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I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration when writing blogs. In this business, you’ve got to have a keen eye and a ready pen – anticipating that inspiration can strike at any time and any place! So when I was half-working out, half-dancing with my cats to “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles, I realised that I needed to list my favourite fruit-and-vegetable-inspired songs. Weirdly specific, yes. But that’s just how inspiration works, people.

Watermelon Sugar – Harry Styles

The inspiration of this list – this contemporary song reminds me of my childhood, oddly enough. For me, childhood was eating too much watermelon and jumping in our pool in the back garden during the blisteringly hot summers in South Africa. During those scorching afternoons, watermelon made the perfect snack – fresh, juicy, rejuvenating, and easily cleaned up by a dunk in the pool. Styles was also a must-have on this list as his discography also includes songs like “Kiwi” and “Cherry”.

Green Onions – Booker T. & The MGs

While it says Green Onions in the title, it actually doesn’t mention my favourite vegetable whatsoever in the lyrics, but mainly that’s because there are no lyrics. Nevertheless, Green Onions by Booker T. & the MGs is an absolute jam (food pun intended) and is probably instantly recognisable to you if you know anything about 1960s rock and blues music. As a matter of fact, Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Cherry, Cherry – Neil Diamond

This classic is one of the first songs that I can remember being associated with food. I’m a big fan of Neil Diamond anyways, so maybe his thinking with his stomach influenced me in more ways than one – he also has a song called “Crunchy Granola Suite”. I think I might be having a food breakthrough here, actually.

Vegetables – The Beach Boys

If I didn’t know that this was the Beach Boys and I heard it, I’d most likely guess it was written by the Schoolhouse Rock crew for an episode about the health benefits of vegetables. While I think that good or bad music is in the ear of the beholder, I always felt that in spite of the positive message being brought across in this song, I assumed the Beach Boys only put in, like, 50% effort with this track. And considering “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” were on this same album, I don’t think their creative juices were running low.

Peaches – The Presidents of the United States of America

Yeah, alright, I wanted a deep-cut in this list. It couldn’t all be popular songs that everyone knows. The band called the Presidents of the United States of America (as opposed to the position in the executive branch) are best known for their one-hit-wonder “Lump” which is a delightful track that instantly transports me to the mid-90s. “Peaches” was their follow-up single from the same self-titled album and details the thoughts of a man who is very excited to go out to the country and eat a bunch of peaches – something relatable, to be sure.

Did I miss out on your favourite vegetable or fruit song? What comes to mind for you?

I have a confession: I often feel very guilty about being a meat-eater. My two cats are the loves of my life, and the prospect of anyone even considering consuming them makes me murderous with rage. My hypocrisy becomes evident through the fact that I have no such compunctions when looking at a lamb, mostly because of the memory of sumptuous slow-cooked shanks for Christmas dinner. So why is lamb okay but not cat? This got me thinking about how society has determined certain meats to be ‘good’ for eating and others…not so much. In the spirit of that, here’s a list of some of the most surprising regional meats (that you’ll actually find on store-shelves) that I’ve come across.

Ostrich in South Africa

This one doesn’t seem too strange to me, but everyone who isn’t South African assures me that ostrich is not widely available in grocery stores in other countries. I’m not a big fan of ostrich meat, but it’s everywhere here. The section of the store where you’ll pick it up might not be quite as large as the beef, pork, or chicken section, but walk into any South African grocery store and you’re sure to find some ostrich. Probably the strangest thing that people don’t know is that ostrich is a heavy red meat – and it tastes more like beef or lamb than the ostrich’s avian brethren like chicken or duck.

Moose in Canada

When my husband first mentioned eating moose, I honestly thought he was pulling my leg. Then I went to a restaurant that had the option of an elk burger and I started re-thinking my position. Apparently, moose is a big part of diets in Canada – mostly in the more rural or remote northern locations where a supermarket isn’t just around the corner. In those places, successfully hunting the largest member of the deer family could mean that your family has plenty of good, nutritious meat for weeks. While I haven’t had any moose meat personally, I have been told it’s very much like elk, which I did sample at that burger place. It’s a little muskier compared to beef, but much leaner and sweeter.

Kangaroo in Australia

This one feels a little difficult to swallow (pun intended). To me, kangaroos are adorable and mischievous characters that seem more like cartoons than actual animals. The idea of eating one was as foreign as, well, a North American cutting into an ostrich steak. However, from what I’ve found out, kangaroo meat is a big thing down under. Apparently, kangaroos are littered all over the place down there, and culls are carried out from time to time to make sure they don’t over-consume the landscape and start starving and dying out. This kangaroo meat industry is evidently one of the most sustainable and humane practices when it comes to the world-wide meat trade. While I’ve never tried any, apparently kangaroo meat is very similar to beef, is highly nutritious, and protein-rich.

Gator in the southern United States

Okay, the above are all red meats, so let’s go for something a little different: the gator. Alligator meat is ubiquitous in the southern states of America, particularly in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, where gator hunting is legal. Gator is a strange kind of meat – with some cuts that are definitely white meat and other cuts more similar to red. The most common description of gator is that it ‘tastes like chicken’ with a vaguely fishy tinge and is chewy.

So now over to you – any ‘strange’ meat preferences where you live? Which of the above meats would you sample?

If you know me, it comes as no surprise that my one true love is Italian food. Pizza, crostini, cured hams, pasta, buffalo mozzarella, marinated artichokes, tiramisu… I could go on all day.

However, Italian food has a bit of a reputation for being a bit ‘carb-heavy’. Usually, I don’t mind – it’s a free country and I’m allowed to enjoy my carbs! However, the past couple of weeks have been slowly but surely creeping towards my best friend’s wedding… and I really want to make sure I fit into that already-purchased bridesmaid’s dress.

As a result, I’ve had to get a little creative when it comes to the spaghetti situation in our house. Usually, it’s all wheat all the time, but because I’m effectively ‘wedding shredding’, I decided to try my hand with a few low-carb substitutes. Here’s how they fared:

Cauliflower Noodles

Easily my pick of the non-pasta pastas. If you’re looking for the best, look no further and stop reading the rest of the blog. Here in South Africa, we’ve got a high-end grocery store called Woolworths that stocks cauliflower noodles in 250 g portions, where I get mine. Honestly, I have no idea how one would do it if you had to try to make these on your own. However, while they don’t taste exactly like pasta, it is certainly the substitute that comes closest. Also, since it’s white, it kind of looks the same as cooked spaghetti as well – so you can trick your brain into thinking it’s the real deal!

Spiralised Zucchini

A few years ago, I was much more gung-ho about the ‘Banting’ diet craze. As a result, I bought myself a spiraliser and a ton of zucchini and got ready to go to town. I made a big batch of Bolognese, stretched my wrists, and got to twisting out some pasta.

It didn’t last long.

Unlike cauliflower noodles, spiralised zucchini doesn’t taste like spaghetti, not even remotely. Depending on your spiraliser as well, it probably churns out flattened green strings of the vegetable rather than satisfyingly fat noodles. While it certainly doesn’t have any excess carbs to speak of, it just kind of tastes like warm zucchini and sauce. I think give this one a pass.

Spaghetti Squash

This one was pretty cool. I truly enjoy squashes like butternut and pumpkin, so trying spaghetti squash wasn’t a big leap for me. This is a unique variety of squash whose flesh comes out in small, noodle-like strands – getting its name from the proximity to the world-famous pasta type. Again, like cauliflower noodles, this doesn’t exactly taste like spaghetti, but squash is quite delicious in its own right. If you can link pasta and squash in your mind, this makes for quite a tasty substitute!

Eggplant Lasagne

Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat – this really isn’t what it purports to be. Eggplant, in this dish, isn’t a substitute for lasagne noodles, this is a legitimate dish in Southern Italian cooking called melanzane alla parmigiana. Essentially, it’s an al forno dish with layers of eggplant between layers of napolitana sauce and a generous topping of shredded mozzarella. This meal I actually have zero complaints about – it is an excellent low-carb meal that is surprisingly filling for just eggplant, sauce, and cheese.

What about you? Do you have any substitutes that ‘taste just like the real thing’, like every healthy food website claims?

It’s 2017. I’ve arrived at my best friend’s apartment to cat-sit for her over the weekend (I know, I know, find me some situation that’s less predictable, right?) I walk into her tiny main room and find an oblong monstrosity taking up roughly 10 percent of her entire kitchen space.

“What is that?” I exclaim, bemused.

“Oh, it’s my air fryer – Tay, it’s so good!

I immediately narrowed my eyes and tried to suss out whether I was willing to trust her instincts when it came to food, but she soon had to leave, and I soon got too distracted by her cat to pay the air fryer any further mind.

Cut to 2021: nary has a week gone by without hearing some story about air fryers and how they have positively impacted the lives of my friends, colleagues and family. What has happened? Where did this obsession with the kitchen’s newest appliance come from? And – if my friends are to be believed – is it really going to change my life?

What is an Air Fryer?

So, an air fryer circulates super-heated air to cook food – but instead of baking your food like an oven, it mimics a deep fryer with no oil (or very little) used in cooking. The essential idea is that in limiting the oil, the unhealthy parts (read: fat, fat and more delicious fat) of fried food are eliminated while you can still enjoy the crispy, delicious goodness of something fried.

Some people aren’t convinced – whether it markets itself as a “fryer”, many foodies are simply seeing a slimmed-down version of a convection oven. Nonetheless, the air fryer does market itself on the ability to create our favourite deep-fried products (chicken nuggets, battered fish, popcorn shrimp, etc.) without the trans-fats and health risks that come with drenching all these foods in oil while they cook. Sounds great, right?

Air Fryer: Pros and Cons

The problem, from what I can see, is that it feels a lot like kitchen appliance companies trying to hop on the healthy-eating bandwagon too early. Air fryers are a nice novelty and are good for conserving electricity, but they have some obvious drawbacks – because of their compact nature, often there can only be so much food cooked at once. There are also the wildly differing opinions on the taste of the food that an air fryer produces – from the “it tastes exactly the same!” crowd to the “hard, brittle, and in desperate need of sauce” crowd. There seems to be a level of personal taste involved, but it kind of strikes me the same way vegans try to get me to believe that cashew cheese taste the same on a pizza.

It just doesn’t.

Nevertheless, there are some legitimate and obvious health benefits to using an air fryer – in comparing similar foods between an air fryer and a deep fryer, you’re getting about 70 percent fewer calories per meal. Research has also suggested that cutting down on deep frying lowers your risk of cancer. However, these too are tempered by suggesting that there are actually some health drawbacks to using an air fryer.

