Chips*, Here Come the Chinese!

me and lucy pic
Me and my friend, Lucy, who owns Hot and Spicy Szechuan Food in Milnerton This is easily the best Szechuan restaurant in Cape Town but you’ve probably never heard of it because it’s not on Bree Street.

Some weeks ago, over lunch at a new Cape Town restaurant everyone is queuing to get into but is actually crap de luxe and the kitchen staff secretly laugh at you for paying R135 for dry chicken in Nola mayonnaise I had a conversation with a friend’s 65-year-old mom who comes from a country the name of which I won’t mention except to say its climate is dodgy, lots of (sorry) South Africans live there and it has more sheep than people. And the conversation was irksome and went like this: *Someone makes a reference to Chinese people living in to Cape Town*

Her: You won’t believe how many Chinese have moved into our neighbourhood. In fact, parts of it don’t even look like Wellington! (oops, I said the place) anymore.

Me: (1,5 glasses of Chenin in and already forgetting my manners. Though lately, being nanoseconds away from The Menopause, it doesn’t take much to make me stroppy): How lucky for you! Must be a great improvement on the local cuisine.

Her: Well… I know what you’re getting at, Xenophobia and everything, but really… it’s just overrun! They’re everywhere!

Me *moving my leg so my husband can’t kick it anymore*: I don’t know why everyone is so nervous of the Chinese. What’s wrong with Chinese people? I mean, look at Chinatown in Milnerton. Chinatown in Milnerton has saved my bacon many times when I needed cheap things in a hurry and pretend soccer shoes for my 9-year-old and also did you know you can buy toilet paper for a fraction, a fraction of what Kak n Pay charges for the same thing. So I think we need to all stop being so weird about people who don’t look exactly like we do. Also, they make dumplings (this was the clincher, in my opinion).

Her: * Awkward pause* Well, I think you’re missing the point of what I’m trying to say, I’m not saying I don’t like Chinese people, I’m just saying, Wellington blah blah blah…

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Dumplings. Is there even anything to discuss?

And yes, I’m probably missing the point, but it aggravates me when people say things like that and assume you’ll agree because personally and speaking for myself, I have less than no problem with Chinese people living in ‘my’ city (or even better, ‘my’ neighbourhood, then I don’t have to travel so far for dumplings) and to anyone who does I have two words to say to you: Peking Duck. Anyone who has ever tried to make Peking Duck will immediately have the deepest, most abiding respect for the people of China. Recently I decided to celebrate my new stove and its fancy rotisserie function by attempting to make Peking Duck.

I purchased a frozen duck (since I don’t live in China) from a trendy, overpriced butchery and also enough Chinese 5 Spice to season all of Yingdong and Fangshan and Poongking combined and followed the recipe to a tee. Significant was my excitement around my own cleverness because who on this planet doesn’t adore Peking Duck? (yes, yes, the vegans, but never mind them for now). Well. The fact that that duck had to leave its pond of murky happiness to end up a leathery grey thing on my sad dinner table fills me with shame and regret.

I will say emphatically that Peking duck is not a dish for non-Chinese people to attempt. Neither, for that matter, is Szechuan Spicy Boiled Fish. Which I haven’t tried to make but after the last thing won’t even bother. So, if for no other reason than the plethora of places in this (and every) city you can visit and order delicious dishes for a lot less than R135, let’s try not to say crappy things about the ‘foreigners’ who arrive on our shores. Because unless you actually did that swab test at Home Affairs and are 100% Khoi San you are also a foreigner, FYI.

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Szechuan Spicy Boiled Fish. Yes, those are chillies and yes, you will cry like a little girl and then come back the next night for more.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Chinese have a reputation for being insular and are often not the friendliest folk you’ll encounter when you’re out shopping (although there are huge, massive exceptions to this generalisation, like my friend Lucy in the above pic who is basically sunshine on speed). But, in instances where we feel inclined to put people in boxes, it’s very good to stop for a minute and consider the reason why some people may behave in a certain way. Generally speaking, I’d say that living in a dictatorship on the brink of abject poverty (this is turning, but it will take a while) in a country where full-term girl babies were routinely aborted and where you work your fingers to the bone seven days a week for a wage below the breadline and never see your children is enough to make anyone a little taciturn.

Add to that the fact that basically everyone in the world hates you (last time I checked there wasn’t a notable lack of space in New Zealand) and you’re going to turn inwards and stick with your own kind. A few centuries ago, when everyone and their brother was arriving on South African shores in the hope of finding diamonds and living a better life (don’t we all hope for diamonds and a better life?), a large contingency of Chinese people arrived as slaves of the Dutch East India Company. And you can imagine that being a slave in the household of one Gerhardus Poephol van Schipol wouldn’t exactly have been a barrel of laughs.

guv 2
Gerhardus Poephol van Schipol not looking thrilled about how the poffertjies turned out.

