Thursday, December 31, 2009


Contemplating the passage of time...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Warm Chocolate Marscarpone Cheesecake

I chose this over the Mississippi Mud Pie to be my last creation of 2009. Both are from Chocolate, and I hope to get to the Mud Pie soon.
Mascarpone is an unfermented Italian cream cheese with a powerful smell and a slightly sweet taste. I had to look up the pronunciation, as I was saying it ‘Mass-car-pown’ or something like that. It’s actually ‘Mass-car-poh-nay’, and the more Italian intonation, the better.

Warm Chocolate Mascarpone Cheese Cake
Biscuit Base
  • 225g of Digestive Biscuits
  • 60g of Unsalted Butter
  • 60g or Milk Chocolate (finely chopped or grated)
Chocolate Filling
  • 2 large Eggs (separated)
  • 85g of Castor Sugar
  • 230g of Mascarpone Cheese
  • 150ml of Double Cream (lightly whipped)
  • 50g Milk Chocolate (finely chopped of grated)
  • 4 tablespoons of Cocoa Powder (sifted)
  • 45g of ground Almonds
  • Icing sugar for dusting

The biscuit case is incredibly crumbly, even after baking.
To make the base, put the biscuits into a food processor and pulse (or put them into a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin) until fine crumbs form. Put the butter and chocolate into a bowl set over a pot of steaming but not boiling water and gently melt. Remove from the heat and stir into the biscuit crumbs in a mixing bowl. When well mixed, transfer the mixture into a well greased 23cm springform cake tin. Use the back of a spoon to press it onto the base and halfway up the sides of the tin. Chill while making the filling.

To make the filling, put the egg yolks and sugar into a large mixing bowl and using an electric whisk or mixer, whisk until very thick and mousse like. Put the mascarpone into a separate bowl, beat until smooth and then gently fold into the whipped cream.
Gently stir the mascarpone mixture into the egg yolks, then add the chopped chocolate, cocoa and ground almonds and mix gently.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff peaks form, and then use a large metal spoon to fold the egg whites into the mixture in three batches.
Pour the filling into the biscuit case and bake in a preheated oven at 170°C for about 1 hour or until set and beginning to colour. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minute, then carefully unclip and remove the tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with thick cream.

See more pictures on facebook.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Zoo

Well, this is me making a statement.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I’ve had my eye on this recipe from ‘Chocolate’ for some time, so I was excited when the opportunity to whip it up came along. Of course, this is me, so when I say whip it up, I actually mean slowly and meticulously work my way through the recipe until I have a (hopefully) decent approximation standing before me.
Even after the enlightening lessons of baking blind in Botswana, I cannot tear myself from the certainty of absolute measures. This combined with all the waiting and grunge work makes for a lengthy preparation time. Good thing Sachertorte is so worth it.
According to Linda Collister, this Viennese cake was invented in 1832 by the chef at the Hotel Sacher.

  • 175g of Milk Chocolate (grated or finely sliced))
  • 125g of Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
  • 150g of Castor Sugar
  • 6 Large Eggs (room temperature)
  • 150g of Plain Flour
  • ½ a teaspoon of Baking Powder
  • 4 tablespoons of Apricot Preserve
  • 1 teaspoon of Lemon Juice
  • 125ml of Double Cream
  • 175g of Milk Chocolate (grated)
  • A small amount of white chocolate (optional)

Put the chocolate into a heavy bottomed saucepan or pot and suspend over steaming but not boiling water. Allow it to melt gently, remove from the heat and then leave to cool. Put the butter into a large bowl and using a wooden spoon or (preferably) an electric mixer and whisk until creamy. Add half the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Separate the eggs. Put the six whites into a clean bowl and set aside. Using an electric whisk, beat five of the yolks into the creamed mixture one at a time. Stir in the cooled chocolate. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the mixture and gently fold in with a large metal spoon. Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then beat in the remaining sugar one tablespoon at a time. Fold the stiff egg whites into the chocolate mixture in three batches.

