Tennis balls and chocolate sauce

The next post was going to be about the marvels of juicing ginger and how that appears to have resulted in several almost pain-free days this week, and how ginger and grapefruit juice will basically save your life. But fear not, friends, this is not a juicing evangelism post.

Yes, friends, it’s 2.30 am and I wake up with the thought (obviously) that what I really really need is a tennis ball. A tennis ball to shove over the screaming agony of the excruciating hip or ITB or whatever you call this thing. A tennis ball will basically save my life.

So I wander into Kolya’s room, because no one is sleeping in Kolya’s room, because both kids are sleeping in the other room, because when you’re pregnant everyone sleeps basically as far away from you as you can get, because you are household disturbance number one. There’s a lot of Lego, and innumerable red tin cans that you’re supposed to stack up and knock over with a ball (but no ball). There’s a golf club (putter, specifically) that must have some sort of accompanying ball somewhere – but not here. There’s a lot of paper and more Lego. No tennis ball, no bouncing ball, nothing remotely ball-like, except for one fluffy toy that is shaped like a soccer ball – but a squishy one.

I turn off the alarm and go downstairs. Somewhere in Molly’s toys there must be a tennis ball. More fluffy toys, more Lego and several puzzles. Nothing remotely tennis ball-like. So I have the next (obvious) thought: ice! I’ve forgotten about ice! I will find the ice pack and ice the area to oblivion. An ice pack will save my life!

The ice pack is easier to locate than the tennis ball. (For fucks’ sake, I have two children, and no tennis balls? Is this even possible?) But there it is, the ice pack. Next to the ice cream. It’s now close to 3am. Ice cream I think. Hmm. That could also be a lifesaver. Ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, that would help. But there is no chocolate sauce. But I could make chocolate sauce. At least I know there is cream, and that is the main thing you need (aside from cocoa and chocolate, which are are even easier to locate than an ice pack in this house).

So, yes, it appears that at around 3am this Sunday morning, I took down a pot and made chocolate sauce. It wasn’t a tennis ball, and I suspect it won’t save my life. In fact, I suspect that tomorrow morning I may need an extra shot of ginger juice to alleviate the evil side-effects of all that sugar. But it was pretty nice on the ice cream and some sliced banana at around 3.30am.

Chocolate sauce (I kid you not)

1/2 cup sugar + 1/4 cup water, boiled together for 2 minutes to make a light syrup
1/2 cup sugar (yes, another one)
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cream
55g dark chocolate

First make the light syrup by boiling the 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water together. Ideally these should cool, but if it’s 3am anything goes. Add the sugar, cocoa and water, and bring to the boil, then lower and simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat, whisk in the cream and chocolate until very glossy and smooth. Pour it into a large jar (it makes around 500 ml). Leave it to cool.

You can keep this stuff indefinitely in the fridge, taking off the lid from time to time and warming for 20 or 30 seconds in the microwave. It withstands reheating pretty admirably – sugar is the ultimate preservative.


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Our biggest problem may be calling each other the problem

I should probably stay off social media. The drivel-to-gems ratio is around 25 to 1, at best. The recent upsurge in agitated conversations/rants about so-called “transformation” has unfortunately worsened that ratio, forcing those videos of 10-year-olds on America’s Got Talent across the hazy continuum from ‘adorable time-waster’ to ‘highlight of the morning’.

The clincher this week was a ridiculous article entitled Get Real White South Africa. Apparently ‘white south Africa’ is a single, unified entity, clueless and bullish, a product of ‘the white supremacy that has never conceded its creation or the imbalanced South Africa of yesterday and today.’

This gem:

The greatest problem we face as a nation is not our neo-liberal imperialist economy that favours US and British capitalist endeavours. It’s not that the police criminalise and sometimes kill people for being poor or that miners, farmworkers and domestic workers are still grossly underpaid. It’s not that we have an inadequate education system, which mimics the structures of colonial conquerors or that we are importing instead of producing basic foods. Our biggest problem is not even crime, South Africa.

Our biggest problem is the unwillingness and inability to address the common denominator between these problems: the white supremacy that has never conceded its creation or the imbalanced South Africa of yesterday and today.

The system that created these problems has never been put on trial, nor were its architects. While we all live in a better country by many accounts, our reinvented nation simply wore a radiant new dress, one that was unfortunately covering an enormous white elephant.

Okaaaayyy. So in other words, let’s imagine for a second it was possible to overhaul our economy, clean up the police force, bring in equitable pay for miners, farmworkers and domestic workers and fix up the education system. Magic wand, fairy godmother stuff – we’re suddenly cool on all of those issues. I’m not sure about basic foods: as far as I know, we produce local maize, fruit, vegetables, beans, dairy produce and meat. So leaving food aside for a second, we also magically fix the crime problem. The line of argument above is that we would still face an EVEN BIGGER problem – that of so-called white supremacy. Really??? Really??? You really think black and white people would still be grating on each other’s victim/guilt complexes if there were a flood of decent jobs, decently skilled people to fill them, equitable pay and no anxieties about hijackings, rapes and disembowelings?

So, instead of addressing these issues – the ones that are based in policy, governance and fiscal flows, let’s rather have little blamefests. Yes, perhaps we should concentrate on targeting and intellectually flagellating race groups, rather than overhauling the education system and stimulating the economy? How is that going to help anyone??

A failed system from 20 years ago – you want to ‘put on trial’ – how, exactly? Who would you like to blame and punish, and to what end?

I dunno so much. I don’t see any white supremacy bouncing around this place. I know a lot of white people. Some of my best friends are white. What I see (and feel) a lot of white privilege, a lot of white guilt and a lot of white blaming and shaming. And a lot of white-blame fatigue. Fatigue from people who fly high and earn high, but also pay 40c out of every rand they earn to tax. Who have spent 20 years watching that money get squandered on bullshit deals and kickbacks and cronyism. Who have started to see individual efforts at charity or ‘transformation’ as something about as effective as using a medicine dropper to drop distilled water onto an oil slick in the hope of saving some severely fucked penguins.