To me, an impartial observer who was initially just kind of wigged out by my friend’s purchase, I’m happy without getting one of these to take up more room in my already-crowded kitchen. My slow cooker is the only essential cooking appliance I need, thank you very much. However, I remain to be proven wrong! How have your experiences with an air fryer been?

Let’s start this post off with a bit of a riddle…the thing I’m talking about can live for hundreds of years without aging, it stays in the dark and is only rarely taken out, you can trace its ancestry back hundreds of years, it needs to be fed a particular substance to stay alive, and you probably shouldn’t add garlic to it.

I’m talking about vampires, right?

Wrong – I’m talking about sourdough bread.

While all of us now know exactly what a sourdough starter is because COVID-19 happened and we all went through that ‘bread phase’, I initially learned what a sourdough starter was one night well before the pandemic when there was this Reddit thread that was talking about internet rabbit-holes. One of the most popular comments was about tracing the lineage of sourdough starters. The poster mentioned that someone had been using the same starter for all their sourdough loaves since the 1970s, who in turn got that starter from an even older starter that had been going strong for the past hundred years.

via GIPHY

Sourdough Starters Have Ancestry

It’s kind of creepy, right? I was given a sourdough starter around October last year (the creepiest month, of course) and I have been dutifully feeding it flour and water for the past six months (kind of like Audrey II). I’ll be the first to admit that it’s unsettling to know that you have something in the fridge that is alive and I can trace its ancestry potentially further than I can trace my own.

Turns out that sourdough starters are a tradition in some families – some people have not just been feeding their sourdough starter for years, but their parents and grandparents have been feeding the same starter in all that time. I saw some comments in that thread that people are feeding sourdoughs after having been passed down for four generations. There’s even evidence of a 120-year-old sourdough starter up in the Yukon, having first travelled there in 1897 and it’s still going strong. It boggles the mind to realise that at some point, that starter was created from another older, more powerful starter somewhere else.

… just like a vampire!

via GIPHY

The longevity of food is a bit of an interest of mine, as you can no doubt tell from my deep-dive on perpetual stew I did earlier this year. While this is, admittedly, a very niche culinary science, I think it’s absolutely fascinating. However, I’m not the only one who is super interested in the family trees and ancestry of sourdough – the Quest for Sourdough was created recently as a ‘library’ for sourdoughs to date them and break down their contents. While many starters listed on the site are undated, two of the oldest verified starters documented on the website are 105 years old. Think about that for a second – you can bake a loaf of bread today from the same source that baked a loaf of bread when Woodrow Wilson was the American president and the Battle of Verdun was being fought in France in World War I.

Extending the Sourdough Legacy

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am most definitely doing all that I can to ensure that the ‘Tayla Blaire’ sourdough starter sitting in my fridge reaches 200 years old. That is unless I manage to kill it from neglect first. Have you tried making your own sourdough? Can you trace its ancestry? Let me know and make sure you submit it to Quest for Sourdough!


recipe-roasted-pepper-tomato-soup

Do you know what goes great with sourdough? Soup — especially tomato.  Find your inspiration with these tomato-based soup recipes.


So, I’ve heard of broth. I contribute to the blog for a soup website – how could I avoid hearing about broth? I’ve heard of beef broth, chicken broth, vegetable broth, even fish broth… but I’d be lying to you if I said that my eyes didn’t bulge out of their sockets when I heard about bone broth.

“Bone broth!” the spooky part of my brain exclaimed, “I can use that as a base to add my eye of newt and toe of frog to make a curséd potion for my enemies to drink! This is the food I can use to fuel the armies of the undead I shall call upon!”

Then, it turned out that bone broth was much more commonplace and much less Halloween-y than I had hoped it would be. Bone broth is essentially just a soup base that is made by simmering bones and animal joints for hours to extract nutrients and flavour. Apparently, the idea came about from the traditional hunter-gatherer approach of using every part of the animal to get as much nutrition out of a successful hunt as possible.

Bone Broth’s Ancient Beginnings

While it is an ancient recipe, I’ve noticed there’s been a bit of an uptick in mentions of bone broth in online recipes and on restaurant or takeaway menus. What has made this old staple into the newest food fad? Did I miss another paleo-diet surge?

Turns out there are a ton of health benefits that people are realising about bone broth that is making it a popular food – amino acids are plentiful to improve the look and strength of your skin, it supports weight loss by being filling while being low in fat, and may even support regulating a healthy sleep pattern due to its glycerine content.

Still though, it seemed to be a bit of a creepy name for the newest ‘it’ food. The more I think about it, the more I understand why we humans like to classify food and the animals they come from differently – you can rationalise eating beef, but you get sad if you eat a cow. In this situation, there’s no avoiding the fact that you’re essentially drinking bones.

The Verdict on Bone Broth

I gave it a try – my favourite Italian restaurant down the road started making and freezing bone broth as a take-away to be thawed and eaten with ravioli which, I am told, is the traditional way to eat ravioli (but please don’t tell them that I prefer ravioli with napolitana and a ton of Parmesan cheese). I thought it was good, and I’m game to try out pretty much anything to give my skin an extra boost to get rid of the ‘maskne’ we’re all now constantly at risk of.

So, if you’ve got 12 to 24 hours to kill and you’ve got a bunch of animal bones in your fridge (and really, who doesn’t?), embrace your inner witch and simmer a cauldron of bone broth to improve your complexion, trim your figure, and (maybe) curse your enemies with a potion.

(Simply Souperlicious indemnifies itself for any curses incurred by using bone broth. Terms and conditions apply.)

 

Do you believe in miracles? I think I might, after a spectacularly unlikely encounter that took place over December. My husband and I decided to get away to the coast for a few days and we decided on a little spot called Betty’s Bay, a few hours outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Our Air BnB was perfectly located in front of a rocky outcrop that resulted in a naturally private beach and throughout our stay, the only person we encountered on that beach was a single man walking his dog.

In Search of Food

Because of how remote Betty’s Bay is, there is a very limited selection of restaurants. One of these restaurants promised tapas, which had me sold. You see, there used to be a tapas restaurant five minutes from my home in Johannesburg called Escondido. The menu would change on a weekly basis (keeping a handful of old faithful crowd favourites on there) and the food was always sublime. It became the default ‘special occasion’ restaurant for us to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and I can’t tell you how gutted I was when it closed down.

So back to Betty’s Bay. We sanitised, took temperatures and sat down at Gnocchi Tapas and Wine. The friendly waiters brought round giant wooden boards with the specials of the week. I got a bit emotional. “Escondido used to have those…” I said to Chris. We read through the menu. Some of the items seemed familiar… too familiar.

After ordering the special of a dozen oysters for R 150 (yes please, I will have twenty platters, thank you), I whipped out my phone to begin my FBI-level snooping. First step…chef of Escondido…second step…Google “Willem Lizemore”…third step…creep his Instagram…in which he proudly announces the opening of his restaurant, Gnocchi Tapas and Wine, after his move to the Western Cape. I had found Escondido, my long-lost tapas love, 1500km away in a tiny town with less than 1500 people (Joburg is home to just shy of 6 million for some perspective). I asked our waiter if we could speak to the chef and he told us all about how the journey had gone down – in short, more twists and turns than you would think! After reminiscing about Escondido, we agreed that the spectacular location of his new spot couldn’t be beaten.

Suffice to say, we ate there every single day of our stay, worked through every single item on the menu, including the non-tapas options like a sublime paella and what we unanimously agreed was the best burger of our lives. I ordered the oyster special each time and one day, I even asked for them as a takeaway so that I could take them down to the beach, stand with my toes in the water and chomp down on my platter. This turned out to be a terrifically romantic idea in theory but in practice, dabbing Tobasco and squeezing lemon wedges onto shucked oysters, juggling trays of rapidly melting ice in the 30+ degree Celsius heat…it was comical to say the least.

Lost and Found

But anyway, there’s the story of how I lost my favourite restaurant and then found it again – totally by accident – in the last place on earth that I would have thought to look for it. 2020 gave some gifts after all.

Me, a happy noodle with my rock shandy and oyster platter.

The road into Betty’s Bay. The wooden boards of my culinary dreams.

 

Let’s get this out in the open right off the bat – I like Hawaiian pizza. If you can’t handle that, please don’t read any further. I recommend you take your inhaler and go hyperventilate elsewhere. If you have had any kind of online presence and are interested in food, you’ve probably noticed that the debate on pineapple and pizza has raged a little more intensely for the last couple of years. I’ve decided to weigh in on this debate – so we can finally have an influencer of my stature (please read that as sarcastically as possible) put the whole thing to bed.

Pineapple on Pizza: ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’

Pineapple belongs on pizza. As a matter of fact, so does banana. So does spinach, or baked beans, or ground beef, or corn. Everything belongs on pizza. The pineapple on pizza debate isn’t actually about whether pineapple should be on pizza – this debate is about food pretentiousness.

The pineapple/pizza argument is simply a microcosm of the affectation that foodies put on, lording their intense and detailed knowledge about cuisine and ‘the gastronomic arts’ over the rest of us plebeians who use food as a simple means of fuelling our bodies. Food pretentiousness comes in all kinds of forms, but a simple look into any claim will disprove any ‘right way’ of doing something.

Talkin’ Italian Food

Let’s take the example of Italian food since we’re already talking about pizza. Pretentious foodies the world over will discuss the truly traditional and Italian way to eat pizza – a dough base with a tomato-based sauce and a few slices of fresh mozzarella topping it. However, this is a misconception. Italy, like most countries, is rife with regional differences and in-fighting. The method above is the traditional Napolitano way (from Naples) to make pizza. However, if you go just a few miles north to Rome, the tradition is wildly different – a thick dough made in a square pan and sold by the slice. What happened to the traditional, authentic way to eat pizza?

Most culinary traditions stem from necessity. People in Naples made pizza this way because they had no other way to make it. You can see a similar pretention with ‘traditional’ pasta meals in Italy. Southern Italy has a tradition of pasta with just a hint of sauce, often using simple ingredients like garlic, olive oil, and balsamic to garnish a large dish of pasta. Many foodies would look at this tradition and insist that this simply has to be done this way because “that’s how it was meant to be eaten!”

In reality, peasants from the southern regions of Italy have been historically poorer than their northern-region compatriots whose cuisine consisted of more meat, lard, and milk than theirs. The poor of southern Italy ate large volumes of pasta with little sauce because there was no abundance of ingredients for the sauce – in short, the tradition stemmed from necessity. And, as always happens, the upper classes soon took a liking to the rustic traditions of the lower classes and made pasta with little sauce into something ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’. In reality, if the peasants had more access to different foods, Italian cuisine today might look a lot different.

