Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Chopper at Ngorongoro

Living in South Africa is great, but I must just clarify that we don’t all spend our time on a safari, we don’t have lions in our gardens and we don’t ride elephants to work every day (only some days). I know many people have cottoned on to the fact that we are actually a pretty progressive country, but we still get asked some of the most absurd things (see here and here).

Elephants in the mist

Elephants in the mist rain

Speaking of safari… I have never been to the Kruger National Park, even though I live in South Africa. Apparently some people think that is a little bit of treason… I, however, have not yet learnt how to appreciate seeing buck after buck after buck. It’s kind of like going bird watching when you know nothing about birds…

You don't need to know anything about birds to acknowledge just how majestic this one is...

You don’t need to know anything about birds to acknowledge just how majestic this one is…

So going into Ngorongoro Crater was a massive breath of fresh air. It was the last leg of our big adventure. We though we might attempt doing the crater, going across into the Serengeti, and traveling up through to Kenya from there, however, there were supposedly really dodgy border crossings there, so we chose not to risk it. It also transpired that Serengeti was ridiculously expensive, so it worked out well for us that we couldn’t make it.

In fact, most of Africa is just geared to wealthy (American) tourists who have lots of “dollas” – we had to pay to get into the Ngorongoro national park, for both of us as well as our Landy, Chopper. Then we realised that we had to pay AGAIN to get into the actual crater. As if we were just driving into the national park “on the way” to somewhere “better”. Yeah right, you need to actually see this place.

The crater has its very own climate as well... I can't even begin to tell you how quickly rains came and went and came again and then disappeared like they had never happened

The crater has its very own climate as well… I can’t even begin to tell you how quickly rains came and went and came again and then disappeared like they had never happened

Ngorongoro Crater is this massive bowl full of the most incredible African wildlife you could imagine, all enclosed in a natural game reserve of sorts. Except you don’t feel like the animals are actually caved in at all. They also live happily alongside some Masai people. So maybe some African people do have lions in their back gardens…

We saw all the animals. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t actually seen a buffalo in real life, but when I saw this thing, I finally learned the difference between them and wildebeest. It’s largely based on size, in case you weren’t aware.

Sup buffalo

Rolling buffalo

Judgmental Zebra is judging the buffalo who really just knows how to have a good time...

Judgmental Zebra is judging the buffalo who really just knows how to have a good time…

The animals in this little oasis are completely comfortable in their home, they show no fear about tourists because they know that they are the ones in charge. It is really great to see how conservation efforts are paying off, and it reminds you of why they are so important.

IMG_7781 IMG_7888

We had a really friendly and informative tour guide by absolute chance who we somehow managed to squeeze in the Defender with us. It was useful having him there because he knew were to go to find the specific animals, like the lions (who were asleep in the heat of the day. You know, cats and stuff) and the hippos.

Hippo and baby

The drive in and out of the national park as well as into the crater was extremely hectic uphill and downhill with blind rises and hairpin bends and of course, in true Landy style, we had a bit of a smokey moment, which was repaired in no time at all (again, in true Landy style).

Before the trip, I had never even heard of Ngorongoro, but I would highly recommend a trip there if you are ever considering a trip to Africa. It is the reason that going on Safari is so highly revered – nature is awesome, Africa is powerful and we will never truly be able to tame it. And that’s what makes it so special.

Ngorongoro Landscape

Achievement Unlocked – Level Macarons!

achievement

Macarons have been my biggest challenge to date. Generally I am quite satisfied with my ability to follow a recipe and get my expected result. With macarons, however, this was not the case.

Christmas Macarons

[Let me just clarify something quickly: macaroon vs. macaron. Think: coconut vs. almond flour.

Quick recipe for a macaroon: condensed milk and desiccated coconut, mixed in a ratio that lets you form little balls and place on a baking tray to bake at 180º until the edges start to brown and the biscuit is pretty firm]

My first attempt at macarons used a recipe from Dan Lepard‘s cookbook, Short and Sweet, which has proven delicious and basically perfect every time… until now. Then I tried Mary Berry and Great British Bake Off‘s chocolate macarons. I followed the instructions to a T, and they ended up burning anyway.

