How to create a compost or trench bed for vegetables

How to create a compost or trench bed for vegetables

A trench bed is like a compost bin, dug into the ground and consisting of alternate layers of fresh green ‘live’ organic material, brown ‘dead’ organic material, fresh manure and soil. Note that each layer of dead or live organic … Continue reading

Life with my grandmother, a typical day

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My Nan…

On a Monday and Wednesday, I’d hop on my bicycle and freewheel downhill to meet my Nan for our Tai Chi class. ‘You know, if it wasn’t for meeting you here this morning, I’m not sure I would have come this morning… Thank goodness for you, I always feel so peaceful after tai chi!’ one of us was bound to say to the other. And there we were, anxious and enthusiastic beginners, my 85 year old grandmother and I learning tai chi together.

This is how other days went: we’d have tea at her place while going through her latest emails. Photographs of her great-grandchildren, my daily drawing sent in the early hours, or general news from the family in South Africa, the UK or Australia. We’d talk about life, the universe and everything, but whatever we discussed, I realise now, my Nan was always there, completely present.

Sometimes I’d pop in with my dog, Mascara after a walk on the beach. Mascara, a lightweight 25 kg bullterrier would always run up the stairs ahead of me, to be the first at No 8. Her tail wagging in anticipation as she faced the closed door, patiently waiting for her great-grandmother to open it and say ‘hello Mascara’.

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Sometimes we’d meet up at the end of the day and Marion would pour us each a strong g&t. We’d talk about the starling who had come to visit again, at the same time, at the same window, as it had done for an age. Or a white feather she’d found. Or she’d remind me that no she could not do tai chi on Friday because she had bridge but she could meet us for breakfast somewhere after art class another day. Sometimes we’d talk about life and literature… or how sad the sunset was that day.

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When I think of her now, I think of her presence, her consistency, how brave she was, how objective and honest. I think of her touching the ground, legs straight, hands flat on the ground. I think of smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne. Of her Christmas puddings and Christmas cake and how her dining room and lounge would be transformed into one giant table every other year.

Who could have known that this inspiring, self-actualised, even-tempered, modern woman had once upon a time run off to join the army, that she had fibbed about her age to get in? Who could have known that she would meet Lad, a fighter pilot in her late teens and find such a love that she’d never known before? That they would have six children together and raise them on their farm in Magaliesburg… And then, who was to know that she would lose Lad to a brain tumour when he was only 42 years old.

Since then, Marion witnessed the cycle of life repeat itself many times: her grandchildren would marry and they too would have children, too many to keep up with. There were more losses: her mother, her brother, her sister, some of her oldest friends… and just recently, her daughter, Candy. One can think of it as terribly sad, the loss of a close friend or family member… but…

As her little great-grandaughter Chiara said the other day, ‘Nan is in the clouds… and I think Nan is in love.’

My grandmother left us one year ago, on 26 April 2013. So many happy times shared.

My Nan bakes her fruit cake in a shoebox

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My Nan has mentioned that she sometimes bakes her Christmas cake in a shoe box. I’ve never seen this infamous ‘shoe box cake tin’ but, as luck would have it, when I visited yesterday, she was busy wrapping her Christmas cake. I walked into the kitchen to make tea and low and behold, there was a shoe box sitting on her stove! I looked inside to find no shoes — only cake crumbs.

Just goes to show that there’s no excuse for not baking if you don’t have a tin. On that note, my Nan often bakes in a biscuit tin. She uses about seven layers of greaseproof paper, cut to fit and sometimes adds a couple of layers of tin foil (see photo below). She secures the paper to the box with clothes pegs before pouring the batter into the box. Once the batter has settled, she removes the pegs and bakes her cake.

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You can find her marvelous traditional Christmas cake recipe here, together with photos of the process.

Click here for my Snowman Christmas cake — where I take my Nan’s cake and decorate it step-by-step with ‘plastic icing’ snowmen.

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If you’re keen to give small personal Christmas cakes as gifts, click here for an idea. This post tells you how to lay the marzipan and shows how to create someone’s name with royal icing.

Have fun!

