Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Dreams of farming, part 2

And so the successes lead to greater ambitions, greater disasters and greater successes.  Our neighbouring farmers’ patience was tried by escaping goats, pigs and cows.  At least I got to meet my neighbours, even though in their justifiably, irate state relations weren’t improved. 

Being the completely naïve and ignorant country person that I was, however much reading I did and however many short courses I went on, I only saw the problems after they had happened.  The need to administer worming medicine to the goats, the challenge of castration, the importance of fencing, housing and corals, the struggle to brand (and yes I did once wrestle a calf to the ground), the difficulty of getting a pig to the slaughter house (those intelligent and affectionate animals will not follow you on slaughter day) etc. etc. 

The only farming that I did start sensibly was bee-keeping.  I helped out a fellow bee-keeper for a month or two before getting my first hive.  And then started with only two hives.  Even so, when I felt that I was half competent, the swarming I engendered and attacks that I suffered were quite something.  It didn’t help that the local bees were Apis mellifera scutellata or African Killer Bees as the Americans, in their histrionic way, know of them.
Nevertheless by the time I left our lovely farm, I had 35 cattle, 40 goats, 40 bee hives, serial pigs, serial broiler chickens, the odd couple of sheep (too thick for my taste), 6 old and not so old layers and a vegetable garden that could meet about 75% of our vegetable needs.  What I did learn, and quickly, was, that if Armageddon comes while I am still alive, and I have to rely on my skills to feed myself and my family, we would all starve and pretty quickly.

Asparagus with beurre fondue

It took a while for our asparagus patch to take off, but when it did………..
There is no such thing as a glut of asparagus, there is only a feast of asparagus. My favourite way of eating those delicious stalks is probably the simplest way.

Pick and cook them as if it was one operation.  You cut the stalks with a small serrated knife on or just below the ground.  If you have cut them young enough there shouldn’t be too much of a woody base. Bring them into the kitchen and snap off what woody base there is, if any. Throw your grass into a capacious pan of boiling, salted water.

While they are boiling, take a tablespoon of their water and put it into a small pan.  Whisk cold, unsalted butter into the water piece by piece.  This is an emulsified sauce, not the classical English greasy condiment of unseasoned drawn butter.

As one piece of the butter is whisked into the water add another.  Then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour over the cooked, drained asparagus. You can tell when asparagus is cooked by pressing at the base of the stalk.  If it is easily squashable, it is done.  No al dente, half cooked asparagus please.

At least 12 good spears per portion and 50 gms of butter

Tagliatelle with saffron milk caps, parsley and garlic

Like a many farms in our area, there were a number of pines trees planted about the place, some as decorative and some as a plantation.  I don’t know when they were planted or when the rootstock came out, but, with the rootstock came out spores of European wild mushrooms. We had boletus, both birch and slippery jacks, though unfortunately, I never found ceps. We also had a very productive patch of saffron milk caps.  A most delicious mushroom as its taxonomic name would indicate – lactarius deliciosus.  Like many mushrooms, great with all eggy things.

For three

To make the pasta, mix 300 gms strong (or bread) flour with 3 large eggs and a teaspoonful of salt.  Mix until you have a stiff dough; if necessary add another egg yolk or entire egg, but you don’t want a wet dough that will be hard to roll out.

Wrap the dough and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so (or a day).   Assuming you have a pasta machine, roll out the dough to the penultimate setting (this does depend on what machine you have, but too fine a pasta sheet might well make soggy eating).  Hang it on a drying rack or leave lying on a floured surface until dry enough to cut. 

Wipe your mushrooms – about 400gms – and slice thickly.  Sautee the mushrooms in butter quite gently as they are not usually very watery. Season with salt and pepper and, when cooked, remove from heat and throw in a generous amount of coarsely chopped parsley and finely chopped garlic, about 2 tablespoonfuls.  Then add another tablespoon of butter

Cut into tagliatelle strips and blanch briefly in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain, but not too well. A certain amount of the cooking liquid helps lubricate and enrich your sauce.  Mix the pasta with the mushrooms and serve.  Add grated parmesan to each plate and pout ore parmesan on the table (with a grater of course).

Parsley.  Generally, you either have curly (English) or flat (continental).  It has been recherché amongst some to praise the virtues of the old fashioned English variety.  The chauvinist in me wants to agree, but unfortunately the flat variety is not only much tastier but also a million times easier to grow.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Dreams of Farming.