Then, to add insult to injury, between 1904 and 1910 over 64 000 Chinese were ‘imported’ to colonial South Africa (love the euphemism) as indentured labourers to work on the gold mines. So they basically helped build our country. And while most of these Chinese were returned to China (thanks for that, and good luck not dying on the ship), the Chinese population that exists in South Africa today are, for the most part, the great-great-great-grandchildren of independent migrants who trickled in in small numbers from Guangdong province as early as the 1870s. I would say that if your people have been living here for 150 years you pretty much qualify as a local.

And for these people, life on the whole has not been a thing of joy. Discrimination and racist legislation prevented them from obtaining individual mining licenses (pretty ironic, that). The ugly laws that governed South Africa at that time denied citizenship, prohibited land ownership and restricted trade for the Chinese. Classed as non-white and barred from entering the formal sector, most Chinese had to go under the radar to support their families, playing Mah Jong for money in the townships, getting arrested by the apartheid police and eking out an existence by running small businesses. Nobody wanted Chinese tenants or neighbours. To be eligible for a rental property you had to get written permission from every person living in the street that they didn’t mind you moving in there. Can you really blame them for being a bit poesbedroef**?

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China Mall, Johannesburg

When you drive through dusty little towns like Vanrhynsdorp and Pitsonderwater and see the inevitable Chinese shop in the middle of nowhere selling everything from cheap clothing to fly swatters you’ve got to wonder at the lives of its owners. If this isolated, lonely existence miles from home and anything familiar is better than where you came from… wow. So, I say from our places of white, middle class privilege let’s try and keep the arrogance in check. You’d be hard pressed to find a race who work harder, longer and are tougher and more resilient than these.

Also, rather than going to cool establishments that serve Nola mayonnaise and don’t need your custom, support small businesses in off-the-beaten-track places run by people who work insanely long hours and try really hard to serve consistently good food. Many of them are supporting entire families back home in China. You don’t find a lot of Chinese people hanging out at Clifton and going for drinks at Caprice. They understand the value of money and what it takes to survive. Plus, there’s no reason on god’s green earth to make your own Peking Duck.

*South African for ‘watch out!’

** South African for ‘very sad.’

(If you want to also cry like a girl and go back the next night, Hot and Spicy Szechuan Food can be found about 500m up Bosmansdam Road if you’re coming from Koeberg and is tucked behind an establishment called Sables Bar and Bistro. I don’t think they have a phone and nobody speaks English. Go hungry and point at things).

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Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stewois (another French dish)

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As it cooks the chorizo lends a fabulous smokiness to the sauce.

As everyone in my family knows, I’m somewhat of a cheat. I believe cheating wherever possible is an intelligent way of getting where you need to be with a minimum of hassle and stress. I cheat at things like boule and Monopoly and now and again I forget to tell MyFitnessPal about the chocolate croissant I inhaled on the school run because anyway food that isn’t eaten on a plate doesn’t count. The thing is, if I didn’t cheat I would regularly lose at things which would negatively impact my self-esteem, and since I’m so kak at games of all descriptions, it’s a survival mechanism I’ve had no choice but to hone over the years.

Like this past July in Copenhagen when we went for Sunday lunch at some friends who were spending the summer in a fancy house by the sea where the rich people of Denmark live. After a wonderful lunch of steak and fried potatoes (our hostess was French where they not only eat carbs but fry them and yet remain as thin as mist), we did what rich Danish and ordinary French people do and went out onto the lawn to play boule. I’m not great at boule, and while I’m not a bad loser as such it just gets embarrassing when you’re competing against a wafer-thin French girl who wears silk lingerie and not beige broeks like me (I know this because I snooped around and found a clothes horse hung with tiny, diaphanous items of underwear, like Barbie had one hell of a night) and you’re coming totally stone last, being beaten even by young children.

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Rich people of Denmark.

So, when the players ahead of me were distracted and talking about the various merits of a la-la-Pinot Noir I would subtly use my foot to get the ball into a more favourable position, significantly hoisting myself up in the rankings. The fact that I’d had several glasses of the above-mentioned Pinot Noir which impacted my balance somewhat and made me fall over once or twice alerting everyone to my tricks we don’t really need to go into, but they were polite enough to let me pretend I really came fourth.

Also when we play Monopoly, even when I try really hard to save and make sound financial decisions and not be like I am in real life somehow I end up alternately in jail or on Regent Street at the doorstep of the hotel my husband has yet again unkindly purchased and keeps laughing meanly when I land there round after round. So you can’t really blame me for taking advantage of the times my fellow players are momentarily distracted by the loud gwang of a hadeda landing on the roof and everyone gets up to look out the window to see if it’s a baddie come to kill us and I pilfer the money of the other players and hide it under the board so the theft is not immediately apparent. Because this is the only way I’m not bankrupt and out of the game within 15 minutes. And I know it’s not ideal that the people I’m stealing from are my own children, but on the other hand they need to learn that the world is full of robbers and swindlers and nobody should be trusted, least of all their own kin. But enough about that.

