Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Settling in

The great unpacking.

Now, on this last day of the year, our first order of business is to buy slippers. The Frenchman's suggestion. Neither he nor I has worn slippers since childhood. But the parlour-level Harlem apartment is freezing (this will be helpful in summer, of course).We discovered - long after signing our lease - that we pay for both heat and hot water (not made clear to us at all; it's usually included, and the first bills have been real shockers) and we are being parsimonious...

We are both naturally cold tolerant, so that helps, too. What neither of us likes is being too hot.

Too much information?

Moving along. So, slippers. I've been looking online.

Ugly! Who knew!? They are made for creatures with cloven hooves. Why is that? A friend (thank you,  Jeanette!) directed me to Anthropologie where the most passable pair of slippers resides, though the pom-pom is really a pom-pom too far.

Any other ideas? And no, Uggs do not count.

Today - we head to Chinatown (nothing to do with slippers). The Frenchman has two unexpected days off and Chinatown is best in the utter cold. Fewer smells in the gutters, and bright urban colours on grey days. We may find dim sum, we may buy our annual crabs (see the January New York chapter and recipe in 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life). 

We may eat black bean crabs for dinner and drink Champagne.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Home in Harlem

Proudly South African mementos, with breakfast coffee

I must still unpack.

But here is what I brought back from Cape Town to Harlem.

Marguerite Poland is a South African author best known, I think, for her volumes of children's stories, which are by far amongst the best I ever read. I still return to them, and to their gorgeous illustrations by Leigh Voigt. They are the real - as in authentic - stories of the South African bush, told from the perspective of the indigenous animal and plant life. They are also timeless, classic in the sense that they belong to every child, of every age, and every place. She is the Grimms of Africa. Look for The Mantis and the Moon, Once at Kwafubesi...but there are many more.

Taken Captive by Birds is her new book, and a gift from my mother. 

(I once won a writing competition in South Africa despite cribbing an animal name from one of her books. With my R25 prize money ($2.50 - hey, I was 11. It was long ago) I bought more books, including another of hers.)

Linen - also from my mom, who knows I have a white linen fetish. Granadilla (passion fruit) pulp. I will stir it into the icing sugar for a hot milk sponge. The lime and ginger scrub and soap smelled too good not to bring home. Baobab oil. Who knew? It says it's good for everything. Spray it on, rub it in. The rabbit terrine was a gift from the Voer-ders (ex-Pretoria, now living in Canada, and out for holiday) whom I met for lunch in Koringberg. Can't wait to try it.

Last night in the dark, in rain, arriving in the cab with the Frenchman who had met me at JFK, sparkly lights twinkled from our windows, welcoming me home. They glitter beautifully. 

Inside the apartment with the tall ceilings, were a happy black cat, a little Christmas tree, also aglow, with unexpected gifts below it. There was another, smaller kitchen island, exactly the one I wanted, beside the stove, wrapped in ribbon, spread with unread New Yorkers and the edible treats I like. There were delicious little pies for supper, just like Cape Town pies, from Pie Face, a shop he's found on 23rd Street. We drank Goats do Roam, ate arugula salad spiked with garlic against flying germs, and talked. 

I slept like a log in the soft white bed.

It's good to be home.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The house of men and cats

We drove out to Koringberg today.

Karel Kat met us there.

His stoep was a bit hot, so we ate inside.

Karel polishes this floor every day.

Hopefully Karel's minders, Peter and Johan, will remind us what was in that punch. I remember red currants and limes and apples and mint and Tequila and after that it was a bit blurry.

Karel suggested I check out the garlic.

And the chiles. 

And the olives from his orchard.

Whose lids are labeled with precision.

He showed us the other animals:

And then he said we should sit down again.

An inoquous-looking yet stinging and singing tomato consomme was served. Hot with chile, laced with vodka and witblits, and infused with tomato leaves. Super-good.

Was the goat panna cotta before or after the consomme? Around it was olive oil from the young orchard, and cherries and cranberries, and toasted pine nuts. Shiver.