The Final Verdict

To cut a long story short, food is about experimentation: it’s about using what you have to change the flavour, add a different texture, or diversify your nutrients. Pineapple is just a different flavour and a more modern way of altering an ancient dish. We should be championing pineapple on pizza simply because it is combining two things that some people may never have considered.

Plus, given the history of the pineapple, I am quite certain that people back in Naples in the middle ages would have been wildly excited to add some to their traditional pizzas.

If you have any ‘weird’ pizza topping preferences, let me know!

There are a few odd things that happen when you marry a Canadian.

The first is that you start pronouncing ‘out’ as ‘oat’ and adding ‘eh?’ to the end of statements to turn them into questions. Eg: It’s cold oat [out], eh?

You also realise that you don’t need to indicate that a sport is ‘ice hockey’. Hockey is automatically ice hockey, despite my South African sensibilities that indicate otherwise.

And then there’s the cuisine. Being a foodie, I was quite excited about this part. Canadian staples seemed to be dessert-focused, which is something I can truly get behind. There are Timbits, utterly delectable doughnut holes that you batch-buy at any Tim Horton’s coffee shop. A “Timmies” in Canada is as ubiquitous as a Starbucks in the States or a Wimpy in South Africa. They come in a variety of flavours (my favourite is birthday cake but Chris will fight me on that, favouring the sour cream glaze instead). Then there are Beavertails, which are really just flattened doughnuts.

Okay, we get it. The Canadians like doughnuts. But then he told me about poutine.

What is Poutine?

“Poo-what?” I repeated, my nose wrinkling with distaste.

“Poutine. Fries, gravy and curds,” he said, a manic glint in his eye.

I understand chips (fries) with tomato sauce, even if I won’t touch the stuff. I adore chips with mayo, like they do in Belgium or better yet, a tasty aioli. But GRAVY? Won’t it make them soggy? (The answer was yes, and that’s a good thing). The next query I had pertained to curds.

Curd Discovery

Because the only time I have ever heard of anything ‘curd’ is in the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme. If you don’t recall, she sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Whatever those were. Turns out ‘curds’ means ‘cheese curds’ and they’re pellet-sized lumps of cheese-but-not-cheese. It’s not pieces of grated mozzarella. Curds are not the same as cheese. They’re curds. Apparently they’re sort of tasteless, a bit like haloumi in texture and squeak as you bite them. The key is for the chips and gravy to be piping hot in order for the curds to melt upon impact and then immediately consumed. And the gravy, if you’re wondering, has to be beef and extremely salty.

I was repulsed. And when he pulled up a photo, I nearly hurled…

Trying Poutine for the First Time

Until I visited Canada and tried them in person. My friends, there is no going back. Classic poutine is the way to go, but it’s a gateway drug. I’ve had poutine with pulled pork. Poutine with perogies. I have even tried to replicate poutine in South Africa but it’s really hard to do because I can’t get hold of bags of cheese curds no matter where I look. In Canada, you can get them just about anywhere but in South Africa, they are nowhere to be seen. I even asked a specialty cheese shop and they just looked at me.

As I type this, I’m in withdrawals. We were meant to visit Canada this past December but of course, with COVID, plans changed. And so goes another year without shoveling pulled pork poutine down my throat.

Have you tried poutine? Would you try it?

Photo: Creative Commons/Yuri Long

Picture it – you’re a road-weary traveller on your way to the capital where you can petition the local lord. You’ve been on the king’s road all day, riding your trusty horse through rain and shine and as night is falling, you find yourself at the way-stop, an inn just off the path. You stable your horse and trudge through the front doors, to be met with the smell of smoke, beer, and sawdust. You hang your cloak on a peg and collapse into an open booth. The barmaid comes around and offers you the main fare of stew and bread.

How often does this happen? How many times have we seen this trope in films, television series, and books? Is it because their authors are just lazy? They can’t think of any other meal to be served at a medieval crossroads inn? Where are all of the old taverns and inns that served hamburgers or fillet mignon or macaroni and cheese?

The reason that this trope exists is because this was just kind of how it was back in the middle ages – inns, common lodging houses, and public houses would have something delightful called a perpetual stew.

When I first came across this idea (also called ‘hunter’s stew’ or ‘hunter’s pot’), I was absolutely charmed – the idea being both novel yet extremely simplistic: take what you’ve got in your kitchen or larder and throw it into a pot and simmer, replenishing the liquid when necessary.

That’s it!

This worked mainly because inns and pubs in medieval times had to have some kind of warm and filling meal that could accommodate crowds at any time of day – having a cauldron constantly bubbling with whatever was in season was the best way to do so. We modern folk have become used to the idea of restaurants having a set menu and choices, but a thousand years ago food on offer at the inn was mainly based on what the innkeeper had. Bought a sack of beans from the farmer who came through town yesterday? Toss it in the stew. Did your husband come back with a brace of conies from traps he laid in the forest? Skin ‘em and in the pot they go! Oh, and don’t forget to pour in a flagon of beer to give it some flavour and make it wetter. Most modern-day recipes favour game meats, ground vegetables, and stock, but there are no rules – perpetual stew is what you want it to be.


recipe-steak-potato-soup

Find this Steak and Potato Stew recipe here!


 

These kinds of stews are described as incredibly flavourful – as it simmers perpetually, each new addition mixes with older flavours, mingling and creating something incredibly hearty, rich, and delicious.

However, all of the above aside, I think the most interesting thing about the perpetual stew is just how long it can go for. Think about modern cooking: if you’re making a soup, you make it, you eat it, and then it’s done. With a perpetual stew, you’ve always got it simmering, meaning it can last for literal years. While in the medieval tradition, the cauldron would be drained and cleaned every year around Lent (to observe 40 days without meat), there are some places where a single pot of stew can be constantly replenished for years. In Wattana Panich, a restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, there has been a huge pot of beef noodle soup simmering since 1974. A pot of stew in New York City made headlines a few years ago as it had been simmering for a few years without fail.

As a contributing writer to a website that champions soup, I would absolutely love for my soup to never end. However, I don’t know that I can afford the electricity bill that keeping a soup on simmer for decades would require.

So go ahead and throw those leftovers in the pot! What’s in your perpetual stew, based on what’s in the pantry?

It takes time, energy, and effort to even make the decision to attempt a new, gourmet meal. You’re not just boiling some pasta and throwing some ready-made sauce on it – there’s going to be a long ingredient list and a very precise set of instructions. And there is nothing more disheartening than looking at that ingredient list and seeing some really pretentious ingredients on it. Seriously – when am I going to have the time (or money) to find some Mauritian vanilla pods? Do I really have the energy to make the trip to the specialty food store across town and sell a kidney just so that I can add those two tablespoons worth of aged balsamic to my salad dressing? What salad is worth that?

Pretentious or rare ingredients are far too expensive for the rest of us mere mortals and, really, nobody can taste the difference anyway. Here are a couple of examples. 

Vanilla Pods

When I think of a pretentious ingredient, my mind immediately goes to vanilla pods. I’ve lost count of how many times people have described vanilla beans as more “authentic” and “magical” compared to vanilla essence. Look, I’m not saying that getting the taste from the source is a bad thing, I’m just saying that I’d rather pay R 21 ($1.45) for a 100ml bottle of vanilla extract that can be used for dozens of recipes instead of R 280 ($19) for 2 fresh vanilla beans that can be used in exactly one recipe. Plus, the vanilla essence tastes like the soft-serve vanilla ice cream I ate as a child, and I’m trying desperately to ignore the present and eat something that reminds me of simpler times – so there. 

70% Dark Chocolate

I’ve always considered dark chocolate to be a bit of an ‘adult’ food – it’s something classy that older, distinguished people nibbled on with their snifters of brandy. I suppose I’m not that good of an adult because I still consider dark chocolate to be gross. So when I’m trying out a new brownie recipe and the food blogger whose recipe I’ve chosen extols the virtues of how I must “only use Lindt 70% dark chocolate, or higher… you simply can’t compare that pure cocoa taste,” I tend to ignore it. The cheaper Cadbury Bourneville dark chocolate is more than acceptable in my opinion – plus it has a little bit of added sugar so you can actually stomach it. Yeah, I’m not about to default on my rent payment because some recipe blogger insists I use Lindt dark chocolate. 

Wagyu Beef

Each recipe that mentions Wagyu seems to kind of get that it is the most delicious and expensive type of beef on the entire planet, but they only ever qualify it with “if you can get your hands on it”… really? It really should go without saying – if there’s a steak recipe, it is going to automatically be better with deliciously marbled beef from cows that have been fed beer and massaged their entire lives. But the fact that this chef throws Wagyu beef in for a recipe that’s readily accessible for plebs like me to cook might just mean that they’re pretentious.  

Legitimate Parmesan Cheese

Like sparkling wine that doesn’t come from Champagne can’t use the regional title, any hard granular cheese that purports to be Parmesan cheese that isn’t marked “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the rind can’t hold the title of Parmesan cheese. Here is where I’m going to be a hypocrite here for a second – I’d actually go out of my way to get a good wedge of legitimate Parmesan cheese to add to my pasta dishes. Maybe it’s my affinity for Italian food, but I can taste a big difference between stuff from the region and knock-offs. 

Anyway, that’s my list – are there any you think I missed? 

 

Morality is important but I try (and fail) to figure out how morality and food ever came to be put together. How often have you heard the following?

“I’ve been so good this week – salad every single day.”

“I know it’s naughty, but I can’t resist a square of chocolate after dinner.”

“I can’t wait for my cheat meal this weekend!”

The second you start using words like “good”, “bad” and “cheat”, you are ascribing a sense of morality to whatever it is you are talking about. “Good” is positive, “bad” is negative, and “cheating” implies connotations of infidelity and betrayal. Except you are talking about food. 

The block of chocolate you want to eat has 100 calories. So does one large apple. The little bowl of nuts you have portioned out to be ‘good’ over is actually more intensive in calories than a scoop of ice cream might be. Avocado is super healthy – and super calorie dense. 

A calorie is a calorie. And everything – everything you eat – has them. Calories are necessary because they provide the fuel that powers your body to do all the things it needs to. Like digest your food, power your brain while you think through challenges at work, walk on the way home, keep breathing…you know, the usual. Your body needs calories.

