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BRUNCH ACROSS 11 COUNTRIES: Recipes of a private chef by Alix Verrips, published by Human & Rousseau, 2018.




With Easter round the corner and other autumn long weekends to savour, brunch comes to mind as the perfect meal . Whether on a country excursion, lazing at home, or entertaining friends and family, there’s no better time to combine breakfast and lunch into a long, langorous and relaxed meal, preferably relished outdoors.

All of which makes this new title from local publisher Human & Rousseau both timely and inspirational. Alix Verrips is an adventurous chef who now enjoys life in Knysna, raising money for children’s charities. But she has amassed a wealth of global gastronomic experience of the most delicious kind during her 15 years as chef on luxury yachts. Having cooked for celebrities, royals, rock stars, ambassadors, statesmen and politicians on the world’s largest yachts from Alaska to Australia, she presents readers with a treasury of recipes that evoke memories of cultures and countries. Special occasions and exotic ports called for fare that contribute to irresistible brunch menus.

American Independence day calls for red, white and blue parfaits and beef sliders with blue cheese followed by a berry-filled pie, all accompanied by a seriously super-charged Bloody Mary. By way of contrast, a pheasant shooting party in the British shires features bubble and squeak, toad-in-the-hole, kedgeree and currant scones. Add spice to your brunch with a Bahamian feast, starring a colourful spread of chicken souse, sweet potato fish cakes sauced with Creole aioli and chicken and sweetcorn congee.. Chinese New Year in Sydney harbour, the Monaco Grand Pri,. a Greek Isle cruise and a stay in Capri have all produced menus that are mouthwatering and recipes that I intend to try. Other exotic fare was inspired by time spent in the Emirates, Mexico and Mallorca, while the home country is celebrated with a brunch in the bush. All those longing for that nostalgic experience of a portable feast after an early morning game safari can cook up bobotie cups, biltong, mielie and cheese muffins and malva pudding cupcakes with salted caramel sauce, washed down with gin-spiked rooibos and naartjie iced tea.

Beautifully illustrated with plenty of tempting food photographs, this is a collection that will not collect dust on the kitchen shelf.


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THE PALESTINIAN TABLE by Reem Kassis, published by  Phaidon Press, London 2017


Let’s start with the author – a Palestinian professional who offers a fascinating self-portrait in her introduction, also of her family,and  follows with the complex composition of the Palestinian table

Kassis’sr mother is a Palestinian Muslim from a rural village in Palestine’s centre, her father a Palestinian Christian from a mountain village in the far north. Kassis grew up in Jerusalem, a melting pot of food and cultures, where her parents ensured that their daughter took a route other than aspiring to marriage:  So, having focussed on her schooling, Reem was accepted, at 17, at several top American universities. A decade in the USA saw her attain professional degrees, followed by glamorous jobs and a hectic lifestyle. Then  after she met and fell in love with a fellow Palestinian, the couple moved to London and married there.

As a young mother at home with a small daughter Kassis had time to enjoy cooking trad dishes from her childhood,  and shortened  and simplified some of them. She noted that British restaurants serving Middle Eastern dishes displayed little Palestinian cuisine, and decided to share with the world family recipes  and others from various villages: the collection doubles as  something of a Palestinian chronicle as she weave tales of identity. Even in this fractured land, regional culinary variations persist, from the mountains of the Galilee to the southern valleys, and from the coast of Yaffa to the West Bank.

 Kassis starts with basic recipes that she deems essential to to exploreing the cuisine. Foundational food she calls these, comprising a spice mix, a broth and fried nuts, elements that lend dishes depth of flavour. They also include labaneth, tahini sauce, vermicelli rice and a sugar syrup flavoured with orange blossom water and rosewater. It’s easy to recognise similarities with the basics of other Middle Eastern fare.

Being a cornerstone of all meals, the chapter on bakes is largely about breads: Along with  pita and taboon other flatbreads resemble pizza bases topped with  ingredients such as  cooked red bell peppers, and also used as dipping tools. Elaborate pastry bases  are filled with vegetables and cheese or used as turnovers with similar fillings. Crackers, spiced and seeded,  can be savoury or sweet.

