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Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

Mapshalia is as unassuming as they come. The entrance – a small doorway down a few steps – is marked simply in Georgian, the throng of locals dragging on their cigarettes outside (smoking indoors is now illegal in Georgia) the only give away that there’s something worth seeing inside. The atmosphere is exceedingly casual. You’ll be as comfortable here as you’d feel showing up at a family braai in slops and a faded “I’m drunk and you’re still ugly” t-shirt. The small dining hall, covered in Soviet era plaster scenes, would be stiflingly hot in summer, but thankfully there are tiny, private cubicles hidden behind swing doors with windows set in at road level that are much cooler. And when I say tiny, I mean TINY. Like don’t bring your big boned Aunt Hilda here for lunch tiny. Small benches, only 20cm wide and not much higher, are crammed right up against the walls, leaving just enough space for the low table on which they will pile on your Megrelian feast, starting with chunks of gloriously chewy bread and a spicy, gazpacho like soup in which to dunk it. If Georgia were a Magic Mike film, Megrelian cuisine would be Joe Manganiello – much heavier on the hotness, so make sure you have a bottle of local Tbilisi beer or cream lemonade to swig before you tuck in.

Our English menus were brought to us by a very friendly waitress, which set the homely tone for the whole meal. You only have to travel in Tbilisi for a short while to realise how friendliness in wait staff is not a given. In fact, it’s the exception to the rule. The staff at Mapshalia were all delightfully welcoming. The menu is small with the most glaring omission being khachapuri, the Megrelian version of which does not only get cheese stuffed between the layers of bread, but also has a liberal dose of sulguni slathered on top. But seeing as you’re in Georgia, and as such probably have khachapuri oozing out your pores as you climb the hills around Tbilisi by now, you can do without the carbs for one meal.

The stand out dish on the menu is what some say is the best elarji in Tbilisi – cornmeal cooked with sulguni cheese till it forms an oozy, stringy, glorious gloop. It is richer than Warren Buffet could ever hope to be, so the simple meats on offer make for  the perfect pairing. The roast pork was a little on the tough side (like most of the roast meat style that is popular in the region), but was very tasty and the chicken livers were crispily fried on the outside, just the way I like them when they are done this simply with a bit of onion. The spinach pkhali (vegetable and walnut pâté) was flecked with chilli flakes and the portion was enormous, so save some of the aforementioned bread to use as a transportation device for when it arrives. We did not have the kharcho (beef soup with rice) or the kupati sausage, both of which other travellers have highly recommended when visiting Mapshalia. The kupati was not on the menu, and as I have subsequently learnt that it’s basically intestine stuffed with  pig lung, liver, spleen  and spices, I’m sorry I didn’t get to try it before I knew what it was, because now I can never unknow those facts…

Mapshalia is a place where you can get raucous with your family while you Read the rest of this entry

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

The biggest threat we are facing in 2018 is carbs. The nasty, unrefined kind! The ones that make pizza, curry and rice, the simple toasted sarmie and happiness. They are evil! Worse, way worse than global warming, plastic in the sea or the threat of the Ruskies. Yip, I went there.

Luckily, I have also bought into the #carbcrisis of 2018. Or, have I? I produced a hipster inspired lunch and failed only by my lack of avocado or single source coffee. But, I have created a  worthy, almost vegan (If you ignore the chicken livers and wine, I heard wine isn’t vegan), Paleo friendly, banting worthy (with a small cheat) lunch.

Ladies and gents, who are we kidding, ladies, I give you:

Chicken livers in balsamic glaze on cauliflower rice with roasted hummus.

Cauliflower rice

I don’t live in the land of Woolies food. But I do live in the land of part time cooks, so I have freezer bags of food-processed cauliflower. Freezes like a dream. Having steamed, microwaved and baked my way through cauli-rice, the only method I like is to fry in a non stick pan with a little olive oil. I leave it to start browning on the edges and only then add salt. Salting too early will make your cauli-rice retain water like a matron on a transatlantic flight. Cause I am fancy like that, I add some truffle oil at the end. It turns out nice and nutty this way.

Roasted hummus

This is my current addiction. I roast courgettes with garlic and olive oil and, separately, cauliflower with chili, paprika, cumin and olive oil and blend into hummus with tahini, lime juice and water. Super easy to make and delicious with everything.