I figured it was time for a troubleshooting guide, when I stumbled upon this absolute gem. She even linked to her step by step guide to making macarons, which I tried after re-attempting Dan’s recipe using some of her advice. This was my result:

Her recipe was the first to start coming out right. But surely I didn’t have to follow all of her steps? Who has time to wait overnight for egg whites to mature? As it turns out, it is important, and it makes a substantial difference.

What also helped, was this guy. I absolutely love his work! His tutorials on macarons showed me that I might have been over-beating my eggs, and maybe I was “not overmixing” too carefully. Fully incorporated, people!

Red Christmas macarons

Eventually, I ended up with these bad boys, which I made for our Christmas party. Aren’t they beautiful! And added bonus was that they were gluten free, so everyone, even the fussies (though not the Banting folk), could enjoy dessert.

They were accompanied by vanilla cupcakes with green cream cheese frosting, and cute little marshmallow reindeer that my little cousin thoroughly enjoyed.

Marshmallow reindeer

Marshmallow reindeer

Vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Macarons

Makes about 30 sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • ¼ tsp creme of tartar
  • 210g powdered (icing) sugar
  • 125g ground almonds/almond meal/almond flour
  • 30g caster (granulated) sugar

Method

  1. Separate the egg whites. Leave overnight to mature in the fridge, and remove from fridge well ahead of time to allow to come to room temperature
  2. Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds together. Place this into a food processor and blend together until very fine and resembles a flour. Do this in stages, and make sure you’ve scraped down the sides of the food processor to break everything up. Also don’t go for so long that the mixture starts to heat up (we are making macarons, not over-sweetened almond butter)
  3. Sift the icing sugar-almond mix back into the bowl. If there are any remaining chunks of almond, remove them, they will make the mixture lumpy – DO NOT PUSH THEM THROUGH
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and creme of tartar until very soft peaks form – peaks should hold their shape for long. Add the granulated sugar here in two stages, beating until stiff peaks form (but not hard peaks – they should have some movement to them still). Colour your meringue mixture now, using powder or gel food colourings – don’t use liquid colouring
  5. Add one third of the almond mix and fold in gently. Once it has started to combine, add the second third, and repeat with the final third. Ensure mixture is of the same consistency and there are no dry patches
  6. Place mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle about 0.5-0.8cm in diameter. Pipe this onto a stencilled mat or template, taking care not to put too much mixture for each biscuit as they spread quite a bit. Tap the baking tray firmly onto your working surface to remove any air bubbles. If there are remaining bubbles on the surface, give these a pop with a tooth pick
  7. Leave to form a shell at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Just before that time is up, preheat oven to 160ºC
  8. Place baking tray in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 140ºC and continue to bake for another 5-7 minutes
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before sandwiching together with filling. I filled mine with canned caramel (boiled condensed milk trick) sprinkled with some salt (salted caramel), a coffee buttercream, and some leftover green cream cheese frosting from the cupcakes

My local – Urban Angel Café

It’s taken me ages to get this post out, purely because I love this little café so much that I would rather spend my time eating there than being tortured by the glorious memory of it. That’s before I even have to edit all the photos of their amazing food. Gosh no, it’s just too difficult. Urban Angel Café is my new favourite little hot spot, and it’s less than 3km from home!

Amazing range of breakfasts and café meals - quinoa with apple and salted caramel, french toast with banana and nut butters (homemade), and hugely delicious chicken prego burgers

Amazing range of breakfasts and café meals – quinoa with apple and salted caramel, french toast with banana and nut butters (homemade), and hugely delicious chicken prego burgers

So I’m writing this post in the comfort of their wafts of freshly baked bread, with an unhampered view of their mountain of fresh biscuits, sitting on the counter, whips of steam still practically floating above them.

This is my first draw once I walk in the door: every day they have something new and interesting on offer, from bagels and mince pies to protein bars and cheesecake brownies. Cookies and doughnuts and all sorts of different breads keep the meals special on each visit

This is my first draw once I walk in the door: every day they have something new and interesting on offer, from bagels and mince pies to protein bars and cheesecake brownies. Cookies and doughnuts and all sorts of different breads keep the meals special on each visit

What I absolutely love about this place, is their modern menu. And I don’t mean modern in a pretentious way, where owners are trying to sell the “next best thing”. I mean they genuinely care about producing meals that taste amazing and happen to have all these amazing new superfoods in them. You can go to Urban Angel café on pretty much any diet, and you will probably find something that suits you – and it’s guaranteed to be delicious.

The bagel bun is my go-to breakfast as a protein filled bun of fresh sour dough bread. Their meals are original with everyone's favourite toppings, like cream cheese! "Eggs done your way" is also one of the awesome things about the  cafe

The bagel bun is my go-to breakfast as a protein filled bun of fresh sour dough bread. Their meals are original with everyone’s favourite toppings, like cream cheese! “Eggs done your way” is also one of the awesome things about the café

And if you’re not on a diet, they have these incredible brownies that were recommended to me by everybody – friends and strangers alike – that I tried to resist for so long. I knew that if I gave in, it would be over for me. And it was… My advice: stay away from the brownies if you value your waistline.

Sweet and salty mocha with a swirl of caramel. Literally best drink ever!

Sweet and salty mocha with a swirl of caramel. Literally best drink ever!

For the most part, their creativity is pretty spot-on. My first experience of their food wasn’t that great though. I ordered a peanut butter espresso milkshake and was highly disappointed to find it was made with homemade nut butter, a combination of peanut and cashew. In the end it just tasted like very milky coffee with chunks of nuts. But hey, that’s what happens when you try to be too healthy, it doesn’t always work out. Pretty good otherwise!

Their meals are reasonably priced and really generous, full of healthy goodness! Grilled chicken with beautifully flavoured sides - their mash was some of the best I've ever had!

Their meals are reasonably priced and really generous, full of healthy goodness! Grilled chicken with beautifully flavoured sides – their mash was some of the best I’ve ever had!

Their service is great as well, always extremely friendly.

Urban Angel Café: Bakery, Café and Food Store can be found just behind the shopping centre in the office park (President Fouche Drive And Hawken Avenue, Randburg, Johannesburg). It’s a bit difficult to find, but I guess that way it can be a little piece of hidden gold until everyone learns about its magnificence.

Condensed milk biscuits

One more day of exams left and I am still baking up a storm. There were 60 scones in my kitchen today! There are only 3 people that live in my house, and no, I am not planning a party… They are actually for a fundraiser at my old primary school.

Surprisingly, my food has all gone to fairly good causes this week. And when I say “good cause”, I mean that it didn’t get eaten by only me, my mother and my brother. I baked “healthy” choc chip banana bread which I took to a fabulous games evening. I also shared these cookies with them.

Condensed milk cookies with milk and condensed milk

Condensed milk is one of my guilty pleasures. We hardly ever have any in the house unless we actually have a recipe that requires it, and generally then the recipe will require all of it (though we don’t scrape the tin out into the recipe, we reserve that for teaspoons of sneaky deliciousness). These biscuits are incredibly delicious as they are, but they also serve as a great base for other biscuits, such as chocolate chip, or macadamia and cranberry cookies. I also made some chocolatey choc chip cookies that were amazing, and they didn’t want to be left out of the photoshoot, so you can get a sneak peak at those as well.

 

Condensed milk cookies with choc chips, macadamia nuts and cranberries, and plain goodness

Condensed milk cookies with choc chips, macadamia nuts and cranberries, and plain goodness

Condensed milk biscuits

Ingredients

  • 340g cake flour
  • 225g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Cream the butter and sugar
  3. Add the condensed milk, flour, vanilla and baking powder and mix thoroughly. Add extras at this stage
  4. Roll cookie dough into 4cm balls and place on a prepared baking tray
  5. Flatten the balls slightly with a fork
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until the biscuits are golden. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the baking sheet
These chocolate bad boys come from the recipe book I used for my bread. I had a hankering for chocolate cookies, so I went a bit wild and made all the cookies

These chocolate bad boys come from the recipe book I used for my bread. I had a hankering for chocolate cookies, so I went a bit wild and made all the cookies

I made bread…

…and it was wonderful!

