Sunday 20 September 2020

And so the baton passes…..

A lovely and very meaningful part of the Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah ceremony is passing the Torah (scroll) through the generations. When the Torah is removed from the Ark, many communities invite the grandparents and parents of the child to the pulpit to physically hand the Torah from one generation to another, symbolizing the chain and continuity of the Jewish tradition within families. 

At the batmitzvah of our granddaughter and barmitzvah of our grandson, both sets of grandparents were present to hand the Torah from one to the other to the parents and to the young person. It was very moving.

There are other more mundane things that happen that make you realise that the responsibility for other things is also passing.  I have written before that my mother always made the chopped liver for our Jewish holidays.  She died a few months before Passover and the realisation that I would have to make it was not only a punch in the gut about how much I missed her but also a panic as there was no recipe. I managed, at least I knew what it should taste like and I make it every holiday.

This year I realised that the baton is passing further.  Our daughter made challah for their New Year in Switzerland as I did for ours. Traditionally it is not the usual long plaited loaf but is round.  Hers was so stunningly better than mine – no prizes for guessing which was which.

We went to our son and family to celebrate. He cut the apples and Number Two granddaughter drizzled the honey. We had a delicious roast chicken and trimmings and Number Two granddaughter, with a little help from Mum, made banana bread with chocolate chips  (the New Year is all about starting with sweetness so you can’t have too much of it.)


FaceTime isn’t the same as being together but the baton is passing – we are very blessed with our family.

Saturday 5 September 2020

Old bad habits are quick to resume

When I knitted a lot I always had a few things on the go – I like the knitting part but hate the finishing off and tidying up the loose ends (this is not a parable for my life!) 

I used to wander around The Needlewoman in Regent Street (yes I am that old) or John Lewis haberdashery department but now we have the internet and the temptation is too great – a pattern here – some yarn there…….

I have finished this neck thing – not quite a scarf but will keep one’s neck warm – will go to Number One Daughter if we ever see each other again….


I mentioned in my previous blog about Knit for Peace and these are the squares I have knitted for a full size blanket – just need to sew them together….


There is a “Next Door” neighbourhood group for our area.  Someone posted that she is collecting clothes and toys for some refugees who have nothing but what they stand up in.  There were so many replies that she has had to put people on hold as she can’t store any more for the moment. I had a bag of clothes ready to go to the charity shop and added some toys, which now the grandchildren have outgrown which went. There are several pregnant women so I am back knitting blankets again – one down and one on the way – but I still have to sew that other blanket together. 


I have just ordered some fabulous looking yarn for scarves and shawls – getting carried away again.




Friday 4 September 2020

Baking on hold - knitting again

I used to knit – first for Number One Husband in the days before central heating.  He still has two of the sweaters but they are so heavy he is unlikely to wear them again unless the heating fails! 

I then knitted for my children: those were the days when a home knitted red and white scarf sufficed for an Arsenal supporter unlike today when the kit changes every year at great expense. I remember knitting a chenille jumper for my daughter - my mother in law bought the yarn at the Knitting and Stitching Show.  It was horrible to knit with and M&S brought out something very similar at half the price.  She still wore it to shreds.  Number One Son had a Fred Flinstone jumper - I still have the pattern somewhere. 

I then knitted for the grandchildren – each one had a blanket when they were born and some sweaters etc when they were little. Home made is not so desirable – my label can’t compete with the trendier ones.  

Early in the lock down the former sheriff and Past Master of the Framework Knitters, Liz Green, put out an appeal for knitted squares for blankets to be distributed to those who need them at the start of winter.  This seemed like an excellent idea especially as someone else was going to make them up, the tedious part.  We are watching TV or listening to music and being rather more sedentary than usual so anything to keep the hands occupied.  

In August Liz wrote, “This blanket was made by seven people and includes members of six different Livery companies.  We have received such a positive response to the project and we now have sixty blankets either completed or in production.”  This one included some of mine.

Having reminded myself how relaxing knitting is I looked for more very simple projects.  There is a charity called Knit for peace and they collect knitted goods (and spare needles etc) to distribute where needed.  This prompted me to dig out all my old knitting kit and go through it all.  As in sorting out anything this was a trip down memory lane as well.

I found packs of Milward sewing needles which were my mother’s – still in perfect condition.  Henry Milward is a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers and the family had a very long association with the trade going back centuries, ending in the 1980s and some of the brand names still exist.  

