Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Away from it all

Our weekend away started as they usually do: a disorganised, last-minute packing frenzy, leaving about two hours later than intended, and a shouting match.

Once we were on the road, though, it was better. I listen to some music on my iPhone. The Grateful Guineapig zones out like he does when driving. And after we’ve passed the traffic light gauntlet in Somerset West and scaled the lip of Sir Lowry’s Pass, our frazzled nerves begin to untangle and that holiday feeling starts to sink in.

I’ll put a hand on his leg, a smile will tug at his lips, he'll place his hand over mine, and just like that, everything’s fine. We’re Getting Away From It All.

We had lunch booked at Madre’s Kitchen, a restaurant just outside Stanford, about a 2-hour drive from Cape Town. We always go to lunch at Mariana’s, our favourite restaurant (ever, end of), whenever we’re anywhere near Stanford, but this time thought we should try somewhere new, find out if we’re missing out. We were looking forward to it — sitting on the stoep, having that first glass of ice-cold Chenin... I could just about taste it.

Then, about 20 minutes away from our destination, the Guinea Pig says, ‘Uh-oh.’

And I know what that uh-oh means. It means something I really, really don’t want it to mean.

‘Something’s wrong. We’re losing power.’

It does not occur to either of us to make a Star Trek joke, because this is so far beyond not funny. We’re about 150km from home — breaking down is no joke, especially in a Landrover.

But break down we did. (Again.) Or, at least, the car started making a deeply disturbing high-pitched sound neither of us had ever heard before. We had to stop at a service station. Call insurance. Get towed back to Cape Town.


I can’t say I am entirely ungrateful for the ordeal though, because while we were stranded on the R43 at the Shell service station, I had one of the most incredible samosas of my life from Salandra Farm Stall next door. Enormous, packed with succulent curried beef mince, crispy around the edges and chewy in the centre... Washed down with Coke. I could have eaten 10.
The best samosa ever
The flat-bed truck driver who drove us back to Cape Town had a miniature doll in his likeness hanging from the rear view mirror, with an enormous zol hanging from its lips. The guy seemed nice enough — I imagine he got ‘the munchies’ fairly regularly, judging by his astounding girth.

We got back home at about 5pm, immediately chucked all the gear into my little Chevy Spark, and put foot. We made it to Landmeterskop, a sheep farm just outside Stanford, right before nightfall. What a fucking day.

Worth it though, we realised, when we got there. It's beautiful.


I have this tendency, whenever we go away, to put pressure on myself to relax.

I know, right? Ridiculous.

It’s because I look forward to these getaways so much. Sometimes, I feel like everyday stress is stealing my life — like, one day, I’ll wake up and find I’m 60, and I haven’t really lived, only hopped from one deadline to the next...

When I do escape the rat race, if only for a weekend, I’m so aware of time passing, so worried that I’ll blink and suddenly be heading back to work on Monday, that I get a little panicky and tense.

Enjoy yourself goddamnit! Get your money’s worth.

Thankfully, it doesn’t last. At some point I’ll get distracted from my neurosis by a bumblebee crash-landing into the little yellow flowers on the creeper outside the window. Or a butterfly dancing across the lawn. Or a pair of swallows flying in tandem... Suddenly I’m not thinking about anything. Not work on Monday, not the towing bill, not any of the relentless petty anxieties I terrorise myself with on a daily basis.

We sleep, we read, drink good wine, go for the odd wander up the hill, stare at the sheep (who stare right back)... And we cook. My God, we ate well.

Part of what caused the mad rush before we left on Saturday morning was my sudden, emphatic desire to visit the vegetable stall at the Biscuit Mill. It’s an Alladin’s cave of gorgeously fresh produce, unusual finds, and all way cheaper (and better quality) than Woolworths, Pick n Pay et al.

I really hate going to the Biscuit Mill on Saturdays — I find it a bit pretentious and contrived, not to mention a bun fight, but I would walk barefoot over hot coals to get to that veggie stall. It’s the closest thing to Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market I’ve ever seen in SA, run by the nicest lady.