La Livers

I love chicken livers. I just never cook them. Or rather never think of them as a meal. This morning having time for a mooch around the supermarket, I saw them, and like that ex that you (I) go back to, I realised I needed the livers. I learned a while ago, that the hardest thing about cooking livers is the prep. They need to be defrosted and then, with a firm yet tender hand, to be prepped (again, like that ex…). They are a little squidgy to touch and it is handy to have a Digger dog ready to eat the discarded bits. But if you actually think of England and choose the choicest bits, and cut them into same sized bits, roughly 2 cm, it will make for perfection later on.

Digger dog (or equivalent) will be delighted with the spoils and you will end up with a perfect dish.

There are so many different ways to prepare the livers. I wanted to try something different. If carbs are your demons, stop reading now. If not:

In a ziplock bag, toss 3 tablespoons of regular flour (sorry Tim) with chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin and paprika. These play so nicely together, (see roasted cauli hummus above), garlic, salt and some pepper. Shake it about. This is the ziplock’s finest hour, so make that bitch work.

Chop an onion and some garlic and throw into a pan with a little olive oil. Let them do their thing.

Throw a handful of livers in the bag and let them get coated in the delicious carbness.

Remove the onions and garlic and let the livers in. They will need 3 – 4 minutes. A little water will help them on their way and whatever you can lay your hands on. I found Worcester sauce and sweet chilli. After 4 minutes add back the onion and garlic mix around and a splash of balsamic. Start plating and deglaze the pan with balsamic. Let it go gooey. Pour over the livers. Add chopped parsley, pour a glass of rose and bam bitches.

 

On being 36 and childless

On being 36 and childless

I finally tackled the dishes in the kitchen this morning. It was a pitiful pile. Nothing more than a few side plates with toast crumbs on, the remnants of a solo eater’s culinary adventures these last few days while the other half is playing away in a golf tournament. As I scraped the crumbs off the third little plate, I was gripped by a deep sense of loss so sudden that I felt like I was falling into a void that I hadn’t realised until that moment was even there. I didn’t want to be scraping toast crumbs off lone side plates anymore! I wanted to be cleaning out platters of food that I’d fed my family the previous night. Out of nowhere, I felt like there was supposed to be a little girl there watching me do this as she ate her corn flakes for breakfast, kicking the table leg while she told me what she wanted to do on this beautiful Sunday. My little girl. Our little girl. The one we haven’t had.

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I would have those words tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to stop all the questions if not Read the rest of this entry

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

Please note: This post is not at all in keeping with the usual tone of this blog. It contains upsetting images and information which, although not new to anyone, is a blow to the gut every time you hear it again. Click on the “more” button at your own discretion and please note that some of the links provided contain disturbing graphics. Read the rest of this entry

Following the madding crowd

Following the madding crowd

Bush Man and I spent the weekend in Shanghai. (Yes, we’re technically in Shanghai, but it’s so far from the center that we can actually say we’re going to the city. The way farm folk do.). It was taxing to say the least. But it was my own fault. I somehow got the insane idea that a trip to the bird and insect market would be a great idea. It wasn’t. There weren’t just birds and insects. There were kittens sleeping in their dirty litter trays and puppies that looked like they have never known happiness. Do you know how sad you have to be to be a PUPPY and look like you’ve never known happiness? Truth be told, even the grasshoppers managed to look sad in their little woven baskets. It was heartbreaking. We got there when most people had already packed up, so I should probably go back and get the story out, but I’m not sure I have the constitution or the emotional stability to handle that. Added to that was the usual dodging of feces and globs of spit. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, wear a dress to the city that touches the ground. That hem has seen things. Horrible, horrible things. Things that cannot be unseen.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot that I love about this city. The sights, most of the smells, some of the people. But every now and then I need to just lock myself in my hotel room for a day or two and pretend like I’m not here. And then I get bored. Today was one of those days. So in an attempt to amuse myself, I created a Facebook page for this blog. Just like everyone else. You can follow it here.

Now here’s photo of a sad kitten on a rubbish heap. When I do Monday blue I do it right!

Maybe he's one of the lucky ones?

Maybe he’s one of the lucky ones?