My vegetable garden by the seaside (3 months later)

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The courtyard vegetable garden is blossoming in every way! I’m happy with the final layout (we dropped the circles) — hard to believe that all these plants fit into such a small space:

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Fruits: Passion fruit (pictured above), gooseberries (with gorgeous hanging lanterns intact), melon (no fruit as yet), blackberries and rasberries (growing well but no flowers as yet), baby avo tree (grown by my sister), forest of tomato plants (around 2m high in places with flowers and green fruit), baby grapefruit tree (grapefruit flowers smell incredible but unfortunately every one of the tiny fruits that developed dropped off — why, I have yet to find out), strawberries

Vegetables & herbs: Broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, rocket (Italian and wild), watercress, lettuce, carrots, radish, potatoes, celery, brussel sprouts, spinach, mint (three kinds but especially loving the spearmint), lavender, basil… self-seeded nasturtiums… and a couple of unidentified plants

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The front garden is also pulsing with life. It pretty much looks like a jungle though with blueberries, leeks, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, spinach and almond trees all doing their thing. Everything has grown incredibly well except for the pak choi which was constantly nibbled at. Oh, and the poor baby lemon tree which gets all the wind (it has produced two flowers and one fruit).

Nothing other than water (and some salt from the sea-breeze) has touched these plants… not a single drop of pesticide, organic or otherwise. The main reason most of the plants are still intact is due to the fact that worms and snails really can fly.

I wish them well in their new place of residence — besides, it’s more spacious in the plot next door.

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The blue flower pictured above is flax/linseed.

Vegetable gardening: how to prepare a trench bed

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It may have taken what felt like a day to dig and prepare our first trench bed (45cm depth x 3m length x 0.5m width) but what it did was get me in touch: I now know the intimate details of the soil’s make-up and where the sunny spots are in the courtyard at various times of the day. Best of all, there’s no doubt that our vegetables and herbs are going to have a nutritious and balanced diet.

I attended the Soil for Life course recently, so it’s thanks to Pat Featherstone (our inspired teacher who also wrote the manual) and Livingstone (who got us involved in the practical side) that I can confidently share the following information.

What is a trench bed?

You could think of a trench bed as a compost bin that’s dug into the ground. The bed is made up of alternate layers of fresh green organic material, dead organic material, manure and soil. This organic base is pretty much a dream diet in the making for your future plantings of vegetables or other plants.

Why a trench bed?

Trench beds are a good way to go if you’re living in a dry area or if you have poor or average soil. The bed allows for excellent aeration, water retention and a long-term supply of nutrients for your plants. It requires some muscle power to begin with… but you won’t look back once you’ve started!

What you’ll need

A spade, fork, water, newspaper, sticks, dead and alive organic matter, manure and mulch. You will also need compost if you want to plant sooner rather than later.

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Divide your organic waste into ‘live waste’ (green garden and kitchen waste, moist seaweed, horse or cow manure, any fresh untreated organic matter) and ‘dead waste’ (any of the former, but dried out).

PREPARATION

Meaure out your trench. It can be as long as you like but shouldn’t be wider than a metre (to allow for easy reach).

Dig out the first 30cm of top soil (pile the soil next to your trench and remove any stones).

Dig out the the next 30cm of sub-soil (place it in a seperate pile and remove any stones).

Use a garden fork to loosen up the base of the trench.

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Cover the bottom and sides of the trench with NEWSPAPER (or cardboard). Moisten the paper with a sprinkling of water. (I skipped this step because the base of this trench is like solid rock and it is the rainy season so no need to use paper to retain extra water).

LAYER THE ORGANIC MATTER

Lay STICKS (or other course material) over the base of the trench — aim for a height of 20cm.

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Lay 10cm of SUBSOIL over the sticks and water.

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Lay 10cm of DRY BROWN material over the subsoil and water well.

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Lay 10cm of WET GREEN material over the dead, dry brown material and water.

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Sprinkle horse or cow MANURE over the top and water.

Repeat this layering process (leaving out the sticks and newspaper at this point)… until the trench is full.

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FINAL STEPS

Insert 1/2 metre long marker sticks into each corner of the bed.

Lay the TOPSOIL over the last layer. The surface will be about 20cm higher than the surrounding ground at this stage. It will drop over time.

