Tag Archives: being South African

Going postal

Standard

USPS-Exam-3D-Cover-with-text (2)So it looks as though the US Postal Service has a clever new scheme going: tell people you’re hiring, then when they go to your website to apply, don’t let them do so unless they fork over $29.95, in return for which some helpful people will send you a “well written Guide with NO MEMORIZATION required”, including test-taking strategies and tips from “subject matter experts”.

What’s particularly cool about these people is that they don’t expect you to waste time waiting for snail mail – because, as it’s important to understand if you’re going to apply for a job at the post office, actually physically posting anything is pretty old hat. No one who has a clue does that any more. So they will provide a link to a 98-page PDF document that you can download within three seconds of making payment, and print out using your very own personal printer ink and paper.

Alternatively, for only $10 more you can get essentially the same thing from another source, only what they promise to send is a “Postal Exam Package” containing exam registration materials, “eCareer Profile Creation Tutorials”, a bunch of practice tests, and a “Postal Interview Recommendation”.

It’s not entirely clear how they send this, but to me the word “package” denotes physical substance – something with heft. I imagine brown paper and string, the knots liberally coated with sealing wax … Dang, those were the days! I remember helping my mother make up parcels like that! Sometimes she’d let me hold the stick of sealing wax. I remember the smell of burning string and hot wax, and how quickly the drops of wax hardened, and how satisfying it was to scratch the hard accidental drips off the paper, and how important it was not to put my face so close to the flame that I burned off my eyebrows.

Hand made leather man wallet and  package on wooden background

Searching for this illustration made me feel so old! Everything I found was essentially an artistically staged picture. Take this one – what’s the relevance of the man wallet? I also found a still life in shades of brown, featuring a stamped seal, a watch on a chain and a cigar, arranged like relics of a forgotten era. Also, there are lots of pictures of scrolls, apparently made of papyrus, tied with hemp, and sealed with a perfect dab of red wax. Seriously, Adobe, WTF? Real people living today actually used this stuff, you know – and it had a purpose. It wasn’t just bloody decorative, okay? It was messy and it dripped and blobbed, and if you let your kid do it they probably illustrated the package with artistic extra drips and blobs, but – and this was important – YOU DRIPPED THE WAX ONTO THE KNOT IN THE STRING, okay? It was there to discourage postal workers from opening your parcel, because that was back in the day when it was reasonable to expect the South African Post Office to deliver parcels rather than dumping them in a ditch, losing them, or selling them to the highest bidder. Because, of course, back then we hadn’t invented scissors yet, so sealed and unbroken string was impenetrable.

Well, I digress … A modern parcel would have tape, not string, and it would likely come in one of those standard red, white and blue USPS boxes. Unless they sent it UPS or Fedex, those being the faster and more reliable options since the Pony Express closed down. But either way, there wouldn’t be string.

Sorry, that was another digression, because in fact I resisted the temptation to order a Postal Exam Success Guide. The only reason I was googling post office jobs was a sudden panic over money, for crying out loud! If I was going to spend $39.95 on something, it wouldn’t be on an unartistically presented package, which I wouldn’t receive because we don’t get mail delivery at our house due to an argument over post box location with our local post office about eight years ago, which culminated in the Hubbit declaring his independence from delivery services by renting a PO box (from USPS) instead. (That’s a whole blog post in its own right, but not one I feel like writing today.) Anyway, the $39.95 option didn’t include space for a PO box address, so I couldn’t choose it. As for the other option, the convenience of receiving a PDF document is offset by the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to get our wireless printer to connect to my computer, and I am fundamentally fed up with having to forward every bloody thing to the Hubbit for printing. In any case, if I had random bits of money to be scattering to the four winds I wouldn’t be contemplating a job at the post office, now would I?

Sometimes I feel as though my life is spiraling out of control. There are too many damn buttons to push, and you have to push them in the right order, and … GAH! It’s just too  complicated.

