***Update, August 1: In response to the thousands of people who, after reading this entire post, decided to harp on one single phrase (“I’m no feminist”), I wrote this. If you want to know how I can say all the things I say here, yet still reject “feminism,” click the link and I’ll explain. Otherwise, carry on. Thanks for stopping by.
Our country dangles on the precipice of starting a third World War. We are on the verge of a completely unnecessary conflict where the United States will fight along side Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This, in another day and age, might earn the crown as the Most Controversial Story of the Week. But we’re in the year 2013, and this is America, so a young pop star’s dance moves on an MTV awards show have predictably overshadowed the prospect of global chaos and bloodshed. I wrote…
In order not to drive myself demented with my own company all day long, I’ve decided to go down the road to Café Neo once or twice a week. At any given time of day, it’s full of folk with their laptops, probably also saving themselves from the insanity that comes with too much solitude. And it’s cosy and quiet and a good spot for getting things done. It’s also the regular hangout of a girlfriend of mine who works from home, and on Wednesday I agreed to met her there so she could tell me the sad story of her Saturday night.
Now, my friend (I’ll call her Emma) has a smoking hot career and earns a bundle of money. She doesn’t need any man to pay her bills, rescue her or look after her in any way. But, she’d like to share her life with somebody, so she dates fairly often and is on the lookout for a life partner. This particular Saturday she invited a guy a friend had set her up with along to a ball and, as one does when it’s a ball, went to a lot of trouble getting ready. She had on a beautiful dress, her hair looked gorgeous and she was wearing sexy heels. But, when she opened the door, he didn’t say a word. Not a ‘wow, you look pretty,’ or even an ‘I like your dress’ – nothing.
And it’s not like he’s obliged to or that she’s desperate for affirmation, but when it’s obvious that a woman who’s usually quite no-nonsense and in boardroom attire goes to a lot of effort to look good, isn’t it just manners or something to tell her she looks nice? Then, on the way to the car, she had to negotiate some steep steps wearing these high heels. When he didn’t notice and offer her his arm, she asked if he wouldn’t mind giving her a hand. And instead of realizing he was amiss, jumping to her side and doing the gentlemanly thing, he pointed out that her heels weren’t that high and that surely she could manage by herself.
And this pretty much carried on the entire evening – he’d pour himself a glass of wine and forget to fill hers; his attention would wander while she was talking, and when his phone rang he took the call even though they were half-way through dinner. Wrong, wrong, wrong. While one would assume he just wasn’t that into her, he actually was, but by the time the end of the evening came and he wanted to know when he could see her again and leaned in for a kiss, she was so over him that it was all beyond redemption. ‘He’s not a bad guy,’ she assured me. ‘He’s actually really nice and smart, he just didn’t get the memo.’
He just didn’t get the memo. And that memo is a big deal. It’s not about men being dominant and women submissive, and neither does it undermine feminism or contradict the truism that women and men are equal in all the ways that count. But, when a man and woman (and a man and a man or a woman and a woman) are together in a certain context there is a particular exchange of energy that happens; a sort of dance of the yin and the yang. And when men do stuff like not fill our wine glass or hold the door so we can walk through first or they walk ten steps ahead of us, that beautiful push-and-pull gets broken, somehow. There’s a type of old world graciousness, if you will, which simply ceases to be.
Of course we women are perfectly capable of pouring our own wine and opening our own doors, and we don’t need or want men to do these things for us always; just sometimes. Because what this really amounts to is a sort of ‘seeing,’ isn’t it? A recognition of our otherness; and a metaphorical kind of hat-tipping to our femininity. While all week long Emma is the boss and makes the decisions and wears the tailored pants, now and again she feels like relinquishing that role and relaxing into a different sort of space where she’s allowed to just be a girl being taken out by a boy. And that’s completely okay. So, men, next time you’re taking somebody somewhere nice and she’s put on a dress and perfume and is looking every part of beautiful, please don’t hold back from telling her. It doesn’t matter if she’s the CEO of the world – tonight she is on a date and in her heart she’s Cinderella. It’s just your job to be the prince.
