Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Asylum


So, I ended 2014 and began 2015 sicker than I've ever been in my life.

I have two working theories as to why:
1) God has seen fit to afflict me with The Plague in order to purify me spiritually, because I am Chosen and Blessed and destined to be a Great Prophet.
2) My immune system is shot to pieces, like a tin can at an NRA rally.

I'm making light of it, but it's been terrifying.

Precis version: It started with a small pink welt on my forehead, which I dismissed as a kind of unusual mosquito bite. Or perhaps I’d scratched myself without realising.

A few days later I came down with a sinus infection. This was about a week before Christmas. At the same time, the welt turned into an open wound, began to grow, and then another appeared on my temple. A blister. All kinds of dreadful possibilities (leprosy, flesh-eating bacteria) hacked my equilibrium to pieces before I went to see a doctor, who promptly misdiagnosed me with shingles, told me to buy some hideously expensive anti-viral medication and give it about a week or two to clear up. So there went my summer holiday.

Except it didn’t clear up. It got much, much worse, until I looked like an extra on The Walking Dead. All this underpinned by the kind of fatigue that makes it difficult to walk from room to room, that makes you feel desperate and weepy and scarily helpless.

Two days ago I went back to the surgery, and was seen by another doctor who diagnosed impetigo. A bacterial infection.

Lovely.

I'm on antibiotics now, but have yet to see an improvement.

 

































Naturally, when this kind of thing happens, you look for reasons. What did I do wrong?

I didn't have to look far. I'd been doing too much, of course — too many commitments, too little self-care, no R&R to speak of — and my health had paid the price.

I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve been forced to slow down, to do nothing but sit in a chair with a cup of tea and stare at Table Mountain, wreathed in wispy clouds and slanting shadows.

One day, the 30th, I think, I was seized by an intense desire to escape to the woods, to lay down on a bed of pine needles and stare at the gently swaying tree-tops. So that’s what I did, walking slowly, deliberately, cautiously.

I found a secluded spot, slumped onto my back, arms and legs splayed. Gazed up, exhaled.

Behind the black silhouette of reaching pines, curling white whorls of cloud passed by, both fast and slow; a bird of prey glided, silent and stealthy, between the two. The wind whispered through the high branches, offering their secrets to the sky.

It’s time for a radical shift, they told me. And just like that, I had my New Year’s resolution: Radical selfishness; radical self-interest; radical self-love.

Maybe I’ve lost the plot. Maybe I’ve found it. Only time will tell.





My usual reaction to health snafus is to drastically constrain the paramenters of my diet to only the ‘healthiest’ foods (a grey area at best). I’m sure it probably doesn’t do any good, considering I eat pretty healthily in general, but it does at least offer the illusion of control. A mild form of orthorexia, if you will.

Anyway, I made this salad just after Christmas, when I wasn’t yet a sleep-deprived, facially disfigured zombie. It ticks all the right boxes: virtuously healthy, tons of flavour, just plain yummy. We had it on its own, but it would be great as a side to lamb or roast chicken.

If I may, let my woes serve as a cautionary tale: look after yourself please. You just never know what utterly detestable nasties are waiting in the wings, poised to slip through a crack in your immune system when it lags. Get lots of sleep, don’t drink too much, exercise, eat well, make room in your life for pockets of idleness.

It’s pretty simple really. I don’t know why I was such a dolt.



Roast aubergine & rice salad with fior di latte

[Serves 6]

2 large aubergines, sliced
3 large tomatoes, sliced, or 1 punnet baby tomatoes, halved
1½ tsp salt
1 large handful each basil and flatleaf parsley
½ handful mint
1 cup good quality black olives, stones removed and roughly chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup red, brown or wild rice, cooked
½ cup orzo pasta, cooked

Dressing:
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 ball fiore di latte, torn

1. Brush the aubergine slices with a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast at 180C until golden and tender, about 20 minutes, turning halfway.
2. Place the tomatoes in a large salad bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes. (This really intensifies the flavour of tomatoes, imo.)
3. Add the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl, along with the aubergine and salad dressing, and mix well to combine. Top with the fior di latte and serve.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some kind of magic trick

My loathing of mince pies is surpassed only by my aversion to Christmas cake. There's something cloying about the taste of candied or dried fruit — raisins in particular — that yanks on my epiglottis and makes my stomach lurch. Perhaps its the concentration of sickly sweet sugar with a faint undertone of rotten fruit, delivered in a mouthful of dense, leathery stodge...

