Monday, 13 October 2014

Spier Secrets and Gorgeous Norwegian Fishmongers.

 (And this photo? Who is this? Nothing to do with Spier Secret or Ole-Martin Hansen, I'm afraid. Purely a gratuitous photo of a beautiful fishmonger taken when we were in Norway a few years back. Never have I seen such beautiful men dealing in fish. But by the same token my husband still salivates at the thought of the Norwegian Blonde coucil worker who had tied her orange overall around her slim hips so that her tight white vest could show off her perfectly toned and tanned arms and perky breasts. There she was , iPod buds in her ears, rhythmically weeding the floral beddings in the local park.  A Norwegian Goddess at work. Obviously I did not photograph her. I am not generous like that.)

So my morning started with prospect of being messed around by the Cape Town City Council and the burst water pipe outside our garage door. So I did what any procrastinator worth her (or his) salt would do and I read through my Twitter and Facebook timelines instead of filling bottles of water and shoving a load of washing into the machine before the water gets cut off. And oh joy! Was my laziness rewarded? I saw this gift from Spier Secret featuring Ole-Martin Hansen - The Salmon Smoker of Hansen & Lydersen.  Having watched the video several times, not just because of The Smoker's effortless elegance, but also because of my interest in smoked salmon (honestly!) I trawled the internet for more articles about about him. Because I want to be very prepared when I see him at the Spier Secret Festival on the 24th October. 
You see those very-very clever people have done it again. Every year they bring out some of the best food connoisseurs the world has to offer to the Spier estate to share their knowledge with the festival attendees. It is one of the highlights of my year, with every festival I spend two days filling my senses and mind and body with food and flavours and visual spectacles that sustain my culinary spirit for another 365 days. I learn about new things, party with friends and relish the fact that such an event happens right here on our doorstep. And every year I am so bloody proud of my friend Hannerie Visser who masterminds this event. 
If you haven't been, you're missing out, and if you have, I'm sure you have your tickets already. If not? All the relevant information is here. And if you can't make the conference, be sure to get to the market on Saturday 25 October. It was wonderful last year and is sure to be so again.
Now, as for me, it appears that the council's water department guys are coping just fine without my input so I may just watch that little video again. (How cool is that rooftop hideaway?)

The Video

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Art Also Nourishes – John Kramer

John Kramer’s paintings bring to mind long, hot, lonely Sunday afternoons in the platteland. The images of slightly dilapidated buildings are both achingly familiar and strangely foreign. Inevitably they evoke feelings that hover somewhere between warm comforts and quiet despair.

This piece was first published in Cape Review July 2001. I’m posting it again because I love John’s paintings and also because he is having his first solo exhibition in 25 years at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town and there are only 5 more days to see it as the exhibition ends on the 27 September and I need to go and see it within the next day or so because art is feeds the soul and sometimes you take it for granted and then one day it’s no longer there, like beautiful exhibitions and old corner cafés…

(I love this painting so much. The Princess Cafe in Hermanus was where we used to buy soft-serve ice creams. We drove passed it last week and it's been replaced by a R5 store.)

