Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Michael Broughton is The Flavour Merchant

So last night at 18.15h  I settle in to watch the first episode of a series of one of my favorite chef's in one one of my favorite restaurants on one of my favorite wine estates. Seasons at Terroir on DSTV Nat Geo 181 did not disappoint. But how could it? Magic will reveal itself. 
Now if that sounds gushy, forgive me, but last year I had the privilege of interviewing him for Cape Etc magazine and and it turned out to be one of my my favorite interviews ever. He is a lovely, lovely man. Both inside and out.
Here is that article.

(And yes, I know it's been almost a year since I've blogged and reposting an old article may seem like a bit of a cop out, but a lot has happened the last year and for a variety of reasons I was hesitant to share them at the time. I'll get around to them. You know I will, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve….)

(The Lovely Chef Michael Broughton)

The Flavour Merchant

In some circles, chefs have become the celebrities of choice. They generate a lot more excitement that models or actors do. There is something very attractive, dangerously so, about someone who makes their living playing with fire and knives. And of course, the plus side is that they encourage you to eat dessert which, clearly, models or actors would never do. But by their very nature, celebrities are also the cause of much gossip and misconceptions.  So in walks celebrity chef, a regular (nine times to be exact) on the Eat Out Awards Top 10 list Michael Broughton, good-looking in that laid-back, sleepy-eyed, 5 o’clock shadow kind of way. And you expect him to act in a certain manner; perhaps be a little arrogant?  A tad too blasé? Or charming in that well-practiced I’ve-done-this-all-before manner. But he’s none of these things. He is sincere, kind and principled. And suddenly his celebrity status and his culinary accomplishments, both well-deserved, are overshadowed by the the character of the man.

And that takes some doing. Because the food Michael Broughton creates at Terroir, on the Kleine Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch is pretty damn impressive. The restaurant itself is elegantly subdued, which is perhaps a kind way of saying, slightly ordinary, but the service is excellent, the glassware good, and the linen stiffly starched. The best tables are outside with views of the lovely gardens and historic oak trees. But you come here for the food. Not for design porn or hipster credentials. If you’re serious about food, you go to a place where food is more important than fashion. If you’re serious about food you go to Terroir and struggle to make your selection from the chalkboard menu, because you’ll want to choose everything. Using seasonal and where possible, locally sourced ingredients, Michael’s deceptively simple menu is both a celebration of and a tribute to what eating is all about. Eating is about tasting food, about appreciating flavours. The rest, which admittedly Broughton is rather good at too, is just bells and whistles.

His food is grounded with the magic lying in the sauces. And interestingly enough, according to Michael, had he not become a chef, he would have liked to have been a cabinet maker. ‘There is something very creative but also timeless about working with wood. A good piece should stand the test of time. It should be able to stand alongside a modern Perspex table or next to an antique chair of ancient wood. It has to be solid. In a way that’s the way I feel about cooking. Cooking must be timeless. It must be able to be carried through and stand firm against fashions that come and go. I’ve had to make peace with food fashions. But I still feel you should guard against reinventing something for the sake of reinvention. How many times have you seen a tiramisu dressed up and down when all you really want is a nice piece of delicious tiramisu. Don’t give me the coffee bubbles here, a piece of deconstructed biscuit there and a squirt of cream somewhere else. That makes me see red. It may look beautiful but for me the most important thing is the mouthfeel of something and the deliciousness of the taste. It’s been hard to withstand the pressure of fashions but I’ve decided I will remain authentic to what I believe in.’ And it is this authenticity which he shares with Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze and Terroir, and for whom he has so much respect. ‘ I learned a lot about wine from Kobus. He is very clever and incredibly knowledgeable about wine. He’s the only guy I know who does not spit, still stands up straight after a marathon winetasting session and walks out with complete control. Every year when we compile the wine list we hold our own blind tasting. About nine of us sit with 40 bottles of wine at a time. Each bottle is covered in brown paper and only the year, the cultivar and the price is known. This way we select the best wines, fairly and without influence. When I first arrived at Kleine Zalze the receptionist was a wine maker, the lady who did the books was a winemaker, then there was the winemaker and the winemaker’s assistant. When you’re in this environment you listen and learn. And for me, coming here from Johannesburg, being afforded the opportunity to listen to the wine ‘speak’, and just taking everything in has been an incredible journey in the food and wine paring world.’ So where does he get his inspiration from? ‘I don’t eat out that much so I don’t get to try other chefs food as often as I should. I get my inspiration from reading. I read incessantly. I’m a great Alain Ducasse fan and I really rate Pierre Hermé. I think that those two guys can keep you busy for years. But my library grows.’