Anyway, the result is that I struggle to swallow anything that contains raisins, and balk at the profusion of mince pies and Christmas cake this time of year. Bah humbug.

I am wincing as I type this, because it feels a cold-blooded betrayal of my maternal grandmother's beloved festive tradition: Christmas cake.

She'd make one every year, somewhere between September and October, and douse it, regularly and liberally, in brandy. By the time 25 December rolled around, the thing would have absorbed so much alcohol that it developed a boozy halo: the air around it would shimmer and wobble, like a heat haze.

After stuffing ourselves silly on the main course, the lights would be dimmed, the pudding would be given a final brandy shower in the kitchen, and then Dan would take a match to it* and carry it through to the table, enveloped in rippling, ghostly blue flame. We'd all clap.

(*I'd often imagine far-off Christmas carolers staring, slack-jawed, at the nuclear mushroom cloud that resulted from the pudding's first encounter with a naked flame.)

It was a beautiful tradition, marred only by the minor inconvenience of me absolutely detesting Christmas pudding. But to reject the pudding would have been to reject Dan, so there was no question that we would eat it as a show of appreciation for her care and effort. Usually, I'd get it down by smothering it in enough brandy butter and whipped cream to kill a reindeer.

Now, take my feelings for dessicated fruit and traditional Christmas confectionery, and invert them, and that's exactly how I feel about this carrot salad.

Crazy, I know!

Because no matter how you say it...

'Carrot salad.'

'Carrot salad.'

'Carrot salad.'

'CARROT SALAD!!!'

... it sounds as dull as ditchwater, and about as tasty.

And I'm right with you. I mean, carrots. They are just deeply unsexy. (Unless you're Uncle Monty.) No one's idea of a dream meal stars carrots as the main act. A dish dominated by 'carotyness' is a dish that is unlikely to pique my interest.

But there's magic in this salad — that's the only way to account for it. And by 'it' I mean 'deliciousness'; 'moreishness'; 'I'll have a third helping of that please-ness'.
 
I first had it at a housewarming. Friends Cristal and Andrew recently bought a lush, charming property in Noordhoek, complete with resident pig (her name is Rosie). They served this salad as a side to beautifully braaied yellowtail.

Well, the salad completely stole the show. Everyone had second and third helpings. It just disappeared. No one could quite believe that a carrot salad could taste so good. It was like some kind of magic trick. I've replicated it at home with complete success, so the recipe works (there wasn't some additive — like smack — Cristal and Andrew forgot to tell me about). Nope, it's just ginger, mint, cumin, lemon, garlic and craploads of carrot. I think if there's any magic trick involved at all, it's to give the salad enough downtime to let the flavours praat mekaar.

Try it.


Mint & ginger carrot salad
[Serves 6]
(Adapted from Organic Farm & Garden Magazine, Volume 1, 2nd Edition)

5 large carrots, grated or julienned
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

Dressing
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch ground cumin
1 heaped Tbsp fresh chopped mint

1. In a large bowl, combine carrots and grated ginger. Cover and refrigerate for about half an hour so the flavours can combine.
2. In a jar with a lid, mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic, cayenne, cumin and mint. Shake to combine.
3. Add dressing to carrots and mix well. If time permits, allow the salad to sit on the counter for about half an hour before serving so the flavours can combine. The salad should be served at room temperature.

Rosie.





Things I'm...

DRINKING: Neethlingshof Six Flowers white blend; Lammershoek LAM Pinotage.

READING: Rachel Eats (my latest food blog obsession).

WATCHING: Utopia Season 2 (an original, delightfully demented and off-beat conspiracy thriller).

LISTENING TO: After the Disco, Broken Bells (makes me feel happy and sad at the same time).



