Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Slutty Attempts at Mayonnaise

Right. So here's the cover of my favourite recipe book, the now, sadly out of print, The Slut's Cook Book by Erin Pizzey. First published in 1981, it used to belong to my mom, but she gave it to me a few years ago. I don't think she meant anything bad by it, well not in the sense that we modern women would assume. 'A slut', according to Pizzey, 'has style. Not for her the promiscuous behaviour of her friend the slag. The slut is a warm hearted, loving woman who enjoys her friends, her family and her food. She knows that the way to her man's heart is through his stomach.'
My mom always told me that any woman who thought that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach was aiming a little too high...
But no matter, I love this book, I've read and reread it often, and as with some of the best cook books, I have not cooked a single dish from it. But the lines such as 'the slut's best friend is a tin opener', or 'if the dinner is one the ceiling, she gets the guests plastered', or 'loosening of belts, splaying of legs' always make me grin.
But tonight I wanted to make something from it. So I attempted the first recipe 'Slut's Mayonnaise'. My mother warned me that this would be a waste of time and advised that I pick up a jar of homemade mayo from Giovanni's or Woolies, or even stop off at the corner cafe and pick up a jar of Hellman's. But I was having none of it. I was eating dinner alone tonight (asparagus) and I wanted to make my own mayonnaise.
Well, I won't bother you with the recipe, because if you're the sort of person who would want to make your own mayonnaise, you probably already have your own recipe, and if you have never tried to make it yourself, take my advice and give it a miss.
A pint, yes a pint (that's 568,261 ml - I know I had to google it), of good extra virgin olive oil wasted, 2 eggs, splash of malt vinegar ( to be truthful I never even got to that part).
The green slime was beyond redemption, so I binned it all and ate my asparagus with a squeeze of lemon juice instead. Very virtuous. And disappointingly non-slutty.
But I am not completely disheartened, Erin Pizzey ends her recipe with the encouraging words 'Mayonnaise is like love: the more times you make it, the better it becomes.'
Well, in my humble opinion, there are far better things to do with one's time than making your own mayonnaise. And I seriously doubt that my man will be disappointed with any one of the alternatives.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Culinary & Creative Curator

(My slightly dodgy attempts to capture the magical touches in Hemelhuijs)

(The Cornelia vase filled with full blown flowers)

I am grateful to Jacques Erasmus for many things.
Here are a few highlights:
The first is that he forever changed the way I felt about oats. Back in the day when he was chef at a small spa cafe in Mouille Point, he served oats with grated apple, cinnamon and brown sugar. I liked it so much I ate it for lunch.
Once, when I had tasted his milk tart at a cafe in Kloof Street, I was smitten by the elegant simplicity of this traditional recipe. A recipe he generously gave me, and which, despite my best intentions, I have never managed to recreate succesfully.
I have, however, been most successful when following his easy instructions for fresh figs served with dollops of white chocolate infused Greek yogurt.
He has made me laugh till it hurt when recounting his tales of excess and shopping in Buenos Aires.
He is kind. And creative. His food reflects both qualities.
He is stylish and innovative. His surroundings are testimony to this.
And then there is the fact that he has provided me with a name - an excuse for my collection obsession. 'Sam, one does not collect, one curates.' he said.
So, once again, I disclose that this is not an unbiased review. He is a friend. And I am a fan.
Hemelhuijs is Jacques's new venture. A small, stylish cafe, which I believe to be one of the most sophisticated, yet unpretentious venues in town. Black walls, floral chandeliers, hunting trophy-adorned-with--porcelain, Erasmus-designed homeware, friendly, attentive service, and beautiful food (at surprisingly modest prices), make this a cafe to visit frequently. Opening night was on Thursday, I returned on Friday, with my mom, and on Saturday with my husband. On both occasions I recognised people who had been at the launch, and we smiled knowingly at one another. Delighted to be back.
The milk tart, his ouma's recipe, and I think, his simple signature, is on the menu. Thank God. It's a sacred thing.
So is a scrambled egg, smoked salmon and toasted apple cake combination for breakfast, which is both surprising and delightful. As is a decadent open omelette with fresh figs, maple syrup glazed bacon and goats's cheese. Lunch was a roast chicken with marzipan and apricot something, which was served with a berry coulis-type of things, which was sheer heaven. And a Hemelhuijs beef burger with mushrooms that demands one reassess all other burgers that have been before. And then there are the excellent coffees, the teas in beautiful pots, the fresh fruit juices; Apple, ginger and celery ( for mom) and the Apple juice Gin & Tonics (for me)...and the daily freshly baked goods, which almost demand to be eaten before the mains. Or at least that's the way I did it.
The menu will change regularly to allow for the introduction of new dishes. And already Jacques is planning new looks for the future.
Unstoppably innovative, Hemelhuijs is a showcase of Jacques's talents - both culinary and creative. And it is such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to witness and experience a small part of this extraordinary curator's world. Go with friends and share the magic, or go alone and feel it. Either way, you've got to go.

