buttermilk scones



After all my lamenting this week it does seem as if spring has finally arrived, and I am exuberant. The apartment is filled with flowers and I was afraid our libraries would strike and I wouldn’t get access to books, so I stockpiled like a motherfucker and now there are so many great things waiting to be read that the thought of it makes me want to hyperventilate. I also baked some buttermilk scones, my first attempt at replicating what I had at Kitten and the Bear. These are from Rachel Allen’s recipe, which I originally found in the Guardian. They were pleasant, but I slightly overworked the dough, making them not as light as they should be, and although their flavour wasn’t bad, they certainly didn’t have the depth of flavour of their Parkdale ilk. So we march on.

(Also pictured: lovely European cherry jam sold by two elderly German ladies who own a gift shop on Roncesvalles. If you’re ever in the area, go in and speak to them. They’re fabulous.)




the last of the winter



It has technically not been winter in Toronto for about a month, but oh, what a cock tease of a spring we have had thus far. So we’re still trudging along, waiting for the patios to open, for the rhubarb to arrive, for weather in which I can wear a dress. With a distinct lack of spring menus in sight, this is what we’ve been eating around these parts. From a Guardian column I’ve been hoarding for ages, a beet and goat’s cheese salad from Nigel Slater. The original recipe calls for goat’s cheese curd, which I replaced with regular goat’s cheese. The beetroot gets tossed in a dressing spiked with fresh ginger and cardamom, coriander and cumin. We liked it.

I also finally got around to making the mejadra from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Rice, green lentils, and lots and lots of onions. We ended up shallow frying the onions instead of deep frying them (too much effort, too much Sheila Cussons paranoia), which meant they were less crispy than they should have been, but still good. Lots of spice – cinnamon, turmeric, more coriander and cumin, some allspice. It’s a fair amount of work, but we had a container in the fridge for a few days and it served us well for lunch, topped with some Greek joghurt and sliced avocado, or for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.





There was also this kale and roasted pumpkin salad, with pancetta and a tahini dressing. (I apologise for the photo, which I really don’t like. But I can’t quite figure out how to always take good photographs of our food when we are actually also trying to eat it.) There’s something so very American about this salad – the kale, the pumpkin – and it strikes me as something we would not necessarily have eaten in Arcadia. But in the Northern hemisphere you cannot survive a winter without dubiously high amounts of kale, and even our love of pumpkin has exponentially increased on these shores. A fact which, I suspect, can be attributed not only to the pumpkin propaganda that seems so ingrained in North-American culture, but also to the vastly superior flavour of the pumpkin varieties available here. In any case – we like it in a weekday lunch salad, with kale, and more often than not, a dressing of tahini, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, perhaps a bit of Greek yogurt. It likes the fatty savouriness of a piece of pork, so we add some pancetta. Pepitas add crunch, and the salad happily sticks around the fridge and tastes as good on day three as it did on day one.

Onto dinners: One night I made this fennel baked in cream, also from a recipe I’ve held onto for years. Swopped out half the cream for milk, it was still pretty rich. But good – I guess if a dish contains both cream and parmesan and roasted fennel it’d be difficult to fuck it up. Didn’t look particularly pretty, so no idea how Saveur got such a good picture. Just looking at the recipe again I see it also contains butter, which I left out. No one died.

Finally – J made some delicious tandoori chicken one night, the spices largely all from a mix we were gifted from family who visited India recently. Most audacious moment was the fact that he did not bake it, but instead cooked it entirely under the grill. Pro: It’s deliciously smoky. Con: So is the rest of your apartment. Your oven will need cleaning.




Toronto’s Greektown



We went to Greektown. In this not-quite-warm spring we’ve been having it was a particularly lacklustre day, with a bitterly cold wind snapping around. So we decided to eat a lot of pastry. It was a very good decision.






We had spanakopita and galaktoboureko at Athens Bakery. The galaktoboureko, a first for us, consisting of thin layers of filo with a semolina custard in the middle, topped with a slight sprinkling of cinnamon. Reminiscent of gebakte melktert. At Athena Bakery we had tiropita, pastry filled with feta, egg and yoghurt, and a most beautiful little pistachio asawer baklava, rolled in the shape of a bracelet. We gave the loukomades a miss – they reminded us too much of koeksisters. The last stop was Akropolis, for kreatopita, a filo pastry filled with slightly spiced ground beef, perhaps a little bit of clove and a little bit of cinnamon? It tasted like the ground beef my grandmother makes, which is to say, the type of maalvleis we find on the South African platteland. I don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s comforting in its own way.