I also found the lovely rosewood knitting needles which I was given on the visit, lead by Henry Milward in his year as Master, to Needle Industries in OotyKamund (Ooty) in the beautiful Nilgiri hills.  I have several pairs of their bamboo needles, the nicest to knit with. The brand name is Pony – available in all good haberdashery departments and I didn’t realise that that was a Milwards brand as well. In fact many of the original engineers at Needle Industries trained in Redditch and when we visited they were still using some of the equipment. 

Here is some information about the company Henry Milward and Sons. Here is a short documentary which the Needlemakers Company sponsored about the craft which is interesting to watch. 

More about knitting later….

Tuesday 1 September 2020

A Very Big Adventure

The last time we left the house other than to visit a very few local friends and family or to buy food was on March 9 to attend a most enjoyable Needlemakers' function: see Last Gasp of Freedom

Apart from the real live face-to-face contact with friends and family, the two cancelled holidays, what we have missed most have been concerts and visits to art galleries.


Some weeks ago we booked to visit the National Gallery Titian exhibition “Titian, Love Desire and Death”.  It is the first time that several of the paintings have been shown together since the late 1500s.  I cannot fault the National Gallery for the organisation.  Everyone was wearing masks and socially distancing, the gallery was comfortably busy, quite a few families with children which is always a joy.

We drove in and paid not only the congestion charge but the parking fees (eeek). I think I might risk the Underground next time as I believe it is not busy.  However, I needed to return my library books to the Barbican Library so it was useful to be in the car!

Perhaps I have been locked down too long but while I could admire the artistry and the exhibition is very well curated, I found myself very offended by the subject matter of several paintings. Titian called the paintings the poesie because he drew on Classical poetry for their subject matter – these were his visual poems.  His patron, Philip of Habsburg, King of Spain, gave him total freedom. I would imagine this was every artists dream.

Of course this is Greek Myth, classical poetry, Ovid - but why is it OK for a woman to be raped by a God?  Danae is impregnated by Jupiter (he enters her chamber as a golden shower!!); Jupiter rapes Callisto; he carries Europa to Crete where he rapes her too.  Yes there are other paintings but these annoyed me.


There are three “tours” around the gallery after the exhibition and I rejoiced and remembered how wonderful the National Gallery is.  I have nothing against nudity – the exquisite Toilet of Venus by Velazquez. I rejoiced seeing Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Rubens portrait of the family of Jan Breughel and on through past the Turners into the Impressionists and my equilibrium was restored.  The Gallery is also looking stunning.  

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Blowing hot and cold? No mostly hot and humid.

When we first moved to London central heating was not the norm. Our flat had electric radiators, which were hugely expensive to run.  We tried a paraffin heater which was cheap and effective, problem was our badly built 1960s apartment had very poor ventilation and it created condensation (and mould in the cupboards!)  I had no idea that it generated as much moisture as it burned paraffin.  We muddled along and envied our friends who were able to install storage radiators (drew electricity off-peak and generated warmth when required).

Back to Johannesburg in the 1970s where sun-filter curtains, tiled floors, air-bricks and many windows allowing cross draughts kept us cool.  Additionally in Johannesburg rain was almost guaranteed to fall every evening in a short thundery shower which cooled the air.  

Back to London and central heating making for toasty winter days and nights but when it gets hot it gets hot and humid and at the moment it isn’t cooling down much at night either.  Sales of domestic air-conditioning are soaring and I confess that I spent some of our cancelled holiday money on an installation in the bedroom; there is a limit to how long you can spend in the bedroom.   

I have never tried to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car but the temperature seems to be heading that way.  The lawns are yellow but I know from Johannesburg winters where the lawns died every year, one or two showers and they soon come back. 

This is the perfect hot weather dish and a family favourite.  I used to make the croutons but now they come in a packet! No cooking required and good use of tins.



Serves 8


2 large tins tomatoes                                2 cloves garlic

2 onions, sliced                                           1 tin/jar pimientos

2 green pepper, sliced                              1 cup soft white breadcrumbs

1 cucumber                                                  6 – 10 Tab olive oil

6 Tab wine vinegar                                     250 ml chicken stock

2 Tab tomato paste                                   salt, pepper, Tabasco and parsley

Additional raw tomatoes, peppers, red onion, cucumber – all chopped



This is a very approximate recipe and you need to adapt it to your own taste.  


