Monday, April 30, 2012

An Afternoon at Gabriëlskloof

After the most wonderful evening, we woke up to the sounds of the farm and the bright sunshine pouring in our bedroom window. 

I drew the blinds and opened the windows for some fresh air while we got showered and ready for breakfast. Without warning, a bird flew into our room and proceeded to freak out and continually try to fly through a closed window on the other side of the room. It was painful to watch, but eventually we got all the windows opened and coaxed the little guy out and into safety. Nothing like a little morning excitement, file under #lifeonthefarm. 

When we arrived at breakfast, we told the other couple staying on the farm about the bird in our room. "Do you know how lucky that is?" they replied. Lennie and I looked at each other with blank stares. Bird's pooping on you, a twitch in your eye, ladybugs, four leaf clovers...but this was a new symbol of luck. Hmm...Everyone can use some luck. 

After a delicious breakfast, we took a LONG walk on the farm with the dogs and just enjoyed the views. Everywhere you look is like a painting, it turns an ordinary walk into something extraordinary. When we returned, we chatted with Jan about where we should go for a day trip. We have been to Halfaampieskraal close to a dozen times, so we have scouted out most of the little towns and wineries in the area. Jan suggested we try Gabriëlskloof Wine Estate in the Bot River Valley, about a 50 minute drive from the farm. We called and booked a table for lunch and hopped in the car. 

We arrived at the beautiful estate and started with a tasting since the restaurant was quite crowded (a good sign!). 

The table was set up and ready to go. We started with the three whites: A Sauvignon Blanc, a Viognier, and a Blend called Magdalena. Although I prefer red wines, these three white wines all had the most incredible bouquet. I could not keep my nose out of the glass, it was so fragrant and full of beautiful notes.  The Magdalena was far and away my favorite. The mix of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak created this stunning mix of tropical fruit and caramel notes. I wanted to drink it, and get the match body smelled that good. 

Amidst our tasting, a gentleman approached our table and asked if we would like to try the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc that had not yet been released. Obviously, we obliged. He and the winemaker lead us into the cellar with another lucky couple who were enjoying a tasting. 

I loved seeing this behind the scenes look at the wine process. There is so much that goes into wine making. 

The winemaker poured directly from the vat and I was surprised how cloudy it was. 

It tasted fresh and grassy, and much "stronger" that normal wine. A bit like wine concentrate. 

Then we were on to the next one...which tasted like asparagus and herbs. 

After going deeper and deeper into the cellar with little tasting stops along the way, we arrived at the barrels and he warned us, "Your not going to want to spit this one..."

I was intrigued, this sounds like something special. He suctioned out a very rich colored red wine and poured us a taste. Again...the smell. It was out of this world, almost like a berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream being served in a room with leather bound books (how is that for wine description?). The taste...also incredible. It was 100% malbec that was being used for an upcoming blend they were going to release. A little piece of me died when I heard it was going to be used in a blend because it was SOO good on it's own. 

Lennie's comment made me laugh: "I wish I could carry around a barrel of that wine and drink only that for the rest of my life

If they sold it...we would of bought it. Maybe not a barrel, but at least a couple cases. 

Then the tour was over and we went back to the tasting room to try the last two wines. Although I really enjoyed the Shiraz, nothing compared to that 100% malbec taste out the barrel. 

After the tasting, we walked over to the restaurant and enjoyed an outdoor table. The waitress brought out an amuse-bouche of prosciutto, basil, and goat cheese.

Lennie ordered a hamburger.

I ordered a tart with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and sun dried tomatoes. This combo is totally my taste and I loved how the onions were the start of the dish.

For dessert, we shared a triple chocolate brownie. The gooey parts were amazing. 

We were both shocked at how affordable lunch was. We didn't have wine, but we had bottled water, two meals, dessert, and coffee and our entire bill was 160.00 ZAR (approximately 20 USD). 

Gabriëlskloof is stunning and the experience we had there was world class. The little places you find in South Africa never cease to amaze me. 