I couldn’t help wondering what my $29.95 would get me – I mean, in the sense of what career opportunities would open up if I accepted their Success Guide. So I went back and took another look at what popped up when I googled USPS jobs, and I realized that the sites I’d found the first time I tried this weren’t actually part of the official US Postal Service. They’re very cleverly dressed up to look that way, complete with bald eagles and flags, but if you click on the actual USPS website you can go straight to the online job application, easy-peasy.

USPS stamps

Turns out they have a new stamp design, called “summer harvest”. Click on the picture on the USPS website, and it’ll take you to a fantastic array of gorgeous stamps. Some of them are so pretty I just want to rush out and … I don’t know … start mailing letters again? Probably not – back in the day (before email) I was notorious for writing long, wonderful, newsy letters, putting them in an envelope, sticking on the prettiest stamps I could find … and then forgetting to put them in the mailbox. Actually physically going to a post office to post a letter was one of those things I invariably put off, so letters would go onto the pile of un-dealt-with paperwork I have kept on every desk I’ve ever owned, and there they would slowly sift to the bottom, to be found years later when I packed up to move house.

So anyway … I looked, and apparently the main post office in our area is looking for rural mail carriers. Only to get hired you have to pass a test, which takes about two hours to complete. I don’t have two hours right now, having already invested a substantial portion of today in writing this post. Also, I really hate writing tests, because failure, rejection, feelings of inferiority – AAHHHHH! I mean, how would I feel if I failed a test that was directed specifically at school leavers and other people with no prior experience, skills or training? Plus, apparently the test includes a section called “Summary of Accomplishments”, and the advice to applicants is  to “write about how your skill set, education and training matches the posting”. Seriously, should someone who can’t mail letters be responsible for delivering same?

Still, I have to admit I’m tempted. The thought of working in a post office, dealing with the Great Unwashed every day, fills me with dismay. Yes, I know, you don’t actually have to be nice to anyone – that’s one of the perks of working for the post office. But … ugh … you’re perpetually at the end of a queue, and every single day is just one piece of mail after another. Could that get monotonous, do you think?

Driving around delivering letters, on the other hand … now that could be fun. Lots of time to think, and – thanks to the invention of GPS – I wouldn’t get lost. Probably wouldn’t. Not very lost, anyway, and probably not permanently. It would be different if they were still using ponies – I like ponies way too much to sit on one – but these days you get to ride around in one of those cute little vans with the driver on the sidewalk side. You know, I can see myself doing that, while simultaneously dictating a Great Work (or, at least, a blog post) into a little hand-held recorder thingummy. I already have one of those. I just need to figure out how it works.

So what’s your dream job? What do you do when you suddenly realize you’re down to your last $50 and there’s still a week to go to the end of the month?

 

 

The envelope

Standard

I don’t know why I wanted – no, didn’t want, absolutely did not want, but needed – to see my mother’s body. It’s not as though her death was a surprise. Although it happened sooner than expected, I was not in denial, I didn’t need proof … and I had a gut-deep dread at the thought of looking at her, facing the oozing reality of death doing its work inside her. I couldn’t shake the fear that she might be swollen, or discolored, or just fundamentally dead-looking. Forgive me for saying this … I imagined she might smell.

I knew these fears were irrational and silly – we of the first world are shielded from the obnoxious aspects of death. It has become sad but pretty. We have a supermarket-sized range of choices as to how we hide the evidence of our mortality, from worm-defying embalming, to composting (my preferred option. Marmeee would have chosen it too, but we’d already cremated her by the time I learned it was possible – and I still don’t know whether it’s done in South Africa).

HOYA (2).JPG

Things Marmeee loved: Gardens and gardening and South African native plants. She and her brothers sponsored a bench in Kirstenbosch Garden, in Cape Town, in memory of my grandmother, who used to work there. We – my siblings and I – will put one at Walter Sisulu Nature Reserve, outside Johannesburg, for sitting on while remembering her and the Olde Buzzard. This picture is of the Hoya vine that her mother started from a cutting, and that Marmeee cherished for 50 years.

