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Books

Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

Posted by on in Reviews

 

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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Posted by on in Reviews

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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Posted by on in Reviews

 

The Messiah’s Dream Machine by Jennifer Friedman. Published by Tafelberg, 2019.

 

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Like  many other South Africans I devoured Jennifer Friedman’s first memoir, Queen of the Free State with relish. So I was anticipating the sequel with enthusiasm, especially since the first title ended with Jennifer about to leave for boarding school in Cape Town, unhappy and furious with her parents for being sent away from her beloved Free State. In the epilogue she sums up the years at boarding school as ‘a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from’, and also packed away her dream of learning to fly, pushing it “far, deep into the furthest corner of my mind."

I had to wait to find answers to several questions as this second part of her life story took us back to her home town, where Jennifer reminisces on the excitement of circus acts, human and animal, in the big tent before she turns to the train journey to Cape Town and boarding school. With that incredible ability of hers to recall in such detail scenes, events, action, and most of all landscapes far and near – we read about life in the boarding house (and hope she is exaggerating, just a little, about the appalling food served up to the girls!)

Next she is back in her beloved home province, plus a fiancé, introducing Allan to her Uncle Leslie as her own parents have departed the Free State. The wedding is in Cape Town and the newly-weds settle in Johannesburg.

Not one but two family members – Jennifer’s great-uncle John followed shortly by her grandfather, die, and stories follow around the customs that precede and follow death, until the deceased are buried in the family cemetery on the Free State farm - and even that event descends into a fiasco...  The stories of the exploits of these two men during their lives   range from sentimental to uproarious.

In 1977 we find the family – Allan, Jen and little Adam in Haifa, about to return to Johannesburg where a baby girl Leah takes the family count to four and Allan’s mother seals her fate as an unwelcome visitor. But its her house that becomes their chosen home in Morningside when mama joins the exodus to Australia. They followed, but settled in Sydney where they were happy for three years until Allan is diagnosed with a cancerous ulcer in his mouth. Jennifer starts flying lessons, Allan’s gift to her, as his cancer spreads and they know their time together is limited. Her description of the pain-filled months ahead until his death just before his 49th birthday makes poignant reading, and so well illustrates her story-telling brilliance.

But there’s plenty of humour  to offset the sadness, wherever she lives, even when she goes back for a visit to the Free State farm and joins her cousin Wilfrid for a trip up the mountain in a fearsome truck that ends on the summit, where she describes in brilliant detail, the view, the colours, the hills and sky, the distant farms that encompassed her childhood.

We are told in publicity releases that Jennifer lives in Australia where she flies herself  all over that vast continent, sometimes just heading off to a dot on the map to a lunch date. So, there’s a lot more to tell her readers. The third title is no doubt in the making and will update us with laughter and sighs.

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Posted by on in Books

HOME COOKING BY Esther Malan published by Human& Rousseau, Cape Town, 2019.

 

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Drawn from You, Huisgenoot and Drum magazines, this collection of 100 recipes was created by the magazine team’s assistant food editor. It is Esther Malan’s first book and readers will surely know what sort of fare to expect, given that these magazines are among the longest-running, most popular weeklies in South Africa.

The majority are South African to the core – staples that could be Afrikaans, Dutch, British, Cape Malay, Portuguese or Italian in origin - but are now firm favourites among all races. There are a few low-carb dishes, one or two that are based on African ingredients like samp and several that owe their popularity to vendors of street food in Europe and the Americas: Think empanadas and arancini, corn dogs and patatas bravas...

Above all this is a compilation that readers can rely on, being well tried and tested, produced for keen cooks who work to a budget, but who will appreciate new ideas to spice up old favourites.

The contents are organised by the classic menu formula: Good breakfast and brunch ideas include baby marrow fritters with cottage chese, avocado and biltong, and eggs partnered with hummus and chimichurri. Among the tarts and pies you’ll find old-fashioned Marmite tart side by side with easy mini- onion and garlic tarts topped with herb drizzle. There’s a chapter of street food – the naan sandwiches filled with roast masala chicken and yoghurt look good – followed by a bunch of salads that precede a group of family classics. Here pumpkin fritters get scattered with dukkah rather than the trad cinnamon sugar, and lasagne sheets are rolled around a filling of butternut, spinach and biltong before being baked in cheese sauce.