A brief turn in the hot garden, seared tenderloin, aioli, mashed cauliflower with frizzled sage and a multi-layered (pistachio, meringue, strawbery curd) dessert later...

...and in spite of Karel's bedroom eyes, I  hustled my crew out just after 4pm, rather breaking up the party, I fear. 

But tomorrow I have a plane or two to catch.

The southern summer will be behind me again soon, as I head north into a chilly New York City, to be met by a warm Frenchman and a furry black cat. There is the prospect of cold days in which to start compiling an impressive To Do list. I have no idea yet what will be on it.  

But Karel told me I could do anything I wanted to do. And he looks like he knows what he is talking about. 

He said, If you sit still long enough and listen, it comes to you. And then he added, But it helps if you purr. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kaffir lime - whose name must change

When Don and Rosie came to dinner recently, they brought with them a paper bag filled with the supremely thorny and fragrant branches of Citrus hystrix. It was a real treat. Don grows them.

They are commonly known by many culinarians as kaffir lime. This name never fails to make a South African's hair stand on end, since in South Africa the word kaffir, which I write with difficulty, is akin to the North American word nigger, which I write with as much reluctance. In short, it is deeply offensive and is saturated with a history of hatred and intolerance. Worse, it is still used by racists.

(You can read here about the drama it created for us in Nieu Bethesda.)

My mom gets around it by pronouncong it as kaffeer, to distinguish it from the other.

But makrut is another, less familiar, Thai name. So let's call it makrut.

The leaves are intensly aromatic and have a strange, nipped in waist. Each leaf looks double, vertically.

And I find they infuse white rum superbly well, after just 24 hours. So above you see the rum, fresh lime juice, sugar and soda (what South Africans call seltzer) water. Good. On the night of the dinner several were shredded into a hot-sour-salty-sweet dipping sauce for the flavour bundles.

The one plant missing from my New York life is sour citrus in some form. I like any lime or lemon leaf in cooking, though these makrut are special.

Perhaps this year I'll try and grow citrus in Harlem, depending on the sun situation - spring is another country, after all. I'll bring the pot in if it must overwinter. Or, I suppose I could try the so-called hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata - it stands the New York cold with ease.

I wonder how fragrant the leaves are?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Cape Town

It's another life. Another life down here, altogether. The space, the sky, the sunlight, the lush garden, the privilege, the ritualized lockdown of the house at night, the owls in the poplars in the dark, the constant awareness of the massive weight of poverty pushing at the fabric of things. 

We gathered on the patio for Christmas dinner, with popping crackers for my young niece. 

I plundered the hydrangeas, which are are almost as tall as I am - flowers larger than any of our heads. My mom credits their unprecedented growth and vivid colour with the very late rain the Cape experienced this year. The acidic soil theory [* see comments] has been blown out of the water, though, as the pinks and blues and lilacs grow right on top of one another in a fat hedge of flowers.

The day started with a swim in the pool, all alone in the garden in the sun. As I swam I realized how hard it will be to leave. I miss the Frenchman like the blazes. He is my most loved best friend and I am on half power without him. But I am loathe to leave the light, and this lovely place. My parents speak of how sad they will be when I leave. Time becomes a whole new animal.

I have almost forgotten that my leaving Harlem was close to flight. When I remember I am fearful of a return to the darkness that managed to get to me, there. Still, it is often that contrast - here to there -  that jolts me into new creative activity in New York's cold months.

Some things change, some stay the same.

We will always carry on?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Supper table

Last night's dinner table. The only culinary mishap was the duckmeat curry, which dissolved into duck mush curry - but stilll with an very good flavour. It's a curry paste I'll make again: lots of ginger, shallot, garlic, some chillis/chiles, cumin and white pepper.

The lime leaf-infused gin disappeared in a flash. Must make more.

And tomorrow we do it all again, but on a smaller scale, for a family Christmas dinner.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Southeast Asian supper. Mostly.

