I shook sand out of a pair of sandals this morning. My lover and I have just come back from a very short pre-Christmas holiday break, spent at a little cottage of a friend of mine on the South Coast. We drove down there on Wednesday last week: a leisurely drive, padkos on the back seat in an ancient basket which belonged to my gran, an old tradition renewed somewhat in a private ritual between lovers: the careful pouring of hot, somewhat sweet coffee brewed on my stove top earlier, passing it, in a black porcelain coffee cup from my kitchen shelf, to this man’s outstretched left hand while he keeps his eyes on the road, later the unwrapping of roast beef on Turkish rolls sandwiches, also passed to him. It evoked memories of seeing my mother pass around sandwiches and coffee and biscuits from the basket at her feet as we travelled as children to a South Coast holiday destination: the cottage where we stayed in fact at a beach which I had been to once as a child: I could almost feel a stirring of childlike excitement as we passed villages and beach signposts: Amamzintoti, Winklespruit, and closer to our destination: Hibberdene, Umzumbe: the Zulu names exotic but also familiar in their lilting cadence as we said them out loud..

Despite knowing that we would have easy access to grocery stores, to wit: Spar, Pick and Pay, and about 30 minutes away, even a Woolworths food store, I packed items from my pantry and fridge: a jar of black bean sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, coconut milk, Chinese egg noodles: I also had steak languishing away in a cooler bag, planning to make a beef in black bean sauce on the first night there.. which I duly did: I even packed chopsticks as a nod to my earlier post about them! And of course lots of ciabbata rolls to age so that I could later on the weekend, when my friend and her husband were joining us, make a panzanella(which I also duly did).

When we went away on holiday as children, my mother used to very carefully plan and pack food: the budget allowed maybe one meal out, the rest of quite often two weeks worth of food had to be bought and taken down to wherever we would be staying: in self catering cottages or in caravans when we camped. The surrounding villages would always have fresh bread and meat and some vegetables, and sometimes fish.. but the rest would take up quite a lot  of space in the boot of the car, and sometimes a trailer: four children can eat a lot: all that sea air and swimming and running around seemed to always make us much hungrier than usual.

For this trip, unusually for me, I had decided that after that first night’s meal I would think on a daily basis what I was going to cook: I usually think about food way ahead of time…making sure that I would have all the ingredients for producing wonderful meals even in a little cottage at the edge of the sea, kilometres away from even a café.

On Thursday delightedly, we found a tiny fresh fish outlet: the fish gleaming and eyes bulging beautifully, so that night I arranged the  fillets of an unfamiliar red roman-like fish(recommended by the fish lady in halting English) on a bed of onion, tomato and green pepper with fresh cream dolloped over, and stuck the dish into the oven to cook: a really easy, satisfying thing to do with fresh gamefish…

On Friday evening I cooked a vegetable curry, very pleased that I had packed a can of coconut milk and basmati rice, for four adults.

But the highlight of the weekend must be the Saturday evening meal: a wonderful creamy (yes, I gained at least a kilo!!) fresh mussel and fish soup made by my friend’s husband. The very best part of that, besides the wonderful flavours and textures, was that the mussels were freshly harvested.

The tide was going to be at it’s lowest at 8h30, my friend’s husband, an inveterate surfing/fishing sea lover reported over early morning coffee. So we all set out to the spot beyond a tidal pool where he proceeded to do all the harvesting while we watched, nimbly jumping out of the way of sudden waves in neoprene slippers specially made for walking comfortably on rocks. As a little treat, we had a fresh oyster or two, eaten there and then with a squeeze of lemon and Tabasco, ankle deep in water as the tide started turning. Before walking back to the cottage, we all sat cleaning the mussels, our feet in a little rock pool, my lover and I soon adept at striking at the barnacles and seaweed with the sharp end of another mussel, flint like, yet another ancient ritual connecting us to the sea and food and others before us.

I smiled remembering that, as I shook out the last sand from the bag which my sandals were in…. to harvest one’s food, to grow one’s food: how utterly satisfying, and something I will eventually do more of when I move back into a house with a garden. I won’t keep chickens like my grandmother, or indeed have a sea nearby to fish from or gather mussels and oysters, but I will again have a vegetable patch. Something to look forward to…

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