A conversation with John Kramer
John Kramer’s paintings portray the everyday ordinariness of our country. Old buildings and corner cafés embody the spirit of a community and times that has almost been erased from our memory. He paints with compassion and affection, affection, I suppose, born out of a familiarity with the scenes he paints.
He explains, ‘It helps to paint what you understand. I’m not saying I completely understand these communities, know exactly how a shop is run or who the owner is, but I certainly understand or can relate to the scenes I paint. I can recall those quiet, boring Sunday afternoons. I’ve sat under verandas in small towns as a child, wishing something exciting would happen. I remember those moods and remember hating it.
‘You must paint from this place inside yourself. And I’m interested in the places I know; the idiosyncratic little towns which are rapidly disintegrating and I suppose a lot of my work today is to hang on to those memories because I actually did experience the end of that era.’
The passion for what John sees as typically South African architecture, stems from his having grown up in Worcester. ‘In a town like Worcester in the 50s, nothing much ever happened but there was the old Van Vuuren’s Milk Bar, a real American Milk Bar with a juke box and soda fountain and there were two bioscopes, the La Scala and Twentieth Century Fox. In the 60s when I left Worcester to go and study art at Michaelis there was an economic boom and things started changing in Worcester. This was the time when TV came to South Africa and inevitably things started changing. La Scala closed and places that I’d associated with my childhood started disappearing. I felt an awful sense of loss and I wanted to hang on to some of those memories, so I went around and photographed some of these buildings, just to have a visual record.’
These photographs would eventually form the basis of John’s early work. In 1971 he went to visit his brother David who was studying in Leeds and it was here that John realized the significance of these seemingly ordinary and almost forgotten buildings. ‘David and I were talking about our search for what we called The Real South Africa, whatever it was in those days. We were looking for something that was essentially South African. Obviously we were looking at it from our white middle class perspective, but we still felt that there was something uniquely South African that wasn’t being commented in in the arts. I returned to South Africa and noticed for the first time the quality of the light and the vast space. In contrast to the red brick and industrial architecture I had seen in Leeds, I was now confronted with buildings in an assortment of colours and houses with gardens and fences. What I had always thought was normal now seemed quite bizarre. And then I realized that it was this ordinariness that was the essence of The Real South Africa. The South Africa of the Cape Dutch kultuur where little architectural gems that were being preserved by the various cultural societies in the small towns were all historical buildings but I felt, and still do, that the Brody’s Hardware Shops and the Van Vuuren’s Milk Bars are the more realistic representation of the architecture of our country.’
John paints buildings that still exist in modern South Africa but which also echo layers of the past. For him, the buildings must have a feeling and this feeling has nothing to do with architectural beauty. It’s how the viewer relates to the building that gives it its significance. Those who respond to his work, do so because there is something in their collective memory that sparks recognition. It may be the building, a windmill or a metal Joko Tea plaque which reminds them of their past,
There is something melancholic about these paintings but still they manage to celebrate the very ordinariness of that society has begun to reject. It is no wonder that his works are highly sought after by South Africans living abroad. Looking at them, you can almost hear the call of the cicadas and smell the small town dust. For some it is the Afrikaans lettering on the buildings that remind homesick South Africans of their heartland. But it isn’t only the images of the platteland which conjures up memories. John’s body of work depicting the corner cafés awaken a long forgotten suburban memory of old chocolates, glass jars filled with loose sweets, brown paper packets and magazine racks where Scope magazines were furtively read by schoolboys behind the trays of warm government loaves of bread.
The demise of the suburban corner café almost caught John unawares. ‘I never worried too much about the corner cafés until one day I realised they were almost all being replaced by franchised cafés. I don’t think any of us could have imagined how fast they would have disappeared in the past 10 years. These are real losses and I’m glad that I managed to capture some of them.’ The Imperial Café with its corrugated iron roof and wooden structure was a Cape landmark; nestling underneath the incomplete flyover at the entrance to the Waterfront. It was a source of irritation to some but a source of joy to others. It burnt down a year or two ago, but John’s painting managed to capture the mood of this late night convenience café. Then there was the exotically named Zanzibar Café in Voortrekker Road. It was one of John’s favourites reminding him of the legendary Baghdad Café (of the film of the same name) where anything may happen.
I remember the Onrus Cash Store. It now longer exists, but then much has changed in this small seaside village near Hermanus. Looking at a painting of it, I’m transported back to cold wet Cape winter weekends in a village with few inhabitants, even fewer playmates and where a visit to Mrs Hen’s café would mean sticking your grubby hand into a jar filled with Apricot sweets, Wilson toffees and cheap peppermints. Hot summer days would necessitate a similar barefoot journey to but ice-lollies which then dripped orange syrup all over warm sunburnt arms.
This is what John Kramer does best. He captures a moment in time.