So then how did some food become good and some become bad? A slice of bread doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does a spoonful of butter. If that’s all you’re eating, you’re not eating something that’s bad – no food is ever going to be put on trial for its lack of goodness – but you definitely aren’t taking in the full spectrum of nutrients that your body needs.

The calories in a spoon of butter that you use to sauté a giant bowl of vegetables won’t be regarded as bad but if you have that same spoon of butter on a dinner roll, then you’ve been ‘naughty’. The calories in both are equivalent – the calories in both are capable of sustaining you. 

It’s just that you’ll probably be a lot fuller after the bowl of veggies than you’ll be after a little buttered bit of bread. But that doesn’t mean your meal was good or bad – unless you’re talking about flavor, in which case, sure – call it like you see it. 

But don’t – ever – think that you are a bad person because you like sweet things or that you’re automatically a good person just because you would rather eat some broccoli than a toasted cheese. You might have some extra fat. That doesn’t mean you are fat. You may not have eaten something that’s bursting to the brim with nutritional value, but it has no bearing – none – on the kind of person you are. 

Try to think of food as fuel instead of reward or punishment. Think of exercise the same way. Moving is how we celebrate our bodies – how we can build up our strength, our speed, and our endurance. Exercise is not punishment for being bad and eating something delicious that you felt a craving for. You do not have to run on the treadmill like a hamster for an extra half hour because you decided to accept a slice of birthday cake in the office.

Move your body in a way that is fun and fulfilling for you. Eat food that gives you nutrients (the brighter and more varied you can make the colours in your fresh produce is usually a good bet) and don’t be afraid to eat other, less nutrient-dense foods if you want to. They’re not treats for good behavior. You are not a dog. You’re a person who is alive to do more than pay bills and lose weight.

I remember being a kid the first time I heard the term ‘aphrodisiacs’. I spent entirely too long thinking they had something to do with styling afros, rather than being foods that supposedly stimulate sexual desire. Aphrodisiacs, named after the Greek goddess of pleasure, beauty, love, passion, and procreation are meant to help you get in the mood, but apparently it’s somewhat unreliable. What gets one person going might do nothing for someone else, so it’s an inexact ‘science’ at best and a weird way to get sexual about food at worst.

But if you want to give it a good old-fashioned shot, I’ve taken the liberty of looking into a few that you can try out this Valentine’s Day.

  1.  Nope. I refuse to believe this is an aphrodisiac. Literally, any booze could be listed here and it would get people dropping their pants because alcohol lowers inhibitions. Yes, champagne SOUNDS sexy but that’s only because you don’t want to see Jagerbombs on an aphrodisiac list, even though they probably work the exact same way.
  2. Apparently celery contains androsterone, a male pheromone that is attractive in men. The amounts involved though are infinitesimally small, so really, it’s more like you get turned on by the chomping sounds of eating celery, reminding us of our cavemen origins, since breaking celery sounds like breaking bones. Here’s a video that proves it (sorry if you came here to feel sexy).
  3. Now I’m just getting mixed messages… I would have thought loading up on garlic would harm your chances of getting lucky. But, apparently there’s no need to hold off adding toum to your kebabs because garlic contains allicin which helps with blood flow.
  4. Figs are high in amino acids, which supposedly helps with libido but mostly it’s apparently because they just look sexy. Yeah, excuse me if I am not on board with that plan, especially after reading this article about wasps laying eggs in figs.
  5. Any millennials reading this? Remember how we got told we couldn’t afford to buy property because we liked avocado toast too much? Well, turns out we were onto something. High levels of folic acid, vitamin B9 and B6 makes avocado an aphrodisiac because of increased energy and greater testosterone production.
  6. When I say aphrodisiac, you’re probably thinking of oysters, right? These babies are loaded with zinc, which is good for testosterone production and they apparently help produce dopamine, a neurochemical associated with desire. That said, when I asked my husband what I look sexy eating, the answer was not oysters. In fact, he said oysters are the least sexy thing to watch me eat, largely because of his allergy to seafood. Apparently flirting with death doesn’t do it for him.
  7. This summer fruit contains citrulline, something that increases nitric acid in the body, which increases blood flow and sexual arousal. I’m not sure about that, but Harry Styles in his Watermelon Sugar music video can probably do the same thing, for a fraction of the price.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s become a bit of a stereotype in family-oriented media: children don’t like vegetables. Well, every stereotype seems to grow from a tiny seed of truth – because as healthy and as good for you as vegetables are, sometimes they are a little… unpalatable. Kids may own the stereotype of not liking vegetables, but sometimes it’s even more difficult to be an adult and force yourself to eat vegetables so as not to… you know… contract scurvy and die.

In the interest of keeping you interested in vegetables, I’ve come up with a few little tips and tricks to help convince that brain of yours that eating vegetables isn’t so bad!

Cheese

We’ve all heard that cheese is “bad” for you – but I’m not going to let anyone sit here and judge me for the cheese sauce that I slather over my broccoli. Yes, cheese may be high in fat, but that just means that you get fuller faster, you make something that may be a little bland tasty, and you get to enjoy the other benefits of cheese like reduced heart disease risk, improved cholesterol, and boosting your muscle mass! So, the next time you’ve got to use up that head of cauliflower that you bought because you felt you needed more veg, sprinkle some Parmesan, drop some melty bocconcini on it, or whip up a rich, cheesy sauce.

Roasting

People love to crunch – but don’t take my word for it, it’s science. It’s the reason why we love Doritos, pretzels, and corn nuts: humans get immense satisfaction in breaking apart food structures and making loud noises doing it! You can do this with vegetables too by simply changing up the way you cook them. Sure, it might take less time to steam up some vegetables in the microwave – but roasting brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower adds an extra dimension to your veg: crispiness. Whether or not the taste is similar, the act of having a crunchier food to eat is scientifically proven to improve your perception of what you’re eating.

Creative Seasoning

There’s a reason that there’s an expression about variety being the “spice of life”. There’s also a reason that the spice trade created the modern world. Spices and seasonings are your friends and are there for experimentation! We don’t live in the 1300s anymore, where you would just eat boiled potatoes with a pinch of salt. Your options are unlimited! If you’re feeling uninspired by your vegetables, try mixing up your seasoning. I like Cajun spice on my veg to give it an extra kick and depth of flavour. You could also try out a Mediterranean spice mix instead, a classic seasoning mix like garlic, salt, and pepper, or even incorporating your favourite fast food joint’s chip seasoning (for me, that means Steers).


recipe-roasted-pepper-tomato-soup

Check out this Roasted Pepper and Tomato soup recipe


Bacon

This is a bit of an off-shoot of my cheese suggestion above: adding something technically bad for you with a high fat percentage to your veg is sure to improve how you feel about it. But really, bacon is such a game-changer for making some vegetables go from bland to gourmet. Have you ever tried bacon-wrapped asparagus? No? Well, you should.

Chipify Your Veg

Making chips from things other than potatoes isn’t new – but it might be new in your kitchen. You could be a glutton for punishment and make yourself some kale or beetroot leaf chips, but that doesn’t do wonders for those particular flavours. What I’d recommend is making chips from beetroot, sweet potato, or even pumpkin, roasting them to perfection in the oven, and indulging.

And, if all of the above doesn’t interest you, there’s always soup as the perfect way to make all vegetables tasty. Huh. It’s almost like…someone should start a webpage for that idea…

 

Photo: Unsplash/Sara Dubler

Thinking about the history of food sometimes freaks me out and I go down a bit of a rabbit hole. Some things, like an apple, are just plain meant to be eaten: thin skin, plump, juicy looking… who wouldn’t smack their lips and take a big ol’ bite out of an apple? Other things seem like they took some more ingenuity to figure out… that or an abiding belief that anything – anything – can be eaten if you just try hard enough.

Maybe I’m just kind of ignoring the centuries of culinary experimentation that went into discovering how delicious certain fruits and vegetables are, but just at face value – who looks at these things and thinks: yep, edible!

Artichokes

This was the thought that struck me the other day when I was eating marinated artichoke hearts that my mother made from scratch (humblebrag). It got me thinking: who looked at that spiny, bulbous, floral plant that looks like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors and decided, “This – this is going to be something delicious… but only once it is cooked for a specific time period, after all the leaves have been first chopped, then scraped clean with one’s teeth, and then the middle of it is drenched in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices.”


recipe-vegan-artichoke-soup

Check out this Creamy Artichoke soup recipe


 

Prickly Pears

Maybe it was some hallucinating cowboy or lost explorer who was dragging his way through the rocky, baked landscapes of Arizona, Mexico, or Nevada who blearily made the decision to try to chop off the swollen, red tip of a cactus and try eating it – because chowing down on a cactus certainly doesn’t seem like a particularly rational decision. Not that I’m complaining, of course, prickly pears aren’t just delicious, but they’re also used for all sorts of different things like biofuel, plastics, animal fodder, and dyes.

Durian

To be completely fair to the people who enjoy durians, I have never eaten it, but I have heard of its existence and – my god – it sounds like a nightmare. Not only does a durian have an outer shell that is as sharp and spiny as an iron maiden, but apparently it smells horrible. “Like turpentine and onions garnished with a gym sock” is how actual scientists describe how it smells – with all of the odds stacked against the durian, it’s a wonder that anyone even attempted to eat it, much less got through the process without hurling.

Pineapple

Okay, pineapples don’t take much work to get to the good stuff – but just on face value: intimidating. They’re freaky looking. If you gave someone a pineapple who had never seen one before, wouldn’t they think it looks like a weapon? A pineapple has enough spikes on it that Peter Jackson could have put it on the end of the Witch-King’s mace in Return of the King and it wouldn’t look any less imposing (y’all thought I couldn’t get another Lord of the Rings reference into my blogs about vegetables but look who’s laughing now, hobbits).

Root Vegetables

I’m just going for a catch-all here – as you know, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and pretty much anything that you can pull out of the earth and cook are veggies that I dig (pun intended). However, I very much think it is weird that human beings looked at what would have amounted to a dirty old root and thought that they would be fine to eat? It’s covered in dirt!


Recipe-Creamy-Vegan-Parsnip-Carrot-Butternut-Squash-Sweet-Potato-Soup

Check out this Creamy Vegan Parsnip, Carrot soup recipe


Dragon Fruit

I never have an opportunity to talk about dragon fruit, so here’s my shot. I’ll never understand the process that went into deciding that eating what is essentially an anime fireball that’s filled with what looks like gravelly snow, but my goodness do I thank them for doing the hard work in discovering one of the most delicious fruits on the whole planet.

So…what else do you wonder about? The guy who first milked a cow? Let me know!