A good selection of chicken dishes precede mostly meaty ideas under the comfort food heading: the latter includes hearty soups, oxtail stew and samp risotto. Braais are not forgotten – along with chops, ribs, steak and kebabs, fish features in the  form of mullet and sardines, the only seafood in the book.

Sweet bakes are mostly trad in nature, from pancakes to lemon meringue custard slices. Desserts make the finale, classic favourites, sometimes with a twist, including a recipe for red velvet beetroot cupcakes , which seems to have become the trendy bake that cannot be omitted.

Good full-page colour photographs contribute eye appeal and the index is comprehensive. Only niggle I have is rather slack proof-reading: in the recipe below there were both spelling errors and duplication of phrases.

Suitable for any Easter feasting is Esther’s recipe for chocolate swirl brownies, also gracing the book’s front cover. They look as good as any I’ve tried, the cheesecake filling adding a degree of decadence and extra expense, but this could be omitted – as could the chocolate sauce . Here is the recipe:

 

CHOCOLATE SWIRL BROWNIES

From Home Cooking by Esther Malan. Illustrated on front cover.

Cheesecake mixture:

1X250g tub cream cheese

60-80ml castor sugar

1 egg

Brownies:

250g butter or hard margarine, cubed

200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

250ml light brown sugar

4 eggs

80ml cream

310ml cake flour

Half t baking powder

Pinch salt

Chocolate sauce to serve, optional

Preheat oven to 160 deg C. Line a 25cm square cake tin with baking paper and grease paper with non-stick spray.

For the cheesecake, beat all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.

For the brownies, heat butter in saucepan until melted. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted, off the heat. Set aside.

Beat sugar and eggs together in bowl. Add a quarter of chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat well. Add remaining chocolate mixture and beat well.

Sift the cocoa, cake flour, baking powder and salt over the egg mixture. Fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate mix and then spoon mixture into prepared cake tin. Smooth the surface, then make random dents in the surface before spooning over the cheesecake mixture. Transfer to oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until baked through.

Let brownies cool slightly in tin, then turn out and cut into squares. Chill until completely cooled. Serve with chocolate sauce if wanted. Makes about 45 small or 20 large brownies.

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Posted by on in Events

 

BOOKLOVER’S ESSENTIAL WEEKEND EVENT – ESELTJIESRUS DONKEY SANCTUARY’S THREE-DAY BOOK FAIR

 

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The dates to diarise for the 2019 Giant Book Fair are May 17 – 19. The venue is, as always, the magical village of McGregor, and it’s not too early to book accommodation through the Tourism office if you require this.

From small beginnings, this hugely popular event has blossomed into one of South Africa’s major book sales of used books of every kind, plus new titles that are donated by generous publishers. There are always a few treasures – usually Africana – waiting to be snapped up by keen collectors, and the vast range of non-fiction attracts its own fans: cookbooks and gardening titles, travel and decor publications, self-help books and, of course, a wealth of biographies and autobiographies. There is always a fine collection of novels by popular overseas and local authors to browse through and the organisers keep prices very reasonable to attract buyers to this important annual fund-raiser. 

For those new to this event, it takes place in the village’s large municipal hall, from 10am to 4pm over the three days. Light refreshments are on sale in the hall.

Having done your browsing for the day, why not pay a visit to the beneficiaries at the welcoming sanctuary a few kilometres back on the Robertson road? Find out more about the amazing work the founders Annemarie and Johan van Zijl undertake to rescue and care for abused and elderly donkeys, finding foster homes for others and running an educational programme that see school children visit the sanctuary, and often adopt a donkey for a school year.

Adoptions are a wonderful source of revenue for the sanctuary, and visitors are encouraged to adopt one of the donkeys of their choice and so contribute to his or her welfare.

The sanctuary is also a great place to enjoy lunch, offering affordable, enjoyable fare, which can be accompanied by their own white, red and rosé wines or a handcrafted Saggy Stone beer from the Breede river valley.

If you have books you would like to donate, these, too, will be welcomed with open arms. Email bookfair@donkeysanctuary.co.za.

For more information, email info@donkeysanctuary.co.za. Visit their website at www.donkeysanctuary.co.za. And also log onto www.donkeysforafrica.org. an international organisation that spreads information, education and helps co-ordinate donkey projects and programmes across the continent.

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