Life with my grandmother, a typical day

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My Nan…

On a Monday and Wednesday, I’d hop on my bicycle and freewheel downhill to meet my Nan for our Tai Chi class. ‘You know, if it wasn’t for meeting you here this morning, I’m not sure I would have come this morning… Thank goodness for you, I always feel so peaceful after tai chi!’ one of us was bound to say to the other. And there we were, anxious and enthusiastic beginners, my 85 year old grandmother and I learning tai chi together.

This is how other days went: we’d have tea at her place while going through her latest emails. Photographs of her great-grandchildren, my daily drawing sent in the early hours, or general news from the family in South Africa, the UK or Australia.

We’d talk about life, the universe and everything, but whatever we discussed, I realise now, my Nan was always there, completely present.

Sometimes I’d pop in with my dog, Mascara after a walk on the beach. Mascara, a lightweight 25 kg bullterrier would always run up the stairs ahead of me, to be the first at No 8. Her tail wagging in anticipation as she faced the closed door, patiently waiting for her great-grandmother to open it and say ‘hello Mascara’.


Sometimes we’d meet up at the end of the day and Marion would pour us each a strong g&t. We’d talk about the starling who had come to visit again, at the same time, at the same window, as it had done for an age. Or a white feather she’d found. Or she’d remind me that no she could not do tai chi on Friday because she had bridge but she could meet us for breakfast somewhere after art class another day. Sometimes we’d talk about life and literature… or how sad the sunset was that day.

When I think of her now, I think of her presence, her consistency, how brave she was, how objective and honest. I think of her touching the ground, legs straight, hands flat on the ground. I think of smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne. Of her Christmas puddings and Christmas cake and how her dining room and lounge would be transformed into one giant table every other year.

Who could have known that this inspiring, self-actualised, even-tempered, modern woman had once upon a time run off to join the army, that she had fibbed about her age to get in? Who could have known that she would meet Lad, a fighter pilot in her late teens and find such a love that she’d never known before? That they would have six children together and raise them on their farm in Magaliesburg… And then, who was to know that she would lose Lad to a brain tumour when he was only 42 years old.

Since then, Marion witnessed the cycle of life repeat itself many times: her grandchildren would marry and they too would have children, too many to keep up with. There were more losses: her mother, her brother, her sister, some of her oldest friends… and just recently, her daughter, Candy. One can think of it as terribly sad, the loss of a close friend or family member… but…

As her little great-grandaughter Chiara said the other day, ‘Nan is in the clouds… and I think Nan is in love.’

My grandmother left us one year ago, on 26 April 2013. So many happy times shared.

Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal

Tinks’ eggless chocolate cake


This is one of my favourite photos of my sisters and I, taken on our old farm in Magaliesburg with our family friends, Bonny, Celeste and Vaughan.  Our fathers grew up together and our mothers were destined to become firm friends too as Yoskie and Dawn lived on the top farm, just above ours.   Dawn was a very important person in our lives: she made vetkoeks.  But that’s a story for later.

For now, I want to share a recipe that takes me right back to this photograph.  It was here, besides the old barn on the middle farm, that we would meet Chris and Tinks, both paleontologists, on the occasional weekend.  Chris had a greying beard and knew a lot about books and bees.  Tinks wore patterned shirts and an eccentric hairdo and always arrived with a very unusual tasting chocolate cake.

It’s not that I disliked Tinks’ chocolate cake.  It was more a case of it looked strange and tasted strange and felt strange.  I’d eat it slowly, wondering at its very peculiar flavour.  I often thought about it over the years but could never figure it out… until my sister recently announced that she no longer eats eggs and I had to bake her a birthday cake.

I went through my Mom’s old recipes and discovered Tinks’ chocolate cake recipe amongst them.  Wallah, no eggs!  I got straight to work, mixed up the ingredients and dipped my finger in the thick brown batter to taste.  Oh yes, that taste from all those years ago came whooshing back.  I looked through the ingredients again.  It had to be the cinnamon, mystery solved!

Or so I thought…

When it was ready, I took a teeny bite… it didn’t exactly taste of cinnamon… perhaps it was the combination of ingredients?  I found myself eating it slowly, as I did when I was a child and still found myself wondering.  My almost vegan sister (the baby in the photo above) enjoyed it and my Mom sure did too.  I’m leaving it at that… the thing I’m wondering about now is this: whatever happened to Chris and Tinks?