Cover the topsoil with a MULCH of your choice (eg. straw or leaves) to protect the area from the elements. (I used seaweed but beware of sand fleas!!)

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Let the bed rest for a month before planting. Alternatively you can speed up the process by working COMPOST into the topsoil before mulching. Use a bucket of compost per square metre, level the area out, water well and begin planting.

PS. Avoid walking on the bed! Also, even though you have given your plants a great start, keep feeding them with a weekly liquid natural home-made fertiliser… and keep composting every now and again.

White bread recipe – step by step with photos (use for baguettes or shape it how you like)

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Here’s the traditional baguette recipe that we practiced at pastry school. It’s the bread recipe I use most often — and not just because it’s sugar-free and fat-free. Besides being straight-forward and clean-tasting, it gives lots of crunch and is delicious.

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    There are three ingredients, besides water: bread flour, yeast and salt. The method involves mixing the dough, allowing it to rise, strengthening the dough and shaping it —and then leaving it to rise again before baking it. It will give you two medium sized loaves or four smaller baguettes.

    It’s a perfect recipe to prepare on a warm, expansive Sunday…. especially since I’m providing a rather detailed account of how to prepare it! (Alternatively, click here for a shorter version but note that the ingredients are halved).

    INGREDIENTS

    1 kg white bread flour
    20 g live yeast (reduce by 25% for dry yeast)
    20 g salt
    700 g warm water (comfortably warm… not hot)

    If you have a teeny oven or you’re new to baking bread, rather halve the recipe, in which case you’ll have two small loaves or one medium sized loaf. Bread-making isn’t difficult, it just takes a little practice.

    METHOD

    Mix the ingredients together:

    Place the flour in a bowl with the yeast. Rub the live yeast into the flour with your fingertips or simply mix in the dried yeast. Pour in the warm water and mix (using your hands or a wooden spoon).

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    Finally, mix in the salt — once everything is roughly combined (the mixture will be messy and sticky at this stage).

    Knead the dough:

    Turn the mixture onto a ‘warm’ work surface (warm up a cold marble surface for instance, as yeast needs warmth). Now pull the dough towards you and slap it down onto the counter, while trapping in as much air as possible.

    Work your dough for ten minutes or so until it feels light and silky smooth (the dough should be coming off your hands as you knead at this stage). If you haven’t kneaded dough before, don’t think the stickiness is going to last forever! See this post which links to a great demonstration by the master baker, Richard Bertinet.

    Now work the dough into a ‘ball shape’. Sprinkle some flour (or rub some olive oil) onto the bottom of a large bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size).

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    Gently place your dough inside (crease-side-down, smooth-side-up). Give a light sprinkling of flour over the top of the dough.

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    Cover with a dish towel, a towel or some plastic.

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    Rest the dough:

    Place the covered bowl in a warm, draught-free place.

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    Let the dough rest for 45 minutes to an hour until it has doubled in size.

    A word on timing: we were never given cooking times at pastry school. ‘It’s ready when it’s ready,’ is what Chef Tim always used to say. This approach caused anxiety at first but it forced us to develop our powers of observation. As a result, we developed a ‘feel’ and came to trust ourselves more. Failures were mostly still edible and that’s how we learned!

    Strengthen and shape the dough:

    Divide the dough into same-sized portions (depending on how many loaves you’re making).

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    Fold each piece of dough into itself in order to strengthen it: fold the outer area towards the centre of each piece. This should only take a couple of minutes.

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Once the dough is ‘tighter’ or ‘stronger’, you can go ahead and create the shape of your choice.

To make a baguette shape:

Work the dough into a sausage shape and then roll both ends into narrower sausage shapes. You could create a simple ball shape or a rough ‘ship-shape’… have fun with it, rather than strive for perfection. Keep a light touch and don’t overwork the dough!

Rest the dough again:

Sprinkle some flour on your oven tray before gently placing your bread on it. Use a sharp knife, scissors or a razor blade to slit the top of the bread (this releases pressure).

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Cover it and place it in a warm, draught-free place to rest again — for half an hour or so.

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Pre-baking:

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.

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If you want a good crust then spray some water over the bread and into the oven before baking. I often rub olive oil and some salt over the dough at this stage — this adds to the flavour.

