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Myrna Robins

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Books

Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

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Death on the Limpopo: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew. Published by Umuzi, 2019.

 

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Tannie Maria has, at last, had the chance to travel, to places north of the Klein Karoo, where her father had lived and told his small daughter tales of adventure, of mountains and places about which she had dreamed, for many years.

But the journey was not a simple one and the destination part of a sequence of events that would tax the most resilient traveller. Tannie Maria proved to be more than equal to the task.

 

This title is the third in the Tannie Maria series of mysteries, the first two best-sellers that have been translated into 14 languages. Tannie Maria is a gentle character, a true foodie, an agony aunt on the local small newspaper that runs the letters she receives and her answers – which always include a remedial recipe for a bake or a nice pot of good home-cooked food. Tannie Maria carries unpleasant memories of an abusive relationship, but that’s all in the past and her boyfriend, Henk is strong and kind and a detective at the local police station. He loves Maria and tells her so, but she has not yet expressed her love for him.

 

Maria has helped to solve two local murders, her comfortable looks and motherly demeanour concealing a keen sense of observation and an excellent memory. But this time she is faced with a murder committed many years ago while also  coping with the murderers who are determined that their dark secrets not be revealed.

 

A tall dark stranger walks into her life, a black investigative journalist who was well known for her exposés of corrupt government and business deals, and an environmental and gender activist. Zaba was in danger and soon Maria was too. When Zaba revealed that the two had a special relationship, the bond between them  is sealed.

The pair had things they had to do, up north, where Maria's  journalist father had lived and worked, so she took her little bakkie  to the road for a journey filled with adventure and danger that ended at the Limpopo river, where Botswana and South Africa and Zimbabwe meet.

In this setting, scene of centuries of conflict, the drama plays out to a happy ending. There is equally happy news for Tannie Maria’s many fans – we hear that her next adventure is already taking shape.

 

[Just a quick question to the cooks and chefs who help to compile the recipes at the back of the book. Tannie Maria is, we know, a great cook and baker, who produces wonderful Karoo fare, from bobotie to melktert, lamb pie to malva pudding. Would she, I wonder, really want to make a cake – however special the occasion – that requires a recipe filling nearly six pages, starting with grapefruit curd, followed by meringue, followed by the layer cake followed by white chocolate “lightning” shards, held in place by mascarpone. Would she?]

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Posted by on in Books

BOEREKOS WITH A TWIST by Annelien Pienaar. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2018 

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This delicious cookbook has been out for more than a year already, but that is not stopping me from reviewing it now, in fine time for Heritage month as Pienaar’s collection presents a collection of time-honoured family favourites, updated, so boerekos with a twist, as the title tells us.

So, you will find basil pesto following biltong paté, koeksusters preceding berry muffins, but most of the fare in this title is traditional, country fare where cooks used to substitute ingredients where necessary. Vegetables are often sweetened, tarts and pies make use of canned and smoked fillings that were available to cooks living far from markets and supermarkets.

The author is as trendy as tomorrow, food scientist, guest farm owner, television cook, cookery school owner and blogger with – wait for it – more than five million followers.

The fact that she teaches cookery shines through every page, as she presents every recipe as a lesson, from the introduction, through the ingredient list (both cup and spoon and metric measurements given) to a step- by -step numbered method with detailed instructions.

The contents follow the traditional menu format, starting with soups and sauces, working through vegetables, meat and fish before extended sections of baking, scones and pies and desserts. Those interested in heritage Cape fare will find recipes for boerewors, for curried brawn, for smoking meat on the stove top using rooibos teabags. Desserts range from a trad favourite – guava foam tart - to a sophisticated and beautiful berry and cream pavlova.

Beautifully illustrated with food photographs by Myburgh du Plessis and Hanneri de Wet , that are as tempting as any I have seen, the text concludes with some suggested menus and a detailed index.

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CRADLE OF LIFE: The story of the Magaliesberg and the Cradle of Humankind by Vincent Carruthers. Published by Struik Nature, 2019.