Perfect buttered bread

This time last year, I was baking brownies. Brownies upon brownies upon brownies! It was definitely my thing.

This year, I am at home, with my own oven, my “own” (mother’s) kitchen, and I don’t need to borrow a kitchen from someone, where I would have to take all my own ingredients that were stored in the top of my cupboard above my clothes and linen in my bedroom… Yeah, it’s definitely good to be home!

It’s both a blessing and a curse though. Now I get to cook all the time. Which I love but which is also really bad, especially now that I am writing my final honours exams (from Monday. OMG I’m going to die! Wish me all the luck!). So, in between all the studying, and sometimes even instead of all the studying, I bake. And that is how this loaf came about.

I love cookery books. Aren’t they pretty? I really should use them since I have so many! It’s my “post-exams resolution”. That, and tidying up all the clutter in my room that has accumulated since I have had more pressing things to do (like “study”, which can be seen here and here). I have all these exciting cooking plans for the end of exams, it is so difficult to actually wait until they are over to start! Hence, procrastibaking.

Procrastibaking

 

So cookbook number 1 is a really cool baking book which I will share with you soon, once I have tried and tested a few more of its recipes. It is very educational, which, of course, is the whole point of me baking and sharing my lessons and experiences with you here on my blog! It doesn’t have enough pictures though, but I feel like complaining about that makes me sound like a child complaining over the quality of their picture book (or why grown up book are so boring). Time to grow up and get this honours degree I guess. Real world next year, bring it on!

 

Simple white bread loaf

Ingredients

  • 400g white bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 300ml warmish water

Method

  1. Place flour in a bowl. Place the salt in on the one side of the bowl and the yeast in on the other (don’t let them touch just yet)
  2. Add the water and mix well. Don’t be afraid to get your hands in there!
  3. When all the ingredients are well-combined (but don’t over-mix!), place the ball of dough in the bowl, cover with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes
  4. Remove dough from bowl, place on an oiled surface (not floured), and knead, 6-8 turns (not too long)
  5. Replace dough in bowl, and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat twice more
  6. On final kneading, leave the dough in the bowl for 45 minutes to increase in size (still with a cloth over the bowl)
  7. Remove the dough, and place onto a floured surface. Shape into an oval, or a weird circle, or whatever shape you manage to get out of it, no one will judge you if it’s not perfectly oblong
  8. Place almost-loaf onto the pre-floured pan that the bread will cook on, cover with a cloth, and leave to prove (increase in size) for around 45 minutes
  9. Preheat oven to 220ºC, dust loaf with a bit of extra bread flour, slash it down the length, not too deep, and place in the oven for 35-40minutes. Mine took 35 minutes, but ovens may vary
  10. Remove from oven, allow to cool a bit, then lather with butter and devour, making sure you save some for soup later (there is still a springy nip in the air at the moment after all!)

 

Zucchini brownies? Not for me thanks!

Alternative title for this post: How to get kids to eat more vegetables. Or: How to mess with your friends who say they don’t eat vegetables. Or: A slightly healthier brownie recipe (but still includes sugar).

Not your typical background props for brownies

Not your typical background props for brownies

Zucchini was stalking me. It was like a green veggie monster lurking in every corner of my life saying “Eat me, eat me!” (In the creepiest veggie monster voice you can imitate). I was like, “ew, no! Vegetables!? Too much green! Too much health! Too much not chocolate!”

That peanut butter stripe... That melted dark chocolate... That richness that looks like it translates to goodness...

That peanut butter stripe… That melted dark chocolate… That richness that looks like it translates to goodness…

I figured though, since I had given in and made the carrot cupcakes, I would just have to give these babies a shot. Problem is, zucchini isn’t the same as it is overseas. We have mini zucchini, which I took an unfortunate while to realise is what we refer to as: baby marrow. I assume it’s the same thing???