Baking:

Gently place the oven tray into the centre of the oven (close the door quickly so you don’t lose too much heat). Turn the temperature down to 180 degrees celsius after about ten minutes.

Bake for a further 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how many loaves you have in the oven. A golden brown crust tells you that the bread is close to ready. To check, tap the underside — if there is a sharp, hollow sound then it is ready. If not, place the loaf face down onto the oven tray and bake for a further 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the bread on a rack to cool down a little before serving it. A little olive oil rubbed over the bread will enhance it’s appearance, taste and smell.

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And if you want to give some to family, friends or neighbours, simply wrap in some wax-paper or pop it into a paper bag ~x~

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PS. Warning to other food bloggers: this post has been copied and pasted in it’s entirety by a content scraper/thief: Bocata.com. They posted it as their own at http://bocata.com/?p=181.

Far Breton (or custard tart with prunes… or bread and butter pudding without the bread and butter?!)

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If you’re a baked pudding fan then you’re probably going to love this custard prune pudding… or should I say this bread-and-butter-type-pudding (minus the bread and butter). … or should I say crustless-milk-tart-type-pudding (with fruit in it)?!

Known as Far Breton in France, where it originates, it is incredibly quick and easy to make… and absolutely delicious!! I delivered a slice to my grandmother who is not known to repeat the words ‘THIS IS ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS’ several times in a row. She insisted that I bake it for our next family get-together. She promised in return that she’d show me how to prepare her very own one-of-a-kind non-bake rice pudding recipe.

I used Richard Bertinet’s recipe from his bread book, Crust. I added a handful of raisins and reduced the amount of prunes called for. I also added a teeny sprinkling of cinnamon to the batter.

Ingredients

130g caster sugar (I used regular sugar)
220g eggs (I used 4 1/2 medium sized eggs)
110g plain white flour
750g full-cream milk (cold)
400g of stoned prunes — soaked overnight in 50g of rum or tea (I used brandy)

You will also need pinch of salt (I added 3 small pinches of salt) and some butter for greasing an earthenware dish.

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Preparation

Richard Bertinet recommends greasing a 20 x 25cm (or thereabouts) earthenware dish with 50g of melted butter. If you cut down on this then the dish is pretty much a ‘fat-free’ dessert. Your dish should be about 4cm deep.

Place your oven tray in the centre of your oven and preheat to 220 degrees celsius.

Method

Mixing up the batter shouldn’t take you much longer than 15 minutes.

Warm the prunes slightly and spread them out on the base of your dish (you could cut them into smaller pieces and use less fruit). Whisk the eggs and sugar together so that they are well combined. Gradually sift in the flour while whisking and add some salt. Finally, whisk in the milk and pour the batter over the prunes.

Bake

Pop the dish into the oven for ten minutes before turning the temperature down to 180 degrees celsius. Bake for another half an hour or so — until such time as a knife blade comes out clean. I added ten minutes to my baking time because I used less fruit.

Enjoy warm or cold, as a dessert or as a breakfast treat. Actually, Bertinet points out that Far Breton used to be eaten for lunch by agricultural workers in France. And why not? Far Breton can be sliced like bread when it is cold… which should make it perfectly suitable for anyone… at any time of day?

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Starting a vege garden (with one square metre of land)

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Growing and maintaining a vege garden always seemed beyond me until recently — thanks to a book called One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein.

Houbein, who witnessed the devastation of famine in Holland during the second world war, has made food security education a top priority. She lived through a time when 24 000 people starved to death in an area about as big as Gauteng in South Africa. She witnessed all the beautiful trees being chopped down for firewood and all the birds, animals and fish in her home town being killed and used for food. This thick little square book is a gift for survival and is especially encouraging to those who’ve never planted a vegetable garden before.

After reading the first few paragraphs my boyfriend and I were heading off to the hardware store to buy some seedlings, compost and a spade. These are the words that inspired: ‘To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out in the garden and select a spot in the sun. Dig over one square metre with a garden fork and remove all the weeds by hand.’