Our writer goes on to tell us:

A true miracle in the autumn of 1994, the true service that Mandela Day asks of us, would have been white South Africans getting together to think of effective ways to divide their wealth, compassionately conceding social and economic power in the name of equality and leaping at the myriad opportunities there are to break down structural racial inequality.

As long as the recipients of charity for Mandela Day and other such initiatives are poor, needy and black it means the white elephant is at large.

I have no idea what she is proposing here. The stereotypes abound. White people are wealthy. (Are they? All?) White people have the power to break down structural racial inequality. (Do they? Which ones in particular? Do I have that power? Where did I leave it? Why has no one shown me what to do with it?) Does employing black people count? – is that proliferating structural racial inequalities (bad!) or creating employment (good!) Does charity count? Is it continuing a narrative of white people as Having, Providing and Active and black people as Needing, Taking and Passive? Or is it Giving Back and Integrating? I don’t think it would be easy to find a white person who hasn’t, at one time or another, paid for their (yes, probably black) domestic worker’s school fees/rent/debt/phone bill/medicines/unforeseen funeral expenses. They mutter and worry about it, not because they mind covering those expenses, but because they feel so ill-equipped to do anything more empowering to help that person escape that situation in future. It will come up again and again and again, because, actually, there are NOT myriad opportunities to break down structural inequality. My employees have no desire to befriend me or integrate with me, and the times when I’ve attempted to cultivate a more humane, sociable relationship than employer-employee, it’s gone down like a ton of bricks.

Should I embarrass – and probably eternally alienate – my middle-class black friends (they’re mostly attorneys and earn a lot more than I do, and don’t talk much about race issues), by quietly taking them aside and asking whether they’d like a contribution (cash installments? EFT?) towards my personal privilege-atonement project.

If you want to talk about structural inequality, you need to look at the tribal divisions and class hierarchies in this country, the political stuctures that are holding it back. You need to look more broadly at the divide between rich and poor. By the definitions in this article, black folks on the rich n’ creamy consumerist side of the SA experience are no more “black” than white folks on the breadline.

It is not structural or racial ANY MORE. Historically, certainly, white supremacy played a devastating role in creating the problems we inherited in 1994. So, yes, there are patterns. (And I’m not saying anyone should silence the discussions about that heritage.) But white-bashing doesn’t change it, and nor does it facilitate integration. If anything, it simply contributes to an ongoing dynamic of angry people getting angrier and more distanced from each other.

As a solution, it also seems a bit …. futile. A bit like bitching about patriarchy. Yes, we know men get more positions of power, better pay, and advantages that are deeply structurally encoded into our social and economic systems. But no one is asking men to get together and divide their wealth. What should they do? Make up party packs with golf clubs and thirteenth cheques and golden handshakes and club memberships? Should they package up the time their female counterparts have spent on childbearing and caring, and hand it over in time capsules? Or EFTs? Ain’t gonna happen, baby. Some of this shit you’ve just got to suck up and move along with.

I was so mystified by the massive leaps of illogic and sweeping assumptions in this article that I looked up the writer, who turned out to be one entirely delightful Milusuthando Bongela. Turns out she’s a super-edgy and trendy presence on social media. Her funky Twitter account (@missmillib – replete with personally branded online profile, seamlessly integrated into blog and various professional connections) bills her as “writer /blogger /consultant /member of feminist stokvel / making a doccie about the history, evolution and politics of african hair”.

You can check out, where you can read Miss Milli’s musings about fashion, beauty, art, film, literature, gender and politics. She’s very endearing, frank, impassioned, creative, very Jozi, very streetfashionsavvy. She offers a number of services, which are listed as writing stories, targeted trend consulting, personal styling, creative employment placement, and being a member of something (creative and edgy) called The Group. She appears to spell mostly impeccably, and gets gritty with social issues, and has cute, familiar, urbane freakouts about cool things happening in her life. She’s a poster girl for the new South Africa, in its 1994 incarnation.

Oddly, her article begins by telling us that ‘Our newest outfit, the dress from our historic Autumn/Winter 1994 collection, is now 21 years old, and evidently in tatters.’ I say oddly because, flicking/clicking through Ms Milli’s blog, it looks she’s not a helluva lot older than that, and her own piece from that collection is vivid and funky, kinda Stoned Cherrie meets New York meets Jozi in HDR.

I’m really glad Ms Milli’s article riled me, with its nutty stack of non sequiturs. I’m really glad it led me to her blog, where I discovered a) where the writers of Mzansi’s Generation Y are plying their trade (on digital and social media); b) what they’re charging (R3 a word – no wonder we’re getting tabloid sensationalist crap; she must’ve run this out quickly before heading out for something artisanal at one of Jozi’s latest microbrewery outlets); and c) the fascinatingly sophisticated, privileged, connected position that these views come from. I’m thrilled that South Africa has a community of Ms Millis, who have opinions and knockout vocabularies and stellar careers that include New York Fashion Week and meeting Spike Lee. (I was thrilled and delighted to find Ms Milli’s whole milieu dazzling.) What I’m saying is that I’m glad I got a glimpse of the person behind the words.

I’m still a little weirded out that Ms Milli thinks that something called “white people” exists any more uniformly than something called “black people”, but hey, I’m neither hip nor happening nor particularly well plugged in. Ms Milli, if you’re out there, ping me on Twitter or something, sweetie. I’m sure you can fix that. We could be BFFs, and forge a whole new way forward for the big bad B/W divide. Or at very least, you could sort out my maternity wardrobe as I gestate yet another post-millenial, whose generation will, with any luck, transcend all this.