Monday, December 15, 2014

Forget everything you think you know about puff pastry


Okay, well, not everything, exactly. The bit about making it out of flour and butter is pretty important. And water. I'm talking about the bit where you have to get the little globs of butter just the right size — not too big, not too small — in order not to end up with pastry the consistency of damp cardboard.

So perhaps it would be more accurate to say 'forget 10% of what you know about puff pastry'. (It's a pretty crucial 10 percent. But then, I'm being mighty presumptuous about your familiarity with puff pastry, so let's all agree that the intro to this blog post is a bit of a disaster and move on, shall we?)

If, like me, you have a fraught relationship with puff pastry (the making thereof, not the eating), you'll want to read this post on Serious Eats.

I don't do butter-cutting. The practice reminds me of those depressingly interminable afternoons (double lessons) spent in Mrs Foulks' Home Economics classes, learning to make scones, or some such. She was humourless, ill-tempered and squint. (It was only after a few minutes of plodding castigation — directed squarely at the person to my left — that I'd realise she was talking to me.)

There was a lot of butter-cutting in Home Ec.

A lot.

So, these days, on the odd occasion that a powerful craving for quiche hits — and a memory lapse means said craving is unobstructed by recollections of many, many failed attempts at making puff pastry — to the food processor I go.

And cock it up completely.

Usually, I forget that the desired consistency — before adding the water — is crumbly, not mashed potato.

So there I stand, at 8pm on a Wednesday night, staring in horror at a bowl of floury paste. The fact that I'm hungry and tired tips this event from the 'minor inconvenience' category into the 'this is more tragic than The English Patient' category.

What to do?

Start crying, for starters.

Perplexingly, this has no effect on the pastry.

I should have just made an omelette with the egg ingredients and called it a night, but some part of me (which I refer to as 'Scarlet' because it reminds me of that scene in Gone with the Wind when she clenches her fist and says, 'As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!' all tenacious-like) was determined to make quiche, even if it meant eating at 3am. So thank fuck I found the Serious Eats post titled 'The Science of Pie Dough'. It uses science (and words) to tell us why not only is the homogenous gloop outcome not the end of the world, it might actually be preferable.

All you do is add some more flour and mash it in with a spatula.

For me, this was a revelation on par with learning how to colour my own hair, or go on Facebook at work without my colleagues noticing (i.e. profound).

Of course, this could all be about as interesting to you as the annual Anglo-American fiscal report.

Use it, don't use it.

Life's too short to be cutting butter, is all I'm saying.









Things I'm...

DRINKING: Mulderbosch Steen Op Hout Chenin Blanc

READING: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

WATCHING: Hannibal season 2. (Mads Mikkelsen can eat me any day.)

LISTENING TO: Heartbeat by Blackbird Blackbird... Dreamy and haunting and joyful.

Oh, and someone told me I need to put the word Christmas in my post a lot if I want to get loads of hits, so... Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.

All about the hits, me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Just what the world needs: another kale & blueberry salad


Though it pains me to say it, I am not immune to the charms of the cultural phenomenon that is kale: curer of cancer, rescuer of kittens from trees, solver of the crisis in the Middle East... At least, you'd think that was the least of its magical powers, the way people go on about it.

Now, I have been favourably disposed towards kale for quite some time. I read about cavalo nero ('black cabbage', not kale, but close enough) in the first River Cafe cookbook the Guinea Pig bought me about 10 years ago, and was completely seduced by the dark, velvety leaves: they seemed mysterious, potent, and infused with the sense of rustic romance westerners wilfully impose on all things Italian. Of course, back then, no one in SA had even heard of it, except members of the most esoteric food circles. Today, Woolies stocks kale, and it's a best-seller at farmers' markets. Yesterday, I bought several bunches of cav. nero and kale at OZCF.

Now, if you have a food blog addiction, as I do — particularly of the health-obsessed, manic-pixie-dream-girl variety, God help me — you will almost certainly have encountered more than a few kale salads. Kale and blueberry salads, more specifically.

Why?

Because super foods.

Most people (and I include myself in this) who describe themselves as 'health-conscious' — actually, let's say ... most people, in general — are sitting ducks for marketers. Man, whoever invented the term 'super food' must surely have their own hallowed shrine in the Museum of Marketing. (I suspect it was Dr Oz.)

