mushrooms & fine beans

We also took along some red onions, tomatoes, some old-school iceberg lettuce (LOVE that stuff) & a big chunk of medium-rare rib eye steak.  Earlier that day we’d got a fresh loaf of ciabatta from the blokes selling bread out their Venter trailer at the Biscuit Mill.  You guys know who I mean right? Of course you do!

Here’s what went down on my sandie:

And The Co-Pilot’s sandie… (it should be noted at this stage that off-camera I am guzzling 1 x nomalicious sandie!)

Go on, tell me you're not drooling?

The Big Kahuna of Yumminess

And then there was none. Well, not much, anyway. Nom!

As you can see, much nomming & chillaxing done.  I recommend you get your picnic baskets out this summer & take advantage of all the beautiful places our beautiful city offers.  Happy Heritage Day!

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I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty silly name for an establishment.  But there we were nonetheless.  If you haven’t heard of Granny Mouse’s, where have you been, darling?  It’s a quaint country house & spa on the Midlands Meander in Kwazulu Natal & conjures up fantasies of Beatrix Potter.  I was kinda expecting Jemima Puddleduck to come waddling round the corner at any moment to tell somebody off.

Pretty rad huh?

Anyway, My Lovely & I checked in on a sunny but chilly afternoon & were greeted with smiles & champagne.  Made a bee-line for our room to get settled and capitalise on the beautiful sunshine on our balcony over the Lion’s River.  With a waterfall no less than 20 meters up the river, the sounds of the water splooshing around was completely intoxicating & surreal.  Surreal but nice.  Where’ve I heard that before? So surreal in fact that we decided to relish in the experience & donned these babies:

Yip.  That’s how they roll up there.  No messing about. So as it got a bit later and cooler, we cracked a lovely bottle of Klein Constantia 2007 Merlot & got the fire going.  For a very reputable establishment, the contents of the mini-bar were very reasonably priced – R85 for the aforementioned wine (750ml bottle), and R8 for a small bottle of mineral water.  Seriously? Yes please!  Instead of couches or chairs in the room, there were 2 very large, very comfy pillows on the floor in front of the fire.  Can I just say at this point that this was one of my favourite bits about the place?  Such a simple touch, but draws you in to relax by the fire and spend some quiet time staring at the crackling logs.  Magic.

We prepared for dinner & went through to the bar, The Mouse & Lion where we were greeted by one of the friendliest & most pleasant barmen I’ve met in a long time.  His name was Mabutho, and he talked us through all the whiskeys, malts & Cognac in the bar; how much they cost (again, very reasonable) and how often their guests indulged in them (not as often as they would like, obviously!)  We ordered another bottle of the Klein Constantia & perused the menu.

Now at this point, I feel I should mention that I know the chef.  (yeah, I’m gonna be that person, ok?) Leanne Roberts is a Silwood graduate like me & has a real flair for fine dining.  Leanne spent 2 months training with me at Ellerman House during my 3rd year & ended up helping me with my final dinner.  The be-all and end-all of every Silwood cheffy’s training is ‘The Dinner’.  Everything leads up to that moment. Leanne was part of my brigade & was a complete Godsend.  So she’s been running the show at Granny Mouse for a good 3-4 years now, making a name for the place & bashing out some amazing food.  Which is why I pored over the menu for a good half hour before I was able to order.  Leanne changes the menu daily, based on what’s fresh & available – but that’s not to say that things are limited in this part of the world.  No, the menu contains glorious ingredients that you’d fine in any fine dining establishment:  truffle oil, sweetbreads, Parma ham, crab, quail, duck, pomegranates… Good stuff man.  So good in fact, that My Lovely decided to order 2 starters! He settled on pan-fried duck livers on truffled brioche with beetroot vinaigrette & beetroot micro herbs (R45), and also the tempura of soft shell crab, spiced lentils, and Thai red curry sauce (R60).  It was a tough selection for him, as he adores anything-duck, but as I’m allergic to crab he never gets his crab-fix on anymore, so couldn’t help but capitalise on the opportunity!  I chose the seared beef carpaccio with a sweet beetroot glaze (R45).  The maitre ‘d showed us through to the dining room where a gorgeous fire was burning & had warmed the room up nicely.  Our fellow patrons included 5 tables of middle-aged to elder white folks, and that was really about it.  No diversity there that evening.  No ayoba-ness.  No studio-touching.  Shame.  The 2 middle-aged couples behind us were discussing their latest trips overseas & if I’m honest, there was a lot of one-upmanship going on.  The colonial Natalian accent, the colorful pashminas over black attire.  Chinos. Horror of all horrors.  Basta!