Driving through a town you may or may not notice the tin barrels converted into garbage cans, or the car tyres now used as a planter for the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, or the windmills, or the short picket fences painted in oranges and browns, or the wire garden gates. It is only in a painting that our attention is focused on these details that convey the soul of a place.
According to John, ‘ I’ve always maintained that the small town is much more interesting than New York. For me a Karoo town is special. You don’t know what’s going to be there. You look and at first you don’t see anything and then you notice the dryness and even though everything is rundown, there’s an honesty about the place. People often ask me why there aren’t any people in my work but this omission is deliberate. My paintings are actually portraits and the buildings with their faded advertisements, mix of architectural styles and peeling paint do convey the history and the personality of the locals.’
John Kramer tells the story of how having spent the day exploring Sutherland, the town famous for its observatory and icy winters, he was ready to check into the local hotel. The receptionist welcomed him warmly, asking him what he was doing in the area. ‘I’m looking around, taking some pictures; it’s a wonderful town this, ‘ he assured her. He recalls her wistful expression, and her skeptical ‘gmff.’
Things aren’t always what they seem.
But for how long will these small towns continue to be an example of Real South Africa? John believes that their time has almost passed.
‘The slow demise of the railways has killed these places. With the railways pulling out of the towns, the economy collapsed and the Karoo fell apart far quicker than one would have imagined. The arrival of television also signaled the end of an era for small town South Africa. Suddenly the whole world was being beamed into everybody’s living room, including the people who lived in these small towns. For the first time they became aware of how the rest of the world lived and those fantastic naïve combinations of colour and whatever they did décor-wise that was perhaps regarded by those more sophisticated people as being in bad taste, disappeared. ‘And then of course city folk bought up houses for weekend homes. New designer colours appeared on the scene, new broekie-lace was put up and while the houses may now look lovely and small town appear on tourist maps, they’ve lost their authenticity and soul.

‘But I suppose that’s what my paintings are about. Memory and loss.’

Monday, 18 August 2014

Ma, It's Been One Year.

(Marie loved a voorskoot…)

My mom died a year ago today. They told me the longing would get easier. And it does. Thankfully no one told me it would get better. Because it bloody well doesn't. I miss her every day. Every single day. 
Those last days in the hospital were harrowing but happy. If I think back on the last 24 hours of her life I am grateful for many things. That, as a family, we could share her last meal with her. It was melkkos, brought to the hospital by a dear friend who arrived carrying a huge pot of my mom's favorite milky sweetness and enough spoons and small bowls for the entire extended family. I am grateful that her grandson was christened at her hospital bed. That her favourite nurse was on duty to administer the last morphine. That a kind hospital volunteer came to paint her toes a pretty pale shade of pink, as requested 'for the journey'. And that my father kissed away her last breath. I am most grateful for the latter. We should all be loved to death. 

Comfort Me With Butter.

My mother died a few months ago. But we had time to say goodbye.  Time for her to tell me where she had put the silver cutlery that she wanted me to have. Time for me to ask her for her brandy butter recipe. We dealt in practicalities because it was too horrific to acknowledge the desperate sadness of knowing that time had finally run out, too heartbroken about the fact that we would never share a meal again, too desolate to speak of a Christmas without her. Too sad for conversation. When the end came I simply told her that I loved her, told her that I would one day name my daughter Lily and my son Sebastiaan. I promised her that I would be strong. I told her that words were unnecessary. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want them. Because I do. I still have so much I want to tell her; so much I want her to share with me. While I still could, shortly after her death, I would dial her telephone number so that I could listen to her voice message - so that I could hear her voice.  I would give anything to hear her voice again.

