Fête de la Musique

In this post about our weekend in Paris, I alluded to a very special event that happened on our first night in Paris - that event was the Fête de la Musique. That we happened to be in Paris on the night of this spectacular event was one of those serendipitous, happy accidents. When I booked our travel and accommodation I had no idea that the Fête de la Musique even existed! I found out about it when booking a tour - the tour operator happened to mention it - and I began to investigate.

What I discovered was that the fête de la musique, or "festival of music", happens each year on the 21st June, the longest day of the year. The festival began in France in 1982, and has since spread to neighbouring countries.

On the 21st of June, live bands, singers, amateur musicians, drummers and so on take over the streets of the city, in this huge celebration of music. The biggest and best-known artists and shows are generally in the Jardin des Tuileries, the Petit Palais, the Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg and along the banks of the Seine, but pretty much every street and street corner has artists performing on it. Public transport is discounted on this night, to make it easier to travel around the city to enjoy what is on offer. 

We chose to simply wander the streets in the immediate vicinity of our hotel in the Latin Quarter.  If any of the musicians were bad, or even mediocre, we didn't encounter them. The level of expertise of the performers was quite extraordinary - even the bands and performers playing the kind of music that didn't appeal to us were still really good at it! There were stalls set up all over the city selling food and drinks and the party atmosphere was utterly amazing.

This is what I had to say about it on my travel blog:

Tonight was the annual Fete de la Musique - I'd read up about it while planning the trip, but I had no idea it would be so much fun! Basically it is a night when anybody who has a band/plays an instrument/ thinks that they can play an instrument/sings etc can set themselves up on the pavement and make music. While we were eating a band began playing nearby - they were really good and played mostly recognisable music (think "I love Rock 'n Roll", REM, that sort of stuff...) After supper Rox and Dad jumped ship, but Paula, Grant and I decided to make the most of the free entertainment on offer. There was a stall selling plastic cups full of a homemade brew of sorts - it called itself Citron Vodka, but quite what was in there I don't know, it was really good though, so I had a cup of that, Grant bought a beer and we began to wander up and down the streets, listening to the good bands and by-passing the ones that didn't appeal to us. It was absolutely wonderful! There was all sorts of music on offer, many bands playing main-stream stuff, but others that were quite different. We found a couple of young guys playing traditional French songs that I particularly enjoyed. At one point we sat on the floor outside the Pantheon and Paula and I gave the French our particular version of "Our Last Summer" by ABBA, they seemed verrrrrry impressed by us! Not.....

Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to photograph or video any of the performers we saw, but here is a youtube video that will give you a glimpse into what we experienced.

Returning to Paris for the Fête de la Musique is high on my bucket list. Something SO unique and special and highly recommended if you are ever in the area on or near that date!

Feasting on falafel

My husband and I have recently developed a mild obsession with falafel.  We first tasted falafel several years ago when we were in Cairo, we enjoyed it, but never ate it again until a trip to The Morning Trade - a local artisan food market - we had the most delicious falafel from the Falafel Fundi on that occasion and have since enjoyed falafel at various markets in and around Durban.

A few weeks ago we decided it was time to try our hand at making our own falafel.  I spent some time on "the webs", tracking down a falafel recipe and we duly embarked on our falafel making adventure.... it was indeed an adventure, an adventure that ended in what can only be described as oily thick soup... Oh my word, what a disaster!  The falafel seemed fine until we got to the frying stage, at which point it simply disintegrated into the oil.  The culinary version of "total crop failure"!

So it was back to "the webs" and I discovered that many people have this problem with disintegrating falafel.  It seems that having dry ingredients is key - as in... dry those chickpeas after rinsing, dry the herbs...  Some purists say that tinned chickpeas just don't cut it and we had indeed used tinned chickpeas in our failed attempt at cooking falafel.   Armed with this knowledge I then went in search of a different recipe and I discovered I had been harbouring a good recipe all along, in my Buddhist Retreat Centre cookbook, charmingly named "The Cake the Buddha Ate".  I adapted the recipe slightly, mainly in the addition of Harrisa spice, which I love and the optional addition of an egg to ensure binding of the mixture.    So this weekend found us trying to wrestle the falafel beast again.  This time we were a lot more successful and managed to enjoy the fruits of our labour!