And yet, despite all logic, the thought of looking at my mother’s dead body filled me with cringing dismay. My resistance was just a little less powerful than the compulsion I felt to see it. I remembered all the stories I’d read or heard of near-death or out-of-body experiences, and imagined her disincorporated self hanging around, waiting for me to come and … what? I don’t know. Pay my final respects?

As I write this I can almost hear the derisive hoot of laughter with which she’d have greeted such an idea. “Your respects?” she’d have exclaimed. “You’ve never been respectful in your life. You call me fubsy!” Which is only partly true. I may have been quite good at concealing my respect for her, but she knew very well it was there. As for fubsy … well, she was, and so am I. It’s a Tookish trait!

Well, I digress. I’d have preferred to get The Viewing over and done with right away, but thanks to a missed flight and then a 12-hour delay in Heathrow I didn’t reach Johannesburg until Sunday evening, when the undertaker was closed.

The next day, Monday, I met my father and my sisters, the Egg and the Kat, at the Kat-House, to go through Marmeee’s clothes and choose something pretty for her to wear. The Kat chose a white blouse with embroidered giraffes that she had given her. We added a pair of cotton capris and some underwear. I vetoed shoes – who wears shoes when you’re lying down? – but insisted on socks to keep her toes warm. The Old Buzzard chose her most beautiful shawl – a big, soft, fringed square in her signature shades of grey, blue and lilac.

On Tuesday the Egg, the Kat and I took the clothes to the undertaker. We asked for a simple pine box and a cremation, definitely no embalming, no fuss. No, we didn’t wish to attend the cremation. But … I took a deep breath. “I would like to see her,” I said. They said they would have her ready for me the following day.

On Wednesday morning my bestie, Twiglet, picked me up. I made her promise to come in with me. “I’m scared,” I told her.

“Don’t be. It’ll be okay – you’ll see,” she replied gently.

“I’ve never seen a human dead body before,” I explained. “And this is my mother!”

“My Mom was my first too,” she said.

At the mortuary, the receptionist called a man in a black suit to lead us to the viewing room. His expression was somber, and it bothered me that he seemed sadder than I was. I was too anxious to be sad. I had absolutely no idea what I would do, how I would react. Would I sob hysterically? Fling myself on her coffin? Laugh – as I so hideously did when I was 12 years old and told my classmates my little dog had died, run over by a car, and they all thought I was an awful person because the only expression my face remembered for days after it happened was a ghastly rictal grin? Our escort opened the door to the viewing room, then stepped back to wait in the hallway, head bowed and hands quietly folded.

The room was bright and spacious, with curved rows of empty seats and large windows. Near the front, resting on a dais, was the coffin – pale, unvarnished pine, with rope handles. Although plain it was nicely made – sturdy, with rounded edges and a few simple carved details. Viewed from the doorway you couldn’t see the coffin shape, and it looked like something my mother might have chosen to keep on her back stoep – an attractive box for storing gardening tools that was also a good height for sitting upon with a cup of tea.

I walked about halfway down the aisle between the chairs, then sat down. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked Twiglet. “I don’t even know how I’m supposed to feel.” She just hugged me and waited for me to figure it out. “Okay,” I said at last. “Let’s do this.”

Things she loved - OB

Things Marmeee loved: Book stores. Coffee shops. The Olde Buzzard. Earrings, like the ones he gave her just before we took this picture.

I marched up to the coffin and looked down into it.

The woman inside was lying with her head tilted back, so that her chin jutted sharply toward the ceiling. She didn’t look entirely comfortable. I wanted to lift her head, tuck a pillow under it … but I didn’t have a pillow. Also, I was worried that if I lifted her head her whole body might rise, rigid as a plank. I don’t know how long rigor mortis lasts, and it didn’t seem appropriate to google it just then.

Her eyes were closed, and her lips were thin and stern. I wondered whether the mortician had used glue to fix them shut.

I touched her cheek. She was icy. I realized that she had been packed in bags of ice, and yanked my mind away from the reason this was necessary. I stroked her hand. It was cold… cold.