Combine tomatoes, onion, pepper, pimiento, cucumber, bread/crumbs.  Season with salt, Tabasco and pepper and marinate in olive oil and vinegar for at least an hour.  Blend with stock and parsley.  Serve chilled with bowls of tomato, green pepper, red onion, cucumber and croutons. 


You can add a clove or two of garlic, mashed or garlic salt, I am not keen on raw garlic so I don’t.


Wednesday 5 August 2020

Don’t knock social media until you have tried it….


I have resorted to social media (either Facebook or Twitter in my case) when complaints have failed. It infuriates me how difficult some companies make it to return goods or get refunds (airlines? holiday companies? the list goes on.) Unfortunately for them I have time on my hands right now.  


The most recent incident happened last month.  I ordered some goods online from a chain of health food stores. I have ordered before and it has been fine. The order took a week to arrive (also fine) and was delivered by a courier agency.  We have got to know the driver very well over the last few months!!


I opened the box to find that some of the contents – almond flour, various nuts had been partially eaten and, by the teeth marks, clearly by rats.  Fortunately the courier was still here delivering to a neighbour and he showed me where the box had been resealed on the corner, presumably where it had been eaten into. He took the parcel back.


I contacted the online store (not easy to find email addresses etc) and heard back the following day to say that the box had not been returned.  I left it a couple of days and then emailed again. The saga began – I was repeatedly asked for the same information and after several days was told that it had been referred to head office.  Days passed and no response.


After two weeks I found their facebook page and posted on it. Within hours I had a response – asking for further information.  Sent it and then they asked for my email address via private message which I supplied.  I was then asked for the same information that I had sent several times.  At this point I lost my cool and posted the following:


“I am really fed up with supplying the same information over and over again and repeating the same answers. Read my Facebook entry and then ask your customer service department for all my emails. This has been going on for two weeks. I would have thought that something which was a serious public health hazard would have been made a priority.”


The money was returned to me within hours. 


However much anyone may justifiably criticise Amazon (and I wish they would pay their fair share of taxes or should I say that the government would legislate to ensure these companies do) their returns policy is exemplary as is Groupon’s.  John Lewis, which used to be excellent is no longer. 


Big shout out to my local butcher Graham's who has handled the crisis brilliantly, taking orders for delivery: adding picking up the order from outside the shop from a numbered cool box and now serving customers at the door as well.  Also the first shop in London to sell South African specialties including their own boerewors as well as biltong and many imported goodies.  

Tuesday 21 July 2020

It’s just not cricket!

This may have no meaning to most people outside England and the former British Empire – now Commonwealth countries, it means – it is unfair, just not done. Cricket is rarely played outside the Commonwealth – the great cricketing nations include India, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia. 


As for “the sound of leather on willow” that is meant to represent the quintessential English summer’s day in village life: the sound of the leather ball hitting the willow bat – something that has not yielded to modernisation. 


While growing up in South Africa I listened to cricket commentary on the radio.  Not sure why but it became quite a thing in high school and I have an autograph book with all the signatures of the MCC team that visited South Africa in the 1950s.  I sent a piece of paper with a request and back came the signatures on my piece of paper.  No PRs doling out signed photographs. 


Like many sports cricket has a baffling list of terms which are completely unintelligible to anyone outside the game. I can follow a cricket match, even catch when someone is out LBW (leg before wicket) but please don’t ask me to explain where on the field silly mid-off is standing or for that matter silly mid-on, square leg, short leg and so on.


The commentators were all frightfully well spoken – even Charles Fortune who commentated for the SABC.  I remember John Arlott too.  Cricket loves nicknames – Ian Botham – soon to be Lord Botham - is Beefy, David Lloyd is Bumble and the list goes on. Commentary is always delightful to listen to, full of anecdote and humour (it isn't a very fast-moving game...) Of course there was Brian Johnston who is credited with these two: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey”  (Michael Holding bowling to Peter Willey) and then “As he comes into bowl, Freddie Titmus has got two short legs, one of them square”.


Michael Holding, commentating on the current Test was one of the finest fast bowlers ever and he was nicknamed " Whispering Death" due to his quiet approach to the bowling crease.  He has a wonderful voice to listen to and even makes me think I understand all the intricacies of what is taking place.  


