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 for the fact that it’s not that simple. I might not want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want children. I’ve just never stared into a frilly pink pram, or watched a nappy bottomed little boy toddle over to his toys, and felt an overwhelming urge to start procreating as soon as my temperature next spikes. So I was more than a little surprised this morning when I plonked myself down on the kitchen stairs and just wept for the void left by this child that isn’t here. While I have always felt, dreamt at times even, that there is a little girl who is still supposed to be a part of us, she has always been a peripheral thought, pushed down as soon as it starts rising and not allowed to surface. It makes sense I suppose. Bush man is home for a few weeks. We have dinner together. Dinners that don’t involve toast. Or little plates. We make plans with friends, and watch movies with big bowls of popcorn and walk around the house deciding which odd jobs should get done (or at least what should go to the top of the list of jobs that will never get done). I have a plus one at social events. He’s picking up weight again. It’s almost… normal. I’m sure it’s natural to start thinking hey, this family thing is actually kinda cool. We should make it bigger! I suddenly have that “okay, what’s next?” urge I’m always hearing about and I’ve only ever felt that once, when Bush Man had a contract in our hometown for a couple of years and we were Settled for a while. But come October he will be gone again and I will be so grateful that it still hasn’t happened for us. Because I know, I KNOW, that I could not watch him say goodbye to his child every time he had to leave. And we will be without him. And we won’t be a family. Not like we’re supposed to be. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. My own family stopped being a family when I was four years old. At least, not a family in the traditional sense of the word. I haven’t had a Christmas with both my parents in 32 years, and it hasn’t scarred me for life. But I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where her parents don’t know where they’re going to be next month or whether they will be there together. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where she will have to be reintroduced to her dad every few months because she can’t remember who he is. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I can’t guarantee her that there will be water for everyone to drink or fish for everyone to eat or polar bears in the wild in twenty years time because her parent’s generation stripped the earth of all its natural resources and overburdened it with a population that it could no longer sustain before she even got here. We are already consuming more resources than the earth can sustain. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I cannot guarantee her safety in a country that I love so much that I would rather die here with a panga splitting my skull open than call anywhere else home. How could I bring her into a world like this when she has no choice in the matter?

You’re probably reading this and thinking, who gives a shit? Well, apparently, a great many people do. It has just astounded me how everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do with my uterus, and they’re not afraid to voice it. I have been told I am selfish countless times. Often by total strangers or people who don’t even know why there aren’t children yet. They just assume. I have been told that I have gotten so used to being alone that I am too selfish to make space for another person. Yes, I have gotten used to being on my own. But what is the alternative? Cry myself to sleep every night because I’ve gone to bed alone again? I have felt the chasm between my girlfriends and I slowly widen as they become mothers and I don’t. Many of them have nothing much to say to me anymore, unless it’s “Oh come on now! Time for you to have your own!”. I have had to hear from someone that a mutual friend had said I “don’t do kids” when asked whether he’d be bringing his along for a lunch. Well that was like a kick in the face with an ice skate, considering I love all my friend’s kids and have always tried to make them feel welcome at my home. I have read an article about how fit Jennifer Aniston is, and been astonished at the vitriol spewed by other women because she has never had children and therefore was not a real woman. I’m not a real woman because my body hasn’t bourn children? My cellulite riddled ass would beg to differ. I’ve read insults hurled at a Time journalist who had said she had chosen not to have children that were so venomous that I actually had to read the article again to make sure she hadn’t actually said she wanted to EAT all the babies. I’ve had a woman I had known for all of five hours tell me that I would one day regret the life I live now. Yes, a virtual stranger had an opinion on the invalidity of my childless existence, and casually voiced it in front of a table full of people at a baby shower. Up to that point, “You’re in danger of being happy with the way your life is now.” was the most audacious thing anyone had said to me regarding the issue. I have quietly listened to these opinions about myself and others like me based on this one aspect of our lives for years, and I’d seldom say anything or try to defend myself, mostly because the sheer cheek of it has rendered me speechless most of the time. And then a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of telling a pregnant woman who had felt it was her duty to advise me on what I need to do to get pregnant that thanks, but we hadn’t really decided whether we would have our own children or adopt. Holy shit. You’d swear I had pulled out a sock and said “You see this sock? I’m going to sew some buttons for eyes onto it and sprout wheat grass on its head for hair and I am going to call him George and George is going to be my child and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him.” for the incredulity with which my comment was received. “You can’t adopt! You have to feel what it feels like to be pregnant! Don’t you want to be pregnant?? Don’t you want to feel that?? You can’t adopt!”. Um. Yeah. No, that’s not selfish at all. And is it just because I live in a small town that being a heterosexual couple with 2.5 biological children is still considered the only acceptable normal?

