Cong you bing revisited

Cong you bing revisited

I have not been sleeping well at all. My bed has once again become that magical place where I suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do that day, but didn’t. And I know that once I crawl out from beneath that white duvet I will once again, in a foggy haze of procrastination, forget everything that I vowed to do in the wee hours of the morning. So I have taken to sleeping with a pen and notepad next to my bed so that I can jot down things in the dark as I remember them and clear them from my mind. This hasn’t worked as well as you would think. Upon waking this morning I found a message to myself reminding me to “Char doc squikle skorf”. While I don’t think this was intended to be an inspired grill idea, it did remind me that I still need to post my cong you bing recipe. I have adapted the recipe from one found at Traditional Chinese Recipes to more closely resemble the thin and crispy pancakes that our local vendor made. It is essential that you make the dough two days before you intend to use it to allow the gluten to bind. This is a great recipe to use when doing a Mongolian grill and everyone can get their hands dirty cooking their own (in which case most of the pancakes will, in all likelihood,  be wonky, a little burnt and the object of much ridicule).

Cong you bing


300g all purpose flour

6 spring onions, leafy green parts finely chopped (you can reserve the chopped whites and use in the paste)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tb vegetable oil

115g of boiling water (yes, grams Heston)

70g of cold water

spicy basting paste

Add the boiling water to the flour and stir. When it is well incorporated, add the cold water and continue mixing until it is smooth. You will have a very wet dough. Oil your hands and collect the dough into a ball. Place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and allow to stand for two days or so.

With oiled hands, turn the dough out on to a smooth, oiled surface and flatten into a rectangle approximately 1cm thick. Sprinkle with the salt and spring onions and press them into the dough. Fold the dough in half and press down to 1 cm thick again. Rub the surface of the dough with your oiled hands, fold and press down again. Do this four or five times so that you layer the dough with oil and spring onions, similar to what you would do with puff pastry. Now grab a hand full of dough (a little bigger than the size of a golf ball) and roll it out with an oiled roller till you have a disk about 2mm thick. It’s a little slippery and tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. If a hole appears, don’t worry about it.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil. (If you haven’t noticed by now, this is not Weigh Less and enough oil in the pan is essential or it’ll taste yuck.) Lay the pancake in the oil, away from you. Cook until lightly browned and then flip it over. Brush with the paste, cook the other side until browned and then flip back for 5 more seconds, just to heat the paste through. The sugar in the paste will burn if you leave it too long. Serve cut into rectangular slices.

For the spicy basting paste:

2 onions, very finely chopped

chopped fresh red chillies to taste

80ml oil

15ml paprika

10ml cumin

20ml coriander

4T sweet chilli sauce (pretty sure the Chinese don’t use this, but it works!)

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onions. Cook slowly until they begin to caramelise. Add the chillies and spices and continue cooking until the whole mixture turns into a gloriously, jammy, paprika hued concoction. Add the sweet chilli sauce and cook for a few more minutes. You’ll be left with a jammy oil that is perfect for basting your cong you bing.

Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

By Rachel Carlin

When I am not mentally menu planning for the fantasy Bistro that I wish I owned with my favourite girl cousin by marriage, I am taming ankle biters. I am very lucky that this is a job I love and that it brings me a lot of joy. It also allows me on a Tuesday to bring my other love, cooking, into the classroom.

Simple souffles

Cooking with children doesn’t need to be dull. It doesn’t need to involve chocolates, sprinkles and E numbers. It can be fun, yummy for both big and small and strangely rewarding when no child is hurt in the making of the dish!

This is one of my favourites. I cannot seem to name it, so the working title is:

Simple Soufflés

Makes 6 little soufflés


  • 3 slices of white bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 100g cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried mixed herbs
  • Some oil for brushing

 Preheat the oven to 200 C

  1. Grate the cheese and place in a bowl. – Teacher’s tip – allow your young child to grate the cheese, but place your hand and fingers over theirs so they get the feeling and the motion of grating without the danger of shredding fingers.
  2. Using a regular size circle cookie cutter, cut out two circles from each slice of bread.
  3. Brush a muffin pan with some oil and then place the bread circle inside. This will form the base of your soufflé.
  4. In separate mixing bowls, break the eggs and separate.
  5.  Whisk the egg yolks together very quickly until they turn creamy.
  6. In another bowl stiffen the whites, not to the peaks needed for meringues but allow them to hold shape.
  7. Add the milk, herbs, salt and pepper to the yolks and mix thoroughly.
  8. Add half the cheese and give a good mix.
  9. Gently fold in the whites.
  10. Carefully pour over the 6 muffin pans ensuring even distribution of the mixture.
  11. Top each mini soufflé with the remaining cheese.
  12. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden.

