Tag Archives: comfort food

The Olde Buzzard and the Easter bunny

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After my mother died we put my father in a home.

Funny how that sounds like a confession! It sounds like abandonment, like kids who don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with a dotty, demanding old man.

In fact it was the best we could do for him. The home – actually two houses on adjoining suburban lots – was a little shabby, but the lawn was green and mowed smooth enough for walkers and wheelchairs, and the tree between the houses was huge, with comfortable chairs set out in the shade. The caregivers were kind. The food was delicious and plentiful. It didn’t feel like an institution, but it was safe, staffed by people who understood how to care for people with his condition.

He had a little room to himself that opened out onto a grassy area. Outside the sliding glass door we put potted plants that used to stand on their stoep – his and Marmeee’s – and a small clay garden gnome that my sister the Kat had given them. The room itself was very small, but we made it big with the framed photographs from their trips to America, and the life-size photograph of the first (and last) trout Marmeee ever fished for, the intensely colorful blanket she had crocheted on the bed, a few books that we hoped he might still be able to read. You know … the random odds and ends that one hopes, against all odds, will make a place home.

Lindt Easter bunny

Oh, and a chocolate Easter bunny. That was a housewarming gift from me; of all his children, I’m the one who has inherited his chocaholic genes in their most potent form. He loved plain chocolate with licorice shoelaces, and as a child I gave him some in a brown paper bag every birthday – and then demanded my share, which he would eke out with a stingy hand. You haven’t been able to get licorice shoelaces for years, but he was happy with chocolate on its own – always plain; he didn’t want any potential chocolate space in the slab taken up by nuts or raisins or other junk.

But that was for everyday munching. Everyone knows Easter chocolate is better – a special treat, guaranteed to make any situation more bearable! (Actually, in the US Easter chocolate mostly sucks. But this was in South Africa, and anyway it was a Lindt bunny.)

I put it right next to his bed where he couldn’t miss it, and imagined him nibbling on it on his first night in his new bed. But when I visited him the next day it was still there, untouched.

I picked it up and brandished it at him. “Oy! You didn’t eat your bunny!” I said.

He blinked at it bemusedly. “Is that mine?”

“Yes, you silly nit! That’s why it’s next to your bed!”

He looked down at the bed he was sitting on (there was space for only one chair in his room) and fingered the crocheted blanket. “Oh! Is this my bed? This looks like the blanket Mom made.”

“Yes, Dad,” I replied gently. “This is your bed. You live here now. And this -” I brandished the bunny at him – “is your own chocolate Easter bunny! You must eat it before it gets old and yucky.”

“It’s an Easter bunny? Well, when is Easter then?” he asked.

“It was a few weeks ago. Never mind about Easter – we’ve already celebrated that. But the store had a bunch of leftover chocolate bunnies on special so I got you one.”

He took it, stroked the ribbon with his forefinger. Said, “I think I’d better save this for Easter. It’s so pretty… It wouldn’t be right to eat it on an ordinary day.”

The next time I visited I took a slab of plain Cadbury milk chocolate, which I put into the top drawer of his bedside table, where he had no difficulty finding it. The bunny was still there … and it was still there a week later when I went to say goodbye before flying back home to Washington. I wonder whether he ever ate it? I like to think that someone eventually slipped off the red ribbon, peeled away the gold paper, and shared it with him. I like to think the taste of good chocolate melting on his tongue brought him a moment of simple pleasure.

But if my sister the Egg found it when she went to clear out his room, and either ate it or gave it away … well, that’s okay too. At least it didn’t sit there long enough to get stale.

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The ultimate brownie

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When I got back into blogging just a couple and a half weeks ago, I promised myself I would post something every week … but friends, the post that was supposed to go up on Tuesday is just so hard to write – yet impossible to ignore.

So you’ll get it next Tuesday. In the meantime, here is my recipe for brownies. I have had some need of comfort food lately, and I have to tell you, these are the best.