The bird the room seemed to grant us a pretty lucky day. It's not everyday you get a grand tour like we did.

If your in the area, or passing through, I suggest you make a stop. It's worth it. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Halfaampieskraal: My Favorite Weekend Getaway

I am going to let you in on a secret. 

I have been lucky enough to stay in some of the world's best hotels and resorts and I have to say, this gem in the Overberg steals my heart. 

Halfaampieskraal. Don't worry about stumbling over the pronunciation, it's a difficult one. When we first arrived in Cape Town four years ago, we purchased a car and decided to take it on a road trip before we started our jobs. As we were planning our route and looking for places to stay online, a friend of ours said, "If you want to go somewhere seriously fabulous, I have just the place". The next minute he was on the phone to Jan-Georg and making our booking in Afrikaans. 

After our first stay, we were hooked. It's stylish, the food is fabulous, you can't help but relax, and Jan and Cobus have evolved from hosts to friends. It's only two hours outside of Cape Town, but it feels like a world away. We turn off our phones, leave our laptops at home, pack comfy clothes, and enjoy spending time together. 

This past weekend was phenomenal (as always). Lunch at Fresh was the perfect way to split up the drive and we arrived at the farm around 5:30, right as the sun was beginning to set. We have not been to Halfaampieskraal in about a year, so it was exciting to see the little changes and improvements that had happened while we were away. Jan had even added a new room, appropriately called the 'Greek Room' after their favorite vacation spot. We had stayed in the other 3 guest rooms, so this was a lovely surprise. 

The menu for the evening looked delicious. 

We unpacked our weekend bags, took a quick walk around the farm, and settled into the stoop for an apéritif. 

The honor bar is always stocked with the classics and the wine list is small, but features some fabulous selections. We tried a bottle of Star Hill Shiraz with dinner and were very impressed. It was a winery we had never heard of, but now I am tracking it down and getting some for our house. There are so many amazing wineries in South Africa, we are spoiled for choice. 

Dinner was a perfectly cooked pea and ham risotto, followed by kingklip cooked with fresh herbs in a parchment parcel, and finally an ooey gooey chocolate pudding with Crème anglaise. The food is always spectacular, and this meal was no exception. Jan-Georg and Cobus are men of many talents and both are very talented in the kitchen. 

I could not of asked for a more perfect day. Indulgent? Yes, but ever so worth it. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fresh At Paul Cluver

We headed out of Cape Town on Thursday afternoon a little later than expected and hit some traffic. We were planning on stopping for lunch in Hermanus, but the restaurant we were thinking of going to was not answering the phone. After a couple attempts, we started to look for other options in the Elgin valley. 
I began to read some of the reviews of FRESH at Paul Cluver and decided we would stop there. I loved the farm to table concept and every single review raved about the simple, delicious food. I called and booked a table and soon enough we arrived at the estate. 

We were pretty late for lunch, so we had the small restaurant to ourselves and the full attention of the owner, Joan. There are no menus, and every item offered is described by the chef herself. Each dish sounded amazing and featured seasonal produce from her own farm on the wine estate. 

We started by sharing a starter of fresh figs, stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto. They were finished with a light sage cream and grilled to perfection. I am not a big Gorgonzola person, but this dish was perfectly balanced and delicious. The flavors were unique and it was one of those dishes I will forever remember. 

Lennie ordered the pesto pasta and I had a red chicken curry dish that featured a sauce made of almonds and red peppers. 

Both dishes were fantastic and let the ingredients shine. The pea pods served on the side of my curry were perfectly crisp and sweet. 

After experiencing such a spectacular meal, we had to see what Joan could do for dessert. We ordered a hot chocolate brownie and a meringue with lemon curd, cream, and granadilla (passion fruit) 

 Again, we were impressed by the simplicity of the dishes and the fresh, vibrant flavors.