Michael Broughton never set out to be a chef. As a child he was never particularly interested in food but he liked cooking. It was in his blood. ‘I was a first team rugby player who was zipping home in between practices to make scones with my mom. So I enjoyed cooking, but I never thought that much about it yet, tellingly, for my 15th birthday, my dad bought me a Kenwood Chef. In those days you didn’t tell your mates you liked to cook because that would be a problem; you could get your arse kicked for that. But all I knew was that I liked to go home and cook with my mom. But then my mom and dad got divorced, and my mom left and my dad had to look after us three boys. And my dad, being this big time banker, would come home from work in his suit and tie and he’d cook for us. Jacket off, tie on, apron tied around his waist, he’d cook. He’d never cooked before but when he knew he had to feed three boys, he opened a recipe book and began cooking. When he finished, he’d whistle and we would all sit down at the table and enjoy a two course, sometimes three course meal prepared by our dad. Every single day for 5 years, from Std 5 to matric my dad cooked for us. My father was quite arty, but he could never make peace with that. In that time it was verboten. You had to do a ‘manly job like banking. Not cooking or something creative. I’m quite like him in that way. It’s taken me 15 years to come to terms with the fact that I’m an artist. I work a dodgy job. In a dodgy industry. It’s very uncertain, very unstable and it’s hard work. But it’s a compulsion.’

Broughton never formally trained as a chef, he went to hotel school for three years and for the next 10 years he was a hotelier; a general manager for the City Lodge Group. But at 30 he hit a mid-life crisis and decided he’d had enough of corporate life so he handed in his resignation and bought a restaurant on auction. This restaurant was to become Broughton’s (in Johannesburg) and would garner him his first two Eat Out Top 10 awards. He had no formal training and had never worked in a restaurant before. Soon after opening the restaurant he bought a book by the 3 Michelin star chef, Nico Ladenis, who became one of the single most important culinary influences in his life  and who he regards as a mentor and with whom he is in regular email contact. But it wasn’t all that easy in the beginning. ‘ We were empty for 18 months. We would perhaps have 3 or 4 tables on a Friday night. But that was it. And 15 metres up the road there was a very successful Italian restaurant that was full 7 nights a week. And for 18 months I’d watch his customers park in my car park, walk across to my entrance with their bottle of wine under their arm and they’d walk up the road to his place. And eventually I had no money left. I’d borrowed from my dad, borrowed from my mom, from my brother and eventually the family said no more. I was bankrupt, I had taken every single last bit of my savings, I sold my house, my car, my bike. I had no medical aid, So I told the staff that we had about 3 weeks left but that if they got a job offer, they should take it. But on the same day I told the staff this, I got a phone call at the restaurant from Barry Ronge (famous South African columnist and restaurant reviewer ) saying he’d like to have table for Friday night. Now this was Wednesday, and I looked at the reservation book and there’s not a single booking on that Friday. So I phoned a friend of mine, and said ‘Bokkie help me.’ And she did. She got 45 friends to book for that Friday night when Ronge came to dine. And from that Friday onwards, thanks to the Ronge’s favourable review, we were full every day. 60 covers for lunch, 60 covers for dinner. I paid my debt off in 9 months.  And that year I made the Eat Out Top 10.’
‘How did you keep the faith?’ I asked him. Michael’s answer is simple. ‘I have faith. I’m a Christian. And I just stuck my head down. I just stuck my head down.’

And then a few years later came his move to Cape Town, to Terroir, where he won seven more Eat Out Top 10 awards and where his food has been recognized as being consistently amongst the finest in the country. Where he runs a kitchen of quiet generousity. ‘I treat my team the way I treat my children. I teach them about life. I teach them how to talk to one another, how to treat one another. No swearing, no shouting, no screaming. I always say if my daughter was standing in the back of the kitchen, would my behaviour be ok? And 99% of the time I’m fine with it. I don’t lose my rag easily.’