When we were jokingly making memes and comments about how we wanted the 2020s to look like the 1920s, we were just talking about flapper dresses and calling people ‘old sport’… we didn’t think it would get this bad. Like the actual 1920s, we’re now dealing with a pandemic, a tanking worldwide economy, and – in some places of the world – temporary prohibition on the sale and distribution of alcohol, including my home, South Africa.

Now, I can’t speak to the other nationalities of the world, but from my perspective, South Africans have a very proud tradition of being heavy drinkers (not certain this is a particularly good tradition… nevertheless, it exists). So when bottle stores were closed during the first national lockdown at the end of March, many of my countrymen and women scrambled to either stockpile or come up with solutions to get blitzed during lockdown. Possibly the most infamous of these home-made solutions is pineapple beer.

Making pineapple beer at home isn’t a new fad in South Africa – however, this old tradition was mostly borne out of an interest in home-made beer and at least a passing understanding of the chemistry involved – something that the desperate South Africans of 2020 may not all have had.

The recipe is simple: add yeast, sugar, water, and a bunch of chopped up pineapple together and leave it for a couple of days, stirring every now and then. However, it seems like a few people didn’t get the memo about what happens when you decide to bottle yeast or decide to eyeball the ingredient ratios – as two couples have already died from this concoction, both of them having contracted alcohol poisoning after botching the recipe. Others have almost blown up their own houses after sealing the concoction too tightly.

Now, I’m not going to harp on too much about people trying to make their own alcohol, but governments have been regulating the production of alcohol for hundreds of years – so maybe it’s in everyone’s best interests not to bootleg? I’m all for experimenting with foods – read any of my previous blogs and you’ll see that not only do I love doing it, but I encourage adding ingredients with your heart, not with your measuring cup. But when it comes to fermenting your own alcohol – something that could potentially kill you, I say that maybe keeping a close eye on the ingredients is necessary.

I’m not saying that going without some kind of numbing agent during this dumpster fire of a year isn’t tough – but I am saying that if you’d take a chance at fatally poisoning yourself rather than waiting four weeks for a liquor store to open up again, maybe you’ve got a bigger problem than you thought.

That being said – I am a proponent of trying out new things and I think pineapple beer sounds incredibly delicious. But please, dear reader, be careful and do it for the right reasons – try brewing your own pineapple beer because you’re interested, not because you’re desperate. Do it because the flavour will be delicious, not because you’ve been stopped from achieving oblivion due to the government’s restrictions. Do it because you want to learn about these recipes and want to make sure you’ve gotten it right, rather than finding a way to get the strongest alcohol possible.

The recent spate of injuries and deaths from pineapple beer has had a needed influx of safety tips and expert opinions on how to safely brew yourself a batch of delicious, refreshing beer without blowing yourself up – so remember to read up before you attempt anything!

I’m married to a Canadian of Ukrainian descent. There I was: Christmas Eve, Canada, 2016 – my first white Christmas! I was thinking I was going to insulate myself against the cold with some slow-roasted lamb with a generous helping of mashed potatoes and a smattering of vegetables. I’ve been to my fair share of Christmas dinners. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t.

When I got to my husband’s grandparents’ house, I noticed a beautifully laid table with tiny little crystal… yogurt bowls?… in front of each place setting. This was my first introduction to the Ukrainian Christmas Eve tradition of the Twelve Meatless Dishes.

Kutia

The fancy yogurt dishes were used to eat kutia (pronounced: koo-CHA), the traditional starting dish. Kutia is a kind of porridge-soup of cooked wheat and barley with poppy seeds, honey, and nuts mixed in. It is wildly sweet and has a unique grainy texture. I was told that it had special significance for the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one – my in-laws said that if you threw it onto the ceiling and it stuck, you would have a good year ahead (I didn’t know if they were joking).

Borscht

Borscht is a vividly red beet soup that I was careful not to drip onto the pristine white tablecloth that was only used once a year. I remember eyeing it skeptically, but it turned out to be a warm, hearty soup that was filled with shaved beets, potatoes, beans, and carrots. It was very lean, but each of my in-laws recommended a healthy dose of sour cream to add to the thickness and the flavour.

Perogies

My husband’s grandparents obviously knew the crowd and had made hundreds of perogies from scratch to be served on Christmas Eve. I had eaten perogies before, but I was still amazed by the batch in front of me. To those of you who have never had the pleasure, perogies are dumplings filled with potatoes, cheese, or even fruit (we had blueberry perogies for dessert!) They are usually served with sour cream, but these also came with caramelised onion, adding a whole new level of deliciousness!

Holubtsi

I did not know that the singular of holubtsi is pronounced “holabitch”. They are kind of like Greek dolmades but different. These were cabbage leaves stuffed with rice infused with a variety of flavours and vegetables like tomatoes and beets. This one was a bit of a sleeper hit for me, as I inhaled at least a half dozen of them.

Fish

So, what meat do you have on Christmas Eve when you’re forbidden meats? Fish, of course. While the more traditional herring, pike, or carp would be served in the old country, when we were in Canada, we fried up something more local.

The Other 7

While the above five are the “heavy hitters” of the Twelve Meatless Dishes, the other seven were in no short supply. Some families may have different foods here and there, but these are some of the more common side-dish offerings that round out the twelve:

So while I would definitely stick to my lamb roast with all the trimmings as my Christmas Eve of choice, this was an infinitely more vegetarian-friendly option. And all was not lost as we had a scrumptious turkey the next day, and a holly jolly time was had by all.


recipe-bortsch

Check out this Borscht  recipe


Sometimes eating healthily can be difficult. No, not necessarily choosing healthy options – I’m talking about the crippling anxiety about saying some of those ‘healthy food’ names aloud in a restaurant for the first time. Give me any other embarrassing social situation: tripping on the stairs, wearing pyjamas to work, forgetting the name of someone who I really should remember… but please, for the love of all that is good, don’t make me say “Açaí berry” in public.

Edamame

Correct Pronunciation: eh-duh-MAA-mei

My main beef (food pun) with edamame is the sheer number of vowels present in the word. When more than half of your letters are vowels, you’re likely to have pronunciation challenges. Seriously – a bunch of these other words back up that claim but you’ll get to them in a minute. I’m not usually a bean person (be fully prepared for me to write a post at some point about how this was my ‘punishment’ vegetable growing up) – but if I need a great source of protein and fibre, I’ll maybe go for regular, easily-pronounceable ‘butter beans’ instead. Better yet, no beans at all. Yuck.

Quinoa

Correct Pronunciation: KEEN-wah

Six letters – four vowels. Did your brain also short-circuit the first time you saw ‘quinoa’ spelled? That feeling is nothing – nothing – compared to hearing to pronounced out loud. Just as your tongue was ready to make a go of it with “quinn-oh-wah”, that sneaky ‘K’ opening slaps the syllables right out of your mouth.

 


recipe-chicken-quinoa-chard-long-lima-bean-soup

Need a soup idea for inspiration? Try this Quinoa, Chickpea and Lima Bean soup recipe!


Açaí

Correct Pronunciation: ah-sah-EE

Man, remember in 2010 when, like, everything boasted about Açaí berry being the coolest superfood in the world? What happened? Being the good millennial that I am, I went along with that latest superfood trend in those days with the hope that smoothies made with Açaí would flush my toxins, destroy carcinogens, and make my hair more luscious. However, my social awkwardness won out in the end and my poor pronunciation made it impossible to convince myself to order anything with Açaí… maybe that’s what happened after 2010: we were all too afraid to say “Açaí” in public and the trend just died out.

Bouillabaisse

Correct Pronunciation: boo-yuh-BESS

This list of difficult-to-pronounce-foodstuffs would be wholly incomplete without a word of French origin, wouldn’t it? This one is something that I am happy to struggle through in pronouncing because it’s right up my alley. For those of you who don’t know, bouillabaisse is a fish and shellfish stew with a tomato base – and something I would happily eat every single day until I die from eating too much shellfish.

Vichyssoise

Correct Pronunciation: VISH-ees-WAHZ

Okay – it wasn’t my intention to mention potatoes in every single blog post I write… but maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. Either way, this cold potato and leek soup, originating from Vichy, France, seems almost custom-made for English tongues to trip over it. Intentional? Maybe.


Soup-Turnip-Potato-Microgreens

Potato with Microgreens and Turnip soup recipe


Worcestershire

Correct Pronunciation: WOO-stir-shire

Let it not be said that the English can’t make some wildly unpronounceable foods themselves – and Worcestershire Sauce is the best example. This classic sauce is named after the West Midlands county where it originated – but due to regional pronunciation, Worcester is actually pronounced like “Wooster”.

And if you thought these were tough, then head on over to my list of South African foods to enjoy. The real joke here is that I can pronounce everything on that page…so perhaps practice makes perfect!

 

Photo: Camila Neves Rodrigues da Silva (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I, like many of my generation, have spent vast swathes of my time consuming popular culture and movies. Some may say this is a waste of time, but others (like myself) would rebut and say that I’m simply becoming a well-rounded individual. I certainly use that excuse to trick myself that I’m being productive when I’m watching a Harry Potter movie yet again.

However, I’ve noticed that movies and television tend to forget that human beings need to eat. It just seems strange to me that something so integral to our continued existence goes unremarked in so many movies. As a result, I tried to think of some movies that not only had food scenes, but had food scenes that were arguably more memorable than the film itself – scenes that have transcended their own narratives and have become recognizable in a vacuum.

The Return of the King

There are a lot of moments from the Lord of the Rings that have to do with food – we all remember Lembas bread, PO-TAY-TOES, nice crispy bacon, and the salted pork being “particularly good”. However, one scene from the third film would torment me worse than any horror movie monster ever could. Watching Denethor chow down on a feast all to himself while demanding Pippin sing for him. Let me be clear: I have as healthy a love for cherry tomatoes as anyone else, but my goodness… I had to rethink our relationship after that.

Hook

I remember this particular scene from Hook more than anything else (except perhaps when they played basketball on skateboards – that was cool as hell) – a steaming, scrumptious feast for the Lost Boys conjured up entirely from their imaginations. While this was cool to see visually, it presented a host of logistical problems immediately, effectively proving I’ve been overanalysing things since I was eight years old. And for the record, imagining that you’re eating is not a substitute. Trust me, I have tried.

Lady and the Tramp

Did you know that Walt Disney almost canned this entire scene? Because he thought eating spaghetti wasn’t romantic? Generally, I agree with him – slurping down a big portion of spaghetti and meatballs may be the least sensual culinary experience I can imagine, but somehow, they got the ambiance just right. Looking back at this scene as an adult, however, I wonder what was going on in these two chefs’ heads when they decided to give two dogs some food and sing music for them. Were they completely unhinged? Or was this just the beginning of ‘doggo’?