 And that’s it. A dollop of Mrs. Balls on the side is rather good.

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

When Nigella first described this recipe as a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup in cheesecake form, she had me at Reese. It’s a baked peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. I don’t need to say any more.

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

The ingredients should be at room temperature before you start.


For the base

  • 200 grams tennis biscuits (Nigella uses digestives, but I have a debilitating weakness for tennis biscuit bases)
  • 50 grams salted peanuts
  • 100 grams dark chocolate chips or a slab broken into pieces
  • 50 grams butter

For the filling

  • 500 grams cream cheese
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 200 grams castor sugar
  • 125 ml sour cream
  • 250 grams smooth peanut butter

For the topping

  • 250 ml sour cream
  • 100 grams milk chocolate
  • 30 grams soft light brown sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Process the biscuits, peanuts, dark chocolate and butter for the base in a food processor. (I only have that little food processor that you bung onto the end of a stickblender, but it worked just as well when you do it in batches this way and then mix it all together after. Great arm workout too.)
  3. Once it comes together in a clump, turn it out into a 23cm springform tin and press into the bottom. Reserve a good tablespoon full to consume right now. You know you have anyway!
  4. Put in the fridge while you make the filling.
  5. Process all the filling ingredients together till you have a smooth mixture. You can just whisk the whole lot if you don’t have a processor, but then be sure to bang out the air bubbles or there will be cracks in your cheesecake. Not the end of the world, but avoidable.
  6. Pour and scrape the filling onto the base in the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Check the cake and if necessary, bake for a further ten minutes. The cake should be like your thighs after Christmas when you’ve ruined a year’s workouts in two weeks – just, just firm to the touch but with a bit of a wobble perceptible underneath.
  7. Take the cheesecake out of the oven while you make the topping.
  8. Warm the sour cream and chocolate with the brown sugar gently in a small saucepan over a low heat, whisking to blend in the chocolate as it melts, and then take off the heat.
  9. Spread the topping very gently over the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Put it back in the oven for a final 10 minutes.
  11. Once out of the oven, let the cheesecake cool in its tin and then cover and put into the fridge overnight. It gets better the longer it stands.
  12. When you are ready to eat the cheesecake, take it out of the fridge, just to take the chill off, but note that it will get even more gloriously claggy the longer it stands.

Bernice’s lamb chops

Bernice’s lamb chops

This is one of those recipes that you’ll probably either love or hate. Personally, I love it! It is the meal I would choose when I finally snap in Telkom one day, wipe out the lot of them, and have to pick something to eat before they eventually flip the switch and fry me. It is a quintessential part of some of my earliest food memories. Monday night was not only Knight Rider night (back before he became The Hoff and crushing on him was no longer cool), but it was also the night my brother and I stayed with my dad and Bernice, our nanny, made her famous chops and chips. Bernice might not have been the creator of the dish, but it is a testament to how important she was in our lives that we chose to name this dish after her, despite her tendency to chase us around the house with a wet rag when she was displeased about something. And now, more than twenty years later, my dad still makes it for us whenever we go and visit there. So I’m quite aware that the love I feel for this particular dish is heavily influenced by the memories it evokes and is not based solely on its gastronomic merit. I do, however, still believe it is simply delicious in the truest sense of the word. All the flavour comes from just two ingredients – lamb and onions. But don’t let the simplicity of the components fool you – preparing this dish requires patience and a good, uninterrupted, 2 hour chunk out of your day. It is best served with the type of shoestring fries that are so crispy that trying to impale them on a fork results in little bits of golden potato flying across the room and hitting the wall with a satisfyingly crunchy thunk. This necessitates really getting your hands in there to pull the chops apart bite by bite, scoop up a few chips and shove the whole lot in your mouth with your fingers, which is just messily wonderful! I would also strongly recommend having it with a good tomato sauce. I don’t believe in dousing meals in condiments that could potentially detract from the flavour, but in this instance the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes contrasts beautifully with the salty sweetness of the caramelised onions.