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

Well this is demoralizing. One month later and I haven’t written a damn thing. This has been so much tougher than I expected. I did 6 months in Poland when Facebook was still a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, I didn’t even own a laptop and whatsapp was how old people erroneously pronounce the latest catch phrase and I was happy there for crying out loud! Surely China would be a breeze with all the options available to me to stay in touch with home and with what is going on in the rest of the world? But nothing prepared me for this. I am feeling increasingly disconnected from the life and people I have left behind, but I have not managed to connect to the life I have here now. I don’t think I have ever felt quite so alone. This is a concept more foreign to me than the country I find myself in. I’ve always loved being alone! But it turns out that was when I knew a friend was just five minutes away with the bottle opener poised over the Diemersfontein Pinotage if need be. It’s very different when you really need someone to talk to and you know everyone’s on the other side of the world and deep into their REM phases. Read the rest of this entry

On Faltering Follicles

On Faltering Follicles

I found my first grey hair today. I glanced up unsuspectingly and there it was, mocking me from a mirror that is not my own, in a hotel room that is rented by the month, in a country where I, try as I might, cannot communicate enough with the locals through grunts, sign language or Google Translate to ask in which isle they keep the Nice & Easy.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would get my first grey hair before having my first child, I would have smiled knowingly and smugly looked away. Not only because the Krugers are born with exceptionally strong follicles, but because I had it all planned. Finish my Masters degree (check), marry The One by 27 (check), move to one of the most beautiful parts of the world (check), settle down with two dogs (check) a cat (okay, we had three, so I slightly overdid that one) and a veggie patch (erm…) and start a family once we’re all nice and cosy and ready for the logical next step. How hard can it be, really? I mean, everyone does it. Even drunk teenagers get it right completely by accident. It’s the path your life has to follow so that you fit in with the norm. Love. Marriage. Kids. Retire. Death. Easy. But we were never the norm. My husband’s work took him away from home often so, besides not being overly keen on getting intimate with a turkey baster when there wasn’t ‘t even someone there to hold my hand,  we never seemed to get to the next, logical step. There was never the security of a whole family, complete but for the pitter-patter of little feet. The only thing I felt that was missing from my life most of the time was more of him. So I dealt with the “When are you?”’s and “Why haven’t you?”’s as best I could, often having to field the questions on my own and wondering why that alone wasn’t enough to tip off the questioner. I don’t think people are cruel on purpose. Most probably they’re just making small talk and don’t know what else to say. Or they’re just so completely and utterly in love with their new bundles of joy that, being the caring friends that they are, they want that for you too and they’re convinced your life won’t have any real meaning until that bit is sorted. The same amnesia that sets in after childbirth and ensures that women all over the world think what the hell, let’s push something the size of watermelon out THERE again, also makes them forget how being childless makes you feel like you no longer belong with the very people who used to be your mirror. They forget how you start wondering whether you can do enough with your life to make up for the fact that you are not a mother. Whether it matters that you have your own successful company, have ridden Space Mountain, can make homemade croissants from scratch and once improv’d on stage on a cruise ship, if you have failed at the most basic of female purposes. Or maybe it’s just me. Erm. Where was I? Oh yes. The best laid plans. So the kids hadn’t happened yet. But we weren’t worried. 2012 would be The Year of the Kid. I didn’t even tell my husband that this was my thinking. Rather under promise and over deliver right? Just in case. I am 35. A number biologically more important than Fibonacci’s sequence. Whatever happened, we had to make it work. We would grow my business and my husband would give up his contract work. We would finally have a stable home environment and we would not spend months apart ever again. Sure, financially it would be a little scary, but we had a plan. Or so we thought. Then, overnight, it all changed. As much victims of the current economic climate as of the type of unscrupulous people your mother warned you about, my business would no longer support us and we had no choice but to pack up our lives, say goodbye to our friends, family, home and animals and head for China. Read the rest of this entry

On Cry babies

On Cry babies

So I’ve been watching Masterchef USA (how massively disappointing) and we just got to the one with the three food critics. What I want to know is, why are food critics always so miserable? If I got paid to eat food, I would be the happiest person on the planet. Yet somehow each and every one of them looks like they stuck a carrot up their bum instead of tasting it.