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Managing pain in pregnancy

So the last few weeks, aside from being fairly excruciating, have been a fascinating learning curve into managing pain. So I’m writing this in the hope of offering some ideas to anyone else who (like me) might be scouring the Internet for answers to a very specific question: are there any simple, secret or simply lesser-known things you can do to relieve ongoing hip/back pain in pregnancy?

(Just a big fat disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a scientist. Everything here is purely anecdotal, based on my own experience. This is NOT medical information or research – it’s just my opinion, experience and some stuff I’ve tried. I’m not an authority on this stuff, and before you try any of this, you might want to check with [whoever it is you trust to advise you on this stuff].)

PS. If you want to skip to the quickest and coolest fixes, scroll down to #6 below. Though I’m hoping the rest is helpful too. I’d love to hear what worked for you – please leave comments and suggestions if you have any!

1. Figure out what’s causing it
In pregnancy, working out what exactly is causing your aches and pains is one big blind guessing game. The main culprits are a) relaxin, a hormone that’s busy causing your joints and ligaments to stretch and loosen, and b) your growing uterus – and baby – who are taking up an increasing amount of space, and pressing on bits of your anatomy from the inside in all sorts of ways. It may be just the way the baby is lying. Apparently, your tissues also retain more water during pregnancy, which means all the fine passages in your joint areas (wrists, hips, knees, elbows) get crowded with swollen tissue. This can cause rubbing against tendons and ligaments. 

If you have any pre-existing hip or back issues, these can be exacerbated by all these changes too. And, just to add to all this, no one can really look inside and see what’s going on, as it’s not recommended to x-ray pregnant women. So it’s all guesswork.

Still, it’s worth taking note of some obvious things: was there an injury? When did the pain start – was it sudden or gradual? What kind of pain is it – sharp or achy, throbby or stabbing? Is it continuous, or does it improve and worse at different times? Do different temperatures make a difference  – what happens when you apply heat or cold? Which movements are painful, and which offer relief? Are there particular positions that are particularly relieving or particularly painful? This kind of stuff will help you (and your doctor/physio/chiropractor/sympathetic friend) figure out where it’s coming from and what to do to help.

Common ones in pregnancy are pelvic girdle pain, round ligament pain and sciatica. Each are fairly different and respond to different kinds of things. Look them up on the internet and work out if one of those apply to you – how you deal with your pain will depend a lot on what kind of pain it is.

2. Go to a good chiropractor
Knowing what I do now, I think I might have gone to the chiropractor BEFORE I was pregnant, in order to get any spinal/skeletal misalignments adjusted. (If you’re planning to fall pregnant, I’d say it’s a pretty smart thing to do.) If your spine isn’t out of kilter to start with, you’re less likely to cause painful flare-ups in your joints, ligaments and tendons.

OK, but you (like me) didn’t have such far-ranging precognition so you didn’t do that. (It’s ok, who knew anyway?) So  now you’re pregnant and sitting/standing/walking/lying down is some sort of gruesome torture. Find a good chiropractor, preferably one recommended by a midwife. (I know, you don’t have a midwife, you have a gynae. Ask your gynae. If they don’t know one, Google a midwife in your area and phone and ask her advice. Midwives are about the most helpful people in the universe.)

The chiro will do some (possibly) scary tapping, twisting and adjusting of your spine, hips and neck. A good one will explain to you exactly which vertebrae, bones and muscles you’re working with at each point in the session. Your chiro may also give you some useful exercises to gently mobilise the sore areas, ease the pressure and encourage your frame to keep itself properly aligned.

I’d love to tell you that you’ll walk out of there like someone has removed all the daggers from your hips/back. Apparently some people do. For me, sometimes it felt better, sometimes it felt worse – before it felt better. Either way, if your pelvis is torqued or twisted, or your spine or neck, that’s going to continue to pressure your nerves, ligaments, tendons and muscles. You want to start by getting your skeleton more or less as decently aligned as it can be, so you’re not causing more pressure on the soft tissue.

3. Now go to a good physiotherapist
I know, I’m costing you a fortune here. I’ll get to some DIY pain-relief in a minute or two (you can scroll down; you probably already have. But bear with me here…) The physio does soft tissue work. That means incredibly skilled massage of the sore areas. Possibly taping of the sore areas. The physio may also give you some exercises to do at home. Don’t tune out and ignore this part… actually go and do those, even though they hurt like mad. Even if you can only do 30 seconds at a time.

4. Ice it
OK, I know it’s probably 9pm on a Friday night and you need relief RIGHT NOW, and your odds of finding an available chiro and physio are about zero until next Tuesday. Your secret weapon here is ice. Wrap some ice in a damp tea-towel, grit your teeth, and ice that sore area. I know that is the last thing you feel like doing. I promise it will help. Start there.

5. Bath with epsom salts
But actually you’re freezing and you don’t feel like ice. OK, amazingly, heat can also help. A hot bath will be a whole 20 to 30 minutes of relief. (Every minute counts, right?) There are also things you can add to your bath to help. Epsom salts contain magnesium which gets absorbed through your skin (yup, it’s fine for pregnancy). Magnesium regulates the way your muscles deal with inflammation and swelling. OK, truth is, I don’t really know what it does. You can look up the science and fill me in in the comments section. I just know that the chiropractor and sports massage people I’ve spoken to all say that it helps regulate what muscles are doing. I found it very soothing. It also does nice stuff for your skin.

6. Go shopping for some supplies!
You’re off to the pharmacy/health shop and you want the very satisfying thrill of Getting Stuff That Will Help. I feel you on this. Retail is a considerable part of healing. The tough part here will be getting your doctor or pharmacist to admit that there’s anything that is allowed for pregnant ladies. But you’ve done your Internet research, so you’ve found out about some of the secret weapons in this particular battle.