FALAFEL click here for a printable version of this recipe

1 cup dried chickpeas, soak in deep water overnight, drain and rinse.
1 onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup Parsley, roughly chopped
½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Zest of 1 lemon (reserve the juice for hummus and lemon tahini, see below)
1Tbl Harissa or Moroccan spice
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
½ tsp bicarb
3Tbl chickpea (gram) flour, plus more if needed
1 egg (if necessary)
Oil for deep frying

Note: It is important that the chickpeas and herbs are completely dry before adding them to the food processor, so pat dry first.

Place onion, garlic, lemon zest and fresh herbs into food processor and blend until very finely chopped, (but be careful not to over-blend and make a wet paste! )  Set aside.
Place the raw chickpeas in the food processor and blend until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Add the chickpeas to the onion mixture and mix in seasoning and bicarb.  Stir together and then slowly add the chickpea flour until the mixture can be rolled into balls.  If necessary add more chickpea flour and then if the mixture is still not binding well add a beaten egg.
Shape approx 1 Tbl of the mixture into a ball and lay on tray, repeat with remaining mixture.
Heat 3cm of oil in a deep frying pan and fry about 6 balls at a time, until brown and crispy.  Drain on paper towel.
Serve with a selection of sides, such as red cabbage salad, roasted peppers,  avo slices, kalamata olives, shredded lettuce or spinach, hummus , lemon tahini or tzatsiki and wraps or pita breads.

Red Cabbage salad
Ingredients (makes one large bowl’s worth):
  • 500g cabbage (about 1/4 head)
  • 1 carrot (or more, they’re delicious in this!)
  • 1 medium beet (or more, again – the more the merrier!)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 3T canola oil
  • 3T vinegar
  • 2t salt
  • 2t sugar
1.    Finely slice cabbage, grate carrots and beets; combine with garlic
2.    Make your vinaigrette by combining the rest of the ingredients.
3.    Bring to a boil, then remove from stove.
4.     Pour over the veggies.
5.    Toss to coat all the veggies

Lemon Tahini (found this recipe on Halfbaked Harvest)
1 cup plain greek yoghurt
1/3 cup tahini
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1Tbl Harissa (or more, to taste)
Salt to taste.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk till smooth.  Will keep for a week in the fridge.

1 can of chickpeas (or soaked and cooked dried chickpeas)
1/6 to 1/3 cup of tahini
2 to 3 tsp lemon juice,
a tsp of crushed garlic (or more, to taste)
a dash of Tabasco,
kosher salt and pepper

Blend to a paste - then trickle in a small amount of hot water and some olive oil until it’s the consistency you like, garnish with Paprika!

Hand lettering how-to

As I mentioned in this post, my word for 2017 is "thrive".  One of the ways I am trying to embody the word "thrive" is by devoting a lot of time to self-care and one of the ways I am doing that is by spending time doing fun, creative things, things such as journalling and hand lettering. 

A little while ago, the people at FTD contacted me and told me about a free tutorial they have created, for beginners in hand lettering. This is what they have to say about it:

Have you always wanted to master the art of hand lettering? Although it may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually quite simple once you’ve mastered the basics. To help you get started, FTD created a hand lettering tutorial for beginners.

It covers everything you need to get started, including a list of materials along with a helpful video that outlines step-by-step how to create perfect strokes and flourishes. They even created a handy alphabet chart so that you can practice your new skills! Check out the guide which you can find here and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to becoming a hand lettering pro!

I popped along to the website to have a look and it is a really lovely guide for anyone starting out.  Definitely worth checking out.  So why not go and have a look and, if you're anything like me, you'll get bitten by the hand lettering bug and spend many happy hours, pen and paper in hand.


So many times in the past, I've tried to start a regular meditation practice and it just didn't stick.  I'd start out all keen, I'd see the benefits, I'd be determined to continue meditating regularly and then, somewhere along the line, I'd give it up.  But I have to tell you, I've been meditating regularly for several months now and this time I think it's going to stick!  

So what's different this time?  I think the major difference is that I have relaxed into it.  Before, I would try too hard, I'd set myself impossible standards and I'd get frustrated when I couldn't "get it right".  When thoughts entered my head during my meditation I'd get really irritated with myself and think I was doing it wrong.  It's not like that now.  I've come to realise that meditation is not a test, or something that has to be perfect, instead it's a practice and if it doesn't go that great today, well there's always tomorrow and hopefully it will go better then.  Another thing that has dawned on me is that meditation is a pretty personal thing, it's not going to look the same for everyone doing it, and that's okay.

