Not quite

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It is that time of the year all right, and in spite of it being Monday, I am glad that it is. Only because I finished and dispatched my 3000 words to PP, and I only have one more programme to mix (code for “my work is just about done”) – tomorrow. So, it’s like being not quite on holiday,  which helps one cope with the end-of-year madness that would otherwise frustrate one if one still had serious work to do.

Like, for example, the fact that everybody and their aunt is forever out-of-friggen-office having a celebratory booze-up somewhere. Our little open-plan broom cupboard felt a like a tomb this morning – one where the corpse had come back to life and is off somewhere sucking the blood out of people with deadline stress. Not like me. Monday has never been so rosy.

In anticipation of this halcyon dream and because I have not seen them for ages, I had lunch with the girls at Ciro’s  yesterday.  I have not really been there much since my last birthday supper, perhaps three years ago, when the duck was dry, and Ciro unapologetically put it on the bill. Before that I went there regularly. Not anymore.

And yesterday I remembered why not. Look, it’s hard to find a better place to have good food under cool trees made cooler by that fine-mist cool-down spray contraption in the summer. The tables are prettily laid with cloth tablecloths and real serviettes. And mostly, Ciro’s food is still very good. Jacques says that Ciro makes the best risotto in Johannesburg after mine. (OK maybe he did not say that, but this is almost certainly the case.) But I do not think that the food in a restaurant that charges R110 for a starter that does not – at the very least – contain truffles and foie gras or Alaskan king crab, should be “mostly very good”. It should be consistently excellent, and Chiro’s is not.

I had the chicken, stuffed with couscous, crumbed with polenta and served with a delicious cream sauce of some kind (but not too much). The chicken had a great range of textures (the polenta really crisps on the outside) and was sufficiently full of flavour. I chose the chicken, perversely, because I knew the cost-to-labour ratio was low. I know how long  it takes to make little roulades out of chicken breast, to crumb them, and deep fry them.

By comparison, slapping a curry-like sauce on top of a piece of salmon is a one-hand-behind-your-back job.  And I did not like the salmon. I thought it was a waste of a good piece of fish, and other than the curry splat on the top, did not really taste like R175,00.  Ruth shared a bit with me, and she said she liked it. Jules, lactose intolerant, had pizza with prawns and capers. That was also excellent, not a crumb remained.

And  then it was time for pudding. I ordered the tarte tatin and Jules the crème brulee. Ruth likes to share when it comes to dessert. The crème brulee had separated: none of that silken, dense, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla custard stuff. I took us quite a long time to get someone to take it away, and by then the bit where we dipped our spoon was looking quite watery, as if you added some scrambled egg to dishwater. The tarte tatin was a pleasant apple-tart kind of a thing, but not quite a tarte tatin, which, as we all know, has golden, deeply caramelised apples, rich and moist, on top of a crisp pastry. To see what a beautiful mini tarte tatin should look like, go here. Or even  here. What a beautiful tarte tatin looks like is no mystery.

Ciro’s version is more like  a small stack of sweet, pale, slightly dry slices of unpeeled apple on op top of a crisp pastry. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the pastry. It was served with some custard, and it was, as I said, a pleasant apple-dish-thing.

I felt vindicated, a little, that we took our own bottle of bubbly. (Has anybody noticed that when you take your own MCC to a restaurant that they always give you the most amazingly cheap glasses?)

I know Ciro’s is very popular in spite of the dazzling price tag, but I suspect, nay, FEAR, that the bulk of Johannesburgers may not always have palates equal to those of our snotty compatriots of the mountain. There really is no other explanation.

Anyway. I am off to PE on Thursday, where I will practice mini tarte tatins in my mother’s kitchen and put pictures on the blog.

Aluta Continua.

According to the Daily Maverick this morning, most people spend 12 minutes every Monday complaining. Just saying.

