• Caitlin Booker

Christmas is Coming the geese are getting fat

Time to put a penny in the old mans hat

If you haven't got a penny then a copper will do

If you haven't got a copper then God Bless You.

Alright, alright, breathe. I do realize we are only half way through October. But, if you're anything like me the heat of summer hits, and my brain is all swimming pools, Pimms, and woza December!

It's not Christmas that makes this time of year so special. But the sense of hope, and happiness that most people tend to give off this time of year. Be it the weather, travel plans, or the coming together of family that creates it, I am grateful for the positive vibes a lot of people give off during this time.

There are, of course, a lot of people that stare in to this time of year with a sense of dread. Or disappointment. I get it, the idea of entertaining your in-laws; or being stuck in the city working is unpleasant. However, not all is doom, and gloom. Enter the day breaks!

Yes, I have been at it again. Sneaking off for the day to give my mind a positive boost by tricking it into thinking it's on holiday. (You can catch the action on my Instagram stories @gourmethippo ). For me, it has been working like a charm. After a day break I feel happier, and more relaxed. I am also starting to see this country of ours in a much more positive light.

One such little day break, was a Friday I spent jolling around Hartbeespoort. Traditionally viewed as a weekend/ holiday location Hartbeespoort makes for a great day break. It is just an hour from Johannesburg, and even closer to Pretoria. This cutesy town has a lot to offer.

I did a 5km hike through Hennops Nature Reserve. It was an absolute blast. The trail is not killer difficult. So even if you are new to the hiking scene, or have a troop of little humans it makes for a fun adventure. I would suggest the little humans be at least 10 years old for the 5km, there is a 3 km route for smaller little humans. For the adventurous, fit hikers there are longer routes. Just pack lots of water. Hennops also has picnic spots so after the hike you can kick off your shoes, and make use of your super kitted picnic basket.

I also went to Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary. Normally I avoid any attraction where you can interact with wild animals at close quarters. This is due to the controversy surrounding the breeding, training and closed confinement of the animals. However, I made an exception for Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary. Why? It's in the name "Sanctuary".

Bush Babies do not buy monkeys, or lemurs (yes, King Julian is there). All the monkeys there are rescued, or given up by private owners when they have outgrown their house, or become "too much to handle". The monkeys are also not in cages, but a giant enclosure where they can roam freely under the canopy of the indigenous trees. Which keeps them safe from birds of prey.

The only time you have contact with the monkeys, or lemurs is if they decide to climb on you. Also when the cutest pick pockets - the Capuchins- come to check all your pockets and try open your backpack. Otherwise, you don't touch them. It is as close to a wild, natural environment these previously domesticated animals can have. They have really created a haven for them at Bush Babies.

You are taken through the enclosure by a guide who seriously knows their stuff. The enclosure has been kept as natural as possible. So whilst not a "bush break" it does feel like you are in the bush, and is a great time in nature. The tour is an hour; and costs R345 per adult.

After my tour. I drove around, and explored. I stopped at the markets on the side of the road, of which there are many. They have gorgeous stuff, so if you are day breaking in the next few months you can find some unique Christmas gifts. I recommend stopping at the ones slightly off the beaten track, or further from the main attractions as they are not priced towards international tourists. Also, the avocados there are amazing, and cheap! You'll never buy from Woolworth's again.

Unfortunately, the day I went was extremely windy. I did not go on the cable car to the lookout over the dam. But I look forward to doing that in the future. I'd also love to return to do the horse riding trails available. As well as sample more of the restaurants. For now though, I highly recommend Upper Deck for your lunch stop. One of the best eisbeins I've ever had.

So if you are city bound this festive season, or just looking for a fun nature inspired revive before then. Hartbeespoort is a fun day break, that can trick your mind into thinking it's on holiday for a bit. The positive boost does wonders.

Me, happy as a hippo in Nature

With Love,

The Gourmet Hippo

Something can be said about focusing your energy. The more you focus it on something you love doing the more opportunities to do those things seem to appear out of no where. That was definitely the case with my "drop everything and go" trip to the Drakensberg with a group of friends. Yes, you read that right, my rant in the Rietvlei article about my friends being too busy pulled the right strings and boomshakalaka a group getaway fell into my lap.

View from the Drakensberg Sun

A little background. It was not an impromptu trip for them. They had RSVP'd to their friends wedding ages ago. How I ended up tagging along was that the one man's plus one cancelled last minute. Enter replacement plus one; yours truely.

So I went from staring down the barrel of no plans, to a last minute long weekend in the berg with two of my dearest friends. As well as, their amazing friends; and a young man who turned out to be the worst date to a wedding ever. Not only did he rearrange the place settings so that he wasn't sitting next to me, but he didn't even ask me to dance. And, this lass likes to Sokkie.

