Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kale & chickpea soup


I started writing a lot of boring, unoriginal tripe about autumn and the change of season and blah blah blah...  But really all I want to do is share this recipe, which is jolly good. It's the first thing I've made that includes kale that actually turned out well. Better than well.

It's chunky and deeply flavoursome and easy and versatile and tastes even better the next day... Everything you want in a winter soup, really. So if that doesn't grab you, just look at the bloody picture.

Look, damn you!


Kale & chickpea soup
Serves 4

Okay, a note on versatility: This is the basic recipe, but I've made a similar one using spinach instead of kale with fish stock, some Cape salmon, a few tablespoons of fish sauce and even a little kimchi (!) thrown in, and it was magnificent. For red meat lovers, using beef or lamb stock (along with browned cubes of lamb or beef) will also work really well — or even some chunks of chorizo, and maybe use red wine instead of white? Look, I know I haven't exactly reinvented the wheel, but it is a nice change from minestrone, which is my default winter soup.

Extra virgin olive oil
One onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
A few thyme springs
1/2 tsp dry chilli flakes
10 large plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled and pureed
(or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes and maybe a tbsp tomato paste?)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 large bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped (I used my food processor)
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
1 tin chickpeas, drained

1. In a large pot, fry the onion, garlic, thyme and chilli gently in a few tablespoons olive oil until the onions are soft and glassy. Add the tomatoes, stock, wine and lemon juice and stir, then add the kale and cabbage. Bring to the boil and let it bubble away until it's reduced slightly — you want the soup to have the consistency of a stew — then lower the heat, place a lid on the pot and simmer very gently for about an hour and a half; two if you can wait that long.
2. About 10 minutes before serving, stir in the chickpeas.
3. Place in bowls, drizzle generously with peppery olive oil and serve with crusty bread on the side.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Away from it all

Landmeterskop
Our weekend away started as they usually do: a disorganised, last-minute packing frenzy, leaving about two hours later than intended, and a shouting match.

Once we were on the road, though, it was better. I listen to some music on my iPhone. The Grateful Guineapig zones out like he does when driving. And after we’ve passed the traffic light gauntlet in Somerset West and scaled the lip of Sir Lowry’s Pass, our frazzled nerves begin to untangle and that holiday feeling starts to sink in.

I’ll put a hand on his leg, a smile will tug at his lips, he'll place his hand over mine, and just like that, everything’s fine. We’re Getting Away From It All.

We had lunch booked at Madre’s Kitchen, a restaurant just outside Stanford, about a 2-hour drive from Cape Town. We always go to lunch at Mariana’s, our favourite restaurant (ever, end of), whenever we’re anywhere near Stanford, but this time thought we should try somewhere new, find out if we’re missing out. We were looking forward to it — sitting on the stoep, having that first glass of ice-cold Chenin... I could just about taste it.

Then, about 20 minutes away from our destination, the Guinea Pig says, ‘Uh-oh.’

And I know what that uh-oh means. It means something I really, really don’t want it to mean.

‘Something’s wrong. We’re losing power.’

It does not occur to either of us to make a Star Trek joke, because this is so far beyond not funny. We’re about 150km from home — breaking down is no joke, especially in a Landrover.

But break down we did. (Again.) Or, at least, the car started making a deeply disturbing high-pitched sound neither of us had ever heard before. We had to stop at a service station. Call insurance. Get towed back to Cape Town.

Fun.

I can’t say I am entirely ungrateful for the ordeal though, because while we were stranded on the R43 at the Shell service station, I had one of the most incredible samosas of my life from Salandra Farm Stall next door. Enormous, packed with succulent curried beef mince, crispy around the edges and chewy in the centre... Washed down with Coke. I could have eaten 10.
The best samosa ever
The flat-bed truck driver who drove us back to Cape Town had a miniature doll in his likeness hanging from the rear view mirror, with an enormous zol hanging from its lips. The guy seemed nice enough — I imagine he got ‘the munchies’ fairly regularly, judging by his astounding girth.

We got back home at about 5pm, immediately chucked all the gear into my little Chevy Spark, and put foot. We made it to Landmeterskop, a sheep farm just outside Stanford, right before nightfall. What a fucking day.

Worth it though, we realised, when we got there. It's beautiful.

                                                                                                 

I have this tendency, whenever we go away, to put pressure on myself to relax.

I know, right? Ridiculous.

It’s because I look forward to these getaways so much. Sometimes, I feel like everyday stress is stealing my life — like, one day, I’ll wake up and find I’m 60, and I haven’t really lived, only hopped from one deadline to the next...

When I do escape the rat race, if only for a weekend, I’m so aware of time passing, so worried that I’ll blink and suddenly be heading back to work on Monday, that I get a little panicky and tense.