This French dish (which possibly isn’t even really, but it goes with the cheating theme and it does contain French tarragonois) is so ridiculously easy and yet appears quite fancy and sophisticated when you serve it to guests, so naturally it’s a hit with the likes of me. There are one or two things you can’t cheat with, though. It has very few ingredients, so you must buy good things. Pay more for your chicken and don’t even think about buying Chorizo from a poofy shop. It’s going to ruin everything and nobody will think you’re Nigella anymore which defeats the whole object of cooking for anybody ever. This is what you’ll need.

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No filter on earth can make raw chicken look appealing. But see how few ingredients 👍🏼

Ingredients:

  • Several chicken pieces
  • Chorizo
  • bacon
  • 2 tins of butter beans
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • dried French tarragonois
  • chicken stock
  • an onion
  • garlic
  • rosemary
  • a bay leaf

Method:

Fry your chicken in olive (or any damn) oil and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour if you feel like it. Remove browned chicken pieces from the pot and in the lovely, chickeny fat fry your bacon, then add your onion, garlic and chorizo not whole but sliced, obvs. When you’ve fried that for a while add your tomatoes, a tablespoon of tarragonois, chicken stock, fresh rosemary, 2 tins of butter beans and the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer gently for a couple of hours. Serve with rice and/or crusty bread and a nice bottle of white. It’s very tasty and your friends will be impressed with your cooking skills. Also, the amazing thing about this dish is that halfway through cooking it you’ll find that you are thinner and also able to speak fluent French even if you didn’t speak a word of that language before. That surprised me quite a lot, but then life is full of surprises. Bon appetit!

Cullin Skink, the Most Delicious Fish Soup in the Whole Entire World

The Loch Ness Lodge Hotel and a cleaner's bum.
The Loch Ness Lodge Hotel and a cleaner’s bum.

If you ever happen to find yourself in the Scottish village of Drumnadrochit (population 813), I can tell you with authority that there is something better than catching a glimpse of Old Nessie, and that thing is getting yourself a bowl of Cullin Skink or smoked fish soup. For this serving of heaven you will have to make your way to the maddest, most eccentric hotel you will likely ever stay in in your days called – naturally – the Loch Ness Lodge Hotel. Being situated on the loch, and all. If you’re looking for a deeply, madly Scottish experience you won’t be disappointed. This hotel was surely decorated by leprechauns on speed and it’s completely fantastic (I know, leprechauns are Irish, but these ones were contracted in). What you get when you walk in is floor-to-ceiling tartan, 24/7 bagpipes and bedroom décor straight out of Alice in Wonderland. You also get door handles perfectly positioned for one of those leprechauns. In fact, we had to get on our knees to unlock the door. Needless to say, we were sold.

Unlocking the door to our hotel room.
Unlocking the door to our hotel room.

We had no idea what a Cullin Skink was when it was at home in tartan pyjamas, but being pretty adventurous diners (we ate haggis and black pudding every day. Promise. Both are delicious) we wanted to eat the things we can’t get in Cape Town, and Cullin Skink certainly seemed to be that. What we didn’t know was that we would be struck silent by the mind-boggling deliciousness of this relatively unknown dish, talk about it for days and try to replicate it when we got home. What it is (said Google) is a soup consisting of smoked fish (any kind, but the Scottish version favours haddock), potatoes, leeks, dill, cream and butter. Just writing these words makes me drool. Imagine it’s really cold out (it wasn’t, but imagine it was), you’ve been Loch Nessing all day with barely an oat cake for sustenance (we’d been eating Pringles the whole drive down, sadly, but who knew that was on the menu?) you stumble inside and order a wee dram or three. You’re so hungry your bum’s nibbling the (tartan) seat and before you, like an angel, a waiter (who looks just like Spud from Trainspotting) brings you a bowl of this piping hot soup. It’s creamy, it’s smoky and it’s tasty as hell. I mean, a guy could sing an aria for the joy of it.

Very, very much tartan.
So much tartan of an afternoon.

So once we had scraped the last small droplet of remaining soup up with our fingers and gathered ourselves enough to speak we decided, then and there, that our mission in life would be to recreate this marvelous dish. Un-dyed Finnan haddock is not as easy to get in Green Point as it is in Drumnadrochit, but luckily the recipe assured us that any smoked white fish would do. So, off to the Waterfront City Market we went and bought this…

Smoked Angelfish from the Waterfront City Market because we're fancy like that, but any smoked white fish would do.
Smoked Angelfish from the Waterfront City Market because we like to pretend we’re fancy, but any smoked white fish will do.

…along with a large block of butter, cream and dill. We forgot the leeks, but decided large spring onions would have to do because the loser of paper-rock-scissors reneged on the deal (a-hem). The recipe said to simmer the fish in water with bay leaves till it was ‘cooked.’ A small discussion ensued around whether or not smoked fish qualifies as uncooked since it is, technically, cooked by the smoking. The loser of paper-rock-scissors lost that argument, too. Then, there was a discussion around when it was best to add the cream because some people in this house, even when they have never made a thing, feel that they still know more than the people who wrote the recipe. It went in at the end which I think was the right time. But enough about that.

