Archive | June 2012


I’m not sure how we drifted to the topic, but my doctor mentioned that his dad is a hobby-hunter and an excellent cook, being an Italian, this follows. My envy at his access to game lead to my being given thirteen frozen wild pigeons. I envisaged receiving a clingwrapped package of miniature versions of the plucked chickens I buy at the supermarket. My donor had not been as generous, however, and I got the birds as they died, all appendages intact and full-feathered. My staff were totally unfazed by this and were quite excited at giving me a lesson at the squeamish business of getting the pigeons naked without being daunted by the arduous business of plucking and cleaning, although there was some debate about the best plucking method.

Anyway, it didn’t take long and the capable pair had the buck naked birds coming thick and fast.

I made a briny bath of sea salt, juniper berries and bay leaves and left the clean little birds to soak for a few hours, as instructed by Our Alice. I had decided to invite my friend Brian, a photographer who is currently visiting us from Cape Town, to join me for a tasting menu of three pigeon dishes made in three different ways, served simply with a crust French loaf to mop up the juices.

Firstly, the most boring take: mainly because I had a glut of tomatoes and had spent Monday making up a big batch of tomato sauce for bottling; I made a cacciatore style casserole. Niki Segent’s tome ‘ The Flavour Thesaurus’ is rather scathing on this dish, saying “ Tomato and chicken are the controlling partnership in chicken tikka masala and in chicken cacciatore, or hunter’s stew – which is not, sadly, the invention of pockmarked Sicilian peasants , returning home with a brace of feral chickens slung over their waistcoats, but an English recipe from the 1950s , taught to nice girls by their mothers in the hope they’d bag the sort of chap who’d be neither too unadventurous not too suspiciously cosmopolitan to a slightly herbed slop of chicken in tomato sauce.” Not too promising a take on the dish, but I fried them lightly with diced bacon and packed them snugly under a blanket of my sauce. Slow cooked in my little casserole dish, in a bain marie, they were quite good and nicely robust for winter fare.

Next was the recipe of my own doing and the one I was most excited about. I stuffed Turkish apricots with ground ginger biscuits soaked in port wine and sandwiched them inside the birds’ cavities. I gave the skins a rub of masala, before wrapping them in bacon and sticking them in a 180C oven to roast to a crispy finish. I really like the way they turned out and the camera seemed to like them too.

My final take was a traditional poultry treatment; I did a lemon & herb seasoning, browned the meat quickly over hot heat and made phyllo blankets to seal in the seasoning. A successful dish and most likely the one that would go down best with folk with less exotic and adventurous eating habits. This one would also be great served at room temperature at a picnic lunch.

All in all, we had a lovely meal and a good evening of reminiscence and giggles, thanks Dr V, and thanks too to your dad. Our final verdict is that ‘wetter is better’ and they are most successful cooked casserole style over a long period in a liquid of some sort.
Now for an announcement: I am leaving on Friday for Cape Town, where I will take a detox programme lasting 28 days at a beach rehab facility. I doubt I will have access to the internet whilst there, so don’t be alarmed if I don’t visit blogs or reply to comments.
Bon voyage and take care.
Much love,



Adj. 1. erstwhile – belonging to some prior time; “erstwhile friend”; “our former glory”; “the once capital of the state”; “her quondam lover”
one-time, onetime, quondam, sometime, former, old
past – earlier than the present time; no longer current; “time past”; “his youth is past”; “this past Thursday”; “the past year”
Adv. 1. erstwhile – at a previous time; “at one time he loved her”; “her erstwhile writing”; “she was a dancer once”;
erst, formerly, at one time, once


I paid a visit to my erstwhile employer on Tuesday and begged a favour; in my future job interviews, I should need to look snappy. She kindly obliged by giving me a new coiffure that has drawn much favourable comment from my pals. Now I can only hope that my erstwhile colleague, who has since moved to the field of recruitment, makes like a gale force wind and gets those interviews lined up pronto.