I follow quite a lot of blogs, and there was a week where every single one of those blogs sent me some form of zucchini cake/brownie/muffin/savoury-thing recipe, and they all looked so amazing! But still… Vegetables… When I got this one from Yammie’s Gluten Freedom, I decided that that had to be the one. Her recipes are reliable, and her brownies have always come out tops in my books. Alas, my trust has been broken!!

Box of brownies

Just kidding, she will always be amazing, and these brownies aren’t half bad. The peanut butter topping definitely makes them worthwhile. My major complaint with this recipe is that they kind of taste like vegetables… Kind of a lot… We gave some to a friend though who refuses to eat veggies – we didn’t tell him – he actually said he enjoyed them, and that they had a nutty flavour. So the key to this recipe is: deception. Obviously, as the baker, this didn’t work so well for me, and all I could taste was green…

Zucchine, baby marrow, grown up marrow, courgette, by any other name does not belong in a brownie

Zucchini, baby marrow, grown up marrow, courgette, by any other name does not belong in a brownie

Zucchini brownies – made in SA

Ingredients

  • 2 cups finely grated baby marrows/courgettes/zucchini (I used the zester to grate mine superfine – I didn’t feel like having huge chunks of the stuff)
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 ¹⁄³ cup applesauce (mine was a good jar of the stuff)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ²⁄³ C oat flour/food-processed oats (ground down to a flour)
  • 1 C cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Additional: chocolate chips of whatever degree of healthiness suits your taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC, and line a 11×11″ baking tray/dish
  2. Mix the sugar, eggs, apple sauce, vanilla and baby marrows
  3. Mix the oat flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and salt together
  4. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix well, ensuring there are no floury dry bits
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan/dish
  6. Bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour
  7. Remove and leave to cool before frosting – I frosted mine with melted chocolate and a mix of melted chocolate and peanut butter

3 Ingredient ratio cookies

In school we found ourselves asking: “why do we need maths? We are never going to use the gradient of a hyperbole anywhere in our lives! Who even cares what x equals, I want to be an artist/lawyer/journalist/psychologist/fireman.”

Pam's jar

I am pleased to let you know, that I have found a use for maths that goes beyond simple addition and subtraction – we all knew that was important, how else would we be able to count our pieces of cake or get sad as people eat all your chocolates, one by one? Maths is beyond useful in these Ratio Butter Cookies, where all you have to remember is 3 little numbers. It’s so easy, you’ll quickly forget that it’s based on mathematical principles.

Mom's dayThese 3:2:1 cookies are my go-to biscuits when I am bored, craving cookies, or when I want to make a gift for someone. As a baker, I think that giving baked goods is like giving a little part of myself to the person, so it’s a personal gift, which is my favourite type of gift. As you can see from the photos, my skills with the biscuits definitely improved the more I made them, but that’s what this blog is about: learning.

Pre and post-bake

I used these fabulous cookie cutters I got from Yuppiechef, which imprint your chosen letters and words onto the cookies. Trouble is, someone has since hidden my pack of letters, so now I have to be creative when choosing my messages, because I only have the letters that were used in past messages. How many different ways can you use the letters: T. H. E. K. E. N. D. Z.? For those of you who are good with anagrams, there’s a challenge for you.

The Kendz cookies

Ratio butter cookies – dark chocolate and orange butter cookies

Ingredients

  • 300g cake/plain flour
  • 200g salted butter (or unsalted, with a pinch of salt added later)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp orange zest (or lemon zest, but this doesn’t go as well with the dark chocolate)
  • melted dark chocolate (about 1 slab, depending on how much of the cookie you want to cover in chocolate)

Method

  1. Cream the softened butter and the sugar with the orange zest until smooth, light and creamy, almost fluffy
  2. Add the flour mix together until well-combined. You may want to get your hands in there to make sure it all comes together nicely
  3. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. It can also be frozen in a sausage shape to be cut into discs whenever you want it
  4. Heat the oven to 180ºC, and line a baking tray
  5. Roll out the cookies and cut into the desired shapes. Make sure they are all of even thickness or they will cook at different speeds
  6. Place on the prepared baking tray and place in the oven
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until light golden and they no longer look wet. Depending on how crispy you like your cookies of course…
  8. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely
  9. Melt the dark chocolate (double boiler or in the microwave, but be careful not to let it burn), and dip cookies as desired, placing them on baking parchment to set.