After that incredible meal, we chatted with Joan about the restaurant and booked for lunch on our way home. We loved the place so much that we had to come again. Finally, we got back in the car and continued to the Overburg to our favorite weekend getaway, a guest farm called Halfaampieskraal (more about that special place later...)

Fast forward to today when we were driving home...

Once again, we stopped at FRESH and had a spectacular meal. It wasn't a fluke, this place is THAT GOOD. It was evident today that is has quite the following. The small restaurant was packed with people, all enjoying the farm fresh offerings.

The fig starter...yes, again. When something is this good, you order it again. Trust me.

Lennie decided to try the Thai green chicken curry. The curry paste was house made and featured coriander, ginger, lemongrass, and chilies. The bright green presentation perfectly matched the bright, fresh flavors. 

I went with a chorizo salad. Joan described it as a caprese salad topped with a mixture of chorizo and red peppers, cooked with sherry. It was a bold move, but I went ahead and tried it. 

I was not disappointed. The mildness of the buffalo mozzarella complimented the spicy of the chorizo perfectly, but the star of the dish was the sweet cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes at the grocery store have been impressive, but these were on another level. 

Finally, we tried a new dessert that featured Elgin apples. A simple blueberry apple pie. 

Two picture perfect lunches at FRESH. I cannot recommend this place enough. Elgin is about an hour outside of Cape Town, but an easy drive for a weekend breakfast or lunch for a change of scenery. Just like the name, the restaurant is straightforward and simple. Joan lets the garden shine. 

If you are headed out that must plan a stop. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April, I can't take you seriously

This month has flown by. South Africa has some MAJOR public holidays and April seems to luck out.

The 27th is Freedom Day and we are celebrating by going out of town. Actually, truth be told...we are leaving tomorrow afternoon. What's another day?

We are going to our favorite guesthouse in the Overberg. It's actually a working farm and probably the most stylish farm you ever did see.  I'll show you will be jealous.

Back to April. It's flown by, but has had it's moments.

1. Theft! It's fairly common here. This week alone, I'm missing a pink Lululemon long sleeve, dish detergent, and coffee filters. The most random and curious theft is this cement ball from our front entrance. We planted in our driveway to ensure taxis don't park there and one morning we woke up to find one missing. We have cameras, but we cannot exactly see what happened clearly. I would love to see this theft go down...did they dislodge it and pick it up and put it in the trunk? Who thinks to steal this? I have no words three words....THIS IS AFRICA.

2. A Mystery Package. After a weekend filled with wine AND another wine-filled weekend planned for the following weekend, I decided to forgo wine this week. Guess what is delivered to our door? 12 Bottles of Bubbly...with no note. Is this some kind of sick joke? 

Worry not...I will pack it away for this weekend. 

3. Remember when I thought I was fit? Well, it's a false reality. Today I went to CrossFit and got my ass handed to me dead last at the rowing. There was even someone that had never been before and they got FAR better than I did. 

So...Ya. Humbling. I really don't know what else to say. I hate feeling out of shape. 

4. I had have alopecia, which is essentially unexplained patches of baldness. It's a real issue I've struggled with in the past and I am VERY grateful for the regrowth I have had (See this spot at the beginning of December!!!!!) It's something I will have for the rest of my life, so I am constantly checking my head for new spots and treating them accordingly. Right now, I have some awkward regrowth that is at a funny stage and cannot be contained. 

While it is a bit comical, I actually like it. It reminds me of my progress and my body's ability to heal itself. I also can't help but be filled with gratitude when I see that little least the hair is growing back. Hair is better than bald spots ANY DAY. 

5. If you went to will think this is funny. 

P2P rocking out in South Africa. 

I know the month isn't over yet, but I just wanted to share some random highlights. 

Most random thing that has happened to you in April?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cooking "American"

Living abroad challenges me to think about what "American Food" is...

A couple years ago I made a traditional Thanksgiving meal with Turkey (frozen) and all the fixings. Someone asked me if this was what Americans ate.