This is what we brought home. The kreatopita and baklava, and candles narrower than my pinky, from Athena Bakery, which sells both pastries and various Catholic accoutrement. Some lamb souvlaki for dinner, along with the most delicious tzatziki I’ve ever had, which I expect is largely due to its fat content.Also, marinated olives. For future meals – dried grains of wheat, for some salad involving koring. I have a faint memory of my mother making a salad of cooked, cooled koring mixed with some mayonnaise, raw onion and parsley, but I may also be confusing it with her rysslaai, which is the same dish but with rice instead of koring. Crimplene kos, yes, but delicious nonetheless. I suspect I’ll swop it into salads requiring bulgur or couscous or quinoa. And then some tahini, mostly for salad dressings, but also for the hummous tahina recipe from Zahav, which must be made.



two curries and a sambal


One day when we no longer live in this apartment I will think back to how its kitchen was slightly too small for two people to both cook at the same time, until we figured out that if we strip all cupboards of their doors and have a kitchen of open shelves instead, we were freeing up just enough space to allow J and I to cook at the same time. This is a kitchen in which only partners used to cooking together can do so, it requires an understanding of the other’s rhythm and a knowledge of how to move your body while you’re prepping so they can reach a utensil on that shelf or an ingredient in that drawer. The close quarters in which we work means cooking is inevitably touching, grazing past one another as we move from fridge to sink to counter to stove.




Last night we made two types of curry and a sambal, while I awkwardly danced to a bunch of 90s songs from a sweet playlist I found online. The first couple of songs were from the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack and THERE WERE SO MANY MEMORIES COMING BACK TO ME, to be honest mostly about being fourteen and really, really badly wanting a boyfriend. The first curry was a mashup of a Seychelles spice mix we got as a Christmas gift from friends who had visited the island, heady with fenugreek and large shards of cassia, and other curry-ish ingredients from the fridge, including a big lump of tamarind. The second was a cashew nut curry of Sri Lankan origin, on our radar because it contains Maldive fish chips, another pantry item we’d been gifted at Christmas. It turned out delicious – the cashews are cooked with onion and garlic in coconut milk, along with cumin, cinnamon and a few other spices, into a rich, creamy curry. The sambal, also Sri Lankan, featured large flakes of coconut, onion and parsley, turmeric and chilli and some more Maldive fish chips, all quickly whipped together in a pan so that the coconut gets a chance to toast. We ate on the couch. The playlist was still in full swing. A Perfect Circle. I told J how conflicted I’d been over this band at age fourteen, liking their music but secretly suspecting they were Satanists. I had also felt the same about Madonna’s Frozen, which I felt drawn to even though the music video made it clear that she was into witchcraft. Is the Frozen video the one where she turns into a crow, J asked. Yes, I said. Darling, he answered. That’s not witchcraft. That’s CGI.

We had seconds.

asparagus and oukaas tart



For ten years of my life I lived in an apartment in Arcadia, the unofficial red light district of Pretoria. I loved that apartment more than I have loved most people. So did my mother, who, I suspect, as someone who had never lived alone, loved the idea of what the apartment symbolised – not having to answer to anyone, not having to tend to the needs of a family, the quiet of being the only occupant in the house. Ever since I’ve moved my mother stops at the apartment every three months or so, takes a picture of the building from the car, and texts it to me. Here’s this week’s photograph.




One of the main reasons I loved the apartment was because of its light – it was a sunny, space, always light. This morning I came across photographs I had taken of J, this week three years ago, in the Arcadia apartment. He is working in bed, in the morning light, and there are too many books on the bedside table (a thick Microelectronics book, a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis on top of that, the titles of the rest are hidden from view), a stack of journals that belong to both of us, and coffee mugs. On the bed, just beyond his laptop screen is a plate of toasted hot cross buns, this being the Easter I first discovered them, and where we each ate at least two every day. I also took a photograph of my kitchen that morning, just before I carried breakfast to our bed. From this picture I know that we had tea, which means that it must have been getting cooler in Pretoria, as we never had tea in the summer heat. We also somehow had bought asparagus in autumn, from the Boeremark, which probably came from a part of the world where the seasons match what we are used to now, and used it to top a tart. Life, man. It’s bizarre.