Be mine

Overlanding through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

I saw Mount Kilimanjaro. And it was so amazing that I forgot to take a picture of it. That’s when you know a moment is special: when it’s so amazing to be in the moment, that all other superficial cares of the world are lost in it – there’s no need to take a photo, or check in on Facebook, or prove to other people how much of a good time you are having. Those are the ones that are often cherished the most. It’s difficult for me, though, because I love to share my experiences with other people. Now, all I can do is tell other people I have seen it, but I have no proof! I have had to learn how to appreciate that moment for what it was: just me and the awe of being in nature’s massive presence.

The moment was amazing: we were driving along, trusting the GPS that there was a large mountain somewhere ahead of us. We tried to identify which one it was – maybe it’s that one over theeeeeere in the distance, it seems a bit bigger than the others, right? Then you see a slightly larger one, and you wonder if it’s not perhaps that one. Then all of a sudden, you look up. As in, up up. High above the clouds, high above any of the surrounding mountains that you were assessing, and you are left without a doubt as to which one it is. And you can’t help but feel small at the foot of this enormous chunk of rock that just rises high above all that is around it.

Then it gets confusing to your mind because it is so far away but so big that it actually looks small…

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon - polarized sunglasses were necessary

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon – polarized sunglasses were necessary

Tanzania was beautiful. I was highly surprised by how green it was though! Particularly in Ngorongoro, but everywhere you looked there was green. I definitely had different expectations. Traditionally I had pictured Africa to be more Savannah-type landscapes, with bush-veld as far as the eye can see. Instead, there were trees, and green fields. It was almost like the UK or Europe, except with skies brighter blue than you could ever imagine, and a sun that shines directly from above chasing all shadows away.

I also wasn’t expecting the traditional cultures to proliferate as they did: you drive along, and there are just Masai tribesmen walking along in their traditional blankets, with massive looped earlobes, with their knobkieries, just herding their cattle. Yes, I am most definitely a city girl, but this experience particularly highlighted how different South Africa comes across to me: yes, we have traditional people, but often it feels like they are traditional at certain times, and then resort to commercial, modern, “first-world” tendencies. For example, they live and work in the city, wearing suits, driving BMWs and drinking expensive coffee (I’m thinking bank executive here), and then get married in their traditional garments with cows as labola. The Masai tribesmen seemed all-tradition, all the time. It was fascinating and good to see that there are still some cultures out there that have held on to their traditions and the simple ways of life that don’t require the hustle and bustle and stress of today’s “modern world”.

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It's incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It’s incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Having said this, however, I didn’t get any photographs of the locals. Unfortunately, while they still live according to their old ways, they have been touched significantly by the tourism industry, and as a result, I found that one of the only English words in their vocabulary was: “Dollar?” We tried to drive up to Lake Natron and got stopped along the worst dirt roads and we were asked for toll fees (you know, to maintain the dirt road?) a good number of times. At the one stop, there was a Masai woman who was trying to sell us her jewellery, which is fair, but after the heavy tolls, I didn’t want to be buying some piece of jewellery (which, to be honest, was basically the same as what I would get back in South Africa, except triple the price). When I told her “No”, she insisted that that I at least take a photograph of her: “Photo? Dollar? Photo? Dollar?” I tried to say no in as many tones as I knew, and she kept repeating those two words and ignoring (and not understanding) my refusal. The Dollar tourism industry has made travelling quite expensive, even (especially) in Africa. None of the Masai folk would let us take photos of them without us handing over some cash. So I didn’t take any photos of them (religious reasons would be ok, but tourist exploitation was unfair on principle).