Like all foodie urban dwellers, I had fantasized for many years of living the life of a self-sufficient peasant.  Of course, thinking about the possibilities soberly, I knew that I didn’t want to be imprisoned by poverty, that I didn’t want the monotony of life that true peasant toil brings and, mostly, I didn’t want my existence to be threatened by the failure of one crop or another. So no true, and hence unromantic, peasant living for me.  But what about a smallholder with a private income?  Now that’s an attractive proposition. 

In my early 40’s after the adventure of the restaurants in London, we emigrated to rural South Africa and bought a smallholding.  Well it was more a tract of virgin, indigenous forest with a smallholding attached.  Our kids were 6 and 11 and emigration was quite a change from urbane West London.

We had a large established garden with plenty of fruit trees and the bones of an erstwhile vegie patch.  There was grazing aplenty and space, space, space.  I had dreams of self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens.  Well they all came true plus a herd of about forty beautiful local cows – the Nguni breed.  But it came about by lurching from accident to mistake to disaster and back.  The neighbouring farmers could have been less helpful, but that would have difficult.  So for advice I turned to the local, non-landowning folk, some of whose practices, I found somewhat eccentric.  Apart from the obvious fact that we couldn’t understand each other, even if we had spoken the same language.

I started trying to plant onions by putting seeds in an unprepared bed and assuming the sporadic rainfall would do the rest.  Needless to say nothing happened.  But I got some gentle and not so gentle coaching from a Zulu gardener, John Seymour’s books (the granddaddy of the UK self-sufficiency movement) and a retired environmentalist neighbour.  In the modern city, one calls in skills – at least I did.  Be it a plumber, roofer etc.  To have to discover these things oneself is either a source of serious frustration or great pleasure, or, more likely, both.

So the first thing I learnt is that nothing happens without a compost heap – and not just a heap but a creation of an environment where rotting can be controlled and accelerated.  Next came serious watering and some laid down irrigation.  Then some collecting of some cast off planks and terracing in our sloping vegetable garden.  I had never even hung a shelf in my life and here I was with chainsaw, nails and stakes.  I even learnt the difference between a spade and a shovel.  And found that the difference is as marked as that between a fillet sole and a paring knife.  It was going well.  Of course, I started with the quick and easy stuff – lettuces, spinach and herbs.  Then came the root vegetables.  Always a bit anxious making as you can’t see what’s going on under the ground. Often half the crop would be wasted by my preliminary investigations. Mary, Mary you should have seen how my garden grew.  Asparagus, artichokes galore, soft fruit, stone fruit, potatoes for months (not quite 12, but hey). So what next? Eggs.

Let’s get some layers.  The local farm and pet shop, staffed by the caste of Deliverance, sold all sorts of useful animals – not just those of the stroking variety.  Off we went and got four Rhode Island reds (big red egg laying chickens to you and me).  ‘Give them six weeks and they’ll start laying one a day’. Sounds easy.
Two and a half months later, two chickens and an egg a week - sometimes.  Back to the shop.  ‘What are you feeding them?’ ‘What sort of housing do you have for them?’  Food, housing?  Don’t they just peck and forage around the place and sort themselves out at night?  What, gymnogenes, civets, servals, adders?  What nature of unspeakable, wild and crepuscular creatures are these?  Just part of the hugely rich and interesting place in which we had chosen to live.  So a small hen house was built and I discovered the feed shop where I could buy some boffins’ mix that enabled our thoroughbreds to lay an egg a day each.  I still wonder what exactly goes into those feeds.

Good eggs and happy chickens. Your first herb omelette with baby potatoes and salad from your garden is a moment of joy.  Of course it’s also a moment of deep self-deception as the butter, the wheat for the bread, the oil, the salt and the bottle of wine are from elsewhere.  Nevertheless, we all live for those very moments and there are times when the cynic should be left in his cellar.