I don’t want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a child. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish our lives were different and that your telling me how it should be doesn’t feel like a punch to the gut. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see a small part of my husband in a child so much sometimes that my heart physically hurts when I think it might not happen. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard for me to sit with a group of women and feel like I don’t belong, because I am the only one who isn’t a mother. And I know there are countless parents out there who have to go it alone, or who have to be the one saying goodbye too often. I know that people who are poorer / less secure / in war torn countries / totally incompetent have made the decision to bring another person into this world. But this is our journey and you don’t know where our roads have led us. So if you’ve been blessed with a child, please stop asking me why I haven’t. Stop assuming. Stop offering unsolicited advice. I mean, I’ll try a restaurant because you’ve told me I would love it and simply must try it, but I’m probably not going to base my decision on whether to be a mother on your recommendation. I have a niece that I knew I would quite literally kill someone with my bare hands for the minute I first saw her, so your telling me how a little being will change my life irrevocably is not news to me. I know. So just support me on my road as much as I have supported you on yours. It’s not always as easy to walk down as you might think.


Elke mens het ’n plig. Party teel, party neem aan en ander kweek awareness– en dis my job.

                                                                                                                                                                        – Nataniël


Transkaroo "wine list"

In a beautiful old railway station, beside a quiet lagoon in the tranquil town of Great Brak River, Transkaroo dishes up plates full of passionately created South African cuisine. The vaulted wooden ceilings, delicate ostrich egg chandeliers, and rustic wooden benches that are perfect for al fresco dining on a warm evening or sunny afternoon, all serve to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere that feels a little more special than the norm when you enter. Just like the song* says, Transkaroo brings you home. If home is where mom spent hours cooking lamb neck till you could eat it with a spoon, skilpadjies were made from scratch and served with onion marmalade and pies didn’t come from the 24 hour garage shop. Chef Stefan Jamneck is serious about making everything from scratch (bar, by his own admission, “the ice cream in the Dom Pedro’s”) and his kitchen uses the freshest, local, seasonal ingredients to influence the dynamic menu. But it’s not only the menu that changes regularly to keep up with what’s good right now. The wine list comprises a trip to the wine racks in a corner of the restaurant, where the selection on offer changes as new favourites are showcased.

Curried fish cakes

Dishes are unpretentious, but exceptional. As the menu changes so often, it’s difficult to recommend a dish. But no matter what you choose, you can be sure that it will be rich, packed with in-your-face flavours, and not found in any diet recipe books. It’s best not to set your heart on a firm favourite, but should you come across them, to start, the snails vol au vents (okay, I realise that sounds totally pretentious, but if escargots vol au vents could be unpretentious, this would be them) blanketed in the silkiest, creamiest blue cheese sauce to ever enrobe a molusc is an absolute must. We also had the curried coconut fish cakes which packed a real Cape Malay flavour punch and the balsamic onion marmalade and Camembert tart (the marmalade on the latter, while beautifully sweet and gorgeously jammy, overpowered the delicate Camembert to my taste though). As a main, the lamb neck – Transkaroo’s signature dish – is highly recommended. The lamb is cooked for 4 hours and would fall off the bone if you shook your plate too vigorously! For dessert, try the chocolate orange fondant. (What a ridiculous sentence. Like anyone has to tell you try a chocolate orange fondant.) That is, of course, if you can look past the lavender crème brûlée or pecan pie with homemade coffee ice cream. Starters range from R30 to R50 and mains from R85 to R190.


The service doesn’t feel like service. It feels more like a friend offering you another plate of food while you’re visiting them. The minute you walk in the door, everyone makes you feel like they’ve been waiting specially for you to arrive. That said, they won’t hover unnecessarily around you like your nosy Aunt Ida, but will keep your glass topped up so discreetly that you won’t be able to keep track of whether you’re over the limit yet. For a taste of the best traditional dishes South Africa has to offer, with a touch of something a little more special, Transkaroo is a great choice! And if you’re lucky, a train will roll past to add to the charm.

Great Brak River

Website: transkaroo.wordpress.com (I think these guys are too busy making food to worry about an online presence!)

Address: 1 Morrison Road, Great Brak River, South Africa.

Telephone: +27 44 620 4163
Email: transkaroorestaurant(at)gmail.com

Lunch: 12:00 – 14:30, Tuesday – Sunday
Dinner: 18:00 – 20:30, Monday – Saturday

*If you’re South African, I bet you’re still singing “Laat jou yster wiele rol“, huh? You’re welcome!

Browned butter lemon curd

Browned butter lemon curd

My idea of a well balanced breakfast is to have a slice of lemon curd toast in one hand, and a spoon full of cremezola in the other. Granted, you will not find this as the de jour diet in any of the glossies, but if you landed here by searching for lemon curd, then you probably don’t follow those things anyway. I absolutely adore sweet, tangy & jubilantly yellow hued lemon curd. Not that luminous yellow stuff that could double as a traffic cone in a pinch that you buy ready-made off the shelf in the supermarket. Real, homemade, butter laden curd made with love by your mom and packaged in a great, big glass jar that you can scoop spoons full out of when you need a culinary cuddle. But if mom is far away, or you’ve actually learned how to be self-sufficient, it is fantastically simple to make your own sunshine in a jar.