So what does he do when he’s not at the restaurant, when he’s at home? ‘I love being at home. I love having my kids around. I’d rather be there than anywhere else. So for me it’s always a push-pull. How much do I work? How much time do I spend at home. And I know that in between there’s not much time for anything else. But that’s ok. I read. I’m a Bible scholar. I study. I play guitar. We cook. There will be those nights at home when I’m with my wife Jane and I’ve made a kickass pizza, when we’re drinking a great bottle of wine, when the kids are in the swimming pool and the sun is setting. When you just breathe in. Breathe out. Breath in. And you know that it doesn’t get much better than this.’

(This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Cape Etc.)

Kleine Zalze Wine Estate, R44, Stellenbosch
Telephone: + 27 (0)21 880 8167
Terroir is open for lunch 12noon-3.00pm  Monday to Sunday

Terroir is open for dinner 6.30pm – 9.00pm Monday to Saturday

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Throwing wobblies

A little over three months to go before the Spier Secret Festival and already I am excited. I have had a tweet favourited by non other than Lily Vanilli!  The one in which I beg her to recreate these anatomically correct hearts for the Spier Secret Festival. Being slightly weird and loving a touch of the macabre, I feel I must eat a 'bloodied' red velvet heart. I simply must.  (And no, I do not wish to make my own, in case one of you smart arses were about to suggest that I do.)

So while contemplating any potential future joyous culinary surprises, I thought back to last years festival where jelly was celebrated and I got to meet and interview the loveliest two boys. Sam Bompas and Harry Parr of Jellymonger fame. And so I made some jelly in my new Jelly Baby mold. It was not, as the photograph shows a big (visual) success. But it tasted good (Cream Soda flavor!) and it squelched. And those things are terribly important when it comes to judging jelly...

(How jelly should not look: Effort by Sam Woulidge)

(How jelly should look: Effort by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr)

Here is the piece I wrote for Taste . It first appeared in January 2013)

Bompas & Parr. The name is reminiscent of an old-fashioned circus troupe, hinting at magic acts, bizarre spectacles and feats of great daring. Clearly, they were destined for this job. They, being 20-somethings Sam Bompas and Harry Parr who met one another when they were both 13 years old and playing in the same orchestra at Eton. The job being that of jelly mongers; the label the duo invented when, years later, having left potential careers in public relations and architecture respectively, they thought it a good idea to sell jelly to the public. As one does.

There is something nostalgic and wonderfully English about jelly. Something playful.  And it is only right that this underrated food has the charmingly polite and earnestly enthusiastic Bompas and Parr as its modern day champions. Their flights of fancy, natural curiosity and hints of eccentricity are just what jelly needed in order to reinvent itself as more than just hospital and nursery fare. Bompas and Parr have come a long way since they sold their first alcoholic jelly shots in a club, cleverly undercutting the bar in 2007. Digging into the past and imagining the future they have since then created savoury jellies, tobacco jelly, alcohol-infused ones, meat jellies (most notably an unpalatable zebra one) magical glow-in-the-dark jelly, black funeral jellies, impressive flaming jellies and rude jellies with gold leaf bits. designed beautiful jelly installations for London Fashion Week and have recreated famous landmarks in miniature jelly format for the architectural jelly banquet for the London Festival of Architecture. But most memorably in May 2012, they created the biggest jelly in the world using 55 000 litres of jelly, this happened in Bristol when they floated the historic ship Brunel’s ss Great Britain in a neon green sea of jelly. 55 000 litres of neon green jelly. How could anyone top that in terms of scale or sheer ridiculous splendor?

But it is with the small jellies that, I think, that Sam and Harry have the most fun. They seem to derive enormous pleasure from experimenting with flavours, shapes and colour. But what they love most is The Wobble. ‘What about sound?’ I asked them, alluding to the squelching sound that Nigel Slater referred to as ‘a sort of jelly fart.’ This led to earnest discussion. ‘The wobble and the noise are related to one another,’ explained Harry, before telling me how they had scientifically recorded the sound of a jelly wobble. ‘But I don’t agree with Slater’s description of the sound jelly makes.’ asserted Sam. ‘ It’s more lewd. It’s a smutty sound. A sexual sound.’ And then I blushed profusely.