71 Waterkant Street
Cape Town
Tel: 021 4182042
Open Monday-Friday - 8am - 5pm; Saturday 9am - 3pm

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Power of Rusks

It's been a rough week. A really rough week. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer which has, horrifically, spread to her liver. We're all devastated. But ready to go into battle alongside her. She will survive. I know this. The other night when I cried myself awake, after I had become still, I became intensely aware of the words 'This is not a dance of death'. I'm holding fast to promise I felt in the silence of the night. She starts chemo on Wednesday. We've bought almost R400's worth of ginger sweets and I intend baking rusks this afternoon, from a recipe she's used for as long as I remember. There is something comforting about this robust biscuit. The one we dip into our tea or coffee, the biscuit our teething babies gnaw on, the biscuit that I hope will calm my mother's nausea.

Jacques tells me that there is a woman who, every Wednesday, brings rusks to all the patients and medical staff waiting and working in the Haematology Department of Tygerberg Hospital where he works. He once asked her why she and her family did this thoughtful, compassionate thing. She told him that she had a son who was treated for leukemia a few years ago, and that, while tragically he died, she and her family remain grateful for the care that he received there. So they come every Wednesday and honour the young man that they so loved.
Jacques tells me that her son, Piet, is a legend in the department; that stories are told of his courage and character, how he pimped up his hospital room, how he made people laugh, how he would write inspiring messages on paper aeroplanes and then float them out of his hospital room window.
One of his friends made this video about him. It is beautiful, but unbearably sad. Watch it when you're feeling strong.
So today, I will gather the courage and the strength to hold the fear and sadness of my mother who carries the disease and my father who loves her so much. And I will bake rusks. And remember the courage of those brave souls who went before; the Niccis and the Piets, and the Tannie Laurethas,and the Aunty Frankies and the Adriaans.
And then I will phone my friend Didi, because 15 years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and today she heals patients in her medical practice, she makes love to her husband, she holds her son in her arms and she laughs with her friends.
Today the rusks I bake will be life-affirming.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Market Daze


(Koeksisters - both the Afrikaans ones and the Cape Malay ones)


I hate to admit that I am a creature of habit, because that speaks of boredom and the refusal to try new things, I prefer to think of myself as someone who loves rituals. And one of my favourite Saturday rituals is to The Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill; we get there early and leave before the crowds get too annoying. And I always eat the same things, the Thai breakfast with extra chilli, a Queen of Tarts cupcake, an icy mint crush, and we always leave with a Daley Bread, some ginger honey, some ginger and lemon cordial, some samoosas, some fresh burrata cheese. Those are the basics. We add to that list. Of course.
But this Saturday we ventured a bit further. And we'd secured a parking bay by 10am at the Stellenbosch Fresh Goods Market in the grounds of the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch. Which is where we had our wedding reception almost 10 years ago and where we picnic before their summer open air concerts. It is a favourite place, but our rituals here, because of our infrequent visits, are less rigid. Breakfast was one dozen Saldanha bay oysters and two glasses of bubbly, followed by a fantastic Durban Mutton Curry with tomato and onion salsa. Take home goodies included lemon curd, freshly baked bread, a ripe camambert cheese, snoek pate, creme caramel and Rooibos tea panna cotta and Cape Malay koeksisters. Delicious food in a lovely, slightly less crowded outdoor setting. But the best part? The enormous mulberry tree in the grounds, carrying big fat ripe black mulberries. Being short, I couldn't reach them, but Jacques could reach the the high branches. And so he did. And then he fed me the juicy berries. My Hunter-Gatherer. The man I promised to love forever and ever in this very place almost 10 years ago. We'll go back there. I like the new ritual we created. As much as I like the lemon curd we bought. And the oysters we ate.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Eat, Pray, Love, Snooze

