23 December 2011

Johannesburg 2011

I haven't spent time in Johannesburg since I was a small child and my maternal grandparents lived near Zoo Lake in the 1970's. So this last seven days was a revelation. I already knew that the city had sprawled across the grasslands, so that Gauteng is city and suburb from edge to edge. I was prepared for the disappearance of the  the charming 50's one acre spreads of my memory. I expected the crowded two-storey complexes, with those odd concrete window reveals that signify 'Tuscan' style in South Africa and nowhere else. But I did not anticipate how the people who live in multimillion rand mansions in Sandton scurry between their gated complexes and the shopping malls in their late model Range Rovers. Nor how they seem to be oblivious to their fear being related to how horrible many are to the little people who eke out a living serving them.

It's not that hard people. We are all human. We all calibrate our happiness and expectations by the society around us. We resent huge differences in privilege. We group ourselves into easily recognisable groups, form tribes, and make war at every perceived slight.

But we all melt at the smallest kindness. Do you want to be in the Asshole Tribe when the hungry and angry finally lose it?

Be selfish, because that is innate in every organism. But be kind when it doesn't cost you much, because that is  human, and will save us all.

A disclaimer, in case my lovely hosts think this diatribe is aimed at them. The ugliness of that little world was all the more obvious because the home I was staying in was a haven to where some of the complex staff felt comfortable enough to discuss the casual nastiness handed out in the course of their employ. And lest anyone think it's only the rich and the wealthy who are horrid, I heard some horrific stories of corruption targeting the poorest of the poor by public services employees too.

11 December 2011

sardine run

Interesting times. I trust it will work out better for me.

15 November 2011

travel by proxy

My envy at our friend's recent jaunt to India was somewhat mollified by this lovely gift. Purchased from the factory full of heavy vintage machinery where it is still made using real sandalwood oil. It smells as good as it looks.

29 October 2011

more arums, and a small suprise

Arum Lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica), with Arum Lily Frog (Hyperolius horstockii), Noordhoek Common. These tame little frogs are about 35mm long, and fairly abundant and widespread on the southern Peninsula in the right habitats. Fortunately they are not too fussy about living in fairly disturbed wetlands like this one under the European oaks. And of course they don't live only on arum flowers.

Mark and Zoë

Precocious and freakishly intelligent. Just like his daughter.

A study in red.

17 October 2011

still rocking

My old man. I hope I'm as awesome in my 70's. I'm proud of you dad.

09 October 2011

the morning after

an artichoke

Artichoke, "Green Globe" (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)

02 October 2011

decor for the rich: do not fight serendipity

You know how it goes. Needed a special gift for a friend's birthday. Popped into Vintage Bazaar, Lower Main Road Observatory, just to ask directions to Liesl Trautman's new premises. But being a second hand junkie, once inside I had to have a quick look around.

I've been looking for a good example of one of these since I broke mine three years ago, and this is it. No chips or cracks, and only R120 (less than US$10).

24 September 2011

galangal happiness

Proof that a little love and nurturing is a just adequate substitute for tropical heat and humidity - I present to you: galangal, grown in Cape Town, 34 degrees south of the equator.

11 September 2011

for Rosie

who is altogether lovely, a spring daisy.

Bontebok National Park
(Swellendam, Tuesday, on way back from a different Nature Reserve meeting). 
It turns out that despite the lack of any indication on signboards or permits, you are NOT allowed to walk amongst the flowers in Bontebok National Park. I was told to get back in my car. The man said: "imagine if everyone did this". I did. I smiled. The man was not amused.

28 August 2011


Cape arums, one of the great joys of spring. In marshy and wet spots throughout the province, surviving even in heavily degraded wetlands in the middle of settlements, and despite being picked mercilessly. Luckily this one of the things that stays the same.

everyone wants to be immortal

Things change. Things stay the same. I took this picture more than 10 years ago, on Adderley Street Cape Town. This guy and a friend were huffing glue from a brown paper bag, but stopped to ask me what I was doing. He had a sad and beautiful face, and asked if I would take his picture. While he was posing he told me that they lived on the street. They didn't ask me for anything else. I don't remember his name.