Obviously, as young boys, neither Sam Bompas nor Harry Parr paid any attention to their mothers when told that they should not play with their food. Because play with food they certainly do. While jelly is, and will always be their first love, these food fantasists have ventured into other culinary arenas as well. They are famous for their food installations and once created an Artisanal Chewing Gum Factory, one that would have made Willy Wonka proud. Based on the principles of microcapsules releasing different particles as you chew, they sourced 200 flavours ranging from the orange, foie gras, vodka, damp earth to candy floss and quince and allowed visitors to create their own flavour-changing gum.  There have been flavour-tripping parties where guests ate miracle berries – a West African berry that makes bitter and sour foods taste sweet -before heading for the buffet and taste-bud confusion. They constructed a crazy golf course atop the rooftop of Selfridges in London and more recently created a decadent drive-thru underneath the store in an-almost-forgotten marble-floored basement. They are also big on Alcoholic Architecture, having installed a giant punch bowl, large enough to row across and containing 4000 litres of punch, in a London mansion for Cognac brand, Courvoisier. Even more impressive and enjoyable, I would imagine, would have been the walk-in experience created for gin company Hendrick’s. Here, to the accompanying soundtrack of liquid splashing and tinkling ice, visitors donned boilersuits and walked into a room being pumped full of gin-and-tonic mist, but the stay was a short one as the alcohol was absorbed through the lungs and eyeballs and anyone overstaying their welcome would end up getting completely trashed. The parties where ether-dipped strawberries were served led to verbal confusions as names were forgotten and nouns mixed up. And they have made Occult Jam for a surrealist art exhibition using a tiny snip of the late Princess Diana’s hair and infusing it in gin and then combining it with milk and sugar  - a creepy condensed milk of sorts.

On a recent visit to South Africa, as speakers at the Spier Secret Festival, those attending were lucky enough to experience the jelly side of things as well as the experimental genius that is Bompas and Parr. The jellies, boasting appropriately slutty wobbles and smutty sounds, were made of chenin blanc, granadilla and flecked with gold leaf were absolutely, potently delicious. The installation? Well, that caused more than a few sparks. Calling on their schoolboy love of science and being showoffs, they created a spectacular gherkin chandelier which consisted of 60 gherkins, each one drawing 500 watts of power. ‘A potentially deadly act.’ Harry warned me, ensuring that, once the pickles were powered up, I stayed well away from the eerie light, the fizzing, the spluttering sparks, the momentary illuminations and the sharp smell of burning pickle. ‘60 Gherkins will lay down their lives for this, for the purpose of bringing pleasure to 150 people,’ I recalled Sam telling me. I had been moved by his sincere explanation that while some wastage may occur, they try and stay well clear of what he terms ‘gratuitous waste’. ‘Food is an interesting medium for art. But food is also important. It has to be respected. The justification of some waste, lies in the potential joy it brings. You must worship food. Celebrate it. It’s what we do. It’s the way we make people happy.’

Where did it begin? And where will it end, I’d asked them that afternoon, while they were making jelly.
‘It began with cakes.’ Harry said. ‘My mum had Woman’s Weekly cookbooks with birthday cakes for every age. It was very compelling as a child. One year there was a blue jelly swimming pool, the next a telephone covered in sweets. The cakes were sculptural, it my first introduction to figurative food.’
And end? ‘It will end with Harry and I sitting in an old people’s home one day, ‘smiled Sam. ‘And someone will start boasting, ‘When I made chocolate waterfall…’ And we’ll be like ‘Well, we once floated a ship in 55 tons of jelly….’ And then they both laughed, like small boys, enormously pleased with the idea of themselves as old men, recalling the surreal magic they had once created.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Baby it's Cold Outside... so I think I'll head on out to the O&O...