The title of this post could just as well have been, "In which Marie bites off more than she can chew."

It is clear blue Monday in Cape Town, a little windy in Constantia, and three long trestle tables have already been arranged on the patio, under the hot African sun. A gecko clings to one of the wooden slabs, and I hope he doesn't get too warm. There will be a supper there tonight, a little farther out from the house than usual, as the space must seat 15, and it may get nippy, away from the shelter of the awning and the walls. Guests have been advised to bring wraps. There will be many candles in glass chimneys.

I was tired of my usual lunch and dinner menus. Cold soups, tarts and terrines and roasted chickens. So I turned to SE Asia for inspiration. It is food I cook often at home in New York. The litchi salad and duck dumplings are based on recipes from David Thompson's Thai food bible. I've turned his roasted duck into duck confit for the salad, and the dumplings should be quail. But who's going to debone a quail? Those days are over. The udon noodes are a bit of a stretch. Further east.

It's a goodbye supper in a way, as I fly home to Harlem, to a Frenchman and  Dominican, on Saturday.

Monday Supper Menu


Lime-leaf (garden) infused gin and tonic


Litchi salad with confit of soy duck, crispy shallots and duck skin

Aubergine salad with steamed eggs, leek scapes (garden) and XO sauce

Chicken wings a la Pok Pok with fish sauce, garlic and sugar

Cold udon noodles with spring onions, sesame oil, fish sauce and lime juice

                                                             x              x                 x 

Flavour bundles - sticky pork filling with tamarind, roasted peanuts, shallots, garlic and ginger wrapped in butter lettuce

Pickled carrots

Dipping sauce (fish sauce, lemon grass, lime, ginger, chilli)

x              x                 x 

Hot duck meatball curry with green coriander (garden), verjus and coconut milk

                                                               x              x                 x 

Pineapple fluff

Passion fruit and lime pie

Fresh tamarillos (garden)

x               x             x

There it is.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cape Town in December

 ...can be very windy. It is the season of the southeaster, the "Cape Doctor". But not today, not here, at No. 9 which is in some kind of wind shadow. Even when the poplars roar, the garden can be quiet.

A steppe buzzard  (Butea vulpinus) glides high above these trees, now, keening, on a hot day thermal.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas dessert

You know those chocolate yule logs that could crush a yule mule? It strikes me that this chocolate roll, above, lighter and unfrosted, is a very good alternative to that icing-rich, ickily sweet Christmas confection. I hate sticky icing sugar (frosting), but I love fruit and I love fruit combined with chocolate cake. Very Black Forest-y.

I made this chocolate roll the other evening. It's on page 119 of 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life (and yes, I had to follow my own recipe - one forgets...how many spoons of cocoa powder?), to take to my cousin's for supper, thinking, Ooh, won't they be impressed. Turns out I took the same roll to them the last time I had visited. Oh well, at least it was tested on discerning guinea pigs.

It is peak cherry season in Cape Town. The fruits are now big and fat and firm and blackly sweet. So, instead of using red currant jam, as my recipe stipulates, I used a cup of the halved and stoned fruit. But I think that a Northern Hemisphere, chilly Christmas version could be made with cranberry jelly, instead. I think it would be yummy.

The chocolate, the white cream, the red filling. Hm, hm, hm.

And I think some shaved orange-inspired and excellent chocolate over the top would be an improvement.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rustic lunch

Thin Parma ham, tomatoes and basil, a good hunk o' bread with local olive oil (Morgenster) for dipping.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hiking Table Mountain, and a safety lecture

The Frenchman and I went on a three hour walk, first driving for about ten minutes from home and parking at Constantia Neck. 

We hiked up past Eagle's Nest and then straight up some rocky scrambles towards the top of the mountain and the sculpted sandstone rocks, the most famous of which looks kinda-sorta like a camel. You'll have to wait for the Frenchman's post to see the camel.

We stopped a lot for pictures (and breathers, for me: it's steep - he could just trot the whole thing), but if you were just charging from one end to the other, I think this walk could be done in two hours. The views are spectacular.

