Jane's Delicious Garden Blog

Sugar and Spice and All things Nice!

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the March 6th, 2018

One of the great joys of travelling is discovering new flavours, tastes and ingredients. In Madagascar – I was in heaven! Influenced by African, Indian, Malay, Arabic and French cultures, Malagasy cuisine is diverse and delicious. And with a sub-tropical climate, the local ingredients are intriguing.


The road south from Ankarana National Park to Nosy Be is dotted with villages and market towns. We stop to browse.

IMG_9959 (2)

THB – Three Horse Beer is very popular and quickly becomes our favourite choice.


Cheerful vendor advertising his wares.


The French legacy of delicious baked baguettes.


There is plenty of snack food to go . . .

Rice paddies (5)

We travel past many rice paddies – the staple diet of Madagascar.


And have to stop often for herds of Zebu


Until we arrive at Plantation Millot





Established by Frenchman Lucien Millot in 1904 this plantation continues the age old tradition of growing a cornucopia of fruit and spice delights, from cacao to vanilla, pepper to pineapples.


The climate and soil here are ideal for the finest cacao to be grown. Seedlings are grown in a “greenhouse” created by palm fronds. The growing medium is extremely fertile Zebu manure.

Cacao growing (6)

Cacao harvesting (7)

Cacao harvesting (8)

The rare Criollo variety that was initially introduced has evolved into hybrids such as Trinitario and Forastero, with unique fruity flavours. Cacao from Plantation Millot is used by Valrhona and Lindt as well as many smaller boutique European chocolate manufacturers.



Once harvested, beans are covered with banana leaves and hessian and go through an acid and lactic fermentation process. This flavours the inedible raw beans and changes them to a reddish brown.

Cacao beans drying

Cacao beans drying (2)

Women sorting cacao beans (1)

After a few weeks baking and drying in the sun, they are sorted, mostly by women, and packed into bags to be shipped.

After a few weeks baking and drying in the sun, they are sorted, mostly by women, and packed into bags to be shipped.

Next – I discover vanilla, bread fruit, pepper and more.

If you want to follow in our footsteps go to Animal Tracks Islandventures to book your Madagascan adventure.

Madagascan Magic

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the February 15th, 2018

I had been in Madagascar for half an hour and already could feel its magic. Our driver stopped the car a few kilometres from Nosy Be airport. As he walked into the plantation of gnarly trees on the side of the road, I thought it was for the call of nature. But no, he reappeared with a handful of creamy yellow flowers.

Ylang Ylang (3)

Ylang Ylang (1)

“Here, smell,” he said, crushing them under my nose. As the sweet fragrance filled the car, I realised this was ylang ylang, the exotic scent that gives Nosy Be its nickname of Perfume Island. Nosy Be is the largest of over 250 islands that surround Madagascar. It was our jumping off point to explore a small section of the north west of this magical country.

First stop was Vanila Hotel, one of many places named after the exotic orchid. Not surprising as 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar.


It was a hard choice between the pool or the gorgeous ocean in front of the hotel – so we did both.


In the morning we heard thumping on our roof and when we investigated we found guys busy fixing the palm fronds. Many buildings in Madagascar are made using local materials, in particular the Traveller’s Palm or Ravenala madagascariensis.


This fascinating tree is not actually a palm – it is a close relative of our indigenous Strelitzia. The base of the leaf catches and stores rainwater, providing sustenance to a thirsty traveller – hence its name. Its symmetrical fan shape is instantly recognisable. The dried leaves create a beautiful pattern when used for thatching.



From Nosy Be we caught a boat to the mainland, getting caught in the morning rush hour.


Our destination was Ankarana National Park, a plateau on the north west of the mainland. Its 150 million year-old limestone has eroded away over the millennia to create a jagged grey spiky landscape. Getting there is not easy. The road has also eroded away and the driver of our 4×4 had to negotiate his way slowly. We averaged 20kms an hour.



On the way we stopped at a little restaurant next to a waterfall for a delicious meal made by local village women.

Beignets at the market

We ate tasty fritters followed by a chicken and tomato stew with rice. It had a leafy green in it that made my tongue tingle and mouth salivate. A unique culinary sensation. I later discovered the plant being sold everywhere in the markets and learned that it’s an Acmella oleracea, a member of the daisy family. If you eat the fresh flowers or leaves they make your mouth go numb, which is why it is also known as the toothache plant or buzz buttons.