Here is what you’ll need:

Ingredients:
Smoked white fish
A large yellow onion
Leeks (or overgrown spring onions)
Dill
A large carrot, finely chopped
2 Sticks of celery, finely chopped
5 Medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Butter
A litre of full cream milk
A swirl of cream
Bay leaves
Fish stock or fish sauce or both

Method:
In a frying pan, cover the fish with the milk and two bay leaves and let it simmer gently for 10 minutes. In a large saucepan, sauté your onion in butter. Add your carrots, celery, potatoes and ‘leeks’ and schmoonk them around till they’re covered in butter. You might want to add more butter. Remove the fish from the milk and put the fish aside. Add the fishy milk to your saucepan together with a handful of dill and a splash of fish stock. Let it simmer until your potatoes are cooked. While they are cooking break the fish up into bite-sized pieces and remove any skin or bones. Let the soup thicken. Add a drizzle of cream and the fish. Let the flavours make friends for a few minutes and then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve very hot with bread and if you’re impressing people, parsley.

Cullin Skink. Ta da!
Cullin Skink. Ta da!

I feared making this dish at home would be a bit like Swedish herring which tastes amazing at a midsummer party with a maypole and schnapps but kind of wrong when eaten in Cape Town, but this soup was actually almost better than the one we had in Scotland. And super easy and super quick. You use a lot of butter so it’s pretty rich. I put the smallest amount of cream in because boiling the milk had made it separate slightly, but it’s not really necessary. Traditional recipes don’t include the celery and carrot, but I like my soup to have a bit of sweetness and I thought their inclusion improved the flavour. Lastly, I added a Knorr fish stock sachet thing. I couldn’t really taste it so I added a bit of fish sauce. I think it depends on how smoky your fish is. Have a spoonful and decide for yourself.

The hauntingly beautiful highlands.
The hauntingly beautiful Highlands. If you’re able to get there in this lifetime, do. If not, just make the soup.

Just Eat the Effing Sandwich

Possibly the best (effing) sandwich I've ever had in my days - toasted ciabatta with crispy bacon, avo, melted brie and caramelised onions. It was from Motherland Coffee in St George's Mall. I still think about it.
Possibly the best (effing) sandwich I’ve ever had in my days – toasted ciabatta with crispy bacon, avo, melted brie and caramelized onions. It was from Motherland Coffee in St George’s Mall. I still think about it.

Before I sat down at my computer right now I made myself a sandwich. As in, put things between two slices of thick, fresh bread (real mayo, cheddar cheese, cucumber, tomato, rocket and a bit of chutney, if you want to know), and not flaxseed ‘bread’ or cauliflower ‘bread’ or ‘bread’ made from dried, ground psyllium husks (what the hell is that anyway?), but the kind we used to eat back in the day made from wheat and yeast. Pretty retro, huh? And while I actually sat down to work on something else entirely, the strangeness of sitting down to eat a real-life sandwich struck me enough that I changed my plan and started writing about that instead.

Because the thing is, three months ago this sandwich would have made me quake. I mean, it’s a carb, for the love of god, and everyone knows carbs are very, very bad. Very. And believing this to be true, I would have substituted the best part for, well, anything. More lettuce. Seeds. Those psyllium husks. Anything but eating the bread part of that meal because if I did I believed I’d basically be obese or dead or both within the week. But bacon was fine. Oh, chow down, sister. Bacon’s not a carb. Neither is chicken skin or steak or butter or coconut oil. All of these things? Hunky damn dory. But a slice of melba toast? Well, you might as well go in a dark room and mainline arsenic.

And I don’t know, in this age of information, how we human beings can still be so stupid. Okay, maybe stupid is harsh, but why we fall so enthusiastically, so uncritically for these fads and trends instead of just using our noggins and good, old-fashioned common sense. And I totally include myself in the idiocy because I have done every. One. Of. These. Diets. Looking, as I was, for the holy grail of eating – the key, the trick that would let me stop fighting with food and therefore myself. And I ate the eggs and forewent the toast (so yuck, right?) and turned down the banana in favour of the smoked sausage. I mean, does any part of turning down a banana make sense? Potassium. Fibre. Nature’s own pre-packaged snack food. Perfect. A lot perfect-er than that piece of processed meat.

Because actually sitting down to an entire sheep at one sitting is not okay just because you skipped the mash. Putting butter on your 500 gram T-bone isn’t fine because you had spinach instead of chips. It’s greedy and it’s stupid and it’s killing the planet. Do we even think about what it costs in energy terms to get that cow onto our plates? And putting that amount of fat and protein into our bodies just can’t be healthy. I refuse to believe it is. It’s one of those cases of if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.

