Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Noble coffee shop

I went to the opening of Cafe Noble in Norwood last night. How did I get an invite? It's owned and run by my niece's husband (I don't think I can call him my nephew) - so there is a family link that I'll now consider disclosed :-)

Cafe Noble is next to the Lamp Post in Norwood, just up from the intersection of Ivy Road and Grant Avenue. Parking on Grant is a nightmare,  but there is a parking lot just next to the Lamp Post on Ivy, and there's another one the other side of the drycleaner/shoemaker on the other side of Ivy Road.

So... once you've got past the parking thing, which really is not as big a deal as us spoiled-by-malls not-used-to-high-street folks make out, what is Cafe Noble like?

The menu is varied, but not too big. There's a selection of filled croissants, tramezzinis and pastas, and a range of pizzas.

I took the boys there for breakfast a week or two back and had a haloumi, rocket and cherry tomato croissant - very yum. For the opening, they served some of their pizzas, and mini-portions of pastas and tramezzinis.

So delicious. The pizzas are thin base, and fillings are generous and tasty. The tramezzinis are wicked, and the pastas boast homemade sauces that make them perfect comfort food.

A selection of cakes and desserts is also available.

The best part about Cafe Noble (apart from the family welcome I'm sure you'll also receive) is the prices: they're really reasonable - much more affordable than any of the major restaurant chains, for food that tastes homemade in the best possible way. If you enjoy their food as much as I think you will, you can also buy reasonably priced frozen takeaway portions of their lasagnas, pastas and sauces. There's also talk of opening a deli section...

The restaurant is open from 9am to 6pm during the week, and from 9am to 2pm on a Saturday.

If you pop into Cafe Noble... tell Bryan I sent you ... ;-)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Fabulous Feastt

I’ve been to Feastt in Parktown North a few times now – and I’ll be going back many more times in the future.

This last Sunday I met a friend for lunch, and took along the two little Haggards, who had given me grey hairs in a stressful shopping mall experience that morning. The only way I could get them to behave was to threaten that we wouldn’t go to Feastt – that’s how much they love going there.

The restaurant is in a converted house just downhill from the Parktown North shopping centre – whose parking lot you use. There are tables inside, and on a covered patio, and then there are loads of tables out in the garden near the playground. This means that there’s a spot for everyone –whether you want to go and have quiet meal away from the children, or whether you want to keep a close on what they’re up to.

The playground has been wonderfully designed and built around two massive palm trees, which means it’s in a lot of shade. It’s a massive wooden structure that offers slides, tunnels, peekaboo windows and a combat net, all spiced up with rope swings and fireman’s poles. The ground is covered in beach sand, which is a whole fun experience in itself.

To break up the exciting play space, the restaurant offers baking lessons for the kids – my boys made biscuits on Sunday. Every time we’ve been they’ve made friends with other children there.

The menu is big enough to be interesting, but small enough to not be intimidating. I’ve had the steak sandwich, which was so good I had to buy a bottle of Feastt’s Onion Marmalade, and the salmon salad, which was generous and delicious. I’ve had the vegetable board, and my husband had the meat board – those were a little disappointing – but everything else has looked great, and the prices are very reasonable.

The children’s menu is particularly reasonably priced, and has been created with kids in mind. The options are nutritious, with the right blend of good sense with a bit of naughtiness in mind. My boys had their white chocolate fudge sundaes for dessert this week – and oh my goodness, they looked heavenly… and all for R15.

The owners are present and involved, and have been smart about addressing the bee problem that seems to be everywhere in Joburg at the moment. They’ve found out that a small dish of smouldering coffee grinds chases insects away – an ecofriendly solution to a problem that’s plaguing many restaurants with outdoor eating areas.

Many of their baked goods and preserves are on sale too – so you can stock up your grocery cupboard while you’re there.

I would really recommend Feastt if you’re looking for a family meal out, or if you’re looking to meet friends and want your little people to have lots of fun while you’re catching up. They’re not licensed yet, so take your own alcohol if you want to – but they really do have everything you need for a great family meal out. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Red Velvet, if you please...

I've been wondering what all the fuss about Red Velvet cakes has been, and have tried a few different varieties, both from coffee shops and in recipes that I've tried myself. I have been underwhelmed on all occasions - they're just red cupcakes. 

My imagination was leading me towards a rich, moist cake, that was spicy and warm, with a unique texture. So, the time came to improvise... 

I used this recipe, but shook it up a bit - and I think I'm a lot closer to where my imagination was heading off.

Next time I make them, I'll take a pic... promise... 

