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Mother of two, living life in small-town South Africa

How to make a South African ‘quiche’

It was Hikaru and Suretha’s birthday party last weekend and they asked me to bring a quiche. Quiche? Erk. Never made a quiche. So I was a bit nervous (and it’s always a little intimidating cooking for those girls, who are both superb, experienced cooks). So I pulled out a recipe that I’d torn out of Home magazine a while back for butternut cheesecake. (Disclosure: I am an obsessive collector of magazine recipes.) Boy oh boy. It was dead easy and delicious. And a big hit with the vegetarians at the birthday party. (Even my children ate it.) I can’t seem to find the recipe online, so I’ll just sketch it for you here:

BUTTERNUT CHEESECAKE

To do first: Preheat oven to 180 deg C.
Butter a medium-sized, deep springform pan.
For the crust: Crush half a packet of ProVita (or digestive biscuits) and mix in some melted butter. Press into the base of the springform pan. I used the back of a spoon to do this. Put in the fridge.
For the filling: Chop up some butternut (or open a packet) and two onions and a clove or two of garlic. About half a large roasting pan’s worth should do it. Add some fresh sage leaves and drizzle over olive oil. Roast at 180 for about 30 minutes or until soft. Once cooked, set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix 1 tub of creme fraiche and 1 tub of cream cheese. In a separate bowl, beat four eggs. Add to cream mixture and mix well.
Put it all together: Now put a layer of cooled butternut mixture into the pan. Then top with about 1 round of crumbled feta cheese and add egg/cream mixture.
Place in centre of oven and cook for about an hour, or until quite golden and set.
To serve: Garnish with some fresh sage leaves and allow to cool a little before slicing. It is also good at room temperature. I wish I’d taken a photo.

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Filed under: Food, Personal, , , , ,

The 3 deadly sins of journalistic life

I have started teaching a six-week course on sub-editing to fourth year Journalism and Media Studies students at Rhodes. It’s a small group of women who have chosen to do the course for very different reasons. It’s exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I know I have as much to learn from them as they do from me.

Sub-editors have always been my favourite people in a newsroom. Generally, they’re quirky, clever, curious and totally unhinged. In preparing for the first session, I spent some time thinking about the role of sub-editors and how that is changing as media consumption patterns and news change. There’s a lot happening out there that challenges my thinking that subs are essential parts of the editorial process. But that’s material for another posting. After working on and off as a sub-editor for 16 years, I like to think that there are some lessons I have learnt along the way.

Clive Lawrance (yes, that is how you spell his surname) co-taught this course with me a few years back. A crusty newsroom curmudgeon who commanded respect and excellence, he liked to warn of three things that stand between a writer and good writing: vanity, fear, laziness. Most of the lessons below fall into one of these categories.

  • There is always someone who knows more than you
    You may be able to fix or improve someone else’s writing, but that doesn’t mean you know more than them. Subs’ rooms and newsrooms are filled with interesting people who know a lot about a lot of things. Learn to listen. And look up whatever you don’t know. There will always be a reader who knows the subject better than you.
  • We all make mistakes
    Sub-editors may be the “unsung heroes of journalism”, but adversarial relationships between writers and sub-editors serve no purpose. While our job is to get it right and make writers look good, it’s worth remembering that subs can also mess up a story. A little humility goes a long way.
  • Read, read and read some more
    Clive used to quote Uys Krige as saying, “To be a great writer, you need to read the great masters. If you’re not reading, then you should be writing. And if you are not writing, you should be thinking about writing.” Make reading a habit. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read whatever you can lay your hands on. Be curious. Be interested. Be interesting.
  • ‘In order to’ is two words too long
    Teach yourself the rules. You can teach yourself to spell. (And, yes, I still believe spelling is important despite Ken Smith’s call for a spelling amnesty.)
  • Punctuation can fix a lot of wrongs
    Simply punctuating correctly can restore sense to a sentence. It’s not rocket science. Teach yourself how to do it well.
  • Respect a writer’s voice
    Avoid changing anything without a good reason. Fix mistakes, but don’t beat a story into submission. There are many reporters whose first language is not English. Help craft the story, don’t destroy it. Not every story you touch needs to be reworked into your style.
  • If you don’t know, look it up
    “Thou shalt not sub what thou don’t understand,” one of my favourite chief-subs once admonished me. We should always be asking questions because we don’t have all the answers. Use the internet. Don’t leave home without your dictionary. Find out how things work and how to do stuff that will make you a better journalist, like working with pictures and audio, basic HTML. Curiosity is a n essential characteristic for the job.
  • Presentation is (almost) everything
    Know what it’s called. Know the keyboard shortcuts. Work fast. Work neatly. Look like you know what you are doing.
  • Respect your job
    If you don’t like it, leave it. Like what you do. Hell, love what you do. Otherwise no job is worth it. Especially on the nightshift.

Vanity, fear, laziness. Beware the three deadly sins of journalistic life.