***

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding).  It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn't have time to spend the night

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding). It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to spend the night

The journey took us up from Dar Es Salaam (which was polluted and busy and full of traffic and taxis far worse than any Johannesburg Kombi) to the foot of Kili at Moshi, up through Arusha, and a slight detour to Ngorongoro Crater and National Park. We would have done Serengeti too, had time and finances allowed. We took the scenic route from there up to the border. This route took us past some cool volcanoes and craters that we did our best to explore (uncomfortably by excitingly off the beaten track). There were Zebra, wildebees and buck roaming free, and the expansive wilderness was breathtaking and typically African. Unfortunately we never made it to Lake Natron, but it worked out better as far as time went anyway, so I can’t complain too much.

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania. This sounded simple, but it turns out there's a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren't necessarily volcanic rock

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania, Ol Donyo Lengai. This sounded simple, but it turns out there’s a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren’t necessarily volcanic rock

Tanzania (I still don’t know how to pronounce it properly) was an awesome African experience. It challenged my preconceptions of my continent as far as the landscape goes, and it showed me just how far of an influence America actually has. I loved seeing that there are some people who still hold onto their cultural traditions as tightly as they can, with no desire to change that, where I am a person who is confused by people who are not looking for progress, growth and development (in themselves or in the world around them). It is definitely a place everyone should experience some time in their lives. I’m not sure that I would go back, but if I did, I would definitely go with lots of “dollar?” just to make the journey that bit easier and less frustrating.

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

Alice in Wonderland Party – Red Velvet Queen of Hearts

The person that wrote Alice in Wonderland was definitely cooked off his rocker. But, some of the best things in life are just that: cooked! (Or “Mad”, if we want to go full-on Alice in Wonderland reference)

Mom’s “hat braai” had me wanting to do a real mad-hatter theme party. Actually, my mini steampunk hat made me want to do a Mad Hatter’s party. I couldn’t go straight “Hat”, though – can’t be copying my mother – so I went with the whimsical land of Alice, with all of it’s crazy tea-parties and glam of the Queen of Hearts.

It turned out quite well: everyone was dressed up, and the theme actually lent itself to great decorations. See my Pinterest board for inspiration.

Red Velvet Cupcakes 3

Following the carrot cupcakes of the other day, I needed to make that cream cheese frosting again. Emphasis there on the word needed. It really was that good. The red velvet cupcakes came out so cute as well! I may have left them out in the open for a bit long, however, so they weren’t as moist as they should have been. The flavour, though, was great, really does the iconic red velvet cupcake.

Red Velvet cupcakes

I have to admit that there is a disappointing amount of cocoa in the red velvet mixture. 1 Tbsp? What’s the point!? Either way, apart from some of the random ingredients (don’t be put off by the smell of the mixture or the consistency of some of the ingredients), these cupcakes are really easy to make (mix mix mix everything together!). Though you might not want to eat the cupcake batter, you will definitely want to dig into the finished product (some may argue that there isn’t even a point to making the cupcakes if you can’t enjoy the batter, but bear with me for that little red gem of joy). Again, I used this recipe from One Sweet Appetite, because her carrot cupcakes were so good, there was no doubt that the red velvet ones would speak to me on the same level.

Red Velvet cupcakes 2

Red Velvet Cupcakes – makes 24

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ C cake flour
  • 1 ½ C caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ C vegetable oil
  • 1 C buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp red food colouring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vinegar (I used apple cider because that’s what we had, and it’s an acceptable vinegar substitute for most recipes, which is good to note)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC
  2. Prepare your cupcake tin (liners or greased)
  3. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl
  4. Whisk all the wet ingredients together until well-combined
  5. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients until the mixture is of even consistency. Note to self: do not lick the batter spoon
  6. Divide evenly, about ²⁄³ full
  7. Place in the oven on the middle shelf, for 15 minutes, or until the sounds of wet-baking have disappeared, and a skewer comes out the centre of the cupcake dry
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting

 