The other night I boiled some mielies for supper and as I was slathering them in butter, Jacques asked me where he could find my mother’s salt. I broke down in tears for I had used the last of the spicy salt my mom made for us a while ago. Thinking that she would, as always, replenish my stock as soon as she felt better. She never did. And I never did find out what it was that she put into the salt to give it that distinctive taste. A taste that will now elude me forever. The taste given to me by the mother I mourn. That night my tears salted the mielies, the mielies that I drenched in butter in honour of my mother. Because my mom believed that butter made everything better. She comforted me with butter, both as a child and as an adult. And now I need butter in the face of my relentless, all-consuming grief. I eat butter the way Marie taught me to. Cold butter thickly spread on hot toast. Buttery eggs. Marie biscuits held together by softened butter. Sweet potato with melted butter. Hot buttered popcorn.  Anchovy butter. Bread and butter pudding. And as I eat the butter I remember. I recall the laughter, the travels, the late night reminiscing in foreign hotel rooms. I remember how we would always hold hands in the cinema, how every phone call ended with a love-you. How she drank cognac from a crystal goblet and tea from a mug. How soft her skin was and how loud her laughter. And as the butter sizzles in the pan, I know, In elke bietjie botter sal ek Mamma onthou. In every bit of butter, I will remember my mom.

(This column first appeared in Taste December 2013.)

Friday, 20 June 2014

A Golden Bowl.

I have written about Jacques Erasmus and Hemelhuijs before. Here and here. He is a close friend so it may be that I am biased but I am compelled to write about him again.
Hemelhuijs is one of my Happy Places. It is also a place that my mother adored and so I go there when I miss her. And I missed her on Thursday. As I do every day.
And so I ordered the mieliepap, served simply with orange blossom honey and salted butter. 
When it arrived, I saw that my pap was served in a gold bowl from Jacques's latest homewear collection. 
There are few things in this world more beautiful than mieliepap served in a gold bowl. 
The warm porridge caused both the butter and the honey to melt in tiny rivulets that ran around the edges of the bowl. 
Small gold streams were circling my porridge. 
The taste was as I remembered: the mielipap of my childhood. 
Warm sweet and salty.
I cried. Because of its familiar comfort. Because I longed for the one who had first made it for me. And because the dish was both opulent and honest. Complex in it's simplicity. Because this particular bowl of pap was both/and. As the most important things in my life most often are.

It is a sign of a great chef when the ingredients are more important than his ego. 
It is a sign of a great artist when he sees the beauty of plain porridge and honours it with his gold. 
It takes a great man to recognize the value of heritage and to love it so beautifully.
My friend Jacques is all three.

71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Telephone: 021 418 2042
Monday to Friday 9:00 – 16:00
Saturday 9:00 – 15:00

(I hesitated before posting this photo. It doesn't do the dish justice. Believe me, in real it surpasses anything you could imagine or see on a photo)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Banana Balm - In which I revisit an old column and an old hurt...

I wrote this for the August 2013 issue of Taste magazine. The events relate to May earlier that year. I want to put it in a blog post because it goes some way in explaining why I neglected my blog for so long but also because I am living proof that the heart can heal. Even from unimaginable hurts… 
During the month of May this year I was acutely aware of Jack Adriaan, but I was also holding our son Sebastiaan in my arms (much more about him later!) and all I felt was gratitude and love for a small boy who entered our life for 14 days and then left to be with his biological mother, making way for our son Sebastiaan to enter our lives and hearts. My Aunty Janet who passed away this month visited me during those months of devastation, she held me tight, called me 'dear heart' and told me she thought that the reason Jack Adriaan left was that he didn't need us as much as another boy would. I found some solace in her words. It gave me some measure of hope And like in most matters Aunty Jan was right. And so I send this column out into the universe again, all the while wishing the boy who now belongs to others so much love and happiness. May his life be blessed. 
Jack Adriaan, it was our privilege to look after you until you could be reunited with your mommy and daddy. And thank you for bringing us the joy that you did. We have no regrets.


A lot can happen in two weeks. You can go from being sublimely, deliriously happy to having your heart broken. You can become a mother to a baby boy on Day 1 and on Day14 you have to hand him back to his birth mother. You can find your faith and then lose it again. Two weeks is a long time.
I was a mother when I started to write this column on bananas. I wanted to write about them because they are boys’ fruit. I have watched small boys peel bananas the way monkeys do and derive enormous joy from eating them while the peel hangs in strips over their small, almost-always-dirty hands.  I have known boys to weep with laughter when watching cartoons where someone slips on a banana peel. I wanted to write about the healthy banana-fool-the-kids-ice-cream, the one where you place peeled banana pieces on a plate in the freezer for a couple of hours and then blitz them furiously in a blender, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl when they stick to it and blend it again. The result is a smooth, creamy, deliciously natural banana ‘ice-cream’ which I fully intended giving to our son as soon as he could eat solids and the summer sun came out to celebrate his arrival with us. However long that took.

