I am alone at home in the middle of artichoke season. So I am sewing a high-waisted skirt for spring, and steaming some artichokes to have for dinner. I steam them with garlic and some onion (I actually have no idea why I do this, I suspect I read it somewhere) once I’ve snapped off the toughest outer leaves and clipped the sharp edges off what’s left. Once it’s steamed I do very little but dip the leaves in some melted butter spiked with lemon juice, and eat alongside a large tumbler of water.

My friend Tombi has a very deep love for the artichoke, and is the one who taught me just how sweet water tastes when a gulp follows the taste of artichoke. One year, for her birthday, a group of our friends descended upon the home of Hanli, at the end of winter when the rest of the country was warming up. The Free State, where Hanli lives, had missed the memo and was still bitterly cold when we arrived with a boot full of spring produce procured in the city. But there was a wood stove just off of the kitchen, and we had enough wine to hole up for weeks. The first night we had a very memorable dish of chicken cooked with a wooded Chardonay, and a French dark chocolate and chestnut tart that was utterly disappointing – the beginning of my distrust in creme de marron, a distrust which has since deepened into rendering it an ingredient non-grata. But the first course was the most striking, a large bowl of freshly steamed artichokes, lemony butter for dipping, Tombi making sure that each person had a glass of water to drink while eating.



We slept very little that night, and listened to a lot of Johannes Kerkorrel en die Gereformeerde Blues Band. We all went to bed smelling like artichokes.




Marion Cunningham’s last word in nutmeg muffins



A few weeks ago when I was in Cambridge for work, I returned home with three things: a lot of gin, yards and yards of floral bias tape, and a recipe for nutmeg muffins that I will probably bake for the rest of my life.

I woke up in my AirBnB room one morning with the smell of melted butter in the air. It turned out that my hostess was baking Marion Cunningham’s last word in nutmeg muffins. The muffins were, without a doubt, the best thing I ate in ten days, and more importantly, they were a solace, at least as far as a muffin can be. I find work travel is becoming harder over time – partly because so much of my equilibrium comes from being at home, and partly because I’m usually exhausted, but also – and perhaps this is because I’ve read too much Adrienne Rich and Shulamith Firestone this week – I am at the point where prolonged absences from Johannes render me pretty miserable. I don’t want to be that woman, but I am.

The muffins were a glorious distraction. I ended up borrowing my hostess’s copy of Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book and holed up in bed that night to write down the recipe and, to no one’s surprise, around ten other recipes for baked breakfast goods as well. Every recipe in that book feels like the life I am trying to make for myself, it feels like, paraphrasing Ted Hughes, the me I love and want to live with.

(Bloody Ted Hughes. As much as I find him problematic so many of his words have lodged themselves in my mind, have become part of my inner monologue, the way I think about my life.)

But I digress – we’re here to talk about Cunningham. There’s a recipe for buttermilk pancakes, for thin yellow cornmeal pancakes that I’d like to eat with melted butter and drizzled honey, and a yeasted buckwheat pancake. Yeasted. Buckwheat. Pancake. This is the stuff of culinary arousal.

The trick to these muffins is, I think, the fact that it contains one and a half whole nutmegs that you grate into the batter, and that it contains almost a cup of cream. I should also mention that although Cunningham presents her muffins as is, my hostess topped hers with a streusel, and this is now how I make it too. There’s something so ubiquitously American about streusel-topped muffins, which feels right in this context, and although it means you have crumbs of streusel everywhere (I have a particularly bad record of accidentally dropping streusel crumbs into my shirt as I eat), life’s too dismal to worry about your breasts being coated in a thin layer of sugar, flour and melted butter.







eggs and asparagus



This is what a breakfast in spring looks like – pan-fried asparagus, Oukaas or Parmesan or Gruyère or another hard cheese, and a poached egg. As Tamar Adler reminds us – “Poached eggs like contrasts, and are especially good at turning what looks like two-thirds of a meal into a whole one.” Selah.




It is perhaps time to speak about pizza.

I am alone for two weeks while J is in South Africa for work. I was planning on writing a post on what one cooks when you find yourself suddenly alone, but it’s turned out much less interesting than I’d hoped (salads, scrambled eggs), so for now all I have to tell you is that I have a heavy teaching load at the moment, which means that when I get home in the evening I mostly drink wine and read Adrienne Rich and Shulamith Firestone and The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, strange but satisfying bedfellows, and that tonight I’m making pizza.

(Before I get to the pizza, listen to this delightful piece on the history of fudge, from the very same Oxford Companion: “An 1880s fudge-making fad among students of elite American women’s colleges, especially Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith, fostered the use of the new creation. The young women made fudge in their dormitory rooms, often in tin boxes balanced on the chimneys of spirit lamps, and later in chafing dishes (occasionally, fire rather than fudge resulted).” I have spent an inordinate amount of time this week imagining what it must have been like being a woman at Vassar in the 1880s making fudge with other women in her dormitory room, and if this doesn’t sound like the best life you could possibly ever live then we clearly have different priorities.)

Back to the pizza. We’ve been making the same pizza for almost four years now. The dough is one of two recipes – we either use Peter Reinhardt’s from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, or the flatbread recipe from Casa Moro. The Reinhardt recipe requires proving the dough in the fridge overnight, and this is mostly the method I follow even with the Moro version. I find this to be the key issue in producing a silky, manageable dough. Like all of us, dough has a deep and abiding need to rest. Give it that. Once it has proved for a long time (between 12 and 24 hours), you are able to work it into a really thin base. For tomato sauce I make Marcella Hazan’s version, never anything else. The beauty is in its simplicity: just tomatoes (I use canned San Marzano), an onion, and butter. The butter brings out the slight sweetness of the tomato, the richness of it a lovely foil against its acidity, and against the assertiveness of the onion.

As to toppings – we usually do just mozzarella and one or two other elements – either anchovies, or olives, or whatever is lying around the fridge – some soppressata, or artichokes, or like tonight, some ramps (!!) I scored from the farmer’s market over the weekend.

Finally, what pizza desires just as much as a long rise is a hot oven. I bake mine at the highest temperature an oven has on offer.



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.




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.