On our lunch table was a superb hot and spicy chilli sauce in a recycled jar. If this didn’t straighten my hair nothing is going to!!!


After an eight hour journey we arrived at the park. And the next day we were ready to explore the magic of the tsingy – the local name for the karst limestone formations. To get there we hiked for a few hours through subtropical forests.



As the forest dropped away, we entered the tsingy.


It is a protected park and you have to go with a guide who knows where the designated pathways are.



Fascinating rock formations – a cross between a lunar landscape and coral.



A few tight squeezes . . .


A baobab on the way back just before sunset.


This was just day two of our Madagascan adventure, more to come . . .

If you want to follow in our footsteps go to Animal Tracks Islandventures to book your Madagascan adventure.

Romancing Amalfi

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the May 16th, 2015

When my delightfully quixotic friend Karen was planning her wedding, she wanted something ultra romantic. And I can’t imagine a more romantic spot than her choice of the dramatic Italian Amalfi Coast, south of Naples. For centuries, painters, poets and writers have been inspired by this magnificent coastline. Stretching from Sorrento to Salerno, it is a twisting succession of bays carved steeply into rugged cliff faces. Small towns cling precariously to sheer mountainside rising above the sparkling turquoise Mediterranean. This was going to be a wedding to remember.

Arriving in Naples we are ready for some Italian food. We meet a Brazilian couple on their way to eat at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michel, which they had heard makes “the best pizzas in Italy”. We check our guidebook and sure enough, there it is with this bold claim. After bumbling around narrow, busy streets we find the restaurant, a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot with a huge crowd outside. We are given ticket number 73 with 40 people ahead of us. A couple of beers later and we are in. The first surprise is the choice – they only serve two varieties of pizza! The second surprise is just how delicious they are. I was expecting them to be good, but they are superb. The secret is the locally grown Napoli tomatoes. And the locally made buffalo mozzarella cheese. And the freshly made pizza dough. It is our first taste of how great this region’s food is. (The following morning we discover that Julia Roberts had been at the restaurant a few days earlier. It had apparently featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love and she was filming the scene. So it has now become even more famous!)


This is a fertile land. Dominating the bay of Naples is Mount Vesuvius, the yin yang giver of fruitful soil and active taker of life. This imposing volcano is an omnipresent reminder of how quickly life can be cut short with a violent act of nature. The inhabitants have absorbed this lesson and the fiery Neapolitans exuberantly live life to the full as they have since Roman times.

The city of Naples is best explored starting from the centro storico, the historic heart of the old town, where the main streets still follow the old Roman roads.

Open-air fish markets display their fresh catch.

Farmers park three wheeler trucks and loudly sell fruit and vegetables to elegantly dressed woman on their way home to cook dinner.

From this bawdy and energetic centre, with narrow cobbled streets and buildings strung with washing, the city sprawls outward. IMG_2302
Al fresco diners eat in spacious piazzas, overlooking elegant 18th century architecture. Up a steep street paved with shiny black lava stones, we window shop at Prada, Gucci and Armani.

Nearby we sample ice cream made with the freshest ingredients from a gelateria dating back a hundred years.

Heading south from Naples, we climb to the top of Mount Vesuvius, smell the sulphur and stare in awe into the slowly steaming crater. From the summit there are sweeping views of the bay and it is just possible to make out the ruins of Pompeii far below.

We spend a day exploring the maze of ancient streets, transported back to a way of life frozen in time from 2000 years ago. In 79AD the volcano erupted, smothering the city and its inhabitants with its deathly pyroclastic flow. Since excavations began in 1758 the city, from lofty temples and sumptuous villas to prosaic bakeries and brothels, has re-emerged intact. Plaster casts of people and animals overwhelmed by the flow, their bodies and mouths petrified in a rictus of terror, show just how quickly the volcano dealt its deadly blow.





