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Although many of you might not have realised it, (thanks to pre-scheduled posts, isn’t technology wonderful), I was away for the past 17 days. Stuart and I went to South Africa. It was a rather sudden decision and was due to several factors; the main one was to surprise Sheila, my mother in law, on her 80th birthday but also to visit Nicole, my daughter, who is now living in Cape Town, and for me to speak at a day long conference at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town hosted by Showcook, South Africa’s leading food, travel and wine portal.
Our first stop was Johannesburg where we arrived to 34 degrees and sun – a nice change from the 5 degrees and rain as we left Bordeaux airport. We landed late on Monday night and Tuesday was my mother in law’s birthday. She lives in Johannesburg, although originally from the Isle of Man and Stuart’s brother and wife also live there. Stuart’s sister, Debbie, lives in London but was already in South Africa for the party planned on the Saturday night. We walked in on them at a restaurant for brunch and boy was it a wonderful surprise: Sheila was at a loss for words, many tears of joy were shed and soon everyone was catching up. We spent a week in Johannesburg, just relaxing, chatting and generally not doing much. Saturday was the 80th birthday party. Marika, Debbie and I started cooking and preparing the day before.

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Debbie and Stuart getting busy in the kitchen

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The pork roast

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My two sisters in law – Marika and Debbie

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Plating the shrimp cocktails

Stuart and I went out for dinner and returned around 10pm to find out that Marika, my sister in law, had unfortunately been rushed to hospital with a bad kidney infection – worse timing was not possible. Marika had spent weeks planning the meal and birthday celebration which was to take place at her and Mark’s gorgeous house. We were all expecting her back Saturday morning but that was not to be – She found out on Saturday morning that she would need to remain in hospital for 5 whole days! Well, after a slight panic, Debbie and I got to work preparing the dinner, we were expecting about 20 guests, rolled up our sleeves and while sending poor Marika endless texts about where the parsley was, in which fridge was the chicken, what had she planned to do with the butternut, did she want us to use the tomatoes and avocados etc. it all started coming together. One big challenge was the birthday cake. You see Marika was planning to make the cake herself and had baked the chocolate sponge base before being rushed away to hospital but we had no idea how to decorate it. Cake decorating is not most definitely not one of my strong points – I can cook just about anything -but do not ask me to decorate anything, that skill passed me by. Luckily Debbie stepped in. She too has not decorated many cakes and claimed she did not know what she was doing but just look at that end result. It was simply magnificent.
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Clearly the little fairy handing out the cake decorating dust did not bypass her at birth.

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The dinner buffet

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Roast pork belly stuffed with herbs, pine nuts, onions, garlic and bread with potato roasties

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Chicken breasts and mushrooms in puff pastry

The menu for the party was as follows:
Shrimp cocktail with a spicy mayo on a bed of lettuce and avocado
Chicken breasts with mushrooms in puff pastry
Roast pork belly stuffed with rosemary, pine nuts, fennel and bread
Butternut and arugula salad with toasted sunflower seeds and feta
Roasted beetroot and garlic salad
Potato roasties
Creamed spinach
Everything was delicious, the champagne was flowing, a great time was had by all, the party went on till the wee hours of the morning, and most importantly, Sheila had a wonderful 80th birthday bash. Oh, and by the way, the cake was as delicious as it was pretty, moist chocolaty goodness.

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The Birthday Girl

Part 2, Cape Town, wine tasting, champagne tasting, restaurant reviews all coming up very soon.

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