Luckily I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea, but one hell of a shot of whiskey. So I had a massive party despite the non-whiskey drinkers antics. To the Gents out there, even if you don't like the plus one you ordered from your friends; at least ask them to dance. Unless Bohemian Rhapsody comes on, should only be 3 minutes of your life. It's just the polite thing to do.

* Ends Rant. Takes a breath*

Anyhoo... Back to the point of this. Now I can tell you how gorgeous the Drakensberg is, because it is breath taking and I wish everyone gets a chance to see it. But, I want to talk food.

Hold on, last side note. If you do go, we stayed in a gorgeous place called Ambleside Cottage in Winterton. It sleeps ten, four of the beds are single beds in the open loft area. Ideal for kids or your single friends. Whilst there are no hiking trails on the farm, you are close to many areas that have open access to trials ranging from a few kilometers to a few days. There are also many other activities in the area which accommodate for a range of tastes.

Ambleside Cottage

Now, back to the point again. Arranging food for a group trip is always a madness. The simplest method to do it, that many people choose to do is - everyone brings their own.

Now this method is great if you are with a super chilled group that do not mind if one person uses/ has a little bit of someone else's stocks. Without a doubt that will occur. The problem with this method is if anyone really does mind if you use their stuff. Also, there's so many different plans for each meal that things can be a little chaotic.

This is mine, that's yours, etc.

Did anyone bring tomato sauce?

Why do we have two salads?

Or worse, why are there absolutely no side dishes?

For many this doesn’t sound like a nightmare. But, I live to eat. So, I love variety, and a little pzazz.

Another method people use, which is much better than the above. Is each couple has a meal (or meals) to do. This relieves a lot of the chaos. Issues with this method is the cost if often not evenly spread. One couple might not be into cooking at all. While another whips out a five course meal.

Also, what on earth do you do about the token single person - do they have to do meals alone? Also, does your meal include catering for Susan's four children whose list of what they do eat is shorter than the list of what they don't eat? See, whilst the better method it can still cause a little tension.

The best method in my opinion, even though it sounds crazy on paper, is one designated planner and shopper. You can all cook together when there. Trust me it gets festive in the kitchen with the wine flowing, music pumping. This method requires a team leader, but the costs are definitely evenly spread at the end. Also, you will always have side dishes, variety and condiments.

View from the cottage

How I use this method is I plan a menu. Send it on the whatsapp group - it is only a group trip if there is a whatsapp group. People say yes, for the most part. I run off do the shopping. And arrive with the food. We all cook together, creating great kitchen memories.

Me, being me, I go with as much prepped as possible so that we can focus on whats really important. Talking kak around the fire. At the end of the trip, or before, we divvy up the costs. Easy, peezy, lemon squeezy.

The menu I would have proposed for this particular trip would have been:

Saturday

Due to the different arrival times of each person. Lunch would be a fend for yourself situation. Especially as most ate on the road.

Dinner, without a doubt Saturday night is braai night.

Meat: Chicken flatties, done in a lemon and herb spice. Per-peri sauce on the side. Texan spiced rump. Get the big one, and then slice into pieces to serve.

Sides: Garlic, bacon potato bake. Salsa Salad.

Dessert: Caramel apple pie with cream.

Sunday:

Everyone had planned before the trip to meet the groom for brunch.

Anyone who needed a pre-brunch snack, could nibble on any leftovers. Also I always recommend having toast, and rusks available.

Dinner: Bobotie (made a head, frozen and taken up), with yellow rice, an array of sambals, garlic bread and green salad with a tangy dressing.

Dessert: Malva pudding with custard.

Monday:

Day of Wedding, we had to leave for venue by 14:00.

Breakfast: Full fry up.

Lunch: Something light - after all, us ladies had to fit into dresses.

Charcuterie board of three cold meats; a few cheeses; veggie sticks, stuffed olives; smoked mussels. Tzatziki, hummus, spiced eggplant dip; with ciabatta.

Dinner: Wedding.

Caramel Apple Pie

Tuesday: Leaving Day

Breakfast: Small fry up, and any left overs.

The snacks; a variety of crisps with dip, nuts, and biltong.

Varied, yet simple and balanced. You can go wild with all your favourite meals. Be as complicated, or as simple as you want. If you need help with menu planning I got a jar of 2 cents I'd love to put in!

As I mentioned before, this method allows for a lot of things, especially side dishes to be made before hand. For example you can make ahead the potato bake, the salsa salad, the caramel apple pie, the malva pudding to name a few. You can also marinade the meats before hand. Meaning a lot less to do on the trip. As well as cutting down on the number of food things to pack.

Another great bonus of this method is that it easily fits into using a cost divider app for all the trip expenses. I recommend Cost Split. Basically, you scan in each receipt into the app, and who paid it. At the end of the trip the app calculates who owes who what. Fabulous really.