Bernice's chops & chips

Serves 4


5 large onions, sliced

1 kg lamb chops – loin is best, but any cut will do

salt and ground white pepper

3T canola or sunflower oil

2T butter

1) Place a heavy based pan (big enough to fit all the chops in a single layer) on medium heat and add the oil and butter.

2) Add the onions and a bit of salt and pepper and fry slowly. Slowly now. Don’t let it brown too quickly. Once the onions are translucent, push them aside in the pan and add the chops. Season and brown the chops on both sides and stir the whole lot around the pan every few minutes.

3) That’s pretty much it. But pour yourself a glass of wine, because you’re going to be here for a while. Now you just continue doing this for the next ninety minutes or so. As the onions and meat catch on the bottom of the pan, scrape those lovely caramelised bits off with a wooden spoon and keep incorporating them back into the onions. If you need to, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan as you go, but keep it fairly dry. The closer to the end you get, the more it will catch and the more you’ll need to stir it. Season and don’t be shy with the salt.

What you’ll eventually be left with is a gorgeously glossy caramelised compote to go with the tender lamb chops that will taste even better if you leave the whole lot in the fridge for a day so that the flavours can develop. If it’s a little too fatty for your taste, just tilt the pan to the side and scoop off any excess fat. (Sorry Dad, I didn’t really mean that!)

St. Blaize hiking trail

St. Blaize hiking trail
Saint Blaize hiking trail

South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline. From mangrove lined estuaries in the north east to the stark beauty of the west coast and endless stretches of white sandy beaches or striking rock formations in between, it is a favourite playground for outdoor enthusiasts and sun-worshippers from around the world. But, like a mousy English lit student working her way through college by donning a dominatrix outfit at night and beating Japanese business men into submission, it also has a darker side. The seas off the South African coast are littered with the carcasses of ships that have met a wet and salty end here and too many families have an empty seat at Christmas because someone turned their back to the ocean at the wrong time. Strong currents, rolling waves and dramatic, jagged rocks make this a coastline you should take seriously. It also means that it is spectacularly beautiful. And, fortunately for us, vast stretches of it have been protected and made accessible to those nature lovers who prefer donning boots and a backpack and exploring our natural heritage on foot.

Saint Blaize
St. Blaize Pinnacle Point

One such route is the Saint Blaize hiking trail in the Southern Cape. Starting at The Point in Mossel Bay in the east, this 13.5km hiking trail winds its way west along the cliffs, through the Pinnacle Point golf estate to Danabaai in the west and can also be hiked in the opposite direction. Parking is available on both ends. You should either leave a car at the end or arrange for a shuttle service to return you to the starting point (check the web for details). On The Point side, the hike starts in the parking area below the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse and Khoi San cave – if you’re tripping over begging rock dassies you’re probably in the right place. Please do them a favour, respect that wild animals should remain wild animals and don’t feed them. A fed dassie is a flattened by a Fortuner dassie. On the Danabaai side there is a small parking area on the shoulder of the road next to a St. Blaize trail information board. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. To get there, just keep left on Malva road after entering the town until you find the spot. White oystercatchers (painted on the rocks, not standing there with bibs and pointers) mark the route along the way.

St. Blaize

Dramatic cliffs, seas in shades from turquoise to indigo, a wealth of flora and rock formations in every autumnal shade imaginable make this an extremely worthwhile way of spending the 6 hours required by the average person to complete the hike. The route can be mildly challenging in places and therefore a moderate level of fitness is required. What is moderate? Well, I am currently at an all time fitness low. After three minutes (I am not kidding) on a stepper I need copious amounts of water, a few pulls on my inhaler and a little lie down on the couch. I could finish the trail without actually throwing a complete frothy by the twentieth uphill, but it would’ve been considerably easier if I’d spent more time exercising and less time eating this past December.

