Homemaking-for-the Down-at Heart

This is the original, longer version of a poem I wrote recently about my mother. The short version (see link below) was published on the Avbob Poetry website in December 2022.

For most of our lives

words were our weapons


the single mother

on the attack

and I

the only daughter

on the defense

a raging battle

between who

can get

the last word in

Now that your life

has almost reached a full stop

you can’t hear me at all

I measure my words carefully

but it’s too late

we continue to misunderstand one another

weighed down with hurt

an absence of logic

we repeat ourselves over and over

enunciating clearly

unable to grasp true meaning

both sides so wrong

when I was young

the only way you knew

how to express emotion

was through the food

you made for me

what amounted to love

very closely resembled caring

we both derived such satisfaction

and deep comfort

from eating together

the surprise of a new discovery

unusual combinations of flavours

sitting at table

was our common ground

a ceasefire

I will never forget

the wonder of what you made

pungent and bold

brimming with bonhomie and good health

spicy green bean bredie with pearled barley

clay baked chicken scented with thyme

an abundance of whole bulbs of roasted garlic

slices of polenta with charred corn and chunky tomato sauce

the most perfect fish and chips I have ever eaten

macaroni cheese light as a soufflé

topped with diced ripe tomatoes

torn basil and your signature garlic & lemon dressing

seeping through a lattice of bubbly cheese

The last time I saw you

you were reading

Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart

which is about a mother

losing her mind

and a daughter

who still has some space to express her love

you had almost reached the end

but not quite

when you stopped being able to cook

pouring brandy over pasta instead of olive oil

the rice inexplicably both cold and burnt

I mourned not only our lost meals

but how we can never

get the good times back again

sweet respite

spun in the ritual of summer

It was such a shock

that your innate practical sensibilities

could ever be undermined

your burgeoning creativity

bubbling over

ever since you were a newly wed


perfectly honed

suddenly so lost in a sea of fright and forgetfulness

and now

that cancer

has you in its jaws again

food has become reduced to an obligation

parceled out in the hours between

the bare minimum required

I wish

I could make for you

a slice of sumptuous chicken pie

scented with cloves

thickened with sago

studded with hardboiled eggs

nestled under flaky sour cream pastry

or a green salad bursting with freshness

skeins of silky duck confit and tart cranberries

Everywhere I go

there’s this unceasing hum

of low level anxiety

that keeps breaking through

a dull pain

barely suppressed

This is how my body

is connected to yours

despite all the distances that separate us

all these complicated feelings

a deep dam of guilt

constant heart ache

bursts of frustration

inevitable regret

I shouldn’t be surprised

when you were lying on the operating table

no one ever told me how close to death you were

septicemia spreading like a forest fire

but I knew

This will be my way of homemaking

for the down-at-heart

finding a way to keep on




finding a way to say

that love

however broken



the last word



Cooled lava



yet with heft

An artist

formed it

fired it

the glaze

a deeply rich

burnished caramel

with glints of sky blue

The rim round as eternity

with an undulating edge

This cup fits snugly in its saucer

a contrasting colour

of matte

almost black

dark chocolate

Appearing utilitarian at first

when you look up close

you see

how beautifully

it is made

I languish in bed

enclosing this cup

in both hands

The warmth

spreads to my fingerprints

as the tea cools

to just the right temperature

I draw the delicious rim to my lips

I drink

I am restored

This poem was inspired by one of my favourite poets Selima Hill’s anthology “Portrait of my Lover as a Horse” where she wrote a series of poems likening her lover to inanimate or unusual objects.

Personal Essays · The Curious Cook

In remembrance of lost tastes

Name just one other thing in this world that is as evocative as food. I tend to voraciously devour almost any book I can find and spend far too many hours watching films; but nothing, absolutely nothing is as immediate, all-encompassing and deeply fundamental as the memories that can be unlocked in just one bite.

The wonderful American writer, director and die-hard foodie Nora Ephron had a special way of writing about food in the context of a rich, full, complex life. In her famous bittersweet collection of essays I Feel Bad about My Neck (2006) she included an op-ed piece she wrote for the New York Times about the regret of not eating more of a particular food that ended up vanishing out of her life. In “The Lost Strudel or Strudel le Perdu” she elaborates thus:

“Food vanishes. I don’t mean food as love, food as habit, food as memory, food as biography, food as metaphor, food as regret, or food as in those famous madeleines people like me are constantly referring to as if they’ve read Proust, which in most cases they haven’t. I mean food as food. Food vanishes.”

Continue reading “In remembrance of lost tastes”
Personal Essays

Wearing my heart on my sleeve – my life (so far) through what I wore

Like all magical stories, it all started with a treasure chest. When I was very small, 5 or 6 I think, my father made a little wooden chest for me carved out with my initials ‘AKO’ highlighted in black lacquer on the lid. I kept it at the foot of my little pink wooden bed, stuffed full of bits and bobs for playing dressing-up. A special favourite was this silver tulle dress which transformed me into an enchantress. Here is a photo of me posing around in it while my friends Kathy and Reinette wait for me to get on with it!

Continue reading “Wearing my heart on my sleeve – my life (so far) through what I wore”
The Curious Cook

13 nageregete vir ‘n oorvoloedige Kersmaal

Kersfees gaan vir vele net oor drie dinge: familie, tradisie en kos. Kosskrywer ANNA-KARIEN OTTO gaan steek kers op by ’n Provensaalse Kersnageregtradisie, en dek die tafel vir ’n Suid-Afrikaanse fees van oorvloed en voorspoed met ’n buitengewone Kerskoek met rum en garam masala as die hoogtepunt.

(VRYE WEEKBLAD Desember 2019)

‘n Suid Afrikaanse fees van 13 lekkernye. Foto: Justus Wagener
Continue reading “13 nageregete vir ‘n oorvoloedige Kersmaal”
Journalism · The Curious Cook

My top foodie finds of the Winelands

Franschhoek and Stellenbosch may be the king and queen of dining destinations but the bustling town of Paarl and its quieter cousin Wellington have many culinary surprises hidden up their proverbial sleeves. Local food writer Anna-Karien Otto has put together her pick of favourite foodie items to be found only in these beautiful jewels of the Boland.

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Personal Essays · The Curious Cook

A movable feast


In January this year we went on a road trip, crossing the Western Cape through the Karoo to the hinterland of the Eastern Cape. After fulfilling the usual family obligations, we headed for our favourite destination – Graaff-Reinet.

It is here that we feel most at home, relishing in the absolute peace of the Karoo. The weather always seems to be perfect at any time of the year, with the loveliest long, drawn-out magical evenings. The sun takes its time to set, dipping below the mountain, painting the clouds gold or pink before giving way to a long deep cobalt blue twilight that seems to last forever. And in Spring the swallows and swifts arrive, gliding and dipping above the spires of the glorious cypress trees in the gathering dusk.

Continue reading “A movable feast”