Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Meandering Through the Midlands Part One

We were recently offered the use of a friend’s timeshare at Midlands Saddle & Trout just outside Mooi River and of course we jumped at the chance to get away. I phoned my Mother and told her she was going away and then voice noted my sister to see if she could join us as well. Everything happened so quickly and I soon found myself driving to the airport to fetch my sister from her flight from Jhb.

Monday 5 June I fetched my Mom and sister and we drove up to Midlands Saddle & Trout to start our 5 days of adventures. Midlands Saddle & Trout is run by First Group Management and they are currently embarking on a makeover of all the units on the property. We had units 29a and 29b but we decided to just stay together in 29a. The unit had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining area, kitchen, lounge with a fireplace and a patio. This particular unit can sleep 6 – double bed in main room, 2 single beds and the 2 sleeper couches. We had cooked some meals in preparation for our stay as we didn’t want to cook while there, only heat up and eat. It took approximately and hour and a half to drive there and we quickly unpacked so that we could go and visit a few places.

Midlands Saddle & Trout. I love the elephant and swan towel shapes

My husband Neil had worked out the route for us to drive so that we didn’t have to pay toll fees all the time. We decided that every day we would drive to the furthest place we wanted to see and then stop at other places on the way back to home base. The first stop for Monday was the wood and iron church of St. James in Nottingham Road. My Mom and I had been there before but we wanted Carryn to experience it. In order to reach Nottingham Road we had to drive into Mooi River (potholes galore) and then out again and onto the old road that was used before the freeway was built. It was a very pleasant drive and we passed the most fascinating old church on the way – you will see about that later.

It was a beautiful Midlands morning and we spent about 30 minutes walking around the St. James church grounds and taking numerous photos.

The wood and iron church of St. James

We then drove back under the bridge at Nottingham Road and went to Country Company which we had passed on the way. This shop is owned by Anne Colle and is filled with the most beautifully curated items. Clothes from Cape Town, decor items from around South Africa and of course the fabric swatch books so people can choose a fabric for curtaining etc. There is an Anne Colle owned shop in Hillcrest that I haven’t visited in years and I think I need to make a plan to go there again. We spent at least an hour oohing and aahing over the entire decor and my Mom had a good chat to the manager of the shop.

Country Company

The final stop for the day took us back into and out of Mooi River and onto the most pot holed road I have ever driven on. But the drive was worth it as we reached our destination – Hartford House. I have wanted to visit Hartford House for years but every time we visit the Midlands Meander we tend to go to places on Route 2, 3 and 4. A beautiful stone wall entrance greeted us and I drove slowly down a winding road and through more stone wall entrances until we finally reached the end. There was ivy covered Hartford House surrounded by green lawns, a big garden and fountain water features. We walked up onto the veranda and then into the house which is filled with beautiful statues, Ardmore ceramics, stained glass panels in the ceilings and other amazing decor. We felt like we were in a museum or library as we found ourselves whispering to each other.

Hartford House (photos taken by Carryn Paikin)

The decision was made to sit on a lovely comfy couch on the veranda and order our tea and cake. Yes I do know that I Run On Coffee but this occasion called for Earl Grey tea. The pastry chef came to tell us what cakes were available – coffee nut cake, cheesecake and chocolate cake. My sister Carryn and I chose the coffee nut cake and Mom chose cheesecake. The storm blinds were down on the veranda and the heaters were on, so we were very comfortable as we enjoyed our tea and cake. The coffee nut cake was amazing and there was no scrimping on nuts. In fact we were not able to finish and took home quite a large piece. After tea we took our time as we wandered around the garden and through the vine covered arbour. We also took a look at Tijnhuis which is a stone, glass and thatch building where guests can sit and enjoy a light meal or high tea.

Hartford House

It was now late into the afternoon and we had to leave before it got dark as I didn’t want to drive the road back to Midlands Saddle & Trout at night. We had put on the wall heaters in the rooms before we left so our unit was so warm and welcoming. Carryn and I went for a walk to the stables and to see the horses in the paddocks. It was a chilly evening and we made sure to zip up our jackets while we took photos of the horses and the sunset. Midlands Saddle & Trout has the best looking horses, stables and paddocks that I have ever seen at a resort.

We ended our first day with supper and chatting, and me having the task of starting the fire in the fireplace of the unit. I’m so used to my husband making the fire and I have never done it and actually found it hard. I was finally successful after using 2 firelighters and lots of newspaper.