Here is Tinks’ recipe, re-written by my Mom with her own notes:

CHOCOLATE CAKE – QUICK – TINKS’ check below for my recipe

For the Cake

  • 6 oz (185g) plain flour (1 ½ cups) – I used self raising flour and no baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3 level tablespoons cocoa powder (heaped)
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarb of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 6 oz light soft brown sugar (12 tablespoons) – I used brown treacle sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ¼ pt (150 ml) plus 4 tablespoons cold water (230 ml in total)

For Topping

  • 1 oz butter (30g)
  • 6 level tablespoons light soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ½ oz chopped walnuts (45g)

Tin size 9”x 11” (roasting tin)


Sieve the flour, cocoa, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and sugar into roasting tin

Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla essence and cold water

Mix all ingredients with a fork – I used an electric beater but not for long

Bake the cake on the shelf above the centre of a moderate oven, gas 4 or 350 (180 degrees) for 30 minutes or until a warm skewer inserted comes out clean

While cake is baking make topping

Beat butter until soft

Mix in sugar, milk and chopped walnuts

Immediately the cake is cooked spread the topping over the cake and put under a pre-heated grill lightly brown – NB be very careful – topping burns in seconds – don’t put too close to the grill

Leave cake to cool before cutting into 12 pieces – delicious with whipped cream

I hope to post Dawn’s vetkoek recipe soon.


Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal, Patisserie / Pastry, Photo Series

Jean’s Apple Tart Cake


3 Tablespoons butter

3 Eggs

¼ Teaspoon salt

¼ Cup milk

1 Cup flour

1 Teaspoon baking powder

1 Cup sugar

1 Tin pie apples

1 Small tin of condensed milk (can add ½ cup of milk)


Beat butter and sugar well

Add eggs and beat well

Add milk and dry ingredients alternately

Pour half of the dough into a buttered baking dish and pack the apples in layers

Pour the other half of the dough over the apple pieces

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until ready (test with skewer)

Heat the condensed milk with half a cup of milk and pour over the tart while it is hot (alternatively, use condensed milk only)


If you’d like to bake a simple cake, double the recipe and allow approximately 1 hr and 10 minutes of baking time.  Pour the condensed milk syrup over the top and then lightly whip Nestle dessert cream and pour it over the topping once it has set.

And if you’re up to it… let the kids decorate it (as Oliva did below – J is for Jean, her much-loved grandmother)

Desserts, General how to's & recipes, Journal

The smoke break is over cough*cough… (and how to make Khir)

With Jacques, my writing buddy... having a picnic en route to le void...
I admit it was a rather long ‘smoke break’ but it was a good one.  One of the highlights being that  I managed to write my first ‘novel’.  By ‘novel’, I am referring to the fact that I got 50 000 words down on paper in a month for the NaNoMo challenge.  Novel, in this case, does not mean that anybody is ever going to read it!
Vipassana meditation Retreat, Worcester, Cape Town

The writing got me into a frame of mind where I felt ready to experience the silent ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat that my friend Dylan recommended.  It was an incredible experience but since this is a patisserie blog, I won’t say too much here except that one of my biggest fears about the retreat was that I was surely going to suffer…

I wasn’t concerned about what it would be like for a hyperactive person to sit in one place for several hours a day or worse still, to meditate cross-legged for a full one hour without moving.  Nor was I thinking about waking up at 4 am or what I would find as I exited the outer world to dive into the workings of my own mind and body.  Nope, I was worrying about the food.  I was anxious that I would suffer from a rumbling, grumbling, hungry tummy, based on the fact that only two meals were to be served every day:  6.30am breakfast and 11am lunch and that we were not permitted to take our own snacks with us.

The path to the dining hall at the Worcester retreat, Cape Town

I am pleased to report that the food turned out to be delicious vegetarian and was served in generous quantities.  I only felt hungry once (maybe we really don’t need to eat as much or as often as we think).   And I was delighted on the final day: we were served a cardamom scented creamy dessert for breakfast.  Bliss!

The dessert was symbolic of the story our teacher, Goenka had narrated the day before about a boy who threw away the bowl of khir his mother had made because he was convinced that there were black stones in it.  He was wrong, the black stones were cardamom seeds. He never got to taste the sweet dish.  The moral of the story: take out what you don’t like rather than throw everything away. See the recipe for Khir below.

