Miss Knitwear and a Goat Called Allen

grey shawl better pic
My favourite item in the Miss Knitwear range, the grey shawl with feathers.

Once upon a time there was a goat called Allen and a girl called Candice. Allen lived in the Karoo which is a sensible place for a goat. Candice lived in Gardens which is a sensible place for a girl. Allen and Candice knew a secret not many South Africans, but several overseas visitors do: that his family of Angoras produce 75% of the entire planet’s mohair, and that this mohair – like most things to come out of the Karoo – is exceptionally beautiful and of an extremely high quality. So beautiful and so high that busloads of Germans and Americans and Brits flock to our shops every year and go suki la la and spend gazillions of monies on items which – compared to other parts of the world – are inexpensive, original and quite incomparably lovely.

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Allen (right).

And Allen and Candice think it’s a shame that the whole world knows of this thing and walks around Boston and Schleswig-Holstein wearing South African mohair while South Africans wear Foschini (no offence to this chain, but really). And it’s silly that we don’t know about this magnificent product right on our doorstep and support small businesses and the people who devote their lives to putting South Africa and its magic on the map. I met Candice at a dinner party a few years ago and loved two things about her: the fact that she runs marathons for fun and the magnificent, diaphanous scarf that floated about her shoulders like a rain cloud on a koppie. And I was astonished to hear she’d made it herself and that this, in fact, was her business.

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Candice Johnson, runner of marathons and founder of Miss Knitwear.

Between her and her friend, Allen (and some of his friends), some of the prettiest and most delicate mohair products you’ve ever seen are produced and sold at selected stores around the country and online, and I think we need to familiarise ourselves with who is doing what down here and start making a real effort to support local businesses. It’s not easy competing with the big clothing corporations, and kudos to the ones with the courage to spot a gap in the market, venture out alone and do their own thing. I’ve been coveting Candice’s knitwear since I saw it, and I was excited beyond when she brought me a big box of woven beautifulness in shades of winter and told me to choose what I liked.

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The reversible animal print scarves look amazing with jeans and/or a leather jacket.

Candice’s products are made from kid mohair or baby mohair which is shorn from the fleece of a young Angora goat. Even though it is the softest and finest kind, it is in fact stronger and warmer than wool and will keep you cosy as anything when the weather turns cool. It’s lightweight, comfy, doesn’t itch, is the most durable of all animal fibres and won’t shrink which makes it easy to wash.

My favourites in her range are the ones which incorporate ostrich feathers (oh, another fact: every year South Africa exports a ton of feathers to Rio for the carnival. Just read that again: a ton. Do you know how little a feather weighs? Shem that they can’t even come up with their own). Mohair and ostrich feathers go together, in Candice’s words, ‘like cream and jam’. Clotted cream and gooseberry jam plunked on top of a hot, buttery scone fresh out of Karoo farm oven. There is nothing like a feather to make you feel like Edith Piaf in a Paris nightclub having no regrets, even if it’s just a Monday and you’re headed for the Spur.

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Totally how you should go to the Spur.

So, a shout out to Candice, Edith and all the people in this world who are brave enough to be artists and creators and do something unique and original with their lives. And of course a shout out to Allen who, along with his sexy goat friends, has given us just one more reason to be proudly South African.

For more info on these fabulous things and how to find them look here. The website will help you locate stores in your area and give you info on prices. It was important to Candice, an animal lover, that my readers understand wool from Angora goats is very different to wool from Angora rabbits. While Angora rabbits are plucked, Allen simply gets a haircut. Which, in the Karoo summer, he adores.

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The charcoal shawl with feathers. How, just, gorgeous.
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Coconuts Playschool’s Hearty Lamb and Bean Stew

You really need to smell it.
No amount of instagramming could save this pic. But it tastes really good, promise.

The playschool Elisabeth attended when we moved back to South Africa was hosted by a woman I strongly suspect is one of those angels who parades as a human. Her house was (and remains, I am certain) a place of astonishing warmth and generosity where, at any given time – and usually way after they were supposed to be collected by us, their errant mothers – a rag-tag collection of children would be tearing around her enormous kitchen on small, plastic motorbikes, helping themselves to home-made rusks or nibbling on phyllo pastry triangles stuffed with feta and spinach from the garden.

The cooking smells in that house were incredible, but one dish in particular made me so hungry that I had to go home and make it right away. Now it’s one of my favourites. Few smells are as delicious as that of lamb cooking, and sometimes when I arrived this stew, in all its rich, tomato-y aromaticness, would be bubbling away on the stove to be mopped up, come evening-time, with a slice of brown bread fresh out of the oven and cooling somewhere on a rack. The permanent inhabitants of Sandy’s house are lucky people indeed.

It’s no coincidence that this kitchen is the site of such joy – before deciding to stay home with her young children, Sandy was a successful restauranteur which meant that our kids were the lucky benefactors of some seriously good (not to mention healthy, home-grown) grub. I cried big tears when Elisabeth’s days at that school ended. I loved going there in the mornings and the afternoons. There was a certain grace to this large, lovely home one doesn’t often encounter anymore.