So, on an excursion to find slippers for Sophie last week, I wandered into the Pick n Pay clothing store here in Sea Point, and what do I find? THE cutest jeggings ever created in the universe. In Pick n Pay! For the people of Brakpan and all straight men, a jegging is a combination of a legging and a pair of jeans – they’re tight and fitted, but in thickish, forgiving fabric, and usually (especially when black) quite flattering.
So excited was I to have found a disco pant for the following Saturday’s party, I sommer bought two. At R149,99 you won’t be bankrupt. Jeggings are huge this spring, and as we’re still in the middle of Baroque fever they have that funky print going on. Plus, you can never have too many pairs of black pants. Wear them with a longish top, and a heel never hurt a sister.
As South African as Bafana Bafana, Lion matches and Leon Schuster.
Now that I know I’m actually Khoi San I’ve become more interested in traditional dishes, and nothing on this planet can be more traditionally South African than putu, wors and chakalaka. Bizarrely, the first time I ever ate putu, or krummelpap as it’s called in Afrikaans, was in Copenhagen at a meeting of the South African Social Club. Talk about losing your roots. But it’s delicious, and for some reason (probably my blackness) I’ve been craving it lately. For non-South Africans, putu is a type of dry porridge made from maize or corn meal which is kept crumbly by cooking it in very little water. I guess my ancestors couldn’t be arsed to keep trudging back to the river so they adapted their dishes accordingly.
In Gauteng, it’s usually eaten as a savoury side at a braai with a spicy tomato and onion sauce known as chakalaka and boerewors, a local sausage. Here in the Western Cape it’s more commonly eaten at breakfast time with milk and sugar. Though (as my facebook friends will testify) I’m breaking with tradition and this morning I had the leftovers with scrambled egg and sausage. Man, it was good. Never having cooked it before, I had no idea there were so many varieties, and I had to ask a shelf-packer at Pick n Pay which kind was best. Once he’d stopped giggling enough to speak (I guess blonde chicks in biker jackets don’t usually go around cooking putu), he told me they were all the same.
See how nice and crumbly? My grandpa Botha would have been proud.
Luckily, two sensible elderly women came to my rescue, and after a long debate between them about which brand was less inclined to burn, White Star got the thumbs up. I was mightily excited to cook this new thing, and a little apprehensive as I had invited a friend around for supper. Luckily, she is a good enough friend that if it all turned out to be a disaster we’d just laugh and drink more wine. But, it came out pretty nicely, and we all had second helpings. Well, except for my six-year-old who murdered hers with tomato sauce and then still refused to touch it. She’ll learn sense eventually. Strangely, there are no cooking instructions on the packet, but I found them on Google, followed them exactly and it turned out fine. I think the hardest part is not letting it burn, so just keep an eye and it’s kind of imperative that you use a heavy-bottomed pot. Otherwise it’s going to stick a lot and washing up will be a pain. Thank god we don’t still walk to the river for that stuff, right?
Here’s how you do it. And don’t even think about not eating it with chakalaka. That stuff is the best thing I’ve discovered, and I plan to eat it with everything, always. A heads-up: the mild version is pretty damn spicy. Only buy the hot one if you’re a sirryus chilli junky.
• 2½ cups (600 ml) boiling water
• 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
• 2½ cups (400 gram) Maize Meal
• A knob of butter
1. Pour boiling water and salt into saucepan with a thick base and a lid. Bring to boil.
2. Add the maize meal to the boiling water and half a teaspoon of salt.
3. Close the lid, without stirring.
4. Reduce heat. Simmer gently for 5 minutes.
5. Remove lid and stir well with a wooden spoon. At this point it takes on its crumbly texture.
6. Replace lid, reduce heat and steam for about half an hour, until done, but be careful not to burn it.
7. Fluff with a fork a few times during cooking. Or don’t. I forgot this part and it didn’t matter.
8. Add a knob of butter to the pap shortly before fluffing it for the last time. Because butter makes everything better.
All cities have that one restaurant which is just THE restaurant, and if you haven’t been there you kind of suck. Just kidding, you don’t, but you do need to go there at least one time. It’s got nothing to do with how expensive it is or pretentious the waiters are, it’s just been given the ‘cool’ badge by locals because it’s awesome and vibey and consistently fabulous no matter what time of the day or night you show up in need of carbs.
