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Myrna Robins

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Books

Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

Posted by on in Reviews

 

ALL SORTS OF SALADS by Chantal Lascaris. Published by Struik Lifestyle 2016.

 

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This compact softback is both a convenient size for kitchen use and a compilation that is likely to pay its way and more, a practical and useful collection that will be consulted often over the four seasons.

Its neither showy or madly original, and the author is someone who came to entertaining, food and cooking after moving from corporate business to become a pilates instructor and developing a new interest in both health and unearthing new ideas for salads, which feature high in her diet.

Lascaris tells us in her introduction that the recipes she has developed and tweaked coincide, quite accidentally, with today’s culinary trend. She says this, her first cookbook, took a while to materialize: its simplicity is part of its attraction and both health nuts and reluctant and nervous cooks will be among its keenest fans.

Use your freezer to keep crispy bacon bits and garlic croutons ready to add zip to salads, roast nuts and seeds when you have the time and keep them in a glass container. Freeze cooked rice, lemon juice and pesto as well as almonds for use in salads and dressings. (Pesto is best frozen without the parmesan cheese, by the way).

Old favourites in new guises sees up to date versions of coleslaw, potato, Caesar, Waldorf and three-bean salads, among others. The substantial vegetarian chapter includes basics like tomato and onion, lemon mushroom and the popular butternut and mozzarella salad recipes, and some trendy combinations like beertroot, quinoa and rocket, and cauliflower, butter bean and feta. I like her citrus salad for winter, which includes avo and cucumber, but I would omit the mangetout which is not a winter ingredient.

Fish and seafood star in some delectable summery combinations – think grilled tuna steaks and nectarine salsa , salmon and pistachio, even a fish cake salad which is also a main course , complete with sweet potato chips and usual mixed salad ingredients. Shrimp and avo are presented as a first course with green apple, calamari is teamed with chorizo and chickpea in an Iberian charmer. Chicken makes the base for a number of tempting meals, some of which take the form of open sandwiches, Asian and Occidental main courses.

The chapter on meaty salads presents main courses packed with protein plus healthy green and other ingredients for all-round one-dish fare. Ostrich, pancetta, egg and bacon, steak, bacon, beef carpaccio are all dressed up with ingredients to present a colourful and complete meal.

The collection concludes with fruit salads, some spiced, some spiked, with a final section of salad dressing recipes both conventional and innovative.

Good photographs add hugely to the attraction of this collection, which is also well-indexed.

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Posted by on in Reviews

MY CAPE MALAY KITCHEN by Cariema Isaacs. Published by Struik Lifestyle, 2016.

 

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Unusually, this cookbook has a sub-title that precedes the main title. “Cooking for my father in” indicates the importance of the tender relationship between author and her late father. While her grandmother taught her how to cook, it was her father, recalls Isaacs, who taught her why we cook.

Her culinary interest was sparked in the family’s Bo-Kaap kitchen when, as a small child, she discovered jars of aromatic spices and was given tasks like shelling peas . Preparing food developed into a passion that endures today, as she recollects dishes she and her father cooked and enjoyed together as he shared his philosophy of the importance of cooking with love.

Opening chapters focus on bredies and Cape Malay classics such as denningvleis and mavroom. Cabbage-wrapped frikkadelle are placed on top of a mutton stew, while Cape Dutch or Afrikaans recipes nestle them in a tomato-based sauce. Either way, this sustaining comfort fare has been influenced by Indonesian heritage cuisine, along with many others.

Smoortjies star in another chapter – referring to fast meal solutions when time is short and money minimal. I like the fact that Isaacs includes humble dishes like Braised Penny Polonies (Gesmore Olap Worsies) in her book, which few others do. Onions are chopped and fried in oil, potatoes and water added, tomato paste follows, then the viennas or polonies are added to the sauce and the mixture simmered and served with fresh bread.

Curries make an aromatic section and readers can choose from mutton, mince, dal and prawn. Isaacs discusses th culture, customs and food served at times of celebration and sadness, including Ramadan. Snack fare that helps break the fast could be samoosas, daltjies , boeber, koesisters, pancakes, spring rolls and that ultimate comfort bite, pumpkin fritters. Eid sees cooks turn to biriyani, steak pies and corned beef and tongue for savoury highlights.

Contemporary recipes for working mothers break with tradition and include stir-fries, while novice cooks are encouraged to try one of Cariema’s potato and rice variations. Sweet treats include trad favourites like hertzoggies , Eid trifle and chocolate cake, along with sponge cake, kolwyntjies (cupcakes), date loaf and chocolate mousse, with lemon meringue pie making a luscious finale.

It’s been a while since we have seen a new Cape Malay cookbook – along with Cass Abrahams’ classic collection released in 1995 (and reprinted since,) Faldela Williams published two well-received titles and Zainab Lagardien added her beautifully illustrated title to the mix. In 2013 Bo-Kaap Kitchen presented a recipe treasury contributed by many Cape Malay cooks. Cariema Isaacs will renew interest (not that it has ever really flagged) to the flavourful delights of this exceptional cuisine, one that I think should be rated among the top peasant cuisines in the world.

Comparing versions of heritage classics shows that what some cooks call “the holy grail of bredies”, aka cauliflower bredie, does not feature at all on other Cape Malay menus. One bredie that everyone cooks is tomato, today a firm favourite with many South Africans – especially Afrikaans-speaking. For this, Isaacs uses no spices other than salt, and adds one green chilli. Abrahams starts hers by simmering peppercorns and cloves with onions then adds cinnamon, ginger and cardamom pods with the meat, along with green chilli . Lagardien includes green chilli plus turmeric and leaf masala. Williams adds a dry chilli, but no other spices. And so recipes vary and evolve, crossing continents , changing according to the availability of ingredients and personal tastes. This new title, a well-illustrated softback, adds much to the Cape gastronomic heritage, with added appeal in the form of an enjoyable family story.