Browned butter lemon curd

A few years ago, I had a Blue Mountain lemon curd at our local cheese festival that I fell into instant besottedness with (only to hear that they were discontinuing the range!). The curd had a gorgeously nutty flavour. The type of gorgeously nutty flavour that can be achieved by doing one thing and one thing only: browning butter. You know what I’m talking about. And now you can’t imagine why anyone would ever make curd without browning the butter first, right? You can use your favourite lemon curd recipe and just brown the butter before using it as directed, or follow this easy one here. I used a recipe from that old standby that makes up a large portion of every warm blooded Afrikaner girl’s recipe repertoire, Kook & Geniet, and just tweaked it to reduce the risk of scrambling and make it a little more buttery. When in doubt, more buttery is always the way to go.

Browned butter lemon curd

Hands-on time

5 mins

Cook time

10 mins

Total time

15 mins

Author: www.twosuitcasesandatinpot.com

Recipe type: Condiment

Serves: Makes +/- 350ml


  • 330g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 110g salted butter
  • Juice of two large lemons (roughly 400g in weight, whole)


  1. In a heavy based pot, melt butter over a medium low heat. It will spatter at first and then start foaming, and not long after will turn brown fairly rapidly. Don’t be scared to get a good amount of colour on it, but stop before the salt and milk solids (which will sink to the bottom) burns. Pour the butter – salt and all – into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the pot and bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the butter.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and egg yolk in the bowl that the butter was in. Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture, whisking continuously.
  4. Return the mixture to the pot and return to the heat, stirring until the mixture thickens. Do not let it boil or you will land up with sweet, lemony, scrambled eggs.
  5. Serve smeared on warm toast, swirled over ice cream, spooned onto meringue nests or poured into sweet tart cases.

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Blogging is not for sissies. It takes a massive amount of time and dedication, neither of which I have in excess right now. It also requires the ability to switch your creativity on at will when you do actually find yourself with thirty minutes to spare. I really suck at that too. One solution, they say, is to write drunk and edit sober, and frankly I can’t afford to be inebriated that often. This means that I have a draft folder positively brimming with unfinished posts. A little reminder, whenever I log into WordPress, of my ability to cling, hoard, procrastinate and just hope for the best when I know nothing will change. Every now and then I will go back to it, and listlessly page through the articles, knowing that I will never get round to sharing them with you because they either no longer seem relevant, or I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say in the first place, or in one sad case, the restaurant in question had inexplicably shut down before I could tell everyone why they absolutely had to go there. And yet, I hang on to them, even though I know that it is over and that they will never be written.

I know I will never get round to showing you the Qipu clothing market in Shanghai, with its mind-boggling selection of clothing stores, where the items get more expensive and the sales ladies get less pushy as the escalator goes up.

Qipu clothing market
Qipu clothing market

See? Start low, finish high.

Or the street-food-vendor-packed alley behind said clothing market, where I finally came across sanxian doupi with its delicate tofu skin encasing shrimp flavoured rice, and jiān bǐng with the fried pastry center that the my local Qingpu lady never added and I had been obsessing about since first hearing it was missing from mine.

sanxian doupi
jian bing

No really. If you’re in Shanghai, and you love shopping and eating, then this is a must-add for your trip list!

In order to tell you about the massive Tianshan Tea City that we visited, I learnt more about tea than any sane person should be expected to.

Tianshan tea city

But now you’ll never know the difference between the tea on the left and the tea on the right. (There, there now. You’ll get over the disappointment soon enough.)

I have a slew of posts on Shanghainese street food waiting to be written. For example, bet you didn’t know that Shanghai has more than 10,000 mobile food stalls? Or that in a government survey it was found that of 650 vendors surveyed, 609 had no business license? Or that sometimes your lamb skewer might be rat? Possibly poisoned rat. But that wasn’t going to stop me from encouraging you to try fire roasted sweet potatoes.

Fire roasted sweet potatoes

Or warm, cumin-y, delicious shao kao (street barbeque). “Lamb” and all.

Squid on a stick

Or sweet and fresh bingtanghulu (candied fruits).

Alas, I know I will never get round to them. So I’m letting go, moving on, out with the old etc., all in an attempt to feel less bogged down by what I have not accomplished, in the hopes that I can expend more energy on what I still hope to achieve. I’m hoping for catharsis, although the reality will probably only be a bit more free space on my server, and a once again full draft folder a few months from now, because some things never change.

But before I hit the delete button, I have one unwritten post that I felt have to share with you!