Palestinian breakfasts are  family affairs  where eggs play a major role in some delicious dishess. They well  illustrate how Middle Eastern  spices and classics transcend borders from Syria to Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and beyond. Eggs fried in olive oil scented with za’atar and sumac perch on pita breads with a slice of  labaneh. Frittatas are spiced and herbed and served with olives, spring onion, mint and tomato. The Tunisian shakshuka is a favourite in many countries, the Palestinian version using fewer vegetables than most. The   “Middle Eastern peanut butter and jelly sandwich”  is how  Kassis describes the popular tahini and grape molasses spread  paired with warm pita bread. The Egyptians use grape molasses, the Gulf States prefer  date molasses.

The custom of a table laden with dishes, large and small, for diners to help themselves is universal in the region. We are offered recipes for several dips like hummus,  snacks like kubbeh, deep-fried cheese and za’atar parcels, pine nut rolls, which can be served either for lunch or supper,

Salads are sturdy affairs, often based on tomato, cucumber and mint around a grain base. Simple soups and substantial stews are based on vegetables and pulses and grains like freekah,  (cracked green wheat) while others star  lamb, beef or chicken.  There are a couple of intriguing seafood dishes as well.

Sweet finales in Palestine are usually seasonal or  defined by the occasion, religious or family celebration with which they are associated. Some of them are complicated and time-consuming. Think of baklawa, shredded phyllo and cheese pie, semolina cake. However their fragrant milk pud with pistachios is closely related to panna cotta and easy to make.

Attractive food photographs and a glossary of ingredients add to the attraction of this hardback which is a significant addition to the cookbooks of the region. It is delectable proof that food can transcend  divisions of religions and politics  if allowed to do so. 

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Emily Hobhouse: Beloved Traitor by Elsabe Brits, published by Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2016.



That this masterful life story is set to become the definitive biography of one of South Africa’s most famous women is not in doubt. Brits has produced an in-depth, scholarly, well-researched work that is also very readable, enlivened with numerous fascinating photographs.  The 27 pages of endnotes, bibliography, index and acknowledgements are good indications of the lengths to which she went to, to do justice to the life and work of this extraordinary pacifist, feminist and deeply compassionate person – who died alone and unsung in her home country.

As the back cover tell us, Brits retraced Hobhouse’s footsteps across three continents, but, as she is the first to acknowledge, it was her exciting discovery of Emily’s great-niece that was the cherry on the top:  Jennifer  Hobhouse Balme invited the author into her home in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island  and shared her treasury of documents, diaries, scrapbooks, letters and photographs, enabling this biography to far transcend any previous attempt to record her life.

Born in 1860 into a Victorian upper-class family Emily grew up in the hamlet of St Ive in Somerset, where she and her sisters were educated at home, which she found frustrating. Her first visit abroad took her to the USA where she experienced love, was jilted by her fiancé, and was back in England in 1899. This was the year the Anglo-Boer War broke out, and Emily became involved in  the SA Conciliation Committee in London, which opposed the war.

 After the OFS and the Transvaal were annexed by Britain thhe Boer forces resorted to guerrilla warfare. The scorched-earth policy instigated by Britain saw farmhouses, barns and outbuildings burnt, farm animals slaughtered, veld set alight, and in some cases whole towns destroyed.  In London and Cornwall  Emily protested in vain about the policy then decided to go to SA to help: she  and started fund-raising to feed clothe and rescue women and children rendered destitute by the war.  Arriving in Cape Town in Dec 1900  she met the governor Lord Milner the governor who granted  permission to visit the concentratios/refugee camps where Boer women were kept provided Kitchener agree, which he did, with conditions. After shopping for clothes, blankets and food she travelled north  in January 1901.

What she found was more distressing than she had imagined – “...truckloads of women and children unsheltered and... flocks and herds of frightened animals bellowing and baaing for food and drink... In the camps exposure, starvation, illness, pain – no candle or, soap, no mortuary tent, flies thick on everything, no schooling, no wood or coal to boil water and typhoid  rife.  She kept diaries, recorded women’s stories, saw children dying as she travelled from camp to camp. She sent letters to friends, family members  and government sources in England  reporting on conditions. She took photographs and sent those as well, decided to retrun to the UK  to bring the horrors of the concentration camps to the British public.

She endured much resentment from Britons who regarded here as unpatriotic at best, a traitor at worst. In turn she pointed out that in September 1901 the number of people in the white camps had risen from 85 000 to 105 000,  that 1878 had died in August,  1545 of whom were children. When she returned to Cape Town in October she was ill and weak, but was arrested by the British on arrival. Detained on board, she was returned to England in a troop ship.