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
3 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of cocoa
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of buttermilk
Red food coloring - I used about two teaspoons of the powdered one
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
1 teaspoon of white vinegar
1 block of dried dates
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup of boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Chop up the dates finely, put them in a pot. Pour in the boiling water and one teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda). Cook this up until the dates soften - it should take about minutes. Cool the dates down - you can hurry this up by putting the pot in a cold bath in the sink 
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
Add the eggs, mixing them in well. 
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, remaining bicarb and salt. If you're using powdered food coloring, add about two teaspoons to this mix. 
In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla. If you're using liquid food coloring, add a lot. Like most of a bottle. 
Fold the mixtures into one another, mixing until the red comes completely through. If you want it more red, add more food coloring! ;-) 
Spoon into cupcake papers and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This recipe made about 36, and they freeze really well. 

I iced them with cream cheese frosting - this is the recipe from the original one: 
1/2 cup of butter
1 tub of cream cheese
3 cups of icing sugar 
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Mix together well - add icing sugar if this mix is too runny. Pipe over the cupcakes and decorate. 

Homemade Chai ice cream

One of my favorite things in the history of ever is chai tea, and one of my favorite kitchen appliances at the moment is my Krups Ice Cream Maker, which my mom bought me for Christmas. So... it made sense to put the two together when I had some friends over for dinner a week or two back. Here's the recipe - sorry, I haven't taken any photos... 

500ml cream
250ml milk
1 can condensed milk
3 egg yolks
4 star anise
some cinnamon bark
4 cloves
6 cardamom pods, crushed
One teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 cup sugar

Put all the spices in a pot along with the milk and cream. Bring to just below below boiling point, and let the dairy mixture infuse the flavors of the spices. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. Slowly add one cup of the milk mixture to the eggs, then add the egg and milk mixture back to the milk mixture - doing it this way to avoid the eggs scrambling. 
Cook for a while longer, until the mixture starts to thicken a bit. 
Take off the heat, and strain to get the lumpy bits out of the mixture. 
Add the condensed milk, and mix well. 
Chill overnight, and churn in your ice cream maker. 
Serve with crushed Nuttikrust biscuits. Just because they're awesome. 

PS I love Yuppiechef, so much, which is why I've linked there for you to see the ice cream machine. But you can buy it MUCH cheaper retail... 

Friday, 24 February 2012

X marks the spot

So, if I'm going to get this blogging thing going, it seems that the Right Thing To Do is to put up memes and lists and things. Am not great at those, but I came across this one via Angel (from whom I stole the title) - see her blog post to see where she got it from. Anyway, here goes... it's a list of things that you mark with an X if you've done them... (if you weren't able to figure that out... :p)

Shot a gun X

Gone on a blind date  X

Skipped school X

Saw someone die

Visited America X

Visited Mauritius X

Visited Europe X

Visited Australia

Visited Sun City X

Visited Cape Town. X

Been to Victoria Falls  X

Been to court. 

Been lost  X

Travelled to the opposite side of the country  X

Visited Pretoria X

Swam in the Ocean X

Cried yourself to sleep X 

Played cops and robbers X

Played cowboys and Indians X

Recently coloured with crayons 

Travelled by train  X

Sang Karaoke  X

Sang a solo or duet in church  

Paid for a meal with coins only

Made prank phone calls X

Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose X

Caught a snowflake on your tongue

Had children  X

Had a pet   X

Been skinny-dipping outdoors  X

Been fishing X

Been boating  X

Been downhill skiing & made it down the hill without falling

Been water skiing

Been camping in a trailer X

Been camping in a tent  X

Flown in a small 4-seater airplane X

Flown in a helicopter

Flown in a hot air balloon

Walked on a glacier

Driven a motorcycle/been a passenger  X

Been bungee-jumping

Gone to a drive-in movie X

Done something that could have killed you-but didn’t  X (duh... I'm posting this, aren't I?)

Done something that you will regret for the rest of your life  

Met Nelson Mandela

Visited Asia

Rode an elephant

Eaten biscuits or cake for dinner: X

And ice cream for breakfast. X

Been on TV X

Stolen any traffic signs  

Stolen any traffic cones

Been in a car accident X

Donated blood X

Played bowls (old man’s marbles)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

I am (going to be) a Yoga Warrior

A few years ago I took a fancy to the notion of yoga, and went to some classes at the most exquisite studio in Atholl. I loved every minute of it, but kept on getting lost as the teacher moved through the poses, as everyone else was clearly very experienced, and I was novice. So I stopped going, because I felt a bit intimidated, and, I think, because there were Distractions...
Then Life happened – and 10 years later I find myself in a working environment where we are challenged to set goals for ourselves. I’ve been horribly unfit and revoltingly flabby for quite a while, and I also realised that I need some Me Time.

