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Reviews

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Bonellos-road-tripping-cover.jpgROAD TRIPPING WITH JUSTIN BONELLO by Justin Bonello and Helena Lombard. Published by Penguin Random House SA, 2015.

 

Hard to believe, but this is Bonello’s ninth title, and its nine years since he burst onto the local culinary scene with his first television show, Cooked, also the title of his first book. Helena Lombard joined the Cooked in Africa Film team in 2011, and has travelled with them, cooked and researched and written four of his subsequent titles.

The positive symbiosis between the popular TV series and these titles is a given, as the book reflects highlights of the journey undertaken. Along with photographs the content - in this case route and destinations. This does not detract from the book’s appeal, rather the opposite: both readers who have seen the filmed series of the braai contest and those who haven’t are likely to relish this gastronomic adventure across some of southern Africa’s little frequented parts.

The foreword offers a good idea of just what such an undertaking entails when it consists of a diverse group of more than 70 crew being on the road together for more than two months. They covered almost 9 000km on dirt roads, and endured long working hours to complete a 13-part reality TV series . Bonello offers would-be travellers a list of important items to pack and recommends planning the route in advance, while also staying flexible and finding the roads off the beaten track. In their case they started at Noordhoek, where Bonello lives, moved east to Witsand, then west to Paternoster before heading inland to the Cederberg. The mighty Orange river was a popular destination, then it was off to Namibia where they spent time in Luderitz, Sossusvlei and the Fish River canyon. The Tankwa Karoo was another isolated stop, followed by Oudtshoorn and the journey finished at a lodge on the Breede river.

Justin is not the only source of the recipes in this collection: a few were offered by members of the crew, who included a couple of top chefs, and some were the creations of top contestants in the series they were filming. The trip started with a fiery Durban fish and prawn curry, presumably made on the braai at Noordhoek, before a convoy of cars and trucks left for a lengthy nomadic lifestyle. The Breede river lodge at Witsand was their first stop so a recipe for fishhead soup is appropriate, followed by braaied brandy banana splits. With KWV as one of their (presumed) sponsors, cooks could jazz up their recipes with wine and brandy, and frequently did. Doughnuts, cooked in a flat-bottomed potjie over coals provided welcome padkos for the trip to Paternoster, where they camped at Tietiesbaai in wintry weather. One of the professional chefs on the team, Bertus Basson, produced whole braaied fish with pesto, tapenade and ash tomatoes, dished up with sauvignon blanc, which makes mouthwatering reading while Justin and others made the most of the region’s black mussels. In the Cederberg various potjies were prepared and the crew were warmed by spiced and spirited rooibos tea.

One of the most isolated destinations visited was the Diamond Diver Cottages at Noup near the Namaqua National Park, the name being self-explanatory. There some robust salads were on the menu and we learn about games they played after work was done and on the road.

The three team photographers provide some fantastic scenic shots , as well as many of the crew in action and great food images, all of which enhance the text hugely. The book designer must have had great fun in the production of this title, a colourful and appealing mix of mod and retro, that adds up to an invitation to get up and take the open road – along with a good store of ingredients and imagination.

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Tagged in: Books Cookbooks Food Review
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BAKING FOR PLEASURE & PROFIT by Christine Capendale. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2015.

 

Given the renaissance of home baking that has flourished since cupcakes became the flavour of the month, a spate of cookbooks devoted to the joys of producing delectable home-baked goodies has flowed from local and overseas publishers. Some of the earlier ones were both useful and enjoyable, but most of the recent titles I have received have been potboilers, to use a mixed metaphor.

However, Christine Capendale’s compilation is an exception – a well produced collection of sweet and savoury treats including confectionery, with recipes clearly set out and well illustrated,  each accompanied by tips under the heading ‘Sell more! ‘Capendale suggests eye-catching decorations and packaging to add eye candy to those wanting to market their goodies successfully.