In Cape Town, that place is definitely Societi Bistro (www.societibistro.co.za). And I don’t just say that because I’ve known the owner, Peter Weetman, since school. It’s the place Coldplay came for dinner two nights in a row (and God knows, Chris Martin isn’t easy to please); where Annie Lennox is a regular and anyone with vague celebrity status comes by to hang out when they’re visiting the Mother City. The reason is simply because it’s chilled, the food is excellent and inexpensive, it has a drop dead view of Table Mountain (and yes, we Capetonians are pathologically obsessed with our mountain) and the service is always impeccable.
Oh, and there’s one more reason – there’s a very tasty sandwich on the menu with my name on it. For real. And not because I’m famous, but because nepotism rules. When you go there straight after you’ve read this have the mushroom risotto or the pork belly or the fillet au poivre. Or if you want something sandwich-y, the Susan Hayden (a-hem) and the Sylvie Hurford are divine. And when you spot Annie, it’s okay to go and say hello, she’s really nice and friendly. Do book, though (021 4242100) because it’s packed every night. And there’s free wifi which means you can pretend to work while you people-watch. Punt over. Off you go.
So, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a blog idea for today, but nothing wants to ‘stick’ because all I can think of is how utterly lost and miserable I feel for no particular reason. Then late last night I got a message from my friend in Sweden saying how much she loves the ‘real’ pieces, and how they resonate for her, so maybe this blog needs to be about that. I’ll run with it see where it takes me. If nowhere, at least I’ll get a good cry out of trying.
The thing is, in this linear, scientific, cause-and-effect world we’ve created for ourselves, things need to have reasons, and that’s why times like these – when you want to crawl in a ball and have everything go away but you can’t say why, exactly – are so bewildering. You can’t ‘just’ feel stuff. You must be able to explain it. And I guess there are reasons – there are usually lots of them, but they’re not always as obvious as we’d like them to be. For me, one is definitely about not having a place to go to in the morning for the first time in quite a few years. And while I have no doubt in my mind that I needed to leave where I was and spread my wings and do something new, the reality of an empty day alone at home scares the living daylights out of me.
It’s fun to stay home when you’re supposed to be at work, but we under-emphasize how reassuring the structure of a day in the office is. I like people, and the nonsense (and sometimes serious) talk you have with colleagues – those individuals you find yourself spending many hours a day with and get to know and love. I liked making them laugh and being used as an agony aunt, and the little office rituals related to birthdays, new babies and resignations. It’s not really me to spend this amount of time alone. And, while I am working harder probably than I ever have, I’m not getting paid for much of it, which totally confuses my brain. Does it still qualify as work? By what rights do I get to sit here and talk about libraries when I should only be doing stuff that pays?
So, it’s that plus coming down from the high of starting the blog and having people read it and like it and the unmitigated affirmation that gave me, but then realizing that the gazillions of work opportunities I’d hoped would magically open up, didn’t, and then even more of a sense of what the hell am I doing? What is my next career move? Surely I need to have some sort of plan for myself; some ‘direction’ if I’m to be allowed to exist on this planet. We human beings have a really hard time just being. So, I need to try and change the focus from what the blog will do for me to the real reason I started it – for the simple, unabashed love of stringing words together.
Yesterday one of my closest girlfriends sat next to me on my couch and held my hand while I blubbered and said to me, ‘you are doing this for you. And yes, you are reaching people and making them think, but you are doing this for YOU.’ And she is right, of course. It’s a solitary pursuit and it can be lonely as hell but there is nothing else I really want to do. So, I’m going to try to remove (or at least acknowledge) the pressure I’m placing on myself, and let this process take its course.