In early January, I asked my best friend Google for some help, and it yielded a link to Yoga Warrior, a studio in Rosebank, Johannesburg. What was most appealing was the 5 week beginner course the site advertised (see reference to beginner above), starting the next week, and I grabbed the last spot.

The beginners’ teacher, Kanina, is possibly the most gentle and graceful person I have ever met, and she guided us gently through each week’s lessons, encouraging us to stretch ourselves (pun intended) further and further every week.
The course was also conveniently timed in the late evening, so that I could still have supper with my boys (big and small), and spend some time with them before heading out. On its completion, Clara, the studio’s owner, responded to requests for a similarly-timed ongoing beginner’s class, so now, Wednesday nights at 19h30, you’ll find me stretching myself (again, pun intended) at Yoga Warrior.

Classes are in a studio with a wooden floor, and although it’s not a bikram studio, it’s pleasantly warm, which helps in moving through the poses. I tried a yoga class at the Old Ed’s Virgin Active, and I really struggled in the cool breezy room – having a warm environment really helps. That, and having a teacher who takes the time to make sure you’re doing things properly.
The lessons are also reasonably priced, but the best idea is to buy packages of lessons, depending on the time you can commit, and how much you can afford. Obviously, the more classes you buy at a time, the cheaper it gets, but I think that around R70 per 60 minute class is more than reasonable.
I’ve been amazed at what this nearly 40 year old body can do. I have loved learning the Sanskrit words for the poses – they’re so blunt but so poetic too. I’m loving the challenge of trying something different, every week. I’ve identified (again) that the weakest part of my body is my core, so I’m going to have to invest in some extra gym time to fix that, if only so that I can do chaturanga  (don’t you love the name!), and a few of the other really challenging poses.

For the first time in years and years, I don’t have back problems – I can actually get up from a chair without thinking carefully about how I should adjust myself as I rise. And then there’s the absolute spiritual peace and calm that comes with the end of every lesson.
This time round, my practice of yoga is not going to suffer from any Distractions... and if you’re looking to try something different, or to do a low-impact exercise, this is really something you should try too.

FYI - although this sounds a lot like I've been paid to rave about Yoga Warrior - I haven't been. I pay for my lessons like everyone else... I just think that they're fantastic!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Get thee to the Phantom!

Last night I attended a performance of the Phantom of the Opera at the Teatro at Montecasino. I leapt at the chance to go, because I have always been a fan of big musicals – Chess is one of my favourites in the history of ever, and I remember my folks taking me to see the live performances of the likes of Barnum!, Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady and Mame when I was a child. We had the vinyl album of the soundtrack of Phantom as soon as it was released, and I listened to it over and over again – the drama that is such a part of the music keeps you going back for more.

I saw the London version of Phantom in 1999 and the Pretoria version in 2005, but you can never see too many live performances of this show, as far as I’m concerned!

The performance at the Teatro, with its local cast, did South Africa proud. The voices were soaring and magnificent, the dancing was exquisite (I’d forgotten how much ballet there is in the production), and the theatre itself handled the complicated set so well. The Phantom really does appear out of nowhere, and he disappears before your eyes too... and that one ton chandelier is as much a character in the cast as any of the performers.
For more facts and figures about the production, read an article that appeared in The Times, but the short version of that is that the show is tightly controlled from abroad – the costumes are identical wherever it is performed, the sets are identical (all 110 tons per set), and there is a support team of 120 people behind the 38 performers. This means that the local show is a veritable feast for the eyes – there’s nothing ‘Africanised’ or downsized about it at all – visually, it is true to what Andrew Lloyd Webber set it out to be originally. No detail has been spared in the interests of shortcuts or logistics.

I think one of the reasons Lloyd Webber wrote the musical was to try and keep opera alive – and those who really don’t like this style of singing may not enjoy the show so much – particularly Madame Carlotta, who really is a caricature of all things operatic. Don’t let this put you off though – the show is such a display of finely honed performing art that it’s worth going to see even if you’re not an opera fan.
The show runs at the Teatro until 22 April 2012, although my host last night said that there was talk of adding an extra 60 000 seats to the run (that translates into roughly another month I think– but that’s yet to be confirmed). Don’t wait to book though – go and see it. It’s a great introduction to the world of musical theatre if you haven’t seen a production like this before, and it’s an excellent portrayal of one of the genre’s greatest hits if you are a fan. Tickets range in price from R125 to R425.
Just so you know – I was hosted by Southern Sun for the evening. Even if I hadn't been - I would have been happy to pay to go.