But her efforts  had some effect as conditions gradually improved, at least  in the white camps. Peace was declared  in May 1902 –the  news reached her as she sat alone in France writing her book, whereupon  she “started crying uncontrollably.”

Back in SA Emily visited the former camp sites where locals told her that they had not received any of the ‘reconstruction money of three million pounds’ that was supposed to be apportioned to the Boers. In communication with General Jan Smuts she travelled widely, reporting to the UK regularly on conditions. She then set in motion her ploughing project: newspaper appeals for funds to buy oxen and donkeys were well received, and not only Cape colonists but British donors sent funds to the bank in Pretoria.

Her plans for establishing home industries  revolved around teaching young girls spinning and weaving and  the first school opened in Philippolis in March 1905 using wool donated by farmers.  Soon there were two schools and proceeds helped many survive.

Back in the UK Emily  (predictably) got involved with the suffrage movement, yet stayed in constant touch with South Africa, where a committee was formed to erect a monument to Boer women and children in Bloemfontein. Her health did not allow her to attend the unveiling on December  16 1913, but her speech was read both in English and Afrikaans.

World War 1 saw Emily trying to alleviate the living conditions of civilians in Germany  and Belgium and of Britons interned in German camps. She was  regarded by many as a propagandist, spy and a traitor. Undeterred, 1918 saw Emily co-founding the Swiss Relief Fund for Starving Children, as children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia nad Hungary were sent to Switzerland to regain their health.   South Africa helped fund Emily ‘s purchase of a cottage in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1921. She died in London in June 1926, still hoping for justice to prevail with regard to her work . Her ashes were sent to Bloemfontein and here she was revered  with a funeral service attended by hundred,s with thousands lining the streets at the first and, to date only, state funeral in this country for a foreigner.

My only criticism is that the book design, while attractive and contemporary, is impractical as the use of bold colour backgrounds on many pages render the print virtually illegible.  


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YEOMEN OF THE KAROO:  The Story of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein by Rose Willis, Arnold van Dyk and JC ‘Kay’ de Villiers. Published by Firefly Publications, Brandfort, Free State, 2016.




I wonder how many of Rose Willis’s fans have waited  for this story to come to light, to be properly unearthed and recorded?  Reading through the  names in the Acknowledgements, one soon  realises that  the list of friends,  geologists, ecologists, heritage experts,  farmers, researchers, archivists  and family members   who contributed in some way is extensive .  Rose Willis, known to many readers as the founder and compiler of the monthly Rose’s Round-up, found time between teaching and writing  to dig  deep into intercontinental events that are woven into the tapestry of this extraordinary tale.

She discovered Deelfontein when she was living outside Beaufort West and promoting tourism in the Central Karoo, and she was helped in her research by Dr van Dyk , an authority on the Boer War with a library of pictures on the subject, while Prof Kay de Villiers,  a Cape Town neuro-surgeon and expert on both the war and its medical aspects also supplied valuable input.

As the 19th century drew to a close a war raged across South Africa and, on the desolate plains of the Great Karoo, a unique hospital sprang up…

In 1899 the British realised that this war against “a bunch of farmers” was not going well for them, and the government appealed for volunteers. This succeeded as many men, including newly qualified doctors, enlisted and ships sailed for South Africa almost daily. In England two high society women scrapped their social calendars and set out to raise funds for a private hospital to care for the men who would be wounded.

The results were nothing short of  extraordinary –  from conception  in England to erection in the Karoo,  a little less than three months passed before  the Imperial Yeomanry hospital opened at Deelfontein, a narrow valley between a row of koppies and a railway siding, 46km south of De Aar and 77km north of Richmond. The date was March 17 1900.

Stating that it was a place ahead of its time is something of an understatement . I  quote liberally from the press release:  The huge tent hospital that mushroomed in this desolate region was unique… along with operating theatres, treatment and convalescent wards, it boasted specialist units for dentistry, ophthalmology and radiology – all firsts  in a military hospital.  There was a fire station, a dispensary, electricity and a telephone system. It had its own stables and dairy, which supplied sterilised milk. Steam-driven disinfection and waste disposal units helped in the war against typhoid, and ensured hygienic conditions. The laundry washed and sterilised more than 2 000 sheets a week. Drinking water was filtered and running water was piped through the grounds.  There were luxurious touches as well –such as a comfortable officers’ mess with its own mineral water plant and ice-making machine. A chapel, a theatre, sports fields, tennis courts, a shooting range, and, (can you believe) a horse-racing track provided recreational facilities.