(The inside of L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Filled with Italians. Clearly this was taken a few years ago, before the movie Eat, Pray, Love came out. I hope it doesn't get flooded with tourists and lose its wonderfully authentic atmosphere)

(Mr Condurro, wearing his ever-present silk tie, highly polished - despite the fluttering flour-shoes, making the best pizza known to man-and womankind)

(The menu. Basic and brilliant)

(The Margherita . Pure Pizza Perfection)

I kind of liked the book, Eat, Pray, Love. Not enough to recommend it to anyone, but I did like the title. A lot. In a damn-I-wish-I'd-thought-of-it-and-then-written-a-bestseller kind of way. And I was keen to watch the movie. Only because I wanted to see Javier Bardem. But I fell asleep during the Pray - India part. And I love India. I did, however, perk up during Bardem's scenes. But the best part of the movie is that it featured my favourite (and now probably everyone else's) pizza place in the whole wide world. L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele has spoilt pizza for me. Every pizza I've eaten since eating there, has left me feeling bereft and longing for the pizza I ate there in the dirty streets of Naples. We used to (Previous Life - Wench of the high Seas) sail in and out of Naples every 10 days. And every single visit used to involve a pilgrimage to Da Michele. We'd briskly walk the 40 minutes it took to get from the port to the pizza, few are mad enough to brave Naples traffic in a cab, dodging the maniacal scooter drivers and anticipating our Margherita pizzas with extra mozzarella.

Da Michele is famous for the large pizzas they make using cow’s milk mozzarella, Sarno Valley tomatoes and vegetable rather than olive oil. This is the way the owners, the Condurro family and descendants have been making pizza since 1870. In this functional white-tiled, marble- tabled pizzeria, the family of pony-tailed, gold-chain wearing pizzaioli man the wood-fired ovens, stretch out the dough, take smoke breaks on the pavement and take orders from a very limited menu. The choices are simple, Marinara or Margherita, Beer, Coca-Cola or water. That’s it. Nothing else. It is a beautiful thing to watch the patriarch, an old man who wears a white apron over his blue suit, lovingly spread fresh tomatoes with arthritic hands on the stretchy dough, before adding a fistful of mozzarella and placing a single basil leaf in the centre of the pizza. A pinch of salt and a swirl of oil signals that one of the younger boys can place the wooden spatula on which the pizza rests into the oven. 63 seconds later a sublime, thin, softly blistered, chewy base covered with melted mozzarella and tomato is placed before you, to be eaten by hand, divided into four, each piece folded in half and eaten quickly before the topping slides down your chin.

Elizabeth Gilbert did not need to travel to three countries in order to find herself or her answers. She could have stopped searching in Naples, once she's reached Da Michele. As I did. For here, in this small white-tiled pizzeria, I ate. I prayed. And I loved.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

When Hungry, Eat (Peppermint Crisps)

My friend Nicky and her family have embarked on their Next Big Adventure. This time it's Perth, Australia. Which seems more permanent than say a couple of years somewhere in the UAE, or a stint in the UK. But we don't use the word emigrate. That word has the ability to break hearts. So instead it's the Next Big Adventure.
The day before they left for their NBA, I took the boys some Peppermint Crisp chocolates, because they are my favourite. (Although I also love Cote d'or Bouchees or olifantjies -little elephants - as we called them when I was little and we dipped into my mother's private stash. And I wouldn't say no to anything with the name Lindt on it either.) Everyone had an opinion on how to eat Peppermint Crisps. I believe one must do so quickly. Others feel the need to nibble off the pure chocolate bits on either end and then dip the one end of the chocolate into a glass of milk and drink the milk through the tiny peppermint straws inside the chocolate. This way the milk is peppermint flavoured and then you eat the leftover chocolate afterwards. I am not sold on that idea. And I have yet to try this method, but honestly I think it's a waste of a good chocolate. I will however sacrifice a few Peppermint Crisps in order to make that South African speciality Peppermint Crisp tart - the one with the Orley Whip and the caramel made from condensed milk. Many years ago, I bought a Peppermint crisp that had no peppermint straws in it, it was just a lovely slab of minty chocolate. Surprisingly I was not disappointed, in fact, I recall being rather happy about it, and hoped that I would be so lucky as to get a faulty chocolate again. But I never did. And that's ok, because Peppermint Crisps, even the older chewy ones, never disappoint.
Which is why I wanted to give them to the boys, I wanted to give them something that I had liked as a child, something that was South African. But then I heard that Peppermint Crisps are found in one other place in the world, Yup, that's right, you can find Peppermint Crisps in Australia. Which made my gift-giving even better, I could tell the boys that whenever they longed for home, they should ask their mom to buy them a couple of Peppermint Crisps, because we still believe them to be as South African as boerewors and biltong. And yes, while the Ausies may have sausage and jerky as well, we KNOW it's a poor second to our variety. The same goes for chocolate, it's ok in a pinch; if you can't pop round to the corner cafe and ask for it in your mother tongue, and it will remind you of home. And chocolate does lessen the pain of homesickness a little bit.

