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 Spa.Reservations@oneandonlycapetown.com

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 www.spiersecretfestival.co.za   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.

Sunday 5 May 2013

My Mom and Melkkos

My mom, Marie.
A glass of milk. Obviously.

John Lennon's lyrics for Beautiful Boy are especially poignant to me now. 'Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.' Or as my mom would say 'Man proposes and God disposes. 
I had fully intended being slightly self-obsessed with the launch of my book: I saw myself lapping up the attention (gratefully), basking in the glory (hopefully) and being unbearably smug (just a little bit). I was really looking forward to this whole book-author thing.
But things haven't quite worked out that way. And the reason I'm writing this is so that  you may understand my silence and forgive me for not having gotten back to you or acknowledged your recent kind emails and messages. You see, on the day of my book launch my mom was hospitalized. She had been chemo-weak and sick leading up to my book launch but she was determined that she would be there on the night. But she wasn't. Since the 8 April, she's been in and out of hospital. Those familiar with cancer know how this goes; despair and hope.  Tears and tests. Bargaining. Acceptance. Prayers and practicalities. I have been unable to think of anything else. It has been all-consuming. And some days during the last couple of weeks were harrowing.
It's better now.  My mom is slowly regaining that familiar fighting spirit. That's why I can write this. Because I am less frightened now than I was 10 days ago. Ten days ago I thought I'd lose her.
I can remember two things about this time, the one was making myself melkkos late one night, in desperation, while she was in the hospital having a brain scan and the other was lying on the couch on our stoep one warm night, my head on her lap while she sat up straight. We spent an hour looking at the beautiful silver full moon that night and talking softly. I don't recall what it was we spoke of. Because words didn't matter....


1/2 cup of flour
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
Pinch of salt
3 cups of milk
Cinnamon stick.


Mix the sugar and cinnamon to make cinnamon. (Obviously)
Rub the butter and the flour between your fingers until it's all nice and crumbly.
Bring the milk with the cinnamon stick to boil
Slowly, bit by bit, add the butter / flour mixture to the warm milk, stirring gently all the while.
Reduce the heat of the milk, adding as much cinnamon sugar as you like or need.
And simmer for 5-7 minutes, while stirring gently. 
Remove the cinnamon stick from the melkkos.
Serve in a deep bowls with some more cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Soul Food is Heart Food.

(Milk Tart will always be found at any celebration whether birthdays, christenings, graduations or funerals where Afrikaans is spoken. 
May also be eaten for no reason at all.)

My friend (and soul sister) Ingrid Jones (aka Mrs Jones) commissioned me to write something about soul food for the magazine she edits. She knows all about soul, so I'm flattered that she asked me to write this, because she could have easily done it herself.

Sacred Soul Food

Food, in additional to keeping us alive has also become both fashion and high art. But in its most honest form, when it is offered as Soul Food it becomes something else, it becomes the essence of who we are.

I’m not good with foams. Or dots. Or intricately layered towers of ingredients. I appreciate Fancy Food, but I seldom crave it.
I’m also not good with calories. Or steaming. Or carb-free, protein-laden plates. I value Healthy Food but I seldom desire it.
What I am good at is biltong. Syrupy koeksisters. Steaming pots of stew. I understand Soul Food. It’s what my heart recognizes.

There are days when my heart aches and the longing threatens to engulf me. On those days I need cinnamon. Specifically, sweet, milky cinnamon as found in melkkos, pancakes and milk tart. But bizarrely these are also the flavours I crave when my heart busts with joy, when the excitement bubbles up inside me, on days when I feel the urge to celebrate. You see, cinnamon-flavoured melkkos, pancakes, and milk tart are my Soul Food. Along with peppery lamb and green bean stew, pumpkin fritters, slightly spicy bobotie, boerewors, snoek braaied with garlic and apricot jam and nutmeg- infused alikreukel. My love for these foods gives clues as to who I am. That I have an Afrikaner heritage and that I grew up in the Western Cape. Had I grown up speaking Afrikaans in the old Transvaal I may well have added krummelpap into the mix. But I didn’t and so I don’t.

For me, Soul Food is the heart food.  It can best be described as heritage food. It is the food we ate as a child. The food our mothers prepared for us. The food that we want when we need the comfort of home. The food we long for when we long for our mothers. It is the food that defines us, the food that tells others who we identify with culturally, who we are and what we love. It is the taste of our forefathers.