I love this tart. We make it with puff pastry, and asparagus, and any type of heady cheese we have around. In this house it is Oukaas, the very, very aged Gouda we buy from a Dutch cheesemaker at the Boeremark whenever we’re in Pretoria (we fly home a couple of kilos twice a year), but Gruyère will work, or a good Parmesan. It makes a decent lunch, with a salad of some kind, but it is really stellar if you serve it to guests as they just arrive at your house, and which is mostly what we do. You know those people who invite you for dinner and don’t give you a single thing to eat for the first two hours of the party, as you slowly get more and more drunk off the wine? Don’t be one of those people.



good things to eat in Toronto: scones from Kitten and the Bear


I didn’t intend to stay away for this long, but sometimes that’s just how things end up working. I’m in Massachusetts for work, and have spent my days in the archive and my nights in an AirBnB room shared with one of those giants wooden giraffes we always see tourists walk around with on OR Tambo, and which my hostess did indeed bring back from South Africa. Seeing one of those curio giraffes in the wild is a slightly disarming sight.

Today is my mother’s birthday, and I am heartbroken. I don’t know what it says about me that I am almost 31 years old and miss my parents as much as I do, but I’ve been thinking about the day my paternal grandmother died, and how my mother picked me up from school, early, and took me home, and how my father came into my room, crying so bitterly he could not speak, and lay holding me on my bed for hours, just crying and crying, and how he was then the age I am now, and how then I thought, this must be the most awful thing that can happen to anyone, and how although I’ve added quite a litany to that list of awful things I still stick with my initial assessment.

This afternoon my mother baked lots of cake and the family had tea in the garden. They sent me a picture and I burst into tears when I opened it, walking the streets of Cambridge. I cry like my father.

The tea my mother prepared reminded me of a lovely conversation we had last week, about scones. I have discovered a most beautiful little shop in Toronto, named Kitten and the Bear. They sell only three things: freshly baked scones, small batches of jam, and just-brewed tea. They charge an exorbitant amount for all three these things, but it is a marvelous way to celebrate a special occasion. The scones are also the Platonic ideal of buttermilk scones, and although those who know me well know that I also inherited my father’s dramatic sense of hyperbole, I am not exaggerating when I say they are the best scones I have every had the joy of eating, and I have had my fair share of scones in 31 years. The conversation with my mother was centred around trying to figure out what it could be that made these scones as light and immensely flavourful as they are. Since eating them I have cycled through one after the other buttermilk scone recipe, hoping to recreate it, but none have brought the goods. My mother feels very fancy and expensive buttermilk and butter might do the trick, so that’s what I’ll try next.  Our scones were served with three different types of jam – a strawberry, raspberry and cream jam, banana, bourbon and vanilla bean jam, and a spicy plum jam. We also had a citrus and whisky marmalade. I am warming to jam very late in life, and these were lovely. There was also – be still my beating heart – clotted cream.


Top tip: these scones are also sold to take-away, and they’re much cheaper that way. You can add your own cream and tea at home, and enjoy while sewing.

If anyone has an amazing buttermilk scone recipe to share, I’m currently auditioning candidates. I want to have this one down next time I’m home, to bake for my mother.






I’m running out of ways to say We’re working too much and I’m very tired, except to say that yesterday, in the midst of this April snow, I was thinking of But These Things Also by Edward Thomas, which I believe I first read in a book about suicide in high school –

But these things also are Spring’s –

On banks by the roadside the grass
Long-dead that is greyer now
Than all the Winter it was;

The shell of a little snail bleached
In the grass; chip of flint, and mite
Of chalk; and the small birds’ dung
In splashes of purest white:

All the white things a man mistakes
For earliest violets
Who seeks through Winter’s ruins
Something to pay Winter’s debts,

While the North blows, and starling flocks
By chattering on and on
Keep their spirits up in the mist,
And Spring’s here, Winter’s not gone.