This was a gem from my marvelous neighbour, Julia. A little bottle of peppermint essential oil, plus a bigger bottle of a ‘carrier oil’ (that’s a neutral oil that you can add essential oils to – I got sweet almond oil, but you can also use grapeseed or even just olive oil from your cupboard.) Peppermint is the big secret here – it does amazing things for relieving inflammation. It stimulates circulation and cools the skin. Don’t make the mistake I did and leave it on your hands before putting moisturiser on your face – you will suddenly feel like you’ve been slapped in the face with some sort of peppermint flavoured deep heat. (Unless you like that kind of thing, in which case go for it.)

This was another recommendation from the chiropractor. It’s a blue gel with arnica, camphor, menthol and spearmint. It is AMAZING for any kind of sore muscles, bursitis, tendonitis. They use it for horses, and the jar I bought has a picture of a horse on the front. The common wisdom about arnica seems to be that you shouldn’t really ingest (swallow) it while pregnant, but topical application (ie on the skin cream/ointment/gel) is ok – just not over the uterus area.

TRAUMEEL homeopathic tablets
These are a homeopathic anti-inflammatory. The pharmacist was adamant that they’re ok for use in pregnancy, and I found several sites on the Internet endorsing that view. That said, they do contain arnica as an active ingredient, so perhaps you should check with your midwife before you make the call to take them. My gynae was suggesting a short course of more hardcore anti-inflammatories (Voltaren/Myprodol), so I figured I’d rather go with the lighter, homeopathic option.

PANADO (paracetamol)
I’ve been avoiding painkillers, as my issue with painkillers is that pain is fairly important to track – if something is very hurty, it’s maybe telling you not to step quite so heavily on that side, or not to use that muscle lest you make it worse. But. Pain can also be debilitating, so I’ve gone with a conservative approach of using as little as I can get away with, but as much as I need to remain a functional human being (and family member). If all I can do is sit in a chair and grimace and cry, I’d rather ease things up with paracetamol. I also think it’s worth taking enough of it to make sleep possible. Sleep is your biggest healing ally, and waking up repeatedly because of pain in a hip or leg is much less damaging than masking that symptom and getting the benefit of some hours of rest.

for your bath (see #5 above)

If you don’t already have one, get yourself a hot water bottle. Sleep with this thing propped against your lower back or hip or wherever it’s sore. Bizarrely, heat can soothe and relieve as much as ice (depending on the kind of pain you’re in). A word of warning here – when I went into labour with Molly, a hot water bottle against my lower back caused labour to speed up very fast. So if you’re in early labour and dealing with pain, bear in mind that hot water bottles can have some weird interactions with oxytocin. (Again, not science, purely anecdotal!!)

Again, magnesium does some mysteriously useful things to sore and inflamed muscle tissue. As far as I understand, slow-release magnesium is a useful thing to take as a pregnancy supplement (though definitely check this with your health provider and also take into account if you’re taking a pregnancy multi-vitamin that contains any considerable dosages of Mg.)

Drink lots of water. Oddly, it seems water retention is worse when you don’t drink enough fluids. I find hot water with fresh ginger, some peppermint tea and honey has mysteriously soothing properties. I don’t know that much about the medicinal benefits of ginger, but I find there’s nearly nothing it can’t help. Sore throats, sore tummies, nausea and even muscle pain…. some sliced up ginger in hot water is up there with homemade chicken soup as one of the great panaceas. At the moment, I’m loving mixing it into fresh peppermint tea, maybe because of the whole peppermint anti-inflammatory connection. With some honey in because honey improves everything.

7. Acupuncture
People rave about acupuncture. I’ve had it recommended by midwives and doulas, and friends who swear by it. It hasn’t worked for me, but it does for many people (and it’s one of the few alternative healing practices that has surprisingly copious quantities of positive research findings backing it up.

8. Yoga, swimming, stretching
Admittedly, whilst barely able to cough, sneeze or walk, I haven’t been particularly inclined to leap into sweat pants and a tank top for a yoga class. Somewhere I do have a two-piece swimming costume that theoretically will fit over my bump, but since I’m barely able to get my socks on, I haven’t gotten there either. That said, some simple yoga stretches have helped enormously (child pose; simple mountain pose with upward arms; simplest warrior 1). And when this whole thing started, we were on holiday, and floating in the pool was about the most pain-free time of the whole trip. I think that’s because swimming takes any pressure off your joints – you’re gravity-free for a bit. Heaven. Stretches can make more space around the squished-up tendons and ligaments, and loosen things up fantastically. If you’re really lucky something will shift and the pain will subside – at least for a bit.

9. A last word on your mind, sleep and the placebo effect
When you’re paying close attention to pain management, you also have to do some very close and attentive listening to your body, and to what feels better and what feels worse. Your mood has a huge impact on this, and when you think you’re feeling better, then you are… and vice versa.

Getting enough sleep helps a LOT; without sleep I get weepy and self-pitying and everything gets harder to bear. Pain is worse too without sleep. It’s worth resorting to painkillers if that’s going to spare you a sleepless night.

Eating light – fruit, soups, wholesome stuff, drinking lots of water – it just FEELS better for your body, and suddenly things can feel lighter. That may or may not be a placebo effect, but the placebo effect is a super-powerful mind tool, and the reason that so many homeopathic and alternative techniques really do work. And if milky tea and chocolate biscuits are your comfort and soothing moment of choice, they can do just as much as a bitter medicinal brew. Do what works for you.