I have some friends who long for fiery crab curries, for piping hot bhaji the way their grandmother makes them, for the comfort of a warm lentil dahl. Friends who dream of bunny chow. Some friends crave chicken livers and per-peri. Other friends speak lyrically of rooti and  denningvleis, of the meditative comfort of making of mince samoosas and of sweet, cardamom-infused boeber. Then there are those that seek the comfort of pickled fish and speak longingly of Gatsbies filled with slap chips. While others speak proudly of real free range, slightly tough chicken, declare their affection for mogodu and who click their longing for umngqusho and umphokoqo.

Soul food is the food that gets spoken of when people try and explain who they are in this often divided country. When we need to remember that that which binds is is often stronger than that which divides us. When the young Afrikaans girl tells of the sweetly-sour taste of karringmelk pudding her grandmother made her, and when her Zulu friend recounts how her grandfather drinks amasi. And they realize how similar the flavours are. Or when the milky sweet sameness of melkkos and boeber are discovered. Or when we realize that there are few South Africans who don’t love the taste of charred meat.

And when it comes to memories, it matters not if you remember the first time you slept with a sykous, or how old you were on the occasion of your first weave, or when your first had that bad perm, what matters is what food comforted you when you were sad, what food your mother made you when you were happy. Even the food that you disliked as a child, those same flavours that you now crave. These are the things that define you. More than the hair you have or the colour of your skin or the language you speak at home. Our Soul Food (that which has very little to do with nutrition and everything to do with nurturing) will always remind us of who were are and where we come from. It is the food that we will take with us wherever we go. Because we carry it in our heart.

GLOSSARY (in order of appearance)
Biltong  - A type of cured meat which evolved from the type of dried meat carried by the Voortrekkers. Similar to Aussie beef jerky, but way, way better.
Koeksisters – A deep-fried, syrup-soaked plaited cake. The Afrikaner version is crispy and very sweet while the Cape Malay version, known as koesister is round cake-like and spicier.
Melkkos – A milky cinnamon-flavoured soup thicked with either sago or thin strips of pasta
Bobotie – Spicy mincemeat with an egg-based topping. A lot nicer than it seems.
Boerewors – Traditional Afrikaans sausage
Snoek – A locally caught fish, similar to a barracuda in looks.
Alikreukel – A giant periwinkle. A lot scarcer than it used to be.
Krummelpap – A crumbly porridge made from mielie meal.
Bhaji – An Indian version of vegetable fritters.
Dhal – An Indian dish made from lentils
Bunny Chow – A Durban favourite – a loaf of bread filled with curry.
Rooti – The Cape Malay version of the Indian roti – an unleavened bread.
Denningvleis – A Cape Malay lamb stew flavoured with tamarind or lemon juice.
Samoosas – A fried triangular pastry filled with savoury mince or vegetables
Boeber – Similar to and also the inspiration for melkkos. A Cape Malay milky soup using condenced milk and cardamom.
Pickled fish  - also known as Pickle Fish. In the Western Cape we like to leave out the ‘d’. A fish pickled with vinegar spices and onions.
Gatsby – A sandwich roll filled with anything from chips, to Vienna sausages to calamari, or steak. Originating in the Cape Flats where it’s regarded as messy –meant-to-be-shared food.
Slap chips – What the rest of the world calls French Fries, we call slap (floppy) chips, a ticker cut of chip served with lashings of salt and vinegar.
Mogodu - tripe
Umngqushu – A Xhosa favourite of samp (crushed de-hulled dried corn) and cowpeas  - a type of black-eyed peas.
Umphokoqo – A mielie meal porridge.
Karringmelk – Buttermilk
Amasi – Fermented milk


Tuesday 26 March 2013

The Prayer of the Passion Fruit

I once, stupidly, proclaimed 'If I shoot ever tweet, shoot me.' At the time I had no idea how wonderful Twitter was, how many friends I would find online or how much love and support I would find in cyberspace. So when I received a tweet from Jo Barrow @i_am_jobarrow asking me where she could find a column I had written for Woolworths TASTE in January / February 2011 about granadillas and gratitude, I had to smile because the request came at just the right time.  I knew then that I needed to eat a granadilla and start saying my gratitudes. So I thought I'd post the column for Jo. It appears, along with many others, in my book coming out in April (punt punt, my publishers will be happy) but for now, here it is....