I’m not a dietician, but I write about food and think about food and eat food a lot. And, because it’s something that interests me, I read books about nutrition and talk to people who are dieticians and doctors and have made it their life work to help us be healthy and when I ask them what they think of Banting and LCHF the sensible ones shake their heads in collective despair. For sure, no question we were eating too much grain (thank you, marketing campaigns of the 90s). We don’t need all that wheat and rye and barley and the kak that gets added to it. But removing all carbs is extreme and counter-intuitive and, frankly, cray. There is no way a sandwich filled with avo and salad is worse for you than a three egg omelette with bacon and a half kilo of cheese. Or that the fat of the (probably hormone fed) steak is better for your body than a nutrition-packed sweet potato. It just doesn’t make sense.

The other day I was chatting to a restaurateur friend of many years – someone who runs a few of the most successful eateries in Cape Town, and who’s made a very good career out of feeding people. And we talked about trends and food fads and the future, he told me something that made so much sense. He said, on the way out are the days where people will sit down and gorge themselves on a huge piece of steak and this is because we are becoming more mindful of what meat really is and where it comes from. We want to know it’s from a reputable farm where the animals are treated humanely and not pumped full of drugs and rubbish. Quality is replacing quantity, and it’s about damn time.

Contrary to the greed that permeates our food culture now and has for some time, we human beings seem to slowly be gaining respect for the fact that an animal lost its life so we can have those pork chops for supper. And, what’s more, restaurant patrons of the future will be presented with a ‘Provenance Bible’ where they can see exactly where the food they are ordering was sourced – the meat, the fish, the eggs, the vegetables, the cheese. Transparency will become de rigueur and, with it, accountability and a growing interest in and awareness of what we are putting into our bodies.

And with that philosophy guiding us hopefully soon we’ll start to pare down; reduce our portions; order one plate of meat and share it amongst the table. In his words, we’ll go back to eating like our grandparents did – not endless sandwiches made from cheap government loaf, but a few slices of good bread baked with organic flour and natural ingredients, savoured and eaten in moderation. Fresh fruit and vegetables we’ve grown ourselves or bought at a market served raw or lightly seared. Fruit, nuts, home-made butter, organic olive oil. Happy food that our bodies recognise and know what to do with.

It’s okay to eat potatoes now and then. Few things in the universe are more delicious than a French fry. Just remember that they’re high in energy so don’t eat more than you’re going to expend. Have the odd plate of pasta. My god, it’s good for the soul. But mostly eat salad. Eat the stuff that comes in the best colours (not smarties). A little bit of meat now and again when you feel your body needs it. Because it’s not about how to get as much food down our throats as we can get away with and still look good in low-cut jeans. It’s about eating gently and living gently. And looking after ourselves and our environment. And saying no to factory farming – not supporting those mofos because it’s really not okay, the suffering that goes on there and that we all collectively condone.

So, having after immersed myself wholeheartedly in the madness of diets and weird eating trends for the past twenty years and having learnt many things from that experience, the ultimate conclusion I’ve come to is this: eat meat a little bit, but let it be special; a treat. Aim for a diet that’s simple and light on the body (and the soul). And when it comes to food (and life), practice mindfulness and humility. Stop all this radicalism and the weird, self-imposed rules like taking the freaking croutons out of the Caesar salad. They’re the best part. Banting gets it right-er because it’s about going back to basics, turning away from processed stuff and incorporating a bit of fat. But it’s too extreme. Cauliflower is not the truth and the light. There’s a middle road that I think we’ll get to when all this hype dies down. And what I’ve learnt from all of it is to eat the effing sandwich.

Diary of a raw food detox

So virtuous did I feel in the queue at Fruit and Veg City. I mean, TRY and find a samoosa.
So virtuous did I feel in the queue at Fruit and Veg City. TRY and find a samoosa.

Day 0

I feel blech. So awfully yuck. A kind of toxic, sluggish malaise has taken over me and I sleep too long and struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. Which is not me and tells me something is not quite right because I’m normally the energizer buddy. Though, I must admit, I haven’t been feeling energizer for a while. What I have found, as I’ve gotten older, is that there are certain foods my body really does not like, and wheat is the worst culprit. Within half an hour of eating that ciabatta I can feel my system regailing. It just makes me feel ill. And I have to face facts – that I was simply not designed to process grains. I don’t want to feel blech. I want to leap out of bed and feel amazing, and I know I can, and I know it’s about changing my diet. Which is not bad, but there is definitely too much toast and cheese going on. And coffee. And nachos. As I lie in bed, Enos under the belt for the huge sandwich I had at lunch followed by a steak pie for supper, I make a decision: starting the very next day, I’m going on a raw food detox. Just to see what happens.