Cream Cheese Frosting – enough to generously frost 24 cupcakes (and eat the leftovers)

Ingredients

  • 250g cream cheese
  • 5 tsp softened butter (not melted)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 ½ C icing (powdered/confectioner’s) sugar

Method

  1. Cream the butter and cream cheese together until soft (this makes it easier to mix the sugar in, instead of having the chunks of dairy flying around)
  2. Add the icing sugar and mix slightly before beating until well-combined and of a desired consistency (like whipped cream or a solid buttercream frosting)
  3. Pipe onto your cupcakes

Good ol’ G-Spot, EC

It’s been nearly a year since I finished up in Grahamstown. I was rather keen to leave, when the time came, but I miss it now. It’s the same as missing school though. You know, best days of your life and all that.

Now, I wasn’t particularly fond of Grahamstown. I was a city girl, from Johannesburg, and I somehow ended up in one of the most poorly run provinces of the country, in a town that didn’t even have a McDonald’s. Or a Woolworths Food. When people asked me if I was enjoying it, I would tell them how much I like the University, my course and the overall student life. I would explain how convenient being in a small town was because you can literally walk to any destination worth your while in the town. You hardly needed to worry about having a designated driver, the only time you really wanted a car was when it was raining or when you had to carry your 5L water up the hill (which is closer to 25L by the time you get to the top!). And this is where I would start talking about the problems.

We had no water. We would go for weeks with no running water. In my residence, we had 73 girls all sharing 2 toilets. There were minimal washing facilities – you could go to the gym, but that was so busy and eventually dirty and they ran out of water pressure too from trying to meet the demand. One benefit: the university paid for 2L of bottled drinking water every day. If you were smart, you would let this accumulate so you didn’t have to drink the tap water, which was sometimes brown, sometimes smelled like a chlorine factory blew up.

Water protest gif

One of the water outages was so bad, we held a march in protest. The truck that was meant to come fix the situation went missing, and then was found to have not even left Johannesburg yet. When they got to Grahamstown, they could not install the pump because there was no electricity. The electricity problem was another bad one. Slightly more liveable, because you don’t have to live in each other’s filth, but not cool when you are trying to study. Most of the power failures happened during exam time, naturally. Sometimes even in the middle of your exam. It was tedious, but I guess we all learned to live with it.

High street

The High Street, one of the most lovely views of the Cathedral and the quaintness of Grahamstown. Along this road you will find most of the restaurants, plenty of pharmacies, and plenty of dodgy car guards

I suppose, if anything, it taught us to be grateful. We learned to appreciate when we did have certain things, like water and lights on at home, because after all, these are luxuries that many people do not have access to at all, obviously in Grahamstown, but even in South Africa in general. But, you know, perspective only comes after the hard times… I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore, but I have new problems that have come about with living back in the city. Now I can just reminisce about the beauty and quaintness that was Grahamstown. I learnt a lot from being there, I had a fabulous experience, met the most amazing people, and met a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different opinions. We were all shoved into one teeny backwards town, forced to live alongside each other, and that is why Rhodents are generally so open minded and fun (but also well-rounded and responsible individuals).

IMG_7000

Once you get over the gnawing absence of things that were once a staple sight in a civilized town, you start to notice the beauty of the old buildings, and the heritage that came along with them. You eventually realise why people would want to keep making the trip down every year for the National Arts Fest (apart from general art-appreciation, of course).

Cnr High Street and Cuyler Cathedral with Jacarandas

Grocott's

Grahamstown is home to some lovely old buildings and some significant South African Heritage. The old newspaper buildings could have something to do with the Rhodes School of Journalism’s reputation perhaps?

High street court

Provost

Provost coffee shop was established here shortly before I left. While I wasn’t a massive fan of their coffee, their location was great – set in an old battalion-related building (or something like that), as were their delicious freshly-baked croissants

Grahamstown grows on you. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to stay there forever. I had an awesome time while I was there, great memories, but I am happy to be moving onto other things as well now in my life. For now, I think I will go have a reminiscent mare up in Northam.