Her beautiful shawl had been tucked around her shoulders, but was a little bunched up. I patted it smooth, snugged it around her. I wondered whether I should kiss her, but I really didn’t want to.

I went back to where Twiglet was sitting and plunked down into a seat. “I don’t feel anything,” I said. “She’s not here. That over there -” I gestured toward the coffin. “It’s just an empty envelope.” Twiglet nodded, and hugged me again.

“So … okay. Let’s go,” I said. I stood to leave, but found myself wandering back to the coffin. I felt restless, vaguely ashamed that I didn’t want to cry or wail, angry that something so momentous could happen and leave me bereft of words or feelings.The shawl still didn’t look quite right. I rearranged it again, positioning it so that one of the embroidered giraffes on her blouse was visible.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” I said. “She’d be royally pissed at us for burning this shawl.”

Twiglet gave me the side-eye. “I’m sure they’d give it back if you asked them to.”

“No, I don’t want it – it’s not mine to take. But I hope someone steals it before they cremate her. She’d like that – knowing it was making another woman feel pretty.”

“Well,” Twiglet said. “Who knows? This is Africa. Maybe that’s one of the perks of the job.”

We were chuckling as we walked through the door, down the corridor, and out into the sunlit parking lot. Behind us, I knew, machinery had hummed to life and the dais, the coffin and its chilly, empty contents had sunk to the basement, out of sight. But the thought of it no longer scared me. I felt a sense of release. I was glad I had seen her body. It had served her well for many years, and so had earned our gratitude and respect, but she was no longer in it. She had written the letter of her life, signed it “With love”, and had quite clearly moved on.

valerie1

Things Marmeee loved: Me

Running ahead of the storm

Standard

When I came home in mid-February, I was exhausted but optimistic. Marmeee was okay, for a couple years at least, probably. The Old Buzzard was losing his marbles but at a rate of only two or three a week, and his Alzheimer’s medication had transformed him into a happier, pleasanter person than he’d been in years. It was good to be back in Washington, and not too painful to be gone from my people in South Africa.

It didn’t matter that we were seven weeks into the year. I named 2016 My Year Of Reclamation, convinced that 10-and-a-bit months was all I needed to finally, at last, once and for all, turn my life around. This was the year I would have a productive vegetable garden, get serious about training Argos the Madcap Malinois, lose weight, start riding again, get our finances under control, and clean my house from top to bottom and end to end. I had a great idea for a series of fun, lightweight (but, of course, also thought-provoking) novels and I was going to start writing every day, and make money from it. And blogging. I promised myself I’d start blogging regularly every week about my fascinating life and amazing insights – you know.

collapsing like a house of cards

House of cards. (Source)

Yeah. That was the plan. I even signed up for Evernote and started a whole new super-efficient system of to do lists.

Plans are like card houses. You build them ever so carefully, handling each card with the most delicate touch as you add it to the structure. And then someone opens a window and a draft blows in and all your cards go flying.

So here it’s the end of July, and I’m looking back at the year to date and shaking my head and wondering what the fuck happened. I have been in such a horrible funk! I’ve been gobbling my way through books, most of them lightweight, easy reading or stuff I’ve read before – because even the most two-dimensional borrowed life has been more appealing than the one I’m living. I’ve been eating way too much crap, and suffering the usual consequences. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, and when I do I wake up tired.

Depression? Well yes, but I’ve had reasons to feel sorry for myself, even without tripping over the Trump of Doom or Shillary every damn time I log onto my computer. (Seriously, America? I cannot believe that’s the best we can do!)

First, in February I accidentally overstayed my US passport’s welcome in South Africa by a whole 22 hours, and was declared an Undesirable Person and forbidden to return in under 12 months.

So then I tried to renew my South African passport, and learned that I had accidentally forfeited my South African citizenship by becoming an American citizen. I’m still trying to figure out why this was devastating, apart from the practical difficulty it caused. As someone who fears and distrusts the patriotic impulse, I should simply shrug it off with a casual “Whateverrr” … but in fact I feel robbed, and also homeless, and I’m sorry but the Land of the Free just can’t get my heart soaring the way it does under an African sky.