When Harry Met Sally

Weirdly, I only watched When Harry Met Sally like two months ago when I went on a romantic comedy binge (see above re: well-rounded person). That is only testament to how well-known that scene was, as I knew the moment it began the zinger that was about to come at the end. Easily one of the most iconic food scenes in film history, the cherry on top is the little bite of coleslaw she takes once she’s finished. Hey, at least it’s healthier than smoking a cigarette in bed.

Bugs Bunny

Throughout childhood I’ve consumed hundreds of hours of Looney Tunes and Warner Bros. cartoons and in all of those hazy memories of technicolour hijinks, I cannot remember any specific tomfoolery that Bugs Bunny got up to (except maybe when he dressed as a Valkyrie). The only thing I clearly remember was his oft-repeated action pulling out a carrot, munching on it, and his catchphrase “What’s up doc?” What transcendence! What aplomb! To have so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions from decades of entertainment tied up into a single vegetable! And not only that, he made that carrot look like the most delicious snack on the whole damn planet too.

Alright, gather round everybody – it’s time for a serious talk. We’re going to discuss something that I know for a fact many of you are wildly uncomfortable with: adding vegetables to your desserts.

Wait! Hang on! I know that vegetables that have been hidden in desserts are the reason that you have trust issues. But before you flip over the table and storm out of the room, just know that having a delicious dessert with vegetables as a key ingredient is possible – I’ve not only tried it myself, but I’ve also tried it on my notoriously picky husband and friends. So, hear me out with some of these suggestions.

Avocado Brownies

“Avocado brownies” might just sound like some kind of food roulette that just pairs two wildly different foods together like “tuna popsicles” or “peanut butter stew”, but this combination not only works – it’s nigh-indistinguishable from regular brownies. Brownies usually require a nice, fatty agent in big quantities that brings the whole dish together – usually it’s butter, but today it’s avocado. Substituting avocado for butter works so well that I tricked my friends into eating it: they were halfway through their brownies, actually complaining about vegan substitutions like cauliflower pizza bases or almond milk, when I revealed that they were, in fact, eating avocado brownies! *cue supervillain laughter* Admittedly, maybe the sugar content messes up the health benefits of the avocado – but hey! You’re not eating more butter, right?


recipe-chilled-avocado-melon-lemon-mint-soup

Check out this Chilled Avocado and Mint soup recipe


Beetroot Red Velvet Cake

Okay – are you getting red velvet cake for the unique flavour? Or are you getting it for the Instagrammable bright red cake? You know the answer to that question, so don’t lie. Red velvet cake is all about perception, and nothing will quite add to the bright red colouring like beetroot. Not only does the beetroot in your red velvet help with the vivid colour, but it also adds an important element of moisture to it – something without which all cakes will fail. There’s not much of a difference in taste with this one, as no matter which recipe you choose there’s still tons of sweet stuff in it. You’ll just get a little extra nutrition, a hint of beetroot, and brilliant colouring!

Cauliflower Rice Pudding

Some people call this “Keto” rice pudding or “Paleo” rice pudding. I’m not going to subscribe to any fancy names – I’m just going to call this what it is: it’s rice pudding but instead of rice you use cauliflower. Simple as that. Cauliflower rice is pretty decent – with enough flavouring you can make believe that it’s actual grains of rice, not just cauliflower in the shape of rice. Luckily, with rice pudding, there is no shortage of sweet, delicious goodness that goes into it, like sugar, milk or cream (almond, if you’re going truly vegan with this), vanilla, and cinnamon. You still get the same delicious flavour without doubling up your carbs for the night!

Carrot Cake

You may roll your eyes and think that including carrot cake on this list is a cop-out – but you’d be wrong. The fact that carrot cake is fully accepted as a legitimate dessert just proves all the above points! Carrot cake’s existence as a popular dessert is just proof that any of the above veggie-dessert combos can catch on and become widely accepted as legitimate desserts. Yes, it’s got a ton of sugar, icing, and flour in it, but it’s still one of the rare vegetable/dessert chimeras that is an easy way to get some more veg in your dessert. And – because of how widely available this cake is – maybe err on the side of carrot cake when you are faced with a difficult choice at the restaurant!

So the question is, how do you sneak your vegetables in? Got a courgette torte that’s all the rage? Share the love!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about Christmas. In this house, the most wonderful time of the year is Halloween – only because I married a Canadian. My husband, if given the opportunity, would turn our entire home into a haunted house each October. There would jump-scare skeletons popping out of closets and cobwebs dangling from our lighting fixtures. There’s a certain glee in his face as he orders pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks and he sets a line-up of spooky movies but there is one thing I won’t bend on – there will be no Jack O Lanterns. Not in my house. You see, in South Africa, Halloween isn’t a thing.

It’s barely noticed as a holiday here. Easter is huge, Christmas is larger still but Halloween barely makes a blip on the radar here, for which I am grateful. I struggle to watch Halloween celebrations around the world. Almost 20% of South African households had inadequate access to food in 2017. Food security is something experienced when all citizens have good access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food to meet their daily needs. Food insecurity is what happens when you don’t have that and basic needs are not met. I live in a country where schools implement feeding schemes because it’s not a guarantee that these kids are being fed at home. South Africa already wastes more than enough food that should be going to those who are hungry and so to see the shameless global waste of pumpkins each October makes me want to throw something heavy – but not a pumpkin – at each and every person that thinks wasting food is okay.


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Need a tasty idea for pumpkin pulp?

Try this Creamy, Spiced, Vegan Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Lemongrass soup recipe!


 

Here’s some perspective for you: each year, 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK. Of those 10 million, 95% are used at Halloween and then chucked. That creates 18 000 tons of food waste. 18 000 tons of nourishment, gone. And it’s even worse in the USA – 900 000 tons of pumpkin is thrown away annually. You shouldn’t have to have come from a country where people go hungry to see a problem with this. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have your Jack O Lantern – although, to be honest, I do not understand how a hollow pumpkin provides this much joy. I’d also be interested to see ER statistics when it comes to carving injuries.

By all means, stick your pointy metal tools into food and add a candle for the purpose of amusement. I merely ask that you be responsible about it by using every little bit of the pumpkin that is edible. Instead of discarding the innards, why not puree them and use them for soup or pumpkin pie, instead of buying tins of the stuff? In South Africa, we don’t get pumpkin puree in cans so when I make pumpkin pie, I make it from pumpkin pieces instead – it’s doable and (as my Canadian informs me) equally delicious. Before you begin the carving, make sure that all the ‘meat’ of the pumpkin has been cut away and used for eating (or at worst, added to the compost heap) so that all that is left for your carving enjoyment is the shell of the vegetable. Chances are it’ll make cutting grotesque smiles easier and you won’t be contributing to the 1.3 billion tons of food that gets wasted each year in a world where 800 million people go hungry on a daily basis.


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Image: Olive Magazine

16 Best Pumpkin Recipes from Olive Magazine!


The only scary thing about Halloween is people who don’t care about food wastage.

The isolation that COVID-19 forced upon us affected everyone differently. Some people went nuts at being indoors only a week or two into the isolation while others found constructive, interesting projects to take their mind of the dread of living through a global pandemic. I was one of the latter, but while other people dedicated their time and energy to baking bread, learning to crochet, or creating macramé – mine was extraordinarily niche: I became an Instagram influencer… through a pull-cord onion slicer.

Now – this story deserves some context. Being an English teacher, I have a bit of a following among my high school students. Once I realised that a large percentage of them really didn’t know how to cook, I decided to post a few recipes on my Instagram feed… just a few staple recipes while making liberal use of Boomerang for my own amusement.

Each recipe I posted, however, had onions in it in some way or another. Even things like a simple Napoletana called for a diced onion. This led to my husband and I blindly scrabbling at our faces as horrible, stinging tears clouded our eyes. I put my foot down – this was too much.

Road to Influence

If I was going to take a shot at being a semi-legitimate influencer, onions were going to be an everyday occurrence and I refused – REFUSED! – to give them any more of my pain.


Recipe-Creamy-Vegetarian-Onion-potato-soup

Looking to satisfy your onion craving?
Try this Creamy Vegetarian Onion and Potato soup recipe!


 

Later that night, I did my best to make up for the pounding onion-cry headache that we all get by finding an onion chopper. Once upon a time in our household, we did actually have an onion chopper that worked well. It was the type where you put the halved onion on a grate of razor-sharp blades and smash it through the blades with an attached arm. However, it wasn’t built super well and we were left with a bunch of blades that were warped and sad-looking after only about a year – leaving us to chop onions by hand again.

I stumbled upon this beautiful little device, the Verimark Twista Pull Chopper. It was love at first sight – instant retail therapy. I ordered it immediately and it was delivered to our house the next day. I made liberal use of it in a French Onion soup that night as I sliced and diced my way through six white onions (which were particularly strong) with nary a tear shed!

Oh, onions, how we love thee!  Let us count the ways!

Since then, it’s been featured in just about every recipe I’ve put up on my feed – onions are just so versatile! Melanzane – they’re in there. Mushroom risotto – gotta have it. French Onion Soup – no brainer! Cheeseburgers – are you kidding me? What’s a cheeseburger without caramelised onions? I don’t think so. I’m not exactly sure if onions are usually this prevalent in my cooking, or that I’ve fallen so in love with this particular cooking device that I’m just using any excuse to use it, not cry, and post about how much I love it on Instagram.

Oddly enough, having efficiently chopped onions isn’t where the story ends. Recently, I’ve been getting requests from my followers about where to get this fabled kitchen appliance that I may or may not love more than my husband and a couple of them have actually gone out and bought the thing. I haven’t exactly figured out how to contact the manufacturers to make the case that their company is only afloat thanks to me but I’m working on it.

One of my favourite things about cooking is the variety that any given food has. For example, I’ve already written my ode to potatoes and their versatility, but I also love how potatoes are prepared differently depending on whether you’re cooking in Greece or whether you’re cooking in Ireland.

So today I wanted to discuss variety, but from the other side – instead of focusing on one vegetable, I’m going to focus on my home country, South Africa, and some of our favourite dishes. Most of them are filled with regular, everyday vegetables that you’re used to… but with a uniquely South African twist. You probably won’t be able to pronounce these but that doesn’t mean it’s not amusing for me to hear you try.

