Monday, March 3, 2014

On turning 30 + Skye Gyngell’s baked aubergines with tomatoes, tarragon and crème fraîche

Brooding weather in Newlands today, just like my mood.

In theory, you know you’re going to get old one day. You know you’re going to go grey, your boobs’ll cash in that one-way ticket south, and crows’ feet will come home to roost.

Thing is, for the first third or so of your life, you can safely attach the word ‘eventually’ to the end of that sentence. This allows you to neatly side-step the whole issue. 

Until, of course, 'eventually' becomes 'today'.

I imagined, somehow, that when I did start ‘getting old’*, I’d be prepared, that it’d feel right and natural. But it came as a complete surprise. I thought I still had so much time… Ah, let me not get maudlin.

When I turned 30, three years ago, certain changes started to manifest that I never anticipated. They’ve been completely unexpected, unsettling and kind of wonderful.

My body, for one. (Saw that coming, did you?)

The shape of it began to change. I’ve always been slim, and it’s not that I suddenly put on weight, but rather, my arms gained some padding, my stomach grew more rounded... Not added weight, exactly, but different proportions.

It was disturbing at first, but in some ways I like it better — it feels more womanly. More me, somehow. One of wonderful side effects of time passing is that I’ve learnt to pry a few fingers off the stick that so many women use to beat themselves: equating our looks with our value as human beings.
Funny… When I was in my frenetic, anxiety-riddled 20s, I always imagined my 30s in a sort of halcyon glow; an island I was travelling towards that would finally offer me the security and affirmation I’d been craving. ‘My thirties,’ I used to think to myself. 'I can’t wait to describe myself as being "in my thirties".' The word ‘thirty’ felt sober and solid, weighted with the promise of belonging, of finally returning home to myself. 

And so it proved to be, which is a huge surprise to me because my life has not exactly made a habit of aligning itself with my expectations.

Of course, now that I am on the island, the life I lead is so dear to me that I often fret it’s all too good to be true. No one is just happy — something bad is bound to happen when you least expect it! I want so much to hold on to what I have: my home, my husband, my family, my work… This feeling of being loved by the right person, in the right place, at the right time. So, paradoxically, I am more joyful but also more fraught with irrational worry (though it’s a price I pay gladly).

What else? Ah. The God thing. I finally let that go.


I was a devoted Christian in my childhood and teens. Lots of praying. The came my Neale Donald Walsch phase (you don’t need religion to know God), my Buddhism phase (detach or be damned!), my Eckhart Tolle phase (negative thoughts are making you unhappy, man), my Ayn Rand phase (I can’t talk about that, it was too traumatic)… And I sort of aimlessly drifted along in a fog of New Age ‘wisdom’ and Oprah-sanctioned ideology. Placebos, really.

By the time I hit 3-0, my notion of God had been so smoothed over, like a sandblasted piece of glass, I had only a vague belief in a sort of loving, benign force out there that was somehow inextricably involved in my life but also totally indifferent. Certain questions bothered me, of course, but I never looked at it too closely.

Then came Richard Dawkins. And science.

I once perceived science as a kind of cold, uncaring philosophy, as I’m sure many do. Now I know it’s not that at all, but a brilliant system of questioning, of discerning truth. I began to pry my mind open, like a crusty clam lying at the bottom of the sea. And it hurt. A lot.

I still miss God — or, rather, the notion of God. It was like having all the best qualities of a friend and parent living with you in your head, all the time. It was so comforting, and I miss it. But I can’t go back — once you know something, you can’t unknow it. I’ve seen how the rabbit got into the hat, there’s no changing that.

Here’s the upside though — I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no omnipotent being ‘out there’ pulling the strings, which means my life is up to me entirely. Not God. Not anyone else. And with that realisation came a profound sense of responsibility that is both terrifying and galvanizing. No one’s going to make my dreams come true for me. I have to do it myself. 

Gosh, this is an unusually meditative blog post for me. Must be the weather. 

Allow me to conclude with the words of Hannah Horvath’s gynaecologist: 'You could not pay me enough to be 24 again.' (To which Hanna replies: ‘Well, they're not paying me at all.’)

Skye Gyngell’s baked aubergines with tomatoes, tarragon and crème fraîche
Serves 4-6

I have nothing to say about this recipe except that it’s lovely. Skye Gyngell’s take on Parmigiana di melanzane, and I think I prefer it to the more traditional dish.

1 1/2 kg aubergines
1/3 cup olive oil
50g unsalted butter
1kg ripe tomato, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
400ml crème fraîche
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/2 tablespoon lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped
50g parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1. Slice aubergine into 1cm rounds, lay in colander and sprinkle with salt, leave for 30 minutes then pat dry with kitchen towel.
2. Heat oil in a large fry pan (should be about a 1cm depth so add more oil if needed). Over medium-high heat, fry aubergine slices until golden on both sides. You’ll have to work in batches. Drain on kitchen paper.
3. Melt butter in another saucepan and add the chopped tomatoes and garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes until soft.
4. Put the crème fraîche in a small pan and bring to boil over a med heat. Allow to bubble until reduced by a third, take off heat and add all the herbs and half of the Parmesan, taste for seasoning.
5. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line the bottom of a large oven proof baking dish with aubergines, follow with thin coating of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan, continue layering in this way, finishing with tomato sauce. Pour over the crème fraîche and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.
6. Let the dish sit for a few minutes to allow the flavours to get acquainted!
7. Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes till golden brown.
8. Allow to stand for 5 minutes then drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.
9. Do not serve this dish too hot.

*I'm well aware that 33 is hardly 'old', but it's not quite 'young' either.


  1. Here it is... Proof again that you're blessed with a fascinating mind. What a bravely personal and well-considered post. Tell it McClarty! Huge fan of your cleverness, your smile and your spectacles.

  2. Russel! You gorgeous man. Paddy and I were talking just yesterday about how we MUST make it out to your new (well, not quite so new anymore) spot in Overgaauw SOON. xxx