22 August 2011


In honour of his birthday today. A photo I grabbed at a 2003 exhibition of his work in Paris. Yes, I did get told to put away my camera immediately, but sometimes quick shots are the best.

35mm Contax with Zeiss 50mm f1.4 back in the silver halide days.
Digital has made me a better photographer, but I do sometimes miss the excitement and fear of seeing the film when it first comes out of the developer tank.
Sparaxis grandiflora, (bulbs from Kirstenbosch Plant Sale, March 2011)
A picture, from this early spring, because gardening and taking photos is currently more compelling than writing, editing photos and posting.

07 August 2011

Food for the Rich (1) Labneh

It's hard to be witty about yoghurt cheese. Which is tragic since this is a momentous post - the very first of a series to be titled Food for the Rich. The title pleases me since it is 1) ironic and 2) stolen from an old book of the same name. But more about that in the next post. For now it is only important to know that this is actually food for the impecunious who have an appreciation for the finer things in life.

So without further ado, on to the labneh. It's nothing more than drained yoghurt, thickened to a cream cheese consistency or thicker, and with a bit more tang. There is a reason it's eaten throughout the Middle East, Greece and large swathes of the Med. It's cheap, easy, keeps really well for a fresh cheese, and of course, tastes fantastic. Labneh is mostly eaten drizzled with olive oil and piled onto whatever local bread is available, sprinkled with herbs or not, as you prefer.

29 July 2011

Radicchio, so pretty, so revolting

It really is beautiful. It made me ache with longing while it was growing. Fantasies of radicchio with walnuts and goat cheese might have occupied an unreasonable proportion of my early winter thoughts.

Radicchio 'Treviso Precoce Mesola' (seed from Thompson & Morgan, UK)

24 July 2011

Anysberg Nature Reserve

Lately work has been a little too office-bound. Now while developing good norms and standards is really important, as is writing great tender documents, it's getting into the field that makes my job worthwhile. And not the 12 hours of driving for 2 hours of site meeting kind of get into the field. No, the nice slow day pottering around the veld looking at plants kind. So I was really glad when a couple of weeks ago I had to head up to Anysberg Nature Reserve to have a look at some problematic eroded road areas.

17 July 2011

in which we invade the privacy of very small animals

It's mid-July. Something is wrong. The few balmy days between winter cold fronts in Cape Town have always been something to cherish. Gentle sun and no wind. The still air holding a hazy blanket of smog over the flats. But usually a cold front or ten roll through within days, howling north winds preceding several flavours of rain. This last week however, has been unrelentingly balmy. I write this wearing shorts, my bare feet propped on my desk in a beam of afternoon sun. For me it's quite pleasant, but I am concerned about the natural order of things. The small creatures of this area appear to be under the impression spring has arrived. My cockatiel has been alternating between vicious screaming, mild violence and vigorous masturbating (a strategy that works about as well for him as it does for most teenage boys). And then I walk outside and find an orgy in my garden. Not just the ladybirds:

10 July 2011

the secret to perfect pastry

I am feeling magnanimous. Pie can do that to a person. So I will share with you you another of my closely guarded secrets. We all know that most pastry requires quick work and cool hands. Work it for more than a few moments, or too warm, and whether you're aiming for shortcrust or flaky, you will never achieve that melting tenderness that makes chubby angels sing. Marble work surfaces? Pish and nonsense! Unless actively chilled, they are the same temperature as any other material in the room. If anything they will conduct the ambient temperature into your chilled pastry faster than wood, or God forbid, melamine. So what's a pastry maker to do? Easy, just modify that one silly step that appears in every recipe but makes no sense at all. Do not cut your fat into small pieces and wait for it to soften before rubbing into the flour. Simply freeze the required quantity (I prefer butter even though lard is healthier - hard to believe I know - and lighter), then grate it straight into the flour, dusting regularly so that it doesn't stick together in a great clump. The finely shredded and still cold fat is then a complete doddle to quickly rub into the flour without warming or working it much at all. Voila! Pastry perfection.

Pork filling braised in gin and rosemary, with a stock reduced to sticky unctuousness doesn't hurt either.