Day 1
Since this has been a rapid decision I don’t have the right foods in the house, and breakfast has to be a small bowl of raw oats and sunflower seeds with apple juice. It’s been so long since I had anything as healthy as oats, I find the box crawling with small, brown goggas which I (not very painstakingly) pick out. I have my normal cup of filter coffer with milk and a quarter spoon of sugar because last time I did a detox the headache was so bad I couldn’t function. I SMS my raw food genie friend, Beatrice, and ask her if she has tips or tricks I should know about. She orders me to hot foot it to her shop, Raw and Roxy, where she hands me a cup of dark green, freshly pressed (not squeezed, there’s a difference) veggie juice which contains greens, the juice of two lemons and magical things things I can’t remember. It’s tart and delicious and tastes like it’s just what my body needs. This is followed by a thick, darkly red cleansing smoothie of sour cherries, berries, chia seeds, dates and about 100 other special ingredients to make me feel well again. When I get home I start to realize I feel odd – bouncy, sort of, and a bit hyper. I SMS Beatrice from the loo (where I’ve been three times in the last hour) and say it feels like the 90s and I’ve just had a line. I’m tempted to put on eighties music and have a shot of something, but I have to fetch the kids. She says she feels the same, having finished the leftovers of my various brews. I tell her her potions are powerful and that’s she’s the good witch of Woodstock.

Grapefruit is poofy, but it's got great cleansing properties, so make a mulch with banana and apples and you won't notice what you're eating. Those red things are dried pomegranate, mostly for show.
Grapefruit is not ayoba, but it’s got great cleansing properties, so make a mulch with banana and apples and you won’t notice what you’re eating. Those red things are dried pomegranate, mostly for show.

Day 2
I wake up feeling awake. And, bizarrely, not wanting coffee. I’m a coffee fiend, and nobody must even look at me before I’m a half-cup in. I go with it and make myself a cup of hot water with lemon instead. I fear the headache, but decide to listen to my body. I’m amazed at the difference one day can make, but I think my detox process was accelerated somewhat by yesterday’s potent elixirs. I’m a bit mood-swingy, alternating between feeling light and energized and a bit edgy and irritable. For breakfast I make a mulch out of grapefruit, apples, a banana, linseeds I’ve soaked overnight and a tablespoon of chia seeds topped with gooseberries and dried pomegranate. By 11am I can feel a headache starting in my temples. I’m not really hungry, but at the same time I feel like want to eat. I make myself a small salad of cucumber, mint and lemon followed by a huge salad of spinach, cauliflower, grated carrot and a lemon-tahini dressing. I’m thirsty and drink glass after glass of filtered water. By 4pm there is a Tokoloshe perched behind me where I lie prostrate on the couch intermittently smashing my skull with a traditional weapon. I understand why people lose weight on this diet. It’s only day 2 and already I have lost the will to live, never mind rustle up another bowl of raw vegetables. I whatsapp my husband and demand to know why I’m doing this. He says he has no idea but suggests I have another glass of water and go for a walk. Clutching my head with my free hand I drive to the promenade where I hobble along the walkway, squinting and whining quietly to myself.

Day 3
By the time I got into bed last night I had the most severe headache I’ve ever experienced. Meningitis has nothing on this. On google I discovered it’s because caffeine restricts blood flow to the brain. Go off it and the blood flows like god intended, but the change can cause pain of monumental proportions. No wonder I’ve been forgetting everything for five years – I’ve had no blood to the brain. The sensation is of a throbbing whoosh above my eyes which a head massage with peppermint oil only seems to make worse. I mean, peppermint oil? Morphine would be more appropriate. Realizing I wouldn’t sleep a wink and that the following day was not one I would survive without sleep in desperation I took a single Panado (I know, I know) and managed to get some shut eye. This morning the headache is better, but there. Insanely I have agreed to have four children to play today whom I’ll have to drag around the shops to find a birthday gift for a friend, I have people coming to install a fence and a gate whose unprofessionalism has been a headache all on its own and then my cousin who’s going through a tough time arrives with her two boys for dinner and a sleepover. And I have two big jobs due by the end of the day. I stand at the kitchen counter weighing my options. A day of agony or more Panado or a weak cup of coffee to slow down the detox process to more manageable proportions. I go for C. Within 10 minutes I feel right as rain, and I realize that that innocuous-seeming coffee I throw back all day long is one serious mutha of a drug.

Salad with cucumber, mint, carrots and sprouts, and a linseed cracker with avo.
Salad with cucumber, mint, carrots and sprouts, and a linseed cracker with avo. Not horrible, as lunches go.

Day 4
The headache seems to have eased up which I’m relieved about. I’m also immensely relieved that my mom is having the kids for a sleepover because I’m not exactly in Mary Poppins mode. My mood is still swinging wildly as I vacillate between feeling happy and light and so immensely furious I could murder somebody with my bare hands. I sit through two hours of ballet Eisteddfod rehearsal watching the other moms swig away at XL polystyrene cups from Vida E, and it’s not like I crave the stuff, I’m quite smug about the morning’s hot lemon water and fruit mulch, but I would like to feel a bit normal. I tell myself to be patient and that this misery will pay off. On the way to drop the girls I stop at Atlas Trading in Bo Kaap and buy myself the detox and kidney teas Beatrice recommended. I have my first cup at my parents’. It contains buchu, and no words can describe its foulness. It’s like sipping rancid grass flavoured with urine. I’ve started to feel bad. Like you do when you’re coming down with flu – aches throughout my body and funny, shooting pains in my joints. I google detox symptoms, and apparently feeling like you’ve got flu is normal. So that must be it. I spend the rest of the afternoon under a blanky on the couch, sipping my vile teas and sort of enjoying how sick I feel. I read somewhere that the level of discomfort you experience during a detox is directly proportionate to your level of toxicity. Clearly – despite a regular wheatgrass shot and boot camp class – I was a human version of Chernobyl. Who knew?

