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Books

Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

Posted by on in Reviews

 

DEATH CUP by Irna van Zyl, published by Penguin Random House South Africa, 2018.

 

 

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How could I resist? A thriller sub-titled Murder is on the Menu, set against an Overberg background dripping with fickle foodies, on-trend restaurateurs and self-important chefs, followed by a series of deadly dishes and human corpses.

This is van Zyl’s second detective novel and is translated from the Afrikaans original, titled Gifbeker. I was impressed by the author’s culinary knowledge of gastronomic contests, trends and top restaurants. Having raced through the book, I came across pages of generous acknowledgements where she listed cookbooks that afforded her culinary knowledge both trendy and basic, chefs who shared their passion and knowledge especially with regard to foraging, both seafood and funghi and techniques like open fire cooking in the kitchens.

From page one the tension is tangible, as a well-known and not always popular food blogger keels over in a top restaurant and dies – a highly poisonous mushroom provomg responsible for her untimely death. Zebardines is one of the top restaurants in the country and is gearing up for the chef of the year and restaurant awards so timing could not be worse –Zeb the chef is celebrated, awarded, young and black – with everything going for him

Detective Storm van der Merwe is on the case, helped by a couple of colleagues, some friendly, others wary. Storm has her own problems to contend with , not least of which is Moerdyk, a former policeman who had quit the force ahead of being fired. He usually turns up at Storm’s doorstep when least wanted, such as just after the first murder. He is determined to stay, and help her find a new place to rent as the owner (also a restaurateur) has complained about her three dogs.

Tracey the waitress and seducer of Zeb is found dead in the restaurant wine cellar – victim number two and the plot thickens as Zeb is attacked by unknown men but survives and is taken to hospital. And Storm has to contend with Pistorius, her supervisor, a molester with past history and now transferred to Hermanus. Two men break into her bedroom and steal her phone and iPad, and her favourite dog Purdey disappears as they run away.

Protesters outside Zebardines, rumours of a food website takeover, a smooth property developer (and old boyfriend of Storms) add complexity to an already crowded scene. Tension reaches breaking point , as a third victim, Maria Louw Zebardine’s maitre ‘d is attacked but survives and the glitzy restaurant awards event in Cape Town take place with heightened security in place . Storm herself is in danger before the murderer is stopped – and as in all good thrillers, not many readers will guess who this is.

Topical, fast-paced, complex and accurately depicting Hermanus backgrounds, this is a well-executed and gripping crime novel.

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A SHORT HISTORY OF MOZAMBIQUE by Malyn Newitt, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2018.

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To start with the author, who has penned more than 20 books on Portugal and its colonial history, Newitt is one of the leading historians on the former colony and now independent Mozambique.  Now retired, he was deputy Vice Chancellor of  Exeter university and – given his background - one expects his latest title to be academic in tone and content. It is, but the text is  very readable, and not bristling with footnotes which can be so intrusive.   This is a book  that is  not only for academics, but for all involved in any capacity with Mozambique’s government and those doing business in that country.

And -  for those who head to its ocean shores for unique wild and wonderful  holidays  - you, too,  may enjoy exploring the background to the transition from Portuguese colony to independent country.The boundaries of modern Mozambique were drawn in 1891, giving a territory that is 309 000 sq miles in extent (compared with Portugal’s 35,560 sq miles! Its long coastline gives way to a low-lying hinterland leading to a plateau, and on to the high mountains on its borders with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Drought and famine punctuate its history and have much influenced its development, while serious floods did much to displace people and kill their cattle. Much of the lowlands are infested with tsetse fly, preventing communities from farming with cattle,

The monsoon winds not only  bring rain but link the coastal communities with ports of the Red Sea, the Hadramaut, the Gulf, India and the islands of Comoro and Madagascar.  Dhows visited the coast to trade for Central African gold and cargoes of skins, turtle shell, ivory, mangrove poles and slaves. The Portuguese started coastal settlements at the start of the 16th century and for some 300 years a pattern of life was established: ivory and gold traded through Islamic middlemen in return for imported cloth, beads and metal ware.