Filed under: Newspapers, Personal, , , , , , ,

Just add cook

I love English instructions as written by non-mother-tongue speakers. My deliciously eccentric mother-in-law recently returned from Italy and brought us back a packet of pasta sauce as a memento (Dehydrated vegetables. Have you ever?) The instructions on the back are hilarious:

Receipt: pour the content of the packets on a slau firefor about 15min. After the water ie evaporated add 5/6 oil tablespoons and fry for 2/3 min. The add cook for 20/30 min. More. Meanwhile, cook spagetthi al dente, drain and stir in the pan on a hot fire.

Talking of recipes, we had our dinner club this weekend, hosted by Olaf and Michelle. It was an amazing evening and I had a blast. With a Chinese theme, Olaf pulled out all the stops (four-dish main course) and we laughed and laughed and laughed. I made Wonton Soup, which was delicious. My fresh spring rolls were a little less spectacular (and, in truth, much too Thai to be passed off as Chinese…) There’s something very calming to folding little dumplings while listening to music from a past life, like Morcheeba. Apparently “wonton” is derived from the Cantonese word and translates to “swallowing clouds”.

Wonton Soup
From Chinese and Asian Confident Cooking
Serves 6*

  • 4 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 250g pork mince
  • 125g raw prawn meat, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 Tbsp finely sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 to 2 packets wonton wrappers
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced, for garnish

Soak mushrooms in hot water to cover for 30 mins. Darin, squeeze to remove excess liquid. Remove stems and chop the caps finely.
Thoroughly combine mushrooms, pork, prawn meat, salt, soy, sesame oil, spring onion, ginger and water chestnuts.
Fill wonton wrappers: put a teaspoon of filling into the centre, moisten two edges with beaten egg, fold in half diagonally and bring the two outer points together. (Not nearly as complicated as it sounds and the wonton wrappers are much more resilient than rice wrappers, for example.)
Cook wontons in rapidly boiling water for about 5 minutes. Bring stock to boil in separate pan.
Remove wontons from water with a slotted spoon and place in a serving bowl. Garnish with extra spring onion and pour the simmering stock over. Serve immediately.

* The 250g pack of wonton wrappers contained about 30 wrappers. I made one-and-a-half times the recipe, but used two packs of wonton wrappers – around 64 wontons.

I’ll be posting some more recipes and pictures to the BFM Dinner Club group on Facebook sometime this week.

Filed under: Food, Personal, , , , , , ,

Mealie bread: a taste of childhood

Now that I live in Grahamstown, I am learning to cook. I have to. I bake biscuits (gasp!) when friends come for tea. I make things to take along to other people’s parties. The other day I even made mayonnaise. From scratch. These are the lengths that deprivation has led me to. If I still lived in Joburg I would have just stopped off at Koljander, the world’s best tuisnywerheid in Melville, or at Woolies. Sigh.

One of my kids’ party standards these days is mealie bread. Taken from Gabi Steenkamp’s Sustained Energy for Kids, I’m gobsmacked at how many times I get asked for this recipe. I think there’s something about mealie bread that reminds people of their childhood. Anyway, it’s dead easy and worth sharing (even though it’s made in the microwave, which I usually avoid). It’s also eaten and enjoyed by everyone else’s kids except mine. The trickiest part is finding a microwaveable ring dish.

Microwave mealie bread
From Sustained Energy for Kids

  • 2Tbsp (30ml) cake flour
  • ¼ cup (60ml) sugar – or even less
  • 150ml mealie meal
  • 100ml oat bran
  • 7ml (1½ tsp) baking powder
  • ½tsp (2.5ml) salt
  • 1Tbsp (15ml) canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup (125ml) skimmed or low-fat milk
  • 1 tin (410g) creamstyle sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp (5ml) chopped parsley (I usually skip the green bits if making it for children.)
  • Paprika for sprinkling microwave dish

Grease microwave ring baking mould with a paper towel dipped in oil. And sprinkle a little paprika into the mould (I have never bothered to do this).
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix the oil, eggs and milk together well and add to the dry ingredients.
Add the sweetcorn and the parsley, if used, and mix well.
Spoon into the microwave ring and microwave at 70% power for 12 minutes. Then at 100% for 2 minutes.
Allow to stand for 10 minutes (to finish cooking).
Turn out, slice into about 20 slices.

Filed under: Food, Kids stuff, Motherhood, Personal, , , ,

Fizzy orangeade

I can pretend to be interested in things like newspapers, media, and other heavyweight issues but, really, all I care about is food. Since moving to Grahamstown three years ago, I have become seriously obsessed – especially as there is no Woolies food (gasp!), and a seriously inconsistent supply of even the most basic ingredients. Last week, there was not a single packet of frozen peas to be had. And I wasn’t even looking for petit pois.
Frozen peas. It has come to this.
Anyway, seeing as though I spend a large part of my day thinking of, reading about and preparing food, I thought I’d start including it on my blog. (Also, my deadline for my latest freelance job is looming large so I need some distraction.)
My children have been off from school since their teacher fell ill in June (yikes!), so we’ve been spending quite a lot of time playing with friends, eating and drinking. Today, Nina made some lemonade (her own recipe with a found “squishy” lemon from the garden) and then we all made fizzy orange using Tessa Kiross’s recipe. It was seriously delicious and the children – all five of them, age three to eight – loved it. We dubbed it orangeade.

