Thursday, January 31, 2019

Fruit bat

Soon, I return to the Polar Vortex. So I am filling myself with summer. I love South African fruit. The country has many climates and can grow just about anything. The fruit is seasonal, it tastes like the sun, and it has not traveled that far. 

Tamarillo, above - is also known as tree tomato (my mom's tree died a few years ago; they are short-lived). I found them at the local Constantia Spar franchise, the Alphen Kwikspar, whose in-season fruit selection is always very good.

I like them...

I am thrilled that figs are just coming into season, and I have been inhaling them. These are from Woolworths.

These I picked at Babylonstoren...

And of course, the grenadillas (I will call them passion fruit again when I am back in Brooklyn). The ones above are also from the Alphen. They translated to $4.50/lb. About 12 - 13 fat and juicy fruits are in a pound. In New York they are a dollar each. If you can find them. And today we found giant grenadilla's at Boschendal for half that price (straight from the vine).

So I am stuffing myself. Soon I may grow wings and hang upside down.

(My echolocation has always been very good...)


Thursday, January 24, 2019


[This is a repost from January 24th, 2007 - a very, very good day: 11 years later the Frenchman and I continue as we began, far apart, but very close in spirit.]

We had rather a good day on Thursday...

Ted's opinion? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Maggie in her finery.

                                            Taittinger was uncorked.

We posed in shifts. With only three guests invited, someone had to hold the camera.

My mom packed us a Champagne (more!) picnic and we set off to Clifton's 3rd Beach. While the wind raged in town, Clifton was serene and suspended in early evening light.

What was the picnic? Crayfish cocktail (in the Cape we call spiny lobster crayfish or kreef), chicken liver pâté, toasts, little pork sausages, dried mango for the Canadian, fresh cherries, and some pretty fine bubbly.



And the last glass of bubbly by candlelight...

Husband: you were worth the wait. You were worth everything.

[That has not changed.]

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Traveller's Joy

Late afternoon kitchen scene. From a local ramble in search of too-old chicken of the woods (whose fruiting was prompted by unseasonal and welcome summer rain), sprays of Clematis brachiata, an indigenous South African clematis I found scrambling prolifically over a rock wall in full sun. And a posy of fiddleheads - the hairy tentacles of an invasive tree fern, and the smooth crosiers of bracken.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Bottling it up

The road to vermouth does not always involve sorrow.

I had not stayed with my father the night he died. He was alone. I had not known he would be, but the night before, when Vince and I left the hospital, my body collapsed in grief. It knew, if I wasn't sure, that I would not see him alive, again. I never cried in the room with him - I never wanted him to see that sorrow, or to feel anyone else's stress. And so at unexpected times in those five days I would have to pull the car over, or risk accident.

When the call came to the house in the 4.30am dark,  I went to sit with him for the last time. The small dark nursing sister was there, and I was glad she had been on duty. Looking up into my eyes, she held my arm firmly and told me she was sorry. On a previous night, she had held my shoulder with that same firmness as I sat beside him, reading him childhood stories, from books whose pages were falling apart. The ward staff were kind. The previous day I was brought a tray of coffee, and asked if I would prefer hot or cold milk. And there was a cookie. I don't like cookies, but I ate that one, very carefully.

Immediately afterwards, that final morning, the shocking bureaucracy and decision making of death evicted any possibility of mourning. But in the blank days after my father's cremation, and when my husband's warmth had returned to New York, I began to gather wild flowers and fynbos herbs from the mountain, the surrounding green spaces, and my mother's garden. In small jars each plant began infusing in good vodka. Elderflowers and wild plums began to ferment.

On the last day of 2018 I blended and bottled the vermouth. That year is over. And from its end there is a local alchemy that tells the story of this Cape Town summer.

Vermouth captures time and place like nothing else I know. When I open it in Brooklyn, sometime in a new year whose days remain to be filled, I know I will cry.


(Yes, there is a vermouth recipe)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cape Town Elderflowers

My conservationist-friend Don (who is the new curator of the Stellenbosch Botanical Garden) heard I was foraging for elderflowers in Cape Town. So he WhatsApped me a map with a pin GPS'd onto a "motherlode" of the shrub. It is is (very) invasive locally. I headed there and struck summer gold. 

I love picking elderflowers - so  quick easy. The umbels are snappable and packed with little blossoms. 

I had already started a small batch of fermented elderflower cordial, and I boosted it with my fresh finds. (Don't be tempted to keep the green stems in the ferment or syrup. Pick-pick-pick. Apart from their potential toxicity I am more offended by the viscous quality that too many green stemmy bits will lend to the cordial.)

The kitchen table at No. 9 is a good place to work. 

It thrills me that I can find elderflowers in New York and in Cape Town, two hemispheres apart. It's a tough and adaptable plant. My friend Jacqueline kindly brought my mom a copy of Forage Harvest Feast from New York, back in September, so I could use my own recipes (made with Brooklyn flowers!). At the time it was not available in South Africa, but it is now being sold on Loot and it will be in local shops around late February. Ask your local bookshops (and please tell them that SG are the distributors, if they want to know; it will help them order!).

The elderflower cordial has been fermenting for four days now and is fizzing nicely. Last night I could not resist, and scooped some out and added it to a summer cocktail of white rum, fresh lemon juice, mint from the garden, and fizzy water.

But there are lots of other uses for it, from incredible vinegar (a second and longer fermentation), to potted shrimp, pan juices and deliciously tender madeleines.