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Myrna Robins

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Books

Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

Posted by on in Reviews

Mariana’s Country Kitchen by Mariana Esterhuizen. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2015.

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It’s seasonal, down-to-earth and quite delicious. Everything you would expect from a country cook like Mariana, whose fame has had zero effect on one of South Africa’s most independent and honest cooks. It’s this honesty, unwavering culinary integrity, that has been transferred from cook to book – it permeates the attractive pages.

Mariana and Peter opened their renowned restaurant in Stanford nearly 16 years ago, and I hear you still have to wait up to three months for a table. Her heartfelt and amusing reminiscences about their first few months should be essential reading for any budding restaurateur.

Many ingredients are sourced from her extensive vegetable, fruit and herb garden, an aspect, now trendy, that is widely copied by cooks both in country and town. Local farms supply most of what she doesn’t grow herself. She sources her trout from the Kleinrivier valley, her free-range eggs from a nearby farm, fresh fish from Gansbaai harbour, free-range chickens and ducks from another farm, accepting them whenever they are available.

As vegetables and fruit ripen, so do her menus take shape, dishes that she has dreamed up, others based on those of favourite food writers like Elizabeth David and Louis Leipoldt. Many of Mariana’s creations are meat and poultry-free, without being listed as vegetarian. Most recipes are accompanied by a story, and - as autumn creeps in after a long and very hot summer –let’s take a quick peek at this section of her collection.

Pot-roasted quinces gleam from the page, followed by feathery pumpkin fritters. A Persian combination of baked brinjals and pomegranate seeds, dressed with tahini-spiked yoghurt intrigues. Chicken braised in apple cider is touched with tarragon, served on carrot mash.. Bakes consist of corn bread baked in a frying pan, bread sticks and biscotti – and don’t miss the story of how she obtained the recipe for this Italian classic. Among the autumnal preserves there is colourful atchar, inky tapenade, passionfruit curd, quince preserve and marinated sliced courgettes. Sweet treats include quince jam, plum compote and pears baked in fynbos honey and lemon juice, teamed with mascarpone or vanilla icecream.

Mariana sums up the essence of this compilation in characteristic style: “The garden prescribes and I have to keep in step to make it an enjoyable waltz on a plate. So here I share with you the way I experience life on a plate – by the season.”

Beautiful, mouthwatering food photographs by Stephen Inggs, complemented by others of locals harvesting, collecting honey, shaking olives into a basket and collecting garden produce add hugely to the book's appeal.

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TASTE THE LITTLE KAROO by Beate Joubert. Published by Struik Lifestyle, 2015.

Of all the 2015 crop of local cookbooks, this is, I think, the most appealing visually, inviting readers to revel in the rugged mountainous beauty of the Tradouw region contrasting with the ordered verdancy of productive orchards , vineyards and sweeping meadows of the Klein Karoo. They complement the images of Beate’s robust colourful fare, which range from al fresco appetizers through traditional braai to stylish desserts, some of which travellers can relish in her renowned Alfresco Deli on the family farm near Barrydale.

Traditional Cape and Karoo dishes play a major role in this collection: many have been updated or given additional twists to please contemporary palates. As one would expect, there is a chapter of recipes to cook over fire, which the Jouberts do often when entertaining, setting up the simplest of outdoor braais in the veld: a few bricks to hold the grid above the coals or to stand the traditional black pot over a small fire. The outdoor choice includes heritage skilpadjies made from lamb or kudu liver, well spiced and flavoured with chopped onion, garlic and rosemary . For a more exotic first course, Joubert suggests beef and lamb koftas, teamed with canned chickpeas and grilled brinjal slices . A traditional oxtail potjie is followed by another with gourmet aspirations: pheasant and chicken simmer in white wine with porcini and spiced butter beans, with chorizo, bacon and port providing additional flavours.

While working in France and Spain Beate became an enthusiastic fan of Med flavours, now reflected in her farm deli as“ boere tapas” starring mostly local ingredients. Camembert, sliced and filled with preserved green figs, is phyllo-wrapped and served with berry sauce, while lamb and chicken livers, spiced and cooked in red and white wine respectively, make delicious toppings for home-baked breads. Brinjal and red pepper terrine is sparked with feta and parmesan and presented on homemade tomato sauce. Corn stars in chilli-spiked pastry triangles and in down-home mealie fritters with bacon

Brawn is enjoying a comeback among contemporary chefs, but Beate’s version comes from her grandmother in Sutherland, who also inspired much of the comfort food featured in the following chapter. Melkkos, vetkoek and roosterkoek are slotted between warming barley and mutton soup and four-bean tomato soup with beef. During the hot Karoo summer a kaleidoscope of salads take centre stage – protein centerpieces like biltong, gruyere, tuna or hard-boiled eggs are teamed with an array of veggies, leaves, even fruit.