Beef fillet with tarragon sauce

There are few things in life that give me as much pleasure as enjoying food with like-minded friends. Happily, I have been blessed with some very special foodies in my life! We don’t have it easy though. Living in a town where Wimpy is considered haute cuisine by many can be quite frustrating for fine dining lovers. I have raged about this before, and nothing much has changed since then. And so, my foodie friends and I decided to start our own Come Dine With Me competition. Four couples, four months, four extraordinary nights. A staggering amount of work went into preparing for each night, and afforded us all the opportunity of trying dishes that we would ordinarily consider too fancy for week night fare, or even your average dinner party. This beef fillet went a long way towards clinching the title for the winning couple, Niel and Pippa, who graciously shared the recipe with me. The recipe is from The Cliff, Barbados: Recipes by Paul Owens, a restaurant that was in the top 50 restaurants in the world when they visited there. I have paged through the book and can highly recommend it to anyone who would like to take their cooking up a notch! It has been a long time since I had this dish, but I can still remember the flavours as if they were melting in my mouth yesterday. Definitely one to add to your repertoire for when you’re having people around that you’d like to impress!

Fillet of beef on a potato rösti with Dijon mustard tarragon sauce & crispy leeks

Author: Paul Owens

Recipe type: Main

Serves: 4


  • 4 x 80z tenderloins
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry sherry
  • 1 ½ cups thick cream
  • ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 leeks
  • 4 potatoes (peeled)
  • 4 tbsp of mixed chopped herbs i.e. marjoram, parsley thyme
  • butter
  • seasoning


  1. Season the tenderloins and sauté in a hot pan with a little clarified butter until medium rare (about 3 minutes per side). Divide the meat between four plates and allow to rest for 10 – 15 minutes.
  2. For the sauce, bring the sherry to a boil and add the chicken stock. Reduce the liquid for about 10 minutes, then add the cream, Dijon mustard, tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. (Although the original recipe says to season here, I would leave that till the very end. You’re still going to reduce the sauce later, so it might become over salty.)
  3. Cut the leeks into fine strips and deep fry in hot oil until golden. Place on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Grate the potatoes and add the herbs and a little salt and pepper. Using your hands, squeeze out the moisture and form thin potato cakes. Sauté in hot butter until golden brown, drain on a paper towel. They can be made in advance and reheated.
  5. To assemble the dish, place the steaks in a warm oven. Meanwhile reduce the sauce in a pan over a high heat until a syrupy consistency. Place steak on warm potato rosti and cover with the sauce. Top with crispy leeks.

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

The Shanghai French Concession (上海法租界; Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè), was a foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849 until 1946, and was the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai for much of the 20th century. With its European style cafes, quiet, leafy, tree lined avenues and tudor houses nestled in beautiful gardens interspersed with hole-in-the-wall eateries and local colours and flavours, it is a popular tourist destination. You could pretty much get off at any stop in the area and just stroll around the shops, boutiques, restaurants and deli’s. Or follow this self guided walk to hit some of the best spots between Xintiandi in the East, Tainzifang in the South and Fuxing Middle Road in the West.

French Concession lane

Time: A full day

Distance: +/- 7km

Start: South Huangpi Road metro station

End: South Shaanxi Road metro station

Xintiandi in the Former French Concession.
Xintiandi 2

Start your tour at (A) South Huangpi Road metro station. Leave through Exit 1 and head south on Danshui Road. Turn left on Taicang Road till you hit the Starbucks. You can’t miss it. The two block area behind Starbucks is the heart of (B) Xintiandi, an upmarket, pedestrian only, shopping, eating and entertainment district composed of refurbished shikumen houses, narrow alleys and stone paved courtyards. With its stone gate buildings, it is a beautiful area, and you could spend a whole morning here browsing through book shops, cafes and delis selling French cheese, wines and Moët & Chandon, upscale boutiques and restaurants. In the south eastern corner of this block is the (C) Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China which has now been preserved as a museum. The museum houses exhibits about the history of China and Shanghai and the foundation of the CPC.  Entry is free. Head north on Huangpi South Road until you hit (D) Huaihai Road and turn left.Cross the road using the pedestrian bridge at Chongqing, because, well, it’s kinda cool. And also, you do not want to miss the little hole-in-the-wall establishment (Chinese Dough Shop) that sells (E) radish cakes a little way down from the corner on the north side of Huaihai Road. I can’t sell radish cakes by using the term “radish cakes”, so you’ll just have to trust me on this. These pastries have a warm, fresh filling and a flaky, crisp coating and make a perfect mid-morning snack. The shop is no more than a bamboo steamers filled window with a little sign hanging above it. Look for the green painted window frames with red writing. Skip the shāomài (sticky rice dumplings) here though. Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but I thought they were awful.

Site of first National Congress

Take the next road left and head down Yandang Road towards (F) Fuxing Park. This cobblestoned road is semi pedestrianized and lined with shops and restaurants. The park is a feast for the senses. Vendors sell fresh seasonal juices at the entrance, the gardens are a riot of colour and fragrance, little old people do tai chi around every corner, and young and old sing karaoke on portable speakers. There are spontaneous ballroom dancers, mahjong playing enthusiasts, laughing children, pensive pensioners, kite flyers, fan dances, card games, makeshift tables where doctors take blood pressure and dispense advice and lots of music and random singing. The 10 hectare park is designed in the French style, with a koi filled central lake, fountains, covered pavilions, and colourful, seasonal flowerbeds. Exit the park through the north western exit.