Mieliepap

It’s got hundreds of different names: ugali, nshima, phutu, isitshwala, busima… the list goes on. Essentially, mieliepap is a polenta-type porridge made from ground corn or (‘mielies’, as we call corn here). Pap is a staple food here in South Africa – it’s cheap to produce, easy to make, and filling. Most of the time it is a quick breakfast food but is also a common side-dish at restaurants or braais (also known as ‘barbeques’). Some people like it plain, but I prefer my mieliepap with a healthy dose of chakalaka, a relish made from tomato, onion, carrots, and curry powder.

Waterblommetjiebredie

Waterblommetjiebredie

Waterblommetjiebredie Image: Creative Commons

Another difficult-to-pronounce word, waterblommetjiebredie essentially means ‘small water flower stew’. On a quick side note, Afrikaans is delightfully literal sometimes: their word for ‘run’ is ‘hardloop’, which translates literally to ‘hard walk’. This is usually a lamb stew with onion, potatoes, garlic, and herbs with the key ingredient being two little flowers: one that is unsurprisingly known as the waterblommetjie and sometimes the other being the Cape Sorrel.

Bunny Chow

While this is one of the few easily pronounceable words in this list, it isn’t what it seems. Bunny chow contains no bunnies, nor does it contain any chow-chows. The early Indian settlers in South Africa were originally employed to work on sugar plantations outside of Durban on South Africa’s east coast. These families were desperately poor in those days, so they had to make do with what they could afford – vegetables and bread. Extrapolating on the curry recipes they knew from the old country, the Bunny Chow was originally a vegetarian curry (usually with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, carrots, and cauliflower) stuffed inside a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread. These days, the Bunny Chow has evolved into an iconic South African dish.

Umngqusho

This dish has the particularly lofty honour of being one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite recipes: samp and beans. Samp is a variety of cornmeal where the kernel is crushed or stomped on until broken, so certainly not as finely ground as what one expects of cornmeal. This dish comes in several variations, but most involve samp as the main ingredient with sugar beans and a variety of vegetables to add texture, flavour, and nutrition. One of the most well-known varieties combines samp and sugar beans with potatoes, onions, chillies, lemons, and peas.

Rooibos Tea

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Rooibos Tea Image: Unsplash

Rooibos literally translates to ‘red bush’, and the tea is made from a common shrub-like plant that grows along the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa. Rooibos has been a staple in southern Africa since time immemorial and only in the last twenty or so years has it gained international popularity. If you’re truly a South African, you don’t drink rooibos like the English with milk and sugar (blasphemy!) You will only drink rooibos with a splash of lemon juice and maybe some honey if you need some extra sweetness.

I remember being so excited to move out. This was a misguided source of excitement for a number of reasons (cost of rent, how much laundry a single human is capable of generating, electricity bills, what do you mean, “ I have to make dinner?” what if I choke alone and am found on the carpet weeks later, half-consumed by my cats?) but I remember being excited that I alone would determine which vegetables I would be eating. And by ‘which vegetables,’ I mean none. Or are we counting mashed potatoes drenched in butter? Because you know I have a soft spot for potatoes.

‘Adulting’ and Eating Vegetables — Stage One

I didn’t plan on eating another green bean for as long as possible. Pumpkin? Pass. How about some salad? I think not. Meat and starch, all the way. Oh, and dessert, of course. As you can imagine, stage one lasted for only a couple of weeks. I gained a whole lot of weight and I also appeared to be…nutritionally deficient. Upon googling the things that were wrong, the words “lack of vitamins” popped up. I felt insulted…and inept at adulthood.

‘Adulting’ and Eating Vegetables — Stage Two

Which then brought me to stage two. Begrudgingly accepting that perhaps vegetables had been part of my diet growing up for a good reason. That maybe mom knew best when it came to this kind of thing. Acceptance was a brief stage because it swiftly turned to stage three: denial.

“Tender stem broccoli costs HOW much per packet? But…it’s just broccoli, with a… tender stem? How does a tender stem entitle you to charge me twice the amount for a packet of broccoli? Don’t you understand that I need my nutrients? Why are you charging so much money for something that we both know came from the dirt?”

‘Adulting’ and Eating Vegetables — Stage Three

It was at this stage — stage three — that I realised that all of my favourite vegetables were extraordinarily expensive. Exotic mushrooms? Artichoke hearts? Young asparagus? I had no clue there was a class system when it came to vegetables because I had taken for granted how gorgeous the variety of vegetables was back in my childhood home. And the even bigger scandal was that this classism seemed to extend to fruit too. You can eat all the apples you want, Tayla, but be prepared to take on extra freelancing work this month if you want to eat a single cherry. Frozen vegetables seemed to offer some kind of solution, but not all vegetables were available frozen. Ever had a frozen mushroom? Don’t.

I soon began looking forward to when my mom would host me for dinners. There would be at least three different vegetables on offer — three! — and not one of them would be the two-for-one-decidedly-not-tender-stem broccoli I had been stocking up on. I would load my plate with vegetables (and the other goodies too, I’m not a saint. Or, regrettably, a vegan) and reminisce on how terribly wrong I was about vegetables when I was a kid, teenager, and young adult.


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Try these Vegan Vegetable soups recipe here!


 

‘Adulting’ and Eating Vegetables — Stage Four?

Actually, maybe there is a stage four. I still can’t afford to eat the amount of marinated artichoke hearts I know I’m capable of (I really just need someone to sponsor this experiment in the interest of being able to put down a definite number). Instead, I’ve learnt to make my ‘cheap’ vegetables work for me. Pumpkin soup with a sprinkle of crispy bacon is delicious. I really enjoy steamed brussels sprouts*.  Even my two-for-one-decidedly-not-tender-stem broccoli is delectable when you add some salt, pepper, olive oil, and dried herbs and roast on a low heat for half an hour until the florets turn crispy and crunchy. I guess you could say that growth isn’t just for vegetables.

 

 

*A little note regarding brussels sprouts vs brussel sprouts:  The grammatically correct plural spelling is actually brussels sprouts.

We all know that women’s magazines are not exactly the bastions of body positivity. To be fair, they do seem to be making more of an effort, but I still find it quite worrying how many recently published results are available when I google “pear-shape” or “apple-shape”.

See, I remember being about 13 years old and reading an article that helped me – ‘helped’ me – to determine what shape my body is and how best to dress to flatter that particular figure. I wasn’t an apple-shape. That’s when you are top-heavy and your waist, chest and hips are all kind of the same size. As a pear-shape (“your thighs and hips are wider than your waist and bust!”), I was advised to wear tighter fitting bottoms and flowing, ‘busy’ tops with bright colours or patterns…all the better to distract from my, apparently gigantic, lower body.


recipe-purple-cabbage-soup

Sweet apple and red cabbage make a perfect combination.
Find this Red Cabbage and Apple soup recipe here!


 

I was also advised to wear push-up bras to maximize my paltry bosom and to favour empire lines when it came to dresses. I was not allowed to wear anything form-fitting from head to toe. And I definitely had to avoid horizontal stripes because, according to the article, I was wide enough without adding to the problem.

I am not a pear.  I am not a apple.

Except here is the problem – a problem I can see now but really struggled to see back when I was 13 – I am not a pear. I am not an apple. I am a human. A human with ample thighs that are strong enough to kick butt when I fight in my dojo. A human with full hips that undulate when I dance to my favourite songs. I have a cute little belly that’s the result of loving cooking and loving eating even more. I have a chest that’s the perfect pillow for my two cats and arms that can lift anything I need to, except my two cats who, incidentally, also love eating. Then there’s my neck which holds my head up high. I don’t know of any pears, organic or not, that can claim the same.

And, in defense of pears, even pears vary in shape. Go have a read here and you will see the varieties of pears that are out there. Some of them are completely round, for crying out loud. Not to mention pears with no pesticides that end up looking completely wonky but taste just as scrumptious. I remember seeing a picture floating around Instagram that said “A complete list of things women over 30 should not wear” and when I zoomed in, in teeny tiny font, it said “the weight of other’s expectations”. Preach…peach.

I am not a piece of fruit and I refuse to subscribe to the idea that a person should be forbidden from wearing an item of clothing because of the arbitrary circumference of their waist. It’s not really permissible to leave the house naked (ugh, societal convention is so limiting) but because of this rule, pretty much anything goes when it comes to covering up.

Reaffirming Body Positivity

There is so much work ahead of me when it comes to undoing the self-loathing that I have, over time, incorporated into my identity. Working out, eating healthily but not depriving myself of my favourite things…those are positive steps. But there’s a lot of unlearning that needs to happen about what women are meant to look like and accepting that there isn’t a prototype. There’s not a genetically modified, perfect pear that we should all aspire to be.

There’s just homegrown you, shaped by time and nature. And you are damn delicious.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. I can’t believe it’s already upon us because it feels like we only just celebrated Pesach (Passover), but I guess that a global pandemic and subsequent lockdown would have some kind of impact on time perception.

I’ve always known that apples and honey go hand-in-hand with Rosh Hashanah, largely because of a rhyme taught to me as a child. “Apples dipped in honey we do eat; we daven (pray) to Hashem (God) to make the new year sweet.” When it comes to symbolic sweetness, I don’t think you can do better than apples in honey, short of upending the sugar canister onto your waiting tongue (…tempting).

However, there are actually a few more fruit and vegetable inclusions around Rosh Hashanah that I didn’t know about. For instance, apples are the fruit of choice because of their hardy, year-round nature, making the fruit accessible to Jews all over the world. In Europe, Jews are feeling Summer come to an end. In South Africa, September marks the start of Spring.

New Fruits

The second night of Rosh Hashanah should also be accompanied by new fruit that has just come into season to celebrate the gift of life and the opportunity to taste fruits that we haven’t enjoyed for a long time. For a lot of Jewish people, this means going for something exotic and tropical – kiwis, pomegranates, or dragon fruit. However, recently in New York City, Jews are going out of their way to get some of the less commonly available tropical fruits. Like, have you ever heard of monstera fruit? I’ve heard it tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana. What about jackfruit? They use it as a meat substitute. Novelty is the spice of life!

Seven Vegetable Couscous

A savoury dish sometimes served is couscous with seven vegetables added to it. The plentiful couscous represents the number of blessings you hope for in the New Year and seven is an auspicious number…seven books in the Harry Potter series (and also God making the world in seven days). The big seven are up to you, but just make sure they’re in there. I’m quite fond of recipes that involve some hardier winter-type veggies: squash, turnip, onion, cabbage, tomatoes, and chickpeas. And hey – feel free to throw some apples in there as well.

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Looking to add a bit of honey to your soup?