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May the fourth be with you

I had a groovy birthday. Ruth made kick-ass oxtail for lunch, by way of celebration the next day, and I baked a cake. Many wished me happy birthday on FB. I was against FB for a very long time, suspicious and dismissive, reading all the conspiracy theories and other alarmist propaganda journalism literature. But I succumbed, and am happy that I did. FB reminds you about people’s birthdays – sometimes, and then I can wish them happy birthday in return. This is good. Sometimes you get a request for birthday info from a friend and the request turns out to be some app that demands all your information – email, phone, sexual-, medical- and institutional history, ID number, literacy level and whether or not you can make mayonnaise without a recipe, so I often just cancel the whole process half-way. It smacks of the rampant invasion of privacy that early sceptics warned about. I no longer wish to be reminded of that. Besides, now when I post, the link goes onto my FB page and then, sometimes, more than ten people read the blog.

But back to my birthday. I share the 4th of May with an unsurprisingly long list of people, but not many famous ones, which makes one wonder how Wikipedia decided who to include. Although, I guess if you were a Greek football fan in the 1970s, you might have known who Antonis Minou was. Robbie probably knows who he was, but I don’t think that makes him famous.  (No, Robbie IS famous.) Their general anonymity, on the other hand, is surprising because a large number of these people were actors and musicians. I was pleased to see that I shared a birthday with Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora. Better than Hitler, Wouter Basson or Britney Spears, I say. At the turn of the previous millennium there were a couple of heads of state, and in this millennium, one scientist, one mathematician, one trans-gender surgeon-pioneer,  one bishop and Hosni Mubarak. But mostly the list consists of artists, writers, sportsmen (no sportswomen, actually) and a couple of politicians. I am no exception to this rule. Like most of the people on it, I am also not famous. Which I think is OK. Famous people really have to watch the shit they write – just ask Helen Zille.

I am not going to muse more about turning older, except to say that I find it gets harder as you go along, mostly because of constant improvements in medical science and face creams. Combined with the current fashionable tendency to live healthier lives, innovation in these fields means that we are never ever going to be able to afford to retire: by the time we die the annuity would have been kaput for two decades or more. That stuff is expensive, as I am sure you know. Anyway. I had a good day. Thanks for the good wishes, and may we all turn a wonderful age this year.

Supersize me

Reuben had simple values and basic needs.

(I have decided that I have to start writing fiction, and liked this very much as opening sentence for a short story. The rest of the story will come, I hope. But never mind that.)

Yesterday, for about ten minutes, I actually wondered what it would be like living in Boksburg.

I was driving with my folks down a road called something like Noordrandweg from Game to Builders’ Warehouse. From the right, aeroplanes of various sizes were flying in at 90-second intervals to land at OR Tambo. It is always a thrill to see a huge aircraft descending from fairly close quarters. And there, over Noordrandweg-something, they were coming in as if a really big person was shaking out his aircraft piggy bank in slow motion.

Earlier we had lunch at the House of Ribs Family Restaurant, where you can have eat-as-much-as-you-can carvery for R80 per person. Even the more modest version for R55-a-plate meant you could have soup and bread to start, as much salad as you like, and then as much food as you can pile on your plate – and it was quite astonishing to see what was possible – and then, just in case you were still peckish, a couple of slices of pizza. The pyramids of food that were carried to the tables by people of all sizes were really impressive. It was impossible to imagine that people could actually go back for seconds without keeling over of a heart attack en route. Impossible.

The carvery is the earliest version, I think, of “supersize me”. I don’t know if anybody else who grew up in a small town remembers going to the local hotel for the Sunday lunch buffet, and seeing evidence for the first time that if you keep on giving people food, they will keep on eating it way beyond any bounds of decency or reason.

Not surprisingly the place was abuzz from quite early on. I would guess that it seats about 250 people, and I thought that they turned their tables about twice while we were there. Seven hundred and fifty plates… I think they make a lot of money.

But that was not the amazing thing. What I really liked was the loud swooshing of jet engines that powered towards the landing strip while we ate. That and the electric train that did continuous rounds near the rafters right around the restaurant.

Anyway. The House of Ribs and its toy train is not a reason to live in Boksburg. The aeries passing very close overhead and the shopping you can do at supersize-me versions of every supermarket experience you can dream of, these might be reasons. I think living in Boksburg must be a little like living in middle America.

