Friday, 29 June 2012

Still Life with Potjie

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and to me, this one certainly does. First there's the story of my lovely new potjie (that's pronounced 'poy-kee' by the way).

My South African foodie mate Ben bought it for me for my recent birthday. I can't tell you how thrilled I was. He's recently moved to Herefordshire, so he ordered it from an obscure village post office-cum-purveyor of all things South African, not far from us here in Oxfordshire. He'd given me some advance warning and all we had to do was wait for his cheque to clear and I'd get the OK to go and pick it up. I go right past the shop each time I go into Oxford so I arranged to get it on my way back on the afternoon I was given the all clear.

To make it a bit more fun I thought I'd travel on my son's Vespa. He's touring Asia on his gap year and he encouraged me to get my motorcycle training sorted out so I could make use of it while he's away. So that I did and I've been scooting around on this thing for some time now, and I absolutely love it.

I called in to the South African shop to collect my gift, announced the reason for my visit, and the three South African guys working in the shop greeted me with a very nicely sung 'Happy Birthday to You......'. They seemed as thrilled as I was and all came out to help me secure my new gift to the rear rack on the scooter. They put it in a box and I had two decent straps to hold it on. It took a good fifteen minutes of trying different ways until we were all happy it was secure. I asked one of the guys to take this photo using my phone so I could send it Ben and Tersia to say thanks.

The journey back was about 6 or 7 miles through a couple of villages and mainly on country roads. About two miles from home, I was belting along a busy A road at about 50 mph when I heard this almighty crashing noise behind me. I glanced in the mirror and there it was. I could see the box and lid in the middle of the road about 100 yards behind me. There was no hard shoulder, so I pulled up as close to the edge of the road as possible and walked to survey the damage. I felt gutted. I got to the box (empty) and lid (still in one piece) but there was no sign of my potjie. I trawled the dense bushes on the side of the road as I made my way back to the bike and couldn't see it anywhere. When I got to the bike, there it was! Miraculously dangling from the rack on the strap that had been looped through the eye where the handle attaches. It was hanging barely an inch off the road. I can not describe the sense of relief I felt.

I reminded myself that there were lorries flying by in both directions and I should not really be lingering around. It was when I was re-securing the pot in the box that I realised the mistake us three blokes had made. The three legged pot was in a cardboard box, and what had happened was the legs had punctured the bottom of the box, and the pot then dropped just far enough to slacken the tension on the straps.

Even with traffic flying by in both directions, I worked out that the best way was to put the pot in the box upside down. Not that I will ever need to use that knowledge again. Had the chunky cast iron pot hit the road at 50 mph I'd have been collecting in two or three pieces. It's still a miracle that the lid survived. It has a small scratch which will be there forever to remind me of the experience.

I got home, rang Ben to tell him the story and took his instructions on seasoning my new miracle potjie. Casting iron is a greasy dirty process and leaves nasty residues that need removing before the pot can be used. The process involved boiling water in the pot, washing it, boiling more water, washing it again, then cooking something fatty in it for the first time. He suggested bacon, and so my pot was christened and is now nicely seasoned.

Now back to my still life (and this is 750 words so far by the way), because it's not just about the potjie.

This blog is really a bit of a desperate round up for the month of June, and it is my first ever blog without any recipes. My self imposed discipline of writing at least one article per month has been stressing me so much that I just had to drop everything and get it done.

Through the window in the photo is my trusty old Weber. We had a dinner party recently that would have been a perfect opportunity for a good story. I so wanted to make pork belly on my garden rotisserie, but was defeated by our lovely English weather. My fall back was to do the pork belly in the Weber, twice cooked. Can you believe I over fueled the fire on the second cooking, and the fat in the baking dish actually ignited. The pork was black around the edges and underneath and 10 people were on their way. It looked beyond rescue. Somehow I managed to stay calm (unlike my wife) and reviewed the disaster. The crackling still looked ok which was a start. So I carefully removed the charred edges and divided the pork into 10 servings (albeit a bit smaller than intended). I swear, you'd never have known and inside, the pork was perfect.

In the photo, the Weber is missing something... yes it's the handle that should be on the lid. I still haven't fixed it, not since mentioning it in a post last November.

There are two more stories my picture has to tell. My lovely chilli plants on the window cill, planted from seed back in March and now starting to fruit. There is another pot just opposite and they look so lovely. At the same time I planted some herbs which are in my little plastic greenhouse on the deck. Secondly, it's the lack of sun. This month has been dire as far as the weather is concerned, so there have been few opportunities for outdoor cooking. Wind and rain. Relentless.

Work/life pressure has kept me off the blog radar a bit too much this month, and I would like to apologise to my favourite food bloggers whose blogs I've been unable to keep up with. The loss is mine and I will be doing something about it!

So my picture has now said 1,168 words. The myth has become true.

Coriander blossom and tomato leaves
Tomato flowers
and basil in abundance

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