The next day started dark and early when I was out on the veranda waiting for the sun to rise over the valley – very, very well wrapped up in a blanket. This became a daily event for us as the sun rises were so spectacular.

Misty valley sunrise

Panoramic view

After breakfast we headed out for another day of adventure. We drove into Mooi River and then onto the N3 to go to the Lions River Trading Post. We got quite a shock that the toll onto the freeway was R32 when we thought that it was R14. We took the turn off at Lion’s River and it was quite a teeth rattling drive on the dirt road to Lions River Trading Post. It was so teeth rattling that we changed our minds about driving back on that road to go to Groundcover Leather Company and Old Halliwell Country Inn.

Lions River Trading Post is filled with vintage furniture, paintings, crockery, cutlery and lots of other fascinating items. My sister was thrilled to find a Tala flour sifter in great condition and at a reasonable price. We spent over an hour at the Trading Post and there were so many items that I would have loved to buy for home.

It was coffee time and we all had a craving for scones and what a better place to find them than at Granny Mouse Country House & Spa. Carryn had also never been there before. Warm greetings + warm fireplace + hot coffee + delicious big farmhouse scones with jam and cream = Bliss. We spent at least 2 hours at Granny Mouse chatting to each other, chatting to the staff and then showing Carryn around. I have written many times about the beautiful Granny Mouse Country House & Spa so take a look on the blog.

Love, love the farmhouse scones

Before heading back to home base we went to take a look at Brahman Hills which is situated on Nottingham Road just over the freeway. I had been following them for sometime on social media and was interested to see it. They really follow their theme of Brahman cattle closely – metal Brahman shapes by the property entrance and numerous paintings throughout the reception, coffee shop, restaurant and veranda. There wasn’t space for us to have coffee together in the coffee shop so a member of staff showed us through to the veranda and the comfortable couches there. We loved the biscuits served with the cappuccino – a sort of choc chip shortbread butter biscuit. We were joined by one of the resident cats, there are four in total. It took a special liking to my sister and Mom and loved the attention it was getting.

Brahman Hills

This is the end of part one of our Midlands trip and in part 2 I will tell you where we went and what we saw on the other 3 days.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Umgeni Steam Railway

Steam train travel is from a bygone era and it is sad that we no longer seem to use trains as a means of travel anymore. Fortunately a dedicated group of volunteer train enthusiasts has formed the Umgeni Steam Railway, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of railway heritage in South Africa. The Umgeni Steam Railway has taken on the task of repairing and maintaining steam locomotives and carriages for use on the Kloof to Inchanga rail line (I was interested to find out that trains cannot use the line to Durban as it is overgrown).

Before boarding the train. Stokers Arms in Kloof

The steam train runs on the last Sunday of the month and there are two trips. One in the morning and another in the afternoon. The train is also in use on special occasions such as Mother’s or Father’s day, but they usually use a diesel locomotive as it can pull more carriages. The train leaves from Stokers Arms in Kloof and also returns there.

On the way to Inchanga

On the way to Inchanga

Take a look at the Umgeni Steam Railway Website and Facebook pages to see the dates.

Ticket prices are :

R240.00 Adults
R170.00 Kids and Pensioners

All Aboard!!

"Wesley" the steam engine

Sad to see the terrible state that Botha's Hill station is in. My great grandfather was station master

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Hillcrest's New Restaurant : Jack Salmon Fish House

There have been many changes in Hillcrest over the past year and the opening of the Watercrest Mall caused a huge shift of stores away from Hillcrest Corner. It was sad to see all the empty shops but now I am glad to see the new ones that have moved in and the centre is getting very busy again.

Three new restaurants have opened at Hillcrest Corner with the latest one being Jack Salmon Fish House which has taken over half of the space where Mr Price clothing used to be. I believe that another restaurant will take over the other half. It’s a perfect place for a restaurant with ease of access and lots of parking.

The restaurant is spacious with a nice amount of tables creating a good flow. The decor has a few nautical touches but doesn’t scream “We serve seafood!” It is a relaxed decor that would fit perfectly in a seaside cottage.

Decor, ambiance, lighting, parking and ease of access are all very important features for a restaurant but the most important of all is of course the FOOD.  There are no mushy prawns or limp fish allowed at Jack Salmon. All seafood is fresh and freshly prepared.