So what does my meditation practice look like? Typically, I meditate first thing in the morning, as part of my Miracle Morning routine.  I do some yoga - nothing hectic, just a couple of Sun Salutations and then I sit down, cross-legged on my yoga mat, eyes closed, hands resting on my knees.  I do a couple of deep, slow inhales and exhales, consciously relaxing with each one - especially my shoulders which are usually tense - and then I revert to normal breathing and I focus on a word with each inhale and exhale.  Generally I like to focus on the word "peace" as I inhale and "calm" as I exhale, but sometimes I mix it up and use different words.  Thoughts will drift into my mind and - here's the key thing that has made my meditation practice so much more relaxed and pleasurable - I'm comfortable with that, instead of trying to "chase the thoughts away" I just let the thought go... I don't follow it, I just acknowledge it and let it go... by focusing on my breathing and words again.  I haven't been trying to meditate for extended lengths of time like I used to, instead I meditate for as long as I feel like it and when I've had enough I take a deep breath, stretch my arms above my head, exhale and slowly open my eyes.  Done!  And man it feels good!

What to see and do in South Africa

Ideas for a first-time visit to South Africa

A blog reader recently asked me if I had any recommendations for a tourist visiting South Africa for the first time, so I thought I would do a blog post about the places I personally feel are worth visiting.  It seems to me that, in the minds of many tourists, South Africa is “safari and Cape Town” – that’s pretty sad actually, because South Africa has so much more to offer.

If I was arranging an itinerary for a friend coming to South Africa for the first time, assuming they had plenty of time and a fair amount of money to spend and that they were flying into Johannesburg, the itinerary would look something like this:

Johannesburg – I’d include a visit to the Apartheid museum, a tour of Soweto, and possibly Gold Reef City (if they had any interest in the gold rush). I’d perhaps suggest staying at Montecasino.  (To be honest, I haven’t spent much time in Jo’burg at all, every time I've been there I've been "passing through", so there could be amazing things to do there that I don’t know about.)

Kwa-Zulu Natal – (my home turf!)  I’d suggest a couple of nights in Durban.  
Things to do:  
a walk or cycle along the promenade, including a walk along the uShaka pier to the Moyo pier bar for stunning views, 
a visit to uShaka

*a ride up the Moses Mabhida sky car

*feast on one of Durban's famous bunny chows for lunch 

and maybe a dinner at a traditional Indian restaurant, to absorb some of the city’s amazing Indian heritage.  A Durban curry is such a special culinary treat!

*a visit to the Umhlanga area - good beaches,nice restaurants and the Gateway mall

*a trip into the Valley of 100 hills  - a ride on the Inchanga choo-choo is an option, or possibly a picnic in a very rural area there (Mqeku Picnic site) with a braai for lunch.

*A visit to the Nelson Mandela Capture site (depending on their level of interest in politics)

A night or two at St Lucia (including a cruise to see the hippos) 

and a night or two at Hluhluwe Game Reserve*(see note on planning a safari below)

A few days in the Drakensberg – my personal favourite is the Southern Berg, at Fairways in the Drakensberg Gardens resort, but there are loads of options in the Drakensberg.  

If visiting the Southern Berg, then a trip up Sani Pass into Lesotho is a fantastic way to spend a day and possibly a night.

Image: Sani Mountain Lodge

If time permits, I’d arrange a trip down the South Coast, with a beach day (or two)

and a visit to Lake Eland and Leopard Rock.  

Leopard Rock - awesome photo opp right there if you're very brave!

If the visitor was into mountain biking, Lake Eland offers some awesome rides (you need to arrange your own bike, but that's pretty easy to do)

Eastern/Western Cape
Garden Route
If time was plentiful, I’d suggest some time on the garden route en route to Cape Town.  Knysna is really lovely, even more so if you are a fan of oysters!  

Cape Town really has a lot going for it and a few days there is an absolute must.
I’d suggest taking a Hop-on Hop-off bus on Day 1, it gives a good overview of everything on offer.

Things to do:
The V&A waterfront – lovely shops and places to eat, lots to see and do.

Robben Island – a ferry ride to see where Nelson Mandela and many others were imprisoned during the Apartheid years.

Kirstenbosch gardens – if you can also catch Jeremy Loops live in concert there, well then you’ve hit the jackpot!

Clifton and Camp’s Bay (be warned, the sea  here is not as warm as the Indian Ocean on the KZN coast!)

Table Mountain – well obviously!

Chapman’s Peak drive – well worth a drive for the scenic views.

Hout Bay – good for seafood, vibey and there is a nice market on weekends.

Muizenberg beach – you have to get a photo of the cute beach houses.

Kalk Bay – picturesque fishing village with fascinating shops and good places to eat - the Brass Bell is lovely.