Which brings me to the second part of this blog. Joanne Fedler's book When Hungry, Eat. I saw it last weekend, having realised that my clothes no longer fit and that I had been misinterpreting the concept of a No Diet lifestyle. I have been taking it to mean eat everything, as much and as often as I like. Which clearly is not a great idea.
So there this book stood screaming at me from the middle shelf in Exclusive Books, 'How one woman's mission to lose weight became a journey of discovery.' And I bought it, along with some hot cross buns from Woolies.
And I read it in one day, because it's a good read. And while what she wrote about only eating when hungry, and getting to make peace with hunger etc made perfect sense, it wasn't exactly a revelation. I've read this before. And if only I could put all that I've read into practice...
But what is significant is that I was meant to buy and read this book. So that I could tell my friend Nicky to go out and buy it immediately. Because this book is probably one of the most honest and meaningful accounts of immigration that I have read. Joanne Fedler and her family left Cape Town to make a new life for themselves in Australia, and this book is about her heartbreak of leaving South Africa, and the enormous sense of loss that she experiences. Also about how she adapts and makes peace with herself and her circumstances. In the emigration/immigration debate there are no right or wrong answers. But it is hard. For all concerned. By reading this book, I could understand what my friend is going through, and perhaps, by her reading it, she can feel less alone. It also made me think really hard about the sacrifices one makes when you have children. But this is more than just a book about hunger, or emigrating. It's about loss, about love, about making the best of a hard situation, about what it means to be born in a country, of how to make another country your home. It is about faith, and friendship and low schmaltz chicken soup.
And reading it made me realise, that being hungry, is never, not only, about food.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A Gushing Title: Reuben is the One & Only

In September 2005 I interviewed Reuben Riffel for the Eat Out Guide, a year after he had been given both the Eat Out Johnnie Walker 2004 Chef of The Year and Restaurant of the Year awards.
So here, From the Eat Out Restaurant guide 2006:

There's something very special about an award-winning chef who asks his mother to come into his restaurant kitchen and make us his favourite suur-mince - that untranslatable dish of minced beef, stock and malt vinegar. I'm touched by his unpretentiousness and moved by my own childhood memories of curry mince which eating the dish evoked. As we sit down in a quiet corner of the restaurant, we talk of food and memories,
Reuben was born and raised in Groendal, a village just outside Franschhoek. While the physical distance may not have been much between the two towns, they were worlds apart, kept that way by the political machinations of the time. But he carries this part of the country in his heart and his love of food and flavours stem from his childhood there.
'We lived in a two-roomed house, one of which was the kitchen -the heart of our home. We always ate at a table in this kitchen, even if it was only sausage, onions and mash. We would eat together and we would talk. we weren't impoverished and we always had enough. We ate from the land. My grandfather farmed with pigs and kept a small tract of land on which he grew vegetables. he called it die tuin (the garden) and I was regularly ordered to go and plant onions or pick peas with him. Sometimes we'd pick grapes, which tasted slightly of pineapple, we called thispynappeldruiwe ( pineapple grapes, probably the Catawba variety).' His grandfather was strict, but so was his grandmother who would call all the cousins together, sniff their hands to ascertain who had been smoking, before making them shell peas. but she could bake the most heavenly bread in her wood-fired stove. 'I would go to their home to collect the bread in the evenings and my ouma would dish up something for me from their table, which I ate before returning home to eat with my own family.'
Sundays were buttermilk pudding and banana bread days. And as the bus unloaded everyone after church, the smells drifting out of the house promised a feast, food made with love and care. Hartskos (food from the heart).
Birthdays were also special for the young Reuben. 'My auntie would always bake me a chocolate cake on my birthday. Her daughter ran one of the two bioscopes in Franschhoek, vir ons mense (for our people). There was a cafe nearby, owned by a Portuguese family whose son had the best toys. So on my birthday, I'd go there to eat my own chocolate cake, watch a Bud Spencer and Terence Hill movie and play with the cafe owner's son and his toys.'
Then there were the family outings. events that centred around laughter and the love of food. Reuben recalls a particularly memorable day trip when he was only eight. The entire family hired an old bus to take them to Paternoster. 'Halfway there, the bus broke down and after much struggling we eventually made it to this seaside town on the West Coast. Not even the smoke billowing out of the engine could dampen our spirits. The fishermen were selling crayfish from their boats and I was helping them and loving the noise, the smells, the wriggling red crayfish which soon found their way onto the braai. That was the best day I've ever had at the sea.'
Listening to Reuben, I am reminded of the saying, 'What is patriotism, if not the longing for the food we ate as a child?' Here memories are of goemahare (candyfloss) bought after school from the vendor in the old Datsun, and freshly baked bread with a slightly burnt crust. And it finally dawned on me that the magic ingredient, the one that this chef uses in his kitchen, is love. That while his cooking is innovative and contemporary, he remains true to his roots. Which is why, when really hungry, you can join him for a slice of bread with crunchy peanut butter and honey. And then dip it into a mug of black coffee. The way his oupa used to do.