Very cold Johannesburg; early-morning frozen birdbath:

On the subject of pals, I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to stave off our sub-zero weather with a pot of carrot, apple and ginger stew. One friend suggested I had made a typo and meant a pudding instead of soup. No, no, the inherent spicy flavor of carrots, offset by the sweetness of Granny Smith apples and a dash of marsala-mix with a hefty pinch of ground ginger and a garnish of coriander … my kitchen carried a scent that, if bottled, would epitomize the perfumes of autumn and the health benefits of this combination are manifold. Interesting trivia I found on Wikipedia about carrots:
Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision, including night vision, and vision can be restored by adding it back into the diet. An urban legend says eating large amounts of carrots will allow one to see in the dark. The legend developed from stories of British gunners in World War II, who were able to shoot down German planes in the darkness of night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots’ carrot consumption as an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes, as well as the use of red light (which does not destroy night vision) in aircraft instruments. It reinforced existing German folklore and helped to encourage Britons—looking to improve their night vision during the blackouts—to grow and eat the vegetable.

On the subject of warfare, I had my first cold shoulder from a now-erstwhile friend this week. I found an excellent and perfectly relevant piece on the net, written by one ‘ctomshaw ‘: “It’s fascinating to see what happens with friendships before, during and after divorce. You hear all the time about ex-partners fighting for custody of their children. What you DON’T hear about is losing custody of their friends.” This fellow, evidently terrified of being caught engaged in conversation with my by my erstwhile spouse, positively quivered in his haste to put a distance between us.

In response to this, I can only quote “Give him carrots!” I can’t find the source of this saying, but when I discussed the matter with Big Betsy, she was wholly in agreement with the sentiment.


The danger of a diet high in fried foods is as perilous to décor as it is to the heart. Grandy favours a fried lamb chop or a hake and chip platter above all else. Proof of this was discovered on the wall behind the stove in my new home. The fat-splash residue resembled nothing so much as the barnacles on the side of a neglected boat. My budget didn’t allow for me to get a chap in to sand the walls down and repaint the room, so the only option was for me to drag out my faithful Handy Steam Butler (Mister Jeeves) and tackle the job myself. Here in South Africa, especially in the local black townships, generations of shack dwellers have papered their homes with magazine pages or – with the now iconic – labels of famous brands. This décor genre has become known as Mzanzi chic, but I suppose generic versions of this are to be found in slums the world over. It’s a style I’ve always loved, but it needs a compact space to be truly effective. My little cottage is exactly snug enough to pull it off. Over the years I’ve collected lots of truly RSA artifacts and have been a loyal customer of local store Art Africa for ages.
With Jeeves having done his steamy job, I set to tearing pages from my collection of about 20 years worth of food magazines, invested R54.00 in a packet of wallpaper glue, set Dave Brubeck on replay on the CD player and got going, after a well-deserved coffee break.
It took me ten hours of up-and-down-the-ladder elbow-grease to complete the job and I was stiff as a plank for days afterward; my legs and shoulder took a lot of strain, but I’m pleased with the results. My little home is taking shape and I try not to dwell on the impermanence of the situation. All of this is the situation for a year at best; we shall simply have to see what happens when it happens.
My loneliness is something I didn’t expect as a side-effect of the dissolution of my marriage. Weekends are the worst, but I know that things will improve once I find a job and make a new social life for myself. Catching sight of my husband and daughter setting off, laughing, on a jaunt yesterday, possibly to see a movie and almost losing my beloved Lulubelle (long story, another time, another post) set me awash with self pity. I have not learned yet how to ask for help from my friends, I guess I need to set Mister Jeeves on scrubbing off a bit of my pride. Instead I looked too deep into a bottle of Shiraz and simply got a guilty conscience for my efforts.

I am pleased to report that I have regained custody of my chandelier. Carpe-the-bloody-Diem, as my friend says. Onwards and upwards, I embrace all the clichés this week, especially that old chestnut; this too will pass. (Thank you for that one, Count Czardas!)