When the mixture is evenly blended, spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake in a preheated oven at 170°C for 1 hour or until a knife plunged into the middle comes out clean. Let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn it out carefully onto a wire rack (upside down), remove the lining and let it cool completely.

To make the glaze, put the apricot conserve, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of water into a small saucepan, heat gently and then bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and push through a sieve into a bowl. Brush the hot glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Let cool on the wire rack. Meanwhile, to make the icing, put the cream into a small saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Put the grated chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Leave for 2 minutes and then stir until the icing is smooth and glossy.

Put a play under the wire rack to catch the drips, then pour the icing over the cake so it covers the top and sides. Spread the icing to cover any bare patches if necessary. Let it set in a cool place, but not the refrigerator. If wanted, melted white or milk chocolate can be used to pipe the word ‘Sacher’ or just the letter ‘S’ on top of the cake.

For best results when cutting, use a sharp knife and, before making each cut, dip the knife into hot water and wipe it dry. The cake is best eaten within a week (if you can bear to let it last that long!).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frozen Water

Mum was watering the garden, and asked me to fish out the camera and take a picture of the startling effect of the sunlight on the stream of water. Here's the camera's closest approximation of the liquid silver; while it is quite stunning, it still doesn't come close, I'm afraid.

(f/8, 1/60s, ISO-100)

I then decided to fiddle about with shutter speeds and see what happened. Here's the result:

(f/8, 1/2000s, ISO-1600)

Almost the same shot as above, except for a shutter speed of 1/2000 seconds, rather than a relatively slow 1/60s
It's quite amazing to see that the water is not a uniform stream, but instead comes in waves.

(f/5, 1/2000s, ISO-1600)
Not something you usually see emerging from a hose pipe. Far prettier too, than the normal torrent.

(f/8, 1/2000s, ISO-400)

(f/8, 1/2000s, ISO-400)
See, frozen water, but not quite ice.

Also, here's two I took on a lark while at the Zoo on another occasion.

(f/4.3, 1/800s, ISO-100)

(f/6.3, 1/2000s, ISO-400)
This isn't as impressive as some droplet pictures out there, but a) it was my first, and b) I was 20 metres away

Monday, December 14, 2009

Has South Africa, as a nation, gone mad?

I remember the day in 2004 when South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.  It meant little to me at the time, but of course, the announcement ignited a national madness that has endured  unwavering for nearly six years. And why shouldn't it? Make no mistake, when I say madness, I refer only to the enthusiasm, energy and overwhelming national sentiment that has engulfed us. I think it's wonderful. Although South Africa was a proud country, the business capital for Africa and by all rights a growing democracy in the post apartheid era, the announcement caused everything to accelerate.

The Hillbrow Telkom tower. A mysterious soccer ball appeared one morning and moved slowly up the tower over a few days, there to remain until the World Cup, I presume. Just a subtle reminder to anyone who might have forgotten.

A matching ball on the Telkom tower opposite the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
In my opinion, the balls should have risen slowly, reaching the top at the start of the World Cup.

Transport within the host cities has been improved and augmented. Few roads have escaped expansion and restructuring, with feats of engineering soaring above and delving below in the search of ever more efficient ways of moving the enormous number of cars that ebb and flow through the cities every day. The Rea Vaya BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) system was implemented successfully, accompanied by the construction of specialised bus stops dotted through the city, ameliorating the public transport facilities greatly. The Gautrain project kicked into high gear in the hopes that it would be ready in time for the opening. At times this seemd an impossibility, but they now believe they'll have the Sandton - Airport rail running on time. The airports are preparing to handle the unprecedented influx of tourists. And so rail, road and air are all prepared.

For a nation already passionate about soccer, the chance to host the world cup is an honour, but the side effects for the country are just as important. The tourism, for example. South Africa - Cape Town, to be exact - is one of the top tourist destinations. Cape Town is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world, but there's so much more to South Africa. This is our chance to show off the best of our unique and spectacular country.

A soccer ball hot-air balloon that rises often above Montecasino. We can see it all the way from Northcliff.