We are at home more than usual at the moment so Number One Husband is watching the cricket – England vs the West Indies.  While rain stopped play (not that unusual) Holding was talking to the other commentators and made an impassioned speech on racism in reference to Black Lives Matter. "Racism," he said, "is taught". "No one is born a racist. The environment in which you grow, the society in which you live, encourages and teaches racism." At the end he said hoped that things were changing "Even if it's a baby step at a time, even a snail's pace. But I'm hoping it will continue in the right direction. Even at a snail's pace, I don't care".




Wednesday 15 July 2020

Friends for supper (!) and a sugar biscuit recipe

No big deal?  Normally there would have been eight or more of us but in this case only the four of us – and we ate inside instead of in the garden – baby footsteps towards normality.  


I have forgotten how to cook for more than two – and to schedule a meal.  I know this sounds pathetic but I haven’t been very creative and certainly not more than one course for the two of us.


We started with some grilled fresh prawns with the good old Marie Rose sauce with our drinks.  We then moved onto Pickled Fish followed by a chicken tagine with a tabbouleh salad made with freekeh and bulgur wheat and a berry crumble to finish off.  


It was a bit much for four of us – the good news being that we ate leftovers for the rest of the week – the crumble was the first to be finished! 


Cucumbers are so cheap at the moment that I have invested in some preserving jars and will be making a big batch of Bread and Butter Pickle.  I have made a couple of batches recently but they went very quickly.  (I’m channelling my mother here – we had a pantry full of jars of preserved fruits, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and homemade tomato paste – I won’t go that far.)


This biscuit is a favourite with everybody. They are called Nut Shortbread but the grandchildren just call them the Sugar Biscuits.

Nut shortbread aka the sugar biscuits - Bella’s

225 grams butter                          

4 tablespoons caster sugar 

60 chopped almonds*          

1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt

280 grams plain flour (include 4 tablespoons of cornflour)

Sugar for coating


Cream butter and sugar (I find this works best if the butter is cold). Add vanilla and then salt and flour and pulse.  Add nuts and pulse.  Knead well. Refrigerate for one to two hours**.


Heat oven to 150°C.  Roll into balls about 2 cm in diameter.  Place on a lined pan and then press with a fork to give a ridged appearance.  Bake for about 45 minutes until lightly coloured.


Put some sugar into a bowl and roll the biscuits in the sugar while still warm and leave on a wire rack to cool.


*       the original recipe called for walnuts but I use almonds as no one in the family is allergic to them – you can use any nuts.


**      longer than that makes it difficult to work, less than that the mixture will spread too much. 

I usually put the tray in the fridge for half an hour before baking.

Monday 13 July 2020

It's been a bit quiet

In the beginning of lockdown, friends were telephoning each other often. That has worn off somewhat.  We don't have much to say. We have exhausted the subject of Covid-19, our government, anyone else's government, what's on TV or Netflix or anything else. Just not a lot of conversation.......

However, a useful piece of information - wearing a mask causes your glasses to steam up (who knew?).  Take a tissue fold it in half and put it under the nose bit, it works. 

The excuses for not wearing a mask are legion.  One person complained she wore a mask and the next day had a cold sore. Yup, nothing to do with that other virus, herpes. One woman complained on social media that she nearly fainted.  Just as well she is not a doctor, nurse, any other kind of health care or care worker. That was before the hairdressers etc opened and they have to wear masks. I just don’t know how my father could have operated for hours on end in an operating theatre wearing a mask.  

I rather overbought disposable gloves.  Have realised that they are excellent when doing messy baking/kneading.  

I don’t go out much but my only trip to supposedly upmarket Waitrose, no hand sanitiser, very few masks and no social distancing.  Tesco on the other hand had a huge dispenser, more people were wearing masks and far more disciplined. 

Zoom meetings are excellent. Happily I am not spending hours every day doing this but the few meetings I have had have been very efficient.  Institute of Health Visiting, where I chair the trustee board, had its annual meeting with the auditors.  We were all calling in from home.  Normally this is at least a half a day for me and I am the closest. Others travel in from far further afield.  At least one person has travel delays and starts the meeting stressed.  Our board meetings draw trustees from around the country - I am not sure we will return to face to face for regular meetings.  

FaceTime and WhatsApp have their uses.  Wonderful to see family and friends we can’t meet physically but somehow I end up feeling slightly depressed afterwards as it brings home what we are really missing

Our local nail bar opens today.  It is a family run business, husband and wife and her sister, all from Saigon.  Spotlessly clean and they are competent and just lovely.  Very excited to see sister’s wedding photographs from her wedding at the beginning of the year.  Whole family was cleaning the salon from top to toe when I walked past Sunday morning. I’m quite excited.....mani pedi here I come!