In fact the book begins with a fund of information for those aiming to make money from their hobby, with details on everything from licences and permits to equipment and supplies. She tells us how to work out the cost of ingredients (with tables), to add in equipment and operating costs,marketing expenses, and  how to calculate selling prices. General baking tips follow and, by the time one reaches the first recipe – for red velvet cake – one feels that the benefits of a whole cooking course have been presented by a teacher eager to share her passion and expertise.

So, its unsurprising to learn that Capendale ran successful cookery classes in Langebaan, where she still spends some of her time, and has a food studio in Pretoria where she teaches and writes about cooking.

The recipes start with cakes, go on to tea breads, cupcakes and biscuits. Bars and squares fill another chapter, while the following, Sweet Treats, presents a range of confectionery, which always sells well. Traditional bakes includes classics like milk tart and mosbolletjies, and there are plenty of sweet tarts and pies to try as wwell. Breads, rusks and muffin and savoury quiches and bites are also given their share of space.

The oh-so-trendy macaroons, white and dark chocolate and raspberry or coconut – are there for the more experienced baker to attempt – and threaded onto coloured ribbon and dangled en masse -  make for irresistible displays.

Well indexed, with beautiful images by photographer Myburgh du Plessis, the R250 price of this title is certain to inspire a whole bunch of keen bakers to make their passion pay! And when the present cult of home baking is replaced by some other pastime, this collection will continue to pay its way. The Afrikaans version is called Bak vir Pret and Profyt.

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EMPIRE, WAR & CRICKET IN South Africa: Logan of Matjiesfontein, by Dean Allen. Published by Zebra Press, 2015.

 

Appropriately dedicated to the late David Rawdon and the people of Matiesfontein, this multi-faceted book combines a biography of James Logan, founder of that fascinating Victorian pile alongside the railway line in the Karoo, with the story of cricket’s origins in South Africa. As the events take place in the last decade of the 19th century and the first of the 20th  - thus encompassing the Anglo-Boer War and developments that led to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 – this is also a political history of the country during turbulent times.

James Logan was a particularly successful example of an entrepreneur who left his native Scotland intent on making his fortune in farflung parts of the British Empire, holding aloft, as Andre Odendaal states in the foreword, “the flag of fair play, civilisation and empire.” Together with better-known contemporaries like Cecil John Rhodes, Logan became prosperous at a period when Britain expanded her empire to the point when she occupied nearly a quarter of the world’s areas.

And then there was cricket, a game the British believed expressed a distinctively English morality, which developed in South Africa with Logan as one of its most enthusiastic patrons.

A son of a railwayman from a working class background, Logan arrived at South Africa in 1877. He got a job as a porter at Cape Town station, just as the railway infrstructure was expanding. Through hard work and diligence he was promoted rapidly and often – from station master to superintendent of the railway between Hex River and Prince Albert. Happily married to Emma Haylett, his fortune was founded when he took over as caterer for railway station refreshments, laying the foundation of his business empire which stretched eventually to Bulawayo from Cape Town.

In 1883 he bought about 7 700 acres of land around a little railway siding not far from Touws River, went on to acquire neighbouring farms and set about   building Matjiesfontein . The finished village was an impressive achievement that also became a fashionable health resort.

Logan entered politics in 1888 , winning a seat in the Cape legislative assembly six years later and by 1890 was being compared to his friend and political ally Cecil John Rhodes. Logan entertained on a grand scale, associated with dignitaries, politicians and sportsmen , which all helped his transformation from railway worker to Victorian aristocrat. His promotion and funding of cricket tours also went down well. He also built up his own estate Tweedside, a neighbouring farm where he hosted guests, making sure that these events were given coverage in the Cape Town newspapers. During the Anglo-Boer war Logan offered Matjiesfontein as a centre for the British forces. Logan was, like Rhodes, a man of his time, but his influence and fortune waned after his retirement from politics and he died at Matjiesfontein in 1920.

The book is based on a PhD that Dean Allen completed seven years ago, and publication was made possible by the Rupert Foundation. Wonderful old photographs enhance the text throughout . Tighter editing would have eliminated frequent repetition, but the parallel stories of Matjiesfontein, Logan, politics and cricket are timely and well told. It’s a pity that David Rawdon did not live to see this title: His wish that Matjiesfontein be preserved and its future assured is well supported by this story. As Liz McGrath who took over after Rawdon’s death has also since died, it is a question that needs to be answered.