Good eggs and happy hens.  But these were chickens bred for laying and after two or three years of laying, even I knew that they weren’t going to make the Sunday roast.  So let’s get some meat chickens.  These are a completely different breed, stupid and dull beyond belief and ready after only seven weeks.  So off I went to get twenty day old chicks.  Pretty little yellow things.  They had a cozy, straw covered secure (I thought) dedicated hut.  I was a proud farmer in my gun boots, muddy jeans and pitchfork.  They next day I rose to inspect the overnight growth of these wonders.  Well I should say ten had died of cold and another eight of being smothered.  At night, they climb on top of each other to keep warm and smother their fellows with complete compunction.  Of course, incubator lights.  So now I was running electrical cords through the garden, installing incubator lights, gathering more straw.  Another twenty to add to the hardy two and…………

Yes, the next day there were still twenty-two. I was yet to deal with the determination of jackals and the athleticism of the caracal.  Nevertheless, we raised brood after brood of these animals and got to fifty chicks a time and losing only about five.  Of course, it took much longer than seven weeks to raise them as I wanted them larger and to grow slower.  I was raising them for taste, not profit.  Slaughtering them (which we did ourselves) was never much fun but one can become inured quite rapidly. It helped that I never developed the affection for them as I did for our layers.

To be continued.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Bernadette's Face

Bernadette’s mother, imminent scholar and great intellectual, had relentlessly cautioned Bernadette about the vagaries of social networking. But Bernadette was always more her father’s daughter; a girl with a propensity for the fickleness of fashion and capriciousness of social success. However, it would be a mistake to, therefore, think that she was not capable of the sort of scholarly gravitas that her mother was. Lo! not in the least. Bernadette was prodigiously talented. She simply did not think that book learning would bring her any joy. And Bernadette believed everything she thought. This was an ongoing luxury, which she had gifted herself on her sixth birthday.

Social networking is something she indulged in several times a week. Many times her social networking engagement consisted of finding interesting photographs to illustrate some thought she was compelled to share. Mostly the search for the photograph, illustration or digital representation of a renaissance or medieval painting ended in a choice which was completely unrelated to her initial thought. But Bernadette was unperturbed by the absence of an overt relationship between the thought and the illustration thereof. She always believed that rationality is overrated. As with self-criticism.

However, despite her own penchant for the wistful and vapid in herself, Bernadette could not tolerate such qualities in others. (This should come as no surprise to the Reader; that Bernadette permits herself to hold inconsistent views was explained in the previous paragraph.) It was her aversion for the vulgar immediacy of venting feelings, ill-considered and subjective, and of articulating thoughts, uncritical and messy, that made her her mother’s child. And such venting and articulating was a singular function of social networking. She would sit, wrapped in emerald green silks (if on Wednesday, fuchsia lambs’ wool if on Friday), and let her warm tears flow, as she read the upbraiding by those who thought they finally have reason to hate her. She listened to them find the petty flaws among her many perfections, and watched her enemies turn them inside out, expose them to the world or simply whisper tiny poisons in her ear. She would listen as they make her failings louder and uglier than they really are and then felt them discarding her, their social networking victim, slowly palpitating like a dying heart in the wet drains of her own despair. Left for dead.

It was always at this point (being left for dead) that Bernadette would turn her face, the epitome of pre-Raphaelite perfection, towards a cold, small glass of Vodka on her table. She would drink deeply. She would turn off the life of that garish, uncouth world, knowing it would nevertheless unrelentingly continue. But she would feel bravery and clear headedness saturate her being with another cold, small glass of Vodka. She would dress in an armour of silver and gold satin, with a helmet of pearls, take up her Vorpal Sword (thanks to Lewis Carol), and dance with Only Everyone Who Loves Her, until the sun comes up. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Locatelli on truffles

To follow are a few paragraphs from Giorgio Locatelli’s book Made in Italy. Food and Stories. He writes with vivid description about completely anecdotal experiences and thoughts; it is quite genius. Sometimes his views about things are presented with such a level of confidence that one starts thinking of it as objective truth. This happens to people who have grown up in a culture of something, and then spent their lives mastering that very thing; people who are steeped in a tradition or discipline. He writes about food and cooking and feeding people. Here he is on truffles.

The first time someone tastes a truffle they often find it quite disappointing, even off-putting, because usually they have heard so much about them and they expect so much. Sometimes people say to me, ‘Oh, they smell of feet. Horrible!’ It hurts me to hear it, but I understand. If life could be described as a smell, then it is the smell of truffles. They smell of people and sweat. They just remind me so much of human beings; that is why I love them. Also, I think, as you get older you appreciate truffles more, I don’t know why.