It was a thought. But it did not last very long.

Surreal # 1: Don’t ask. Just go with it.

Sometimes, while pondering the universe  or just despairing into space while waiting to get connected to the internet via my MTN/Mweb 3G/HSDPA modem, I imagine that I am in a hostile, rocky, desert-type landscape, that the sun is beating down mercilessly, that I am a hundred years old, weak from lack of food and dehydrated, and that I am obsessively hauling a decomposing human body with me to wherever I am going, which is at least a thousand kilometres further down the drag. Or more. Like, let’s say, on the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town (going via Kimberley) I have just passed Potch.

(Sometimes I file my nails.)

It is Wednesday night. I had to wait for 20 minutes for two emails. On was 11kb and one, 63kb. They were crap emails, but how could I know this until I received them, right?

I am working up enthusiasm to mount a real offensive against my service provider in order to get out of a contract that is supposed to hold until August next year. There is a new law now, saying that if you are dissatisfied with a person or company’s service, your contract cannot bind your ass to the kind of rage and frustration that I feel at least once or twice a week.

I am keeping notes, and I think I will call Mweb tomorrow just to get recorded as saying (again) that their service stinks.

But having finally managed to get connected, I had better use the opportunity to speak. To illustrate (so, very hypothetically)… it’s a little like standing in a queue so long that your problem is sorted out by the time you get to the front. For example, you might join a coda of people at the bank, waiting to see the bank manager in order to rearrange your bond repayments, because interest rates have sky-rocketed. By the time you get to the actual manager, he is happy to tell you that interest rates have, in the last six months come down, and then… well, you have nothing to say. So you make up an additional story about bank charges in general, or something.

Okay. Not very funny. On a completely serious note, I think I might have to sever my very puzzling friendship with my friend Gray. First of all, he does not care if he offends my friends, which is offensive to me. Secondly, he eats like a peasant and chooses the cheapest wine on the menu. Thirdly, he does not do much work, just enough to make sure that he can play as much golf as he likes to, and to go overseas to acquire electronics in China or Taiwan every now and then – which he turns around for enough money to keep him in golf shoes and a house (also one for his mother) and a car and so on.

Which brings me to… fourthly. Because of the absence of a daily grind in his life, he pretends not understand that those of us who live by it, are incredibly irked  by his disdain for our economic endeavours. If he fucking calls one more time and says hello by way of “and so what are you keeping yourself busy with today?” I swear I will… well I don’t know what I will do. I will probably just say that “I work, you fucking cocksucker, so I will be working today, and please don’t ever fucking phone me again.”

I have a good friend whose ex also disparaged paid labour of any kind, having invested wisely from an early age, and he was also a deeply unpleasant person. That is why she dumped him. He only ever saw life from his point of view, and this point of view demanded a profound contempt for anybody who did not agree with it. He really had to go. Money or not. So, even though I am against virtually all the principles of Protestantism (and all other organised religion) there is something to be said for the work-ethic thing. And as a person that lives by it, on the day that I win the Euro millions, I will show the necessary respect to those who did not.

And so on.

Parallel universe

Okay,  somewhere in between the weekend in the bush, the period during which my brain stopped working (Monday afternoon/Tuesday), the all-nighter getting my essay in and the restless night in my niece’s bed before hunting-weekend I have entered a parallel universe. It is a very strange place.

I have attributed the low-level depression I have felt in the last few days to lack of sleep and lack of an immediate long-term employment prospect, but now I suspect I might be suffering from the alienating effects of culture shock. Everything is slightly surreal, but I think now that I understand the cause of this perception discord I may be able to snap out of it in, oh, the next few months or so.

For example… right now I am sitting at a table in the far end of Doppio Zero in Rosebank, in that little area with the two sliding doors that create a private dining room of sorts. I am here because I needed electricity for the laptop, I had a few hours of work to do, I was famished and was tired from walking around a museum for two hours. I ordered beer and bruschetta with hummus and roasted peppers. It was delicious, and I started working.