How did this happen?  The credit must go to two aristocratic English women – Lady Georgina Spencer-Churchill and Lady Beatrice Chesham, second daughter of the first Duke of Westminster, whose husband Lord Chesham was commander of the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. The former focussed on liaison with the War Office and other institutions in the UK while the latter spent much time at Deelfontein supervising affairs. The two women, with help from friends,  raised a substantial sum – 174 000 pounds – more than enough to equip and staff a hospital. The goal was conceived in December  1899, and over the next couple of months tons of equipment was dispatched from England by ship, to be transported to Deelfontein by oxwagon, horse and slow train.

During its year of operation  the hospital treated more than 6 000 patients, and lost just 134, of whom 112 succumbed to typhoid.

In order to cover all aspects of the story, events and people are grouped  into chapters chronologically. Not only  professional men enlisted but  women from all walks of life also volunteered as nurses.  The staff of 200 personnel was not only highly skilled, but their services produced many tales of bravery, dedication and lasting friendship . Boer commandos operated in the vicinity on several occasions, and skirmishes  outside  the  gates caused casualties:  Both British and enemy soldiers were treated in the hospital.

We learn about the many individuals who contributed in some way to the success of Deelfontein’s hospital through s series of cameos – brief biographies of soldiers, doctors, surgeons, donors, nurses, and more.  The final chapter covers those who are buried at the Deelfontein cemetery, today almost the only remaining sign that a hospital ever existed.  Most of these perished from disease rather than bullets.

Other stories  - and mysteries – are interwoven with medical history: the Adamstein family emigrated to South Africa and ended up at Deelfontein where they established a trading store and went on to build a luxurious hotel complete with walled gardens in which peacocks and cranes strutted. The story of the post office that never was provides light relief, its ruins  alongside modern cemeteries which are reasonably well maintained.  Visitors to this forlorn spot report they have the feeling of being watched  in spite of it being  deserted , while the local railway siding attendant takes it for granted that his surroundings are haunted.

The stories are further brought to life with a fascinating collection of old and a few contemporary  photographs scattered liberally through the book:  Portraits of many of the role players are there along with pictures of huts and rows of tents below a koppie which sports its identifying IYH in giant letters.  Interior scenes of the chapel, wards, operating theatre (and an operation in progress) offer proof of just how well organised and equipped the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital was. Sad pictures of a pathetic  informal settlement near the hospital and another of  carcasses of horses – the “true losers” as Willis labels them – remind readers of the many miseries that  war brings.  

This fine volume of Africana combines military with medical history alongside lesser-known aspects of the Anglo-Boer war.  It’s a treasury to dip into frequently, and to accompany all who choose to visit the site where cemeteries and the ruins of the Adamstein’s hotel rub eerie shoulders  in the heart of the Great Karoo.


This is my choice as Book of the Year for 2016 as I congratulate  Rose for fulfilling her dream of publishing a story she shared with me back in the mid- 1980s. .


The standard edition costs R390 and the limited collectors’ edition R1 400. Postage and packaging come to an additional R100. Order the book from Firefly Publications, make an EFT payment to their bank account at FNB, Preller Plein branch, Acct no 62138779642.. For more information  fax 0865809189 or email or Rose Willis at



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JAN - A Breath of French air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Published by Struik Lifestyle, Penguin Random House, 2016.



There can be very few chefs who not only cook and style their gastronomic creations, but complete the process by doing their own photography.

There are even fewer – in fact, just one - South African chef-patrons who can boast of cooking, styling and photographing fare in his renowned French Riviera restaurant JAN, a venue that has just been awarded a prestigious Michelin star.

Meet Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South Africa’s first Michelin star chef, presently working his way through a hectic programme of launches, talk-shows, dinners and more in Gauteng and the Western Cape. His second glamorous cookery book, JAN, is getting star treatment, along with its author.