St. Blaize dassie
Saint Blaize snake

There is a lot to see on the way. The waters off the Southern Cape are one of the best places in the world to whale watch and pods of dolphins often make a splashy appearance. Also keep a look out for seals and, if you’re lucky, the menacing dark outline of a great white shark – there are plenty here. On land, look out for dassies, bushbuck, steenbuck, geckos and lizards, mongoose, porcupines, tortoises, snakes and a wealth of different bird species – many endemic. The flora here is predominantly fynbos. What makes this particular floral kingdom such a joy is that it is not just pretty to look at, but gives you a full sensory experience, even when it isn’t high flower season. Brush the leaves of plants as you go and let the scents of wild rosemary, buchu and other medicinal plants envelope you as you walk.

St. Blaize to Danabaai
St. Blaize hiking trail

Although the route is very well maintained and feels akin to strolling down a lovely, level, sandy garden path at times, it isn’t all smooth going. There are areas where the trail is nothing but loose rock and you will need to clamber a bit in the odd section. Unless you have reinforced kankles, it is advisable to wear sturdy hiking boots with soles that can handle the jagged rocks. As with all sensible hikes, takes lots of water, sunblock and a hat – there is virtually no shade. A hiking stick will also come in handy to handle the steeper climbs, especially if you have gammy knees. You can stop off at the Pinnacle Point club house and refill your water bottle or have a bite to eat – they are very accommodating to hikers. (There is a boardwalk at Pinnacle Point that leads down to cave PP13B – one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world because of its importance in helping us understand the origins of humanity. The site documents the earliest evidence we have of people exploiting the sea and using pigments – 164 000 years ago.)


Watch where you’re walking and be aware that it is completely possible to trip and fall down a cliff – sadly, it has happened. Look out for snakes – especially puff adders that like to bask in the sun and are unlikely to get out of your way before you step on them, ruining their day and therefore yours. Cell phone reception is available along the entire route, but if you’re going alone let someone know where you are, just in case. Every episode of “I Shouldn’t be Alive” ever started with “I was just going for a little stroll…”. Despite its close proximity to developed areas, you are out of site of civilization for long stretches. When you get to Pinnacle, look out for flying golf balls and putting golfers – you really do get very close to the action at times and you don’t want to be blamed for a three putt. And lastly, if you decide to take a dip in one of the inviting rock pools along the way, be aware of the tides and currents and err on the side of caution.

Saint Blaize bay

Although the trail doesn’t end at the beach, the white sands of Danabaai are only a few hundred meters further on. Parking down here instead of the road means you’ll finish the walk with your feet in the sea and your bum on soft sand while you cool down.

Blue bottles

The Common Room

The Common Room
The Common Room tapas

If food is your thing and you don’t normally spend months on end looking for it under a rock, then you probably know who Margot Janse is. This multi award winning gourmet has been named Chef of the Year in the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards for the second time and – as executive chef at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek – she has led the The Tasting Room to the number two spot on the list of top restaurants in South Africa – the 11th time that this epicurean institution has ranked among the top 10 under her guidance. One day when I’m all grown up, have put the kids through college and have the kind of settled lifestyle where I can plan my eating experiences months in advance, I too will make it to The Tasting Room. But until then, it’s good to know that we can sample a small part of this phenomenal woman’s genius at The Common Room, Le Quartier Français’s slightly more accessible, but no less remarkable eatery. Don’t let the name fool you – The Common Room is far from plebeian. The decor is lush and rich in plums and reds with quirky chandeliers lighting the vibrant interior. For those who love to people watch there is cafè style seating on Huguenot Street’s ample sidewalk and the back of the restaurant opens up to cool gardens and mountain vistas with comfy couches and a fireplace for the chillier days.