I love winter in Cape Town. I love it because it's cold and it rains. And I can snuggle up in front of the fire. And I can wear lots of layers and cover up my ams and arse. I also love it because it's seen as the off season and restaurants and hotels offer winter specials to coax Capetonions out of their lairs. So imagine my disappointment when mid July offers up temperatures in the mid to late 20's. I can only hope for another cold front. And when it comes I'll be splurging and warming up at The One&Only Cape Town. It took me quite a while to fall in love with the O&O because when it first opened it appeared as if locals weren't exactly the target market. Not at those prices anyway. But then, a couple of years ago they got a new GM and new PR consultants and soon word got out that Capetonions were most welcome. That even if you couldn't afford the bed nights, there were ways in which you could experience and enjoy the absolute luxury that is the O&O. And winter is an especially good time to do this. Sure, the O&O will never be a budget option, but they do make a serious effort to offer locals some pretty decent specials. At this point I have to say that I have attended quite a few functions there on the media ticket over the years, but having done so I spend a fair amount of my own money there as well. Because I do like me a bit of luxury....
Right now my first prize would be a trip to Thailand or Vietnam , where I could be massaged and pummeled and spoiled and eat delicious street food. But that ain't happening. So the next best thing is to take advantage of this spa winter special. And pretend. As I did last year and will do again. 
Appropriately named  the Defrost Yourself special (and valid until the end of August), the O&O Spa  offers this great package with treatments such as Hot Stone Back, Neck and Shoulder Massage, Warm Coconut Scalp and Head Massage, Boutique Radiance Facial, Chocolate Paraffin Hand and Foot Indulgence, Anti-Ageing Eye Treatment and a Rooibos and Cinnamon Back Cleanse.

Choose 2 Treatments for R626
3 for Treatments R895
4 for Treatments R1200

In addition to the fabulously relaxing and indulgent treatments in the beautifully-lit, high-ceilinged treatments rooms you also get to enjoy the world class facilities, so be sure to wallow in the bubbling Vitality pool and  warm up in the steam room and sauna. 
The spa was recently voted Best Hotel Spa in Africa and the Middle East in the 2013 Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards and in my experience it really does deserve the accolade.

Make your reservation by calling 021 431 5810 or by emailing

And so if this reads like a punt, forgive me, but I really am only sharing the love. For me there is no more fabulous gift than a spa voucher. I like being massaged. I recall one holiday, many years ago when I went to Malaysia with my mom for a week to escape the relentless London  winter. We stayed in a luxury hotel where we had fantastic massages in the lush hotel gardens bordering the beach. We paid in dollars, and while eye-wateringly expensive, we thought it worth every cent. But on Day 3, while wandering on beach, I noticed that some entrepreneurial local were giving massages to tourists for less than a third of the price of the expensive hotel massage. Were they professionally trained? Hell no! But I could get three for the price of one. So while my mother, being no fool, chose to continue going with the experts, I went off to the beach for a few crummy, cheap massages and I'd come back to the ylang ylang-scented hotel, reeking of peanut oil.  Not my finest hour.
So trust me on this one, darling, when it comes to massages it's all about quality,  not quantity. Promise.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

On Rhodium and Rings. On Wine and Whine.

(The Wine)

(The Ring inscribed with the words 'Lief jou vir altyd' meaning 'Love you forever' )

When Jacques and I got engaged I sold my Kruger Rand to pay for the gold of my ring. I also had several links from a gold chain removed so that the jeweler could use it to make a wedding band for Jacques. (The chain, sadly, is now uncomfortably short and I seldom wear it.) We did what we had to do. He had just finished studying and there wasn't much money. Having discovered how horribly expensive platinum was we chose white gold. And tiny (tiny) diamonds. But the design was great. And the inscription even better. Almost 14 years later I still love the ring and I never take it off. Ok I only take it off once a year when I have it Rhodium-plated. Rhodium, if like me, you never knew,  is a rare, extremely valuable, silver white member of the platinum group. It is also electroplated on white gold to give it that reflective shiny surface. This is known in the industry as 'Rhodium flashing.' Whatever. It annoys me. And had I known I would need to do this, I would have asked for a silver ring.   So I've decided to stop with the Rhodium flashing malarky. It's silly and unnecessary. The ring I wear is shows signs of wear as do I. Relationships (and life) are seldom easy and we bear the scars. We should do it without shame, without wanting to cover up. After almost 13 years of marriage, I proud and grateful that we've come this far. I don't need a shiny ring. I'm grateful that I have this one. With this inscription.