It’s a covetable hardback, lavishly illustrated with the chef’s photographs, both culinary and moody shots of antiques, bountiful floral arrangements, timeless French doorways and tiny balconies with curly balustrades. South African pincushions fill a small container, a touch of home in an otherwise Gallic book. Whereas The French Affair, published just three short years ago, contains much that was inspired by his mother and grandmother, this collection is sophisticated gourmet, up-to-the-minute fare, beautifully styled and presented. What adds hugely to each recipe is Jan’s generous instructions, enabling all but the most ignorant to reproduce their choice of his dishes.

From his childhood on a farm near Middelburg in Mpumalanga to the opening of his restaurant in Nice, is a story, he says, “filled with many obstacles, hard work, determination and more than a little bit of luck.” He took over a former motorbike repair shop, and dived into the world of doing business with French. As opening day grew near, Jan continued with his French classes, published his first book and shed a few kilograms. They were fully booked when they opened their doors to diners on a Saturday evening. A little later, with half the main courses yet to be prepared, a power failure led to a comedy of errors, when, Jan relates, there was only thing to do: drink a shot of your dad’s homemade mampoer, offer guests complimentary champagne, take a deep breath and regroup.

Today not only his guests but his staff come from all over the world, and his high standards of service and cuisine have brought plentiful rewards and awards.

The contents of JAN the book follow the menu formula, opening with Boulangerie, recipes for baguette and other French loaves. The Cape with its famous seed loaf, inspired by those served in a Stellenbosch restaurant where Jan had worked as a waiter is there, and another for mosbolletjies, which the French have taken to with enthusiasm. The ideas for amuse-bouche in the next section include squares of pissaladière, mini tarte tatins of fig and blue cheese, his mother’s souttert with sundried tomato jam and Charroux mustard, all easy to copy if you plan a bistro menu. Sophisticated alternatives will please ambitious cooks.

Seasonal dishes inspired by what’s available at the Nice market fill a chapter – salt-roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese crepes, shallot and orange custard, salads of glazed endive, spelt and caramelised sunflower seed and an easy roasted butternut and almond quiche. Meat and poultry are up next, starting with chicken liver and Parmesan mousse (it will be hard to improve on the liver paté in his first book, topped with a Old Brown sherry jelly). Duck, beef, pork and lamb – his lamb shanks look irresistible – precede fish and seafood. Sardines, scallops, and shellfish are given original treatment, alongside good ideas for salmon and trout. Patisserie encompasses several dessert delights – including a luxurious milk tart teamed with muscat-poached pears and quinces, perfect autumn fare for Cape hosts…

Chocaholics will hone in on Jan’s finale of berries and chocolate mousse, his pear and white chocolate hazelnut cake and a chocolate and cassis tart. Buchu sparks his version of classic madeleines with burned butter and honey, and locals will love naartjie panna cotta with white chocolate rocks. Cooking for the staff is a chapter one doesn’t often find in cookbooks but at Jan’s restaurant they can tuck into spag bol, pot-au-feu, courgette fries or a traditional Gallic banana rum and raisin rice cake before or after a busy evening’s work. Alternatively, they make themselves after-midnight snacks before heading home: these could include a banana and salted caramel popcorn smoothie, or Jan’s favourite, biltong, mayonnaise and Mrs Ball’s chutney filling a sandwich of white bread, with crinkle-cut chutney flavoured crisps on the side. Ah, clearly you cannot take South Africa out of this boy! A detailed index concludes the text.

Good food  is a popular subject in South Africa, and when a farm lad makes his mark in the glamorous Med region of the western world’s gastronomic champion, it’s a good news story indeed.


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b2ap3_thumbnail_Rooiberg-bus.jpgGM Johan Dippenaar andJohn O’Reilly of Matjiesfontein,  Johan du Preez, Rooiberg’s CEO, andJohn Theunissen, who has been the guide for the “Showtime!” mini London-bus tour in the village for more than 30 years.

Matjiesfontein has been in the news recently - partly thanks to the recent  publication of that splendid book of that name by Dean Allen - see my review under Books. The little Victorian village in the Karoo has been on my list for another visit ever since, and then, getting this image of its London bus, splendid in new coats of paint, has strengthened this urge.

Rooiberg has been supplying the hotel's house wine for an impressive 25 years, and marked the occasion by giving the famous red London bus restorative coats of paint. No doubt  it will continue taking passengers for a mini tour of the village attractions for another quarter century or more...



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