It’s also worth thinking in time frames, and which tactics work best for you at each time of day. For example, I do more of the cooling stuff (ice packs and arnica gel) in the mid-morning, whereas later in the evening as the temperature drops and the pain has a more ‘frozen’, seized-up feeling, I definitely need more warmth – hot water bottles, peppermint oil in warm sweet almond oil.

As I said, these are just the bits and pieces that have helped me along the way… I’d love to hear your suggestions and insights. To anyone who’s found their way here because they’re going through anything similar, thanks for reading and I wish you a blissful, painfree time. L x

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Biscuits, or: worth searching for the hidden stuff.

When I was a kid, my Granny Lil’s flat had a fantastic stash of chocolates, at any given time. It just wasn’t altogether clear where to find them. In contrast, my great-aunt Freda (Lil’s younger sister) had a perennially disappointing stash of those sugar-covered dried fruit ‘dainties’, and some strange sticky thing made from prunes. These were always out on the lounge table in a crystal sweet dish. No mystery there. The delicious thing in great-aunt Freda’s flat was the tin of biscuits, which would be regularly filled by the housekeeper, Sophie, a diminutive Mrs Pepperpot of a woman, who produced the most wonderful little round coconut biscuits. There was (often but not always) a stash of these in an old Danish biscuit tin. That, too, required some searching out. Always worth looking for the hidden stuff, they taught me.

Sadly, I never asked Sophie for the recipe, and both she and my great-aunt are long gone. Usually there’s just about nothing you can’t find on the Internet, but for some reason, everyone around here extols the virtues of the thick chewy coconut biscuit, rather than the thin, round, snappy version I grew up with. So I’ve been experimenting with these for a while to get the sweet, flat, snappy version I wanted. I’ve fiddled around with melting the butter, cutting cold butter into flour, blitzing it all in a food processor, and creaming it in a cake mixer. This is the best version I’ve come up with:

Coconut butter biscuits

Crisp coconut butter biscuits

Crisp coconut butter biscuits

230 g butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup coconut
2 cups flour
a pinch of salt
2 eggs

1. Sift the flour and salt together. Stir in the coconut.

2. Cream the butter really well. Add the sugar and continue creaming for another couple of minutes.

3. Beat in the eggs. Scrape down the bowl and beat again.

4. Mix in the dry ingredients. Blend to a smooth dough.

5. Divide the dough in half, pat it into flat patties, wrap in plastic and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 200 ˚C. Roll out the dough thinly, sprinkling with flour and turning over now and then so it doesn’t stick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out thin discs. Mine were about 3-4 mm thick.

7. Place discs on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or til discernibly golden-brown.

8. Cool on a rack. Eat with tea!

optional variations: add some grated lemon rind if you like.

If you’re a fan of light, chewy coconut biscuits, you can sift in 1 tsp baking powder with the dry ingredients, increase the coconut up to 2 cups, and roll out your dough a bit thicker. They will rise more and have a bit of chew and coconut texture. (But they will not have the lovely snap of these flat ones!)

Then, for really chewy  along with your crisp, here is a recipe for…

Peanut cookies

Peanut cookies

Classic peanut butter cookies

1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
230 g butter, room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (no salt no sugar kind, preferably fresh from an organic shop!)
2 eggs
2.5  cups cake flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a fraction more if you like salty)
brown sugar for sprinkling

1. Beat the butter until creamy, for about 2 minutes. Add the sugars, beat for 2 more minutes.

2. Mix in the peanut butter and the egg.

3. Sift together the dry ingredients— the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the sugar butter mixture.

4. Divide the dough into two, roll into balls or patties, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

5. Preheat oven to 200°C. Shape the dough into little balls. Place the balls of dough about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten in crisscross pattern with a fork. Sprinkle the top with some sugar – this will make them pretty, with a crunchy sugary top.

6. Bake until light brown, about 10-12 minutes. (Less time = softer, crumblier biscuits. Longer = more crispy and crunchy… I don’t need to tell you which I prefer.) Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool in their baking sheets for a minute. After a minute, transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

(The original recipe said, for chewier cookies, you can bake at 160°C for 15 minutes.

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And if you’re pescetarian…

Fishing and seafood are a big part of Cape Town’s heritage. The waters around here used to jump with many different species of fish, and you could find mussels, abalone (perlemoen), lobsters, prawns, squid and clams all along the coast. These days, since the big commercial fishing industries have all but fished out the local waters, there are much lower populations of shellfish, and much tighter restrictions on when, where and how you’re allowed to fish them.

Happily for folk living in the city, the lovely Julie Carter runs an awesome fresh fish business called Ocean Jewels. Julie is a tireless and effusive advocate for sustainable fishing, and participates actively in the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). That means – just like the excellent people who sell eggs from happy hens, and milk from happy cows – Jules supplies seafood that is sourced via sustainable fishing practices. She sends out weekly emails telling you what’s on offer for the week. You can pop in and get it at the deli at the Woodstock Exchange or just get onto the mailing list and have marvelous seafood delivered to your door.

Anyway, a while back, I ordered a couple of bags of frozen mussels, despite having absolutely no idea what to do with them. This week, back in the grip of winter after a summery week away, I figured a rich mussel soup and some crusty bread sounded like a good thing.

This is what happened:

Wintry mussel soup

1 bag frozen mussels (1 kg, from Ocean Jewels), left to defrost for a few hours
2 shallots
2 leeks
1 bulb fennel
1 carrot
a handful cherry tomatoes
a few cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 cups fish stock
1 cup white wine
lots of parsley
some lemon
1 cup cream

crusty bread for serving

Finely slice the shallots, leeks, carrot and fennel. Saute them on low heat in some butter or olive oil. Add the garlic and chopped tomatoes and cook a bit longer. Add the stock and wine, and simmer to make a soup for about 10 or 15 minutes. Soon before serving, add the mussels and cream, and simmer for about 5 minutes til the mussels are done.