Myrna Robins

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Louis Botha’s War by Adam Cruise, published by Zebra Press, 2015.b2ap3_thumbnail_Botha.JPG

There are statues of him in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, he was the first prime minister of South Africa and Winston Churchill held him in high honour and regarded him as a good friend. Yet Louis Botha is largely forgotten in South African history, and the reason for that is mostly to do with the fact that Afrikaners regarded him as a traitor to their cause.

Adam Cruise did some serious digging when he decided to unearth information on both Botha and his campaign in German South West Africa, which took place 100 years back. Out-of-print books, tidbits on the internet, official military accounts and his own off the beaten track travels in Namibia all helped shed light on both the Boer War general and his largely forgotten war.

Cruise sketches the background, starting with Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August 1914. The young Union of South Africa, only four years old, was comprised of many antagonistic English and Afrikaans whites, the latter smarting from defeat by the British in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902 and not in the mood for reconciliation. The country was also rife with racial tension thanks to the Natives Land Act of 1913 which resulted in the formation of the SA Native National Congress. The defence force was weak and inexperienced and prime minister Botha did not appreciate Britain’s rapid request, two days after declaring war, that South Africa should please act against German South –West Africa.

But he did, and this book relates the story of not only the first war fought by a united South Africa, but also World War 1’s first successful campaign. Botha led his men and their horses over endless miles of barren desert, and at one stage even his wife joined the forces on the battle field. In the air, a couple of rickety German aeroplanes were flown by early aviators, but in vain, as  the Germans surrendered in Jul y 1915 to Botha and his party under the shade of a wild syringa tree at Kilo 500.

Photographs, old and new, add to the readable text and the index is detailed and well-compiled. While the title is of particular interest to history buffs and those who revel in military history, readers who know Namibia will also enjoy this tale of remote battle sites while many more will find the story of a man described by Churchill as the greatest general he had ever known, a fascinating one.

Myrna Robins

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THINGS EWE NEVER KNEWE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICAN PLACE NAMES by Ann Gadd, published by MapStudio, 2015.

One only has to study the front cover to realise that you have in your hands one of the quirkiest titles to come out of a local publishing house in a long while. Information on the back cover puts the concept into perspective: this little softback comprises a compilation of the stories – factual and fictional – behind place names, selected from across the length and breadth of our country. Alphabetically arranged, a wealth of fascinating lore has been assembled , often interspersed with drawings of ewes or rams to add ‘sheepish’ evidence of the writer’s fondness for this farm animal.

In fact we learn that Ann Gadd is not only an author of 13 books, but one of South Africa’s most popular and successful artists, whose affinity with “Baabaaism” extends to including “ewe” in words like knew(e) and (ewe)nique .

History is lent lighthearted enjoyment with her humorous asides as we contemplate which of several options to accept on the origin of Langebaan on the lovely West Coast lagoon of the same name. Perhaps it was the Dutch sailors referring to the “lange” or long lagoon, or maybe the lagoon was named after the long planks the fisherman used as platforms for drying the fish to make bokkoms. Another suggestion is that it referred to the long road between the farm De Stompe Hoek and the town. We also learn that Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was among the first Europeans to visit the area, having landed at St Helena Bay further up the coast in 1497. As a sidebaa (as her additional pearls of history are dubbed), Gadd gives us a graphic description of da Gama’s character that is not included in our history books – his cruelty to all who stood in his way, whether sailors or local inhabitants, makes for gruesome reading.

The place names are listed in the front of the book, followed by a good map of South Africa, pinpointing their locations. Perhaps on one of her future trips Gadd will focus on other intriguing place names along the west coast and inland – places like Soebatsfontein in the Namaqua park and others will yield a further treasury of little-told tales.

This is a title to slip into your suitcase or keep in your car. Whether you are stuck at an airport or relaxing at a country guest farm, you will find something intriguing to digest as you turn the pages to the names of your destinations.

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