I was COVID-19 ready in 1979

June 8th, 2020 § 2 comments § permalink

“Damn, Bertha,” I said, poking my dead sourdough starter with a chop stick, “we peaked too soon.” Bertha turned to gloop before she could prove her yeasty worth during lockdown, a sticky reminder of my entry-level pandemic persona – a cross between a Survivor contestant and a tipsy 50s housewife. I was downing litres of lemon and ginger and brandy infused rooibos before the first COVID-19 case came to town. And then the sudden onset of obsessive hand sanitising stripped away four layers of skin and as many decades of memories, revealing a long forgotten childhood phase that would have been so on point in 2020.

I was a germaphobe at age nine. But a serious one. With a few irrational exceptions. I would not drink from a glass or share cutlery with my dad or eldest sister but would do so with my mom and middle sister. I refused to eat fruit salad that wasn’t chopped before my own eyes because I didn’t want to eat anything cold and wet that random people had touched and breathed on. For the same reason, when faced with communal food bowls, I would never dish from the top. I’d leave the germ-laden top layer for less iffy folk and scoop deeper for something potentially less… I don’t really know what?

It wasn’t death or disease I feared. In retrospect, I think I was grossed out by how interconnected everything was, molecularly. As if I’d watched The Cat in the Hat after licking a postcard-sized tab of LSD and freaked out about how impossible it was to STOP stuff from touching and SPREADING.  I can assure you no substance abuse occurred in a small Eastern Cape town in the late 70s. Not at my junior school.

To top it all off I found the smell of alcohol repulsive and once at a family braai, when asked to fetch my dad a beer, I covered the open bottle with a tissue so my tender nostrils would not be confronted by the stench of fermented yeast. My sanity was swiftly questioned (is jy mal in jou kop?). Not only was I obsessive about germs, I was a strident non-smoker and budding* prohibitionist to boot. My 1979 self was so much better suited to 2020 than the current version.

As frustrating as the germaphobe phase must have been for my mom, it was a huge improvement on an earlier one – granted, I was much younger, perhaps four – when she had to physically restrain me from peeling old, black patches of bubble gum from the pavement in front of our local supermarket, where hundreds of shoes had added to the rich patina of the gum. After so many people and pets had left their mark, who even cared about the general health and disposition of the person who so generously deposited it there for me? Unsupervised, I’d scrape that sucker off and give it a good chewing.

Not only had the knowledge of germs not yet infused my soul with paranoia, I was practically an early adopter of Fear Factor eating who – in my opinion – earned sufficient credits to qualify for a Lifetime Achievement Award. I thoroughly enjoyed smashing blue-flies (the Afrikaans – brommer – better describes the undesirability of the insect) against the sliding door  and….wait for it…. eating ONLY the BACK END. The big, juicy body. Not the head, or the middle section with the legs or wings. I ate blue-fly ass. There’s just no way you can get away with that when you’re older. (If you’re three and reading this, make haste, before the buffet of blue-fly butts against the sliding door is off the menu.)

So, germaphobia must have been a welcome change from this level of indiscriminate grazing, but also unbearably irritating to live with. My mom put a swift end to it by saying: “Stop your shit.” And then she told me a story about a childless couple who lived  on a remote Karoo farm. They never socialised or entertained. The woman cleaned every inch of the house with JIK several times a day. My mom paused to drag on her cigarette. She knew how to get the most out of a story and a Dunhill. “And then they both died of the common cold,” she said. “Because they’d killed every germ in the house and had no immunity left. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”

The germaphobe phase soon petered out but as you can see, Bertha and I both peaked way too soon. Not only because I was the poster child for germ awareness in 1979 but also because today, on day 74 of lockdown and with South Africa just two deaths away from having lost one thousand souls to COVID-19, something is giving way. I’m struggling to remain vigilant against an enemy that has not yet – thankfully – presented itself in my immediate world. I know that could change in a second. Don’t get me wrong. I’m scared of getting sick and I don’t want to put myself or my family at risk. I’m just saying, my shoulders are starting to droop.

It’s a lot. It’s been a lot. Already. And still it feels like it hasn’t yet begun.

Hang in there & take care.

*I finally managed to rid myself of my intense aversion to alcohol through a series of interventions in my twenties. That’s a story for another lockdown day.