Day 5
The flu symptoms have lessened, but I’m definitely not at the point where I moonwalk to the bathroom. It’s foggy on the sea front and the lighthouse siren has been sounding all night. I read the night before (yes, I’m reading a lot) that a brisk walk can help alleviate the symptoms, so I dress warmly and head to the promenade, considering a steamy, cleansing sauna at my gym afterwards. Ten minutes into the walk I’m so exhausted I have to turn back. A sprightly 75-year-old eyes me pityingly as I hobble back to my car and return to the sanctity of the couch, sauna plans long forgotten. Come lunchtime, the rain is pummeling down and I can’t face another plate of grated carrot. I need something warm and soothing. I google a recipe for detox soup with ginger, garlic and fresh turmeric, reckoning that the badness of cooking the veggies will be outweighed by the goodness of the ingredients. It’s delicious, and immensely comforting eating something hot. I go to bed at about 7:30pm aware that the geriatric from the promenade is probably dusting off her dancing shoes and getting ready to go on the razzle.

Raw 'pizza' with smoked olive paste, avo, fresh tomatoes and basil
Raw ‘pizza’ with smoked olive paste, avo, fresh tomatoes and basil. Sooo tasty.

Day 6
Something quite astonishing (even through the pain) is the sense of clarity I am experiencing. It’s hard to describe, really, but it feels like the world has come closer, in a sense. Things seem more immediate – almost like there’s been a barrier between me and reality which has now melted away, and things have shifted into very (startlingly) clear focus. I don’t know how to explain it, and I’m the first one to pooh pooh all this talk of ‘toxins’ because, frankly, it’s immensely dull, but I suppose in the same way alcohol and drugs (like caffeine) alter our perception of things, maybe the nasty components of a so-so diet also fuzzy up our reality. In a very unscientifically proven way (then again, there are realms science can’t explain), I know I feel different, and it’s a good feeling and I want it to last. All the aches and pains have gone, and I’ve started to look forward to my morning lemon water and fruit. In five short days my taste buds have changed. Before, I couldn’t abide sweet things in the morning. Now, my plate of black grapes, chopped up naartjie with cinnamon and banana tastes completely delicious and I can’t wait to eat it. Go figure. There are a lot of salads happening, but you sexy them up with things like dried pomegranate, dried olives, good dates, fresh figs and, always, lashings of avo smashed up with lemon, cherry tomatoes and coriander. And I love that I can eat nuts and nut butter with wild abandon and not worry about the calories.

Day 7
So, this is the last designated day of my detox, only it’s not the last day at all because I like the way I feel too much. I’m light and clear in my head, I sleep well and wake up awake, I don’t crave coffee at any point in the day. I’ve learnt how easy it is to make my own linseed crackers (I like to add pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and organic coconut flakes) which I pop in the toaster instead of bread and have with avo or peanut butter. Instead of milk from a cow my nighttime drink is warm almond milk with a few teaspoons of almond butter and a swirl of raw honey. I love that I can eat as much as I want of whatever I want and that I still feel light and energized and, despite eating more or less non-stop have lost 3kgs in a week. And the food all tastes delicious.

This is a hard diet to follow 100%. It’s difficult to socialise and stick to it and boring to explain what you’re doing because everyone thinks you’re mad. And I refuse to be the person who goes to someone’s home and won’t eat the food they’ve prepared for me with love. Anyway, I like my meat and I don’t store iron well or absorb the kind you get from supplements so I need the odd rib-eye (with chips, because not having the chips is wrong on every level). So, my conclusion is this: I will continue eating raw indefinitely because it makes my body (and therefore, me) really, really happy. And my skin has never looked so good – I think it’s the high level of healthy fats. It’s kind of plumped up and glowy. But I won’t do it 100%, I’ll aim for 80%, maybe slightly more. At dinner parties and in restaurants I’ll eat what I feel like and give in to cravings, listening to what my body tells me because I’m a lot more in touch with it now. I’ve learnt about some amazing foods I’d never heard of and that I really enjoy (chia seed porridge is the BERRIES), and I know now how to eat filling, satisfying meals that don’t contain any part of a grain. I never get that blech, toxic feeling, and I’m happy to be off the coffee. It’s been an interesting experiment, and it’s kind of changed my world.

Bloody Marvellous Mushroom Risotto

These three little mothers will make your dish kick some serious butt.
These three little mothers will make your dish kick some serious butt.