I’m still baking – more of that tomorrow.


Tuesday 23 June 2020

Homesick for food……

Proust may have been transported back to his childhood by the taste of the “petite madeleine” dipped in tea and wrote most eloquently about it in Remembrance of Things Past, but there is nothing like the longing for the food of childhood – especially when it is 6,000 miles away.  

When I first moved to London when we married in the 1960s I was overcome from time to time by homesickness. Telephone calls had to be booked 48 hours in advance and cost £1.00 a minute at a time when my gross salary was £15.00 a week.  Only birthdays and anniversaries were important enough – and tragically in extreme circumstances when you could put a call through in two hours, which is how I learned of my father’s death. (Note to grandchildren – we did not have the internet, email, FaceTime, WhatsApp – landline or nothing!)

I learned to cook some of the foods of my childhood but there were some things like boerewors, biltong, Peppermint Crisps, Chocolate Logs, dishes made with Peri Peri – the list is quite long – that were not available.  

Strangely enough I was never nostalgic for cakes and biscuits – we certainly had them.  My treat was a “shop-bought” biscuits especially chocolate.

I grew up in Johannesburg – city girl – Number One Husband grew up in the country – Upington, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. No shop-bought there – everything was made at home. This introduced me to some traditional South African dishes which we had never had at home.  While there are several butchers in London and mail order companies that sell South African specialties (including all the ones mentioned above), these are best home made. They are called Boere Beskuit – literally “Farmers’ Rusks” but normally known as Buttermilk Rusks.  They keep for weeks, in any climate.  I have added a few tweaks and here they are.


Buttermilk Rusks


300 grams butter                                   

200 grams brown sugar

200 grams Bran flakes (Fruit and Fibre works!)

75 grams raisins 

80 grams bran

125 grams sunflower/mixed seeds 

500 ml buttermilk

2 eggs

1 Kilo self-raising flour                          

15 ml baking powder


Melt the butter and sugar and cool slightly. Mix the flour, baking powder, bran, seeds, raisins and bran flakes in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and buttermilk

Add the butter mixture to the buttermilk mixture and pour into the flour mixture. Mix well – add more flour or milk if necessary.

Form the mixture into balls and put them next to each other in baking trays (I find they all fit into an oven/roasting tray).  Bake at 190 C till light brown – about 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and break apart and put some onto a second baking tray so that they are separate. Reduce heat to 100C for 4 hours, switch off the oven and leave overnight.

Note: if you don’t have buttermilk you can substitute with one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar per 250 ml of milk. 

Store in a tin. They are best eaten dunked into tea or coffee – eat your heart out Marcel….. 

Thursday 11 June 2020

Cucumber sandwiches anyone?

It seems extraordinary now that we have (pre Corona!) multiple restaurants, cafés, coffee bars and fast food chains, that there was a time when there were very few places to go out to eat.  Certainly growing up in Johannesburg, apart from hotel restaurants and the main railway station, there were very few places to eat out.  There were tea rooms in the department stores and one or two restaurants in “town”.  

Pasta was macaroni or spaghetti, rice was white and bread was white or brown and rye bread from the kosher deli. My parents adored food - if we wanted asparagus we grew them and if we wanted lasagne my mother, with the cook, would make the sheets of pasta by hand.

We had over an acre of vegetable garden and as the keen gardeners out there will know, everything ripens at once. My sister in Los Angeles is in a similar situation but with the addition of goats, chickens, quail and a miniature cow so has a pantry full of bottled fruit, jams, chutneys and everyone who visits receives food parcels including cheeses and – honey from the beehives.

What do you do with cucumbers? My favourite was “bread and butter pickle”.  I don’t know why it was called that – the original recipe came from The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, first published in the USA in 1931 and my mother’s now very tattered edition was bought in 1945. The sub-heading is A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with an Occasional Culinary Chat. Before the internet you could find out how to cook almost anything from that book.