Sprinkle loads of parsley over, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and serve with crusty bread.

Wintry mussel soup

Wintry mussel soup

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Five months pregnant, and my body has kicked in with some vicious pain. The left side of me is entirely unscathed. But on the right side, something’s going on between my back and my hip that’s making it excruciating to sit, stand, lie down or walk. So the last few days has got me thinking about something I don’t usually have to think about at all: pain. Some thoughts that have come up over the last week about this.

1. The opposite of pain isn’t pleasure. The opposite of pain is just direct experience, unmediated by the ongoing physical interference of pain-experience.

2. Pain is both an experience of its own, and an interference in the way of other experience. You become a bit split focus with pain. You notice the pain experience. And you ignore the pain experience in order to continue with normal life.

3. To everyone else it sometimes looks like you’re grimacing at them through a dark curtain they can’t see.

4. Pain is entirely, totally subjective. I have absolutely no idea whether my excruciating pain is your middle-to-bearable pain.

5. Even though the opposite of pain isn’t pleasure, the relief of pain, by contrast, can feel like bliss. This might be worth remembering about ordinary experience. You have bliss, and you haven’t noticed, because there isn’t any pain to compare it to.

6. Pain isn’t a punishment. Non-pain isn’t a reward. It could just be the way the baby is lying this week. It could be that a ligament has stretched slightly out of kilter, pushing on a nerve. Causes can be so random.

7. Pain forces you to slow down and pay attention. Every step requires attention. People who walk past look at you to check what’s going on. You look back. Pain forces a lot more human acknowledgement than non-pain.

8. Pain necessitates asking for assistance, accepting it when it comes, letting go of it when it doesn’t. You don’t need anyone to tell you not to sweat the small stuff when it feels like there’s a dagger in your thigh.

9. There’s more than one way to skin the pain cat. You can’t walk around much so you sit still. Til sitting still makes it worse. Yoga can feel like hell, but it can help. Being cold can make it worse, but ice packs can bring relief. Even though ice packs bring relief, hot water bottles do the same. The logic of pain is sometimes hard to follow.

10. This kind of pain is temporary. Well, all pain is temporary, I guess, but there are plenty people whose pain will not pass or improve in their lifetime. I am infinitely grateful to know that, at absolute worst, this will last a few months. If I’m lucky, the physio will work her magic – or the baby will move – and it will lift. The thought of living with chronic pain has been sobering and stark, and a Grave Reminder of Own Mortality.

11. Pain can turn you into a stoic martyr, or a whimpering sympathy seeker. Neither of those two things are useful. You have to do something in between: let people know you’re in pain so you can ask for help. And suck it up, because you aren’t the only person in the universe. And while misery loves company, company, oddly enough, does not particularly adore misery.


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If you’re vegetarian

So this weekend I was at the gorgeous wedding of a close friend. It was a warm and wonderful gathering, and I was honoured to be the MC. I was also completely unprepared. This was ok… as an improvisor I sometimes like being unprepared. Then again, perhaps I should say ex-improvisor, given that I haven’t been anywhere near any improv for about 2 years… oh well. Aren’t we all making up as we go along?

So I’d chatted to my lovely bride friend and we’d mused over what I was supposed to say (“There’s something they’ve put on the order of events called housekeeping,” she said, “Do you know what that is?” “I think they mean where the toilets are,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’ll find out.”) So while the other guests were nibbling on canapés and sipping champagne between the ceremony and The Rest of Things, I went up to the venue and nosed around, and sure enough, there was a somebody who was fluttering about organising things, and told me what to say about what, so I thought I had it fairly organised.

The cool thing about being an MC is you get a microphone. FOR THE WHOLE EVENING. So I could just turn it on and tell people stuff. I was a bit self-conscious about this, as I thought perhaps people wouldn’t want to microphone-announced all the time, but it seemed to go fairly well. I was pretty much through directions to the loos, and where to smoke, and where to put the wedding gifts, when I turned to Lovely Bride Friend and said, “Have I forgotten anything?”

“Vegetarians!” she said.

“Vegetarians!” I exclaimed, and turned back to the roomful of expectant guests. “Yes! If you’re vegetarian, um…” I thought for a second.

What was I supposed to tell the vegetarians again, that they didn’t already know?

“Right,” I merrily improvised. “If you’re vegetarian, tell someone!”

This seemed to me very logical. I used to be vegetarian – for a long time. Generally, if you find a waiter or someone, and tell them, they’ll eventually bring you something usefully meat-free (frequently a Greek salad, but still, if you’re vegetarian, that’s a lot better than a steak). Anyway, that’s the thing about improv. You never know what the audience is going to find funny. Apparently “If you’re vegetarian… tell someone!” was the pinnacle of my MC moment. Who knew. Anyway, lest it be thought that I was dissing vegetarians, let it be known that I was vegetarian (well, pescetarian, really) for about 15 years, and vegan for one of those years. So, in honour of the vegetarians (and pescetarians) I’ll be posting some nice vegetarian recipes for a change. Starting with this cool thing I’ve been making for lunch (and sometimes also even for breakfast):

Vaguely mexican tortilla sandwich

This isn’t even a recipe. It’s a thing that you make up when you have no bread in the house. Because tortilla wraps you can keep in the freezer for just about ever. So if you have some of those and some cheddar, you can basically augment those with other ingredients to make yourself the most impressive breakfast ever.

This makes 1 sandwich, for 1 person. A hungry person may want more.

1 tortilla wrap (from the freezer or not)

some grated white cheddar cheese

1 ripe avocado

half a lemon

salt and pepper

optional additions: fresh coriander, chopped tomato, some jalapeno chilli, some lettuce or rocket or watercress leaves

Mash up the avocado with lemon juice, salt and pepper. The more other things you add to it – coriander, chilli, tomato – the more mexican you will go. You could even go the route of cottage cheese or sour cream if you’re feeling well supplied and over the top Tex-Mex about this.