R8.4 billion has been spent on the construction of five new stadiums and the renovations of  five existing stadiums. All have met mixed responses. I think that Soccer City here in Johannesburg is brilliant, shaped sort of like a calabash pot over a fire, it blends into the mine dumps and highveld surroundings perfectly. The stadium at Green Point in Cape Town, however, is a blight on the landscape. And an uninspired one at that. It looms high over everything around it, and makes no attempt to blend in.  I think that if more people could have foreseen the finished product, beautiful and graceful out of context though it may be, then perhaps the protests against its construction may have attracted more effective numbers. It's sheer white walls and imposing scale make it unmissable, though you may try.

Zakumi, the leopard mascot of the 2010 World Cup.

The world cup, and even the year 2010 is spoke about with a kind of reverence that borders on the religious. Not a day can pass without some mention of it in the media - even though it may be an incredible 2010 furniture clearance sale! Just the thought or mention of it carries a kind of magic.

For better or for worse, preparations for the cup have shown how much South Africa can accomplish with such a tangible and absolute deadline on the horizon. The frenzy has driven us to new heights of daring and skill, and we've proven equal to the task. I only hope that in July 2010, when the world cup is over, the matches have been played and the tourists sent home, that there's something of that madness remaining, or I fear there will be nothing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Perfect Pancake Recipe

A regular treat from mum, these are without doubt my favourite breakfast. I know some sticklers will point out that pancakes are actually smaller in diameter and thicker, while these are actually crêpes. Perhaps, but I have and will always refer to these discs of heaven as pancakes. So there.
  • 1½ cups of Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 30-60ml of Oil
  • 9 tablespoons of Castor Sugar
  • 1 cup of Cake Flour

The batter is very, very tricky, so pay attention. Mix the milk, eggs, oil and sugar together in a bowl. Add the flour and whisk until consistent. And that's it.

Grease a flat, thick-bottomed pan and set it over high heat until warm, then turn it down to medium high heat. Using a medium sized, shallow and round serving spoon scoop up some of the mixture and pour it quickly into the middle of the pan. Pancakes cook very briskly, so immediately use the bottom of the spoon to spread the batter. Rest it lightly on the surface, supporting most of the weight, and move it in a spiral from the centre outwards. Generally, a small amount of batter remains in the spoon; use this to patch up any holes that may form from over-spreading or damaging the batter.

If you’re willing to brave the sticky and gooey, but absolutely worthwhile mess that ensues, then you can experiment by adding cinnamon sugar and other delectables to the batter before or during cooking.

After a few second of cooking, the edges of the pancake will begin to whiten and form small bubbles. Use a lifter to gently loosen these cooked edges, and by the time you’ve moved around the circumference of the pancake, the first side should be done. Scoop it up by pushing the lifter under it very quickly, and then flip it over. The side now facing up should be an even rich brown. Allow the second side to cook for about ten seconds and then lift it off the pan and place it carefully on the (hopefully) growing pile. I say hopefully because I assume you’ve been able to resist the urge to every single one as it comes off the pan.

I personally enjoy my pancakes with copious amounts of both sweetened fresh cream and maple syrup. Cinnamon Sugar (four tablespoons of sugar: 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder) and chocolate sauce are also frequent favourites, and I believe that some people quite like a dash of fresh lemon juice on theirs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ripples. Reflections. Rays

Sunset on Key Largo, 27 May 2009

Wait, what?

Volvo and Renault. Two quite competent car manufacturing giants, there's no doubting that. I am, and will always be, an Audi fan, both emotionally, aesthetically and intellectually, but before I begin my rant, I must say that I have a fair amount of respect for both Renault and Volvo.  My experience with our Volvo V50 T5 was okay; we had some leakage and electronic issues (not at the same time), and I was never taken with the weak green displays or the T5 status. Things are looking up, though, because Volvo might soon build a car  that looks something like their concepts and finally step into the 21st century. I've had little experience with Renault's, but one or two of them are quite fetching.

Now, you would expect such motoring megaliths to have enormous expenditure dedicated solely to marketing, and for them to produce advertising campaigns as elegant and sublime as (some of) their cars. This has proven not to be the case. Within a matter of a few days of each other, I was struck by the latest in marketing pitches from both companies.