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No matter how dedicated a student, how rapid a reader, how enthusiastic an amateur, no one can absorb this amazing accumulation of knowledge in one sitting. Or even three. This is a treasure house - profusely illustrated - of the evolution of life up to the present, as found in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve.

Author and award-winning environmentalist Vincent Carruthers – who has spent his adult life living and working in the Magaliesberg, takes us along a timeline, from the birth of our planet through to the 21st century. What an extraordianary journey he presents, as we unearth the formation of our landscapes, the emergence of life, the rise of humankind. On we go through the Stone and Iron ages, early settlements, migrations, wars and modern developments.

The greater Magaliesberg has a unique geology, history, and biodiversity. Paleontologists, archaeologists, botanists, military historians and environmental lawyers were all among the academics and specialists that Carruthers worked with during his endeavours to get the entire Cradle-Magaliesberg region registered by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. A decade later the proclamation took place in Paris in 2015.

Main chamber Sterkfontein Caves.

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The book opens with the birth of our planet, 13,800 million years ago. Fast forward to 3,100 million years ago and we learn about the first landmass, then about The Magaliesberg and the Pretoria Group at mere 2,350 million years back. In the section headed Africa, time moves on to the breakup of Gondwana, mammal and primate evolution at 65 million, and climate change and the spread of grasslands at 15 million years ago.

Humans enter the scene in Part 2, sub-headed Evolutionary Science. The section ends with the arrival of Homo sapiens some 200 000 years ago. Part three deals with the First People populating the world, the Stone age hunter-gatherers, early farming at Broederstroom (1 600 years ago) and the development of cattle economy as recently as 200 years back.

Maropeng Visitor Centre

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There’s more detail in the later chapters covering the 19th century, which includes the South African War and revival of Afrikaner nationalism after World War I. Modern developments make the final part, as in engineering (Hartbeespoort dam), and in science (the Leiden telescopes and Hartebeesthoek radio astronomy observatory.)

Carruthers concludes with the sobering thought that human activity is altering many of the evolutionary processes of the planet, including climate, atmospheric conditions, ecosystems and the hydrosphere. In the midst of this evidence (platinum, chrome and manganese mines and urban pollution) the Cradle-Magaliesberg retains much of its rural character and unspoilt natural environment. It is a model to be emulated because of its combination of scientific endeavour, sustainable economic enterprise, environmental responsibility and community development.

A detailed glossary, bibliography and index complete the text.

The back cover describes this book as “spectacular.” To which I would like to add “and awe-inspiring.”

 

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GREENFEAST by Nigel Slater, published by 4th Estate, London 2019.

 

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Let’s start with the design of this hardback, which does not resemble a cookbook at all. Shocking pink cover, featuring a swathe of gold, a single brushstroke by artist and calligrapher Tom Kemp which, he points out, are not pictures or representing anything, but a small aside to remind readers about the” nature of nature... where ultimately the food in this book comes from.”

Glued onto this hard cover is a half-page , glossy red, listing author and title on the front, and a photo and quote from the author on the back.

Unconventional. Intriguing. But as every foodie knows, we can rely on Nigel Slater to produce another title that features his simple prose that is English culinary writing at its relaxed best. Seldom prescriptive yet always thorough, so that beginner cooks are guided unobtrusively to success. (An occasional command “Don’t even think of using horseradish from a jar.”)

 

Slater tells us that this collection of about 110 recipes is what he eats when he finishes work every day. It’s meant for those like-minded readers who find themselves wanting inspiration for a supper that owes more to plants than animals. In all but name, it’s a vegetarian treasury, that could, with some tweaking, also be suitable for vegans. It’s the way his eating has grown to be over  recent years, and we know that across the world, there thousands of others who have followed suit, whether for ethical, health or environmental reasons – or all three.