Which brings me to an altogether nicer form of Rhodium. The beautiful red Rhodium 2010 (made from 50% Merlot, 10%Malbec and 40% Cabernet Franc and selling for R330.00) from The Oldenburg Vineyards. I tasted it at a wonderful wine lunch where I felt decidedly out of my depth with all the great wine writers who are seriously knowledgeable about wine. I don't have that sort of knowledge, but I do know what I like. And I like this red. I like it a lot.
Micheal Olivier knows a lot about wine and it pleases me that I'm right in liking it. So if you don't trust my opinion, here is his
Anyway, the wine is seriously good (more than worthy of being named after a (very) precious metal, it's the sort of wine you want to drink while lying in front of the fire with a lover. It's smooth and calls for sensuality and I've been saving it up for a special occasion. So having taken the photo a while ago for this post, I put it away, knowing that come the first rainy weekend, I would lure Jacques away from his books, banish the dogs to the other room and share this rather special wine with him in front of the fire. Last night was the night.  But the wine was gone! Missing! As in bloody disappeared. Jacques swears he never touched it, but I suspect he gave it away to one of his mates. So if one of his friends  who may have been given it, reads well I hope your Saturday night temperatures were less frosty than ours. 
In the meantime I'll buy another bottle of Rhodium 2010 for us to share one evening soon. Because I'd  still rather drink Rhodium than wear it. With this infuriating, but lovely man with this un-flashed-beautifully-inscribed ring....

Shhhhht.. It's a (Spier) Secret.

I generally don't like crossword puzzles and cryptic clues.  I don't like any form of races. And I have a horrible childhood memory of my sitting in the back of my parents car getting car sick while on a treasure hunt throughout a deserted city centre. We were the last to arrive at the destination and, rather humiliating, won the booby prize. 
But I had so much fun today. Today I went on a Twitter Hunt with Spier Secret.
I sometimes forget how much fun it is to play. Most adults do...

But The Spier Secret Festival  is where food-loving-grown-ups get to play. This will be the third year running and I simply cannot wait for Friday 25 October for the fun to kick off! We had such fun at the first one held at  Cape Town City Hall. Even more at the second when it was held at Spier and became known as The Spier Secret Festival. This year promises to be another goodie with presentations by the Dutch, world famous Eating Designer Marije Vogelzang,  UK baking darling Lily Vanilli, American chef Robert Sayre who will talk about Conflict Kitchen (a take-out restaurant that only serves food from countries with which the USA is in conflict). Local speakers are the the divine Jacques Erasmus,  fabulous Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy, and Frans Smit(Spier Cellar Master) and Johan Jordaan (Spier Senior Red Winemaker). I'll also be presenting an interactive event whereby we'll explore the concept of food and memory.

This year there will also be a whole host of Spier Secret Dinners which will be held in September and October. Tickets cost R350 per person and include food and wine, creative spaces, interesting ideas and good conversations. (Ok nobody can guarantee good conversation, but I've never been disappointed at a pop-up.) Even if you have no intention of going to the actual festival don't miss out on the opportunity to attend some of the most interesting pop-up experiences around. Hosts include Abigail Donnelly (Editor of Eat Out, Food editor of Taste) , Bern le RouxCara Brink, Carmen Niehaus, Caro de Waal (Editor of Food 24), Raphealla Frame-Tolmie (Food editor of house & Leisure), Matt Alison,  The Creamery.....

Tickets to the one-day conference cost R900 (including breakfast, lunch and tea). The special dinner with Marije Vogelzang costs an additional R650. There is also a half-day biodynamic farming lecture on the Saturday by Nicolas Joly  for R900, including lunch.

Otherwise just bring the family to the food market on the Saturday. It's like an old-fashioned kermis. Just way cooler....

Click on   for all the information you need. 

Spier Secret Launches (this is like looking at other people's holiday snaps, I know...)

(Taken at last year's Spier Secret media launch. A true blind tasting of Spier Chenin. I'm at the end, next to Sumien Brink who sat next to Matt Alison. Not that any of us knew that at the time! This was a beautiful experience where our senses of smell and taste were heightened due to our sense of sight having been taken away.)

 ( The Twiiter Hunt. Me drinking two glasses of Spier Chenin. My friend Sam Wilson put her back out so  couldn't make the #twitterhunt. instead she tweeted encouragement and I got to drink her wine and fetch her prize, which I may, or may not, give to her.)