Because the truffle is such a unique thing, it is traditionally used very simply – shaved over a risotto made with grana cheese, or on top of pasta, beef carpaccio or eggs – so no other flavour can try to compete with it. In Piemonte restaurants during the season, they serve the traditional dish of fonduta, which was once the meal of local farmers but is now considered a luxury. Fontina cheese from the Valle d’Aosta is heated with milk, egg yolks and butter until creamy, then some white truffle is shaved over the top, and you eat with slices of toasted bread to dip in it.

I love truffles, but I hate all the by-produce – I would never buy truffles in brine, as they don’t have the same flavour, and the thing I detest most is commercial truffle oil, which some drizzle over everything. It invariably contains chemical flavouring which messes up your taste buds and repeats on you. At Locanda, we make our own truffle oil (which we don’t use for risotto), which has to be used within two or three days or it will lose its intensity.

It is exciting to have found a truffle farmer in KwaZulu-Natal. So far we have used it grated on an herb omelette, as truffle butter on hot toast and with a risotto. At the restaurant are now ‘all out’, as they say, but more is on its way… 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A film which has as its content the plight of a much loved animal, the seeming villain a black religious group and the seeming heroes a few white men has, at the outset, many pitfalls. And that it has these pitfalls is good and right. If such features of a film did not instantaneously present problems for it, we would still be living in the dark ages. So, perhaps, in a sense, such a film is guilty until proven innocent.

Films about much loved animals which are on the brink of extinction or are being cruelly treated generally evokes in me a sense of trepidation. My trepidation is due to the high possibility of the film being sentimental. Even without trying to be sentimental, stories about the plight of an animal, particularly a beautiful mammal like a leopard, are in danger of being so. Therefore, unless some sort of effort has been made to avoid this in a film, it is bound to fail on this score. ‘To Skin a Cat’ remains sensitive to the plight of the leopard without once resorting to oversimplified appeals to blind bias and uncritical sentiment from its viewer. It does this by its use of facts; facts about the animals, facts about the people, facts about the dilemma.

The fact that the skins of leopards have been an important part of the ritual activities of the Shembe people is not a situation which should be commented on in a simple manner. History has too many stories like these, spanning too many different groups of people, for the matter to elicit easy commentary. This makes one of the primary acts of heroism in the making of this film the ongoing attention given to the complexity of the situation. Another such heroic act being the indubitably humane response of many Shembe devotees to the plight of the leopard.

But instead of over stating the obvious in the script, and then hoping that the resultant platitudes will convince the viewer, the film shows the story of a rather eccentric, and definitely extreme, pursuit of a ‘true’ faux fur. This quest, spanning many years, takes a conservationist and graphic designer all the way to China. Never before has thread count, exact shades of brown and yellow, subtle variation in sets of man-made spots and the size of a repeated pattern counted for so much. Never have lives depended on these things. Never has a membrane made of some artificial fibre become a spokesperson of such importance; a mediator between people and a champion for a wild animal.

‘To Skin a Cat’ must have been a difficult film to make. The social terrain is treacherous. But it has trod gently, lain low and pounced quickly and true. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Staying on.

Less than two months into the life of The Glenwood Restaurant (and less than four years into the life of The Glenwood Bakery) it is high time to look at the nature of what makes for very old, near historic, eating places. You may laugh, dear Patron, but a wise and charming little blonde girl once said to her bitter and twisted, wine swilling father, who was sneering at a building of 100 years being called ‘old’: ‘Buildings first have to be a 100 years old to get to a 1000’.

But this missive is not about buildings. It is about establishments. In particular eating establishments. Places where people have chosen to eat and drink for, sometimes, more than a hundred years. Checchino dal 1887, in Rome is one. El-Fishawi in Cairo, a café more than 250 years old, is another. The Russian Tea Room, in New York, now 89 years old, has never been a place which bows to the pressures of the New York reverie of haute design. Its focus is elsewhere.

Even though visceral atmosphere and visual aesthetics are extremely important for enduring patronage and, consequently, longevity, the eating and drinking places which live for a very long time are hardly ever trend oracles. Trend oracles, even when extremely beautiful and elegant, if also faddish, are expected to be fast paced and ever changing. They themselves create such expectations. After all, the people who are expected to love them are similarly fast changing; wall paper might be the final word on decorating this season, but it could also be the death of a restaurateur the next. Such eating houses’ lives are accelerated and their deaths always imminent. This, of course, has a beauty of its own. But the truly creative genius of, for instance, elBulli and others like it, in both food and restaurant design, is not sustainable.