A while back, a friend and I were making dinner plans and trying to get reservations at a notoriously hard-to-get-a-table restaurant. 'I'll call them', she offered. 'No, it's ok,'I said jokingly, 'I'll phone, and if they don't give us a table, I'll ask them 'Don't you know who I was?!' and then we both snorted with uncontrollable laughter because people and places are fickle.
In what seems like a previous lifetime, I once edited the prestigious annual publication Eat Out. I was wedged in between the late great Lannice Snyman, and the equally impressive foodie Abigail Donnelly. Two issues, and then I packed my bags to be the Wench of the High Seas when Jacques decided to be a ship's doctor. Those two years were a steep learning curve. Hard, at times, desperately so. But also wonderful. During that time, I met the most amazing people.... people who are passionate about food are generally nice people. Much more open and far more fun than those who disdain butter and cream. I also made some wonderful friends, some of whom have remained a part of my life. Reuben Riffel is one of them. Which is why I was so happy for him and Maryke when the deal with the One & Only was finalized. And yes, much has been written about it and yes, there was a big hoo ha about it, 'Reuben Riffel replaces Gordon Ramsay' and 'Will he?' or 'Won't he?' And this blog is not about any of that. From the outset, I'll be honest and say that Jacques and I regard Reuben and Maryke as friends, that we adore Reuben's in Franschhoek and that I have loved every single dish of his that I have ever eaten. So on this day, the day that Reuben's at One & Only officially opens, a few thoughts:
Firstly I'm thrilled that the new restaurant does not replace the one in Franschhoek and that Reuben will still be very much involved there. I see on the menu at the O&O, that Reuben is the Concept Chef. But knowing Reuben this will be as hands on as one can possibly be with one pair of hands and three restaurants (the third one being The Robertson Hotel). Secondly, walking into Sol Kerzner's prestigious hotel and seeing the name Reuben's on the wall made my heart swell with pride. He has done so incredibly well, and he has done so, all the while being true to himself. Dinner was, as expected, superb, the pricing is more reasonable than one would expect for a restaurant in that calibre of hotel, and the restaurant will, in time, begin to reflect his own style. That would be nice, as it is rather dark and sombre at the moment. But, having said that, the high ceilings are elegant and double volume spacing impressive. On the night we went, Friday a week ago, the restaurant was busy and the staff clearly happy. Almost as happy as I was to see pork belly on the menu. Jacques tried something new and had the lamb curry , with mint chutney and pineapple yoghurt it before I could even beg a bite. In fact the menu is quite similar to the one in Franschhoek and reflects local flavours and ingredients.But there is also a sophistication to this new Reuben's, which is in keeping with the rest of the hotel. As with Franschhoek, the bare tables are branded with the name Reuben's. You have to believe in yourself to do that. And Reuben does. In a good way. Jacques commented that on the night we saw him, Reuben was relaxed; that he had an air of quiet confidence about him. That this is where he belonged. In as much as he belongs in Franschhoek. Or any where else he chooses to be.

Reubens at One & Only call 021 431 5222 or email restaurantreservations@oneandonlycapetown.com