Our starters were delicious – The duck livers were beautifully cooked with that trademark pink center that showcases the true skill of a great chef.  The brioche was a bit disappointing in appearance, it looked like a slice of toaster bread with the crusts cut off, but the flavour was typical of brioche, although lacking in the truffle notes as advertised.  I was only allowed a mouthful, but it rocked my socks off when all the flavours & textures were combined.  Really great dish.  The crab looked seriously impressive:  light & crispy tempura and gorgeous tender crab on the inside.  The portion included part of the body and a good few legs (are they called legs?) which was very generous and was served on spicy brown lentils & surrounded with the creamy Thai coconut sauce & garnished with micro herbs.  My Lovely said it was absolutely fantastic, great combination of flavours & a wonder of textures.  I’d take his word for it if I were you.  My carpaccio was yummy, the beef was of excellent quality although I would have preferred a savory garnish over the sweet beetroot that the dish was served with.

For the main course, mister man went for the Parma ham-wrapped beef fillet on potato galette with bordelaise sauce & topped with roasted sweetbreads (R125).  A seriously serious dish.  Each component a real testament to one’s cooking ability as well as the very important gift of timing.  Chefs can be really great at cooking but can suck at timing the readiness of their components.  It’s a crying shame when this happens.  Leanne was on it though: the beef was as my man had ordered it: medium-rare, the potato galette was perfect – crispy on the outside & soft & well-seasoned on the inside; the sweetbreads were great – I’m a sweetbreads fundi, and found that they had been fried in seasoned flour so that a nice crust formed on the outside, protecting the delicate flavour inside.  I didn’t taste the Bordelaise sauce by itself as I would have liked to, but as a dish it was well-balanced & extraordinarily well-executed.  The plating was elegant, clean & typically Nouvelle cuisine.  I had opted for the pan-fried duck breast with sautéed baby spinach, baby beetroot & pomegranate-duck jus, and was garnished with teeny tiny little orange segments (R98).  The dish had been plated diagonally across the plate, which was really striking & unusual – kudos Leanne!  The duck was amazingly tender & juicy, & the jus reflected this flavour & was complimented by the tart pomegranate seeds.  I loved the inclusion of the baby spinach, however I am not the biggest beetroot fan – 2 courses containing beetroot, perhaps my dinner selection hadn’t been properly thought through?  Perhaps not.

You’re probably thinking to yourself: “There’s no way they’re having pudding after all that!”  Wrong.  We did however share a dessert, as it just was way too much goodness we’d taken on board (and don’t forget the 2 bottles of wine).  Dessert was a gooey hot chocolate fondant served with blackberry sorbet & an almond tuile (R45).  Very good idea to have shared.  The fondant was made from dark chocolate & excellent quality cocoa & was very rich.  The tart sorbet cut it nicely, & the almond tuile added a nice nutty dimension.  A perfect end to a most delightful evening!  Leanne came through to chat after pud & it was all we could do not to jump out our seats & adorn her with kisses and hugs.  We only refrained because she arrived bearing a plate of chocolate friandise which literally made our hearts drop, as we knew we’d have to give them a go!  Dinner: roaring success. Bravo!

Breakfast the next morning was slightly less stellar than our dinner experience.  A fair to average continental buffet with 2 a la carte hot dishes:  a double cheese soufflé & smoked trout Benedict.  We both chose the Benedict, and were equally disappointed when the English muffin wasn’t toasted but soggy, the poached eggs were undercooked and the Hollandaise resembled melted butter rather than a rich egg/butter sauce.  I suppose Chef can’t be in the kitchen every waking moment, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.  Once our brekkie was done, we were off to the spa for a treatment together.  The ladies at the spa were very friendly & welcoming, the treatment rooms warm & well-lit.  Unfortunately the lady I got wasn’t as experienced as the masseuse My Lovely got, and I found the massage uncomfortable & awkward.  It was also noisy, as the delivery bay is directly behind the spa (not a good idea) & sounds from the outside world played in between the mellow New Age Enya music they had coming through their very nice sound system.  All in all,  a full body scrub, high pressure shower & full body massage for 2 at R1000 just somehow wasn’t worth it.

So, to wrap up, go! Go as often as your budget allows.  Go with a loved one or go with your family.  There’s a lot to do in the area & lots of activities on the property itself.  I can highly recommend the food & the chef.  The accommodation is gorgeous.  The service cannot be faulted.  Only 2 downsides to mention:  the lack of excellence in the spa & the 100% payment upfront.  But with an experience like this, it seemed totally worth it.

Visit Granny Mouse’s Country House on Nottingham Road near Balgowan or check them out here.

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