Archive | May 2010

THEFT

For many years, I have leaned toward literature where food is the supporting act. Not cookery books per se; but novels with an underlying thread of the everyday preparation of meals and larder stockers. Books like Zuretha Roos’s The Saffron Pear Tree and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past; which I first read as a library books and so loved that I had to buy my own copies, to dip into over and again.

Ever the fool, I lent three of my favourites; Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Annie Hawes Extra Virgin and Ripe For The Picking to an acquaintance, more than a year ago. About three months ago, I made a timid request: could I have them back so that I could do a book review on them for my club. I am still waiting and am too embarrassed to ask again!

The second Annie Hawes book is a particularly beloved one; it gave me a recipe that has become a regular star at our table. Essentially a stand-alone, cold lunch for labourers in the olive groves of Liguria, it comprises equal volumes of roughly chopped potato and parsley (yes; a lot of parsley, but it works) with two large tins of anchovies (the oil is used for dressing) and a grind of pepper. As simple as it is, there is no better accompaniment for roast beef and we enjoy this meal very often, but I have to drown my curses about my missing books with a large glug of Merlot.

Telling this story to a foodie friend on the telephone sometime ago, it seems that I am not alone. Blatant book thievery abounds and complete lack of conscience is not a rare thing at all.

Perhaps I should invite myself over and piddle in someone’s veggie patch?

SUBURBIA, REFRAIN

There is a man on the other side of the white wall;
clipclipclip of shears and the scrittling swoosh of falling leaves,
he hums the hymn of yesterday and thinks of scything sheaves of wheat
and woodfires where women stir pots of meat and gravy.

On a sunlit carpet floor, where the smell of furniture wax lingers,
a sleeping dog sighs and scrabbles after a rabbit running in her dream;
she shifts position slightly and keeps an ear cocked in case
a squeaking cupboard door summons her to fetch a biscuit.

The woman at the ironing board shifts her weight and makes a floorboard
creak again when she stoops to lift the jug and flicks her hand,
making a satisfying, sharp phtsss! as the water hits the hot metal
and she ponders the possibilities of corned beef on toast.

The angry driver changes gears and hurtles over melting tar,
screaming past suburban walls his peripheral vision reads as distance covered,
his thumping stereo leaves morose thuds of bass lingering briefly in his wake;
the dog yawns a halfhearted growl and decides to return to her rabbit.

©Cindy Taylor 2009

THE HOUSE AT MORGAN BAY

A memory, circa 1977

The original rondavel* was probably more than a hundred years old. Generations, one after the other, had tacked on rooms; higgledy-piggledy, with crooked passages and ceilings sloped so low in places that they left spaces that served only to house a stack of books, or storage space for a basket of eggs.

What eventually became the kitchen had been built around the old outside-oven; walls a meter thick resulted in window sills wide enough to serve as storage space for pots and pans, pots and pans battered and weathered, brought from the houses in the city, no longer acceptable for there, but perfectly suitable for making mussel chowder after a day at the beach.

A week before the families arrived from Johannesburg and Salisbury, the maiden aunt from East London would drive to Morgan Bay with two servants. The key would be retrieved from under a stone at the water tank and every door and window would be opened. Every piece of furniture would be carried onto the grass outside and scrubbed down with soapy water to slough off the sea grime. Chests were opened and faded cotton sheets were hung on the washlines, flapping in the wind like flags heralding the arrival of royalty.

Trays and trays of bottles and jars were carried in from the car and stacked on the sideboard on the front verandah, which served as the dining room; ginger beer, curried beans, curried peaches, chutney, watermelon preserves … There were cake tins stacked high containing rusks, biscuits, coconut ice and fudge.

In the long, wide back verandah stood a row of metal-frame beds; eight or ten, I can’t remember. This was the sleeping area for the tribe’s younger children. Fishing rods and nets leaned against walls, here hung a rope of pumpkin shells and there was a tower of plastic buckets for building sandcastles.

There was a garage of sorts, but it had become more of a storeroom; for beach toys and outdoor cooking paraphernalia, tool boxes and surfboards. And there was a pile of ticking-covered mattresses. Because one never knew who was bringing a friend, a new fiancé or a lost soul who shouldn’t be left alone for the holidays.

I wonder if the house is still there?

* Rondavel:
The rondavel is a small building, usually round or oval in shape and is traditionally made with materials that can be locally found in raw form.

WORST FOOD MEMORY?

“The home cooking I had been so looking forward to was in the end, spaghetti of the most watered down WASP style of cooking I had ever eaten, pale lumps of tomatoes floating glumly, large pinkish meatballs like testicles lying unstrung and heavy on the plate of thick pasta.”
From American Dad by Tama Janowitz

This made me think about dreadful meals I’ve had. I thought of bland airline food, the truly awful ‘hot pot’ that is so popular in Hong Kong, a miserable effort by an uncle that resulted in stringy bits of chicken boiled in apricot juice … it became a very long thinking session, but my mind eventually found a memory that made me smile.

We were on holiday in Morgan Bay and I became involved in a heady holiday romance with a boy from Komga; his family owned a holiday home in Morgan Bay and they spent all their weekends and holidays there. After lunch on Christmas Day he came down to our place and said that his parents had invited me to supper that evening, it was to be a casual affair; basically leftovers and pot luck, but they had gathered their son was quite smitten and they wanted to meet me. (He had met my parents weeks before and my father had invited him to visit us in Bloemfontein during the following Easter holidays).