There is an extensive menu and I took my time reading through it whilst sipping on a sparkling water as it was a warm day. For those people that are pressed for time they have a Light Lunch Menu for R98 which consists of a choice of starter and main. There are 5 starters to choose from and 5 mains. The Light Lunch Menu is available Monday – Friday from 12pm – 4pm.

Fortunately I did not have to decide which starter I would like on this occasion as Jason the restaurant owner made the choices for us. Us being Inge of Snap, Sizzle & Cook, Shirley and Gareth from Cuizine Africa and Nicola from Ask Ashe.

A wide range of starters arrived at the table including sushi and a sushi donut. Yes you did read that right – a sushi donut!  I never order sushi and it is definitely not on my favourites list but I found it very hard to stop eating and my taste portion of the sushi donut was superb. In fact all the starters were superb and so full of flavour. The calamari was soft and I loved the presentation of it on the skewer.


Sushi Donut

Jason recommended that we order our choice of platter and I decided to have the Captain’s Platter which consisted of catch of the day (Dorado) or Kingklip, 6 medium prawns and calamari. I chose to have the Dorado and chips but you can also have vegetables or a salad instead of chips. The platter was delicious and I found no bones in my piece of Dorado.

Captian's Platter

Nicola, Shirley and Gareth had to get back to work but Inge and I were not leaving until we had tried out a dessert. After all dessert is the most important part of any menu. Whenever I see Crème Brulee on a menu I order it but this time my eyes were caught and held by “Death by Brownie – decadent deep-fried brownie nuggets filled with a gooey chocolate centre.”  With wording like that who could resist and oh wow was it divine! It paired perfectly with the Illy cappuccino that I ordered.

Death by Brownie

Hillcrest is the newest of the Jack Salmon Fish House restaurants but if that is too far for you to travel they also have restaurants in Glenore  Centre, Glenashley and Tiffany’s Centre, Salt Rock.

Have a look at their Website and Facebook pages for more information.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Pearls Mall in Umhlanga

It is hard to imagine that just over 20 years ago there were very few buildings in Umhlanga. All of that has changed now and development is booming with hotels, shops, malls, apartments and residential complexes. One of the newest shopping centres is The Pearls Mall which is situated at the Pearls development which consists of the apartment buildings Pearl Dawn, Pearl Breeze, Pearl Reef, Pearl Tides and the newest Pearl Sky which is still being constructed.

The Pearls Mall has a convenient and exclusive range of retail stores for residents and visitors with a gym, supermarket, hair salon, beauty salons, stationery, clothing and various other stores. It also has a great range of restaurants. Thanks to Rainmaker Marketing I and a few other ladies got to try out a few of the Pearls Mall stores.

We started out with breakfast at African Roots Coffee which I have written about before – read here. This was the third time I had been to the coffee shop and the second time to have breakfast. Mark and Christine Platt have put a lot of love and attention to detail to their coffee shop. Mark is very involved in the coffee side, making sure to source the best beans and getting them roasted to perfection. The baristas are well trained and make a fabulous cappuccino. Check the board to see what the coffee choices are or ask the waiter. If you are undecided whether to choose a Kenyan, Ethiopian or other single origin coffee they will gladly help you decide. Christine takes care of the food side and all the ingredients are sourced from local suppliers – well except for the croissants which are the genuine French ones flown in uncooked and frozen. Bread is from Glenwood Bakery and the delicious cupcakes and other sweet items come from Smith’s Bakeshop and Madeleine’s.

I had delicious Poached Eggs on Artisanal Toast Benedict Style with Bacon for breakfast and of course a cappuccino. I also had half a French croissant and a starter of their Banting friendly muesli served with plain yoghurt.

Next up was Planet Fitness which is situated on the lower floor with a full range of exercise machines and all manner of other fitness items for the gym freak. They also have a studio for exercise classes and we had fun doing a 20 minute class with one of their instructors. I had not been in an exercise class for many years and I surprised myself in still remembering how to do some of the moves. After the cool down another instructor gave a 20 minute class in Pilates, which I had never tried before. It was very good and I certainly felt the work on my muscles the following day. I actually want to try and find a Pilates class in my area now.

After Planet Fitness a great place to get a pick me up is at Power Plant which is situated right outside the gym and below the escalators. I have had a cappuccino here before which I enjoyed but this day it was smoothie time. I enjoyed a Berry Blitz which was very refreshing and kept me going until lunch time. For those that love getting the right Instagram photo you will love the motorbike and decor at Power Plant.