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Posted by on in Events

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Bigger and better than ever! That’s the promise from the organisers of the 2016 McGregor Book Fair, taking place from Friday to Sunday May 20 - 22 in the village hall in the main road. Join book lovers in diarising the 10th event ( regarded as the biggest single book fair in the Western Cap) and a decade of dedicated service to rescued, retired and destitute donkeys.

This annual sale of new and used books has developed into an important event for book lovers, bibliophiles and is a major fund-raiser for the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary, just outside the village. Africana and special collection volumes get snapped up fast, so collectors should plan their trip to take in the first day.

Current novels and travel, cookery, art, gardening and lifestyle books abound, there’s also biography and a good selection of children’s titles, both new and used, on offer. The fair opens at 10h00 and closes at 17h00 but at 15h00 on the Sunday. A coffee shop makes a venue for a break from browsing and guaranteed to be among the refreshments, is, naturally, carrot cake.

The village tourism office invites book-lovers to make a weekend of it, and explore the serene surroundings of this historic village. Bikers and hikers are among the many visitors that make McGregor their weekend retreat. Contact the Tourism office on 023 625 1954.

The donkeys – around 22 of them – retired, formerly destitute and rescued animals, will benefit from the entire profits of the event. Visit them after you have done your shopping – they enjoy meeting their supporters. There is also a charming rustic restaurant and small souvenir centre at the sanctuary.

For more information on the 2016 McGregor three-day Book Fair, email info@donkeysanctuary.co.za or telephone 023 525 1593. Visit www.donkeysanctuary.co.za to read about this impressive organisation.

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Posted by on in Reviews

GIANT STEPS by Richard Peirce, published by Struik Nature, Penguin Random House South Africa, 2016. R180

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While the focus is more on the decimation of our rhino population, the elephant slaughter in Africa goes on at a truly alarming rate. Richard Peirce has penned a very readable book, largely about the lives of two elephant calves orphaned in organised culling operations, taken from their natural lives. A shorter section on elephants in captivity and the mammal’s chances of survival follows.

In the foreword Richard’s wife Jacqui wonders whether elephants have a future as truly wild animals. The human population explosion, plus a seemingly insatiable demand from China and south-east Asia for ivory points to this being unlikely, so these magnificent, intelligent animals may survive only in zoos and game parks.

In his introductory remarks Richard Peirce confirms that one elephant is being killed every 15 – 20 minutes by poachers, a nightmare that sees nearly 100 dying every day.

In 1992 little Bully ‘s mother, the matriarch of her group, was the first to go down when the family was culled all around him in the Kruger National Park . The culls were a management decision made to maintain the park’s elephant-carrying capacity. By 1994 more than 16 000 elephants had been killed.

Only Bully and two other calves survived and experienced bushman John Brooker and his partner Old Joe were on hand to take them to safety, darting them with sedatives, before lowering them into crates for their journey to Skukuza and on to a holding area and quarantine centre near Hartbeespoort dam. Finding the right milk solution was the main problem, but after this, the calves settled down and bonded with Old Joe who talked to them constantly.

Days were spent on this protected farm where they could wander to the dam and indulge in dust baths. As more Kruger Park orphans followed them, Bully, Five and Three became teachers and role models.

As Bully grew up, his charm and cheek made him a natural in front of the camera and over several years he appeared in close to 30 films and television commercials. The Brookers adhered to strict training standards and their animal welfare always took precedence. Their young son Jonathan became close friends with Bully and the boy was heartbroken when, aged seven, he had to bid farewell when Bully was sent to Elephants of Eden in the Eastern Cape.

The story of Bully’s friend Induna, born in 2003, is a less happy one. Orphaned as a baby, sold to a game reserve involved in hunting in northern Limpopo, he grew up with other elephants, living largely wild, but mistrusting humans. In 2007 he and three other youngsters were captured and sold to Elephants of Eden where he met Bully and the two bonded strongly. Induna was among those destined to be trained to take human riders, using methods unknown to the author, but at that time the NSPCA was bringing a case of alleged cruelty and abuse against the owners .

In the Tankwa Karoo the Vergnaud family spent years transforming Inverdoorn, a 10 000ha failed fruit farm into a thriving game reserve. By 2011 Damian Vergnaud wanted to add free-roaming elephants to the mix. He was offered Bully and Induna and set about organising accommodation and finding a good elephant carer, investing millions in the process. A Zimbabwean called Mishak, previously at Addo, joined the staff. After a familiarisation period in a prepared camp the day arrived when Bully and Duna (as he was now known), would walk out to a life of semi-wild freedom. With television and camera lenses trained on them the two jumbos strode out of their camp and soon vanished into the acacia trees: - Elephants had returned to the Tankwa Karoo after more than 200 years, and Inverdoorn had become a Big Five reserve.

In part two Peirce brings up the debate about whether elephants should ever be kept in captivity. To avoid injury to humans or death, total control is required, achieved by dominance and discipline. The survival of the African elephant and their population management are also discussed.

In a moving epilogue young Jonathan Brooker and his mother Jenny visited Inverdoorn during school holidays, the boy overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of seeing Bully again. The record of their meeting is memorable, and the photos proof that elephants don’t forget friends .

Richard Peirce is best known as a shark conservationist and has also written an exposé of rhino poaching. He and his wife Jacqui are nomads who spend the half the year in South Africa. Part of the title’s proceeds will be channelled to Tusk, an organisation which protects wildlife and helps alleviate poverty in 18 African countries.

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

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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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