Then my precious Marmeee went into a downward spiral. Just before I left South Africa the oncologist told her she probably had a couple years to live … but apparently without me there to keep reminding her of this and force-feeding her chocolate milkshakes, she just … got tired, I guess. And then she died. And because of the bloody bullshit with my passport, I couldn’t be there to hold her hand. I know this was a “God thing” – I’ll explain why in another post (probably) – but it still aches.

I did manage to get through the border in time to help with her memorial and to figure out What To Do With Increasingly Dotty Dad, but while there I got sick with a deathwish-inducing flu that I didn’t shake for nearly a month. It made the 25 hour trip back a lot of fun.

Before I left we got the Old Buzzard into a home – a pleasant, homey sort of place – but instead of continuing to dole out his marbles one or two at a time he started throwing them away by the fistful. In a matter of months he went from affectionate, forgetful and occasionally grumpy, to aggressively uncooperative, to unwilling to walk and unable to speak coherently. He died a couple weeks ago. I’m not going back for the memorial, which is this coming Saturday … there’s no point, really. Today I have to write a tribute to go into the order of service, and I have no idea what to say.

I haven’t been able to grieve either of them. And mixed up in all that unexpressed grief is another deep sadness over the loss of my brother. He’s still walking around, breathing, saying things to people … but somewhere in the middle of everything else that’s been going on I learned that he hated me, has hated me for more than 30 years, has badmouthed me to people I care about – and they believed him. His claims about the way I treated him, his perceptions of who I am, have been woven into the fabric of our family dynamic – and until a few months ago I had no idea of it because the one person he never spoke to about it was me. I learned that the man I thought he was didn’t exist, the relationship I thought we had was a figment of my imagination. He has morphed from the sibling I loved most deeply and missed most painfully (even while he made my eyes roll) into The Stranger. Even if the latest nastiness “blows over”, the kind of confidence borne within mutual affection is gone. Trust is broken, and the loss feels like a death.

Sailboat in front of a tsunami

Fleeing the tsunami. (Source)

So grieving has become complicated, and I’m trying to stay ahead of it for now. Every now and then I feel tears starting to well up, but … I’m so busy, you know? If I could run away for a few days, just me and my dog, maybe then … but right now my to do list is simply too long. I don’t have the time – I don’t have the capacity – for a tsunami.

Oh – and I nearly forgot: earlier this month the Hubbit broke his arm. He tripped over his own feet, but of course he blamed my dog. Then he insisted he didn’t need xrays, didn’t need to see a doctor – so of course he ended up needing surgery. And bad tempered? Let me tell you, my guy is a generous fellow. When he’s in pain, he shares it. We all get some. So even though I got to say “I TOLD YOU SO” on several satisfying occasions, life would have been better if he’d managed to stay vertical.

Oy … this post has turned into quite the pity party. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been gone for a while, and I thought some sort of explanation was in order.

Also, here’s the thing – and I need to write this down so that I can come back as often as necessary and read it: I know that tsunami is coming. I know I can’t escape it. But I am reclaiming my faith in God – not that I lost it, but I’ve been angry, confused and resistant. I lost myself for a while. That book series I mentioned? It still looks promising, and every day I see my heroine more clearly. I like her a lot and hope you will too, when I set her loose upon the world. And the weeds didn’t completely win in my veggie garden this year. I’ve found tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and onions lurking out there.

As for right now this minute … I’m here, right? I’m blogging, aka writing. I’m not sure why that matters, but it does. It gives me hope.

In other words, to hell with the funk – this is still My Year of Reclamation.

So … how’s your summer going?

 

Made up

Standard

When my mother puts on make-up, she says she is putting on her face. I usually find it easier just to go with whatever face I happen to wake up in, but sometimes that doesn’t feel quite … enough.