Fuxing Park (2)
Fuxing Park (3)
Fuxing Park
Karaoke in Fuxing Park.

Turn left on (G) Sinan Road and head south. On the left when you reach Xiangshan Road is the Shanghai Museum of Sun Yat-Sen’s Former Residence. Sun Yat-Sen was the forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution and the founder of the Republic of China.The museum contains the original furnishings used by the family as well as displays of Mr. Sun Yat-Sen’s activities from his stay in Shanghai. A little further down, behind a red lacquered door lies the former residence of General Zhou Enlai, a former Premier of the PRC. The residence now houses a free museum that depicts the history of the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Sun Yat-Sen's former residence

Turn right into Taikang Road. The area to your right is (H) Tianzifang, a maze of tiny alleys crammed full of more than 200 crafts shops, art and photographic studios, boutiques, bars, coffee shops and restaurants where some older residents still live. It is part of Shanghai’s urban renewal project. It is well worth a visit, even if you’re not big on shopping, if only to check out the Propaganda Art shop to pick up a money bag with the words “If man have money have romantic life everywhere” emblazoned upon it.

Tianzifang puzzle shop
Tianzifang is a really cool little area. A warren of pubs, resta
Tibetan shop
Ever since Gordon Ramsey had that pulled noodle contest, I've wa
Shanghai Culture Square

While there are many restaurants in Tianzifang, I highly recommend heading to the corner of Jianguo West and Shaanxi South Road for (I) a steaming bowl of Langzhou lamian noodles. For half the price of a Big Mac, you get dinner and a show as the noodle maker stretches, kneads, pulls and twists a ball of dough into perfectly pulled noodles (I giggle every time I say that), before chucking the whole lot out the window where his helper boils them in a broth of beef, herbs and spring onions. The dish is reminiscent of Vietnamese pho and has to be tasted before one can understand how something so simple can be so perfect. If, like me, you’ve forgotten what to ask for by the time you get there and simply point at the nearest bowl of warm looking soup, you might land up getting hand cut noodles – made by peeling strips of noodles from the same dough using a peeler. Either way, you can’t go wrong! Just take your plastic seat amongst the locals and slurp up. Walk off the carbs by heading north on Shaanxi South Road and then taking a right at Shaoxing Road. Along this road you will find Dean’s Bottle Shop for cider if you don’t mind  the hefty price tag (and if you want cider in Shanghai, you better not mind the price tag), and the Manne et Sante bakery as well as the Cafe Vienna where you can get German meals and cakes. The Old China Hand Reading Room at no. 27 is a book store and coffee house with antique wooden tables where you can sit and peruse one of the hundreds of old and new books on sale. Half way down this road is the tiny Shaoxing park. No more than a few hundred square meters, it is a quiet spot to relax under the shade of a tree while watching the locals play mahjong, before you carry on on your merry way. Walk back down Shaoxing Road and then continue north on Shaanxi South. Turn right on Yongjia Road. On the corner at no 47 you will find the Double Rainbow Massage House, where blind massage therapists will give you an authentic Chinese foot massage. The Shanghai Culture Square on your left shows foreign and local musicals, bringing Broadway shows like Shrek and Phantom of the Opera to Shanghai. It is worth going inside just to see the intricate glass art wall and water feature in the foyer. Further down the road on the right, Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant offers modern Mexican cuisine and hosts salsa evenings on occasion.

Turn left on Rujin 2d Road and then left on Fuxing Middle Road (there’s another Starbucks here, should nature be calling). Turn right on Maoming South Road and head north. On this road you will find tailors and high end cheongsam boutiques. The cheongsam are material works of art, with exquisite bead work and embroidery and you really could spend a good few hours here drooling over these dresses if that’s your type of thing. The tailors will stitch up just about anything you want in 24 hours, and for considerably lower prices than you would find in retail stores.

Cheongsam shops (2)
Cheongsam shops

At the intersection of Huaihai Road and Maoming South you will find the (M) Cathay Theatre, an art deco movie house designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda that was completed in 1930 and that features both English and Chinese films. Further north on Maoming South Road, at the intersection with Changle Road, lies the Lyceum Theatre. Also built in the 1930’s, this theatre features dramas and small scale musical and symphony concerts.

Cathay Theatre
Lyceum Theatre

Turn left on Jinxian Road. There’s nothing special on this street, but it’s just one of those typical French Concession alleys that I love, with boutiques, scrap shops and hanging laundry all over all the place. You will also find the (O) Tokyo Fashion Hair Accessories shop here, where young girls spend the day trying on wigs and doing each other’s hair. Sounds like some people’s worst nightmare, but it’s actually vastly entertaining!