Wanting a quick change of colour on your nails? Then you have to visit Nail-It which is close to Power Plant. Just take your smoothie or coffee with you. I had a hard time choosing a colour for my nails and I eventually decided on Ice Box Colors “Tanzanite Ice” which is a beautiful blue. Melody expertly applied the colour while I finished off my smoothie and chatted to the other ladies.

Grant Harper Salon is situated near the escalators on the top level of the mall. The staff is friendly and welcoming and you are quickly offered a glass of bubbly or some orange juice. They have a small waiting area right by the door but I was quickly whisked away to get my hair washed. The products used on my hair were the Wella Oil Reflections range. After my hair was washed I relaxed with my glass of orange juice while my hair was expertly blow dried. The decor is mostly black and white with gold and turquoise accents. I love the touches of greenery from well chosen and healthy looking plants. I felt like a new woman with my freshly washed and styled hair.

The next stop for me was at Hello Hunny for a foot and leg massage and to have my toe nails painted. What a beautiful and very relaxing salon! They have the most comfortable chairs to sit back and relax in while having your feet attended to. The beauty therapists don’t have to carry ugly and heavy basins of water around as the basins are set into the floor and have a drainage system. They sell the Kalahari range of beauty products, Honey jewellery and handbags, beautiful leather sandals and a small range of designer clothing. I couldn’t mess up the beautiful Crisnail nail polish on my toenails so I carried my shoes and walked bare foot to have lunch at The Village Table. The security guard stationed at the residents elevators thought that was very funny.

The Village Table has the most amazing decor and is light and airy and the restaurant was quite full for a Thursday afternoon. There was much laughter and joy from a large table of ladies celebrating a milestone birthday. I ordered a cappuccino (not surprising) and found out from the waitress that their coffee is supplied by the Coffee Merchant which is based in Durban. After a lot of paging through the menu I decided to order one of my favourite meals – chicken schnitzel. This schnitzel was served with a blue cheese sauce, chips and sweet potato curls. The blue cheese sauce was not strong enough for me but was perfect for another lady who had the same dish. The chicken was soft and succulent and the topping was crispy. It was already late in the afternoon so I didn’t have any dessert although there were a good range of sweet choices like Crème Brulee.

Yes I did put my shoes back on for the walk back to my car! It was a wonderful and relaxing day and I happily made my way through the afternoon traffic and didn’t even get upset when stopped by a blue light convoy.

So the next time you are in Umhlanga and looking for a place to eat, shop or have a beauty treatment – make your way to The Pearls Mall. I will definitely be back.

The Pearls Mall

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Granny Mouse Under the Stars

On Wednesday the 17th May I attended the first ever Midlands Meander Pop-Up Kitchen – a one night only fine dining experience at Granny Mouse Country House & Spa. All the food was prepared on the grill by the Culinary Artists and we dined outside under the stars. Yes it was rather chilly as this is the Midlands in Winter, but we were warmly dressed and kept even warmer by lots of chatting and laughter and the delicious food.

I have written before about the hospitality that you receive when you stay at Granny Mouse and the care taken to ensure your comfort. Guests are treated as family and it is lovely to be greeted by exclamations of delight at your return. I must say that each time I visit it gets harder to leave as the Midlands is so beautiful and the stay so relaxing at Granny Mouse.

Inge Loker and I enjoying a glass of bubbly, #lovecoffee, Hillcrest Aids Centre Traveller socks, sunset

Wayland Green and Kirstie du Toit are the Granny Mouse Culinary Artists and they worked long hours deciding what to prepare for the pop-up kitchen. Fine dining cooked on the fire is not easy and they certainly made it seem so with what we were served. Plating, colours, flavours and textures were all incredible.

Beautiful fairy lights covered the table, Culinary Artists at work

Kirstie du Toit and Wayland Green

We were served the following dishes :

Steamed mielie bread, sundried tomato, basil and mozzarella braai bread

Prawn and hake sausage, wild fennel and corn cream, corn kernels and salsa Verde garnish with verbena and wild fennel

Wood grilled beef fillet, ox liver stout jus, caramelised sweet potatoes, peppered baby corn and carrots

Deconstructed trifle, roasted almond flakes, chargrilled fruit, banana cream, Frangelico custard and puff pastry

Granny Mouse Country House & Spa team are always thinking up new and exciting things to do and I can’t wait to discover what they decide to do next.

