I was COVID-19 ready in 1979

June 8th, 2020 § 0 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.

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 «

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.


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 «

Melt Sieberhagen answers the PROST! Questionnaire

June 8th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Talker, actor, writer and joke-machine Melt Sieberhagen talks kitchen melt-downs, flavour fiestas and why bacon should get back to basics.  A generous host, he insists any injury-by-artichoke would be unintentional. Also, it is now officially official: Peppadews are not cool.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 12.02.49


What is your favourite flavour combination?  I’m a total sucker for bold, powerful flavours. And combining them. Strong umami and savoury tastes. The sharp chilli, garlic and ginger in a fresh stir fry, enhanced with a big dash of soy sauce. A feisty vinaigrette, pickles, olives… » Read the rest of this entry «

You can’t have your cake preservative-free and eat it next month

May 9th, 2016 § 6 comments § permalink

I thought of Lunchbox Lies as a title for this post because I’m a sucker for sensationalist alliteration. Also because it started out as a mother’s earnest quest to analise the content of her son’s lunchbox – an exploration of the toxic-sounding components of modern food, if you will – that devolved into a whole lot of bitching about how small ‘small print’ has become. Almost like it’s not meant to be read.

Before I take you down the preservative-lined rabbit hole, let me say that I am not a health food fanatic. My life has been characterised by pervasive hunger and what I like to think of as discerning taste buds (my mom called it ‘being full of shit’). I’ve always punched above my financial weight when it comes to food shopping. I’ve eaten little organic fruit and veg (limited availability and just too expensive) but I buy the cleanest meat, eggs and dairy on the shelf. I stay away from artificial sweeteners, fruit “juice”, pre-cooked sauces, long-life anything and carbonated cold drinks, unless heavily diluted with hard tack. In short, I think I’m quite balanced.

Sometimes I play with Ben's food

Sometimes I play with my son’s food

But the food industry is full of horror stories. Good old MSG was the first scary blip on my radar, then tartrazine, followed by growth hormones causing young boys to grow breasts and girls to menstruate at 9, carbon dioxide-ripened tunnel tomatoes, pesticides, a plethora of preservatives, carcinogenic colourants, mad cow’s disease, BPA-seepage from plastic packaging, the alluminium free radicals in tinned food and let’s not forget those GMO-peddling mofos over at Monsanto. I can’t even begin with the cruelty at the heart of the meat industry. There is a certain poetic justice in humanity being eradicated by a cloud of cow fart. » Read the rest of this entry «

Koekedoor Twee is kolwyntjies in high polfies

April 12th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Die tyd om te bak is sommer nóú nóú! Koekedoor is terug en hierdie keer draai hulle nie vatdoekies om nie. Koekedoor Een was vir my ‘n meditasie in pastelskakerings met sagte skadus wat deur meelwolkies filter, ‘n spel van soet en sout wat hom nooit verstout het nie. Tot die saggeaarde en perfeksionistiese Martjie Malan die f-bom sommer drie keer in ‘n ry gedrop het. Maar bak kán dit mos aan ‘n mens doen.

Ek was onlangs bevoorreg om die eerste 90-minute episode van Koekedoor Twee saam met beoordelaars tannie Elizabeth, Tiaan Langenegger en Mari-Louis Guy te kyk terwyl ons aan soet- en southappies uit die einste episode gesmul het.

Drie dae lank was die Cakebread Studio 'n fees van kleure en geure

So reg uit Riaan Cruywagen se kinderdae uit…


En glo my, hierdie is ‘n Koekedoor van ‘n ander kleur. Die Barbie-pienk en Sound of Music saligheid van die eerste reeks het ‘n gravitas bygekry wat jou laat regop sit. Koekedoor Twee se intro is so belaai met hartsnaarbeelde en dramatiese musiek, ek het skoon tranerig geraak. Goeie hel, dog ek, dis soos een van daai epiese, opswepende bankadvertensies. Of het ek straks PMS, moes ek myself vra. Any which way, dames, moenie julle pêrels stukkend druk nie! » Read the rest of this entry «