 

I dedicate this post to Johan Lombard, who left too soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Mile 8 by David Higgs

March 26th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

“AG NEE FOK!” I thought as I fanned through Mile 8. “Wow. Thank you,” I said to my husband who looked extremely pleased with his choice of gift. We watched two seasons of My Kitchen Rules together and at some point during every episode I’d chime in with “David Higgs has a very delicate touch. Incredible palate.” So, why the cloudy face?

Because how am I supposed to pull THIS off in a plaaskombuis?

After Bolognese, pork neck and red cabbage marshmallows is my go-to easy weeknight supper.

With no Thermomix, sous vide machine or dehydrator in sight. What even IS iota carrageenan, I wondered? And can I harvest chlorophyll* straight from the garden? Because I think my local might be out of stock.

I have always admired David Higgs for the restrained elegance of his food. Impeccable technique, superbly balanced flavours and the right note of acidity to ensure the meal rests well in the body. Mile 8 is a true reflection of David’s artistry as a chef. The styling and photography is exquisite but – to the home cook – the cumulative effect could be daunting. It is definitely a book that every young chef (and a few older ones) should have.

Less is moreish

I took a deep breath and started reading. What a good decision that was.  You really should not skip the intro titled A WORD OF ADVICE (READ THIS). Decades of experience condensed into a few pages of common sense, plus encouragement to use the recipes as guidelines. Thank you, chef. Fly the foam and sponge if you like, add elements and plate to your own preference.

Yes, I thought, I’ll make the carrot cake. Except it will be plain and round and smothered in cream cheese frosting. And perhaps some pineapple crisps while I’m at it?** Which I’d normally never do. Let’s be honest, I don’t really bake. But I was feeling oddly inspired.  A possible side-effect of reading books that punch above one’s culinary weight?

 

David’s carrot cake with pineapple sorbet, dehydrated pineapple, carrot foam and carrot dust.

 

Reconstructed, suburban-style. There’s a delicious David Higgs carrot cake under all that icing. I would never, ever ice a ring of bread rolls just for the camera. NEVER!

The book is an interesting read, which allowed me to chill about my lack of ingredients/equipment/courage to perfectly recreate a complete recipe from Mile 8. And then I hit the Fundamentals section. The book has over 90 dishes and 150 recipes, with Fundamentals consisting of roughly 60 concise recipes. From favourites like vetkoek to recipes requiring a bloody siphon gun bit more skill. It is a lovely collection of what should ideally become kitchen staples. Who doesn’t want caper mustard, lemon gel, pork crackling powder or salmon trout skin crisp on hand to add a pop of flavour and some cheffy shine to what you’re making.

At second, third and fourth glance it all seemed a lot less intimidating. Snoek with patat, vetkoek and mom’s apricot jam sounds completely doable, right? Ditto the lamb neck with dumplings and onion. If you want, you could go the extra 8 Miles and make spiced pumpkin brûlée with grilled pumpkin, chiffonade leek and granadilla dressing.

Fortunately I’m not much of a dessert person.

Buy the book if you want to know more about David and his food journey. I’ll share three of the things that stood out for me:

  • He really, really loves eggs so I’m taking all the egg advice on board.
  • During his “salad years” as a young chef he used to wolf down Hartlief’s meat salad or fleischsalat – a mayo-based mixture of cold cuts – which makes perfect sense for a Namibian boy in the big city. This reminded me of all the Hartlief meat salad I stuffed into salzstangen over the years. And now I’m craving German polonie cold cuts in mayo.
  • Reading about Marble’s start is humbling and inspiring. Tempering the beast that is open fire proved more challenging than anticipated. At one point the grill team had to wear special cooling vests with ice pockets.

It’s a beautiful book and I have apologised to my husband for my less-than-enthusiastic initial response. Recipes have been segmented in a clever way that enables the cherry-picking of components. Each chapter introduces a different phase of David’s life, followed by the corresponding recipes. I like the separation of stories and recipes as it can be distracting to pick through memories when you’re navigating your way about a recipe.

Mile 8 is a work of hardcore, professional perfectionism. I had to weigh the eggs for the carrot cake as the recipe calls for 75g whole eggs, which I now know is roughly two standard eggs. I’m going to take my time with this book and use it to push myself a bit. Or a lot. And I might ring Wild Peacock to ask if they’ve got iota carrageenan.

* Yes! You can make your own chlorophyll (see p. 319 for recipe).