French Concession side alley

Turn left on Shaanxi South Road. At the South Shaanxi Road and Huaihai Road intersection you will find the Parkinson department store,  home to fashion boutiques, homeware, gadgets and restaurants. You can stock up on your MAC and Chanel here if you need to. Turn right on Fuxing Middle Road. A little way down you will find a Rolise store. Here you can pretty much stock up on underwear for life. Gorgeous bras for a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else in every conceivable style and colour you can think of. Made for the Chinese market, this is one place where you’ll be glad if you’re on the smaller cup end of the spectrum! Turn left on Jiashan Road. There is a little mom and pop shop here that sells cong you bing, freshly rolled and fried while you wait. Or depending on where in the world you hail from, you might be just about ready for a plate of fish and chips round about now. The Sailor’s fish & chips shop on Yongkang Road is worth a pop in, but the whole road is packed with European style eateries and sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of dishes  to choose from if you’re in the mood for something else. It’s a vibey little neighbourhood and a great place to sit on the sidewalk with a pint and a camera. Turn right on Taiyuan Road and then right on FenYang Road. The Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum  is on the right at number 79. You can watch live craft demonstrations, such as traditional jade carving, lantern making, paper cutting and embroidery and see exhibits of the history of these and other crafts. The museum is open from 9 to 5 and entrance is 8RMB.

To get to the (S) South Shaanxi Road metro, turn right on Fuxing Middle Road, left on Xiangyang Road and right on Nanchang Road.

Click here for the Google map.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Bund and Old Shanghai, covering the area between Nanjing Road East and Fang Bang Road.

French Concession Walking Tour Map

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest
Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous

Families are funny things, aren’t they? While scratch-your-eyes-out loyal if anyone dares speak an ill word about one of our own, we are the first to voice an opinion about cousin Betty’s latest binge drinking session as soon as we can grab a second alone with a familial accomplice. My family is no different. So it was that I discovered what my family had been whispering amongst themselves over wine glasses in kitchens and murmuring to one another on tee boxes while taking practice swings: I had somehow achieved the dubious honour of being branded the couscous pusher in our family. There I was, happily dishing up fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks over steaming piles of fluffy couscous, when I noticed a distinctly uncomfortable silence fall over the table. The same sort of silence you feel in that moment just after the drug addict has made himself comfortable in the cushy armchair, but before someone clears their throat to tell him that the tea party he’s been invited to is actually an intervention. Uncle T steepled his fingers together (as he always does when he has something uncomfortable to say) and with a sideways glance at my equally unimpressed looking brother said, “What is this shit now again?”. Around the table there was a lot of looking in laps, and readjusting of wine glasses, but when no one backed him up he continued: “Uncle G says you’re always trying to get us to eat couscous”. Now, please note that – whilst true – the last time I had attempted this feat was Christmas 2007, when I had tried to slip some of the little granules past everyone by disguising them amongst cubes of roasted butternut and crumbly feta while they read out loud to each other those terribly lame jokes that come in the crackers. But it mattered not. I had become the couscous pusher. And with good reason I suppose. See, I believe the much maligned couscous has had a bad rap. When it was first introduced to our shores, it was inevitably prepared by uninformed housewives who dumped too much cube derived chicken stock over it in sufficient quantities to turn it into a crumbly heap of mushy sludge more closely resembling wallpaper glue than a fluffy accompaniment to a lamb tagine. This really is a grossly unfair representation of what couscous could be. Really, if you think about it, when it is prepared correctly, what’s not to love? Tiny granules of al dente semolina that slurp up all the flavours you throw at them, couscous is the caviar of pasta. Add to that, it requires no more than a spoon to eat, so it is perfect comfort food. I have therefore made a mini mission out of turning couscous into a dish everyone could love, instead of just an ineffectual projectile weapon in a B-grade movie. This dish might not complete my life’s work, but it is one of my favourites.

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Comfort in a bowl.

Author: www.twosuitcasesandatinpot.com


  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup raw couscous
  • good quality chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of basil pesto
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 or 2 rounds of plain Greek feta
  • seasoning


  1. Season the chicken on both sides. Cook in a dry pan over medium heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pan and shred into bite sized pieces, discarding the bones.
  3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and return the chicken to the pan. Sprinkle over one tablespoon of seasoned flour and stir through to incorporate all the fat and juices and yummy caramelised bits on the bottom. Fry until crisp.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of raw couscous with chicken stock and prepare as per the instructions on the packet (different brands require different cooking methods and times.) Do not add more stock than the instructions say, or you’ll land up with the aforementioned wall paper paste.
  5. Add the chicken to the couscous and stir through.
  6. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat and add the garlic, frying for a minute.
  7. Add the chickpeas to the garlic and fry for two minutes. Turn the heat down to low.
  8. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil pesto to the chickpeas and warm through. Add to the couscous mixture and stir through.
  9. Crumble the feta into the couscous and stir through. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 2