Blueberries were the first to be ordained a 'super food' (correct me if I'm wrong?), and all us 'healthies' (cringe) ran out to buy them. And still do. Thanks to that success, a slew of other foods, mostly exotic, began to vie for the super food title, like a messy, produce version of WWE SmackDown.

Gogi berries. Cacao nibs. Black soy beans. Edamame. Chia seeds. Hemp seeds... Eventually this trend culminated in the deification of kale: a humble, tough, bitter-tasting member of the cabbage family.

The problem is, we're after that magic bullet that's going to give us perfect health and make us live forever. Our obsession with health foods is a denial of our mortality. Of course there's nothing wrong with being health conscious, but this obsession with singling out foods and venerating them above all others makes many of us blind to the bigger picture: which is that all fruit and veg are 'super foods' and you should eat a lot of all of them if you want to live a bit longer.

But this post is sidling closer to a lecture on health, so let's step back from the brink and look at the kale & blueberry salad I made.

Look, it's not bad. But it's not great, either. I can only assume I thought it would be a good idea because I'd been brainwashed by the countless hysterical blog posts I'd read on the subject.

Raw kale, even after being lovingly massaged with olive oil (a weirdly intimate practice that is supposed to mellow its slightly leathery fibrousness), still requires some committed mastication. It's chewy. The blueberries, roasted almonds, avo, croutons and goats cheese go some way towards palatability, but frankly, I would rather have made this salad with some shredded red cabbage and lettuce. And bacon. It's chief allure is that it bestows a solid sense of righteousness, the culinary equivalent of saying 200 Hail Marys.

Fuck that.

DON'T make this salad. (Kale is much better cooked, imo, especially in this soup.) Rather, DO buy Willow Creek's Blood Orange Flavoured Extra Virgin Olive Oil*. I got a bottle from work a while back, and it had been sitting in my cupboard for ages before I decided to try it, because I don't usually go in for flavoured oils. But it was a revelation. It's delicate, fresh and slightly floral, with that unmistakable citrus tang underneath. It helped me work my way through this kale salad, and almost enjoy it.





*I haven't been paid or asked to promote this product — I just genuinely like it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In defence of short-term obsessions


Have you ever read about the Buddhist practice of creating mandalas out of sand?

A mandala is a spiritual ritual symbol representing the microcosm of the universe — basically a stupendously complicated circular pattern. ‘In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.’ (So says Wikipedia.)

Now sand mandalas... Well, that's a whole new level. This is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice where monks spend up to several weeks creating an enormous, elaborate mandala using coloured sand. And get this — once it's done, once they've created this magnificent, exquisitely detailed artwork that represents all life and meaning…

… they destroy it.

Ever since I first read about it, I found this practice baffling. I mean, to spend weeks or months of your life painstakingly creating something of extraordinary beauty, only to eradicate it, as if it never existed… It just didn’t compute.

Then I had my existential crisis, started having Deep Thoughts, and began to see this odd practice through new eyes.

I broached the subject with the Guinea Pig one Sunday as we ambled through Newlands Forest.

Me: '...'
GP: 'Yes?'
Me: 'Nothing.'
GP: 'No, say it.'
Me: 'No.'
GP: 'Come on, what were you going to say?'
Me: 'It's silly.'
GP: *whinyvoice* 'Say iiiiiit.'
Me: 'Okay, well, I was just thinking I finally understand why Buddhist monks create those sand mandalas, and then destroy them afterwards. It's about trying to understand the transience of life. Of trying to accept that all things are ultimately destroyed, sooner or later. Struggle is pointless. It all ends.'
GP: ‘…’
Me: ‘…’
GP: 'Golly.'
Me: 'Yeah.'
GP: 'Maybe it's because they don't have DSTV?'

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present my husband: The Philosopher.

He is, in fact, very wise though. He has weathered many of what he calls my STO's — short-term obsessions — with the patience of, well, a wise Buddhist monk.