Tessa Kiros’s Fizzy Orange
Makes 5 small cups

  • 4 Tablespoons castor sugar
  • One long strip of orange rind (peel of one orange)
  • 4 Tablespoons tap water
  • Juice of 4 oranges (just over a cup)
  • 2 cups ice-cold sparkling water

Put sugar, orange rind and water into a small pan. Bring to boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves completely. Boil for a few minutes so that the rind flavours the syrup.
Add freshly squeezed orange juice and let that bubble for about 5 mins, or until it looks slightly denser. Pour into a jug and let it cool completely.
When you’re ready to serve, pour in sparkling water and mix well. Add ice if you like.
Tessa recommends that you add spices, such as a vanilla bean or a small stick of cinnamon, if making it for adults.
PS: By the way, stumbled across another great foodie blog today: David Leibovitz’s ‘Living the sweet life in Paris‘. His latest posting features Joanne Weir’s Cucumber and Feta Salad. Definitely on my “make next” list – depending, of course, if I can source feta/cucumber/fresh dill…

Filed under: Food, Kids stuff, Motherhood, Personal, , , , , ,

A parent would never write this

The children abscond...

Have just read the story** about the couple who forgot their four-year-old at the airport — and only discovered it 40 minutes later when they were told by airline staff. Crumbs. Look, they have five children so it’s almost understandable. (Well, the forgetting part. Not convinced about the 40 minute delay though. Or the 18 suitcases.)
Nevertheless, this story resonates with me, especially just having travelled with my two young children. I’m terrified of losing track of my children in public places — particularly as they are real small-town hicks who believe the world is a benign and lovely playground. So much for never talking to strangers…
We all know it could happen to any of us. That’s what makes it such a brilliant story: it taps into our deepest fears as parents (as well as giving us a reason to gasp in amused disbelief at someone else’s stupidity). But there are ways of writing it and AP’s version as posted on MNSBC is nothing short of schlock:

JERUSALEM – An Israeli couple going on a European vacation remembered to take their duty-free purchases and their 18 suitcases, but forgot their 3-year-old daughter at the airport, police said Monday.

That’s nothing except cruel and judgmental. I’m almost willing to bet that the person who wrote it doesn’t have children of their own…

PS: **Got to love the Times of London headline: ‘To the family in row 3: you left your daughter behind at the airport’.

Filed under: Motherhood, Personal, , , , ,

#245 You know you are in G’town when…

#245 … you walk past the tennis courts and you hear the school coach admonishing a child: ‘There’s no need to klap the ball, Mark! Just hit it.”

#246 … you order a cappuccino and the waitress asks, “With cream or froth”? Cream?? Cream?! Cream on top of coffee is not a cappuccino. Even in the Eastern Cape.

#247 … you find the keys to the rental car, which you parked in your driveway overnight, still in the boot lock. The car, the keys and the stuff inside the rental car are all still there. Amazing.

Filed under: Personal,

Gorgeously delicious

I’d almost forgotten about 101 Cookbooks, by far the most beautiful blog on the Web about food. Author Heidi Swanson is also a brilliant photographer, with her images reminding me about something Don said the other night about good photography being all about light. Check out her portfolio here too.

Going to try the Split Pea Soup tonight. Thanks, Brad…

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Turning over a new leaf

So, I’m in a book club. And I can almost say that without cringing. I joined a book club almost as soon as I moved to Grahamstown three years ago. It was awful. Thankfully, it all came to a spectacular halt when one of the women started having an affair with the husband of another woman in the club. (I just can’t bring myself to use the word “member”. As in, One member withdrew after another member started poking her husband. Eeuw.) Then another, er, member withdrew as she felt the book club was a front for swinging. S’true. It was a real Jilly Cooper moment.

But now I’ve linked up with a bunch of really interesting women who seem to take it all pretty lightly, but are kind of serious. Just the way I like it. And, honestly, it’s really wonderful to be reading again. After Carolina was born, I kind of gave up on being a book worm. Femina magazine was about as deep as I could go. Anyway, had an hour time out this afternoon and spent it on my bed, in the sun, with a book. I felt, almost, like my old self. Am reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. Not entirely sure it’s what I feel like right now (which is probably something more gritty and fucked up instead of beautiful and lyrical…) but I’m reading, which is good enough for me.

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself. – Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

See. That’s why…

Filed under: Personal, , ,

Creativity is as important as literacy

“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will not come up with anything original,” says Ken Robinson, in this remarkable, inspiring TED talk, which we saw at a school meeting earlier this week.

He talks about how education systems across the world “ruthlessly” kill creativity in children and how it’s our responsibility to recognise that creativity is as important in education as literacy. Depressing to think that there are no education systems anywhere that recognise this. As Robinson points out, universally, all education hierarchies are the same: maths, science and language at the top; humanities in the middle and the arts below. As a parent of young, inspired and inspiring children, I worry about having to plug them into a system as rigid as a school.

It’s brilliant. Robinson is hilarious in a dry, English way but has some profound insights. It’s worth taking some time and checking it out.

Filed under: Kids stuff, Personal, , , ,

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