Common Room Camembert

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Common Room offers a menu brimming with extraordinarily original small plates designed to be enjoyed as a snack with a glass of bubbly or wine or to accompany one of their witty cocktails (try the passion fruit based Bow Chicka Wow Wow), or to feature as part of a motley cast of plates that make up the perfect ensemble meal. The menu reflects Margot’s ability to zhush up the most humble of South African flavours with humour, imagination and a touch of the exotic. You won’t find a meatball here – instead tuck into succulent lamb frikadelletjies served with flatkoek and raïta. Battered fish takes the form of pops with chakalaka ketchup and the bitterballen (a nod to Margot’s Dutch heritage and one of my favourite things on the planet ever) is made with wildebeest and served with apple mustard. And who can resist something as simple as French toast when it is paired with Spanish cured ham, preserved lime and a summer tomato party? The chicken & duck liver parfait with salted pear simply melts in your mouth and is the closest thing you’ll get to foie gras without the ethical dilemma you normally face picturing all those fluffy, overfed geese. The quail rillettes with mebos chutney is served in a happy little jar and bursts with flavours of the Cape. (I feel like I’m rambling here, but let me continue!). Organic lamb tongue is given the bacon crumble treatment and will warm your heart on the dreariest of days and the wood baked Dalewood camembert (although not exactly original) is simply perfect in its oozy, creamy, rich simplicity. The only dish I didn’t enjoy was the satay spiced squid, but that’s only because it was meltingly tender and as a middle class South African I’m used to the cheap and chewy variety of calamari we have to settle for while the rest of the world munches on our good stuff. Lastly, hand cut chips are served playfully in paper cones and, amongst other sides, you can also tuck into wood roasted sweetcorn with smoked butter or tempura fine beans with a soya dip.

Peanut parfait

When you’re ready for something sweet, try a jar of brownies or the dainty pear & almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel (it’ll make you forget your manners and you’ll be licking the plate before you’re done). My absolute favourite dish of the day though was the peanut butter parfait with gooseberry gel. The cold, creamy moreish ice cream is paired perfectly with a crunchy, salty, peanut crumb that hits every spot a dessert should and some you didn’t even know it could. THIS is what Sally ate all those years ago. The wine list is small, featuring only Moreson wines, but when you can have Miss Molly Bubbly by the bottles full you probably won’t care! Dishes range from R25.00 to R50.00 per plate, and for those who need a man sized bowl of food before they consider it a meal, there is whole roasted chicken, pasture fed beef sirloin or wood roasted fresh water crayfish for between R150.00 and R190.00. Service is fast, knowledgeable and unobtrusive – everything you’d expect from such a well respected Franschhoek institution.

Le Quartier Francais

The Common Room is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or evening sharing food with friends. Bookings are strongly recommended.

The Common Room

Corner Berg & Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek

Open 7 days a week from 07h30 till late.

Phone: +27 21 876 8442

email: [email protected]

Lemon meringue ice cream

Lemon meringue ice cream

Let me preface this post by saying that I really suck at making meringues. This is mildly embarrassing as I have an aunt whose meringues would put Nigella to shame. So if you’ve landed here in the hopes of finding a fool proof way of making light and airy meringues, then you better move along. These meringues are strictly for fools and were sort of stumbled upon when the very first thing I baked in my new and unknown little toaster oven was a dish that required precision temperatures. Clever. So I was toggling between bake and grill and 210º and 100º to try and reach the magic 120º for the sustained period required when making meringues the way they should be when I thought buggr’it, they’re going in at 150 for half an hour. This is higher than you’d normally bake meringues. The result of a lower temperature is an airier but drier meringue because the whole thing is baked through slowly and the air bubbles are trapped in a permanent state of sugary suspension. Fortunately, I like my meringues a bit on the gooey side when I bite into them. (Which also explains why mine are rather ugly… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that looks are less important than personality anyway.) So the higher, shorter temperature worked a treat to get them golden on the outside but still uncooked enough on the inside that when I opened the door and they cooled down too quickly, the entire lot collapsed into a cracked heap of toasty, marshmallowy goodness.

If I lost you at “toggling”, then I suggest you completely ignore the entire section on meringues below and try Nigella’s cappucino pavlova instead. Needless to say, omit the espresso. The ice cream recipe is a fantastic vanilla standby as, unlike most homemade ice creams, it doesn’t require you to break up ice crystals every now and then like some sort of demented, commando going character from Basic Instinct. Make a batch and then add whatever flavours you want to zhush it up a bit. Here lemon did the trick.

Lemon meringue ice cream

Use 8 individual tart tins or one large one.

Serves 8


For the ice cream

300ml milk 

4 large egg yolks (reserve egg whites)

75g Castor sugar

250ml cream

5ml vanilla extract 

The juice of three lemons (Before juicing, zest with a fine blade zester and reserve zest. Zest. Zest. Zest. It sounds funnier the more you say it.)