 

Recipes are grouped into chapters that reflect cooking method or preparation. Thus, ‘In a bowl’,’In a pan’, "On the grill’, "On the hob" and so on. Having shared his penchant for eating from a bowl, often using a spoon, Slater offers a variety of recipes best served in a bowl – a simple miso soup containing cauliflower, garlic and root ginger, colourful  paneer with aubergine and cashews, a golden crunch of carrot, pawpaw and radish topped with Asian dressing, . Supper from a pan includes roasted, creamed augbergine, topped with crisp, fried halloumi, finished with pomegranate seeds and mint.

 

Slater does love aubergine in every guise and  also uses a variety of grains from freekah to couscous or quinoa as a base for many creations. He combines fruit with pulses, with veggies, pickles and herbs – take his plate of green falafel, watermelon and yoghurt, where canned chickpeas, broad beans and green peas are blended with green herbs to a paste, formed into balls, baked until puffed and dry, served with a salsa of cherry tomato, red onion and watermelon and accompanied by garlicky yoghurt. Fans of Asian fare will find recipes of steaming sushi rice topped with nori flakes and crisp pickles of carrot and shallot, topped with tsukemono (pickled vegetables).

But there are other, more familiar combos, such as asparagus baked in an egg custard seasoned with ricotta and parmesan, which resembles a Tuscan classic whose name escapes me right now. An easy traybake for two consists of new potatoes, red and yellow peppers, simmered with garlic in olive oil, finished with spring onions.

 

The final chapter is called, simply, Pudding. It focuses on seasonal fruits like blackberries, cherries and currants, Mediterranean stone fruit and figs, mangoes and finishes with watermelon prosecco. My favourite here is an easy finale of perfect, ripe peaches sharing a plate with mascarpone mixed with double cream and biscuit crumbs garnished with finely grated orange zest. Yum

 

Recipes are illustrated with full page colour photographs, The index is professional and particularly useful, given the unusual organisation of the recipes. The book’s subtitle “ spring summer” gives an indication of the sequel to come, covering autumn and winter.

 

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LUCKY PACKET by Trevor Sacks published by Kwela Books, Cape Town, 2019.

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This is a book that drew me in, quicker and deeper as I turned the pages. I seldom review novels, but Lucky Packet is different, it’s more like an autobiography, that is not only well-written, but clever: As Ben tells his story, as a 12-year-old, he brings in everything from family history to small town prejudices along with a broad sweep of South African politics in the 1980’s. Apartheid practices and their effects on locals, the reaction of those who tried to ameliorate these, are all dealt with in a way that is verycredible, as Sacks’ writing as a young Jewish teenager is so convincing.

What he presents is a picture of a Jewish family living in a conservative Northern Transvaal town during the State of Emergency in the 1980s. Ben Aronbach, the writer, feels as if he doesn’t fit in anywhere, as his schoolmates are Afrikaans-speaking Christians and - as his family is not religious - they don’t fit in with the Jewish community either. Ben also missed out on having a father to look up to as he died when Ben was just six years old.

While life, and school, and school tours and meeting girls go on, and Ben experiences the embarrassments and anguish that teenagers are subjected to, the family business is failing and the local bank manager is not being co-operative about loans. With the entry of one Leo Fein onto the scene Ben’s life got more complicated, more so after it was revealed that this “uncle’ who had chatted up his mother, and befriended Ben, was escorted from Ben’s bar mitzvah by two government men (who “lifted Leo Fein up under his armpits...”) Whatever else he had done, it turned out he had also stolen a large part of the Aronbach fortune.

Guilt consumes Ben as he feels that a job he did for Fein contributed to the family loss, and only years later, as South Africa prepared for the 1992 Referendum, could he confront the charlatan . Meanwhile, to try and make large sums of money to help the family, Ben undertook jobs for Leo Fein after his return to the town, which included a trip to Moria to meet the bishop of the Zion Christian church and an encounter with the AWB.

Ben spent much time with his mother before her death, during which they shared thoughts with each other that helped him, to an extent, deal with his guilt.

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