Tradouw boboties comes with a fruit compote and Beate’s curries benefit from buttermilk and are finished with yoghurt, Sweet and sour beef tongue stays trad with slaphakskeentjies on the side. A friend’s chicken pie is more than a little redolent of 19th century Cape cuisine. Baby chickens rather than an elderly cock star in coq au vin, and duck breasts are citrus-spiked with oranges and lemons, orange liqueur and brandy. Venison, prunes and muscadel combine to make an original and delicious sounding bredie. Tradouw desserts present a mix of “memory food” - rice and sago puds and koeksusters alternating with exotic finales like panna cotta with lemon and rose syrup, berry trifle, lime soufflé and lavender crème brûlée.

The index is followed with a short list of Klein Karoo wines and spirits recommended as partners for Joubert feasts. This title well reflects the generosity of rural hospitality presented in unpretentious style against a background of spellbinding beauty. Available in Afrikaans as Proe die Klein-Karoo.

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For fortunate wine lovers who still have gift vouchers waiting to be spent, here are details of two vinous guides that make invaluable reference tools as well as being treasuries of info.

Thousands of South Africans as well as winelovers and industry players on every continent turn to the annual edition of Platter’s SA Wine Guide for accurate, up-to-date information on many aspects of our world of wine.

Then there is the annual SA Wine Industry Directory, which title indicates that it is geared to those in the industry, both local and overseas. Together these titles make an indispensable and complementary duo, and are always at my elbow whenever I pen words on wine.

Turning first to Platter, which is now owned and published by Diners Club International, this is their second publication of the guide, and it incorporates a few items which the first one omitted: Readers will be pleased that their complaints have been noted and acted upon – one such is that four and a half and five-star wines have been returned to their red ink status – this may sound like a small deal, but it was really tiresome to have to wade through every cellar’s ranges to see how many stars each wine had been awarded.

Otherwise, editor Philip van Zyl and his team have done their usual impressive job of listing and describing 8 000 labels available to consumers. As always, it’s important to emphasise that this is a guide not a list of competition entrants, where each wine is not only rated for quality, but icons mark factors like good value, new wine, organic, etc. The info on the wineries is equally important – symbols covering whether they are open for tasting, have a restaurant, accommodation, any other amenities and attractions, are child friendly, wheelchair friendly and more. Good maps to the regions are also invaluable as are the sections on wine routes and associations, wineland tourism offices, restaurants, and accommodation available in the regions – although the latter two are paid for and therefore not independent entries, with info provided by the hosts. There is much more, enough to keep both new and established enthusiasts digesting facts and figures for weeks on end. The hardback costs R215. See also www.wineonaplatter.com for more.

The industry directory, edited by Wanda Augustyn of Wineland magazine fame, includes many statistics that are of little interest – until you need them! They also include laws governing the industry, label requirements , a comprehensive list of wine industry organizations and education bodies, competitions and awards and writers. Details on the extent of hectaries occupied by various cultivars, viticultural information on aspects like IPW, WIETA (ethical trading), available clones etc  are followed by lists of producers, brand names, winemakers and viticulturists. The final chapter contains industry statistics in tabular form.

Published by WineLand media, selling for R240, the book can be ordered online from http://sales.vinpro.co.za. Also available as an e-book, see www.wineland.co.za.

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MY KIND OF WINE by John Platter, published by Pawpaw Publishing, 2015.

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Good to see the Platters in print again, this time with a very readable and entertaining update of the Cape wine scene, one which reports on the exciting, vibrant world of our wine in the 16 years of the new century. John’s ramble through the winelands involved finding  old friends on farms and in cellars along with making several new ones.  He digested the huge rise in quality of the Cinderella cultivar as chenin is often dubbed, sampled the brilliant white blends now available by the dozen, and applauded the increasing number of good cab francs, a personal favourite.

He explored the growing number of organic wines and those made from organic grapes, along with the trend to unearthing ancient vineyards in remote areas and nursing them back to produce tiny, but intense harvest yields.

  He includes about 250 favourites of the many he wines sampled, along with the stories of those in the cellar and vineyard. He and Erica must have covered an impressive total of kilometres during the compilation of these appealing tales. Talking of Erica, the concept, editing and marketing of this title is her contribution, and I notice she is listed as Erica “The Chief Whip” Platter. As I know too well from chasing up info from recalcritant chefs at deadline, there has to be a chief whip if you want a book to appear…

John categorises his chapters by cultivar, starting with his favourite cab franc and working alphabetically through to viognier and white blends. The two groups of talented independent youngsters, the Swartland Revolutionaries and the Young Guns are given their own chapter, as are the redoubtable Rosa Kruger and Robert Parker – who share a legal background but whose approach to wine could not be more different.