Rombauer’s recipe starts “1 gallon firm cucumbers”.  My mother’s recipe is probably scaled down from that for my more modest requirements but I am sure she used gallons of cucumbers when they were picked and she certainly preserved them in sterilised jars.  Here it is:

Bread and Butter Pickle

1 kilo cucumbers (small ones are best, must be very firm)
½ kilo small onions very thinly sliced
50 grams salt
300 ml cider vinegar (if you have it substitute 50 ml with distilled vinegar)
175 gms sugar
1 tab mustard seeds
1 teas celery seeds
1 teas whole cloves
½ teas turmeric

Wash but do not peel the cucumbers. Cut into slices about 2-3 mm thick  and similarly with the onions. Layer in a glass or ceramic container, sprinkling the salt between the layers.  Cover with cling film and place a heavy weight on top and leave for about four hours in the fridge.  

Drain and rinse under cold water and leave to dry on kitchen paper. Put the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cucumber and onion and bring to the boil again. As soon as it is boiling take it off the heat and cool.

You can eat it immediately but best left for a day or two in the fridge where it will keep for a couple of weeks. If you are going to store it for longer it needs to be bottled in sterilised glass jars.

Note:  I have reduced the amount of sugar in the original recipe but you need to taste and decide.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

A chicken by any other name…..

I am uni-lingual.  I used to be able to speak Afrikaans and can still understand a bit but other than that never really learned any other languages. However, my restaurant French, Italian and German are not too bad.

We seem to have moved from menus having everything in French to having lyrical descriptions of each dish. I remember an hilarious dinner with (British) colleagues in San Francisco when the waiter came to our table to tell us the specials for the evening and started with “Smoked Scotch Salmon from Norway”.  I am not sure he quite understood even after we tried to explain it to him

One of my mother’s favourite dishes was Chicken in Red Wine. There seem to be many different recipes for Coq au Vin so this is as good as any. I use a mixture of olive oil and butter.

1 chicken, jointed into 10 pieces                   
110 grams butter
4 Tab sherry                                 
1 tab tomato paste
3 tab flour                            
12 shallots peeled but left whole
12 button mushrooms                   
350 ml red wine                            
350 ml stock *
salt, pepper, garlic and bouquet garni

Salt and pepper chicken.  Put garlic into butter and brown chicken.  Pour over sherry and cook for a few minutes.  Take out chicken. Cook onions and mushrooms for a few minutes and put with chicken.  Add tomato paste, herbs and flour.  Cook for a few minutes, add hot stock and bring to boil stirring all the time. Add 150 ml wine and taste for seasoning.  Strain if necessary and pour over chicken. 

Simmer for 1½ hours, adding rest of wine gradually – can be cooked on the hob or in oven – probably around 160C.  Leave to cool, skim off fat: reheats and freezes well. 

If you wish you can strain the sauce and reduce it before pouring over the chicken and reheating thoroughly.

 *if no stock was available she used half Oxo and half Telma chicken cubes– works for me

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Let’s talk about the weather

Several years ago we were in India – staying about 35 miles outside Jaipur in the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Jaipur. There are beautiful gardens and wonderful scenery. We were sitting in brilliant sunshine having tea (of course) and suddenly I could smell rain, just as I could as a child in Johannesburg.  I said so and everyone looked at me as if I was mad. There was not a cloud in the sky – within the hour the clouds swept over and the rain poured down. It was surreal.

In Johannesburg we never really discussed the weather.  In the winter it was very dry – the humidity levels could drop below ten per cent, the temperature was often below freezing at night and sunny and quite warm during the day. The sun shone and the temperature was mostly in the low 60s Fahrenheit or high teens Centigrade: nothing to talk about there.

At the end of winter, the grass now dried out and yellow where we lived on the outskirts of Johannesburg there was always a risk of veld fires.  The veld grass was long and tinder dry and the smallest spark would set the fields alight. The call would go out to all the men in the neighbourhood, employers and employees alike, and they would burn a fire break at the side of our and neighbouring properties.  This was for two reasons – to stop the fire engulfing the edges of the properties and to prevent the snakes, mice and rats from fleeing the flames into said property.

At the end of winter we would have the discussion about when the spring rains would arrive.  As soon as they did the black, scorched veld would turn green and our yellow lawn would as well. The only other weather discussions during the summer were about whether there would be sufficient rain. It rained almost every evening and sometimes there were, to me, quite terrifying thunderstorms.  Very often the lights would go, sometimes the telephone too. We knew that if we were outside we never sheltered under a tree and tried to get as flat as possible.  Every house had a lightning conductor on the roof, earthed so that the electric charge would go into the ground – sometimes it worked and sometimes not.

I was unprepared for the endless discussions about the weather in England of which I am now an enthusiastic participant. I didn’t realise that you could experience such variations.  My daughter’s wedding was in mid-June and the temperature was just over 10C (50F).  We have had lunch in the garden in March (especially this year) and turned the heating back on in May.