From Sorrento we catch a bus to Amalfi. The narrow, winding road is sliced out of near perpendicular cliffs, the Mediterranean a stomach-swooping drop way below. The view across the shimmering sea, with the Isle of Capri sculpted on the horizon, is spectacular. Our bus driver, sporting cool mirror shades and hefty arm muscles, swings his passengers around corner after corner, sounding his musical hooter at oncoming traffic to warn them we are coming. Often there is no room for two vehicles and one has to reverse until there is an inch more space. We play ‘spot the car without a ding.’ On average only one in twenty is free of scrapes, scratches, dings or dents.





All along this coastline, in the smallest corner, on rooftops, on staggeringly steep terraces, vegetables are thriving. Huge bunches of vine-ripened tomatoes and shiny red chillies hang outside doorways.









This is the land of limoncello, a sweet, tart liqueur made from the peel of a lemon only grown in this section of Italy. Every little shop sells its version of limoncello. And every courtyard of every home has lemon trees. They are grown up trellised supports, so the fully-grown tree forms a shady canopy, with lemons hanging within easy picking reach. Free tastings of limoncello are offered from home distilleries along winding paths and alleyways. A shot of icy cold, fiery liqueur is one way to keep the legs moving up steep hills.




And so we gather for the wedding; friends and family from Spain, South Africa, England and Australia. Dressed in our finery we climb up steep pathways to the gardens of Villa Cimbrone, perched so high on a rocky cliff above Amalfi that there is no vehicular access.

Wagner wrote opera here, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was conceived here and Gore Vidal once said: “ . . the most beautiful place that I had ever seen in all my travels [was] view from the belvedere of the Villa Cimbrone on a bright winter’s day when the sky and the sea were each so vividly blue that it was not possible to tell one from the other.” Dating back to the eleventh century this villa’s history, which includes being the love nest of Greta Garbo and Leopold Stokowski, is as romantic as it gets.

And in her inimitable style, Karen makes her dream of the most romantic wedding ever, come true. Wearing full-length red silk, she is the picture perfect bride as she walks down the rose petal aisle to marry her love.

Afterwards we celebrate with champagne and walk along avenues of umbrella pines, past fragrant rose gardens and wisteria draped arches for photographs on the “Terrace of Infinity”. Lined with patrician marble busts it is suspended between sky and sea, floating above the scalloped coastline and vivid blue ocean.



The late afternoon storm, which has been threatening for hours, is starting to spatter. We run down the steep path but are soaked by the time we reach Palazzo Sasso for dinner. In true five star style, they greet us with large heated towels. It is a rather bedraggled wedding party that sits down to savour a ten course meal at the two Michelin starred Rossellini restaurant. And just before the final course, the valley below explodes in a pyrotechnic spectacle of colour. The fireworks display, the culmination of the local Ravello music festival, provides the final touch to the perfect wedding.

There are no direct flights to Naples from South Africa but there are many connecting hubs. If you fly in via Rome, an efficient rail service connects to Naples.
Purchase a Campania artecard which gives you free travel on public transport as well as free or reduced admission to a various museums, galleries and architectural sites. There is easy access from Naples to Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum via the Circumvesuviano rail line, which runs to Sorrento.
Don’t be misled when ordering Pizza Marinara. In Naples it is not a seafood pizza. Its name originates from the sailors who would eat the traditional Neapolitan pizza comprising tomato, garlic and a couple of basil leaves, no cheese at all.
Don’t miss the Archeological Museum in Naples, filled with artifacts removed from Pompeii and Herculaneum, including an extensive mosaic collection.

Love Triangle

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the March 16th, 2015

The Mafia, ancient ruins and an active volcano make exploring the triangular isle of Sicily an adventurous road trip

The overnight ferry from Naples docked at the port in Palermo at dawn.

Our first Sicilian meal was a strong cappuccino and croissant at a hole-in-the-wall café in the port, surrounded by swarthy dockworkers coming off overnight shifts. It kick started our day and we were ready to negotiate with a taxi driver. As we wound through Byzantine one-way streets, narrowly missing cars wedged in snarling morning traffic, I wondered how wise we were to hire a car for our Sicilian sojourn.
Palermo's horrific traffic