Back on the road to nowhere…

This recipe for Khir (also known as Kheer) requires a lot of time.  It will  serve 4- 5 people:

250 g cooked basmati rice (or 100 g cooked in 400 ml water)

½ teaspoon salt

2.5 litres milk

150 g sugar

1 ½ teaspoons of cardamom (shelled)

¼ cup of raisins

25 g chopped cashew nuts

35 – 40 ml oil or ghee

For the rice pudding:

Slowly boil the rice with the salt until it has cooked or place your cooked rice in a pot.  Add the milk and bring to the boil using low heat.  Simmer and stir for approximately four hours or until the rice loses its shape or the milk has reduced to half its original volume.  Stir in the sugar and cardamom seeds (I would add the cardamom seeds earlier).  You could cook the pudding for a few hours the night before and finish your cooking in the morning if you want to have it for breakfast, as we did.

For the garnish:

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the raisins and cashew nuts and fry until the nuts are reddish in colour and the raisins have swollen.

Serve warm.

Lots else happened during the metaphorical smoke break which I’ll share over the next few posts eg. how to make your own recipe book.

Adios x

PS. Visit for a different khir recipe using condensed milk, cardamom powder, almonds and saffron.  It is served cold and decorated with rose petals.

Journal, Natural Stuff

Fruit and vegetables are calling…

Since adding a whole new range of colourful goodies to my diet (based on eating more anti-angiogenesis foods),  I’m feeling the call of Lush-Green-Far-Away-Places.  Really. 

Chatting to my personal trainer today about his life in the Congo, I went into a dream state as he told me about the fresh fruit and vegetables available there and how incredibly cheap it is to live there.  Having tangoed with the idea of what my next project is going to be, I found that what was coming through strong was a vision of a lush, rich, natural place that was abundant with fruit and vegetables. 

Can’t get this out of my mind… places full of vital, healthy stuff, real stuff from the earth that is full of sun.  Touched by the sea winds and rich with loamy undertones.

Cape Town Food, Interviews, Journal

Behind the scenes at Cassis Paris in Cape Town

I don’t think you’ll find a patisserie store in Cape Town that’s more authentically French than Cassis.  It is owned by Patrick Moreau, a Frenchman, who was taught in the French tradition in France.  If you ask a French local where to go for the best pastries in Cape Town, you’re sure to hear the following: ‘ahhhhhhhhhh, Cassis of course!’

Chef Patrick Moreau worked as Executive Pastry Chef for the Winter Olympics in France and made the wedding cake for King Mohamed VI.  I interviewed him awhile back which is when I got to view his highly impressive portfolio.  He spoke about his time with Lenotre while I looked through page after edible page of his creations.

I asked him how he ended up opening Cassis in South Africa.

Aahhhhhhhh, my wife is South African!  When we came out on holiday a few years ago, I saw a big gap in the market and decided to invest here.’

As a result, he set up The French Oven bakery which supplies Cassis.  I was invited to spend a day there to get a taste of life behind the scenes.  This meant setting my alarm for 3 am and heading out to an industrial area to meet Patrick and the team at 4am.  This meant saying good morning to everybody under neon light.

I was given a tour of the factory to begin with: the storeroom, the scaling room, the prep room, the finishing room, the ovens (picture sweet pastry baskets with baking beans inside), the machines (picture an awesome stone grinder, the secret to Cassis’ macaroons), the fridges (picture puff pastry at rest and tubs of buttercup pastry cream), the cutting room etc.


Then I was assigned as assistant to one of the pastry chefs.  We made pastry cream, packed boxes of beautiful petit fours and did various other tasks at break-neck speed.  I helped her with her tasks in the cold-room (ohhhhhhhhh, was it cold)!

I then spent some time with a stocky French baker who kept his eye on the clock, pacing himself as he shaped hundreds of loaves.

I was thinking about how people might be a little afraid of Chef Moreau, who checked everything at regular intervals, when I realized that everybody had suddenly stopped working.  It was lunch time.  The baker and I stepped outside to get some sun before we joined the team who were passing baguettes around while cheese was retrieved from lunch tins.  No red wine I’m afraid.  But then, it was only 8.30 in the morning!

A few hours later, while the rest of the world was ordering lunch, my shift was packing up to go home.  I thanked Patrick and everybody for their generosity and time.  I noticed how pale their skins were.  ‘What’s it like to work such unusual hours?’ I asked one of the girls as we left.

‘You get used to it,’ she said.

A reminder of Dumas’ words on Cassis’ website:

“In Paris today millions of pounds of bread are sold daily, made during the previous night by those strange, half-naked beings one glimpses through cellar windows, whose wild-seeming cries floating out of those depths always makes a painful impression. In the morning, one sees these pale men, still white with flour, carrying a loaf under one arm, going off to rest and gather new strength to renew their hard and useful labor when night comes again. I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves that look more like cake than bread.” -Alexandre Dumas, French writer (1802-1870)

I later organised a field trip for the pastry students at Zevenwacht Chef School.  The class was unusually quiet.