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Pierneef à la Motte in Franschhoek is one of my favourite restaurants. The menu is constantly changing to reflect the seasons, so you always get the freshest, seasonal ingredients packaged in beautifully plated, explosive flavour combinations. Unfortunately this also means that you best not get your heart set on any one dish, as it may not be there the next time you visit. There is an important life lesson in this. Never put off till tomorrow what you can eat today! The bittersweet Valrhona chocolate tart with peanut butter mousse that I wrote about when I reviewed them in September was one such dish. While the rich chocolate tart itself was obviously delicious, the highlight of the entire meal (okay, a joint tie with the quail and orecchiette pasta salad with smoked pork lardo and almond ginger sauce), was the peanut butter mousse that accompanied the tart. Piped onto the plate into little mounds of salty moreishness, they were the unintentional star of the dish. So I was very disappointed when, on a visit there last week, the chocolate tart was no longer on the menu. After a week of hoping for a miserable rainy day, so that I could stare sadly out the window while I longed for that mousse, I realised I was unsuccessfully dealing with this blow, and decided to try recreating the mousse myself. I added white chocolate, so it is not quite the same, but it makes a similarly rich, lovely, dense mousse. Serve in little shot glasses, as an accompaniment to a tart (I served mine with a salted caramel cheesecake, but chocolate and peanut butter are made for each other when the bread and jam aren’t looking) or as a filling between layers of biscuits.

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Hands-on time

10 mins

Total time

10 mins

Author: www.twosuitcasesandatinpot.com

Recipe type: Dessert

Serves: 4 – 8


  • 50g butter
  • 150g white chocolate
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 70g castor sugar
  • 125ml cream
  • 175g smooth peanut butter


  1. Melt the butter and chocolate together. Warm the peanut butter till it becomes a little more runny, and stir into the chocolate.
  2. Add two egg yolks to the warm chocolate mixture and stir through.
  3. Beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form. Slowly add the castor sugar to the egg whites while you continue whisking. Fold the mixture into the peanut butter mixture.
  4. Beat the cream till stiff. Fold the cream into the peanut butter mixture and serve.

Chinese snacking: A hazardous exercise.

Chinese snacking: A hazardous exercise.

In a supermarket where hermetically sealed packets of jellyfish can be found on the shelf, nestled between Plain Salted Lays and seaweed flavoured Tuc’s, finding a snack that is to your taste might be a challenge.

You might reach for a tube of chips, and land up with a bag of dried fish snacks (you’d be an idiot though, and a smelly one at that).

dried fish snack
Avoid these as a pre-dinner snack on a first date.

Or you might innocently peruse the shelves for a dried fruit snack, and come across spicy duck tongues.

Spicy duck tongues. Spotted mere inches from a few plain dates.
Spicy duck tongues. Spotted mere inches from a few plain dates.

Or fancy tucking into some sweet, corn flavoured bologny? No refrigeration required – these babies will last on the shelf forever.

Just want you want in a meat snack. The ability to last, unrefrigerated for ages. Oh, and sugar and corn bits.
The only thing in this picture that makes sense is the suggestion to run.

 Or maybe some nice spicy bean curd string.

tofu snack
Don’t believe that lip licking liar!

And my personal favourite; those baby-hand-resembling nibbles that everyone in China loves – chicken feet. Vacuum packed, off the shelf, chicken feet. Something us westerners apparently just “don’t get” (like China has the market on chicken feet cornered).

Chicken feet and corn bologny. Everything you need for a balanced meal.
Chicken feet and corn bologny. No wonder they’d rather eat dog.

Unsweetened popcorn? Forget it. Some good ol’ cheesy nachos? No chance. But it’s just as well we’re all different, isn’t it? If Chinese people didn’t gag at the thought of cheese (rotten milk, if you ask them, and a little rich if you ask me, seeing as they have that whole stinky tofu thing going on), jellyfish would be taking over our oceans as we fight each other over the last piece of Gorgonzola. So viva le difference!

You’re still going to need a snack though. And if there is one Chinese snack that I absolutely love, it is crunchy broad beans. Also known as horse beans in China, these little beauties are deep fried and then flavoured with various spices – Chinese 5 spice and beef being the most popular. When fried, the beans become a deliciously strange combination of crispy and creamy. You could probably pop the whole thing in your mouth, but I prefer to shell off the tougher outer layer. That way I get to play with my food.

Broad bean snck
See what I have to endure to find the best product for you? A small sampling of deep fried broad bean snacks. The friendly packet on the left is the best choice if you ask me.

But don’t try these. Floury and flavourless. Unless cardboard is a flavour.

Taste just like you would think horse beans would taste like.
Taste just like you would think horse beans would taste like.

I have tried to make a low fat version of this snack myself. Here is what doesn’t work:

* Boiling the beans till soft and then roasting them.

* Allowing the beans to sprout and then roasting them (this worked well with mung beans though).

* Roasting them.