The Prayer of the Passion Fruit

I married my love on the 6 January. Twelfth Night. It was a raucous, happy affair. But we celebrated our wedding with two wedding cakes. Because we couldn’t decide on one. I wanted a plain elegant marzipan white icing fruitcake on which we would put fresh flowers on the day. Jacques, showing an intense dislike for both fruitcake and marzipan, insisted on getting married with a granadilla cake, his favourite : the type with two layers and frosting in between and messily slapped on top. The type you get at church bazaars and aunties’ house. Now I like granadilla cake, my aunty Margie made an excellent one, but I certainly didn’t want that to be my wedding cake, not at our wedding. Not accompanying the live jazz band and gin and lime sorbets. My mom suggested a compromise. His and Her cakes. And so it was that on the night, my cake looked beautiful displayed on the cake stand, a perfect white square, no frills, covered only in fresh full blown roses. Jacques’s cake, on the other hand, made a grand entrance, stealing the show. My mom had bought no less that 17 of those kitschy-cool bride and groom cake toppers and placed them all on the cake along with a handful of sparklers that set the night alight. And most people ate the granadilla version. Including me. I think my cake went home almost untouched and my family ate fruitcake for a year. But it is the granadilla cake we most remember. The flavour Jacques insisted on.

Before Jacques, I never much cared for granadillas. As I child the closest I would come to them was eating the granadilla lollies, sold at corner cafes and on beaches in the summer, but even then, I, disapprovingly picked out the tiny black seeds. Older, I grew to like their other name Passion Fruit, mistakenly thinking it to be of sensual origin rather the spiritual one it in fact is. And I have always thought their flowers to be incredibly beautiful. I once visited friends in the Italian Lake District and their garden wall was covered in a creeper laden with blooming passion fruit flowers. I spent a lot of time admiring the intricate floral patterns and delicate markings while contemplating the lost-cause-love who had accompanied me on the trip. Perhaps the granadilla, mysterious in its more exotic setting, was a sign of things to come... A man I would love with all my heart, who I would thank God for, and who would make me love granadillas.

Granadillas also feature strongly in the lives of my parents, who have been married for 43 years. My mom tells me that when she and my dad were courting, she would seduce him with desert of granadilla pulp folded into thick double cream. These days, she makes a less luscious version for them, using low fat Bulgarian yoghurt instead. A case of, cholesterolly speaking, the spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak.

My mother-in-law gave me a recipe for the most divinely decadent use of granadilla. One part fresh granadilla pulp, one can of condensed milk and a tub of thick cream are all folded in together and frozen.

I made this desert for Jacques the night we made the commitment to one another that we would do everything in our power, no matter what it took, to ensure that we had a baby. The night we acknowledged there was space in our relationship for a child and that not having a baby of our own was making us intensely unhappy. On this night the sweetness of the condensed milk granadilla comforted us. On the night I bargained with God…

I also made this desert the night my parents came to dinner, the night I was told that my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. On this night not even the sweetness of the condensed milk granadilla could comfort me. On the night I bargained with God…

My dad has this thing he does, which he has passed on to me. He starts every morning with an endless list of the things that he is grateful for. It is part prayer, part thanks. I call it The Gratitudes. It is a litany of things to remind us of our blessings; a loving partner, parents, family, a warm bed at night, clean sheets, good food, wonderful friends, a beautiful home filled with laughter, movies, books, medicine, therapy, lemons, salt-seawater, star jasmine, lemon verbena, crushed mint, being able to brush teeth with toothpaste and running water…
The granadilla reminds me of My Gratitudes. There are so many seeds it’s almost impossible to count them. Now as I eat granadillas, each seed symbolizes a blessing. The granadilla has, for me, become a meditative fruit. And so while I eat my morning yogurt with the pulp and a smidgen of honey, I eat the seeds and count my blessings. That way I eat mindfully. So that food does not become my escape, but rather becomes my comfort. And, sometimes, I bite into the seeds. To remind myself. To be sure.

A 2013 Update:
My parents have now been married for 45 years. My mom is still battling her cancer - bravely and stylishly. She is determined that she will live so that she may one day teach our child to dance. We are still battling to become a family. Bravely but not always stylishly. Yet we know, with absolute certainty, that our baby will find his or her way to us. Eventually.