For a relatively small island, Sicily’s had a huge impact on the world around it. Fertile and strategically placed on the Mediterranean trade routes, it has repeatedly been fought over, conquered and colonised as a much-desired possession through the ages. The resulting legacy provides a smorgasbord of choices for the traveller – from Greek temples, Roman aqueducts and villas, to Baroque cathedrals and Arab Norman architecture. Throw in an active volcano, sinister mafia, alluringly azure sea and a cuisine making the most of fresh Mediterranean ingredients and you have all the elements for a stimulating trip.
Sicily's symbol Trinacria (meaning triangle)

The heart of Palermo is Quattro Canti, the four-corner intersection marking the city’s center. The traffic was still having a seizure so we stayed on foot to take in some of the city’s offerings nearby: The grand Duomo, a Norman Cathedral with hundreds of uniquely sculpted gargoyles peering down on visitors and supplicants and the Chiesa di San Cataldo church with red Islamic domes. Next door is the La Martorana, a medieval church with a beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaic interior. This brilliantly illuminated walk-in jewel box is no stuffy museum but a living entity, as we discovered when we wandered into the tail end of a wedding.
Monreale Cathedral (4)

Mosaics, Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace, Palermo (01)

Mosaics, Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace, Palermo (9)

Palermo's Duomo  gargoyles

Palermo's Duomo (1)

Palermo's Duomo (5)

Palermo's Duomo (6)

Palermo's Duomo (14)

Palermo's Duomo (17)

Palermo's La Martorana (2)

Palermo's La Martorana (4)

Palermo's La Martorana (7)

Palermo Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo, Arab Norman architecture

We rambled through the Capo, a maze of streets and alleys, bustling with shoppers looking for the freshest catch of the day or selecting from a rainbow variety of vegetables, fruit, oils and dates.
Palermo street vendor

Palermo's Capo street market (4)

Palermo's Capo street market (6)

Palermo's Capo street market (12)

Palermo's Capo street market (13)

Palermo's Capo street market (16)

Palermo's Capo street market (19)

Palermo's Capo street market (21)

We picked up our compact Panda and its rate doubled, as we were scare-mongered into taking full insurance. Having seen the ubiquitous dents and dings on Italian cars, we thought it a wise move. Leaving Palermo, we drove into the hills above, to the Cathedral of Monreale. The exterior is a well-preserved Norman cathedral but when we entered we realised why this was one of the wonders of the medieval world. The interior is covered with glittering mosaic tableaus on a background of more than 2,200 kilograms of gold tiles. We timed our visit well, as another wedding was happening. The Italian habit of breaking into loud applause after the “I pronounce you man and wife” seemed inappropriate in this magnificent place of worship.
Monreale Cathedral (3)

Monreale Cathedral (4)

Sicily lived up to its tempestuous reputation by lashing us with an intense storm as we left Monreale. Roads turned to rivers and the hand written map to our next destination was drenched. Without the map we missed the freeway entirely and drove across the island on back roads, whipped by rain and wind. We arrived in Selinunte well after dark. But the next day was clear and we could explore the magnificent ruins.
Selinunte ruins (20)

Selinunte ruins (17)

Selinunte ruins (7)

We zigzagged across the island, through dramatic Sicilain countryside,exploring a succession of ancient sites.
Sicilian countryside (6)

Sicilian countryside (5)

Sicilian countryside (4)

Sicilian countryside (1)

The 2,500-year-old temple of Segesta is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful Greek ruins in the Mediterranean. The Greeks chose temple sites well, with commanding views of the countryside echoing the Olympian heights of the Gods they celebrated. Another storm swept in, with a relentless wind whipping our umbrellas into useless floppy spikes. In five minutes it cleared, leaving glistening reflections on the ancient rock of the semi-circular amphitheatre. We gazed from the mountaintop to the Doric temple on the opposite hill, its soaring columns dramatic against dark clouds and a wild sky.
Segesta amphitheatre (10)

Segesta amphitheatre (11)

Segesta Doric Temple (1)

Segesta Doric Temple (3)

Segesta Doric Temple (9)

Segesta Doric Temple (10)

Segesta Doric Temple (14)

On the southern coast of the triangular island is the Valley of The Temples. Despite its name, the remains of the seven magnificent temples are not in a valley. Spread out on a ridge below the city of Agrigento, these partially restored ruins are a World Heritage Site. Our umbrellas, useless in the wind, became handy sunshades as the storms gave way to scorching midday sun.
Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (1)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (2)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (3)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (4)