Spring’s here, Winter’s not gone. So I walked to the store and bought tulips, and came home and baked a cake, but I was so tired that as I took the cake from the oven it fell, so now I have a cake that seems as if someone absentmindedly sat on it. At least the tulips are pretty.

This weekend I am RESTING. But we’re also going to a screening of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and Ken Jacobs’s Little Stabs of Happiness, and I’m buying leggings. I also need to finish the bloody shift dress I’ve been sewing for a month, and I’m going to this exhibition of paintings, at a hipster gallery in Parkdale. For now I leave you with this:

The beautifully Modernist aesthetic of Willard Maas’s Geography of the Body.

Ariel Levy’s fabulous feminist reading list.

This most moving Dutch documentary, on Afrikaans poet Gert Vlok Nel, described as “Gert Vlok Nel woont in Beaufort-Wes, een troosteloos dorpje in de Groot Karoo, het platteland tussen Kaapstad en Johannesburg.” Een troosteloos dorpje could be the title of every book I ever write.

This glorious reading list from the women at Femina Ridens, which should keep you in reading material for quite a while.

A series of podcasts on Charles Manson and the Manson Family, on You Must Remember This, which I found especially interesting for the way it sketches the larger cultural context of the sixties in America. Good for listening to while working on a project – I’ve been listening to it when I sew.

And finally, the titular poem from Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise – 

In Birmingham, said the burly man—

Boy, be
a bootblack.

Your back, blue-black.
Your body,                     burning.

I like my black boys broke, or broken.
I like to break my black boys in.

See this burnished
brown leather belt?
You see it, boy?

Are you broke, or broken?
I’m gonna break your back in.

Good boy. Begin: bend
over my boot,

(or I’ll bend you over my lap–rap rap)

again, bend. Better,

butt out, tongue out,
lean in.

Now, spit-shine.

My boot, black.
Your back, blue-black.

Good boy.
Black boy, blue-black boy.
Bad boy–rap rap.

You’ve been broken in.
Begin again, bend.

salted brown butter Rice Krispie bars



My best friend had her second child three weeks ago. Somewhere out there must be someone who can tell me how to sustain all the relationships in our lives once we are no longer in our twenties or living on the same continent as most of those whom we love, because I am spent agonising over this issue. So, my best friend had her second child three weeks ago, and I wasn’t around, like I was not around for the birth of the first. My best friend is now the mother of two children, and between her major corporate job, her two children, and my PhD, we’ve decided that anything more than 10 minutes of uninterrupted conversation is something we won’t be doing for a while. I’m not sure how we all got to this point, but we’re here. This is where we are. Yesterday we were 12 years old and talking about how when we’re adults, we want to be like Bono, because unlike all the adults we knew, Bono’s life isn’t in a rut, and, well, now we’re in our thirties and, thank fuck, nothing like Bono. (I have no idea what we really meant by the type of life that was in a rut, except that we maybe thought it made us sound clever walking around the dusty neighbourhood streets and using it amongst the two of us, and being so sure that we would not be that. That we chose Bono as an example of this also kind of breaks my heart.)

Since she’s had baby number two, we text in the middle of the South African night, when she’s nursing and I’m drinking wine. We talk about her children, I tell her what we had for dinner, we send around embarrassing pictures of ourselves from when we were younger. We talk about sex, a little bit about work, about things our husbands have done to annoy or delight us. I know I can only say this because it’s not me who’s losing sleep or dealing with cracked nipples, but I love this baby for giving us this time every night.

What also crops up in these nocturnal conversations is comments on things we feel like eating. This is not a new conversation. We’ve been having it for twenty years, and it often centers on Kentucky Fried Chicken. But last night I was thinking, I suspect she’s never had any of these salted brown butter Rice Crispie bars, and if I was not in another country this is what she would be snacking on right now. They are exactly like regular Rice Crispie bars except that you brown the butter, which gives them flavour beyond just being sweet, and add a little bit of salt, to cut the cloyingness that often comes with these types of cookies. In my limited first hand experience of having a child on the breast they are perfect for eating in that situation since you won’t have crumbs falling onto the face of the suckling baby. I realise they’re nothing compared to a glass of wine, but sometimes we take what we can get.