Find this Vegan Butternut Squash soup recipe here!


Let’s Go on a Date

Sweet dates are one of the ‘seven species’ (that magic number again), a group of staple agricultural products found in Israel that also includes barley, wheat, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and olives. Dates are actually named ‘t’marim’ in Hebrew – which somewhat strangely refers to punishing or finishing off enemies (remember those poisoned dates in the first Indiana Jones movie?) As fun as it is to imagine chomping your enemy’s head while biting into a date, the common symbolism of dates actually relates to finishing off the enemies within – by banishing our own prejudices and toxic beliefs. Oddly enough, dates used to be boiled and distilled into a thick, syrupy spread that Israelites gave the name ‘honey’ to – so when you see the classic description of Israel as the ‘land of milk and honey’, it’s actually referring to the land of milk… and dates.

And there you have it! I learned something, you learned something, and now we’re all hungry for some apples, some couscous, and probably a whole lot of honey just to make sure that 5781 is a little bit sweeter than 5780 was. So, what are you waiting for? Blow that shofar and let the people know you’re trying out something new this Jewish New Year!

I’ve recently been binge-watching The Lord of the Rings extended versions and the 60-odd hours of documentary footage behind the making of the films (lockdown life means we party hard, you know how it is) and I always get excited in The Two Towers when Samwise Gamgee gears up for his iconic line. “Po-tay-toes. Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew. Lovely, big, golden chips with a nice piece of fried fish…Even you couldn’t say no to that.”

And you know what, Sam? No, no I cannot say no to that. And I am not just saying that because you are A-grade husband material. I’m saying that because potatoes are the MVP of vegetables. Grab a bag of potatoes and what do you get?

Buttery mashed potatoes

Possibly the easiest thing in the world to make. I boil mine with their skin on (partly because I’m a lazy bugger but also because I have convinced myself there is nutritional value to doing so, while conveniently ignoring the amount of cream and butter that I chuck in there. My husband maintains that my mashed potatoes are the reason he married me, but he also says this about everything I cook, so let’s take that (and our potatoes) with a pinch of salt.

Crispy roasted potatoes

I recently discovered the world of slow-cooker roast potatoes. Add a tablespoon of a fat/oil, cut your potatoes into quarters (if they’re small) or eight pieces (if they’re big) and chuck them into your slow cooker for four hours. Pop a dish towel under the lid to absorb the moisture, turn them every hour and you are golden…just like those crispy potatoes accompanying your Sunday roast.

Crunchy baked potatoes

Okay, I lied when I said mashed potatoes are the easiest thing to make. Baked potatoes deserve that title. Prick them with a fork, grind some seasoning, chuck in the oven and after an hour, you have a meal. Adorn your potatoes with cheese, sour cream, salsa, butter, anything else that seems vaguely palatable and you have a winner.

Tangy potato salad

Ever heard the wisdom that boiled water hardens the egg softens the potato? So it’s about what you’re made of, rather than the circumstances you find yourself in? I don’t really pay enough attention to pick up the moral of the analogy because I find myself daydreaming of tangy and zesty potato salad on warm summer days, piled high besides thick slices of garlic bread and whatever comes off the barbecue (or braai, as we say in South Africa).

Creamy potato soup

Potato soup is delicious. You can also couple it with anything else if your soup is in need of a creamier consistency. Watery pea soup? Add a potato. Is your broccoli soup too loose? Add a potato. Got dumped before Valentine’s Day? Add a potato. Here are some potato soup ideas!


recipe-creamy-potato-kohlrabi-turnip-soup

Ready to make soup?
Find the Creamy Potato, Kohlrabi and Turnip soup recipe here!


 

Salty chips/French fries

Everyone has a favourite fast-food chain that does the best chips. I’m a die-hard McDonald’s chips fan but the Canadian husband favours Five Guys. In South Africa, you’re going to want to check out Steers – the burgers leave something to be desired but the chips seasoning is something special.

Crisps flavoured to your liking

Finally, what other vegetable gets bagged the way that potatoes do? (Don’t tell me kale chips taste the same because I will fight you). The variety of seasonings…the ubiquity of availability…the comforting familiarity of buying a bag half full of air and the other half full of salt-and-vinegar goodness?

Potatoes also last forever, grow in a bag on your patio and make vodka. I therefore formally petition the humble potato to be declared the MVP of all vegetables. Comment below with any other contenders for the title…

Let me set the scene for you. Lockdown has started. I am getting used to working from home. I realise that face masks are now more about fabric and fit than hyaluronic or salicylic acid. I venture to our nearest grocery store, prepared to buy only the basics that would last as long as possible, prolonging the need for the next trip into the apocalyptic den of my local Pick ‘n Pay.

I head to the pasta section and slide a package of dried spaghetti into my basket. It’s not the usual brand I buy, but it’ll do. I pick up some garlic, some onions – red and white, variety is the spice of life, you know – and then head for the canned vegetables for the canned tomatoes that form the basis of most of my Italian-inspired cooking. Chicken cacciatore? Canned tomatoes. Meatballs? Canned tomatoes. Melanzane? Canned tomatoes.

I round the corner and do a double-take. The shelves are empty. Barren. A tumbleweed could have blown by and it would have been thematically appropriate. There was nothing there. Not my three varieties of chopped tomatoes. Not my three varieties of whole tomatoes or two varieties of tomato puree. I even looked for those odd, niche canned tomatoes, where they chuck things like ‘Italian herbs’ or ‘garlic flavour’ into them. Nothing. No sachets of tomato paste. No passata containers.

It was a tomato wasteland.

That was the first time I felt genuine fear during this lockdown. I was fairly confident that I would be able to weather the virus if I were to catch it (please note the past tense of ‘was’ – I am several months older and therefore wiser now). I have a stable job that seemed to lessen the likelihood of retrenchment. But, for the first time in my immensely privileged life, I felt scared about being able to buy enough food for my family to eat that week.

Once I lifted my blinkered focus for the ingredients on my shopping list, I noticed other barren shelves. There were no baked beans. The rice section was borderline empty, with a few lonely packets of imported Arborio rice slumped on the bottom shelf. The only packages of meat left on the shelves had slight rips in the packaging. The chocolate section was bleak. I blinked back tears while I placed a slab of rum and raisin Cadbury into my basket (turns out this was the only one left for a reason). The only eggs left were the expensive organic free-range ones, laid by chickens with better retirement packages than I have.

I forlornly made my way back to the fresh produce, hoping to try and make a Napolitano sauce with fresh tomatoes – there is always a first time for everything, after all. There was nothing there. Rage seethed through me. The aisles were empty because of people who had swanned in, grabbed a trolley, laden it to the rooftops with more than their household could possibly consume in a month and checked out. I am sure that these same culprits are the ones who have built forts out of their boxy stacks of toilet paper.

Over time people breathed a little easier, frequented the shops a little bit more, bought a little less and made some effort towards the communal effort that navigating this pandemic needs to be.


recipe-roasted-tomato-avocado-soup

Hankering a taste for tomato soup?
Find this Roasted Pomodoro Tomato and Avocado soup and other tomato soup recipes here!


But not everyone.

Someone, somewhere, has a basement or pantry filled to bursting with canned tomatoes that they stockpiled during the lockdown. There is a not-insubstantial part of me that fervently hopes that one day the pyramid of cans will tumble down, crushing the tomato thief beneath it. And there they must wait for rescue until one of their kids gets bored of the toilet paper fort and wanders into the kitchen.

 

It’s become a bit of a stereotype in family-oriented media: children don’t like vegetables. Well, every stereotype seems to grow from a tiny seed of truth – because as healthy and as good for you as vegetables are, sometimes they are a little… unpalatable. Kids may own the stereotype of not liking vegetables, but sometimes it’s even more difficult to be an adult and force yourself to eat vegetables so as not to… you know… contract scurvy and die.

In the interest of keeping you interested in vegetables, I’ve come up with a few little tips and tricks to help convince that brain of yours that eating vegetables isn’t so bad!

Cheese

We’ve all heard that cheese is “bad” for you – but I’m not going to let anyone sit here and judge me for the cheese sauce that I slather over my broccoli. Yes, cheese may be high in fat, but that just means that you get fuller faster, you make something that may be a little bland tasty, and you get to enjoy the other benefits of cheese like reduced heart disease risk, improved cholesterol, and boosting your muscle mass! So, the next time you’ve got to use up that head of cauliflower that you bought because you felt you needed more veg, sprinkle some Parmesan, drop some melty bocconcini on it, or whip up a rich, cheesy sauce.


recipe-ribollita-stew

Where can you add a bit of cheese?
In this  Ribollita soup recipe


 

Roasting

People love to crunch – but don’t take my word for it, it’s science. It’s the reason why we love Doritos, pretzels, and corn nuts: humans get immense satisfaction in breaking apart food structures and making loud noises doing it! You can do this with vegetables too by simply changing up the way you cook them. Sure, it might take less time to steam up some vegetables in the microwave – but roasting brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower adds an extra dimension to your veg: crispiness. Whether or not the taste is similar, the act of having a crunchier food to eat is scientifically proven to improve your perception of what you’re eating.

Creative Seasoning

There’s a reason that there’s an expression about variety being the “spice of life”. There’s also a reason that the spice trade created the modern world. Spices and seasonings are your friends and are there for experimentation! We don’t live in the 1300s anymore, where you would just eat boiled potatoes with a pinch of salt. Your options are unlimited! If you’re feeling uninspired by your vegetables, try mixing up your seasoning. I like Cajun spice on my veg to give it an extra kick and depth of flavour. You could also try out a Mediterranean spice mix instead, a classic seasoning mix like garlic, salt, and pepper, or even incorporating your favourite fast food joint’s chip seasoning (for me, that means Steers).

Bacon

This is a bit of an off-shoot of my cheese suggestion above: adding something technically bad for you with a high fat percentage to your veg is sure to improve how you feel about it. But really, bacon is such a game-changer for making some vegetables go from bland to gourmet. Have you ever tried bacon-wrapped asparagus? No? Well, you should.

Chipify Your Veg

Making chips from things other than potatoes isn’t new – but it might be new in your kitchen. You could be a glutton for punishment and make yourself some kale or beetroot leaf chips, but that doesn’t do wonders for those particular flavours. What I’d recommend is making chips from beetroot, sweet potato, or even pumpkin, roasting them to perfection in the oven, and indulging.

And, if all of the above doesn’t interest you, there’s always soup as the perfect way to make all vegetables tasty. Huh. It’s almost like…someone should start a webpage for that idea.