Heat the milk to just before simmering and remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slowly (slowly now, or you’ll be sorted for tomorrow’s scrambled eggs*) pour the milk into the egg mix and whisk quickly as you go. This next part is a bit annoying. Grab a book and take a few deep breaths because yes, it does take a while (fifteen to twenty minutes, but it feels like an hour) but no, you can’t walk away, even for a minute. Return the pot to a low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thin custard. Do not boil*! Stir in the vanilla essence and lemon juice and set aside to cool. In another bowl, whisk the cream till soff peaks form. Slowly fold the custard into the cream, combine well and place in the freezer overnight. As I said, the nice thing about this recipe is that it does not usually require you to break up any ice crystals like you normally have to do if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But just to be sure, check the ice cream in a few hours time and if there are any ice crystals, either whisk before it is fully set or blitz up with a stick blender.

For the candied lemon rind

Lemon zest from three lemons

Half a cup of sugar 

Castor sugar for sprinkling

Place the zest and sugar in a pot and add a cup of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the zest is translucent and the mixture is the consistency of thin syrup. Remove the strands of zest and place on a silicone mat to dry, separating them as much as possible. Once cooled and firm, toss in a little castor sugar, cover in cling wrap and set aside.

For the biscuit base

1 packet tennis biscuits, finely crushed

200ml melted butter

Combine the biscuit crumbs and butter and mix well. Press the mixture into the base of your tart tin(s) – the base should be 3 to 4mm thick. Cool in the fridge.

For the meringues

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt 

Castor sugar

Cream of tartar

Vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 150˚C. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff. Add castor sugar by the spoonful, beating well between additions and adding the essence just before the last two spoonfuls. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat and spray with Spray & Cook. Shape the meringues on the baking sheet so they’re slightly smaller than your tarts – they’ll swell a bit. Alternatively (and the easier option) pipe small meringues. Bake for 30 minutes or so until lightly golden. The meringues will be chewy on the inside. Allow to cool and then lift with a spatula.

To assemble

Remove the ice cream from the fridge and soften slightly. Spoon ice cream into the tart moulds, pressing down onto the biscuit base and ensuring there are no air bubbles. Smooth the top with the back of a knife and return to the freezer for at least a couple more hours or until you’re ready to serve. To serve, unmould the ice cream and top with the meringues in whichever way you fancy. Serve with the candied lemon zest.

Make like a tourist in your own town.

Make like a tourist in your own town.

If you’re from a small town, or have lived in the same city for a good number of years, then you’ve probably dealt with that claustrophobia that sets in on occasion. You know the one where you wake every morning feeling like the walls have moved slowly, but perceptibly and inexorably closer during the night? It normally occurs after spending weekend after weekend doing nothing but watching Top Gear reruns and eating Friday night’s leftover pizza so that, by Sunday night, you’re lying awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering “Is this really it?”. The solution? Make a new year’s resolution to get excited, wide-eyed and curious about your own town and surrounds again.

A new look at old treasures.

A new look at old treasures.

1. Do what you love to do: Seems a bit obvious doesn’t it? It would be a terrible bit of advice if I said “Now, go out there and do what you hate! And have fun, dammit!”. But it’s not really such a silly thing to suggest, because how many of us actually do what we love most of the time? Why wait for those two precious weeks you have off at Christmas when it can feel a little like a holiday all year round? Do those things you love doing on holiday even when you’re not on holiday.

2. Plan, plan, plan: If, like me, you can’t really see why drooling the weekend away in front of the TV as mentioned under point 1 is a problem, then you’ll probably need a bit of encouragement to get out there and explore. Vow to never spend two weekends in a row at home. Gather a group of reluctantly adventurous friends and take turns planning your next outing. Choose somewhere in or near your hometown to explore and get cracking. There’s a wealth of information out there:

a.       Surf the web: Tripadvisor is always useful and will give you a new perspective on your town when viewed through the eyes of a fresh-off-the-plane tourist.

b.      Pick up some brochures, road maps or a local guide book: You could probably get all the info you need online, but just imagine how happy you’ll make the ladies at your local tourist information centre if you grab a few of their dusty (and mostly free) paraphernalia. Every town has one –  just look for the “i”.

c.       Phone a friend: Or a family member, or a stranger or anyone else who has visited your area. They’ve often done their homework and will, embarrassingly, know more about what’s happening around your area than you do. You know it’s true. We’ve all had someone ask what we suggest they do in our town only to have “The mall! The mall!” flash through our heads in neon colours to the exclusion of all other ideas.

d.      Read a travel magazine: Nothing will get you as excited about the same old sites as seeing them draped in beautiful people on the pages of a glossy magazine.