Heading inland, we passed walled medieval towns, strategically perched on hilltops to protect them from attack. The terrain is rugged and rocky above fertile valleys. Winding through the productive farmlands, with vineyards, olive groves, artichokes, tomatoes, fig and citrus trees, we realised why the food tastes so good. Sicilians seldom eat food that hasn’t been reared, grown or produced within a few miles. Added to the rich choice of homegrown products are sharp pecorino cheeses, smooth ricotta and fresh seafood – every Sicilian has their secret recipe for sardines. Sicily’s diverse cultural heritage has left a rich legacy with the Greeks bringing knowledge of olives, grapes and wine making, the Romans; their pasta and grains, the Normans their northern methods of salting, drying and cooking, the French adding an aristocratic twist and the Arabs bringing everything from almonds, apricots and artichokes to couscous, cinnamon and saffron. The Arabs also sweetened the Sicilian tooth, introducing ice cream and granitas. We fell in love with the famed cannoli: pastry encased tubes of sweet ricotta, found all over Italy but with the original and best in Sicily.
Natural spring water (1)

Natural spring water (2)

Olive groves in foothills of Mt Etna (1)

Piazza Armerina (1)

Sicily's famed delicacy cannoli

Street scene, one of the medieval villages

More recently, Sicilian history has included the blood stained stories of the Mafia, inspiring Mario Puzo’s quintessential Mafia Don; Vito Corleone. Today, if you want to “sleep with the fishes” you can. Many of the estates, once owned by powerful real life Dons like Toto Riina, have been seized by Italian authorities and turned into bed and breakfasts, or agritourism vineyards and olive estates.

We headed east and wound up steep, coastal roads to reach Taormina, an historic resort town on the slopes of Monte Tauro. Our waking view was of Mount Etna, smoking on the horizon. At 3,323 meters it is Europe’s largest active volcano and the destination for the day.
Mt Etna from Taormina (2)

First we visited the town of Castelmola, clinging incredibly to the hillside high above Taormina, with sweeping views to the sparkling sea below. The beach beckoned us down the mountain and we hopped across hot pebbles to dive in for a refreshing dip.
Ionian coastline below Taormina (1)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (2)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (3)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (4)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (6)

Mount Etna’s summit was further away than it looked and we endlessly climbed her conical slopes, tunneling through a brooding pine forest. We finally popped out into a lava lunar landscape, the remains of an eruption which destroyed a ski resort in 2002. Massive tree trunks, bony and white against the black basalt, were a stark reminder of the fierce power beneath us. It was primal, humbling and unsettling. It was surprisingly cold on the volcano, with clear views to the beaches and harbour far below. The large yacht that had pulled in while we were eating breakfast many hours earlier was now a dinky toy in a tiny bay.
Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 (2)

Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 accessed by rebuilt road (1)

Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 accessed by rebuilt road (2)

The sun was setting and when we reached the bottom it was dark, bad timing, as we had to negotiate one of the hilliest regions to reach Cefalù, our last stop before returning to Palermo. Cefalù is a charming fishing town, nestled under a rocky promontory on Sicily’s north coast. With sheltered sandy beaches, medieval streets and excellent restaurants, it is a popular summer resort and was the perfect place to end our Sicilian sojourn.
Cefalu (1)

Cefalu (3)

Cefalu (5)

Cefalu street scenes (1)

Cefalu fishing boats (2)

Travel Tips
South African passport holders require a Schengen visa for Sicily. For information, visit www. italy.visahq.com/embassy/South-Africa/

Credit cards are widely accepted and you can access your SA account through Cirrus or Maestro ATMs for euro cash withdrawals. Remember to notify your bank of your itinerary. Traveller’s cheques are difficult to cash and attract up to 10% commission.

Hired cars save time getting to many of Sicily’s treasures, which are scattered widely across the island.

Okavango Delta

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the November 10th, 2011

Earlier this year I received an invitation to Francistown, Botswana, to give a talk to their Garden Club. The Okavango Delta has been on our list of places to visit for many years and we thought it would be a good idea to combine the two. We had been keeping August free for a trip somewhere so I promptly organised bookings though &Beyond who have some of the best lodges in the Delta. Only to find that the Garden Club of Francistown could only host me for a talk in September – so I landed up doing two trips to Botswana back to back.