I was relieved that thunderstorms were no longer an issue but was brought low by the greyness. In Johannesburg if the sun shone in winter it warmed up – in London if the sun shone in winter it was colder than if the skies were grey, which was very confusing.  The past few days have been mostly grey but with not much rain, which is what reminded me. 

Wednesday 3 June 2020

When is a pint not a pint?

Although we have now moved on and everything is metric, time was when liquid measures in the UK were “Imperial”.  In the kitchen, even butter and flour was measured in cups rather than by weight. 

This is all well and good – but when I emigrated from South Africa to the UK in the 1960s, South Africa had changed from measuring in cups and ounces to metric. All my mother’s recipes were still in the old measurements. That would have been perfect as the UK had not moved to metric but for one thing…..

One of our favourite recipes (especially for Jewish holidays) was herring in mustard sauce. At home the salted herrings were pulled out of a barrel by the fishmonger and then soaked, filleted and cleaned.  I had no idea where to buy those so just used rollmops which I unrolled and cut into pieces.

So far so good:  I made the sauce, which was very runny. Help! I had a book which gave remedies for cooking problems, reckoned this was pretty much like a custard and added an extra egg.  It was better but still wasn't quite right so I added another egg and it was perfect. Thinking all the time that this was my cooking incompetence I left the recipe as it was and just added two extra eggs. 

I was asked for the recipe by someone and duly gave it to her.  Several months later she castigated me for giving her the wrong recipe, as it didn’t work – “All you had to say was that you didn’t want to give it to me”.  I told her about how I “fixed” what I thought was my problem but she didn’t want to know.  I was mortified.

A while after that I found out that South Africa had used American measures and the measures in the UK were Imperial.  Most of the time it didn’t matter but when proportions are critical it did.  An Imperial pint was 20 fluid ounces and an American pint was 16 fluid ounces – so I had been using too much liquid all along.  Here is the amended recipe – in metric!

6 rollmops, unroll and discard the bits! 
4 bay leaves
12 peppercorns                                      
2 large onions sliced

Cut herrings into largish pieces and alternate in layers in a jar with the onions, peppercorns and bay leaves.  (You can use a bowl with a cover.)


360 ml white wine or cider vinegar                         
2 teas dry mustard
3 large eggs well beaten                                
120 ml double cream
110 grams sugar

In a double boiler heat up the vinegar and sugar.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, mustard, salt and pepper.  Add the hot mixture to the egg beating constantly.  Return to the double boiler and stir until it becomes thick and custard like. Cool.  Whip cream and add to cooled mixture and whip all together.  Pour over the herring mixture and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

Monday 1 June 2020

Traditional South African recipe – ideal for hot weather

The weather has been extraordinary, very warm and sunny: although the gardeners are not very happy and believe it or not we could be facing a hosepipe ban.  From tomorrow we can meet up to six people outside, including in a garden – an exciting prospect. 

Would be good to have lunch outside – we could get a take-away so that everyone has their own parcel of food or perhaps I could make something like this and make sure that each person has their own serving spoon, everything to go straight into the dishwasher afterwards, don't touch your face, wash your hands.  Or perhaps I just dish up (wearing a mask and gloves) and no second helpings.  Or we could just eat it ourselves……

The first method is the family one but the second one works perfectly well and is less hassle. In South Africa we always used Kingklip which I have found very occasionally in London.  It is the best firm white fish!

1 K firm white fish fillets                          
4 sliced onions
about 350 ml white wine/cider vinegar
1.5 teas flour                                               
1 clove garlic, crushed                              
2 teas lemon juice
12 peppercorns                                           
6 bay leaves
¼ teas peri peri (hot chilli)                      
1 tab turmeric
sugar, salt and pepper to taste              

Cut fish into large cubes and fry in butter until golden and cooked through.  Remove and add more butter, fry onions for five minutes.  Push to the side of the pan, put in garlic, turmeric and peri peri, 2 teas sugar, salt and pepper, add flour and fry for a moment and then add vinegar and lemon juice and bring to the boil for five minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Arrange fish in a dish and pour the sauce over – cool and refrigerate.  Apparently keeps for two weeks – wouldn’t know never lasted that long.

Alternative method – less hassle!

