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.




from the greengrocer



It is April, and the city is confused. On Saturday we went out on a sunny morning and bought new plants for the apartment and vegetables for the week, and by the afternoon it was suddenly snowing. It is now Sunday, and it is still snowing. So we’ve made glühwein, started a sourdough starter, and right now I’m roasting two oven pans of root vegetables – some sweet potato, beetroot, parsnip, onion, potato, and pumpkin. We’ll be having it with our first attempt at prime rib, after scoring a marked down post-Easter piece of beef.

Canadians find the snow annoying. As both having grown up in the very hot and dusty Noordwes, we do not. Before I came to Toronto I had seen snow once, as a child, when we were on holiday far from Mmabatho. But I remember the fascination that snow held for us as children, and how, even though it had never snowed in our province, we thought that someday, maybe, it might. Especially if we prayed. On a windy day in winter, when I was seven, we decided to ask God for the sign of the fleece. We wrote on a piece of paper, God, please make it snow, and pinned the paper down with rocks on the front lawn. God’s sign to us that it would snow would be that the paper manages to free itself from the weight of the rocks, and fly away. We spent a lot of that morning praying. The paper didn’t budge. We weren’t sure if that was because God didn’t like being asked for fleeces, or if He genuinely didn’t want to send us snow. Some days I still don’t know.

Our meals for the week look like this: we’ll probably roast the aubergines and have them with garlicky yoghurt and feta, and the broccoli was last night’s dinner, roasted in a very hot oven and then topped with lemon zest, lemon juice and Parmesan, and eaten alongside some Italian sausages. The kale will join some green lentils, kimchi, pancetta and a tahini dressing for an unorthodox salad which will be our lunches for the week, and the pumpkin is in the oven right now. The asparagus will be wilted in a hot pan and topped with poached eggs and some very aged Gouda from the Boeremark, for breakfast.



winter’s list


We rarely have spring or autumn in Pretoria. The only way you realise that summer may be over is in the way the light changes around March, and remains like that throughout the Highveld winter. It’s still bright, but it feels fundamentally despairing, the colour of the sky the colour of the dead grass on the side of the highway, a pale yellow for months on end. I hated winter in Pretoria.

It is with the changing of the light in the not-really-autumn of 2010 that I first started making lists in an effort to keep my head above the water. I was dreading how cold my apartment would be soon, how, with less daylight, I would suddenly have to do much more driving at night, and then there was the issue of the light. I started composing the first list in a car with friends, on our way to another friend’s 30th. I had not slept the night before, nor the night before that, and my most succinct memory of the trip is not the list I was composing but the way in which the driver of the car would make a quick swerve to the right every time we passed under any of the underpasses, taking us across three lanes of the empty highway in a matter of seconds, then returning to our original lane. There had been a slew of cases where men on the overpass waited for cars to approach and then threw large rocks or bricks through their windows from above, and we were trying to swerve out of the way of anything that might be dropped. We drove like that the entire way, and I, in the way I have by now come to accept as being both pityingly weak and yet the only means of self-preservation, started making a list of small things that would make the coming months feel less devastating. The vast majority of my list contained dishes ideally cooked or eaten in winter. This was how I was going to deal. Most of the list is lost, but I remember three items. Chicken korma, a Nigella Lawson recipe I made in those days, from Feast, heady with cinnamon and cardamom, laced with sultanas and cream. Roast chicken with leeks the size of my pinky, from the Boeremark, the outer leaves crisping up in the chicken’s juices. And vendusie vetkoek, or vetkoek* sliced in half with a piece of boerewors inside it, something my father used to eat as a little boy whenever he accompanied my grandfather to the vendusie, and which my mother made periodically throughout my childhood.

I still make that list every winter, that list and a lot of other lists besides, as lists have become the way I perform joie de vivre to myself when I want to die, and are a conduit of actual joy when I do not.

On the list for winter 2016 has been Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken with Jerusalem artichokes and lemon, from Jerusalem, which delivers garlicky pieces of chicken flecked with tarragon and caramelized slices of lemon. Also a pot of David Lebovitz’s short ribs braised in beer and hoisin, that also happens to contain a fuck load of garlic and ginger, so don’t make this if you have meetings the next day. Or do, YOLO. Best served with mashed potatoes. The list also sports an embarrassingly large number of recipes from Diane Henry’s A Bird in the Hand, one of those types of books where I want to cook everything. So one night last week J tackled my list and made Mexican chicken and pumpkin with pepita pesto, and it was exactly what we wanted to eat while watching House of Cards and discussing how long it’s going to take Claire Underwood and Tom Yates to start fucking. The leftover are also delicious, but best heated up. Nobody really likes cold pumpkin.