Behind me there were two very French looking women speaking French. I absolutely love the sound of the language, and I never hear it without renewing my resolution to learn. The Italians are less fond of it: some guy called Cesare once told me that “French is like a man speaking with a woman in his mouth.”

Well, as a woman I can only say that the sound of it is lovely. Make a note to yourself there, Cesare.

But back to Doppio. My blood sugar levels rose, I was busy, I had soothing incomprehensible conversation in the background. The girls left, the battery ran out and instead of plugging in right there, I moved to the table that they had vacated, to the very back of the restaurant.

On the tablecloth was a film of very fine, short black filaments. It looked as if someone had a quick trim… of sorts. I found it slightly incredible that the waiters would be doing their grooming in the restaurant, as opposed to the bathroom on the opposite end, but there was no real mistaking the fibres on the white cloth.  I wondered if this happened after the women left, or if they simply did not notice. I toyed with the idea that I might be imagining things. I was not offended, at this point, just slightly curious. As I was not going to eat, and not being the squeamish type, I plugged in and sat down. On the other side of the window the grey, sunless afternoon turned to early evening, the streetlights came on the red lights of traffic and cars gave the street a little colour. There was the distinct feeling of the change in shift. A whole new bunch of people streamed in, popping into the kitchen before peering at me around the curtain.

I was beginning to feel slightly irritable, when I realised that right behind me, against the wall, was a wall unit in which the staff obviously stored their bags, and that my presence at the table, at that time of the evening, was inconvenient for them. They seemed to make a different plan, and I ignored the slightly exasperated stares. The guys going home had no choice, however, but to mumble an apology and get their stuff. One guy was very sweet – he squeezed his bulk in behind me, took his bag and jacket out of the unit, dressed and packed before he shuffled off. In that moment it was not inconceivable that, before going home, he might well pull a comb through his hair before stepping into the street. I asked my waiter for another beer, and to change the table cloth, which he did. Ten minutes later another guy hovered for a second before squeezing past. This one, a new arrival, took time to peel off his top layer, pack it in his bag, store his stuff and tie on an apron.

“Excuse me,” I said. “If you have to get dressed, please do it in the bathroom.” He ignored that and ducked. 

It is the parochialism of the act, I think, that made me feel slightly divorced from the world. In a restaurant, where people cook, serve and eat food, one would imagine that personal grooming, especially the kind that leaves behind swathes of DNA, would be expressly forbidden in an area where customers are served.

Now I look at the table and I wonder if it really happened. It hardly gets more bizarre, I think.

And foie gras

You know, I really hate to go on and on about Hayibo, but today’s illuminating (and relieving, I promise) piece on Mrs Zille’s “wild whore libido” really made me think twice about applying for that SAPPI job in Nelspruit.

I spent some time this morning with the guys, trying to instil in them valuable production tools such as the twin principles of Independent Thought  and Common Sense as entry-level operational devices. Then I came home.  Mary was here so I put a lovely pot of lentil soup on the stove. While it was cooking,  I proof-read a chapter of a book chronicling the history and likely future of the Great South African Education Debacle. So far so good.

Then we ate. And in that moment I had a real longing for a time when I could drive to Corné Delicatessen just outside Alexandra to pick up a lobe of foie gras and marinate it in black pepper and cognac and poach it in a bain marie and have it with a some baguette and wooded Chardonnay. Look, of course the lentil soup was good, but sometimes practical food really bores me. Oh! The thought of something so spectacular…

So, honestly, by 15h00 the day had already been a crap one.

The thought of the foie gras did inspire me to make a concerted job-search effort, which is when I came upon the SAPPI vacancy, where the “focus will be on providing an efficient Public Affais (sic) service to Ngodwana Mill, Nelspruit – Mpumalanga”. It was instantly attractive. I had not seen the papers today, being so caught up in the joys of underpaid economic activity and so on. But I glanced at the IOL headlines and would-you-believe-it, Mrs Zille and the ANCYL were right up there. That, and the lentils, and the production principles, really just made me wish I could run away to place not even remotely connected with what we reasonably experience as reality.