(We had to dig out our clues at Oranjezicht City Farm)

( Ginger Caramel Popcorn, a perfect match for the Spier Chenin made by my divinely talented friend Cara Brink.)

( Working for the next clue. I wrote 'With Spier Chenin I could drown my sorrows.' It won me the clue 'The East City Precinct's Literary Corner.')

(My friend fabulously-clever-knows-everything-about-books-and-important-things Verushka Louw from The Book Lounge holding my prize. More Spier Chenin!)

( Lovely, lovely books at The Book Lounge)

(Other Sam's clue was 'You'll find good coffee behind the dog's bollocks.' Which of course too me to Deluxe Coffee in Roodehek Street.) 

(A deluxe dinosaur. He gets a bit prickly when he hasn't had enough caffeine)

Saturday, 29 June 2013

On hot dogs, Obama and wanting to go to New York...

This is the plate I gave Jacques yesterday. We're having that sort of time. The let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here time. He's studying for his exams and I'm being miserable. Things were a lot easier when when we were were travelling. I wouldn't say better, or more meaningful, but certainly a lot more fun and a lot easier. 
We've just had lunch during his study break. I made hot dogs because they're easy and trashy. And that's what I wanted. And because I have Obama-fever and I'm glad that he's here in South Africa. How awful that I should admire The President of the US more than I admire my own country's president. But then I suppose that was always the case, bar the time Madiba was in office.  Anyway, I see on Twitter that there's a lot less Obama-lovin' than one would have thought. Pity that. But I'm being shallow and can only see our own JZ through the haze of his many wives, the Gupta's, Nkandla and a shower head and hell, how I wish I had a president who does this. And this. And this
Anyway, here is a column I wrote on my crush on Obama and my love for New York and hot dogs. It appeared in Taste in may 2010. 

President Barack Obama and Dirty Water Dogs and New York City embody all that SAM WOULIDGE loves about the USA. Fox News and Hershey Bars do not.

I admit to having a huge crush on US President Barack Obama. And no, the reason is not necessarily any lofty (or misguided) political ideals. Afghanistan, proposed health care bill, the promised closing of Guantanamo Bay are not the reasons that I have no less than three Obama fridge magnets, (just for the record all my fridge magnets are rude, subversive and/or contain expletives. I do not collect holiday souvenirs.) The first depicts him as Superman, the other is a picture of him with the inscription ‘It’s not called a Messiah Complex if he changes the world’. And last but not least a highly amusing interactive set of What would Obama Wear? magnets in which my preferred option is always Obama in those red board shorts sporting a bit of bling… But relishing his presence every time I open my fridge aside, the reason I like him is because the one-time intellectual nerd has become Very Powerful. I like him because he holds his own on a basketball court, even when he is the shortest player (It’s amazing how tall you are when you sport a title…) I like that he has date nights with his wife and the way his hand brushes Michelle’s buttocks when he think no one’s looking. I like that he reads Harry Potter and The Life of Pi to his daughters. I like that he’s part African and that he celebrated his political victory by drinking Graham Beck Brut NV (local politicians please take note).  I make no attempt to defend my imaginary infidelity to my husband, who is far more cynical (sensible?) than I am when it comes to politics or politicians, and Jacques (bless him) indulges my infatuation.

Which is why, on our last day in New York, before we exchanged our seafaring ways for a permanent home in the shadow of Table Mountain, I could drag him to Gray’s Papaya on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 37th Street. I told him that Anthony Bourdain rates this small, open 24/7 hot dog joint. But my primary reason for visiting was that this tiny place had publicly endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for presidency in 2008. ‘Yes, Senator Obama – we are ready to believe again’ posters filled his shop front, so gaining him more that a few mentions in the influential Huffington Post and causing hungry, hot dog lovin’ Republicans to reevaluate the meaning of loyalty. Because hot dogs are very serious business in NYC. And those bought at Gray’s are particularly good. And democratically priced. These days a Recession Special consisting of two hot dogs and a fruit drink (the preferred accompaniment) will set you back only $4.95. Served on warm soft bread rolls, with enough crispy onion relish and mustard to give it a nice bite, these smallish hot dogs are the perfect grab & go meal. Well almost perfect. At Gray’s the dogs themselves are cooked on rollers, which gives, it a reassuringly pleasant sanitized greasiness, but I, having spent some time in New York, and always favouring the street food option, have developed a bit of a thing for the slightly dodgier Dirty Water Dogs sold on almost every street corner.  Dirty dogs, as they are also known, are sold from mobile carts, and are so called because they are boiled in water and then stored in the same hot murky water, only being fished out when a customer requests one. Languishing in day-old water, these sausages are not always the most healthiest most hygienic of foods. But no matter, they are delicious, it’s as if the New York pollution adds the extra, mysterious zing. The best dogs are those sold from underneath a yellow and blue Sabrett’s umbrella, Sabrett’s is the Rolls Royce of sausages, being an all-beef frankfurter with natural casing and having a distinctive ‘snap’ when you bite into it. This is the sound that Hot Dog aficionados look for. So having shared the Recession Special (Yes, we can!) at Gray’s we left to find the best dirty water dog. Because once you’re on a roll, one dog just aint enough. 