When my friend Nzwakazi gave me Abraham Verghese’s novel ‘ Cutting for Stone’ to read, the back-cover blurb had my mouth watering at the mention of the cross-cultural conflicts of a medical doctor spanning Britain, Ethiopia, India, the Yemen et al. I’ve evidently been reading too much Annie Hawes, because – whilst the cuisines are mentioned – they are not exactly features in the story. There is a lot of interesting information about medicine and – certainly – about the history of female surgery. I soldiered on and finished the book (834 pages, excluding end-pages). Judith may rate it higher, but I found insuffiecient character motivation in the plot; perhaps 3/5, and the fault of a ruthless editor. I finished the book while waiting in the car outside the supermarket whilst Grandy was doing her weekly shop. Several strokes have left her very slow and a yield of 2 tomatoes, a loaf of bread, a roasted chicken and the newspaper can occupy her for upwards of two hours.
Anyhow, I got out of the car to enjoy the sunshine and have a cigarette and was joined by an amiable old chap who was engaged in the similar pursuit; of waiting for his wife to do her shopping. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew this man from somewhere and it was only later in the afternoon, when I thought back on it that things clicked into place, thanks to a passage from Verghese’s book:

“A drunk named Jones looked eerily like his father. Thomas realized it was the waxy complexion, the swollen parotids, the loss of the outer third of the eyebrows, and the puffy eyelids of alcoholism that gave both men a leonine appearance. Now that he was trained to see, he put together the other clues he reacalled: red palms, the starburst of capillaries on cheek and neck, the womanly breasts, and the absence of armpit hair.” Lookit; where are their eyebrow-ends??? (pics pinched off the net.)

No doubt my new parking-lot friend had added a bottle of sherry or some-such to his wife’s grocery list. Coincidently, I later read in one of the tabloids that womanly breasts are also a dead-giveaway that men are using Viagra, but I’ll leave it at the missing 1/3rd of the eyebrows for now and move on to the orange sweet potatoes, shall I?

En-route to the mall, I’d been bending Grandy’s ear about Our Betsy scoffing all my pansies and she took it upon herself to buy Betsy a bag of fingerling sweet potatoes. We were most intrigued when we presented these to Betsy: the flesh is bright orange. We’ve never seen anything like it before. Our standard sweet potatoes are a sort of dull beige. Can anyone shed any light?
Betsy seems to like them well enough!


Carpetbag steak or carpetbagger steak is a luxury dish, probably of American derivation, popular in the 1950s and 1960s in Australia and New Zealand.
It consists of an end cut of steak, such as scotch fillet. A pocket in the meat is made, into which oysters are stuffed and sutured with toothpicks or thread.
The combination of beef and oysters is traditional. The earliest specific reference is in a United States newspaper in 1891, which may indicate a connection with carpetbaggers or to gluttony. The earliest specific Australian reference is a printed recipe from between 1899 and 1907. Another recipe from 1909 includes cayenne pepper as an ingredient, which may indicate an American origin. The more recent Australian versions typically use Worcestershire sauce, as does the local version of Oysters Kilpatrick.

It is sometimes served standing up like a miniature mountain. Pockets in the meat are made by small cuts, into which oysters are stuffed and sutured with toothpicks. As the dish is broiled, the flavour of the fresh oysters permeates the steak and blends with the juice of the tender meat. A strip of bacon may be wrapped around the serving and surrounded by peeled and browned baby potato halves. In one style, the steak is marinaded in a sauce of thyme, pepper, tarragon, lemon, sugar and tamarind and served with a glass of dessert wine. The steak can also be flambed with cognac, when it is called “Carpetbag Maxine style”. (Source Wikipedia).
With Professor Tim Noakes doing an about face on his diet advice, a nice, juicy carbetbag steak and chips seemed the perfect treat for a sunny afternoon lunch. I’d forego the dessert wine in favour of a nice peppery First Sighting Shiraz though. With fresh oysters a scarcity, I made do with my dad’s old standby, tinned mussels and it was delicious.

This is a quick and easy meal for one and I used beef tenderloin, I ate out in my little garden. I think it’s coming along nicely, given that I had so little to start with.

My physiotherapist is very angry with me, as my shoulder injury forbids gardening, but I am a stubborn one when I want something done. Big Red Betsy has settled in well, but she’s in my bad books today as she ate all my pansies.

I’ve had two promising job interviews and hope to share some good news next week.
In the meantime, to all my British friends, enjoy the Jubilee festivities.