Houbein doesn’t allow for analysis paralysis —she encourages the wanna-be-gardener to go out immediately and buy some seeds or seedlings, some blood meal and bone meal ‘since you don’t yet have compost and composted manure’. It’s easy to go ahead with your garden once you have these items: sprinkle and rake a few handfuls of the meals into the soil and then loosen it to a depth of 15cm before watering it. You can then read up on the vegetables you’ve bought before the seeds or seedlings are planted and watered. That’s it, to begin with.

We simply dug some compost and bone meal into the earth before planting the seedlings. And that was that… a few weeks later we were eating beautiful fresh rocket, parsley, chives and watercress from our one square metre garden.

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We’ve been dreaming of expanding the vegetable garden so that every spare metre of the property is covered with home-grown edibles. So far we’ve only been able to add another square metre, besides a few pots… been slowed down somewhat by our puppy who just loves getting her paws (and everything else) dirty! But then, as Houbein says, ‘most food gardening failures occur through starting too big.’ She recommends extending the garden by one square metre each season. By doing so, the pleasure is not lost ‘even as your self-sufficiency increases’.

Here’s a photo of our miniature vege garden three months later (with emergency dog-proof fence).

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Click here for a review of the book.

C’est La Vie in Kalk Bay

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Off to C’est La Vie early this morning (after a walk to Kalk Bay harbour where there were three lone fishermen) to get some fresh bread…

And there’s our neighbour Josh, taking orders in his notepad with a red pen. A gentle hug hello and a quick catch up. Zack doesn’t look up as he finishes off the heart and leaf-shape patterns on his cuppachinos.

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Choosing bread and there is Zaida, another neighbour. She’s one of the bakers, and she’s busy listening to the baguette’s ‘sing’ as they come out of the oven. ‘They sing… no, really they do… listen…’ Josh and I put our ears to the hot pile of baguettes and sure enough, there’s the sound of crackling fire inside. ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that before,’ says Josh as he dashes off in slow-motion with a breadboard piled up high.

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‘I didn’t know you worked here,’ I say to Zaida.

‘It’s my passion,’ she says. ‘I hounded the owner for a job here for six months. After seeing their croissants, I knew I had to learn how to do it myself. Eventually the owner got tired of me asking and said, ‘okay, come around tomorrow morning at 5 am.” She checks the oven. ‘I’ve been here at five in the morning ever since. This kitchen is my favourite place… working with dough and bread is my meditation time.’

When she’s finished baking in the early morning, Zaida hangs up her apron and heads off to work at her shoe shop. She suggests I try the ciabatta loaf: ‘it’s made with a poolish ferment’. She wraps it up with paper and string.

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A little later, Candice explains why she loves baking. ‘There’s something about waking up in the early morning when the world is so quiet. I love it. Baking is such a gift.’ Then she reads Markus Farbinger’s poem:

Bread Monk

 

In the first hour of this morning

I ‘saw’ myself work for the first time.

 

I understood that this has become

my study, my meditation,

my religion, my life,

my connection to the universe.

 

The notion of work,

commercial benefit,

a safe occupation

to relieve my fear –

 

has turned

into an act of love

towards myself..

the person next to me..

humanity…

the entire universe.

 

Her sister, Rachel buzzes by to pick up some coffees.

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Why do people adore this place? ‘The coffee is good. The prices are good and it’s chilled,’ says Josh.

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I hand him twenty bucks for the ciabatta and he mentions that he’s hitchhiking up the East coast next week. I suddenly feel the need to put a GPS tracking device on him. But he adds that he’s (definitely) coming back coz he’s studying philosophy, politics and economics at university next year.

Au revoir, for now…

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And a quick trip down to the market where the traders are still unpacking. Crossing the road, I bump into an ex-Kalk Bay local. He’s putting on his helmet. I tell him we’re staying here until the end of January to check it out. ‘You know who’s buying up Kalk Bay these days?’ he asks. ‘The whole of bloody Rondebosch! What for? To come here to their hippy weekend homes and drive around in their monster four by fours. It makes me sick.’ And off he goes on his black Japanese soul-machine.

Home with Zaida’s bread still warm under my arm, a takeaway cuppachino in hand, waving to le neighbours as I open the door. That’s the thing about living in Kalk Bay: everybody gets to be your neighbour.