03 July 2011

Blue-footed Booby

BirdLife South Africa is not only doing a fair bit to improve the conservation plight of birds, and especially seabirds, but they are now giving away a Canon 5dII + 100-400 L IS USM Lens (link at end of post) for the best photo of any flying, crawling or swimming ocean beasties. That's R42,000 of very nice kit, and not even an entry fee required.

Sadly I don't think I have competition winning pics. But while despondently scratching through some 2002 slides from Ecuador I did come across these rather delightful Blue-footed Booby photos from Isla de la Plata in Ecuador - not doing anything interesting enough to win me a prize, but hey, they've got blue feet. They were nesting, some right next to walking trails, so it was possible to get some great portraits. Note the very pretty ragged pupils.

24 June 2011

Naked woman hangs on hotel door

Oh what fun! Creative Review (UK) is running a competition via Twitter to design a perfect hotel door sign. The second I saw it I knew what I wanted to do:

10 June 2011

everyday flotsam

Sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in virtual. And forget that every day there is a beach only five minutes away. Strewn with cool stuff that came from somewhere else.

09 June 2011


Geek heaven. XKCD makes Dilbert seem like a boring engineer.

And not just tech geek jokes. Maths geek, physics geek, science geek, and more. Link from the cartoon. I can't believe I only discovered him now.

05 June 2011

In which we play with our food, or: eggy bread goes pretentious

I would love to open a restaurant or do a cookbook where every dish is an upmarket version of take-away food. Most of the joy would be in making sure the menu only used the original name, with not a mention of jus or fucking foam anywhere. Gatsby anyone?

04 June 2011

Fargo Trading

Basmati, borrie (turmeric), curry leaves, fresh & dry coriander, cinnamon, coconut milk, dried shitake. Underneath and not visible: moong dal, large green lentils, black-eye beans, cous cous, whole jeera (cumin), chana flour. Not only can money buy happiness, but happiness is cheap. Around R300 for this lot (yup kids, that's less than US$45). These days Fargo Trading even have bar-code scanners and take credit cards.

30 May 2011

29 May 2011

Tretchikoff in autumn

It was autumn on the weekend. Cape Town Gardens almost deserted outside the museum. The lady behind the ticket desk tried to look severe as she let us both in although we had only enough cash for one admission. Inside, lots of appreciative viewers, most seeming to actually admire the amazing assortment of Tretchikoffs.

breakfast at The Annex, Kalk Bay

Omelettes and scrambled eggs are the true test of a good cook. Utterly simple, but demanding full attention and perfect timing. Wonderful or inedible only seconds in either direction. If I had to criticise, I'd say the plate could have been warmer. But the scrambled eggs and salmon were so good that they didn't really have a chance to get cold.

23 May 2011

etching in Photoshop

High pass, then convert to duotone. Is it cheating? Yes. Does it have artistic merit? I haven't decided yet.

Hollandaise, or: The Wages of Sin is Death

Today I went to give blood for my first ever cholesterol test.

21 May 2011

Hesheng Chinese Takeaway, Seapoint

Saturday eve found us getting peckish far from home, feeling broke and a little jaded about anything resembling fine dining. And unusually, also not in the mood for baby calamari, prego rolls and beer from Vasco de Gama. A horrible quandary indeed. Fortunately, food obsession came to the rescue, and I remembered a long ago post about an unusually excellent Chinese spot from The Sourcerer.

Hesheng Chinese Takeaway turned out to be everything I could have hoped for.

27 April 2011

Paris really is this cool

A Paris post is long overdue. The main reason it hasn't happened is because the subject is just overwhelming. I can't do it justice in an hour or two. So we'll just have to accept this as a work in progress to be added to over a few weeks.

Paris is a difficult topic. It has been greatly over-romanticized, and there has therefore also been a horrible whiner backlash by those expecting some kind of garlic-scented Disney themepark.

(to be continued - I'm being called to bed by the girl in the picture. Would you say no?...)
(22 May update, weeks later... I will still get to it....)

19 April 2011

Summer is almost over

The frangipani are still heavy with flowers, but dusk creeps in earlier and earlier, and barefoot is not nearly as pleasant as it was a month ago.