Sukiyabashi Jiro, still in its first generation, is patently not about faddish trend. If it ceases to exist it will not be because sushi is out of fashion or because people have become aesthetically inured to its interior. It will not be because what it costs to make even Jiro’s sushi is financial lunacy. And this is because Jiro’s sushi is made by a small group of people who do so with near monastic dedication. The luxury experienced is contained in the freshness of the fish and silkiness of the rice, the skill of the knife work and the delicacy of the pickles. For the cooks at Jiro, feeding people is about incremental steps towards perfection, in a very narrow and very old tradition. If Sukiyabashi Jiro ceases to exist it will be because the people who work there have decided to extinguish it. And this, ironically, is a credit to its patrons; people who understand fully what it takes to labour at that sort of food, and who will continue to eat there whilst someone is willing to do that sort of work.

It would, however, be a mistake to read this letter as a dismissal of haute design. This it is, by no means. There can be no greater disciples of the pursuit of beauty; higher, faddish and other. Nor is the claim that all old eating places produce excellent food. This is simply an attempt to isolate what it is that hardly ever enables the longevity of eating places; it is certainly not novel concepts, food wise, nor slavish reverie of transient visual aesthetics.  

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Importance of Making Bread

We feel it is necessary, in the wake of having opened a little restaurant, to say something about having a bakery too. For many people who have known Adam Robinson of old, his career took a strange and incomprehensible turn when he started baking bread. There are many who could not take ‘this bread baking business’ seriously. Undoubtedly, the analysis of why he did this yielded many extraordinary theories. But what came through in conversation many times, and still does, is that it is a good thing that he is finally cooking food again. That he has a ‘proper’ restaurant. That he is doing what he is meant to do.

The bakery is, of course, not by any means a proper restaurant. It is not a restaurant of any stripe. Bread is not quail on semolina gnocchi, chicken parfait or pappardelle with borlotti beans. But to dismiss what bread is to nearly every traditional cuisine found worldwide, is to not know what food is. To not understand how many Western European cuisines, to mention but a few, has as a staple, bread, is to miss what is fundamental to eating in those parts of the world. It is for this reason that most chefs w
ho love food (and there are many who do not) will take seriously what bread contributes to their menu. And if they take seriously what things taste like, bread, even if only served in small quantities at their restaurant, should be excellent like the rest of what is offered on the menu.

The Glenwood Bakery is a paean to bread. And it signifies Robinson’s interest in eating. It is, consequently, a big mistake to see his interest, and this is interest is ongoing, in bread as an aberration to his career. Learning to make good loaves is a necessary and natural part of learning about food. And, given the rather academic dedication which knowledge of bread demands, this pursuit is very far from an interruption to a career in food. The cognoscenti might even insist that a serious excursion into bread is utterly required for a complete set of culinary skills – a complete set, of course, only being an ideal.
It is from the love for flour, salt and water that also comes the love for pasta. It comes from understanding the technical nature of working successfully with these ingredients, that a cook and restaurateur understands the specific types of menus and kitchens that are a function of these foods. It frequently is to a good sandwich that a chef comes home late at night. Similarly, it seems perfectly normal to get into bed with a plate piled high with butter and Bovril on sourdough toast, with tea, after a day of cooking some quite sophisticated plates of food. And, when doing so, it seems nearly inevitable to find oneself in a state of drowsy ecstasy at what one is putting into one’s mouth, understanding fully, what it takes to make that bread.

These words are an acknowledgement of what The Glenwood Bakery is to The Glenwood Restaurant.     

Sunday, 8 May 2016

If writers wrote the world...

…and Burgess were the author, it would be the richest of worlds. Where it is most sensual, most erotic and most immodest it would also be most dry, plain and prudent. Where it is most funny it would be the saddest too. And if this sounds to the reader like nothing more than a postmodern hymn to the Nebulous Nature of Everything, then such a reader would be wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Burgess, we know, even though he has not been asked as such, is entirely against postmodernism.

How would he manage to write the world like this? Take as examples two books recently read: ‘Nothing like the Sun’ and ‘A Dead Man in Deptford’. The first is about William Shakespeare and the second about Christopher Marlowe. ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, which I have written about before but cannot stop thinking about, is light in the sense that Shakespeare, according to Burgess, is not an intellectual, nor is he particularly complex as a person. This becomes more apparent when one realises, upon reading Dead Man, how Burgess does, in fact, render a darkly intellectual and unusually complex person. Shakespeare’s aspirations are normal; he hopes for success in his craft, recognition by his peers and financial prosperity. He works very hard. But he is also a romantic, a hopeless disciple of Eros. Yet, not once, in the rendering of William Shakespeare is his romantic nature made saccharin or his very normal human ambitions, trite.