Busted on the ascent! Checking a mobile device while in nature: Tsk. But the Frenchie likes to records his routes by GPS, and was presumably checking to see whether his satellite was awake and tracking him.

 Aristea macrocarpa

Berkheya armata

 Homo francophoniens

The view over the Hout Bay Valley.


 Ixia polystachya

At last, the top!

 Leucadendron sp.

 Struthiola sp. 

(Vince hiking with his small camera on his hip. The backpack with full kit is superheavy, and too valuable.)

Halfway, or more, and downhill from here. My father's mom was a De Villiers...no other connection.

 Psoralea sp.

Bad photo with zoom, but my parents' house.

We stopped here for lunch, on the jeeptrack that allows infrequent vehicles to access the ranger's station on top, one of very few structures on the mountain.

Carniverous Drosera trinervia on the cool rock faces beside the road. Accompanied by a soundtrack of click frogs

Watsonia coccinea

Scabiosa africana, and unsure about the yellow. Cotula?

Formerly Albuca, now Ornithogalum, poss. imbricata. Like green snowdrops.

The way home, back to Constantia Neck. After our move from Brooklyn to Harlem, and starting originally during a garden installation he helped out on some years ago (outsize bags of soil up stairs), Vince's knees have been a bit funny. So he was worried about this long downhill jolt. But they were fine.

Massive early summer and unseasonal rain caused unprecedented mudslides on the mountain.

Moraea tricuspidata

And then we were down again. 

A short drive, and cold gin and tonics waited for us in my mother's garden.

And now for the lecture.

Table Mountain Hiking Essentials and Tips:

1. Hike with companions.
2. The weather on this mountain turns on a dime. Pack an extra layer as well as a windproof jacket, no matter how hot it is down below. Trust me.
3. Contrary to popular belief, Table Mountain is not flat. Wear walking shoes or boots. Remember flipflop girl?
4. Pack water and snacks.
5. The sun in South Africa will fry you silly. Ozone hole. Sunscreen, and hat, if you do hats.
6. Map. Slingsby's hiking maps cover the whole mountain.
7. Inform someone of your route, and your approximate return time. Stick to that route.
8. Allow the least fit or slowest member of the party to walk in front. They should set the pace (er, that would be me).
9. Personal Safety:
i) Leave jewelry at home. We remove our wedding rings.
ii) Pack as few expensive toys as possible, and keep them in a backpack, not swinging from your neck. A camera is my necessity. I prefer a point-and-shoot on hikes as it's light and held in my hand or a pocket, and not ostentatious. Cellphone is useful if you get lost or need help.
iii) In the unlikely event that you do encounter unfriendlies, cooperate. Be meek and unconfrontational, and as calm as possible. Hand over everything. Your goal is to leave the situation unharmed, not save a camera. Take nothing on your hike you are not prepared to lose.
iv) For a highly unlikely, worst-case scenario, I take pepper spray. Keep it in a pocket. It's no use to you out of reach in a backpack. Should you have to use it, bear in mind that with the frequent wind you are likely to be sprayed by your own spray. Be aware of wind direction and stay upwind of spray. Practise at home. Personally, I think a codeword is useful if you are in group. At the word, everyone drops, turns and covers eyes and nose. I know. Very dramatic. It's unlikely to happen, but be prepared.

I have never had a bad experience on the mountain. Thousands of people hike this mountain on a regular basis, safely. But headlines are headlines. Most injuries and all (as far as I know) not-infrequent fatalities on this apparently friendly mountain are caused by user-error. Falls, dehydration, lack of preparation and unfitness, and plain stupidity.

But there have been and continue to be muggings, and a minority are violent. Areas to avoid: Karbonkelberg above Hout Bay, Sandy Bay dunes, caution on lower slopes of Lion's Head.

But that leaves you an awful lot of mountain, from Cape Point to Maclear's Beacon.

Hike forth!