Hmm....No. I eat turkey with stuffing exactly once a year. Traditional? Yes. Typical? No

For me, American food is simply what I grew up eating. I think the American food is hard to describe because it's so regional and varied throughout the country. 

Where is this going? Well, there are American things that I make here that are a bit of a novelty with my husband and his family. I don't think of these as really American, but they are not very common in South Africa, so they tend to get some hype. 

Fluffy Pancakes with Real Maple Syrup: Yep, I make those every couple weeks and they are are referred to as "Real American Pancakes"

Guacamole: More Mexican, but I'm from California, so it's standard. Avocados are plentiful here, so it's a no brainer. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Apple Pie: Always a big hit. Finding Chocolate Chips is the problem.

Tacos: Yes...with homemade beans and rice. This is an easy meal because everyone customizes their own plate. 

When grocery shopping this weekend, I had a recipe on my mind, and I tried to see if I could find appropriate substitutes to make it happen. Well, I think I got close enough and made a plan to try one of my very American recipes in South Africa. 

The recipe I wanted to make was Plain Chicken's Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chili. I made it while we were in America (sans crock pot), and I LOVED IT. Now that the weather is getting a bit chilly colder here in Cape Town, I had this chili on the brain. 

The original recipe is HERE, but I had to improvise based on what ingredients I was able to get my hands on.

1 can black beans Check...Not readily available in SA, but I get mine at Giovanni's in Greenpoint
1 can corn, undrained Check...Woolworth's (I used 3/4 of the can and saved the rest for the cornbread)
1 can Rotel, undrained No Rotel in SA. I used a can of chopped tomatoes with chili and also added half a chopped onion
1 package ranch dressing mix I don't know if Ranch dressing exists here, but I do have some dry packets from previous care packages from the US.
1 tsp cumin Check
1 Tbsp chili powder I used 1 Tbsp of taco seasoning plus 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika for a kick
1 tsp onion powder nope
1 8 oz package light cream cheese I used Low Fat Cream Cheese from Woolworths. It comes in a 250g tub and I used approximated half of the container. 
2 chicken breasts I used 3 because the ones I purchased were fairly small

Last thing? I didn't use a crock pot or slow cooker. I have one, but since I was having the time of my life at Constantia Glen during the afternoon, I didn't start on dinner until later in the evening. I also had a lovely sous chef, Miss Natalia and we got to work. 

I sauteed half an onion until soft and added the chopped tomatoes, and corn (both undrained). The corn had very little liquid, so I added another can of water and let simmer. I stirred in the spices and ranch mixture and finally added the rinsed black beans and let it get fragrant over medium heat. The mixture was a rolling boil, so I added the chicken breasts and let them "poach" in the mixture for about 10 minutes with the lid closed. I then flipped the chicken breasts and let them poach an additional 10 minutes on the other side until they were cooked throughout and tender. Then I got to work with two fork...shredding the chicken directly in the pot. Once all three breasts were shredded up into small pieces, I added the cream cheese, lowered the heat to low and gave it a good stir. I closed the lid and let the flavors come together, stirring every 5-10 minutes. 

While that was cooking on low on the stove top, I got working on some cornbread. I found this simple recipe on Food Network and after a 5 minute google search, I confirmed that yellow cornmeal is polenta. For the "1 cup yellow cornmeal", I subbed half a cup of polenta, and half a cup of Maizena (I bought Maizena-corn flour after having corn cakes at a guesthouse and they reminded me of that's where I made the connection to add it in this recipe). I also used a 1 Tbsp of honey instead of 1/4 cup and added the remainder of the corn that I saved from the chili. 

A bit of a hodge podge of recipe attempt...but I poured it into a greased skillet and hoped for the best. 

When the cornbread began to brown around the edges and get a nice crispy dome, I took it out of the oven to cool while I whipped up some quick honey butter. 

Finally, the very "American" dinner was served. 

It was delicious by the way...and a huge hit with my South African in-laws. 

Do adapt recipes or follow them EXACTLY? 

What's your idea of a typical American meal?