Burgess can do this because he seems to be devoid of platitudes. Like Shakespeare does, he writes even the most tender afflictions in shards. The most adolescent heartache and most naïve and deluded mandates are written in prose which mesmerises because of its musicality but never hypnotises due to overuse and predictability. In other words, ‘Nothing like the Sun’ is entirely devoid of clichés.

‘A Dead Man in Deptford’, by contrast, is deeply sexual. It is dark and, short of the male entanglement of bodies, is lacking in kindness everywhere. It is unapologetically so. Burgess writes a person who is intellectually fertile and morally confused. His Marlowe vacillates between a true Christian sense of compassion and love for his fellow man, in the Platonic sense, and a cynicism so austere as to have him writing Faustus. His Marlowe never resolves this conflict; not with the application of any amount of philosophical abstraction, scholasticism or hedonistic indulgences. Where Shakespeare is innocence Marlowe is the opposite, whatever that might be. The point, here, is that Burgess, in his genius, captures this conflict without resorting to the ever threatening sentimentality of angst and the usual psychobabble that some writers seem to need. There is no free association, no dreamscapes and no tears. It is just plain and simple blood, gore, betrayal and fear. It is about sex and power and a properly sublimated hope for love.

If Burgess wrote the world, it would be clever, funny, clear and mostly unexpected. It would be incapable of containing anything ‘comfortably numb’ (gratitude to Pink Floyd, for this phrase).  

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Why has this become so important?  In the restaurant world, ‘Provenance’ (yes with a capital ‘P’) has become a word imbued with a magical spell. Akin to Artisanal, Sustainable, Local or Hand-Made.  Words that have been hijacked by the world of ‘creatives’ and subsequently shorn of meaning, but, nevertheless, used over and over again to persuade the audience that what they’re experiencing is something of value.

Despite the degeneration of the word, the idea is, I would claim, important and ripe with consequences.

Why?  Not because a lack of food miles is any real contributor to a lessening of the burning of fossil fuels. Not because a local farmer is necessarily more worth supporting than one a thousand miles away. Not because a restaurant is necessarily one of quality because farms or regions are mentioned on their menu.

But if we feel the produce is sourced carefully then can we also not feel that the provider of your meal executes his craft with some care.  When we read that our steak comes from, for instance, Greenfields Farm, it is not because we intend on taking a drive up there at the weekend (where is it? The Midlands, The Cape, Namibia?) to inspect the happy cows that are intended for slaughter.  It is because the naming of the place gives us some reassurance that this inspection is at least possible.  It reassures us that our cows are not condemned to the misery of a feedlot or our chickens to battery conditions. We are reassured that the beasts or, indeed, vegetables are raised by a human being rather than a corporation.  We might even go further and hope that the naming of the farm indicates that the size of the operation is on a scale that we can conceive, not the standard industrial process that produces such quantities of chicken thighs, beef fillets or breadcrumbed shapes of fat that the counting is beyond comprehension.

This is as a consumer.  As a cook, I am interested in provenance so that I too can source the best possible produce for my kitchen and follow the trail of some fellow obsessive.

Food miles has been mentioned as a chimera for our ecological conscience, but distance is important for other reasons – reasons of freshness.  The economy of shipping vegetables of fruit over thousands of miles has been well documented – particularly in relation to our individual trips to the shops to buy our 2 kgs of potatoes.  But there is an inevitable deterioration in quality because of increased storage time. The fruit will have been picked unripe, the product will have been grown with storage as one of the major virtues and the process of large scale shipping can only be worth it if the stuff has been grown on an industrial level.

It is for this reason why we try to source our produce locally. Our milk, cream and cheeses are from the Midlands, where the churches are full and the goats are fat.  Our olives and olive oil comes from the Cape.  Our flour comes from farms in the Free State, the Berg and a Durban mill.  Our meat comes from a single butcher that either owns or knows the farms on which the animals are raised.