** No, I didn’t use David’s recipe for Dehydrated Pineapple because I don’t have 24 hours to dry pineapple at exactly 54 degrees. Hence my floppy Pineapple Crisps (I need to change my attitude or this book will whip me).

Mile 8 – A Book About Cooking (R550) available online and at good bookstores.

Freekeh Pilaf

January 8th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Of all the freekeh dishes I’ve tried, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Freekeh Pilaf is my favourite. Simple, fast and generous. Play around with the herb and spice mix to suit the occasion. Add garlic and smoked paprika to create a Spanish-style freekeh served with lightly fried chorizo. Or use cumin and coriander topped with guacamole and sour cream to accompany hot Mexican beef strips. Although Ottolenghi uses allspice and cinnamon in the original recipe, I ultimately prefer the taste of cumin to allspice. Tailor it to your own taste.

Cracked grain freekeh pilaf

 

INGREDIENTS

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

25g butter

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish

1 cup cracked grain freekeh

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground allspice

500ml good-quality veg or chicken stock

100g Greek yoghurt

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 garlic clove, crushed

10g parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish

10g mint, finely chopped

10g coriander, finely chopped

2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted and roughly broken (or toasted almond slivers as a cheaper alternative)

salt and black pepper

Garnish with angel hair chili (pictured above) or pomegranate pips.

Place the onions, butter and olive oil in a large heavy-based pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15–20 minutes. or until the onion is soft and brown.

Add the freekeh and spices to the onions, followed by the stock and some salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a minimum and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered for 5 minutes. Finally, remove the lid and leave the pilaf to cool down a little, about another 5 minutes.

While you wait, mix the yoghurt with the lemon juice, garlic and some salt.

Stir the herbs into the warm (not hot) pilaf. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon onto serving dishes and top each portion with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley and finish with a trickle of olive oil.

Enjoy as a light meal or serve with sliced, spicy chicken, a roast or braai.

Tune into The Expresso Show, Monday 9 January,  from 7.30 – 8.30am. I will be talking to Zola Nene about Greenwheat Freekeh and will make this delicious pilaf and more. 

Wholegrain freekeh tabbouleh

January 8th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Traditionally made with bulgur wheat, tabbouleh with fibre-rich freekeh is a nourishing, PH balanced blessing in a bowl. Packed with parsley and lemon juice, your sluggish post silly season digestive system will rejuvenate with every bite.

Pictured here with frilly lettuce from the garden.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup cooked wholegrain freekeh
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
  • Juice of 2 large lemons, to taste
  • 3 cups very finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 3 large bunches)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 punnet small roma tomatoes
  • 1 bunch salad onions, finely chopped
  • Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cos lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

 

PREPARATION

Cook the freekeh according to the packet instructions, drain and allow to cool. In a large bowl, blend the minced garlic, lemon juice, parsley, mint, salad onions, tomatoes and salt. Mix the freekeh through and allow to rest for the freekeh to absorb the dressing. Add the olive oil, toss together, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with cos lettuce leaves.

Enjoy as a refreshing salad on its own or to provide zingy yin to your roast yang.

Tune into The Expresso Show, Monday 9 January,  from 7.30 – 8.30am. I will be talking to Zola Nene about Greenwheat Freekeh and will make this delicious salad and more. 

 

 

What is tapas

October 26th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I was recently served a calamari ring so large, it resembled a halo in a fishy nativity play. It came straight off a “tapas” menu, along with three other equally confused dishes. Is there no end to this pseudo Spanish fuckery, I grumbled through cumin-laced burps.

I’m not going to tell you what tapas should be because even in Spain, tapas is a diverse offering. There are, however, certain traditions and classic dishes that could inspire a lovely tapas menu. I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re going to do tapas, why not draw inspiration from the country that’s been doing it for several hundred years?

Getaria, Basque country

Getaria, Basque country

» Read the rest of this entry «

Classic croquetas de jamón

October 12th, 2016 § 3 comments § permalink

Croquetas are a staple of bar counters around Spain. Fantastic as a tummy liner on a night out, equally adored by children for their melt-in-the-mouth moreishness. A basic béchamel sauce infused with ham, cheese, chicken, boiled egg or seafood… Then cooled, rolled into oblong blobs,  coated in crumbs, and fried. Classic peasant food. The best kind.