There was the time I became a bit of an environmental extremist, putting up posters on my car windows urging people to use more electricity-efficient light bulbs, and getting very annoyed that the Guinea Pig wasn't taking these Extremely Important Issues as seriously as I was.

Then there was the time I became a viciously judgemental vegan for two months. (The poor Guinea Pig, not terribly partial to vegan fare, would buy Woolworths meatballs and add them to whatever I made.)

More recently I became a bit LCHF mad, after interviewing Tim Noakes for an article, and the Guinea Pig patiently listened while I haughtily explained why animal fat is good and carbs are evil. (Thankfully I've recovered, and the GP graciously refrained from saying 'I told you so'.)

Whenever I get that familiar tingle that tells me 'I Have Found The Answer to EVERYTHING’, I try to take a step back and think: 'Okay, let's see where this goes, but you'll probably be over it in a month. Don't make any sudden movements, and above all don't start preaching to anyone who'll listen about your Amazing Discovery.' I try not to get too attached — which I think is very Buddhist of me.

So it is with my recent personal mission statement to Eat Less Bread (it's got all the hallmarks of a classic STO). Not because I believe gluten is evil (I don't actually know what gluten is), but because bread is so delicious and so goddam convenient that I can easily have it three meals a day, which leaves me feeling crap. (Sensitive readers, skip to the next paragraph.) We're talking bloating, cramps, indigestion, etc.

So this bread, the one you see in the picture, really is an Amazing Discovery if you're trying to eat less of the flour-based stuff, because it is so fucking delicious, and at the same time isn't really bread at all. It's mostly just seeds, oats, and those psyllium husks Banters are so fond of. Mainly though, it tastes incredible: rich, roasted, creamy, satisfying. I make a loaf each week, slice it and freeze it. A decent sourdough is never going to be off the menu for me, but this convenient substitute prevents me from ODing.

(It's not my recipe, though. It belongs to Sarah Britton of My New Roots. She dubs it ‘The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread’, which is a bit melodramatic. Life-enhancing, maybe. But she’s a hippy Earth Mother, and I love her for it. Plus her pictures are pretty.)


Sarah Britton's flourless seed bread
Makes 1 loaf

You can use any combination of nuts and seeds you like, but I think the chia seeds are pretty NB. Anyway, if you want more detail, check out Sarah's extended post.

1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
½ cup / 90g flax seeds
½ cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 ½ cups / 145g rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 Tbsp. maple syrup [I just used a Tbsp. sugar]
3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil or ghee [I used olive oil]
1 ½ cups / 350ml water

1. In a loaf pan (preferably silicon, but if using a metal one my tip would be to line it with baking paper) combine all dry ingredients, stirring well. Whisk maple syrup (or sugar), oil and water together in a measuring cup. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight. To ensure the dough is ready, it should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.
2. Preheat oven to 175°C.
3. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing (difficult, but important).
4. Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well too — slice before freezing for quick and easy toast!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Creamy rice pudding with caramel & vanilla roasted pears

It happened as I wandered through the Paul Cluver vineyards one Saturday in autumn ... oh, about two years ago.

I had a glass of Pinot in one hand, and was trailing my fingers lightly along the foliage, soaking up the warmth of the fading sun, the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the haunting beauty of neat rows of vines in shades of plum, russet and butterscotch. It was a perfect moment. Not only because I felt grateful, content, full and light but also because I felt clear. Just as the contours and veins on a nearby leaf were illuminated in immaculate, sparkling clarity, my inner contours also felt vivid, sharp, emphatic. I sensed consciousness streaming through me as though I were no more substantial than a breeze, and at the same time infused with brilliance; bright and precise, like cut crystal. The fact of my existence needed no substantiation.

It was at once a hyper-real and dream-like encounter, as though I were experiencing myself in high-resolution for the first time. (What do Paul Cluver put in their Pinot?)

Then I looked down.

I saw my feet, sure. But, after a heartbeat, I didn't, because my subconscious, clearly waiting for this exact moment, superimposed an image of an enoromous belly my belly over my feet, treating me to a portentous vision of my heavily pregnant self.

In that second, the marrow-deep yearning that I had not dared put a name to could no longer be denied.