Do you see the trend here? Roasting doesn’t work. Basically, unless they are dumped into a big vat of artery clogging fat, they are going to be teeth chippingly inedible. But I shall keep trying, so watch this space!

On torture (or: What to expect from your bed in China.)

On torture (or: What to expect from your bed in China.)

I don’t think people quite comprehend what I mean when I say that beds in China (or at least all the beds I’ve had the misfortune of sleeping in) are hard. We’ll be making small talk, somehow the conversation will come round to beds (as it does) and I’d casually mention that beds in China are really, really hard. They’ll give me that raised eyebrow, skeptical, “uh huh” look and I can actually see them thinking “Bitch, please. I had to carry my 10mm thick mattress 10km every day when I was in the army and there was nothing but it between me and the ground at night. The ground!”. Okay, yes, but on the ground you probably had a thin layer of scuffed up dust to provide a bit of cushioning. If you haven’t slept on a Chinese bed then you do not know what a hard bed is. I’m not being a princess here people. A pea under a hundred mattresses would not bruise my well padded exterior. I am not a softy. But I’m talking about beds that are essentially a bit of soft filling, sandwiched between two wooden planks and held together with a thin layer of fabric. I don’t even really know what the padding is supposed to achieve, other than to sag a bit when you sit on the edge of the bed to tie your shoelaces. Jade pillows might have been lucky and a sign of wealth in days gone by, and hard beds touted as being good for your spine, but this is the 21st century and we have sports cars and chiropractors here for that.

So what can you do about this dilemma if you’re planning a long term trip to China? Here are a few things you can try:

1) Sleep on the floor for a few weeks before your arrival to prepare yourself for the onslaught on your body. Not a carpeted floor. Not a wood laminated floor with that spongy bit underneath that gives it a bit of spring. Those are too soft. Do you want to be a wussy or do you want to get your spine used to a Chinese bed?! Find a bit of concrete or some nice terracotta tiles and toughen the hell up.

2) Get a large person or a St. Bernhard to sit on your left arm and left leg until they go numb (your arm and leg, not the person or dog). Now remove them and then try to fall asleep with the resulting burning sensation as your blood flow returns to your extremities. The St. Bernhard in particular is a good choice if you can get a nice smelly one, because then you can start preparing your olfactory senses for the special onslaught they’ll be enduring on the city streets.

3) Get out a Twister board and put your right hand on green and your left foot on red. Now twist your spine around 180 degrees and put your left hand on blue and your right foot on yellow. Now hold this position for two hours. Attempt to unfurl yourself, and note how your body feels. Can you handle that? If yes, then welcome to China. If not, read on.

Memory foam mattress toppers are a worthwhile investment if you’re going to be in the country for an extended period. But starting at upwards of US$350 a piece (and too heavy to take back home with you), this is not really an option for medium term stays for those of us on a budget. Your best bet then is to do a bit of online shopping on sites such as www.jd.com or www.taobao.com. Visit the sites using Chrome with translation enabled, and you will be able to navigate your way around easily. The great thing about these sites is that you can pay COD (using either cash or a credit card), so there is no risk, even if you get it totally wrong and order a tea tray for delivery to a temple in Tibet. (There would be a risk to the store though, and probably a few confused monks, so try and get it right.) Items are delivered free of charge, to your door, within 24 hours. We found this padded mattress cover on jd.com for only US$25. Combined with an extra duvet or two under us (and a few sniggers and oi-those-crazy-white-people head shakes from housekeeping), our bed went from a torture device to downright almost comfortable with just a few clicks. Stick blender aside, it’s the best money we have spent in China!

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)
Jew's ear fungus
Jew's ear fungus

Jew’s ear is a species of Auriculariales fungus found growing mainly on dead wood worldwide. And really, on a dead stump, far from the dinner table, is where it should’ve been left. It is a popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes and can readily be found on most restaurant menus – usually in the form of a cold salad, dressed with soy and vinegar, or in chunky pieces in soups. The mushroom itself is quite astonishing. The size of a hand and beautifully aubergine hued, they really do resemble ears in an almost disturbing way. But that is where the astonishment ends. To describe this mushroom as gelatinous with a mild flavour is to be unjustifiably kind. You know that little piece of cartilage you find along the breast bone of a chicken? The one that is so soft and thin, you don’t even realise you’ve cut through it until you unpleasantly bite down on a mouthful? Jew’s ears taste like that. Squeaky, softly rubbery, and with no discernible flavour at all. I am yet to try a dish I like them in. But I am nothing if not an adventurous eater, so I tried to incorporate them into a creamy mushroom soup.

 To make the mushroom soup:

1) Prepare your favourite mushroom soup recipe.

2) DO NOT use any Jew’s ear mushrooms in your soup WHATSOEVER. They are vile. They will bring nothing to the table in terms of flavour and will merrily add a yucky, rubbery texture that will not zip up with a blender. Attempting to use them in a creamy soup will have disastrous consequences. If you absolutely have to try them, here is a recipe for soup that uses them whole.