When winter strikes this is one of the first dishes I make, and it always reminds me of Sandy’s beautiful, warm kitchen with its little fire burning and its tribe of happy people. The sweet potato lends a little natural sweetness to this dish, and the beans break up and make it thick and hearty and satisfying. (In fairness to Sandy, I must say I never did procure her exact recipe, but this is how I make it and I imagine the tastes would be similar). Here’s how to do it:

Ingredients
Stewing lamb or ornery old lamb chops
A tin of tomatoes
2 tins of beans (I like to mix butter beans and speckled red beans)
An onion
A few carrots
Garlic
Butternut
Green beans
A sweet potato
A cube of mutton stock (optional, but it gives it extra oomph)
Dried or fresh rosemary

Method:
Sautee your chopped onion in a bit of oil, and brown your lamb. Add a tin of tomatoes, two cups of water, the stock cube, your tinned beans, the rosemary, the garlic, the butternut, the carrots and the sweet potato. Put a lid on the pot and let this all simmer for at least three hours. Add the green beans, chopped, about half an hour before you want to eat it. Taste it and season if necessary. A bit of red wine won’t hurt, either. It should be thick and rich and yummy when it’s done. Serve it steaming hot with the freshest bread you can find. It’ll make winter so much warmer.

Sandy to the left, and Belia, Coconut's teacher, whom Elisabeth loves a bit more than me.
At my 40th birthday party – Sandy to the left, and Belia, Coconuts’ teacher, whom I suspect Elisabeth loves a bit more than me.

Les Lentilles (yes, you guessed it – this dish is awfully very French)

Really, really good for wintry weather
Really, really good for wintry weather. Even if you only live in Cape Town.

Even though I don’t speak a word of the language (that’s not true, I know ‘les’) and I’ve only been to France once in my life for five minutes, I just know, deep down, that I’m French. Sometimes I’m also Italian, but mainly I’m more French. I get them, those people, with their fabulous dishes of cream and bone marrow and not caring when their husbands have affairs. Well, that part I don’t really get, but the rest I totally do.

My amazing friend Paul who owns Nomu came up with this recipe using fancy puy lentils and fish, but since I wouldn’t know a puy lentil if it had a tantrum on my head, I just use those brown ones you buy at Pick ‘n Pay. And because there wasn’t any fresh fish in my fridge that day or ever, I also substituted that for chorizo because I saw that someone once used that in another lentil dish. But the rest is totally, completely sort of Paul’s recipe.

When I make this dish it’s almost like I become Edith Piaf singing about having no regrets. You kind of want to put on a boa and swan about with a cigarette holder and say things that shock your children. But then you remember you’re actually just a mom cooking Thursday night supper, so you have to settle down and be content with a glass of red. And anyway, once I cooked in a boa and the feathers got in everything. This dish is easy, seriously tasty and quite stylish, actually. You wouldn’t be amiss serving it to guests with a nice ciabatta and a bottle of something dusky. Here’s how to access your inner grande dame:

Ingredients:

Brown lentils (they might be called green, but they are most definitely brown)
An onion (the red ones are bit sweeter, I find)
A clove of garlic (okay, three)
A carrot
Celery
Chorizo
Vegetable stock
Dried or fresh tarragon and whatever other herbs you have bumming around. Oreganum and thyme work nicely.
A bay leaf or two

Method:

Chop your onion, garlic, carrots and celery as finely as you can be bothered and fry them in a bit of olive oil. When the onion goes see-through, add your chopped chorizo and fry it up a bit. Add two cups of lentils, four cups of water, your veggie stock cube or powder, your bay leaf and your chopped up herbs. Put the lid on and let it simmer gently. Keep checking that you have enough water in your pot. If it gets too dry, add more. When the lentils are almost done (they should have a bit of a bite), take the lid off and let the rest of the water cook away. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Serve it in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil. SO very yum-ois.

Sunday in Kalk Bay

Sophie and E Kalk Bay

For the longest time I’ve been thinking about making a documentary on the fisherman of Kalk Bay, a community which won’t be around for very much longer. This week a photographer friend of mine introduced me to a film producer who liked the idea and offered to help us put it together at no charge. So, today we put the girls in the car and took a drive down there to have a look around.

Kalk Bay Fishing Boat

It was cold and windy, and nothing much was happening on the quay. The woman I was hoping to speak to wasn’t there, so we took ourselves up the road for something warm to drink. The thing is, while doing what you love is great in theory, it doesn’t always translate into hard cash. This project will take a lot of time and energy, and there are no guarantees that anyone will buy our short film when it’s done. This is how it goes when you do this kind of work.

Pernuin coffee. Just because they could.
Penguin coffee. Just because they could.

We went on, stopping at art galleries and little antique shops. I love Kalk Bay. It’s so close to Cape Town, but it’s managed to maintain that little fishing village feel. By the time we’d walked the length of the town the sun had come out. The harbour was full now with people arriving for a Sunday lunch of fish and chips. Of making hard decisions, they say, ‘leap and the net will appear,’ a saying which is particularly apt in this case. By the side of the road someone was selling beautiful beaded hearts. I bought one to remind me of what I need to be following.

Bead heart

A Beach in Winter

Sophie milnerton beach

The incredible thing about Cape Town winters is days like today when the temperature sails up to 24, 25 degrees, and beaches where the south-easter howls in summer, like the ones around Milnerton, become perfection itself. We found ourselves there by accident after we discovered the Milnerton market was closing up for the day. People were surfing, swimming, looking for mussels or, like us, just chilling and admiring the view of Table Mountain.

Susan Milnerton beach

Sophie and I dozed and watched the water, and Per and Elisabeth wandered off to find shells.

After an hour or so we walked up to Maestros for cold beer and garlic pizzas. On the way home 5fm played cool music and we turned it up loudly and drove with the windows open and the air was warm and the world felt good. And the thing is, this is where we live – not in crime stats or newspaper articles or doomsday predictions about the future, but in days.

Per, Elisabeth milnerton