Having been told to sing to my baby, I started singing the familiar childhood hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ as it was one of the few songs I knew the words to. But soon both he and I tired of that and so I sang John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to him instead. Now it appears that those lyrics were both a premonition and a promise of comfort. I know that my heart will heal, know that I will be happy again. I also know that while I will not carry our beautiful son in my arms, I will forever carry him in my heart.  But in the meantime, life does go on. And the bananas ripen.  And a column must be written. I briefly contemplated celebrating the decadence of  bananas fried in butter and served with bacon and maple syrup on mornings-after the-night-before. But I battle to recall those sensual, self-indulgent times. I thought about reminiscing about the deep fried bananas in rum sauce which we ate in the Caribbean but those memories were obscenely carefree. And the thought of indulgently whipping up a caramel-laden banoffee pie seemed too quick a fix, too sweet a thing for so bitter a time. So I asked my mom about the banana bread recipe she used to make for us as a special after-school treat when my brother and I were young because I didn’t know what else to make with the now rapidly over-ripening bananas  on my kitchen counter. It wasn’t a recipe she had written down anywhere, so we cobbled this one together from various sources, making sure to add the cinnamon-sugar-buttered pecans which were always her thing. This was the sweetness I remembered from my childhood. And I was grateful that on that stormy Sunday, with tears running down my cheeks, I could still bake banana bread with my mom, who, while also mourning the loss of her third grandchild, was being so strong for me. Later, sharing thick slices of warm banana bread with hot tea, I understood that you can be grateful and angry at the same time; be both distraught and comforted; that you can hold both joy and sorrow in your heart. But only when you are surrounded by the love and strength of others…

Banana Bread with Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans

1 cup of roughly chopped pecans
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of melted butter
 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon of salt
125g of softened, unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 medium, ripe, bananas (the riper the better) mashed well with a fork
½ cup of buttermilk

Preheat over to 170 degrees. Grease a 23 x 13cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Mix the chopped pecans, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter together and keep separate.
Sift the cake flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar for about 4 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well after each egg has been added.
Add the mashed, well-ripened bananas  to the butter mixture and stir well.
Now slowly add the flour mixture gradually to the wet mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat well after each addition.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and top with the pecan, cinnamon-sugar mix (the nuts will sink to the middle of the loaf in cinnamon-sugar-pecan-buttery deliciousness)
Bake for 55 minutes or until the top of the bread is firm and a warm brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in a tin for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Little Italian Flavour

In this month's Taste magazine I wrote about my longing for Venice and the almost-desperate need I have for a long-haul flight that would take me straight to Italy. Well that's not going to happen any time soon despite my spending the morning obsessing over glorious Venetian canal-facing apartments on a Home Exchange website. 
For various reasons we're very much stuck in beautiful Cape Town for the forseeeable future. And I'm ok with that I really am, but a girl can dream. And she can eat plenty of pasta. And while the universe doesn't magically give her exactly what she wants, it does send a kind consolation prize every now and then. Which I like to think is what happened when I got an email from Woolworths asking me if I wanted to participate in this months Italian-inspired Flavour Society. And of course I said yes. Who would refuse a generous bag of Italian goodies? Pasta, Gnocchi, olive oil, salami, Grana Padana, pine nuts, Balsamic vinegar - all those delicious flavours which remind me of a country I have have grown to love so much. The nutty saltiness of the Grana Padana and the tart sweetness of the Balsamic vinegar reminded me of that trip to Italy when I was first told to dip small chunks of Parmigianna Reggiano  into well-aged Balsamic vinegar. I was hesitant at first but once I'd tasted it I was hooked. The pine nuts made me long to make a fresh basil pesto which would be scooped over swirls of pasta. The tomato paste made me long for the simplicity of a thin- based Margharita pizza bought in the backstreets of Naples. These were the flavours of the Italy I had come to know, flavours which I could use here in Cape Town and which brought back all those memorable Italian travel moments. At this stage on our lives, this is probably as good as it gets. So I played around with some flavours and finally decided on roast pumpkin drizzled with sage butter and served with generous amounts of Grana Padano and pine nuts. It was the perfect weekday lunch whether here in Cape Town or in Rome.  (The recipe will appear on sometime soon)

