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.
Imagine an ice cream that represents the many and varied flavours of Africa. Made with no preservatives or additives, only home grown ingredients. This is what Tapi Tapi desserts are all about, but the concept behind it is not only ground breaking, it could very well become a way to shift our cultural and social perceptions.
What is the dish that you associat with your earliest food memory? I love to think of what children long for, drinking cocoa by the fire after school like in an Enid Blyton story. In the classic Robert Louis Stevenson poem Young Night Thought a boy dreams of a procession of exotic characters marching past his mind’s eye as he falls asleep. My procession of nursery favourites would include dhal with spinach paneer from India, plum jam dumplings for the Austrian/Swiss Germans, pasta with pancetta and peas for those Italian bambini, vetkoek with mince or mieliepap with tomato onion sauce for us South Africans and roast chicken for almost everybody.
This year has been the coldest winter in the Cape in the six years I have been living here. I live in the Southern hemisphere and therefore don’t really have anything to complain about, yet every year the onset of winter takes me by surprise. I am amazed at how the cold changes my personality – I immediately become much more introverted, slow-moving and unexpectedly grumpy, like a desperate little animal preparing for hibernation, seeking only the warmth of its burrow. The only consolation I can think of is to seek out dishes that not only bring warmth and comfort, but galvanise me to not become too disheartened by the slow turn of the solstice.
Making a good omelette is a simple joy that has been eluding me for many years. I never seem to have enough patience to leave well enough alone and usually end up with an overcooked jumble of scrambled eggs. Eventually, it became so dire that I thought that only the most experienced chefs must know the secret and almost gave up altogether.
But then, while watching one of my favourite foodie films, Big Night (1996) I discovered a clue. This comic drama unfolds as two Italian brothers prepare the most wonderful multi-course meal for, among others, the beautiful Isabella Rossellini (who eats it all) and Louis Prima who of course never arrives.
The highlights of this meal-of-a lifetime is a groaning platter of risotto in contrasting colours and a giant pie filled with layers of pork sausage, tomato sauce, pasta and hard boiled eggs. This marvel is called timpani (the Italian for ‘drum’) because of its generous shape. And in this way, a legendary dish entered the public realm, beguiling food-lovers ever since. So much so that co-director and writer Stanley Tucci named his production company after it.
There’s no escaping that most of the world is either under lockdown or restricted. I feel the weight of this on me every day, not only because I fear my loved ones will fall ill but because the world is out of kilter.
When I was a child, one of my favourite holiday treats was to stop at Mooiberge farm stall in Stellenbosch to buy a box brimful of freshly picked strawberries. Bright red and nectar sweet, I would devour them right there and then in the back seat of our old beat-up Mazda. We used to combine them with the most perfect accompaniment, a punnet of thick Jersey cream, into which we would dip the tip of each berry. This was back in the late 80s and 90s, when this now iconic farm stall was much smaller with only a handful of scarecrows to point the way.
Why do people pity you when you dine alone? I love taking some time just for myself yet, all too often, it becomes tainted by people’s reactions. Last time, at my favourite coffee shop, the barista even said ‘Good luck’ as I left, knowing I am usually there with a man who has a much finer appreciation for coffee than I do.