I was terribly nervous, but the evening went very well and I found them good people, not at all as intimidating as I had expected. We all ate well and later pudding was offered, everyone declined except the dad, and so I thought it good manners to have some too. It was a bit of Christmas pudding and quite dry, so the dad popped into the kitchen and got a jug of cream for us. A strange tasting pud, but I gamely worked my way through it and complimented the mom on it, saying it was absolutely delicious.

Of course everyone laughed their heads off at me when the mom cleared the table and saw which jug the dad had taken from the fridge. It was not the cream jug; I’d eaten salad dressing over my fruitcake!

ANSWERING ABOUT APARTHEID

My daughter asks a lot of awkward questions, the precocious brat feels that she can single-handedly compensate for all the sins of humanity. This is – very probably – punishment to my husband for being the rabid advocate of justice and honour that he is. I have been asked about Apartheid and why her Grandfather ‘didn’t ‘just make them stop it’. She is angry that her uncle and I did not ‘write letters and stuff to complain to Mr. Mandela’. When she hears that Mr. Mandela had a rather restricted mail allowance at the time and why, she wants to hate us all the more.
To call a spade a spade (sorry!), I can honestly say we didn’t know. I know that sounds like something which someone living near Auschwitz in 1943 may say, but perhaps it is because I was lucky enough to be raised in a family and a community where we were never exposed to cruelty in any form, Brussels sprouts excluded. I suspect, in hindsight, that her Grandfather was shouting to make things change; I remember references to the ominous B.O.S.S. (Bureau Of State Security) and I remember curtains being twitched ever so slightly to see if their sinister beige car was still parked across the road. (This put me off Toyota forever). I have a hazy memory of being told to be very, very quiet whilst someone banged crossly at our door.
In short, I have recollections only of a charmed childhood, we spent all our holidays and weekends at the family farm in Tweespruit. I played – from frosty morning until early evening – with Thabo. We ran our mud-caked legs up hills, once set the barn alight and ate prickly pears until we had to be given a strong dose of Eno’s and be put to bed. It did not occur to me at the end of the holidays that I was going back to school and Thabo was not, and would never.
Only in my teens did I have a moment of ghastly realization. Bored and hemmed in by a rainstorm, I went into my dad’s study and rifled through his chaotic bookshelves for something to read. I found a torn-out magazine article inside a book which had been written (God only knows who had been brave enough to print it then) by a domestic worker. What leapt out of the article and took my breath away, was this woman’s dignity and her belief that she would never respect anyone whilst she was washing their soiled underwear. Shortly after that Mr. de Klerk finally did something right and everything got a bit better.
All this drivel does not answer My Dort’s questions and I need to do the bloody lunch dishes before I start preparing supper, so – to cut a long story short – I shall simply tell her to look to the future. I shall ask her to do one simple thing every night before she falls asleep; that she asks herself this question:
Did I behave, today, in everything I did and with every person with whom I had contact, in a way that makes me proud to be me?
I reckon that’s enough to get her going?

PEARS AND ALMONDS

My friend Tandy issues a challenge periodically to all the foodie bloggers. Last week I studiously ignored her, the challenge was to bake a soufflé; something I have an unaccountable fear of doing. This week she’s asked us to use pears and almonds. I expect there will be many tarts and cakes in response. Surfing the web I came across a recipe for ‘turkey dressing’, which I assume is what we here in South Africa call ‘stuffing’. As luck would have it, I had a nice big Cornish hen defrosted, so I made my version of the recipe:
Bread crumbs, pears, toasted almonds, sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

I served it with sautéed potatoes and mushrooms.
(The mushy bit on the left is the stuffing).

It was interesting, but I wasn’t overwhelmed.
I think I will try a warm pear salad that I also saw on the web, to attempt a sexier response to Tandy’s challenge.

In the meantime, I’ll just fantasize about the salad I made from the crayfish her husband gave me back in January …

RITUAL

It’s the same almost every single weekday morning; at exactly 6am I get a peck on the cheek and a see you later as he leaves for work. I pour my second cup of coffee and cut cheese for a sandwich, select a piece of fruit and take a bottle of water from the fridge. These things I place inside a green canvas lunch bag.

At twenty-five past six, I tentatively go into her bedroom. What will I find today? A sleep-crumpled cherub, who will let me snuggle for a minute and shower her cheek with loud kisses? No, more likely a grumpy gargoyle sprouting horns, who will spit and hiss like a little devil cat in protest at being woken. I do the deed quickly and flee back to the kitchen to fix Jungle Oats.

Then begins the true horror.

Where is my Alice Band, Mom?
I don’t know, where did you take it off yesterday?

Where are my shoes, Mom?
I don’t know, I haven’t worn them in ages.
Very funny Mom!

No matter how many times I suggest she prepares the night before, there is always one item she can’t find. Somehow I get the blame for this and there is much scurry and fuss and bad temper and we are almost late for school.

There, just as I am about to tell her that I won’t fetch her, that she can go home with someone else; she redeems herself and I am giving a fierce hug and those incomparable words. I love you Mommy.

She’s going to be twelve this year. I think I’ll hang a garlic clove above her doorway and give her an alarm clock. I’ll take up with a jogging group who run at 6.15 and the wicked child can get herself sorted in the mornings.