I've also had an enormous amount of fun pinning to the Woolies Flavour Society Italian Pinterest board. I've posted a really easy Limoncello recipe, a couple of great gremolata recipes as well as several fabulous ways to work magic with cauliflower. And of course I pinned pastries and cake because I have an insatiably sweet tooth. Pinning is addictive and I think I've come to love Pinterest almost as much as pasta. Head on over and drool over some Italian inspiration.

So while we're all feeling the Italian love, make that pasta, rent any one of the great Italian movies and get into the Italian spirit. See if you can find the wonderful documentary Italy - Love it or Leave it. It's about two Italians who go on a roadtrip through Italy before they make up their minds whether to move to Germany or not, because, apparently, things in Italy are not quite as good as they appear in the movies. As a South African I could really relate to their angst and their love for their country.

Best way to know what the buzz is surrounding the WW Flavour Society is to check in online on the Woolworths website and to follow both @WOOLWORTHS_SA  and the #wwflavoursociety on Twitter. you want to be part of this online community that promises some real life events as well. It's a great idea. The first month the Flavour Inspiration was coffee, last month was chocolate (oh yes!) and this month's Italian, of course. I'm excited to see what next month brings. Really I am. you should be too.

Dare I say it? Of course I do…. Buon Appetito!

(The Italian Flavour Drop. I ate the salami right away. To help me think more creatively of course.)

(My creation (such as it is) - I just mixed some great ingredients together. An easy recipe. Just the way I like them. So here it is in all its glory: Roast pumpkin, Sage butter, Grana Padana and Pine nuts. Easy perfection.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Youdidnoteatthat? No, I didn't think so. (but I'm smiling anyway.)

My latest obsession is the Instagram account youdidnoteatthat . I derive enormous pleasure from it. It's pure silliness. Macarons and doughnuts, manicures and toned tummies are exposed as having very little to do with one another, another than being hugely desirable. Everyone featured (without their permission of course) is sexy with fabulous bodies. Only when you have body issues, such as I do, would you  DREAD being photographed eating something fattening and would you NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS post a selfie doing said eating on Instagram. Which begs the question,  'Did they really eat that?' 
Some contributers to the Huffington post have their knickers in a knot about it claiming that the account is picking on thin people.  Policy Mic took it all rather seriously and weighed in on the matter. New York Magazine interviewed the anonymous person behind the account and I think she came across as quite sane, not a thin-shamer at all. 
It's not meant to be taken seriously. And really I don't think it's mean. If I looked that good and could do so while eating a dozen doughnuts, then I'd also post it on my Instagram account. And if someone wanted to pick up on it and show that same gorgeous image to 97K other followers that would also be ok. In fact, I think I'd be quite pleased with myself. And if they laughed at me? Well honestly I'd still be the one with the fabulous legs who could eat carbs without fear. And if those featured didn't eat that, well then they shouldn't have been playing with their food in the first place.  Not so?

(youdidnoteatthat when I last checked in this morning)

(Oh, look, they're picking on the boys as well.  Just look at that six-pack? It's tough choosing which one you'd like to go to bed with, that or just double up and go for the dozen doughnuts. Erm having said that, he's not my type, so I'd take the doughnuts.)

(Ok seriously? The lid is still on the Nutella jar…)

(Nope. No eating done here. Teeth are barely touching the doughnut glaze. But I wish I had her body and her self-restraint.)

(Weirdly enough. I really like this image.)

(And I love this one as well. So she's not really taking a bite of that Big Mac, but she's rocking those bling rings.)