A Hard Day’s Night

The year seems to have flown.  Spring has arrived – not with a vengeance, but rather with schizophrenia.  September has been a month of moon eclipses (which I mostly missed), scorchingly hot as well as cold, wet wintery days.  Theoretically, the weather should improve as the month progresses, except for the wind.  The proverbial Cape Doctor* is a feature of this time of year and can keep a constant chill in the air.  The vagaries of the weather are what decided the local powers-that-be to change the date of the McGregor Food and Wine Festival so that this year, it was towards the end of the month, coinciding with South Africa’s Heritage Day, which fell on a Thursday.

It’s been an inordinately busy year in my “day” job, so I had not thought to participate.  But then, as so often happens, a friend turned on the charming emotional blackmail:  “We need you, darling! Come on, it’ll be fun…”

Yeah right!

First task:  work out what might be possible without too much effort (ha!) and with the least wastage (numbers are totally unpredictable, and since I don’t do this for a living and have Scottish tendencies, I had to be sure to at least re-coup my costs, or find a way of using what stock might be left).

Ok, so I would do my version of a ploughman’s platter:  easy to eat on the run and made up of bits and bobs that could be made in advance, would keep and/or not cost a bomb to make.  Of course I never take the easy route and decided that the offering had to include my now “famous” chicken liver paté, my increasingly popular onion marmalade and cottage cheese, olives, a cheese, a pickle and something with which to eat that selection.  Minor details, like which cheese and which pickle would sort themselves out in due course.

Second task:  persuade The Husband.  Although he does go along with my harebrained schemes, he takes a bit of convincing, and along with that, he does temper the ideas a bit.  This time, it was by researching and discovering that it was impossible to find what I imagined would have been easy to find:  lovely plate-sized slices of pine trunk or branch, on which to serve my wares.  This, after I had persuaded him that we didn’t need that many, and we could sell them when we were done, if we didn’t have a use for them.

Simultaneous with that, I decided that we would source cheese from an artisan cheese maker, in a nearby town, and whose cheese had come with us on holiday.  We love mature cheese and that would NEVER go to waste.  How exciting to have a 5kg head of cheese to play with!

The next conundrum was the pickle.  “Fiona, it should be piccalilli if you’re doing a ploughman’s platter.” I confess to enjoying piccalilli from time to time, but it’s not a favourite;  I also wanted something that was gluten free.  It couldn’t be pickled onion with the onion marmalade.  Too many onions.  Courgette pickle would work, but I only had one little jar left and courgettes are not in season and very expensive.  More could not be made, now.

My turn to be in a pickle.

“In season” is always the way to go, and at this time of the year there are brassicas by the bunch, carrots and little else.  Ok, so cauliflower could be a nod to the piccalili.  Anyhow, following a consultation of all the old favourite cookery books, I took to Google and found the almost** perfect recipe and set to.  This some three weeks before the event because pickle must pickle.

So, pickle made, and the event getting closer, time to pay attention to that on which the bits would be served.  Definitely not polystyrene trays. No.  I was not to be deterred from my wood vision.  The Husband’s perfect solution:  boards made from tongue-and-groove pine planks, sourced from our local hardware, glued together, for insurance, with an appropriate glue and lovingly hand-sanded around the edges so that no-one (probably me) would be splintered.  The cost:  much less than we expected, and The Husband’s loving labour.

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Mid-way through the final day’s prep, we “test drove” what became known as McGregor Boards. The verdict: The Husband declared that they would work, and there was enough for two!

So, after about six weeks’ of on and off prep, and a dummy run with the board and the presentation, the day was approaching.  All that remained was to make second batches each of paté and onion marmalade, pot this and the cottage cheese and make the crostini, before cutting the requisite amount of cheese.  This work started on Thursday and was mostly done by lunch time on Friday.

Good, because the weekend was going to start with McGregor’s first Heritage Dinner.  And what an evening it was.  A long table on a calm warm night, to the sounds of Steve’s wonderful jazz (with a spontaneous guest appearance from Barbara), amazing food, mostly based on South Africa’s Dutch antecedents and wonderful wine pairings from boutique winery, Arendsig.  For my expat readers, the menu will have you going:  things like Devils on Horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon), which I’d forgotten about, not to mention snoek paté as well as soet patat (sweet, sweet potatoes) groen boentjies (green beans), just to mention a few.

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Aimee and Corli and their band out-did themselves!

So, with full tummies and heads swimming with velvety Viognier and smooth, rich Cabernet Sauvignon, we made our way home, suitably shored to face a long Saturday.

Long and loud it was.  The Food and Wine Festival went well and my McGregor Boards were a success.  The afternoon ended with copious amounts of dry rosé having been quaffed and with our jiving away with the last of the stragglers.

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Then it was a hasty pack-up and dump things at home before rushing down to the pub to watch the rugby.  Which, happily, after that humiliating defeat by Japan, the Bokke won!

So, hard, yes, but fun.  A few days and a couple of nights!  And that’s why I mostly missed the eclipse – to rouse myself in the wee hours of a Monday morning, after that weekend, was a bit more than my now middle-aged body would allow!

* the prevailing summer wind is a south easter that hares in over the cold Atlantic ocean and which if you live in Cape Town, can howl for days.  It does blow away the pollution and smog that is caused by a heat dome that develops over the city in winter.  We may be nearly 200km from Cape Town in McGregor, but we do still feel the wrath of this wind.

**the almost is a matter of preference:  the brine includes sugar and increasingly people (including a blog pal that may well be reading this) are eschewing sugar.  It can be omitted, but it does make for a much tarter pickle.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2015


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