Which, as an aside, brings me to the rather revolting extreme sport of competitive eating, something I once watched in horrified fascination on television. Competitive eating is one of America’s fastest growing sports, and in excess of 1.4 million households tune in to ESPN to watch competitors scoff down hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island. On the Fourth of July 2009 Joey Chestnut consumed 68 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes.

So Hot Dogs are big business in New York City. Recently a vendor lost his concession outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art for failing to pay his monthly rent of $53 558! And I wonder what ridiculous amount the nice guy selling outside the Apple and FAO Schwarz stores on 5fth Avenue pays for renting his small square of pavement. Which is where, I think, the best Dirty Water dogs are to be found. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re still cheap in an area where nothing else is, $3 buys you one mighty fine dog. The onion relish, sharp mustard fumes, soft warm bun and the promise of sharp snap when you first bite into the sausage, and the faux brusqueness of the vendor comes with the unspoken agreement that for a few minutes of culinary comfort you too will feel like a New Yorker. And for a short while that feels good.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Nigella's Chocolate Mousse (for tough times)

( Chocolate mousse being made. Chocolate is meant to be messy, so I rather like 
thechocolate-dribbled sides of my red pot)

We, the public, like to know the flaws, the failures and fashion faux pas of the famous. It makes us feel marginally better about ourselves. And that, I suppose, is why The Daily Mail is so hugely successful and why, guiltily, I go online for my daily fix. Mostly I laugh. I admit to having laughed at Nigella when she went swimming in a burkini in Australia in 2011. But I have also admired and envied her fabulous weightloss in 2012. And I have always loved her recipes. But yesterday I cried. Yesterday I read how Charles Saatchi put his hands around Nigella Lawson's neck and attempted to throttle her in a restaurant in London. No one got up to help her. Although they did take photos. (Which freaks me out even more. Who in the hell takes photographs while a woman is being abused and does not get up to help her?) The image of her tear-filled frightened eyes haunt me. My heart bled for her as she walked away, desperately trying to avoid the prying eyes of the public. I would think that the worst part of fame would be that you had no privacy, knowing that The Daily Mail would capture your every move and misdemeanor. That you could not hide your sorrow or your shame.  Not that Nigella Lawson should feel any shame. The shame belongs to her husband Charles Saatchi. It is he who should be averting his eyes.

Grown-up Chocolate Mousse 
Because while chocolate does not cure all ills it does offer some comfort.
This is my version of Nigella's Instant Chocolate Mousse, The recipe originally came from my favourite book of hers Nigella Express.

150g of marshmallows (I use ordinary white ones and cut them in half)
45g of soft butter
250g good dark chocolate broken into small pieces (I use Lindt 70%)
20ml hot water from a boiled kettle
50ml Grand Marnier liqueur
250 ml double cream
½  teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the marshmallows, butter, chocolate, water and Grand Marnier in a pot
Place the pot on the stove, over medium heat to melt the contents, stirring gently until everything has melted. Once melted remove the pot from heat.
Whip the cream with the vanilla extract until it’s thick.
Then fold the thickened cream into the cooling chocolate mixture.

Pour into into 6 small glasses or pretty espresso cups and then chill them in the fridge for a bit before eating. I, greedily, like to double up the recipe and pour it into a medium sized crystal bowl so that everyone can ooh-and-ah as I bring it to the table and then there is also plenty for second helpings and morning-after breakfast.