SAPPI’s suggestion to “conduc[t] communications training, managing and improving exiting (sic) communications conduits (sic) as well as the management and publication of in-house newsletters and communique’s, (sic) the production of publicity material, local press relations (sic) and representing the Mill (sic, I think you get it now) at external events…” was incredibly appealing.

I ran this thought past Boris (we had a quick catch-up on IM) and did not, even when he reminded me that Ngodwana usually smells like a decomposing pack animal, stop twiddling the idea in my head.

What IS this indulgent and determined connection to the sordid every-day morass of Johannesburg and its culture, and its people, and its childish fixation with impeccable grammar? (Okay, maybe that is not a Jozi thing, maybe it’s just a my-life-in-Jozi-thing. But perhaps you understand what I mean.)

And then I read Hayibo, and laughed out loud. They sometimes struggle to finish properly, a little like your average guy-over-45-on-viagra, but today’s issue was faultless. Really. Go there. Things turn rose-coloured at the click of a mouse.

I wonder if they write from Cape Town.  I wonder if that is far enough removed.

No, seriously

beetroot-ring-3

Okay. The beetroot ring was not a great mission; once I decided how many leaves of gelatine to use in 600ml of the cooking liquid things went swimmingly. I cooked the beetroot yesterday, so the only thing that took time was the “season to taste” part.

I am a person who does not like to use sugar in food that is not pudding. At all. I do not even put a teaspoon of sugar in my made-from-fresh-tomatoes or from tomatoes-in-a-can tomato sauce. I know. It’s radical. I have been called that before. But considering that the recipe (S.J.A. de Villiers’ Kook en Geniet, 1979) suggests that instead of the gelatine, sugar and vinegar you can just use a packet of red jelly, I gingerly sprinkled a teaspoon into the mix.

I was also hesitant about the ½ cup of vinegar in the recipe, so I halved that. I tasted. It was very vinegary, and clearly needed more sugar. I added more salt too. I tasted, and added more sugar. As it cooled (the colder food becomes the less flavour it has) I added more vinegar, more sugar and then, more vinegar. By the time the mixture went into the mould, I had added six teaspoons of sugar (I think) and I suspect the whole ½ cup of vinegar.

The measurements, in the recipe below,  should thus be taken with a pinch of salt.

When doing the “season to taste” thing, I suggest imagining those Koo bottles of beetroot salad.  The beetroot is very vinegary, very sugary, and a gastronomic horror in the era of drizzled balsamic and sprinkled zest, but in the minds of thousands of South Africans, it must surely be remembered as the first vegetable they were willing to eat. That, and the fact that the juice was always running on the plate and colouring the potato salad pink. Personally, I loved it.

Point is, a heavy hand will reward you rather than ruin everything.

Notes about the gelatine. Cookbook writers are very la-di-da about gelatine. I learnt everything I know about leaf gelatine from multiple attempts to make perfect panna cotta, which is that you have to make the same recipe three or four times before you get it right. No matter how acute your calculations. And at some stage, I will write a blog about it.

In the Kook en Geniet  S.J.A. suggests “2 e” for “1 ½ k water”. That would be 30ml (no idea how many grams) for 375ml of water.  So I looked around in recipe books and after some vague calculations, used 9 leaves of leaf gelatine (15g) in 600ml of water. It produced a firm jelly, but not rubber, I think one could probably use a leaf or so less, but not much.

About the mould – I could not find a jelly mould, so I used a cake tin. It worked fine. The one I have is 25cm at the base. Smaller or bigger, I can’t imagine how it would make a difference. It’s not baking.

So, to make the ring:

  1. 4 medium beetroot
  2. 1 litre water
  3. ½ cup vinegar (-ish)
  4. ¼ cup of sugar (or more, really)
  5. 8-9 leaves of gelatine (not more)
  6. Salt and pepper

Boil the beetroot  in the water until soft. Depending on the size of the beetroot, this could take more than an hour. Remove the skins and grate, or cut into small cubes. (Just grate it, really.)

Soak the gelatine leaves in a cold water, until they expand and become soft. Squeeze the water out of the leaves and dissolve in 600ml of the beetroot cooking liquid.

Add the vinegar and sugar and season to taste. (It’s a bit like the allegorical line in the movie script that takes forty days to shoot and half an hour of screen time, like “the Titanic sinks”).

Stir until cool, but not until it begins to set. Add the grated beetroot, and pour into the wet ring mould. Put on a flat surface in the fridge until set.

When it is firm, dip quickly in hot water (not even boiling) and turn out on a plate. Decorate with shredded iceberg and/or other lettuce, fill the centre with peas, or anything else you fancy, and serve with mayonnaise or salad dressing.

I am posting this today because it is not clear what the deadline is: the first post said 4 May, and the next one said 3 May. Tomorrow (4th) which is also my birthday, I will add a picture and say what it tasted like. Oh yes, this is my entry into Cook sister!’s Waiter, there’s something in my… retro classic competition.

On writing #3: Nothing to say

I am going through an alarming phase in which I have nothing to say. This did not worry me over the weekend, as I was in the company of friends and, apparently, 27 bottles of wine. And then, when I got back on Monday, I could string a sentence or two together about recycling these very friends that had such a terrible influence on me.  

But yesterday, nothing, and today… nothing. (I think there was a column written by a columnist once about writing about not knowing what to write about. I feel like that person right now.)

I received a blog award, The Honest Scrapper, from Extranjera. (Thanks a lot.)

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I am honoured because I think she writes a kick-ass blog, and she is prolific as hell. I wonder where all the great sentences that land up on her page come from, there are so many of them, and she is Finnish to boot. Not that this means anything beyond that she seems to be writing in a second language and that she likes to drink a lot. (She says she does.) I once had dinner with a client who came to shoot an Ericsson commercial in Cape Town. The crew represented the whole Scandinavian peninsula. The producer and director were Swedes, the DOP Norwegian and the steadicam operator was Finnish. They were unanimous on the fact that the Fins drank the most. And that they liked to drink a lot.

But back to the Honest Scrapper, and the problem of having nothing to say.

It is one of those awards where you have to do the work after the honour has been bestowed on you and then pass it along. Like a chain letter in the old days, but better, as it is designed to attract attention to your blog and spread the love at the same time. I suspect it also gives folk something to write about on days when they have absolutely nothing to say. Lots of  people out there really like to write about themselves. Sometimes I do too.

But today, this week, this month, I feel that I may not deserve the award. I tried to write “ten honest things” about myself, but failed. It is not that I cannot put ten things down on a page, it is just that once they are down, they seem of little consequence, and lacking in both wit and gravitas. And if so… who the hell cares?

There were only two items that amused me about myself:

1. I am a BIG Neil Diamond fan. Indra can scoff all he likes, but when the news of a new album hit the stands, I was not even a little surprised. I knew it would be coming.

2. I am a TERRIBLE food snob. It starts with making your own stock. If you do not make your own stock, please do not tick the “Cooking – I LOVE it!” box in the “more about yourself” page of your Dating Buzz profile. Do NOT describe yourself as a good cook. No, really. That, for me, it’s as damning as posting a picture from ten years ago when you were twenty kilo’s lighter. I know it’s pathetic. But a girl has to have at least one standard she is not prepared to lower during a hormonal surge of some kind or the other.

I just thought of another one:

3. My mother thinks that a return to faith in God and prayer will make my life better. I think giving up coffee, alcohol, flour, dairy and sugar will make my life better. If you had to choose, which one would YOU say is the narrow path?

But moving along.  I am also not sure who I would send this to. The initial instruction was “7 cool people” but has been whittled down to “seven five”. It does not help much. Considering the trauma I experienced in trying to be honest about myself, I hesitate to pass on the award, I must admit.

If it is about connecting, and sharing, I must recommend the Hispanic Fanatic very highly . He writes beautifully, and is funny, and engages critically and intelligently with the world he lives in. And he gets on really well with his mother. And Hardspear. I love his blog. (Where the hell have you been?) And then PW and Sons. There something about that one…

This funk I am in may be the result of trying to give up coffee for a whole day this week. I forwent its pleasures on Tuesday, and did pretty well. But on Wednesday I passed via the Chef on my way to work and today I cannot wait to get to Seattle. RIGHT NOW, I am thinking of taking my blog there.

I also started doing a round of Surya Namaskar in the mornings, and cultivating a routine. I thought that falling out of bed and heading for the computer in my pyjamas with an espresso, and staying there, was not an adult way of working at home. Now I get up, stretch, shower, have vegetable juice and THEN sit down, fully dressed and washed, like at a real job. The jury is out on that one.

I have moved my office around and thrown out the months-old newspapers. It is clean, sparkling, and conducive to work.

Still – nothing.

I print and read my preparation for class, I think about working on the tabloid essay. I have figured out that, if I proposed an argument at the beginning of the essay and failed to make it (which I did) I should not rewrite the entire thing, I should change the proposal to fit the argument that I DID make. That is a much easier task, but has not inspired me to action.

In fact, I get a headache just thinking about it. I feel trapped in procrastination, and I am not sure how I am going to get out of it. I think the salute to the sun is a good start, and I think I am going to stick with it for a while. That and the vegetable juice.

And keep on writing. Even when I have absolutely nothing to say.

A weekend away

I think the final count was something like 27 bottles of wine, eight bottles of vodka, four bottles of whiskey and a couple of beers.  We were 12 for the duration, but a bunch of extras joined in on Saturday.  I cannot quite believe the numbers as I did not do the calculation myself, but generally they are uncontested.

The weekend was always going to be a decadent one.  But we were celebrating not only Bridget’s birthday, we were saying cheers, in a way, to her childhood home and the place of many rites of passage.

I brought Jack*, thinking at the time that I may well find eight hours to spend on getting my abstract right and fixing my essay on the tabloids.  We were, after all, going to be in the company of hard-core party vets who were bound to sleep until mid-day.  On Friday night I retired at ten while feeling still fairly sober.  Of course when I got to bed and the spinning started, this turned out to be an illusion.

As was the notion that the HPV’s would be lying low until after lunch.  The girls must be admired especially.  It is unbelievable how much stamina and resilience can be packed into a size twenty eight pair of Diesel jeans.  Perfect highlights, big glasses and a couple of runny eggs later, they were as ready to go as three-year old fillies on race day at Turfontein.  Chomping at the bit. It was amazing. The fact that they looked like famous rock-stars to boot was particularly infuriating. Give or take five years we are about the same age. How DO they do it?

But I like them a lot, and it would not have been gracious to sulk.

Anyway. We had Bloody Marys at ten, shots of vodka at eleven, and opened the first bottle of Krone shortly after that. This was followed by a bottle of Villiera Brut Rose. Then we abused all colours of wine for the rest of the day so it passed languidly in a happy haze. Lunch was prawns and boerewors… after lunch I made the Gateaux Laurence.  (I should just call it The Cake. As it stands, it sounds very complicated when it really is ridiculously easy to make). The final election results came in. Michael pointed out that the two-thirds majority-thing was a bit of red herring. We could not quite figure out why it had been such a bête noire.

We chose not to try, and instead we retired to the lounge and played Agatha Idols. I was Jana from Killarney, I sang Janis Joplin’s (of course) Bobby McGee and won the first round. I was very proud. Later I told Brad that to this day I have a secret yearning to be a doo-wap girl. (We sang Happy Birthday many, many times.)

In the early evening we lit the fires and ate the cake, incredulously, in tiny slices, while it was still slightly warm, and before the chocolate icing had set. It was delicious. Even Bridge ate some, and she does not have a single sweet tooth in her mouth.

Some went to bed late, some early.  

Sunday started with more of the same, except that there were newspapers. A few wandered off to the Coach House for a classical music recital. I stayed in the room having fought and beaten various challengers to one of the two copies of the Sunday Times that were floating about. Later I walked through the famous gardens of Kings Walden. At the end of my stroll I found Bridget and Paige on the stoep under the dead tree and we opened up the last bottle of pink bubbly.

And so the last day started.  People came back from all over and we ordered pizza for lunch.

There is something profoundly lovely about spending an entire weekend either pissed or pleasantly hung over. Events have more meaning in the moment, and are funnier in retrospect. It was also great to reconnect with people I have not seen for years.

It occurred to me, for the first time, that if friendships were organic… eh… organisms, and if they had, as a result, a limited shelf-life, surely then by the same token, they should be recyclable? I wondered about old friends and things that come and go, and come back again.

It was a great weekend.


* I have decided to find a name for the laptop, as I spend more time in bed with it (I especially love the morning lie-ins on the weekends with the newspapers) than I do with an actual man.  I am trying “Jack” for the moment.

Way retro chocolate fridge cake

I just realised that in the “love your smile” Dentyne ad, there are almost only white people. It has a cast of about 20, and I think there may be one coloured girl in the “group photo” scene on a beach.  And the cop may have been black, but it is impossible to be sure unless you have PVR. Any clarification would be appreciated. The overall impression is white, though. Was it shot in this country?

It’s very retro for us, that. We had happy lifestyle commercials depicting a homogenous, colour-free society long before 1994, or even 1990. Lies lies lies, my art teacher confirmed to our rosy-cheeked, if not necessarily -spectacled, class somewhere in the middle 80’s, staying our brushes and alarming our futures.

The commercials in which mothers-and-daughters do merry bake-offs (have you noticed how they STILL recycle those – clearly AI (the ad industry) only has sporadic inspiration from its master) was not something that really resonated with me. In my mother’s eyes, the microwave was a gift sent directly to her kitchen from God, and we rarely had a meal that was cooked in more than ten minutes.  Not that this was necessarily bad. She made, for example, a chocolate oil cake in this very microwave that was truly heavenly – or truly evil, if you like. My mother understood the dangers of the “devil’s food” lurking in a tin of cocoa. She passed on both this knowledge and the understanding that it is imperative to ignore it.  Even so, she no longer makes this legendary cake, which really is a pity.

I guess, in the light of this, it makes sense that the only actual recipe that I managed to take with me when I moved into digs without a microwave was for something she called sjokolade yskaskoek.  The recipe was in a little blue book. I am not sure why I think that a chocolate fridge cake is retro. Maybe because while it is ridiculously easy to make, it is decadent in the extreme. Also, it does not require a single ingredient that you could not find at the shop at the garage, (Thrupps… what?) most notably, two packets of marie biscuits. I think that is it. In this country, anything with marie biscuits is retro. At a time in my student life when I called myself a vegetarian, I survived on slap chips and salad rolls from Bambi’s, toasted sandwiches from Kaif, beer, and chocolate fridge cake.

(Okay, I exaggerate. I did get dinner at the Cathcart Arms when I was on shift, and I did walk to my parents’ for lunch from time to time.)

So here is the recipe:

  1. A cup of butter (it looks like about 250g)
  2. A cup of sugar (250ml)
  3. 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  4. 2 tablespoons of cocoa
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 2 packets of marie biscuits

 Melt the sugar in the butter over low heat. If you make sure the sugar is melted, it will be better, but it’s not imperative. Add the two tablespoons of cocao, stir in until dissolved. Take off the heat. Add the vanilla. Lightly beat the eggs, add to the hot cocoa mixture. The eggs might cook – this is good, I think.

Crunch up the two packets of biscuits roughly. Stir in. You are going to think that two packets are too many but they are not. You will make a very thick, sticky mess. Keep on mixing until the biscuits are covered in the cocoa.

Butter a dish with a low – 5cm-ish – rim. If you choose a round/oval one, you can eat all the off-cuts when you eventually portion the cake into squares, and that, like, doesn’t count.  Press the mixture firmly in. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until firm.  (It gets very very firm. You may want to portion it before it is completely set.) Cut in squares and eat. Even though it is hard, try to share and not to eat everything in one day because one does get quite sick.