The last method worth a mention is getting me to do it for you. This method is completely hassle free ;)

With Love,

The Gourmet Hippo

Sometimes, I get out the Bush and doll up for a bit.

  • Caitlin Booker

I live in beautiful chaos. Or as my mother refers to it, completely unorganized mess. It’s all a matter of perspective really. There are a few areas of my life where there is no doubt that I am organized. Meal plans, shopping lists, meal prep and my bush break kits are those areas.

I am exceptionally proud of my kits, which I have slowly built up over time. How I ensure that they evolve in the right direction is by writing myself notes during the course of each trip; of what I needed that I didn’t have. As well as, what I had and didn’t touch. Then after each trip, during the kit cleaning process, I remove or add the gizmos, or what’s its’ as needed. Then I put them neatly back into their bag, box or basket ready and rearing to go for the next escape.

I find that by doing this little post trip ritual I take out half the effort, and run around needed for the next one. So I technically start relaxing before I even get to my destination #winning .

Enough about that though. Let’s jump into kit contents. First, and probably the most important is the good old picnic basket. I cannot stress enough the importance of a well kitted picnic basket. Even if going to an equipped self-catering lodge, take one of these bad boys with you. Then, should you decide to braai in the bush, you don’t have to waste space in your cooler box with plates from the lodge. That you stress over the possibility of them breaking on bad roads. But, most importantly the bottle opener will never be forgotten. I mean i can open a bottle of wine with a shoe and a tree but I’d prefer not to.

The spot of many a happy memory - the banks of the Vaal River

My picnic basket started as the family one from when I was a baby bush baby. The base of the picnic basket is still the same. Even the table cloth it came with. The bottom of the basket is red wine stained. The stains and scratches just add to its character. Using it while I’m away brings back the food memories.

The heat that is uniquely December in South Africa. Family, and friends that became family, gathering on the banks of the Vaal river. The ladies tanning in the sun, and setting up all the things. The men lighting fires, braaing and “fishing” under the willows. Mainly fishing beers out from the bottom of the cooler than fish out from the river. Us kids jumping in and out of the river. Only stopping when the lunch call rings out.

Fresh rolls, shmeared with butter. That melts when you put on the piece of boerewors straight off the braai. Keeping it simple with tomato sauce and mustard. Fresh green salad, with homemade dressing. Usually a tangy, light herb vinaigrette. Potatoes, either as wedges roasted in the foil on the fire, or as a classic potato salad. Just delicious. Just happy simplicity. A truely South African memory. Family, friends, nature and food.

Since it has been in my possession, I have added to the basket. I haven’t yet adjusted it to be for one person. That would be in conflict to the memories it carries. So if you ever see me on a lone picnic know that I have a spare glass for you to join me. I have added to it, and now it contains:

Wine glasses;

Tall water/ gin glasses;

Enamel mugs;

A flask;

A bowl - for washing up;

Plates;

Chopping board;

Knife;

Cutlery - with extra spoons for dishing up;

Two towels - so there's always a dry one;

Braai tools;

Toothpicks;

Salt, pepper shakers;

Chili powder shaker - I’m just that way inclined;

Serviettes, and wet wipes - I use the ones left over from takeouts;

Tea bags, and coffee in small Tupperware's,

Long-life milk sachets;

Sugar and sweetener sachets;

Plastic bags for rubbish - including litter I pick up in reserves;

Brown paper bags for dirty utensils;

A can opener;

A bottle opener;

Table clothe;

Utility knife - just in case;

Fire lighter.

The contents of my basket I have endeavoured to ensure are all reusable plastic for three reasons. One, the weight. Plastic is lighter. Two. Glass breaks on rough roads. Three. Most importantly, reusable. The plates and cups are still the ones I used as a little girl.

Safety First - Impromptu Knife Case

A little trick my mother showed me, which would be remiss of me to leave out. Is that I pack the knife by wrapping it in the tea towel and placing it at the bottom of the basket. This is a safety thing as it keeps the blade covered. As well as the weight of the other things ensures that the blade doesn’t move. Minimizing the risk of cutting yourself when unpacking. Simple, yet effective.

Now go forth, build up a picnic basket of your own, and go eat in the bush. Doing so becomes some of the greatest memories. One of the best spots I’ve been to is Mankwe Dam in the Pilanesberg National Park. The spot is on a koppie above the dam, needless to say that the view is exquisite. The site is also equipped with braai facilities.

Mankwe Dam Picnic Spot Pilanesberg National Park

Another use for your ultra equipped picnic basket is a date day or night - I am single, but a hopeless romantic. You don't have to go far; hit the local botanical gardens they are fill with romantic spots. Or even your garden, put some fairy lights in a tree for extra ambiance. You're welcome.

With Love,

Caity - The Gourmet Hippo

#gourmethippo

That Bushveld Feeling - Caitlin Booker