3. Check out an organised tour: Bus tours, bicycle tours, boat tours, foefie slide tours, walking tours, history-, gastronomic-, architecture-, or wild flower tours – there is sure to be something in your area that interests you and where all the work has been done by a red faced tour operator slowly developing carpal tunnel syndrome from flicking around a logo’d flag to keep his flock in check. You’d be surprised how much fun these touristy things can be. Check out City Sightseeing for a schedule of Cape Town’s Hop On / Hop Off bus tours – a great way to see the city and responsible to boot if you’re planning on sampling the myriad exceptional wines the region has to offer. Most big cities around the world have their own version.

4. Snap away: Happy snapping is not just for holidays. Take photos of your outing so that you’ll have memories to look back on. Look at the old and familiar through a camera lens and try and imagine seeing it for the first time. Snap the same old water tower you drive past every day from a fresh new angle.

5. Try a new restaurant: For the love of God, just forget about McDonalds or the Spur for one damn day and try something new! They’ll still be there next week, I swear. Support those people who are really passionate about food and fresh, seasonal ingredients. At The Old Townhouse in George on the Garden Route for example, you not only get fantastic, seasonal, ever changing fare, but you get to eat it in the tiny, quaint, original Town Hall built in 1848 – two touristy birds with one stone. Or try a new ethnic cuisine that you’ve never had before.

6. Pretend you’re from Lonely Planet: The next time you’re walking the beaten-into-submission track, ignoring the same old shops you pass every day of your life without going in, pretend you’re writing an article for a travel company. What is there to see? What makes each shop special? Is the best milktart you’ve eaten since sitting under a quilted blanket on Grandma’s lap when you were eight served from a hole-in-the-wall establishment behind the Caltex garage? There’s only one way to find out. Alternatively, create a walking or driving tour of the area based on a theme. If you like shopping for example, find all the best markets in your area, plot them on a map and work your way through them, stopping off at any interesting places in between.

7. Don’t ignore the historical sites: Even the tiniest town normally has a heritage council. Sure, they may just be two retirees who meet for tea and cucumber sandwiches every second Thursday and decry the state of the nation, our youth and how the teenagers keep making out behind the old library, but besides the griping they’ve probably stuck up a few bronze plaques on noteworthy historical sites. Besides the usual museums, churches and battle grounds, you’ll often find some beautiful old buildings masquerading as restaurants, cafés, bike shops or something in vile pink. Look past the peeling paint and you could find some beautiful original architecture.

8. People watch: It’s so many of us’ favourite pastime, but how many of us do this in our own home towns? You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself, your community and your country by grabbing a grande tall and watching the world go by. I remember sitting in a Mugg & Bean at OR Thambo last year after returning from an overseas visit and thinking there is more vibrant energy in that one airport coffee shop than in the entire city we had just returned from. Sit, watch, learn, absorb and be grateful for every quirky personality that walks by and enriches your world a little one crazy eye-twitch at a time.

9. Take the scenic route: If you’ve chosen to visit a nearby town, take different routes there and back and smell the roses (or boutique vineyard, or yak butter or mohair blankets) on the way.

Go, eat, play, explore.

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

The silly season is in full swing. Time to overeat, fight the masses to get your last minute shopping done and exercise your rage control as drivers everywhere forget the basic rules of the road. I say rather stock up your freezer and spend your precious time catching up with friends and family over glasses of chilled wine (or mulled, should it be winter where you find yourself) and tables full of good things to eat. If you need something quick and easy to serve as a snack when people are getting peckish, try this spread-slash-dip to serve with crackers or melba toast. I got the idea after trying a so-so-ish biltong spread bought at the shops. Upon inspecting the label I realised that there was, in fact, absolutely no biltong in it whatsoever. I was sure that adding biltong to a biltong dip would be the natural first step to improving it. Genius right? But please don’t entertain the idea of using that horrible powdered biltong instead of the good stuff. That’s only good when it’s dusted by a little grey-haired lady on to marmite slathered bread cubes and served on a paper doily with a nice cup of tea at the NG church’s bazaar where, let’s be honest, it is damn awesome. Adding blue cheese to anything, of course, makes it better. It also means that this dip packs a serious flavour punch. If Ye Old Ranch is the party dip equivalent of the mousy girl who sits timidly in the corner, looking a little lost and only spoken to when asked where the toilet is, then this dip is the loud guy adjusting his crotch, hocking one back and drawling “Are you talking to ME?”.