Our August trip began with a couple of nights at Khama Rhino Sanctuary – despite having been told not to drive on Botswana roads after dark, we landed up lost, late and driving after dark. It was only the next day when we saw how many donkeys, cows, ostriches and horses were roaming the roads, that we realised we had been lucky.

The highlights of Khama:
A baby rhino galloping joyously in the dust, mock head butting his Dad, bounding with the sheer joy of being alive.

Getting stuck in the sand at sunset and a bakkie full of people materialised from nowhere to help push us out. Here I am the next day just next to the spot where we were stuck – miles from camp . . .

The starlings – the bullies of the camp site – chased the squirrels away from any leftover morsel. We didn’t realise how bold they were until a week later when we discovered a sticky patch under one of the crates. After investigating, we found the source: a fruit juice carton with bird beak punctures neatly pierced into it. The long life milk cartons also had holes in them and had gone sour. Plus a bag of mixed nuts had been broken into. The starlings had only had one morning to forage through the kombi – we had gone to bed on our first night and had left the boot open, but it was enough for them to create quite a bit of havoc.

We met a Frenchman whose children had nicknamed the hornbills “Flying bananas” The name has now stuck.

An incredible sighting on the dry, dusty full day’s drive to Maun the next day were these migrating birds, swirling in the sky like something from a sci fi movie. Quite incredible.

We set up our tent on the bank of the river at Drifters Camp, just in time to see the sun set and full moon rise. It was a comfy campsite and the only one in our whole trip that had grass underfoot.

This delightfully named shop near Maun says it all . . .

We arrived at the &Beyond office in Maun the next morning just in time to catch our bush hopper plane into the Delta.

As we flew further from Maun, the Delta spread out below us, circles of dry land ringed with water and endless patterns of animal pathways, both across the dry islands and through the water.

Just on the short flight in I spotted a couple of elephants and a few giraffe.

A game viewing vehicle met us at the Pom Pom landing strip – Pom Pom meaning mosquito in the local language. Within minutes of leaving the airstrip we spotted an elephant, head butting a palm tree to get the sweet fruit to fall at his feet.

Our lunch on the way to Nxabega camp.

A baobab that a hungry elephant had a go at.

It took a few hours to get to camp – across water, salt pans and deep sand that even the 4×4 became stuck in.

Nxabega camp is built around a huge jackalberry tree – so named because the fruit is said to be so sweet that even the die hard carnivore jackals will give up their meat eating ways to munch on it. This elephant thought the fruit was pretty good and he rumbled past every day to hoover up the berries.

These are jackalberries

I preferred the brownies!

The plan was to go for an afternoon mokoro paddle and end with sundowners on the river. But as we drove towards the river, we saw this:

We followed him as he climbed up and down three trees before finally settling on one where he felt comfortable. The guide said this was because he was watching something – so we went to find what had piqued the leopard’s interest and it was this:

And so we watched this pride, with seven youngsters, as the moon rose behind them.

The next morning was time for the postponed mokoro excursion. An Italian honeymoon couple joined us. They had decided not to come on the game drive the afternoon before, choosing to have massages instead. En route to the river I heard the bride asking the guide if “we could please go past the leopard and lions on the way . . .” The ranger could not pull that rabbit from his hat, but he did find this sweet pair:

Into a mokoro and onto the river. I asked the ranger what the stick in the front was for. He said it was his GPS . . .
I knew rangers are multi talented but I didn’t know speaking stick was one of the required skills!
Turns out the stick was to clear spider webs away before we paddled through them.

Over the next few days we explored the delta by boat, game vehicle and helicopter:

On one morning drive, a short cut took us into deeper water than planned . .

Jacks and sticks didn’t help – despite the rangers best efforts


The water was freeeezing so the soaked rangers quickly rubbed some sticks together and made a fire. I want these guys on my team on Survivor!!

We stayed in the most incredibly beautiful lodges: Nxabega, Xudum and Xaranna. Attention to detail and creating art from recycled objects all added to the &Beyond ethos of treading lightly on the land.

Our private chalet tucked into the forest next to the delta.

With its own game viewing deck.

Xaranna Lodge took its design inspiration from the ubiquitous delta water lilies.

And we ate and ate and ate!!!!