Note #1: For those poor souls who don’t have access to cranberries, these brownies are still outstanding without them. I just like the way the tart cranberry flavor cuts the sweetness of all the chocolate. Maybe you can think of an alternative … candied orange might work, provided it’s the good stuff, not the nasty plastic pebbles that renders American Christmas cakes good for nothing but holding doors open.

Note #2: I’m serious about the quality of the chocolate chips. If you’re not going to use good ones, don’t bother … just buy a box mix of brownie batter and call it good.

Note #3: The baking time is an approximation. They’re done when a knife comes out with no actual raw brownie mix on it. They’re overdone if the knife comes out dry – those chocolate chips are supposed to be soft!

Note #4: I usually double the quantity … but you do you.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town

My brownies never seem to last long enough for anyone to remember to photograph them. Instead, here is a view of Cape Town from the Kirstenbosch Garden, on the flanks of Table Mountain. (If you think it’s peculiar to illustrate a recipe post with a random picture of scenery, take it up with Ellen. Irrelevant photos are her idea – I deny all responsibility.)

CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BROWNIES

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons soft butter (5 oz / 140 g)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa (90 ml)
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
½ cup chocolate chips (use Ghirardelli or equivalent, not Hershey. I like semi-sweet.)
½ cup chopped nuts (I like either almonds or pecans.)
¼-½ cup dried cranberries (depending on personal preference.)

  1. Set oven to 320F (160C)
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat in eggs, then sift in cocoa, flour and salt.
  4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cranberries.
  5. Bake in greased 8″ (20 cm) square pan, about 25 minutes

Enjoy!

Lazy entertaining

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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?

Tipsy tart on turkey day

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I think you have to have been born American to get pumpkin pie. I mean, seriously, guys, eeuw! That stuff is the exact color and consistency of baby poop, and pumpkin is a vegetable, for crying out loud! Strange enough that you put together jello and marshmallows and call it a salad – I mean, I’m completely down with starting any meal with dessert, so I think jello salad is a great idea. But pumpkin as dessert? Oh hell no! That stuff needs to be baked or boiled and served hot, with a dash of salt and a dollop of butter and maybe just the lightest sprinkle of cinnamon, and piled alongside a generous serving of bredie or oxtail. Yum!

So anyway, today, having volunteered to contribute dessert to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, I went back to my Soustannie roots to find something easy enough that even I can’t screw it up, and delicious regardless of which side of the Atlantic your palate got educated. What could be better for a cold-weather holiday feast than that traditional South African favorite, Cape brandy pudding, aka tipsy tart? And since my housewifely moments are rare, and therefore deserving of their own celebration, I am sharing the recipe here.

Tipsy tart

Tipsy tart. No vegetables were harmed in the taking of this picture.

Tart

2 cups raisins and chopped dates, mixed and halved
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans for preference)

Add boiling water and bicarb to half the dates and raisins, stir, and set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs, and mix well.
Sift dry ingredients and fold into the egg mixture.
Stir in dry fruit and nuts, then add soaked fruit mixture. Mix well.
Pour into large dish or two tart plates. (I use a pyrex dish, 8x8x2 inches. A deeper corningware dish would also work well.)
Bake 30 – 40 mins at 350F, 180C, until you can insert a sharp knife and it comes out clean.

Syrup

Start this about 10 minutes before you take the tart out of the oven.

3 T butter
2.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Pinch salt
1 cup brandy

In a saucepan, bring the butter, sugar and water to the boil. Boil fast, stirring to prevent it from boiling over, 3-5 mins.
Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.
Pour over tart as soon as you take it out of the oven. You will need to pour slowly, giving it time to soak in. Use a knife to push the tart away from the sides of the container so that sauce can run down and soak in from the sides. Stick a knife in the top of the tart at intervals to encourage it to soak in. The deeper the dish, the easier it will be to use all the sauce.

Serve hot with ice cream or cream, or cold with whipped cream.

So now you know how it’s done, folks, and you don’t have to torture any more poor unassuming pumpkins. Let them celebrate their vegetable nature, and allow your mouth to savor the best of boerekos (aka soul food the way we do it at the south end of Africa).