Veg stall at the Biscuit Mill
I bought way too much of course... bags packed with rocket, baby spinach, an enormous, shiny-purple aubergine, courgets, a head of radiccio, red cabbage, fresh tarragon, parsley, red pepper, red onions, two mushrooms (each as big as my face), a bag of firm, bright scarlet plum tomatoes... Some creamy Gorgonzola from the cheese stand next door.

At The Little Fisherman, a fresh fish shop in the Dean Street Arcade, Newlands, I bought some Cape salmon. A block further, pork loin from Gogo's Deli...

I thought I was too tired and worn out to muster much enthusiasm for cooking on the first night, what with the day we’d had, but half a bottle of Pinot soon saw my spirits revived, pottering in the sweet but tiny little kitchen. We dined on the freshest Cape salmon, roasted on the fire, dressed only in olive oil and a generous sprinkling of Woolies’ seafood rub. It’s so good, and honestly the only thing I ever do to fish. Alongside, we had a salad of rocket, baby spinach, chopped apples, walnuts and creamy crumbled feta, with a dressing of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Sunday’s lazy lunch: leftover fish with a simple tomato salad on a bed of rocket, strewn with tarragon, more feta, simply dressed with olive oil.

Tomato, tarragon & feta salad
In the early evening of the second day, after a nap and a stroll and a shower, I sat outside with a glass of wine and a plate of creamy gorgonzola to pick at, staring out a the lazing sheep, the lengthening shadows and fading lemon-yellow sunlight, and realised I was content. Deeply, delightfully content. It happened without me trying, and there’s a lesson in that. Of course there is. I have resolved to learn it. There’s no TRYING to relax. You just have to let go of expectation.

(Is THAT what the Buddhists have been banging on about all these centuries? Lawks. They might be on to something.)

Of course, it could also just have been the wine.

That night's dinner... Oh my hat. I am still dreaming about it. It was, I am proud to announce, the first time I’ve managed to get pork crackling JUST RIGHT. And I ate it ALL. The Guinea Pig is a bit grossed out by animal fat, so I tell you without a trace of embarrassment that I gobbled up every last scrap like a rabid beast, grease running down my chin. Grease everywhere, actually: on my forehead, in my hair, staining my T-shirt... And it was EPIC, to use the parlance of our times.

Pork loin with garlic, sage & lemon zest
Perfect crackling

Did I mention the eggs? You can collect fresh eggs, right out from under a chicken's bum, every morning, if you like. And we liked. We collected them in a little basket provided, lined with a red checkered cloth, and I felt a little like Red Riding Hood. Nearly broke out the skipping, I did. Nearly.

Everything’s better when you’re relaxed. Sex is better. Food’s better. Conversation’s better. Inspiration strikes. You feel generous, grateful, humbled.

In that spirit, I've decided to share with you a few of my favourite weekend getaways, all within two hours' drive of Cape Town, all self-catering, all reasonably priced, all gorgeous.

Stanford: Landmeterskop
See above.  

Tulbagh: Welbedacht Nature Reserve
Each of these private cottages has it's own little plunge pool. I recommend the Eagle cottage, which is a bit extra, but the others are nice too.

Stanford/Caledon: Glen Oakes
Legend has it this pig farm is where Richard Bosman sources pork for his gorgeous charcuterie... And I must say they were rather happy looking pigs.

Stanford: Klein Rivier Cheese Farm
The accommodation is pretty basic, but the house looks over a rolling green lawn and a lovely river... And it's five minutes from Stanford. 

Hemel & Aarde Valley: Spookfontein
This is a gorgeous cottage, lovely white linen, views, chandeliers... And you're in wineland heaven.


  1. Oh, you wonderful creature. This is so, so beautiful!

    Listen, I've recently discovered the Hope Street market (also on a Saturday) which is a less-pretentious, much less busy Biscuit Mill alternative. Amazing, cheap veggies too. Wanna give it a try?

  2. Wonderfully written thank you! I love how you described the Somerset West gauntlet and the lip of the pass. Classy, clever and creative stuff :)

  3. Thanks Anonymous :-)

    J, yes, yes, yes. Lets do it. You free tomorrow? Xxxx