Put the wrap in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Turn it over a few times and let it warm up. When it’s at least defrosted on one side, turn that side up and sprinkle some cheese on to melt.

Lay the mashed up avocado over it on one side, just to warm up, not to cook, and fold over the wrap. Just before you fold it over, you can put the leaves on for extra green, if you’re so inclined. Cut it into wedges.

Instant breakfast/brunch/lunch. If you’re vegetarian… you can eat this!IMG_0313

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Sad story – a poem

It’s a sad story
when it’s all about you
all that we say and all that we do
it’s all about you
and the story you tell
to anyone who
will listen, it’s sad
and it’s all about you

It’s a sad sad story
when nothing you do
all that you said and anyone who
cares – still cares – or once cared – for you
means little or less
because nothing hit home
nothing felt like anything
even when you pretended it did
it was a lie or a joke or a burden or worse
something you tell as your so-special curse

did the drugs help?
did the drugs disconnect?
did they mask or produce what you now elect
to tell as that story
that story you tell
shapeshifts by the day
no one knows what to say
since you said go away
and now it’s ‘good day’
as though nothing happened
because perhaps to you
nothing ever did and nothing ever would
though the change – or idea of it –
seemed like changing for good

so you cast off your friends
and their lifetimes of care
your family’s heart
nought for you there
you tipped up the table
and stormed to the door
then stood without leaving
so full of your lack
too stuck to go forward
too stuck to go back

you said stuff it I’m going; nought for me here
heaviest conscience, heaviest fear
stuff it these burdens, cut me some slack
fly me away please, don’t hold me back

so they gave you their blessing
and bit back their hurt
and watched as you wavered
your trousers and shirt
just as pressed as before
still distressed as before
unimpressed as before
you opened your window
but deadlocked your door

I have watched at the sideline
as the damage accrued
as they rinsed off the plates
and packed up the food
I fought your corner, til I could no more
willed you to leave without trashing the door
I said take it and fly it
I said go to your more
I said we would hold it
even when it got sore

I thought I had something
I thought I could see
that a return from a journey might be stronger and free
but there was no real journey
there was nothing to hold
as their hurt resignation
grew solid and cold

as you spat at the doorway
and kicked at the sand
closed back the window
tightened your hand
til it all got too sad
and it all got too late
I couldn’t persuade them
to stand there and wait
now I wince as I watch them
turn cold at your smile
there are no more openings
they have closed, rank and file

it’s a sad sad story
when it’s all about you
there is little to say
and nothing to do
you wished them away
and now they are gone
though you seem not to notice
this is what you have done.

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There are times in your life you reach a crossroads. You’re forced to stop, consider which way you’re going to go, and it’s one or the other. And the consequences will be, well, even if just for that particular path you’re on, significant.

Or so the grand narratives of lives go. In the everyday, prosaic world of Cape Town city living, where public transport is the choice of only those with no alternative, I find myself at crossroads pretty much several times a day. The one at the corner of Rosmead and Kenilworth. The one at the corner of Doncaster and Racecourse. Liesbeeck and Durban. The succession of intersections as you navigate the traffic out of town.

That moment, stopping at the intersection, slowing down as the traffic turns to a trickle, or stopping to wait for the trickle to start up again, always reminds me of William Kentridge’s scary morphing symbolism in his animations. Was it History of the Main Complaint? – the man in the car, the rain pelting down the windscreen wipers going, going going. The hand at the window, the open palm, the rolling-down of the window, the coin in the hand, the rolling-up of the window. The hand at the window, the gun at the window, the hand at the window, the gun at the window. The suppliant offer, the threatening offer, the charitable offer, the forced hand.

The intersections feel to me like a marketplace, where punters are competing with their unique accoutrements of need, to trigger me into believing I can help. I am Woman In Car, potential source of revenue. Man with Blind Friend, slow and halting; Man With Sign (number of dependants, job loss summary, brief blessings); Woman with Stylish Facepaint, selling Big Issue; Man with Bucket and Squeegee; Man with Photocopies (Funny Stuff); Woman With Baby; Man with Inflated Angry Birds and Pigs (this week); Woman with Plastic Bags on Feet. I cast list them, as I watch them cast list me among the other drivers: Woman Putting on Lipstick in 4×4; Bakkie Driver smoking with Appy; Luxury Sedan guy changing the station; Cellphone Rummager (so many of those); Tightlipped Horizon-Gazer; Car Window Roller-Downer Who will Chat But Not Give; Car Window Roller-Downer who will Give But Not Chat. Who will I be today?

I’m always struck by how inconsistent my feelings are towards the cast of the ongoing street spectacle at the intersections. Some days I feel they are there urging me to Change My Life and become the man in India who stopped acquiring and consuming, and gave over his time to washing the feet of the untouchables. Some days I’m morose with resentment over Nkandla and the Guptas and taxes and corruption. Some days I can smile at the figures at the window. Most days I can ignore the urge to calculate how much following distance I need to leave before the next car, just in case there’s an intersection hijacking at my window.

I no longer pass out cash like I used to, or food like I used to. I no longer believe anything I can offer can help in any significant way. I no longer believe that donations aren’t weighted with disproportionate measures on both sides. This cannot assuage your hunger any more than it can assuage my guilt. Me and you – the face behind the window and the face outside the window; the hand on the wheel and the hand outside the door – we are both entirely, systematically lost.