I wanted to be a mother.

You see, I really had tried — very hard — to deny it, because the prospect of parenthood absolutely terrified me.

For the longest time, I didn't have the slightest maternal urge, and was quite confident that I'd be happy to go through life child free, solvent, unshackled. Then I began to cry during toilet paper commercials. Or whenever I saw anything remotely related to a woman struggling with the decision to have a child, or a caring maternal gesture... Being in the vicinity of a baby made me feel squelchy and light-headed.

(As an aside, I do not subscribe to the notion that women have a 'biological clock' if that were true, we'd all be getting broody at the age of 16 or so, when our bodies are primed for childbirth not in our 30s [!], which seems to be the case more often these days. If there is a clock of any sort, I think it's a cultural construct, but that's a different conversation.)

Still, I tried to tamp down my growing curiosity. I thought about the money, for one. 'DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH CHILDREN COST?!?!' I'd shout-think at myself. 'You'll be broke. You'll never have any time to yourself. You'll be tired constantly. Your marriage will buckle under the pressure. You'll regret it, you'll be unhappy. You'll have to put all your dreams on hold...'

But the feeling kept growing. I developed a lump in my throat whenever I thought of my mother or father holding a baby. My baby. I thought of what a brilliant dad the Guinea Pig would make, and how it would take our incredible, supernatural (that's how it fees sometimes) love for each other and magnify it, grow it, plough it. I thought about all the magic moments from my own childhood, and how much I wanted to experience that all again, only this time from the other end of the equation.

The fact of my desire to be a mother came as a complete surprise, which is why it's taken two years, even after realising it, to work up the courage to make the attempt. What's helped, recently, is finally understanding that living a good life isn't about being happy. It's about embracing purpose, depth, challenge. To keep experiencing new things. Hard things. I want to live a meaningful life, and hopefully 'happiness', whatever that means, will be a side effect. But it's really not the point.

So now that the decision to move forward has been made, I find myself fantasising about what it'll be like. These daydreams frequently involve food. What will be my children's favourite foods? I think back to my most-loved dishes as a young 'un, and remember how easy to please I was (my parents will probably snort when they read this, remembering how notoriously fussy I became in my teens, but I'm referring to the earlier years). Rice pudding was up there, with its comforting starchiness. It tasted like home. It's one of many I can't wait to make it for my own children, and when I do, it will be this recipe, because it is heaven in a bowl, especially on a bitter winter's evening. It's like a hug from the inside.

You can leave out the pears and caramel if you like, it's good on its own (and a great deal simpler), but do try them all together at least once. The pears offer a slightly tart counterpoint to the creamy pudding, and the caramel... Well, I'm sure I don't need to sell you on caramel.


Creamy rice pudding with vanilla roasted pears & caramel
Serves 4
For the vanilla roasted pears: 
¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean
4 pears, halved though the stem and cored
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the rice pudding:
1 cup arborio rice
1 litre milk, plus extra
½ cup caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
½ cup cream
For the caramel:
3 tbsp brown sugar
50g butter
1 tin condensed milk

1. For the pears: Preheat oven to 160°C. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter. Roast the pears for 30 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer.
2. For the rice pudding: While the pears are roasting, make the pudding. Place the rice, milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25–30 minutes or until the rice is tender. Remove from the heat and stir through the cream. If the mixture feels too thick, loosen it with a little milk.
3. For the caramel: While the rice is simmering, make the (cheat's) caramel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the sugar and the condensed milk. Stir, over a medium heat, for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, until the mixture turns a deep caramel colour. (Be careful to keep stirring so the sauce doesn't burn.) Remove from heat. 
4. Spoon the hot, creamy rice pudding into bowls, top with the pears and a generous drizzle of caramel. Eat, swoon, be transported back through time and space to the cosy kitchen of your childhood.


*Credit where credit's due: The above dish is a combination/adaptation of this Donna Hay recipe and this creation from Smitten Kitchen.