Fry the onions, add the spices, flour etc as above and then add vinegar and lemon juice.  Mix together and cook for a few minutes to thicken. Put fish in an oven-proof dish, cover with onion mixture and bake at 180°C for 40 minutes.

Sunday 31 May 2020

My life becomes more surreal with every day

We have been on lockdown for a few days short of twelve weeks now. We are very fortunate: we have a house with a garden, good wifi, many books and (eventually) access to food delivery services. We have walked around the block but haven’t had to visit shops. 

I have “attended” webinars and had several zoom meetings, watched my great nephew’s barmitzvah on zoom, shared a zoom Passover Seder and had many FaceTime conversations as well as telephone conversations. It hasn’t been unpleasant, in fact quite restful as there is no time pressure and little stress.

We are not all in this together. I cannot compare my own very privileged situation with those working in front-line services which include not only the caring professions, but also the delivery people, people in supermarkets, who clear our rubbish and recycling – the list goes on. I am not in a tiny flat; I don’t have small children at home, I am not home schooling while trying to work from home – this list goes on as well.

That’s why it all feels a bit surreal – isolated from the world. Let alone what is happening in the UK, I have also watched what is happening in the USA in horror – both in the response to COVID-19 and now to the murder of a black man. 

At the beginning of the lock-down I decided that I would only do what I could do and shut out the rest.  I cannot go to the food bank that I normally support every week so I have donated money (and happily they have been inundated with donations of food). I have supported a few other charities as well.

I watch the news headlines and the daily broadcast from Downing Street – I don’t watch very much else. However, the situation in the USA is so shocking. I admire Trevor Noah, a South African of mixed race now living in the USA.  Read his story it is fascinating.

Here he shares his thoughts on the killing of George Floyd, the protests in Minneapolis, the dominos of racial injustice and police brutality, and how the contract between society and black Americans has been broken time and time again. The riots are awful and self-defeating to the rest of us – perhaps one can understand them better after reading this.

Friday 15 May 2020

That was then….

A friend sent through some “lockdown” jokes this morning – the situation has certainly opened up a very creative vein of humour! This was it.

It reminded me of when I was first married.  Apart from a two-day trip to Salisbury as I mentioned in my last blog, I had never left South Africa.  Our honeymoon was the sea voyage from Cape Town to Southampton, then travelling to London on the boat train to Waterloo. If you can imagine leaving sunny Cape Town and arriving in a grey cold wet London on a January day, it was daunting. This was before all the buildings had been cleaned and were still dark from the smog laden days of the 1950s.  

I grew up in a household with staff. Yes, I was a princess. I had never cooked a meal, washed a sheet or ironed a shirt. I learned to do all three in time!

What this photo reminded me of was the first time I abandoned hand washing everything in our flat (no central heating so damp stuff draped everywhere) and ventured to the launderette. I had no idea that you couldn’t use the same detergent in a washing machine that you used to hand wash. I loaded up with the Lux flakes and watched miserably while the foam poured out of the detergent tray and the top of the machine.  One woman was a bit sympathetic and helped me clean up. 

I learned to cook quite quickly because I like to eat and my first efforts were so disgusting that I reckoned that either I would learn to cook or I would have to go home.  This was a favourite South African recipe.  


1K minced beef or lamb or mixed         
2 onions, chopped
2 tab butter                                  
1 tab oil + for greasing
60 grams chopped almonds                  
110 g sultanas
1 teas mixed herbs
1 garlic clove crushed                           
juice half a lemon
1.5 tab curry powder                    
1 teas salt
1 tab wine vinegar                                 
1 tab sugar
grinding of black pepper                       
3 thick slices white bread
300 ml milk                                            
2 eggs lightly beaten

Heat the oven to 170C.  Grease a large deep pie dish with oil.  Melt the butter and oil and add the garlic and onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes or lightly browned.  Remove the onions and garlic to a large bowl.  Sprinkle the curry powder over the onions, add the almonds, sultanas, herbs, lemon juice, salt, sugar, vinegar, pepper and meat.  Mix well with a wooden spoon.  Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze it out (keep the milk) and mash and add to the meat with one beaten egg.  Put in the dish and press down with the back of a spoon.  Bake for about an hour until the meat begins to brown.  

Reduce the oven to 150C. If necessary, top up the milk from the bread to make 180ml.  Beat the other egg in the milk and pour over the meat. Bake until firm.

 PS One used curry powder in those days.  Today I would make my own mixture with garam masala, chilli etc.  Whatever works for you.