*Vetkoek, for those not familiar with it, is a type of savoury doughnut eaten in South Africa, a yeasted dough deep fried in oil and either eaten with jam, golden syrup, cheese, or ground, spiced beef. It is sold at every Afrikaner church fête or sports gathering or market, and it is deeply satisfying. Too many will kill you.


buckwheat, two ways

It’s weekend. I’ve been doing laundry and reading Svetlana Alexviech’s Voices from Chernobyl, which is devastating in the most ordinary way, which is often the most devastating way of all. Oral histories with a perspective that is mostly grounded in domesticity. I wish everything I read had that inflection.




This week we are eating lots of buckwheat. I’ve been reading Magnus Nillsen’s Fäviken, which is interesting in a conceptual way and not really meant for home cooking, but his recipe for wholegrain porridge, called Johny’s porridge in the book, felt like the right thing for us to try. You mix steel cut oats with a variety of other whole grains (in our case, buckwheat kernels, kamut flakes, spelt flakes) with a bunch of seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame), soak them overnight and cook the next morning, like you would do with a normal pot of oats. We’re still deciding how we feel about it – in the words of my mother-in-law, having this much fiber first thing in the morning makes you feel very virtuous, but at the same time it feels as if you’re Nils Holgersson, and I’m not sure that’s an experience I want every day.




But maybe my larger issue is the buckwheat kernels. They’re just too overpowering. I told J I think I prefer buckwheat flour, and he said, you mean white people’s buckwheat? Touchè. (By the way, if you’re wondering why the above photograph is more a showcase for braised cherries than it is for the porridge, that’s because making porridge look appetising in a photograph is an impossible task I have given up on. If you don’t believe me, look at this lovely collection of porridge photos and try not to kill yourself.)




Back to buckwheat. These are buckwheat crêpes. You have to make the batter the night before, and then allow it to reach room temperature before you start baking, so with all that schlep I advise baking up a bunch and then freezing them. They defrost really quickly, and you can briefly pop them in a dry pan to heat them up again. My afternoons are infinitely better when I know I can take a 4pm break for coffee and a Nutella crêpe.

potato galette with gravlax



We’re working from home today. This means Johannes is at his desk in the living room, soldering something, and I’m at the dining table in the same room, making notes from Kristeva’s book on Hannah Arendt. It also means that we had this beauty for lunch, with the last of the gravlax. It’s basically a giant potato rösti but without the heavy duty frying work that rösti or latkes usually entail. It gets topped with the salmon, sliced onion and a herby mix of sour cream and cream cheese (what type of person has both of those in the fridge? I do.)

Friday night dinner party



This is what Friday looked like.

Wake up. Realise I never woke up during the night, as was the plan, to place chicken still cooling down when I went to bed, in the fridge, to serve to a dinner party the next night. Consider the likelihood of salmonella poisoning. Think about the fact that I’m still friends with friends who accidentally gave me salmonella poisoning, and that I will absolutely eat their food again. Decide to risk it. (Johannes takes it upon himself to be the guinea pig for early salmonella detection, and periodically eats a few bites of chicken throughout the day in the hope that, if it’s gone bad, we’ll know before we serve the guests. This is what white bourgeois Russian roulette looks like, courtesy of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, which I spent hours making last night, during which I also reminded myself never again to make any dish that needs to serve ten people that also involves browning the meat, because I cannot spend an entire day thinking about schizophrenia and performativity and French feminist theory from the 70s and then have to stand and fry shit for two hours. No.)

Have coffee and a hot cross bun. Read 46 messages in family chat group that accumulated while I was asleep, mostly about a braai I can’t go to because it would involve 2 10-hour flights and another 10-hour layover in Frankfurt.

Take a bath. Then, clean the bathroom. Am reminded of the pain and existential dread that manual labour inevitably entails. Think about a Koos Kombuis interview where he mentions how in the 80s he lived with a bunch of men in an apartment in Sunnyside, where they never washed any dishes or threw out any of the rotisserie chicken carcasses that they lived off of, until it got so bad that they one day just closed the door of the kitchen and never entered it again until the day they moved out of the apartment.




Read. Specifically, Amelia Hastie’s Cabinets of Curiosity. Then, roast rolled oats in the oven. Read some more. Make a chocolate ganache. Think about desire. And temporality. Take out the recycling. Make lunch. Clean the oil sputters from last night’s frying off the adjacent wall. Make notes on Michael Haneke. Blind bake pastry for Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, which is the evening’s dessert. Start grant application, then sweep the entryway. Combine roasted oats with sugar, corn syrup, butter, vinegar and vanilla. Realise we’re out of eggs. Run to store to buy eggs. Come back, add eggs to pie mix, pour in ganache-lined pastry shell, bake. Leave husband to check pie, go to talk. Listen to papers on sensory ethnography. Leave before the Q&A, subway back. Husband has washed the kitchen floor and sweeped the living room and baked a focaccia while I was away, instead of dying of salmonella poisoning. #Blessed.