In the 19th century a series of droughts caused major conflict and migrations and fed the slave trade until it was abolished in Britain and Europe. However the slave trade continued largely serving markets inside Africa. The rising demand for labour in South Africa led to the slave trade of the south evolving into export of contract labour.

The  Boers, moving away from British occupation in the Cape, founded ad hoc republics in the north of South Africa , with Delagoa Bay as  their nearest sea port for the recently discovered gold and diamonds .

Frontiers drawn in 1891 gave Portugal control of British Central Africa’s access to its ports and routes for roads and railways. The country was ill-equipped to deal with the governing such a vast territory. Many Portuguese emigrated both from Portugal and its islands to Brazil but once the railwas line from the Rand to Lourenco Marques was built things improved and the city expanded rapidly .

In 1930 Antonio Salazar, now in power in  Lisbon, overhauled colonial policy and this was followed by the Great depression . Cotton and rice became major crops, supplying Portugal and receiving imported goods in return. Portugal remained neutral during the second World War after which Mozambique benefited from infrastructure projects and basic education policies while whites were encouraged to leave their home country and settle in rural subsidised settlements.

The first modern movements seeking independence for Mozambique started  among exiles livingsin Tanzania, Malawi and Rhodesia. Frelimo was formed for the liberation of Mozambique in 1962. In 1970 Samora Machel became president of Frelimo and while the Portuguese army seemed at first to be successful in clearing Frelimo bases a military coup in Lisbon in 1974 overthrew the regime and the guerrilla forces had won by convincing officers that war that could not be won was pointless.

 Subsequent events are  within memory of many adults today, Divisions in politics split along regional rather than ethnic lines. Cashew nuts became the most valuable export. But after independence up to 90 %  of the population of European origin as well as many skilled Africans and Asians left the country causing a severe skills shortage. Frelimo took over and Samora Machel became first president in June 1975.The economy came to a virtual halt. Economic policies based on Eastern Bloc practices were introduced to counteract this, but instead the country slipped into a violent and destructive civil war which lasted until 1992. Machel was killed in an air crash in South Africa in 1986 and it was widely suspected that the South African military was to blame.

The final two chapters focus on the complicated politics  post 1992 and the economy and society since 1994. That there is, according to the author, an increase in communal ceremonies connected with ancestors and bringing of rain not only in rural areas but also in towns. Some years ago there were reports of trafficking in body parts – whether or not for traditional medicine -  but just as these occur regularly in South Africa, they are not likely to surprise South African readers.

Illustrations are limited to a handful of black and white photographs. A comprehensive list of titles suggested for further reading  and a fairly detailed index complete the text.

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

 

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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

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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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PLATTER’S by Diners Club International: 2018 South African Wine Guide.

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Can you believe this is the 38th edition of this invaluable guide to wines, cellars, routes, restaurants and more across South Africa.  And, as remarkable, is the fact that its capable, meticulous, urbane and modest editor has seen this, his 20th edition, launched at the Waterfront in early November last year.

In his editor’s note Philip van Zyl briefly covers the scope of the guide, including recent additions to the information like GPS co-ordinates and acknowledges the efforts of his tasting team, one of whom, Dave Swingler, marks his 21st year of contributions.

Of the approximately 8 000 wines assessed, a few make it through to a second and third round tasting, and from these the five-star wines emerge, and ultimately, the Wines of the Year.  There is also a coveted award for Winery of the Year, this year presented to Raats Family wines. Highly recommended is another useful category to peruse, as are the Hidden Gems. Plenty of info for those looking for an industry overview, cultivars, competitions, as well as our wine regions, tours, restaurants and accommodation. The maps seem to be clearer this year as well. (And no, I have not acquired new spectacles).

Recommended price around R260 and of course, in addition to the print version of this comprehensive and essential companion, the guide is also available as an app and a web-based edition. 

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