Savoury flavour bombs

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S’coolBeans are cool beans!

September 16th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

SA students win award for nutritious version of Nutella” popped up on my newsfeed recently. A nutritious version of Nutella? Made with fermented beans and sweet potato? I have to taste this, I thought.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-16-26-24

Nicholas Grobbelaar‚ Megan Kleyn‚ Shannon Howell, Cenette Bezuidenhout, Taryn Harding and Carin-Marie Engelbrecht at the IUFoST World Congress of Food Science and Technology in Dublin, Ireland

The award-winning S’coolBeans spread was developed by six Food Science students from the University of Stellenbosch, just down the road from where I live. News of the product spread, well, faster than Nutella but they kindly found the time to talk in between radio interviews and meetings to map the future of their nutritious brainchild. I considered taking crackers to the tasting but they arrived with a loaf of white and a little jar of S’coolBeans in hand. » Read the rest of this entry «

Hit that perfect beet with this spring salad

August 25th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

And strawberries – they’re very cheap at the moment – just R18.99 per 250g punnet at my local. Beetroot is always cheap at just over R10 a bushel of raw beets. Bless its high carb content* for saving it from going the cauliflower route. Everyone claims to love beetroot but it seldom features as a side or main dish when eating at friends’ homes. Beets are dense so perhaps the cooking or roasting time is a deterrent in our quick-fix society? Or the red-stained fingers from peeling and slicing? It just can’t seem to shake its working class aura, which is fine by me.**

This salad is the perfect embodiment of spring’s current hide-and-seek show. Strawberries and basil bounce off the earthy gravitas of no-nonsense beet.

Jewel-toned beets & berries

Beetroot and strawberry salad with berry and basil vinaigrette

» Read the rest of this entry «

Jy het ‘n Wenresep! Of, het ek?

August 15th, 2016 § 10 comments § permalink

Ek het in die verlede live restaurant reviews op Expresso gedoen en is tans deel van DIS op VIA – ‘n lighartige program wat kykers aan heerlike kos bekendstel – so ek het ‘n bietjie TV ervaring, maar ek was nog nooit so op my senuwees soos met die opname van Jy het ‘n Wenresep! nie.  Dis obviously net soveel makliker om ander mense se kos te beoordeel as om self iets te maak. En dan nog in kompetisieformaat, met een van SA se grootste kos ikone as beoordelaar.

Zirkie Schroeder, ek, Christina Jacobs

Zirkie Schroeder, ek, Christina Jacobs

Dit was ‘n ysige, rëenerige dag op Nooitgedacht landgoed maar die filmspan was fantastiese en my kompetisie, Zirkie Schroeder en Christina Jacobs, was relaxed en lekker geselskap. Deelnemers raak soms bietjie tewerig op Wenresep – een van die redes hoekom die program so entertaining is – en dit was my voorneme om dit te probeer vermy. Maar, » Read the rest of this entry «

A Few Of My Flavourite Things

July 26th, 2016 § 4 comments § permalink

We all have our meals, ingredients, cuts and condiments that we gravitate to on a regular basis. But when I cook myself into a lacklustre corner it’s time to shake up the shopping trolley, so to speak, because you’re only as good as the contents of your pantry and fridge. These are the ingredients that keep my meal wheels turning. Most of them are good flavour mates to each other and although some are pricey, they’re good value given their potency and shelf life. I’ve not listed great olive oil, salt, pepper and butter as they’re non-negotiable. So, before the yodeling kicks in, here are A Few Of My Flavourite Things:

 

O Captain! My Captain Beefheart!

O Captain! My Captain Beefheart!

TOMATOES – My great love. Sadly, all tomatoes are picked before they’re properly ripe. Never ever ever refrigerate a tomato unless it’s been really mean to you. Give them at least a few days on the shelf to ripen and for some reason, they last longer if placed bottom up. If you have a really beautiful ripe tomato (like a beefheart, which is scarce in SA), peel it with a sharp knife before slicing and serving with a generous amount of excellent olive oil, Maldon salt and a few drops of vinegar. If you’ve bought a really decent mozzarella or burrata, take the time to peel smaller tomatoes by first immersing in hot water, then cold, and removing the peel with the help of a sharp blade. It does taste better. The Italians and Spanish do it, and they are world leaders in Tomatoism. » Read the rest of this entry «