Enjoy yourself goddamnit! Get your money’s worth.

Thankfully, it doesn’t last. At some point I’ll get distracted from my neurosis by a bumblebee crash-landing into the little yellow flowers on the creeper outside the window. Or a butterfly dancing across the lawn. Or a pair of swallows flying in tandem... Suddenly I’m not thinking about anything. Not work on Monday, not the towing bill, not any of the relentless petty anxieties I terrorise myself with on a daily basis.

We sleep, we read, drink good wine, go for the odd wander up the hill, stare at the sheep (who stare right back)... And we cook. My God, we ate well.

Part of what caused the mad rush before we left on Saturday morning was my sudden, emphatic desire to visit the vegetable stall at the Biscuit Mill. It’s an Alladin’s cave of gorgeously fresh produce, unusual finds, and all way cheaper (and better quality) than Woolworths, Pick n Pay et al.

I really hate going to the Biscuit Mill on Saturdays — I find it a bit pretentious and contrived, not to mention a bun fight, but I would walk barefoot over hot coals to get to that veggie stall. It’s the closest thing to Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market I’ve ever seen in SA, run by the nicest lady.

Veg stall at the Biscuit Mill
I bought way too much of course... bags packed with rocket, baby spinach, an enormous, shiny-purple aubergine, courgets, a head of radiccio, red cabbage, fresh tarragon, parsley, red pepper, red onions, two mushrooms (each as big as my face), a bag of firm, bright scarlet plum tomatoes... Some creamy Gorgonzola from the cheese stand next door.

At The Little Fisherman, a fresh fish shop in the Dean Street Arcade, Newlands, I bought some Cape salmon. A block further, pork loin from Gogo's Deli...

I thought I was too tired and worn out to muster much enthusiasm for cooking on the first night, what with the day we’d had, but half a bottle of Pinot soon saw my spirits revived, pottering in the sweet but tiny little kitchen. We dined on the freshest Cape salmon, roasted on the fire, dressed only in olive oil and a generous sprinkling of Woolies’ seafood rub. It’s so good, and honestly the only thing I ever do to fish. Alongside, we had a salad of rocket, baby spinach, chopped apples, walnuts and creamy crumbled feta, with a dressing of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Sunday’s lazy lunch: leftover fish with a simple tomato salad on a bed of rocket, strewn with tarragon, more feta, simply dressed with olive oil.

Tomato, tarragon & feta salad
In the early evening of the second day, after a nap and a stroll and a shower, I sat outside with a glass of wine and a plate of creamy gorgonzola to pick at, staring out a the lazing sheep, the lengthening shadows and fading lemon-yellow sunlight, and realised I was content. Deeply, delightfully content. It happened without me trying, and there’s a lesson in that. Of course there is. I have resolved to learn it. There’s no TRYING to relax. You just have to let go of expectation.

(Is THAT what the Buddhists have been banging on about all these centuries? Lawks. They might be on to something.)

Of course, it could also just have been the wine.



































That night's dinner... Oh my hat. I am still dreaming about it. It was, I am proud to announce, the first time I’ve managed to get pork crackling JUST RIGHT. And I ate it ALL. The Guinea Pig is a bit grossed out by animal fat, so I tell you without a trace of embarrassment that I gobbled up every last scrap like a rabid beast, grease running down my chin. Grease everywhere, actually: on my forehead, in my hair, staining my T-shirt... And it was EPIC, to use the parlance of our times.

Pork loin with garlic, sage & lemon zest
Perfect crackling




































Did I mention the eggs? You can collect fresh eggs, right out from under a chicken's bum, every morning, if you like. And we liked. We collected them in a little basket provided, lined with a red checkered cloth, and I felt a little like Red Riding Hood. Nearly broke out the skipping, I did. Nearly.



Everything’s better when you’re relaxed. Sex is better. Food’s better. Conversation’s better. Inspiration strikes. You feel generous, grateful, humbled.

In that spirit, I've decided to share with you a few of my favourite weekend getaways, all within two hours' drive of Cape Town, all self-catering, all reasonably priced, all gorgeous.

Stanford: Landmeterskop
See above.  

Tulbagh: Welbedacht Nature Reserve
Each of these private cottages has it's own little plunge pool. I recommend the Eagle cottage, which is a bit extra, but the others are nice too.

Stanford/Caledon: Glen Oakes
Legend has it this pig farm is where Richard Bosman sources pork for his gorgeous charcuterie... And I must say they were rather happy looking pigs.

Stanford: Klein Rivier Cheese Farm
The accommodation is pretty basic, but the house looks over a rolling green lawn and a lovely river... And it's five minutes from Stanford. 

Hemel & Aarde Valley: Spookfontein
This is a gorgeous cottage, lovely white linen, views, chandeliers... And you're in wineland heaven.

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.


 
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