Happy media before we braved the cold night air

If you are looking for a place to stay on the Midlands Meander then I highly recommend that you book into Granny Mouse. They have fabulous Winter Wonder specials on until 30 September 2017.

Connect with Granny Mouse on their social media :

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Springside Cafe

Every day I drive past Springside Cafe when I take my daughter to high school (well except on weekends and holidays). Last year on the spur of the moment I fetched my Mom from the Hospice shop in Hillcrest where she is a volunteer and took her for coffee.

Springside Cafe is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of Hillcrest – Yes Hillcrest does have hustle and bustle! Quiet, calm and cool with a gently flowing fountain and a lovely garden with lots of greenery and a few flowering plants. They also have a small jungle gym play area for kids. We decided to sit inside at a table by a side window looking onto the jungle gym. I would call the decor classy shabby chic and they have put in a lot of attention to the smallest detail.

There was a fabulous display of cakes covered with glass domes but I decided to just have a cappuccino and my mom would have her usual of 5 Roses tea. Well the coffee was bad, bad, bad. I drank it with long teeth (don’t you just love that saying). I had asked the waitress when I ordered what coffee they use and was told Bean Green, so I was expecting to have a really good cup. I really don’t know what they did to the coffee to make it taste so bad. Anyway, my mom enjoyed her tea and we had a lovely chat.

When my sister Carryn was down from JHB – doesn’t that sound familiar? I believe I used the same sentence in a post before. Well on her last day I wanted to take her to a place she had not been to before and I thought Springside Cafe would be great.

So it was four ladies – me, my daughter, my mom and my sister that chose a table outside under the awning. My daughter Laura had not had breakfast that morning and she immediately looked to see what she could order off the breakfast menu. She chose bacon, scrambled eggs, toast and a side order of chips. My mom chose 5 Roses tea again and Carryn and I ordered cappuccinos (I was holding thumbs that the coffee was going to be better). We also ordered a slice of lemon meringue pie and carrot cake and after having her breakfast Laura ordered a slice of chocolate cake.

I am very pleased to tell you that there was a HUGE improvement in the taste of the cappuccino. It is still not the best I have ever had but it was enjoyable and it paired well with the lemon meringue pie.
Springside Cafe seems to be very popular with ladies as there were quite a few ladies chatting over coffee and cake.

Coffee on the left the bad cup and coffee on the right
shows the huge improvement

The cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 7:30am to 4pm. It is closed on Sunday’s as there is a church on site in a separate building. Marcella Mia who has been a Hillcrest favourite for years for her beautiful gifts and home decor has recently moved to Springside Cafe as Marcella’s @ Springside. There is also a nail and beauty salon called Shabby to Chic.

Springside Cafe
20 Springside Road

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Delightful Deborahs

Do you love vintage, shabby chic and old world charm? Then I have found the place for you to visit and to take your Mother and your Grandmother to as well. It is situated at 5 Pioneer Road in Kloof and is called Deborahs.

I had heard of Deborahs for many years but had never gotten the opportunity to go. Which is crazy since they are local. So on a beautiful sunny day I met my friend and fellow blogger Inge for some coffee and cake.

Deborahs is very easy to find as Pioneer Road can be considered sort of a main road in Kloof. The coffee shop is also very close to Thomas More School. There is no intercom at the gate and you need to hoot for admittance and then drive straight ahead as the coffee shop is just through the gate. Choose your parking and park your car (make sure you watch out for the very large tree when you leave as I would hate for you to change your car’s shape).

Deborahs is a very large space and would be excellent for hosting a ladies tea or a birthday. Before choosing a place to sit (which ultimately was outside) we walked around and looked at the displays and at what was on sale. You can buy soap, journals, cups and other pretty items.

Inge and I sat outside at a table under a shady tree. Our menus were delivered to us as well as a warm fragranced face cloth so that we could wipe our hands. We both ordered a cappuccino and a slice of banting cheesecake. The cappuccino is okay but the banting cheesecake is divine! It was so relaxing with the warm sun and great conversation that we were both reluctant to leave.

When my sister Carryn was down from JHB I took her and my Mom to see Deborahs and we also sat outside but on the lounge suite under the awning. They were so impressed with the warm fragranced face cloths and all the beautiful decor inside and outside. There are so many quirky touches that I would love to use in my house and garden.

So the next time you are in Kloof, why not visit Deborahs and experience old world charm for yourself.

Deborahs is open Monday to Friday from 9am – 4pm