Simon’s Town – the home of the naval base and Just Nuisance

Just Nuisance

Boulders Beach – to see the penguin colony

If timed correctly, some whale watching in Hermanus

A day-trip (or more!) to the Winelands – so many wine routes and wineries to choose from!  Fairview is a particular favourite of mine – because you get both wine, cheese AND cute goats - but really it all depends what wines you enjoy drinking.  

There is loads to do in the winelands besides wine, so it’s worth spending at least a day or two.

The West Coast – the west coast is really special and a few days in that area would be time well-spent.

After the Cape, I would recommend flying back to Jo’burg and going to Sun City before leaving South Africa.  We love Sun City - there is lots to do there, but you can also kick back and relax, in a truly African atmosphere.  We’ve had some amazing vacations at Sun City and never tire of it.

And that would bring the trip to an end.  For me, the above itinerary would cover the “must see” places, although it by no means exhausts the options, there are so many stunning places that are worth a visit that I haven't covered here - Mpumalanga, Clarens in the Free State.... the list goes on....

*Regarding doing a safari – many people love the Kruger Park, I personally prefer the smaller parks – it all comes down to personal preference – I would strongly recommend doing some research and looking at your options before booking a safari.  If money wasn’t an issue, I would definitely choose a private game lodge, there are lots to choose from.  Have a look at this blog postthere is a cute back-story about a wedding dress – the lodge looks utterly amazing.

My morning routine

For the last few months I have been (very loosely) following the principles of the Miracle Morning, based on the book by Hal Elrod.  I honestly think that this may be one of my few "fads" that actually stick.  The difference I feel on the days that I follow my Miracle Morning routine is hugely noticeable - I feel better, calmer, more focused and quite simply more able to cope with whatever the day throws at me.

The basic idea of the Miracle Morning is to go through a few simple steps to start your day.  The steps are:

S - Silence - for me this translates into a little time spent meditating.

A - Affirmations - I run through a series of affirmation in my head, and sometimes say them out loud.

V - Visualisation - I spend a little while visualising the way I want my day to look and then I also visualise how I want my life to look and feel.

E - Exercise - for me this involves doing some yoga, in the form of Sun Salutations.

I wish my downward facing dog looked like that....

R - Read - the intention here is to read a self-development type of book.  I deviate from the plan here and do my reading in the evening. (Such a rebel I am....!)

S - Scribe - in other words, journal.  This is the one step I battle with - which is weird considering I LOVE to write.  My problem is that my mornings are the busiest part of my day and I find it hard to get into writing when my brain keeps on going "you need to do this, this and then that... before you start working this morning, get a move on girl!"  So I am trying to work on this,because I do believe that the journalling is important..

I don't spend ages on this routine, it's quite quick and easy to achieve (except the writing part!) before I start my day in earnest, but, boy, does it make a difference!  Honestly, you wouldn't believe the change. I find it really hard to have a bad day when my day starts so well.

Last week....

Paula finally got to meet her nephew, after staring at him longingly through the window of the nursery at the hospital for 3 days! 

 We went to see my favourite, Jeremy Loops, live at Bot Gardens:

 Daniel met both of his great-great aunts:

Welcome little brother

I just had to share these photos of my adorable granddaughter, Isabella, getting to know her little brother, Daniel, the day he came home from the hospital. How precious is her expression?!

Blogs I love - the beauty edition

Lately I've been spending way too many hours scouring beauty blogs. Most of the time it's a case of wishful thinking, because I literally have no budget for cosmetics, but on a positive note, I find that I've learnt a lot of interesting tips and tricks from the hours I spend reading these blogs.  

Three of my favourite beauty blogs are:

Maskcara - I just LOVE the makeovers this woman does... unbelievable!

The Small Things -  I found this blog a few years ago, when searching for ways to control my crazily wayward hair and have been an avid follower ever since.  Kate's hair and beauty tips are so down-to-earth and she has the sweetest family.

Pink Peonies - I first started reading Pink Peonies because, yay!, it's a South African blog, but now I am a devoted reader because it's a really, really good blog and Luzanne seems to be a genuinely nice person.

Welcome to the world little one!

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to post regularly on my blog.  It was going relatively well and then...... well then THIS happened!

My precious grandson, Daniel Craig Wilkins was born rather unexpectedly on 25 January!

You can read all about it here.  So this Nana has had her hands rather full looking after little Isabella while her Mom, Dad and brother were in hospital and since they have been home I've been in full-on Nana-mode, cuddling and snuggling those babies to my heart's content.