There are 40 pages of well illustrated recipes collected under the heading of Wine Country Food. Actually some of them hardly qualify as such – Gyles Webb’s Best Braaied Lamb Chops is one such – but they add up to an appetising collection of country fare that winemakers cook and enjoy. Not only does this make a delectable finale to the vinous text, but it is certain that the culinary aspect will help sales when browsers are looking for gifts that will be relished by wine lovers and keen cooks.

All in all, a great read from a writer whose relaxed, contemporary style adds to the title’s charm, as do the excellent photographs -  both of the wineland characters and their workplace, the most beautiful winelands on the globe. I do have one gripe, however, and that is the lack of a title page. Certainly space was not the reason to axe it, as there are pages of photographs at the beginning and end of the book that could be regarded as surplus to the content. Call me old-fashioned, but if this omission is a new trend in book production, it’s one I can do without.

 

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The Outsider by Frederick Forsyth, published by Bantam Press, 2015.

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It’s been a long time since I galloped through an autobiography with such enthusiasm and speed. Forsyth fans who digested The Day of the Jackal, and all his  subsequent thrillers will find this, the real story, as exciting as any of his novels.

He sums up key moments in his life as follows: “I’ve barely escaped the wrath of an arms dealer in Hamburg, been strafed by a MiG during the Nigerian civil war and landed during a bloody coup in Guinea-Bissau. The Stasi arrested me, the Israelis regaled me, the IRA prompted a quick move from Ireland to England, and a certain attractive Czech secret police agent – well, her actions were a bit more intimate…”

Written in his relaxed, understated British way, Forsyth entertains with key events in an extraordinary life after an ordinary start. This only child of shopkeepers was born at the start of the second World War, and grew up in Ashford, close to the English Channel where the family grew used to the Luftwaffe bombers droning overhead on route to London. While most of his school mates were evacuated to foster homes, Frederick spent the war at home, used to solitude and eventually preferring it.

Owing to war duties his father had a petrol allowance which enabled him to take his son to a nearby base of Spitfire squadrons, a national icon then and now. From that day Frederick nursed an ambition to fly one of these planes, a dream fulfilled twice in later life.

Speaking French like a local came easily as his parents “twinned” with a family from Amiens where Frederick spent summer holidays. Later his parents sent him to German families so that by his mid-teens he could pass for a German in that country, an asset that proved useful in future sticky situations .

Before leaving school he succeeded in getting a Royal Air Force flying scholarship, and followed by joining the RAF where he got his wings. As Frederick had no intention of making this his career, he then became an apprentice journalist at a Norfolk newspaper. With a sound basic training under his belt, he headed for Fleet Street where his proficiency in languages catapaulted him into a post as foreign editor for Reuters.

From a stint shadowing De Gaulle during the 1962 clashes between Algerians and the French government, Forsyth twas assigned to East Berlin, where he was a one-man band, covering East Germany ,Czechoslovakia and Hungary for Reuters. There the first of many adventures and lucky escapes ensued but eventually his escapades made his position too precarious and he had to return to Paris.

Forsyth is particularly scathing about the actions of both the British government, the Commonwealth Office and the BBC during the Nigerian civil war. Having accepted a post with the latter, he was appalled at the incompetence of the Foreign Office and the slavishness of the famous broadcaster in following the official line, which was to deny the existence of a war in which a million children starved to death. He resigned, and went back as a freelancer, telling the story like it was.

Back in the UK he and other journos - including Winston Churchill, grandson of the war leader - were smeared by those in official quarters for writing the truth about events in Nigeria. With no job and little money Forsyth decided to write a novel. He sat down with his portable typewriter in January 1970 and 35 days later The Day of the Jackal was completed: His career as novelist was about to take off.

In susbsequent years The Firm, aka  British intelligence, asked Forsyth for occasional favours. One such assignment in 1992 involved South Africa, where - along with his two sons - Forsyth arrived, posing as an author looking for information for his next book. They booked into a Kalahari game lodge favoured by then foreign minister Pik Botha for a bit of game hunting. As they relaxed around the camp fire before settling for the night Frederick asked Pik what he planned to do with their six atom bombs once the ANC took over. Chuckling, Botha replied that Forsyth could go home and reassure his government that the plan was to destroy the lot.

My Life in Intrigue is an immensely entertaining read.

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