Some days my thoughts are elsewhere, and I cannot engage – in either thought or even eye contact – with the drama of Need and Lack that swirls around the car like weather, so real, so near, so outside the window. On some terrible days I haven’t noticed the outside presence until someone raps on the window, and the unexpected noise and proximity of a looming gesticulating face has startled me into a shriek. The sound of which has alarmed me as much as the vision of it has alarmed the gesticulator at the window. That’s worst, when the children are in the car. Oh, how we don’t want our children to know that really the world outside your window can be startling scary when you least expect it.

Mostly though, they cast of the intersections are unsurprising, unscary. Some of them are there daily and you get to know their faces. There was the white (weirdly for the 90s) guy in Mowbray, who used to sell mangy-looking crunchie biscuits (dude, did anyone buy those? to actually eat? who baked those for you?) and later mangy-looking jewelry, and sometimes he stared vacant-eyed with nothing to sell and a sign about his wife and children and no job. He was there for 10, 20 years or more, just getting a little more wizened with each year. Someone made a documentary about him, after he died, and I was (why?) surprised by how very different his voice and story were to what I’d ever imagined from those little details. Soon after that I noticed that Woman With Baby (Rosmead/Doncaster/Kenilworth intersection) had turned into Woman with Toddler, and she’s sometimes takes a break from the paper cup and just plays with her child, because let’s face it, there will be more cars the next time the lights change, and everyone needs a break from work sometimes.

The crossroads are not the occasionally reached point, the intersection between opposing directions. They are there every day, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. And you, like the rest of the cast, will sleep again tonight and wake again tomorrow and return there.

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The quality of the silences. Or: living the dream, living the nightmare, and unable to speak.

Most of my friends I see or speak to very infrequently. I mean, some of them, you might actually realistically say I almost never see or speak to them – once in three or five years, it might be. Some I may connect with once or twice a year. Some I see in the virtual worlds of gmail chat and WhatsApp several times a day, but weeks or months may pass before we find a time to coincide in the same place. The quality of the silences between those meetings differ.

In most cases, I know and trust that we’re off down the rabbit holes of our respective universes of work, family, and whatever peculiar mix of preoccupations we spend our time on. One friend disappears on long silences in one of two scenarios – a budding relationship, or a spiralling depression. I rely on a weirdly accurate sense of intuition to tell me whether she needs me to leave her to it, or call before things get too dark.

Another friend is a constant presence of dialogue. When things are going well, we marvel and mutually congratulate. When things are dire, we commiserate and rant and listen. There’s something about keeping up with the broad strokes as well as the fine minutiae of another person’s life that gives you permission to explore your life in more detail.

This blog has become, for me, an estranged friend, the one you think you ought to catch up with, but somehow the moment never seems right. It used to be a mirror of my thoughts and obsessions, happy moments and musings, pickles and rants. This is the friend you’ve really lost touch with, the one you can’t really talk about unmentionable stuff with because it’s become… well, unmentionable. And sharing your excitement about the good stuff would be … well, out of place, because they don’t have a clue what’s been going on.

Why does this happen, this self-censorship? In friendships, I think it happens from untended hurts, tresspasses unaddressed, unacknowledged, unresolved. Here, in this somewhat public writing space, I feel my growing discomfort about South Africa and living here. I want to write about feeling increasingly, maddeningly marginalised by this country’s obsession with demographics. As a 40-year-old, a mother, white, privileged, married, living in the suburbs…. it feels like there is less and less I am allowed to say. My fears and dramas are what the journalists of this country always refer to (always pejoratively) as “suburban”. Apparently where you live affects the legitimacy of your experience. And yet the fear and outrage and dismay that simmers beneath the surface of life in South Africa is a shared one, I am convinced of it.

I read this piece by Tom Eaton this morning:

Half a day since the state told us that Jacob Zuma is untouchable and that our tax revenue is his – and all is quiet.

No candlelit vigils, no burning government buildings, not even a particularly loud noise on social media.

Tonight South Africans are speaking with one voice, and here’s what we’re telling Jacob Zuma:

“You can take whatever you want. It’s ok. We don’t like it but we’re too tired, too angry, too confused, too enmeshed in the civil service, to fight.

“You can have Nkandla. Maybe that will be enough for you, but it probably won’t be, and when you take more, we won’t burn anything then either. You win. Help yourself.”

No wonder he’s laughing so much these days. I used to think it was nervous laughter. Now I know better. It’s a logical, reasonable response to realizing that he’s won a lottery where the jackpot keeps getting bigger the longer he stays in office. He’s laughing because he’s won. And he’s laughing at us.

He sums up the sheer sense of exhaustion and powerlessness that colours our broader existence in this country. Inevitably it starts at the top, with our faith (or, more accurately, dire lack of it) in our leaders. The assaults on our trust are so continuous that we get what Ranjeni Munusamy  called scandal fatigue:

The ordinary public is fatigued by the litany of scandals, the investigating authorities are politically compromised, the independent bodies are overwhelmed by the volume of investigations, the opposition has very few powers, the guardians are demonised and threatened and the looters have free rein. It is a dangerous territory and is neither normal nor good for the country.

Most sentient people would agree that something is rotten in the Republic of South Africa. As in the case of Hamlet’s Denmark, festering with moral and political corruption, such a situation can only breed chaos and peril.

And from the systematic lawlessness at the top, there is the more everyday horror. To drive across the city is to run the gauntlet of the poster boards screaming out the latest baby rape, the latest woman murdered by her angry husband.

It becomes, increasingly, unspeakable. What shall we talk about, here, my friend? Shall we talk about living in a continuous state of outrage and fear, then suppressing it firmly and continuously, as we do, and soldiering on? At this juncture, on many days, it’s just about all I can do to keep breathing. In-breath, out-breath. Mix the dough, make the bread. Wash the olives – in a few months they’ll be ready to bottle, if I can just remember to wash them every day. And perhaps you and I can meet again, if I can take a deep enough breath to feel it’s ok to say anything at all.


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