First, and arbitrarily so, there's
Their ad campaign runs something like this

Which ultimately boils down to:
There's more to life than a Volvo
That's why you drive one.

So wait, hold on. I always thought that "There's more to life than [insert unworthy cause here]" meant that said cause was a waste of time, and not the be-all and end-all of life. The phrase is usually heard in  the admonishment of (or in the yearning of) a fool. I know that's true of very few cars, but that's no excuse for a car company to say it about their own product. There's a certain amount of artistic license that's necessary in marketing. If you make crap cars, don't say that you do. More on that later.
Sure, there's a bunch of feel-good stuff, the kind of stuff most people wish filled their lives to the seams. They fit in a quick bit about how 'there's the car that gets that' (understands it, or facilitates it, I wonder?) but honestly, when I'm flicking past this in a magazine or on a webpage, I'm really only going to read the part that's a nice dark black, not that shrinking grey of the rest. And then the nonsensical first line is cemented in insanity by the second.
But that's just me.

Then there's
I wish I could've found a video of the advertisement I saw. It's something like

'Remember when you said you'd never cut your hair? [picture of a hippie looking garage band], 
Remember when you said you'd never love again? [romantic silouettes]
[insert other cliches in the same vein]

[silence, fade to black]
Remember when you said you'd never drive a Renault? 
[fade to white and a Megan Coupe drives onto the scene, music in some emotional major key]'
Minds are changing.

I forget exactly how the advert ends, because I never hear it over the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.
There's no way they just said that.
But they did.
Once again, someone dropped the ball (shaped like a bullet, most likely on their foot), and someone else (equally dim) signed a piece of paper saying that it was a good idea. It went all the way to production and broadcasting without a single person saying, 'Hang on a minute...'
Because what they're basically saying is... well: "Remember when you said you'd never drive a Renault?"
My response: 'Oh yeah, I do recall something like that... now why was that again? Oh yes, I remember...'
It's bad enough that they're challenging beliefs that are often rooted in a person's idealist soul, even long after they've (been forced to) cast them off, cut their hair and settled down behind a picket fence. Think about it, first loves, follies of youth; they're memories, usually fond, that one might bury, but never truly relinquish. But forget about those implications; back to the sentence itself.
They're unabashedly and unequivocally admitting that before today, the cars they made were absolute crap, and that everyone knew it. But it's okay now, because you can throw off the rusted shackles of Renault's apparently widespread reputation for being rubbish, and buy one.
Yes, that's very convincing.


An update. As of yesterday (20th January 2010, Volvo adverts now say 'There's more to life in a Volvo'. I guess someone finally pointed it out to them...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Good Luck, Msholozi

Last night, I watched as President Jacob Zuma spoke on behalf of the nation at the draw for the 2010 Soccer World cup. He spoke of South Africa’s swelling national pride and excitement. He spoke of his confidence in our country to host the tournament as well as, if not better than any before.  He spoke of his hopes for South Africa's future. Having seen the preparations and frankly awe inspiring developments underway, I don't doubt that South Africa will make this world cup one to remember. What really caught my attention though was that this was the same Jacob Zuma of yester-year now standing proudly onstage as South Africa’s president - an incredible notion.
I was far away from South Africa in May when Jacob Zuma became president of South Africa. While being geographically removed undoubtedly hindered my immersion in South African politics, I do not think I was uninformed enough not to be surprised.

Jacob Zuma, now sixty-eight years old, has been an active member of the ANC since he was seventeen. He was active in umKhonte We Sizwe (the militant branch of the ANC during the struggle)  and the SACP and served ten years on Robben Island for conspiring to overthrow the goverment. After being released, he rose to the ANC executive committee while working for the struggle in Mozambique and Zambia. He was one of the first ANC activists to return to South Africa when the ANC ban was lifted in 1990.  He rose through government in the new South Africa and was set - as Thabo Mbeki's deputy - to become South Africa's president in 2009.