Biltong and blue cheese spread


60g sliced biltong (Place the biltong in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to make it easier to process.)

125ml cream cheese or creamed cottage cheese 

3ml coriander

2T chutney

100g blue cheese, grated (If you prefer cheese withouth the ability to put hair on your chest, use something creamy and  not too strong. A cremezola is perfect.)

Milk (optional)

1) In a food processor, chop the biltong into bits. It shouldn’t be too fine – around 3mm pieces.

2) Combine the biltong with the remaining ingredients, adding a little milk to get it to the consistency you prefer, and serve.

Medley of Seafood

Medley of Seafood

I had one of THOSE days again. I pretty much went into panic mode about my occupational / living / geographical status.

Don’t get me wrong, being a lady of leisure and traveling all over the place is bloody, damn awesome. Particularly as I somehow managed to find a husband who will virtually beg me to spend a bit of money on myself and never makes me feel guilty that his was the career we chose to nurture while I get to sleep in late when I want to. But every now and then – between the lunches, and copious amount of reading and experimental cooking time – I suddenly realise “Holy crap, I don’t have a job. My husband is a contract worker. We don’t know where the next job will be. When don’t know WHEN the next job will be! We don’t know where we’ll be next week, let alone next month!! I don’t even know what to fill in when asked for my residential address!!! I don’t know what to fill in where Facebook asks what city I live in!!!! I can’t breathe!!!!!”.

But on days like this, there is one thing I can count on to quiet the voices, ease the pressure, still the storm and envelope me in a warm, cuddly haze of happiness: Food. Those dishes that evoke a happy childhood memory, or remind you of a special time and place with special people or, simply, remind you that no matter how crazy and unpredictable and scary your life might seem right now, you can always count on a few things to stay the same. The right meal can achieve all that. Your favourite spaghetti bolognaise recipe will taste today like it did last week or last year or the first time you closed your eyes and savoured that second mouthful (the first mouthful you just shoveled down of course, because it was just spaghetti right, how good could it be?). This is one of those dishes. A very special take on something resembling a bouillabaisse that reminds me of home and my mom. It is also one of the first things I remember making after I discovered that I rather loved cooking, so adding a bit of orange zest to some fish was very shoo-wow! Some people would get comfort from aunty’s cottage pie or granny’s chocolate cake or matron’s mash. I found it in a bowl of my mom’s seafood broth.

What dish do you choose when you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgic psychotherapy? Google Analytics tells me there are loads of you out there reading my blog, but you’re all rather quiet. I’d love to hear from you! What passes for mash in Jakarta, Nottingham, Madrid, Glenorchy or Roodepoort?

From Elsa van der Nest’s fabulous book, Simply Entertaining.

Serves 6


olive oil for frying

2 medium onions, finely chopped

15ml garlic, finely chopped

45ml mixed fresh herbs

45ml fresh basil

2 bay leaves


2 x 400g cans whole, peeled tomatoes

30ml tomato paste

200ml dry white wine

500ml fish stock (Ina Paarman’s liquid concentrates are worth a try)

500ml mussel stock (use reserved cooking liquid when preparing mussels)

25ml triple sec liqueur

25ml brandy

finely grated zest of half a lemon

finely grated zest of 1 orange

600g line fish, cut into 4cm squares

300g calamari rings

36 prawns

24 mussels, cooked, on the half shell

basil leaves for garnishing


1) Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, garlic, herbs, basil, bay leaves and seasoning and sauté until tender.

2) Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and stocks. Simmer gently for 40 minutes.

3) Add liqueur, brandy and zest and simmer gently for a further ten minutes.

4) Liquidize the mixture until smooth then pass through a fine sieve. At this point you could refrigerate for a few days and just continue when you’re ready to serve.

5) Gently reheat the sauce. Add the line fish and cook for 3 minutes. Add the calamari, prawns and mussels and simmer for 2 minutes more.

6) Garnish with basil and serve with squid ink pasta.