The guests arrive.




About the food: I made Ina Garten’s version of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic because I had a lot of Marsala I wanted to swop in for the white wine Garten calls for, and it worked beautifully. I also like her addition of some cream right at the end, especially if you’re eating this in the Canadian winter. I usually serve this with bread for mopping up the sauce as sauce is kind of the point of this dish – you could even not eat any of the chicken and you’ll still feel mighty pleased with yourself. The bread was Johannes’s baby, and as far as I know it’s a focaccia from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a book that Johannes takes incredibly seriously. He topped it with sundried tomatoes, olives and herbs. Dessert was from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, and the title, Black Bottom Oat Pie, is more seductive than the pie actually was. Dubbed the poor man’s pecan pie, it was satisfying, with a layer of ganache at the bottom of the pie, the syrupy oats layer on top, but despite adjusting the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe it still felt too sweet.


Sometimes it feels as if I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways not to eat bread for breakfast. And the fact that I just wrote that line makes me sad on so many levels.

Anyway. Over the last while we’ve had steel-cut oats with braised cherries (affordable frozen cherries are one of the most exciting things about shopping in Canada). I usually braise cherries (or rhubarb, when in season) in orange juice, on the stove if we’re talking cherries, in the oven if it’s rhubarb.




Another day I roasted broccoli in a very hot oven, topped with some lemon juice, zest and parmesan, and topped with a fried egg (there is a club where people consider anything topped with a fried egg a meal, and I now belong to that club.)

And then we’ve been having gravlax with scrambled eggs. (And toast. Fuck that shit. I love bread.)




If you’re looking for non-bready breakfasts, read this piece by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. (Although I can for the life of me not see myself making risotto for breakfast. Enough already.)


cherry Dutch baby




In my ideal life I get to bake something for breakfast a couple of times a week. Right now I’m not living my ideal life. But I did get to bake this cherry Dutch baby a few weekends ago, on the coldest day of the year thus far, when we stayed inside and just looked at the frost forming in-between the two panes of our double-glazed windows. This is not a recipe that changed my life. But it was ridiculously pretty, and very easy to make, and we topped it with chopped toasted walnuts and ate large wedges of it on the couch. I’m not always sure whether I should lament the ways in which I’ve become less ambitious as I’ve grown older, or to just embrace the goal of a life where baking for breakfast is an absolutely meaningful thing for me to do.






Some memorable lunches from these wintry parts. Kale caesar salad, with anchovies and oukaas from the Boeremark, that we brought back from our trip. A delicious white bean soup about which I was quite skeptical even whilst making it, thinking it was going to be very bland. So I added some homemade chicken stock, so gelatinous I had to scoop it from the mason jar, left over from chicken pie Johannes made. And I tripled the amount of fennel seeds the recipe calls for, and added a teaspoon of adobo sauce that was standing around, and it turned out pretty fantastic. It also came together quite effortlessly. I used canned beans instead of the specified dried ones, and had it simmering along after dinner while we were watching yet another documentary about fundamentalist Mormon plural families, of which I will never tire. We ate the soup with some toast topped with Italian speck, and after I tried to take a decent photograph of the soup for a few minutes I gave up, and just took a photo of the bread. Turns out taking a photo of soup without some type of fancy-ass garnish is an absolute bitch, and some days I just don’t have time for that Bon Appétit food styling shit.




Another day’s lunch consisted of some leftover roast chicken and an unorthodox tabbouleh from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav, with quinoa instead of bulgur, and peas and mint instead of the other usual suspects. Worked fabulously with frozen petit pois, and really, it’s so bloody life-affirming to eat this type of dish in the dead of winter.




I ended up cooking quite a few dishes from Zahav, including a herbed labneh which hits exactly the right balance between effort and pay-off. You make the labneh the night before (and if you’ve never made labneh, it’s really super easy – line a colander with cheese cloth, or a dish cloth if you don’t have that, add yoghurt and some salt, and leave overnight to drain – in the morning you’ll have labneh), and add a lot of chopped herbs and garlic once the yoghurt has turned to cheese. Puree the labneh with the herbs, a mixture of mint, chives, dill, parsley, and scoop that onto some oven baked cauliflower. Solomonov deep fries his cauliflower but I have to clean my own apartment and the residual film of grease that settles on everything in this kitchen if one ventures into the realm of deep frying means I never deep fry anything, and frankly, cauliflower roasted at a high temperature is something no one can complain about. Just make sure you leave it in long enough to start caramelising, and once it’s out of the oven, dollop the labneh all over. We’re pretty much sold.