Every day started before dawn . . .

And ended with sundowners and sunsets and moonrises . . .

Now that is what I call a holiday . . . !

“I am the special ingredient!”

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the August 17th, 2011

“I am the special ingredient!” is the quote on the back of the chef’s T shirt in the open plan kitchen at Xudum camp in the Okavango Delta. And does he live up to it. I have just arrived back from six days in the Delta – travelling via bumpy little planes, even bumpier landies, fast speed boats and slow makoros, I have had the most magical and wondrous time.
Watch this space for more! As soon as I get home I will be adding photos and delicious details . . .

Turkish Delights

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the August 27th, 2010

IMG_0539I only realised after I had booked our tickets that we would be in Istanbul for Ramadan – or Ramazan, as it is called here. Since I was planning to feast on fantastic Turkish food, I was bit concerned the fast would hamper my foodie intentions. Not! There is food everywhere, all the time.

IMG_6950The day starts with a breakfast spread of olives, cheeses, fresh fruit, just picked tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers, fruit preserves and sesame bread rings (Simit -sold from peddlers’ carts from dawn to well after midnight) dipped in spice and herb flavoured olive oil, topped off with strong black Turkish coffee.

You would think this would last until dinner, but no, this is an intense city.
IMG_0324Bridging Asia and Europe and spanning millenia of history, including conquering heroes, exotic harems, inspired architects and religious fervour, Istanbul has a huge amount to see, draw, visit and explore.
After fairytale castles and covered bazaars, myriad mosques and exotic palaces, I am hungry again within a few hours. Time for a balik ekmek – crisply fried, whole fish on a piece of crusty bread with lettuce, tomatoes and onions.
IMG_1013This fish was swimming in the Bosphorus this morning. Another quick afternoon snack is a corn cob, sold from little carts and roasted over hot coals.
Sprinkled with salt wrapped in a piece of paper it is sweet and scrumptious.
Or you could try a “tost,” a toasted sandwich on light crunchy bread with stretchy melted cheese and a spicy tomato paste. And to wash it down, a freshly squeezed orange juice or a slice of the sweetest, crunchiest summer watermelon.

Fortified, we dive back into the maelstrom, underground into ancient water systems, up steep stone stairs to stare across to Asia, into quiet parks with windswept pines. Until I am hungry again.
IMG_0928Dinner choices are endless.
IMG_0129From quick doners wrapped in bread with vegetables to grilled patlican kebabs, (one large eggplant sliced into thick chunks and skewered with alternating balls of spiced lamb, slow grilled over hot coals).
IMG_0921Or the adana kebab, skewers of spicy lamb accompanied by rice and pine nut pilaf.
One of my favorites is the Iskender kebab; chunks of pide bread covered with hot slices of spiced doner lamb, covered with fresh tomato sauce and thick yoghurt.

The vegetable and salad combinations are endless; seaweed and tomato with lashings of lemon and garlic and beans in olive oil and lemon.
Even the simplest lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad is given a twist when tossed with pomegranate syrup and sprinkled with sumac, a tart local spice. Everything is freshly cooked, ripe and in season.

And then I need something sweet – a tiny taste of lokum (Turkish Delight) or baklava, from shops that have been specialising in making them for hundreds of years. Above shiny, blue and white tiled walls, sepia photographs hang, proud men with splendid moustaches staring out from the last century. Right next door is the patisserie, with thick rice puddings and nutty maceroons.
IMG_0446Piles of crystallised figs, mulberries and walnuts glisten in the window. I am tempted by what looks like a chocolate mousse but under its molten surface is a surprise – it is a deconstructed chocolate eclair, with puffy balls of choux pastry under layers of whipped cream and rich chocolate.

I am in foodie heaven.