Around 2004, everything went pear shaped. Zuma was faced corruption charges along with Tony Yengeni for being involved in a shady 1999 arms deal. Only Yengeni was convicted. Zuma was then dragged into the corruption charges levelled against his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, again for corruption, again for crooked arms deals and also for racketeering. During this trial, Thabo Mbeki relieved him of his duties as Deputy. While Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Zuma escaped, but then resigned from Parliament.

In 2005, between corruption charges - for more did follow - Jacob Zuma was charged with rape. He was later acquitted in court. We must not forget that the victim (?) was HIV positive, and Mr Zuma claimed that he took a shower after the consensual act to prevent transmission. This, of course, is nonsense, and this statement elicited widespread anger and ridicule. During the trial, his political affiliates had a harder time dealing with the charges than with those of corruption, but huge mobs of supporters crowding outside the court during the trials showed that Zuma had not lost his fan base. His supporters became a camp on their own, aggravating an impending schism within the ANC.

Mr. Zuma was then charged again with corruption, this time alone. His legal team worked desperately to delay the courts, but their appeals were eventually denied. In 2007, the Scorpions presented all the evidence collected against him, and he was indicted to appear in the High Court on corruption charges. The charges were declared unlawful on a technicality and once again, he escaped a conviction that would have prevented his accession to the presidency. Evidence, in the form of phone tap recordings, has since come to light proving that Thabo Mbeki was involved in interference, and at least some of the corruption charges and defamation were politically motivated fabrications. In 2008, Mbeki was recalled from the presidency by the ANC after he was found guilty for said misconduct. Mbeki represented the market, while Zuma leaned to the left, and it is believed that Mbeki was working to oust Zuma and strengthen his hold over the ANC.

Zuma recently married his fifth wife, who is now his third current wife, and has at least one engagement in the wings. Most people believe that he has veered away from tradition and towards irresponsibility. The South African Constitution makes no provisions for the title of first lady, and none of Zuma's wives have expressed desires to hold that position. Some ministers, he said, have many mistresses and illegitimate children which they keep hidden behind a facade of monogamy. He says he prefers to be open about his commitment to tradition and claims to love all his wives and his nineteen children. One of his wives, however, committed suicide in 2000 after a marriage that she claimed were '24 years of hell'.

And so, with all of this in mind, I was surprised to hear that the same man was now South Africa's state head. Of course, he has his strengths: he is a man of the people, which makes him a welcome change from the very cerebral and aloof Mbeki. While Mr Mbeki was highly educated, a brilliant statesman, Jacob Zuma had no formal education. This has never stopped him, however, as years involved in politics have given him both political tact and affability with people. With with so many embarrassing skeletons on public display, he seemed to be facing odds that would have crushed the careers and political hopes of any other politician completely. Perhaps it is testament, then, to the popularity and endurance of Jacob Zuma that he was able to rise into office despite this.

In his speech after being elected to the presidency, Zuma promised to uphold Nelson Mandela's visions of South Africa's future, and he has conducted himself surprisingly well since. He has, so far, lived up to his claims of being a leader who listens to and is not above the concerns of his people. He faced a nightmarish first 100 days, having to deal with service delivery strikes, but with his charm and aforementioned political aptitude, he was able to calm the conflicts.  Indeed he received the African President of the year award in 2009, a peer review award that he saw not as gratification, but instead as a reminder that a president’s duty is to his or her people. It is now 2010, the year in which we will host the Soccer World Cup. Our country is abuzz with preparations; the stadiums soar gracefully over our cities, improvements to our already brilliant road systems are nearing completion and the people are waiting impatiently to go patently soccer mad.

For all his flaws, interesting and sometimes disturbing views, and his controversial past, Jacob Zuma is defying all expectations and giving us hope. We have placed our nation's future his hands and so, whether you love him, despise him or are still ambivalent, I feel that we can only say

Good Luck, Mr. President.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Perfect Roti Recipe

Roti is the perfect complement to almost any Indian dish, and is actually quite easy to make. Easier, according to mum, than rice. This is her recipe and method...