So when I was packing for the road trip Himself and I are currently enjoying, I crammed my supply of face paint into a small bag and shoved it into my suitcase. Day 2 found us rolling into Reno just barely in time for the start of the Hubbit’s 50th school reunion festivities. Getting there was good – a leisurely two days with an overnight stop at a comfortable Best Western. And while Nevada appears to be mainly a whole helluva lot of not a whole helluva lot, it has a certain stark visual appeal.

Arriving was a whole other matter. Tell this South African girl she’s staying at a “resort”, and she expects to see trees, grass, some chalets scattered around a rustic but luxurious lodge, a pool, maybe a miniature golf course – you get the idea. Quite apart from the fact that it hadn’t occurred to me that we were going to a casino (yeah, I know, call me stupid) the word “resort” had me expecting some sort of desert oasis. The reality of a high rise city center hotel, with a crowded lobby that was all marble and mirrors leading to bleak little rooms failed to enchant.

This is how we do casino resorts in South Africa

This is how we do casino resorts in South Africa.

As for the casino, it was creepy and depressing. A (presumably fake but I think full scale) mine headgear loomed in the gloomy arch of the domed ceiling. Arrayed around it were machines lit in lurid colors, silently waiting to swallow your money – and, with it, your hopes and dreams – but the alleys between the machines were dark. The hotel surrounding the gambling area was loud with voices and piped music, but the casino seemed clouded in a dull hush. It used to be fun to play the fruit machines – you carried your money in a paper cup and fumbled it out to push it into the coin slot, and after a while your arm would ache from pulling the lever, but you kept pulling because the sound of money clattering into the catch tray when you won was so seductive you had to keep trying for more, until you were left with nothing but the stink of money on your hands, and an empty cup, and sleepy daydreams of what might have been if you’d stopped just 15 minutes sooner. But now it’s all done with smart cards and buttons. Bells don’t ring, lights don’t flash, and winnings don’t clatter. I don’t know why anyone would bother.

So anyway, we checked in with just minutes to spare, and the Hubbit was all antsy to get upstairs to reconnect with the Good Old Days Of Yore, and I was rattled and discombobulated by finding myself in a crowded and alien world. I yanked my make-up bag (actually it’s a small linen bag that pillowcases came in and that I kept because I was sure it would come in handy some day – I don’t actually own a make-up bag) out of my suitcase, peered into the mirror, thought “Stuff it”, splashed cold water on my face, and followed Himself up to the hospitality suite.

It was full of happy old people clutching alcoholic drinks. I didn’t know anyone. Himself introduced me to Bob and reminded me that we’d met. (Poor Hubbit had no idea that Bob and I had been conspiring for weeks via email to make him feel conspicuous on his birthday, which happened to be the next day.) Bob called his wife over, and although

Apparently I don't remind anyone of Juliette Binoche.

Apparently I don’t remind anyone of Juliette Binoche.

she clearly had no idea who I was and no memory of ever having met me, she informed me that I did indeed look familiar because I reminded her of an actress, only she couldn’t remember which one. I snaffled a bottle of water and snuck away into a corner. People introduced themselves and told me where they were from and asked me where I was from, and at intervals Bob’s wife wandered past and said she was still trying to remember which actress it was, but my smile definitely reminded her of someone. Eventually everyone decided to go out to dinner together, and as we were leaving Bob’s wife found me again and apologized, because she’d realized I didn’t remind her of an actress, but rather of one of Bob’s cousins, who was a very sweet woman.

Alrighty then.

The next evening was The First Dinner (the one on Tuesday didn’t count because it was spontaneous). I blinged up a bit, peered into my makeup bag, and said “Stuff it” again. Earrings and a malachite bead necklace was as far as I felt able to go. And it was just fine, because no one was paying attention to me while Himself got royally roasted (two bottles of “viagra” – Bob’s wife told me she had to eat her way through a terrifyingly large number of M&Ms to find enough blue ones – and a gift certificate for a Happy Ending, whatever that might be – pretty much what I expected after telling one of the Hubbit’s peers to “be as juvenile as you like” in celebrating his birthday).