Eat Drink Pray

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the September 25th, 2009

Leaving Jhb airport I bought a copy of the best selling book Eat Pray Love, not realising some of it was set in Italy. I knew that many people had been raving about it and I needed a good book to read while on the road. After 24 hours of travelling via connections in Cairo we arrived in Rome. We met a couple also heading south to Naples and they offered us a lift in their hired mini. Bit of a tight squeeze but much quicker and cheaper than the train. She was Brazilian and worked for American Airlines and he was a doctor from the US. They were travelling on to Sorrento, about an hour after Naples. They were planning to eat in Naples at a restaurant famous for “the best pizzas in Italy.” We checked in our guide book and sure enough, there it was with this bold claim. And bold it is, as the best pizzas in Italy surely must be the best pizzas in the world! We had to try this spot. After bumbling around narrow, busy streets to find our hotel and check in, we found the restaurant – a tiny hole-in-the-wall place with a huge crowd outside. We took a ticket (number 73 – they were serving number 34). A couple of beers later we were in. The first surprise was the choice on the menu. They only served two pizzas! The second surprise was how delicious they were – I was expecting them to be good, but they were really really good! The secret was the locally grown Napoli tomatoes. And the locally made mozarella cheese. And the freshly made pizza dough. It was the first taste of how great the food in this region is. I remember the food in Italy being good, but southern Italy is even better. The following morning we were told that Julia Roberts had been at the very same restaurant the week before. Filming a movie. It seemed very fitting to find out she is playing the lead role in Eat Pray Love!

While telling this story to friends, I realised I had mangled the title and was referring to it as Eat Drink Pray. I have decided Eat Drink Pray is an appropriate title for the week we spent on the Amalfi Coast. My book will never sell in this region – everybody already grows their own vegetables, everywhere. In the smallest corner, on rooftops, on staggeringly steep terraces there are vegetables. The last of the summer crops are at their luscious best. So eat we did. With gusto. Not once have I had to ask a single restaurant to bring me salt, pepper, balsamic or any additional condiment. Every meal has been perfect. Even a fast food paninini from a train station in Sorrento was fresh and tasty. And from fast food to two star Michelin dining. The wedding dinner was held at Palazzo Sasso’s Rossellini restaurant – I lost count of the number of courses around seven.

Eat Drink Pray. This is the land of limoncello. A sweet, tart liqueur made from the peel of a variety of lemon only grown on this southern section of Italy. Every little shop sells its version of limoncello. And every courtyard of every home has lemon trees. They are grown up a trellised support, so the fully grown lemon tree forms a shady roof of a terrace, with lemons hanging within easy picking reach. Free tastings of limoncello are offered from many of the little breweries along the winding paths and alleyways. A shot of icy cold, fiery liqueur is one way to keep the legs moving up steep hills.

Eat Drink Pray – and pray I did. The narrow road which winds its way along the Amalfi coast is cut out of the sheer cliff face. In some sections I was looking out of the bus window, straight down to the Med, hundreds of metres below. The bus drivers, with cool mirror shades and hefty arm muscles, swing their passengers around corner after corner, hooting at oncoming cars (and other buses) to move out of their way. Sometimes there is no room for two vehicles to fit past one another and one has to reverse until there is an inch more space. We invented a game called ‘spot the car without a ding.’ On average only one car in twenty is free of scrapes, scratches, dings and dents.

We are back in Naples for a few days. We will be visiting Pompeii, Vesuvius and Capri – and will without a doubt return to the hole in the wall restaurant for more of the ‘best pizza in the world’

Zimbabwe hope

Posted in Travels by Jane Griffiths on the March 28th, 2009

Keith and I were in Zimbabwe last week filming a documentary for a Swedish NGO. They have been implementing a drought mitigation programme aimed at smallholder farmers. We hear so much bad news about Zim that it was very uplifting to meet healthy, self sufficient farmers who are positive about their future. We travelled more than 2,000kms around the country filming the project at all the different levels. Many of the methods these farmers are being taught are the same ones I use in my garden.

Eating sadza and mealies under a cerulean African sky, sitting on the stoep of a sun baked hut, we talked about our gardens. The simple act of growing our own food linked us across culture and country. On our final day, just before driving back to Harare from Masvingo, we were detained by the Central Intelligence Organisation, Bob’s secret police. A bit scary but they let us go after a couple of hours of hassling us. The one guy, who was writing down all the details from our passports asked Keith my father’s full name. Keith, trying to remember, said “Um, Gordon, . . . something? Griffiths” He had to stifle a laugh when the guy diligently wrote down my father’s name as Gordon Something Griffiths. So I am officially (in Zimbabwe at least) the daughter of Something. The delay made us miss our flight and get home a day late. We had the full Zimbabwean experience . . .