  • 1 litre of Cake Flour
  • 500 millilitres of Boiling Water
  • 60 millilitres of Vegetable Oil
An electric mixer is invaluable to those wishing to avoid scalded fingers. Put all of the ingredients except for a very small amount of the water (about 10ml) into an electric mixer and mix thoroughly. Use the reserved water to moisten the dough if it is too dry. It should neither crumble nor ooze; it should simply hold its shape without being too sticky or tough.

Remove the dough from the bowl and roll it into one or two long rolls about 5 cm in diameter using your hands. Put this dough roll onto a floured board (the flour is essential in preventing the dough from sticking to the board, remember to use it well, but carefully as it can dry out the dough!). Break off small balls of dough by taking a handful from the end of the roll and twisting. Flatten each of the resulting balls to form a small dough discus and set aside under a dish-cloth. This keeps the dough moist as you roll each out.

 Small discs next to already rolled rotis. Both can overlap, as they shouldn't stick to each other very much. Once the rotis are rolled, they can be handled quite easily, just don't keep them suspended long enough to sag.

Flour the board and roll each of the discs into thin and as-circular-as-you-can-manage circles. Mum has a special method of doing so when it's not too sticky, and if I can convince her to let me film her explaining it, I'll find a way to put it up here. For now, just know that she keeps the left end of the rolling pin above the middle of disc and presses away from herself with her right hand. This pushes the disc in an anti-clockwise spin and flattens it evenly as it spins. This works better than rolling in many directions fixing imperfections. The rolled out rotis can be kept on a floured surface or - preferably - a tablecloth until they are ready to be cooked, although not for too long otherwise they'll cook stiff. Also, make sure the kitchen is not to breezy as that will dry out the dough.

A Thawa: basically a heavy steel pan without sides, perfect for making roti.

To cook them, you'll need a Thawa, but if you haven't got one to hand, then any pan with a sufficiently large flat and thick bottom will do. Grease the pan with butter (or oil) and turn the heat on high. Allow the pan to heat up and then turn it down to medium-high heat. Pick up a rolled roti and place it on the pan.  Allow it to cook for a few seconds, then spin it with your fingertips by touching the surface with all fingers very briefly and twisting, pausing every few turns to let it cook. Keep doing so until faint white spots appear on the top of the roti. Then, you can do what mum does and pull it to the edge, pick it up and flip it over. Or you can do what I do, and use a lifter. Her way is cooler and more accomplished, mine safer and more suited to a novice. Either way, turn over the roti and keep spinning it with your fingers.

What is now the top should be evenly dotted with white spots, and a few light brown patches are okay too. That's the dough beginning to cook. Lift the edge every few seconds after about 20 seconds of cooking and when medium dark spots (like those in the picture above) establish themselves on the side touching the pan, flip it back over so that the roti is now back in its original position. If you have already cooked a few rotis, then place a cooked on one on top of the current roti and spin it, pressing gently.
If the roti is cooking perfectly, it will begin to puff up. This means the roti will be airy and soft. Be careful! These pockets are full of very hot steam which can escape suddenly. A dearth of air pockets is not the end of the world; the roti should be okay anyways. Press down carefully to spread the air pocket around as far as you can, and then pinch the rotis together, lift them and put them both onto the pile. Ideally, three should therefore be the maximum number of times the roti is cooked; any more will cause it to become stiff.
Keep the pile covered and somewhat insulated otherwise they may dry out or cool. I recommend a high sided dish with a lid, lined with grease-proof paper with extra paper to cover the top. Once you've cooked them all, cover the top of the pile with the grease paper and a dish cloth. This should keep the rotis warm and toasty until they're served.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Malachite Sunbird

A Malachite Sunbird sitting on a Yellow Pincushion at Cape Point, 10 September 2009
I captured this as it alighted, and within seconds, it was gone again in a brilliant flash of green.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Spices of Life

Our spice container (or Masala Dabba - above) caught my eye, and I already love cinnamon, so I decided to get artistic with the spices. Turns out, as well as being the foundation of Indian cooking, our spices are also really photogenic...

Cinnamon, The Spice of Life 

Mustard Seeds

Curry Leaf, where would we be without it?

Mail & Guardian