These farms are nearly all free range and practice humane animal husbandry.  The sad exception is our pork, but there are loader and loader whispers of this changing for the better.  Our charcuterie is prepared by a family not 5 kms from our shops.  Our eggs are free range and delivered by the man who wakes the chickens up early in the morning.  The fish and shellfish come from these shores only, and, ideally, from the boats or rods that immerse themselves in our bit of the Indian Ocean.  The herbs and salads are grown by ourselves and, those that aren’t, are grown and delivered by the only man I know who gets up at the same time as our Bakers.  Our mushrooms, other than those that are foraged, come from a passionate mycophile in Isipingo. For the vegetables and fruit that I can’t source individually or organically, we use the Durban municipal market.  This market is often frustrating for the lack of choice, but the flip side of that is that it is local and seasonal.  We are privileged to be living in a city that does not provide raspberries 12 months of the year.  Where we welcome the first asparagus of spring and celebrate spotting the ephemeral artichoke.

So let us all celebrate the local wealth and wallow in the unique terroir of our chosen home.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Bernadette chooses a dress

Dedicated to Rosa Lyster, who’s never dedicated anything to me, but likes dresses.

by Carin Robinson

By the time Bernadette had received the invitation to Mr. Moon’s annual party, she had already changed her mind seventeen times. Year after year, the party is left with firm resolutions about what she will wear the following year, and even firmer resolutions about what she will not wear. This means that the first change of mind happens about three weeks after the previous party. And so it goes, until the following annual shindig.

Being capricious in this manner had always been a matter of hot philosophical dispute in the childhood home of Bernadette. Her mother, eminent intellectual and earnest scholar, held that to be capricious is to be fickle. Bernadette was always a little disappointed in her mother’s piffling contribution; just a synonym, is what it was. Bernadette maintained that words, unless in a poem, could not really change anything in the world. Synonyms, least of all.

Her father, hopeless socialite and unhinged fashion zealout, was of the opinion that, once one accepts that decisions are based on reasons and that it is the reasons which change, being capricious can be as rational as many other dispositions. Bernadette thought this a very sophisticated argument. But what does she know? Tripe! her mother would exclaim in disbelief. To which her father responded pleasantly; with onions or curried? Bernadette could never decide which would be better.

This year, deciding on a dress for Mr Moon’s party required additional attention. There would be a chef that Bernadette had followed across the world. He was to cook for Moon this very month. This made her options all the more confounded. She had had his lamb fillet with truffled gnocchi in Cannes. She had eaten his red mullet gaudi in Barcelona. Bernadette had consumed with a great gluttonous speed his baked gammon, served in an earthenware dish. Bernadette could not cook. She could never have a conversation with him using the lexicon of cookery. But she could dress for the meals that night.

She was to stand alone, in the heat of impossible choice, with the world of colour, texture, shape and proportion to bear alone on her shoulders. The pressure was nearly unbearable, but asking others inevitably increases the options. Bernadette had to resist this temptation. She had consistently ruled out black. Why? It was difficult to find an answer to this question. But she had no time for reasons at this stage. She had only three months left. After a breathless and sleepless journey into the world of multitudinous whites and countless greens, she landed on a dress that would float when she moved and would hang plumb down when she was still. It happened to be green. The green of the sea, when it is green from algae and grey skies. The colour was an accident. But a happy one.
Bernadette would never know whether the chef saw her. But she knew that when she ate his freshly extruded bucatini, prepared as a tribute to Arabic Sicily, with sultanas, saffron and fennel, she forgot her dress completely. It hung quietly from her shoulders, like a small child waiting for attention from his father, while she was lost in a complex history of food, which is, after all, the history of the world.

Important notice: The Glenwood Restaurant is officially open on the 14th of April. See our website for booking details. Although we love people just arriving to eat, bookings are recommended. We do not yet have a liquor license. Bring your own.

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Glenwood Restaurant

“The apple was the first fruit according to Genesis, but it was no Cox’s Orange Pippin. God gave the crab apple and left the rest to man.” 
Jane Grigson

There is no question in my mind that the finest cooking that I have experienced has been from a master craftsman whose originality comes from a slight tweak of a tradition or a re-discovery of a lost dish. Even then the originality is less important than the execution. I also harbour little doubt that the worst meals I have been subjected to – worse than sloppy craft – are those where the cook, professional or otherwise, takes it into his or her head to try something new.

Please rather just improve.  Only in incremental improvement will you find excellence.
Adam Robinson