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Raindrops on roses


































1. The Franschhoek Literary Festival: I attended for the first time with my friend Paige Dorkin. That's her in the image above, taken late last Saturday afternoon we stayed in an old house with a clementine orchard, which we wandered through at dusk, talking about husbands and writing and books and, yes, gossiping a little. It was a magical weekend, if a little overwhelming, and I am quite anxious that I have to wait an entire year for the next one. Highlights included Margie Orford and Rebecca Davis (I want to be just like them when I grow up), Tim Noakes debating heart surgeon Lionel Opie (a bit of a farce, but an entertaining farce), and Redi Tlhabi chairing a debate on racism. I've been having flashbacks all week.

2. Encountering a gorgeous new food blog always gives rise to my obsessive tendencies, but for Local Milk, a blog by writer/cook/photographer Beth Evelyn who lives in Tennessee, I've fallen hard. When I read the opening lines of this post, I felt a swelling my my chest and my heart started yammering against my ribs... She writes like a dream. She writes the way I want to write. So that was it, what I was feeling: pure envy. Along with a hefty dose of awe, and the first fervent flutterings of infatuation. I actually might have to stay away for a while because her writing makes me feel ill with longing for the Deep South. (This woman's writing also makes me ache.)

3. My Son of Burnard winged pendant arrived in the post this week. I love it.

4. I've made this crazy-simple Lamb neck stew with lemon & thyme three times now, and I just can't get enough. A handful of everyday ingredients (lamb, thyme, lemon, olive oil and stock [optional], black pepper) get naked in a pot together and make sweet, sweet love to each other, resulting in a kind of unctuous, umami-flavoured crack. Seriously, it's addictive. I recommend it with bread, as pictured, and this salad.

5. I've discovered whiskey. A committed wine drinker, I couldn't see the point of venturing into new alcoholic waters when I was so happy drinking wine, but I had to write an article about whisky recently, so in the name of research, naturally, I drank the stuff. I think that's the key the more you learn, the more interesting the subject of study becomes. Somehow, suddenly, I found myself intrigued. And then drunk. But the intrigued bit is the important part. So, yeah, me and whiskey, who knew? I have a small glass next to me, right now, of Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey, and I'm utterly enamoured of it. (If you'd like to read about what I gleaned on the subject, grab a copy of the August issue of Fairlady magazine.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nothing fancy


I was recently knocked over by the flu we're talking WWE Smackdown, the RAW Total edition (not that I know about such things, ahem). This time last week, I was shivering away in a sweaty tangle of duvets, in the grip of a fever the likes of which I have not experienced since childhood this I know, because it was familiar. 'Ah,' my overheated brain informed me, 'We've been here before! But not in many moons.'

My regression was almost total. Not only was the desire to have my mother at my side pathetically strong, but I felt a deep, primal longing for the foods of my early youth. Not that I had much appetite to speak of, but the only things I would even consider eating held the promise of nostalgia and comfort perhaps it was my brain's way of compensating for my mother's absence.

Marmite toast. Macaroni cheese. Jungle Oats. Fish fingers. Eet-Sum-Mors. Escort Viennas. Rice pudding...

Bland, comforting flavours.

I hadn't lusted after fish fingers since my teens, when I first examined the greyish, gelatinous block of fish mush without its coat of crumbs. But while I was convalescing, I could have devoured an entire plate of the things, with large puddle of All Gold tomato sauce on the side for good measure. Heaven.

I didn't indulge all of my regressive food fantasies, seeing that I was too sick to go to the shops (and too fussy, impetuous and foul tempered to ask the poor, beleaguered Guinea Pig to do it), so I basically subsisted on Marmite toast and biscuits.

My stomach still lurches at the thought of red meat right now, but I'm starting to feel the effects of too much beige, starchy food. I know I am close to fully mended because yesterday I craved a salad. Something green.

This was the first proper meal I'd had in over a week. Nothing fancy. Some caramelised roast potato chunks rubbed with dhukka, laid out on a bed of watercress, and sprinkled with feta, walnuts and pomegranate seeds... I only used pomegranate because I had one left over from my trip to Calitzdorp. It could just as easily have been chopped apple or sliced pear. It was simple and satisfying and easy to digest. Nowhere near as comforting as macaroni cheese, of course, but nourishing, which is just what I needed.



 
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