And, maybe hardest of all, is giving myself permission to feel lost and lonely and scared without a ‘good’ reason. No, nobody in my life has died; yes, I have people who love me; no, I am not homeless; yes, I have everything I need. But I still feel fucking horrible and I can’t explain why. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, and maybe I won’t. Maybe this funk will take a while to lift, and maybe that’s okay, too. Perhaps we don’t have to feel happy and together all the time and put up a façade that everything in our lives is fabulous when actually we feel seven years old and want our moms. My name is Susan and I feel sad, and there’s no ‘because.’ That’s all.
Last Saturday some Danish friends who are opening a raw food restaurant in Cape Town invited us around for dinner to sample some of the dishes they’ll be featuring on their menu. Loving all things food, especially veggies and salad, I was excited to try a totally new genre of eating. The food was tasty, filling and more varied than I’d expected with lots of dishes to choose from including things like kale crisps, guacamole, raw variations of spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, Caesar salad with nut ‘cheese,’ and a range of unusual and interestingly flavoured salads.
Our host, Beatrice, began following a raw food diet when she noticed the start of early onset arthritis, and began to understand that her body wasn’t responding well to the things she was putting in it. She has been 100% raw for nine months now, and all her ailments have disappeared, her eyesight has improved and her skin looks beautiful. While endless studies indicate that a diet rich in plant matter has significant cancer-beating properties, that particular dinner party took two full days of preparation, a factor which is discouraging for people who can barely find the time to fry a steak, never mind make nut milk.
Still – it’s weird that we human beings will wait till we contract some sort of disease before we start eating properly and being gentle with these bodies we demand so much of. While we know, on some vague level, that food is medicine, actually putting that idea into practice takes more effort than we care to spend. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t tolerate wheat well, but does it stop me eating pizza and pasta and marmite toast? No, sirree. I was inspired, though, by how delicious Beatrice’s food was, and I determined, from the very next day, to start incorporating more raw food into our diets.
So, off to Fruit and Veg City I went, and I bought a ton of salad-y things and greens, and then I went and bought almond flour and made a batch of crisp-bread (see ‘Stine’s Incredible Crisp Bread’), and I discovered that if you use pre-grated carrot and keep your dressing simple (I like to mix hummus with olive oil, salt and pepper and chilli flakes), a big lunch-time salad actually takes no more time than it does to make a sandwich.
And, other than not feeling that post-meal, often meat- and wheat-related bleh, something else interesting happened: I stopped fighting with myself. There was no internal audit or value judgement ascribed to the meal (‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘medium – do better tomorrow’); no conversation with myself about whether I’d eaten too much and felt stuffed and needed to have something light for supper or promising myself to go for a run later or eat only chicken breasts the following day (yes, it’s a madness. A lot of us suffer from it but don’t talk about it). I didn’t give my plate of food a second thought. I enjoyed my lunch, felt full and got on with my day.
I don’t know if this is because I felt lighter and even after two days could feel my jeans loosening or if, on some deeper level, I understood that I had just given myself a massive dose of goodness and there was no need to discuss it. Maybe this is the answer to our food/body madness – just make sure most of the stuff you put in your mouth are things your body can work with and you’ll make friends with it once and for all.
While I’m sure there are sound reasons why some start eating exclusively raw food, I think life is about balance. We human beings tend to be extreme, either eating only fruit or only meat; drinking too much or not at all; eating loads of sugar and then swearing off it forever. I suspect it has something to do with the allure of simple solutions and the false sense of control these eating plans give us. Amazingly, we find it easier eliminating entire food-groups rather than simply eating less of the bad stuff and more of the good.
And, doing some research into rawism, is does get a little silly with people eating raw eggs and raw meat because god forbid anything should be heated, ever. Personally I can’t see the harm in cooking a tomato or making a lentil curry. But maybe people need to be a little extreme to get the rest of us thinking. And kudos to the ones who care enough to spend two days making ‘parmesan cheese’ out of nuts. I look forward to Beatrice’s beautiful, healthful restaurant opening, and will support them without a doubt.