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A happy discovery in Muizenberg: The Good Bakery

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An inconspicuous garage door opens out of a big, bare looking building across the way from the railway line. A grim place, you’d think, but then — what is it that smells so good?

There are two odd chairs just outside the garage door. What is this strange set-up? Some kind of post-apocalyptic restaurant? The answer is somewhat revealed: there lies, just inside the unexpected hole in the wall, a table which is spread across the width of the door area. It is laden with breads, muffins, scones and rustic fruit tarts.

Behind the table is an open plan kitchen. And in the kitchen are two men dressed in blue-black aprons. But then, if this was a restaurant, surely there would be a sign? Not necessarily a shop sign but at least a menu of some kind? Surely there’d be some pedestrians, passers by? Some foot traffic?

Yet here these guys are, in the middle of nowhere with splatterings of flour on their aprons, a telltale sign that they have just finished an early morning shift. I sit down on one of the chairs but there’s not even a breezy blackboard marking out the day’s offerings. ‘So, what do you make, I mean, what can I order?’ I ask.

‘Well, there’s this health bread and this rye bread and these berry tarts I made…’

‘Okay, do you have tea?’

‘Yes.’ Pause. ‘What tea would you like?’

‘What tea do you have?’

I follow his eyes to find three boxes perched neatly in a row on top of what looks like an electricity box. The box is high up on a blank canvas of a wall. And as he tries to read the labels from afar, I’m losing all perspective and rising into a bit of a cloudy state of mind. I’m baffled by this sense of timeless unhurriedness. This sense of ease, of no-marketing-required.

The mysterious place is a bakery, it turns out. It’s existed for some time now. Orders have been delivered by bicycle to date. Now the owners have decided to open up the wall and invite the early morning sun in. And whoever purchances to find themselves in the backstreets of this neighbourhood.

‘What is this place called?’ I ask the chef in the peak cap.

‘It’s called the Good Bakery,’ he replies, rolling pin in hand. ‘Sometimes a fantastic bakery, always a good bakery.’

I’m forgetting about the tea and so is the man in the cap. He’s answering more questions and saying ‘ohhhh, how I love making puff pastry’ as he finishes off a butternut pie. We are both in agreement that pastry is all wrong when butter, flour and eggs are taken out of the equation.

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Next thing I’m inside the kitchen checking out the starter dough. The baker is stretching it out into a thin sheet. He’s showing me the ‘skin’ and the action of the gluten and explaining the texture. That characteristic sour yeasty smell is drifting out of the sweet, snug warmth of the dough. These chefs well know the joys that come from baking.

Suddenly I am handed a large chunk of freshly baked bread. It’s topped with a pile of pale yellow butter. What a gift.  But then, I thought it was only my father who put this much butter on his bread!

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‘You think this is too much butter?’ asks the proprietor. ‘It is nothing but cream with a little salt! You must eat it.’

I bite into the crispy stuff with its ladles of soft yellow. ‘Homemade, fresh from the farmer as it came from the cow.’ The lightest butter I’ve ever tasted. It really is like cream. Nothing like the heavy butter from a supermarket.

I look around: coffee mugs snuggle up to measuring scales. Baking tins are stacked on shelves. The pies are just out of the oven. This is a place where things are ready when they’re ready. Where you’ll see not a clock on the wall.

Several people have popped by in the meantime including Shaun, an artist and Directed Pressure Point Technique practitioner who works above the bakery. And Nic, the carpenter from next door who still seems bowled over by his next door neighbours’ bread.

I pick up a farm loaf and wave goodbye to one of the proprietors who is getting his hands dirty again. He is merrily picking up litter off the railway line.

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The ‘sometimes fantastic, always good’ bakers Mitchell Penning and Martin Mossmer are pictured above. You’ll find The Good Food Bakery at 12 Milner Road just across the road from the railway line crossing to the right. You can contact them on 074 174 5554 or email them at thegoodbakery@webmail.co.za.  They’re open from 6.30 until 3.30 pm.

PS. The plaasbrood was fabulous with cheese, tomato and salad leaves. But it was even better toasted with butter and Verlaque’s Burnt Orange Seville preserve for breakfast. Martin has since advised that yes, The Good Bakery does sell their homemade butter (!)