Cape Town Food, Journal

Casis’ Almond Rainbowland

‘Is your macaroon special still on?’ I asked.

‘Only on Mondays…’ replied the tall friendly chap behind the counter.

Oh…’ (pause).

‘But we have another special on today: any of these patisseries with a coffee on the house…’

Hmmmmmmmm‘ (ponder Opera ponder Tiramisu ponder Vanilla Tart with Strawberries) (pause).

‘Actually, I’ll have four vanilla macaroons please…’ (pause).

‘Since you always have vanilla, why don’t you try the chocolate or the pistachio, they’re our best-selling macaroons!’… (ponder ponder).

‘Ohhhhh, OKAY, let me TRY the chocolate AND the pistachio AND…’

‘And two vanillas?’

I took a bite of the chocolate macaroon just as soon as I’d paid.

‘But I can see it on your face, you prefer vanilla?!’

I tried the pistachio.  Then I savoured the vanilla macaroon.  And I savoured the other vanilla macaroon.

And then I realized that… one is surely enough.

That’s all I have to report today (except that my sister is off to Italy just as Starwalker arrives back from his adventures in Thailand where he apparently drank whiskey out of paint tins with local fisherman and got tattooed by an ancient monk in an ancient forest).

Ohhh, one more thing… here are Casis’ weekly specials:

For wanna-be-macaroon-makers, check out my friend Brownie Girl’s post on how to make chocolate macaroons at 😉 . 

Post-script. I admitted my Macaroon-Making- Fears to Brownie Girl and she has encouraged me to give it a bash, saying she’ll share her recent learnings and inspirations.  Thank you Colleen, I think I’m going to give it a bash quite soon (!)


By the way, I don’t think anyone’s going to eat that frisbee!

Alternative baking ingredients are pricey.  Especially when one gets a bee in one’s bonnet about stocking up on every unknowable baking ingredient that ever existed.  Things like xantham gum, arrow root, agave nectar, quinoa flour, chickpea flour, potato flour, spelt flour, arrow root, grapeseed oil, coconut oil… Baobab fruit powder (wonder what it tastes like, wonder what I’m going to do with it?!). 

I had plenty of help from Allan and Elizabeth at Health for Life down the road at Gardens Centre, Cape Town and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.  I’ve promised Elizabeth I’d let her know what I do with the Baobab fruit powder and soon I’m going to be asking Allan endless questions like ‘do you think you’ll be able to access coconut flour?’.

Aside from baking, I also got (just about) fully stocked on the anti-angiogenesis ingredients I mentioned in my last post.  My fridge has never been this colourful.  Neither have my breakfasts.  I’m making smoothies every morning that are so full of goodness that I feel quite able to take on a personal trainer so all in all, it’s looking good.

HOWEVER, I can’t say the same for my first experimental piece that’s just come out of the oven. What was supposed to be a substitute sweet pastry base (using spelt flour, oats, wheat germ, grapeseed oil, honey etc instead of eggs, flour, sugar, butter) has turned out to look like an alien’s edible biscuit-bread frisbee.

Full On Health, Journal

My new shopping list (inspired by William Li’s anti-angiogenisis research)


Hold on a second, is that a strawberry smoothie sitting amongst my cookbooks… what happened to my COFFEE?!  

Still getting used to the idea but yes, I really am changing my shopping list.  Why?  Well, after watching Dr William Li’s anti-angiogensis lecture on TED, and speaking to people who have done a lot of research on the subject, I have decided to change my wicked ways… or at least adapt them somewhat!  

I’m up to the challenge of eating healthy for a change.  My immune system is calling for it.  Getting flu twice this winter (and losing my voice on top of it) wasn’t fun.  Not only that but hey, check out the first and last items on the list… surely these guys know what they are talking about?! 

Strawberries Blackberries Raspberries Blueberries Cherries Red Grapes Oranges Grapefruit Lemons Apples Pineapple Parsley Garlic Tomatoes Artichokes Pumpkin Bok Choy Kale Soy Beans Ginsing Maitake Mushroom Sea Cucumber Lavender Turmeric Nutmeg Green Tea Red Wine Olive Oil Grape Seed Oil Licorice Dark Chocolate  

Tuna was originally on the list but I’ve removed it from my shopping list.  I wish Dr Li had done the same – imagine the impact on the already overfished/vanishing creatures of the sea when everybody starts eating more tuna after heeding his advice. 

Anyhow, his work is inspiring and offers valid hope for people with diseases like cancer.  As he said though, prevention is better than cure.  

Let’s all drink to that!