Monday, December 29, 2008

If you miss New York

...make Manhattans.

Reviving the dining room

The dining room in the house in Constantia has been taken over by my father and turned into an office larger than the study which was designed for the purpose. The heavy stinkwood table and yellow wood riempie chairs have become repositories for piles of legal briefs and bristling stacks of sharp pencils, as well as a special cushion for his white cat Spook.

For the small, family Christmas dinner this year we banished the books and returned the room to itself. Flowers from the garden and lots of candles, the old Waterford crystal hauled out for its annual airing, the silver unwrapped and placed on clean white damask.

Absurd, perhaps in the light of photographs in the newspaper, bombings and burnings, cholera and Gaza...

Roses, nicotiana, jasmine, fuchsia, night-scented gnidia, purple heliotrope, agapanthus, and light.

The menu:

Green asparagus veloute in Woodstock custard glasses
Prawn and mushroom gratin
Nigel Slater's roast leg of lamb with potatoes
Nigella's lamb shoulder with pomegranate
Peas and asparagus
Passion fruit mousse
Chocolate profiteroles

Champagne to start - Piper Heidsieck, NV
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon, 1999

Below, earlier in the day, my mom preparing retro scallop shells with mushrooms and prawns to be placed under the broiler and gratinated with a vermouth sauce...

Nigel Slater's lamb roasted over a bed of potatoes.

The best, crispiest potatoes.

Me, making choux pastry for the profiteroles per the Brothers Roux.

Said profiteroles. Notice ancient radio.

With chocolate sauce...

Passion fruit ready for Georges Blanc's mousse.

Mousse into moulds...

About to be eaten.

The Christmas guest. Better than Elijah.

Sister-in-law Merle and niece Rebecca...

Post party at the kitchen table: my father, helpfully cleaning up.

Bug love

Scabiosa, an annual version, proper name not known.

Picnic at the beach: Bokramstrand

There is a narrow, sullen trickle through the dry fynbos of the southern peninsula, which empties into the Atlantic in the middle of a white beach licked by cold water bluer than any other that surrounds this beautiful Cape. The trickle is called the Bokram River, after which the beach is named, but no bokkies (buck) or rams (...ah, rams) have ever been sighted.

On days following a storm piles of kelp may be washed up on shore and the little kelp flies and decaying seaweed smell keep one away. But after the kelp has dried or washed back out to sea the striped shades of turquoise and azure, caused by various shallows and deeps close to shore, are unsurpassed by any other, I think, around this lovely coast. A 25 minute or so drive from home, it is not the closest beach, but one of the emptiest, and a frequent picnic site.

Nothing to beat a cold G&T on a hot day. Below, chicken liver pate with clarified butter.

A hopeful Ben eyeing the oxtail terrine, melting fast, with confit of garlic, and sliced biltong next door.

Dog paradise.

Wish you were here...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tree tomatoes

The wonderful family Solanaceae brings us the tree tomato, growing in my mom's herb garden, bought as a one gallon plant about ten years ago and now heavy with fruit every year.
Cyphomandra betacea.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Bread

Late Christmas morning and presents are opened around the little indigenous magnolia, decorated with various African and Eurocentric ornaments, with coffee, Christmas bread and glasses of bubbly.

My mom started the bread yesterday afternoon and by evening (cocktail hour, as you can see) it had risen and was ready to be pummeled and rolled.

(Vince had a dry Grey Goose martini, I had straight Noilly Prat dry vermouth with ice...The cook had a whisky and soda). The bread is a tradition going as far back as I can remember. Yeasty, laced with glazed fruits and nuts, and a little bit of the spice-union upon which empires have been based: cloves, cinnamon, allspice.

Flattened and filled it is rolled up.

And tucked nose to tail like a sleepy dachshund.

Put into its tin and slashed, and ju-ju'd to rise properly again.

When it has, it is baked.

Slathered with butter, hot, it is delicious.

Hout Bay Dog Party

Where's the ball?

It has been said that I do not like dogs. Dargs, as the cat calls them. It is true that I prefer cats, in general. I like some dogs the way I like some people. I like most cats.

It is also true that I can't throw a ball into the waves for Estorbo to fetch. And these dogs are most obliging and a lot of fun. Maggie chases the ball like a little low slung rocket. Ben the black lab leaps deep into the water to retrieve, and Ted supervises from a safe distance. I don't think Ted has ever picked up a ball.

There will be a separate post about poop-scooping. It warrants one. Another reason I prefer cats.

Happy Christmas!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A box arrived at work a week ago, just before I left for SA, from Beloeil, Quebec, where my sister-, mother- and nephew-in-law live. Inside it were some very pretty and unexpected presents...And at the bottom lay a long flat book, which I imagined to be an album. As I unwrapped it I saw a picture of a rose on the cover. Hm. That looks familar, I thought, that's one of my Abraham Darby's...and that's my photo!

I opened the covers and could not believe what I was seeing. Brigitte had made a book about 66 Square Feet, with the help of her Mac's software, and had had it beautifully bound. Software is one thing and wonderful, and now I want a Mac, but what it can't do is impart taste, or do it in its own time. The photo's and layout with occasional quotes from posts are so thoughtful and done with such a discerning eye that I believe Ms Mounier should consider a new career in publishing.

A husbandly hand looking through the pages...

I brought the book to Cape Town to show it off and my father said, having been right through it (a testiment to its appeal, since he is always nose-deep in work with no patience for distractions): I have never heard of a more intelligently loving gift.

And that about sums it up.

Thank you, Brigitte. You have collected my flowers, food, cat, and memories, and made them last forever, beautifully.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best Meal of Summer 2007

A bowl of cherries and watermelon.

Roses in spite of everything

There is a house up the road, here in the cul de sac in Constantia, recently renovated by its refugee owners from Johannesburg, and omsingeled by a new 8 foot stone, brick, mortar and electric wire wall. The house has a name, stuck onto the wall in big brass capitals.


Ag no, man. Maybe it's a joke. Maybe they forgot the word NOT, after the rose...As dit is wat julle will he moet julle verder trek.

We can't see any roses through their parallel wood-barred gate. I see a lot of pink gaura. Texan native. The owners told the builders who made the wall that snakes would soon be introduced to the garden. Night snakes, day snakes, and, especially, wall climbing snakes.

There are some grass snakes in my mother's garden, and there are some roses. There is no wall. Above, the 8 foot tall David Austin rose, Graham Thomas.

Below, Rosa "Sharifa", with cat. The rose has a famously strong scent, but I find it no more lovely than Abraham Darby's...

Below, in bud, Rosa mutabilis - like the nicotiana in the previous post, its colours fade over several days, starting off deep fuchsia and becoming a blown-out pinky yellow.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The vine whose name I can never remember, growing in the living wall of trees and shrubs at the lower boundary of my parents' garden. Sweetly scented and luminously white at night.

Trachelospermum jasminoides, or Confederate jasmine, is native to South Africa. Although it was well-established in its pot already, I attached a few leading stems to the pergola on the Constantia patio a year ago and it has filled in well. The flowers scent our morning breakfasts of coffee and croissants. Above, at 6-something a.m. the bars of the pergola are shading it in stripes
before the sun has risen enough to warrant the awning being extended to shade the hot bricks beneath.

Nicotiana mutabilis, for its changing colours. A new nicotiana for me - I love the plant. Tiny flowers on delicate stems.