Summer means different things to different people. To some, it means the beach and the smell of coconut suntan lotion. To others, it means ripe, sun-warmed tomatoes from their garden; or Wimbledon; or partying the nights away in Ibiza's nightclubs till dawn; or backyard braais/barbecues; or cricket season; or asparagus season; or berry-picking; or picnics. And yes, I can honestly that summer means a little bit of all these things to me. But these days, more than anything else, to me and Nick summer means one thing above all others: a house full of visitors.
I think any South Africans living in London will have experienced this. For 9 months of the year, our friends and family back home giggle and gloat in phone calls, e-mails and on Facebook. They post pictures of themselves in strappy tops and shorts. They taunt us with braais and beaches and ice cold Castle lagers, asking things like "so do you miss the weather over there? What's the temperature where you are right now?", knowing full well is is about a quarter to Absolute Zero – and that's in the lounge! But for a few short weeks every year, all my South African friends and relatives realise that England actually has a fighting chance of being warmer in mid-summer than South Africa will be in mid-winter (by no means a done deal, I assure you). And like lemmings with wanderlust they all fling themselves onto the nearest passenger jet and endure 12 hours of crying babies, cramped seating and crap airline food to arrive on my doorstep for a few nights in the Penthouse Suite at CookSister HQ.
How else could you explain the fact that FOUR sets of my friends have been in Europe over the same four week period this year?? To be fair, only two of these sets actually arrived at CookSister HQ, but their mere presence in this hemisphere caused a flurry of travel on my part. I mean, if you know your nearest and dearest are only across the Channel in Paris or Rome, how can you resist the urge to pop over and go to visit them?? So let's see… starting in mid-June: I met up with my brother Anton, sis-in-law Paola and my two super-cool nephews in Paris for a weekend. The following weekend I flew to Rome to spend two days with Belinda, one of our close friends from back home, and her friend Mandy. While I was there, by best friend since childhood Andréa and hubby John arrived in London and were waiting for me, already installed in the penthouse suite, when I got back from Rome. And three days after they left, our old friends Phil and Nan arrived from Joburg to spend this past weekend with us. We might as well install a revolving door and employ a concierge! (Despite sounding like a big old grump, I would not have it any other way though. The time I get to spend with friends on these annual visits is precious and having visitors always makes you experience your own city through fresh eyes.)
Another welcome recent visitor in my home (and one that will not be allowed to leave!) was a packet of rather good springbok biltong from the justifiably famous Butcher Shop and Grill in Sandton, Johannesburg. For those of you who don't yet know, biltong is a South African delicacy consisting of spiced, air-dried meat (usually beef, but often also ostrich and game). The name is an Afrikaans word which comes from bil, (from Middle Dutch bille) meaning buttock/rump + tong, (from Middle Dutch tonghe) meaning tongue. The name is descriptive – biltong literally means strips (or tongues) of meat from the animal’s rump which are spiced, cured and air-dried (see my post about biltong for more details). This particular packet of biltong was sent to me by Cox & Kings, a company specialising in tailor-made holidays to various worldwide destinations, including South Africa. They challenged me to come up with a recipe showcasing this typical South African ingredient and these muffins are the result of the challenge. The recipe is dead easy and the result is truly delicious (although my husband was horrified at the idea of doing anything with the biltong other than eating it straight from the packet!). These muffins would be perfect for a summer picnic or heaten hot, straight from the oven, with lots of butter. And you can throw them together in a matter of minutes for unexpected houseguests
BILTONG AND FETA CHEESE MUFFINS (makes 12)
120g wholewheat flour
120g plain flour
200g biltong, finely chopped
50g Feta cheese, crumbled
30ml baking powder
1/4 tsp coriander seeds, ground finely
3 medium eggs
100ml oil (I used sunflower)
pinch of salt
15ml lemon juice
Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the eggs, oil and milk in a separate bowl or jug and pour into the dry ingredients, together with the lemon juice. Mix lightly, just until all ingredients are moist (the batter will be quite wet). Spoon into greased muffin tins or silicone muffin cups and bake at 220° C for 10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the baking tin.
If you're looking for more things to make with biltong, why not try my: