Hello world!

DSC_0397Welcome to my world! I am Anna-Karien Otto, a writer living in the Boland region of South Africa. I like to think of this space as a secret library, a tea party, a welcoming kitchen or even a magic toy shop where we can explore all sorts of treasures together. This is where I share my passions for food writing, children’s books, poetry and so much more!

The Curious Cook

Curds and whey


It is a complete rarity to find unpasteurised milk in this world. I was lucky to stumble across a small shop that sells local raw milk in the small Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet. The Karoo is a mythical place. Encompassing a vast area of semi-arid landscape dotted with ant-hills and thorn trees, is known for its cloudless skies, extreme temperatures and fossils, some of which have been recently discovered to be whole new species that have never been seen before. A primarily agrarian area, the Karoo is known for rearing sheep for mutton, goats for mohair and game. In prehistoric times it was a vast inland sea and, prior to colonialisation the 1700s, it was the home of indigenous peoples, the Nama and Khoi-San (formerly known as Bushmen). In fact, the last time I was there I read a fascinating article about how some of their almost extinct languages are being brought back to life through a series of workshops organised by the Pan South African Language Board (Pansalb). And thus, I digress!

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Crucifying nostalgia: Rhodes awarded for Afrikaans play

(This is the third article I ever wrote. Behind the scenes an anonymous Grahamstown resident had written to the paper to say that he hated the play and, for some inexplicable reason, the editor agreed so this article was never published.)

Die Bannelinge (“The Exiles”) has won the Sanlam Prize for Afrikaans Theatre (Spat). Rhodes University is the first English institution to enter an Afrikaans production into the Spat competition, blowing the idea that only Afrikaans speakers can participate right out of the water.

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The Curious Cook

Hitting the right (sour) note

Old fashioned vinegar pudding with roasted guava flavoured with cardamom.  Photo: Justus Wagener

With all the recent focus on fermented foods it is all too easy to ignore the oldest of these: vinegar. It is my favourite fermented foodstuff, which I naturally gravitate towards using to add a sour note to savoury dishes. It was only after giving it some thought that I realised the reason: all great dishes contain a balance between sweet, salty, fragrant and sour – with the added magical note of umami. The latter is of course enhanced when the right balance is struck.

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Africa inspired- TEDxRhodesU breaks new ground 

The Tedx RhodesU team headed by Tyron Louw. Photo:Melite Vivier

For over 25 years, millions of people all over the world have been inspired and transformed by TED Talks, made available for free online via TED.com. This has inspired communities and individuals all around the world to do the same, organising independent events called TEDx ‒ Technology, Entertainment and Design ‒ with the x signifying that the event is independently organised.

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The Curious Cook

A welcome throwback to the 1980s


Photo: BBC Food

The tradition of making pâté is as old as the hills. Throughout Europe, pâtés, terrines and potted meats are still widely eaten today. Potted shrimp is such an easy favourite, you gently fry and season the shrimp before sealing it in a delicate blanket of melted butter so that it can be kept in a cold larder or still room for a lot longer than if left untended.

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The Curious Cook

Witty and wise- celebrating Two Fat Ladies

Photo: dailymail.co.uk

It was a bucolic time when The Two Fat Ladies burst onto our screens in a puff of cartoon smoke and bravado. And burst they certainly did, with Jennifer Paterson driving pell-mell through the British countryside in a glorious Triumph Thunderbird while Clarissa Dickson-Wright grinned benignly at us from the sidecar. In one fell swoop, they made the world realise that English food may have the reputation for being boring but it sure as hell doesn’t have to be. Echoing the devil-may-care eccentricity of Julia Child and the generous verbosity of Keith Floyed, these two friends made British TV cooks famous, paving the way for Jamie and Nigella to follow in their wake.

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Some souvenirs are harder to take home than others

First published in Sunday Times, in The Accidental Tourist column

During our stay in Buenos Aires we were determined not be just your typical tourists. We wanted to really get to know the place. We ended up staying almost six months, walking the length and breadth of the city, tentatively learning Spanish and eating and living among the locals.  In this way, we ended up staying almost six months ‒ walking the length and breadth of the city, tentatively learning Spanish and eating and living among the locals. Of course, as any seasoned traveller knows, quirks don’t go away while you’re in a foreign country ‒ they only get worse! And so it was that our keen appreciation (or rather unbridled obsession) for church fêtes and junk shops got completely out of hand. So much so in fact that when we were packing up ‒ apart from the antique silver, a couple of bottles of wine won at a church tombola and vintage clothes from the 1930s ‒ we had to fit in a brass bicycle pump, a rather reprehensible twin-fox fur stole complete with glass eyes and a lovely giant stone rosary. Yet the most troublesome of all this motley crew all was undoubtedly the Madonna.

She had been acquired after only one month in the Paris of the South. When my partner J brought her back from his latest scouting trip, all I could do was languish in bed and gaze at her in admiration. Undeniably kitsch ‒ she was a large painting of a beautiful, young, dark-haired Madonna reposing in an olive grove and swathed in white cotton, holding a very blonde baby Jesus. Mother and child gaze benignly at you and, if you look closely, you can see the faint vestige of her halo.

On the day of our departure, we got up extra early as I have an unfortunate penchant for missing flights. We dragged our overstuffed bags and bundles down the stairs, and waited in the hallway for the taxi. When our landlady came to say goodbye, she gazed admiringly at the Madonna and pronounced: “¡Qué Hermosa!” (How beautiful!) J gently suggested that I give it to her, to say thank you, as well as saving us a great deal of trouble. With a twinge of guilt, I said no, I’m keeping her. When the cab finally pulled up, just like that, it started bucketing down. At this stage (even though much more than half of our lumpy luggage was his) J was starting to get annoyed. We squeezed into the tiny vehicle, with the Madonna uncomfortably wedged against his knee.

We had barely caught a glimpse of the airport terminus when the little car broke down. Gesticulating wildly and unable to explain to us what was happening in English, the taxi-driver kept trying to re-start the engine. To no avail. After the battery had drawn its last breath, he phoned airport security to send a shuttle. We piled our interminable belongings onto a golf cart/Noddy car and, hanging on for dear life and drenched to the bone, we arrived at the terminus with moments to spare.

We ran off and joined a long queue, only to discover that it was for the wrong airline! When we finally reached the end of the right queue, we were duly informed that although the luggage was (thankfully) not overweight, we were only allowed four pieces. The Madonna had to be somehow strapped onto one of our two giant streepsakke! So we rushed her off to be cling-wrapped. But the wrapping guy cheerily said it would cost us double, seeing as it’s two items. What? Without a word, J turned on his heels and marched back to the boarding counter. The final blow came when a young, fresh faced official informed us that we now had to pay $90 (around R600 at the time) but… the police have to check her out first because she may be a holy relic. It was at this precise moment that J lost what little patience he had left.

Now, it is important to note that the Argentineans are a quiet lot. They are not like the Italians or even the Brazilians. They do not understand excessive gestures. So when we erupted into a full blown argument, they couldn’t believe it. I will never forget the look of consternation on the young airport official’s face when I cried: “Take it, you can take it, I give it to you as a gift!” and thrust it into his hands. After all THAT, even I was somewhat relieved to be free of the intractable Madonna.

Back back at Cape Town airport, as we waited at the conveyor belt for our suitcases ‒ there she was, wrapped in a cellophane shroud, leading the procession of luggage… our eternal Madonna.