What I have finally learned after years of making mediocre risottos is that the recipe books simply cannot be trusted. The thing is, what you’re cooking is white rice which tastes like a whole bunch of nothing. So, forget all that talk about texture and timing – it’s actually pretty forgiving in both those departments – the most important thing about this dish is that you need to add serious amounts of flavour. Roughly speaking, what I’ve figured out is that whatever they tell you to add, double it. Two gloves of garlic? Use four. A handful of herbs? At least two. And make your stock nice and salty. You shouldn’t have to add salt later.

And then, on top of that, if you really want to blow people’s socks off, you want to come up with some tricks. Without a doubt, the best for mushroom risotto are lemon rind, truffle oil and enough garlic to scare a Sicilian. The lemon gives it the most beautiful lift, while a drizzle of truffle oil adds a whole new flavour dimension (it’s called umami, by the way, but never mind that, you mouth will like it). So, here it is – the yummiest risotto that’s ever come out of my kitchen.

Ingredients:

Risotto rice
Large white onion
Three carrots
Two celery stalks
Five cloves of garlic
A glass of white wine
Punnet of mushrooms (doesn’t matter what kind)
Chicken stock (powdered is fine, but make sure it’s strong enough)
Plenty of fresh herbs like basil, thyme and origanum
Rind of a lemon
Butter
Truffle-flavoured olive oil (or real truffle oil if you’re fancy)
Parmesan Cheese
Salt and black pepper

Method:

– Finely chop your onion, carrots, celery, four cloves of garlic and most of the herbs. Fry them in a large pot in a few lugs of olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt (Maldon really is better).
– Add a small bag of risotto rice and fry it up a bit, moving it around with a wooden spoon. In a separate pot, warm your stock. Turn the heat up high on your risotto, add your glass of wine (if you’ve already drunk it, you’re my kind of cook – pour another) and let the alcohol cook away.
– Start ladling your stock into the risotto, stirring regularly, one ladle at a time.
– In a frying pan, fry your sliced mushrooms on high. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. When they’re almost done, add a chopped clove of garlic, a pat of butter and the remainder of the herbs.
– Keep adding stock and stirring your risotto
– Taste it – when it seems cooked but still has a bit of a bite, you’re pretty much there. Add your cooked mushrooms with the juices from the pan and stir them in along with the rind of a lemon.
– Add a bit of black pepper and about two cups of finely grated parmesan cheese.
– Serve it with an extra twist of pepper, a drizzle of truffle oil and more parmesan cheese. Heaven.

Scrumptious Jewish Chicken

Shame you can't see the lemons - they're really the hero of the dish.
Shame you can’t see the lemon – it’s really the hero of this dish.

I think my Jewish envy started when I was eight years old and my best friend, Lauren Zaacks, would show up at school on Monday morning with a pencil case full of the latest, coolest Hello Kitty gear some relative had brought back for her from the US. Jewishness and America became indelibly linked in my mind, and when I went home to her house in the afternoon and ate buttered matzoh and listened to Grease I was almost Jewish too, and that much closer to being cool.

My Jewish friends assure me that I wouldn’t like everything about their religion, but I don’t agree. I would have made a great Jewish mother – my favourite things are feeding people and bossing them around. And there is something very beautiful about the community and family values. We miss that in our secular world. Go to a Jewish wedding or funeral and you realise how sterile and boring ours are by comparison.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are a wonderful way of honouring the young men and women who will one day uphold the values of their community, and gathering the people you love the most around a table at the end of a long week for fellowship and nourishing food is a tradition we should all institute in our homes. Not only do these rituals give life colour and meaning, but they remind us that we belong somewhere. Sadly, being vaguely Methodist I must be content with buying challah on a Friday and cooking good chicken. I saw a pic of this dish on Facebook, and had to look hard to find the recipe. It’s actually Israeli, and I couldn’t locate a few of the spices so I had to leave them out, but it was delicious nonetheless.

Ingredients:

Chicken pieces
2 Onions, finely chopped
1 Lemon, sliced finely
2 Cloves of Garlic
One cup of chicken stock
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of allspice
Two lugs of olive oil
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
About a quarter cup of toasted, crushed sesame seeds
Tablespoon of honey
Handful of Pine nuts

Method:

Mix all your ingredients together in a bowl. Wash and pat dry your chicken pieces, and put them into a ziplock bag. Add the ingredients barring one onion and the pine nuts. Move the bag around to make sure all the chicken is coated. Put it into the fridge for at least six hours. Heat your oven to 150 degrees, and put your chicken on the middle rack in an ovenproof dish. Don’t cover it. Fry your second onion in butter until it’s caramelised, and then fry your pine nuts till they’re gently browned (don’t burn them, they cost the earth). After the chicken’s been in for about an hour, take it out and sprinkle the onions and pine nuts over it. Put it back into the oven for half an hour on 180 degrees. When it’s ready it should be darkish and have bits of crispy skin. The cinnamon and lemon really come out, and the flavour is sublime.