Last night was the Big Event. We have left Reno and are now in Vallejo, and last night’s banquet was hosted by an Admiral, no less. (The Hubbit is a Cal Maritime Academy boy.) Getting myself ready, I blinged to the max, and dumped my supply of warpaint on the sink counter.

Now to give some background to all this … My friend Wonder Woman decided, for my birthday in February, to make a woman of me, and she took me shopping for Face Stuff. Ignoring my mutters, winces and rolling eyes, she selected some kind of tinted face cream (for covering wrinkled and freckles), face powder (for covering the cream), eyebrow pencil (for revealing brows that might have vanished under a layer of cream and powder), brown eye shadow, and lipstick. And I used it faithfully every day for weeks, right up until Argos ate my lipstick and I ran out of tinted face cream.

Well, as part of preparing for this road trip, I betook myself to Walgreens and replenished my supply. I couldn’t remember what she’d bought, but how hard could it be to buy lipstick and face cream?

Yeah … maybe I need to put more work into this process… It turns out that Jergens Natural Glow is not so much a tinted moisturizer as a fake tanning lotion. I’d already covered my face before it occurred to me to read the directions. Then I hastily scrubbed it off … slathered on cold cream that I got at the Dollar Store … patted powder over that … touched up eyelids (brown), eyebrows (browner), and lipstick (brownish). I have no idea how it turned out, because I suspect that when I look in the mirror I don’t see what the rest of the world sees – and the Hubbit is no help, since he doesn’t ever comment on my appearance and, for all I know, doesn’t notice whether I look like a clown or a queen.

I dunno … I guess I’m just not that good at being a girl, y’all. On the other hand, I’m not bad at happy endings…

Lazy entertaining

Standard

What better to do on a warm, clear spring Saturday than to invite a friend over for braai – sorry, barbecue, because this is America – but whatever you call it, it involves steak raised on our own pasture, and a variety of delicious salady things. Of course, the dessert is unmistakably South African, and that’s what I want to share with you today – because it’s easy, scrumptious, and ideal for any but the hottest weather. Ladies and gentlemen of the kitchen, I give you…

Malva pudding!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 cup milk.

While it’s heating, take 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp apricot jam and 1 egg, and beat well together.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp bicarb (aka baking soda), 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the heated liquids to the egg and sugar mixture, while stirring or beating slowly. Mix well.

Bake at 350 F (180 C) in a covered dish for 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out dry. (Choose a baking dish that has at least an inch clear at the top after you pour in the batter, because you’ll need room to add the sauce.)

While it is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream, 6 oz (170 g) butter, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup hot water. Stir to mix, and do not allow them to boil.

When you remove the pudding from the oven, immediately pour on the hot sauce. (It can take a while to soak in. Be patient, and add all of it. This is what transforms the pudding from a mere cake to something irresistible!)

Serve hot or cold. I like it with plain unwhipped cream, but it’s also good with ice cream, custard or whipped cream.

A variation that I enjoy – and this is what I made today – is what I call “Christmas Malva Pudding”. Every year when I bake my Christmas cakes (dang, I could have sworn I’d given you my recipe, but apparently I forgot last year! That will have to wait until this November!) I end up with a whole lot of excess fruit mix. I pack this into bottles, glug in the brandy, and store it in the pantry. Every now and then I slosh in a bit more brandy to keep it happy. This makes a yummy addition to malva pudding (I add about 1 cup to the recipe above) and brownies (I guess I’ll have to share that recipe one day too!) More enthusiastic cooks than I could probably come up with a host of other recipes that would use it. Any that’s left over in November simply goes into the next batch of Christmas cakes.

Oh – and no, this is not remotely ketogenic. But when your diet choices are about lifestyle, not D.I.E.T, you can allow yourself some flexibility. Just don’t overdo it – because if your body is used to eating low-carb, something this rich and sweet will make you feel yuck. I plan to send the leftovers home with my guest today!

How are you celebrating the changing seasons? Do you have a favorite fall-back any-occasion guaranteed-winner dish that you like to serve?