Monday, December 28, 2009

Anton's birthday cake

This is the cake I baked for my friend on his birthday last month. A layered cake with rich chocolate frosting, layers held together with a whole can of caramel. It's the cake I always wanted my mother to bake for me, but which she refused. My mother was never a great baker. I can say this without feeling like a bad son because it is the truth. She'll readily admit it. She rarely baked our cakes when I was very young, always leaving it up to the neighbor's maid who was a champion baker.

What my mother was great at though was decorating cakes. She had these picture books of party cakes, and when birthday time comes around we could pick whichever cake we wanted. A cake (or cakes) would be ordered from next door and the day before our birthday she would spend the entire day making frosting, cutting cake and decorating. Between my siblings and I we had an owl cake, a locomotive with carriages, a maypole with dancing girls cake, a sunflower, rugby field with players and many more. I should actually scan pictures of those sometime and share. Her cake decorating skills were incredible.

Still, my favorite that she refused to make. I never requested it for my birthday because it was not elaborate enough, perhaps I should have. I think she thought it sounded much too rich. Whenever she baked chocolate cake she always used strawberry or apricot jam between the two layers. Yuck! So when we decided to have a birthday dinner for Anton at our place this year I decided that he I would bake him this one for dessert.

I used Jamie Oliver's sponge cake recipes for the cake and Martha Stewart's Swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting and a can of caramel in the center, of course there was way too much frosting as usual. But we did not let any of it get to waist, Alexander did a great job of using all of it on the cake, adding almost an inch thick layer on top!

If I may say so myself, I think it was my most successful cake ever. It was the first cake I baked in our oven that did not fall, but was perfectly baked and stayed that way after I removed it from the oven. The frosting came out great, just the right texture and consistency, and of course the caramel made it as decadent as I wanted it to be. Everybody enjoyed a slice, the rest was sent home with guests. It was incredibly rich, not even I could do more than one slice, but it sure was great!

For the sponge cake you'll need:
450g unsalted butter, softened
450g selfraising flour
450g caster sugar
8 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the bottom and sides of two cake tins, dust with flour and shake out the excess flour. Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate, finally add the flour and fold in. Divide between the two cake tins and bake for about 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer come sout clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly then turn out onto a cooling rakc and allow to cool completely.

For the chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream (makes about 4 cups):

4 large egg whites
1 and cup sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
225g melted best quality bittersweet chocolate, slightly cooled before mixing in

It helps to use a standing mixer for this, but you can do it without as well. In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, whisk together the egg whites and sugar until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and whisk on high speed until it holds stiff but not dry peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and slightly cooled, about 6 minutes. Swithc to the paddle attachement if you have one. Add the butter several tablespoons at a time with mixer on medium low spead. Beat well after each addition until smooth. Beat in the melted chocolate. Beat onlow spead to eliminate air bubbles and then stir with a spatula until smooth.

When your cakes are cooled and the frosting done, spread a whole can of caramel on top of one cake, pop the other one on top, lather in frosting and the let the decadence begin!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another week on the web

Just one thing this week. It will forever be the week in which Brittany Murphy passed away. Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, that was sad. But nothing is as sad as this. Here's a clip of Brittany as my favorite character from Clueless, Ty.

Goodbye Brittany, you'll be missed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I desire- good bookstores

This bookstore review by Jonathan in China reminded me just how much I miss good bookstores. They don't really exist in South Africa. In Cape Town we have a couple of good bookstores, there is the Book Lounge on Roeland Street and Clarke's on Long. Both are owned and managed by people who clearly love a good book. But those are the exceptions and both are pretty small.

Then there is Exclusive Books, a countrywide retail bookstore chain, but there is nothing Exclusive about them. Their biggest store is still the size of a large open-plan living room and the book selections are never that great. And their gay and lesbian section (if the store even has one) is always grouped with hetero sex advice, meaning together with one or two dull homosexual romance novels there are loads of books explaining to straight people how to get off.

To make matters worse books in South Africa are ridiculously expensive. Ridiculously. Not exaggerating. We were looking at a Borneo guide book here and then compared the price to ordering from Amazon and having it shipped here. It was still more than US$10 less than buying it here. A friend explained it's because South Africa taxes books as a luxury item. WTF? We're a country with terribly high illiteracy levels and books are considered a luxury?

Why is it that in the giant bookstores in countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia you can find bigger English language books than in South Africa, and at better prices? Not fair.

I am looking forward to going back East and visiting Kinokuniya in Bangkok and Page One in Taipei, but sad about the fact that my friends here will still have to deal with pricey reading material from Exclusive Books.

* The image is from the blog Stephanie's Written Word, entry titled Vacation Spots.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Season's Greetings

We're flying to Pretoria tomorrow to go spend Christmas with my family. I can honestly say that I don't really like Christmas, the last time I got excited about this holiday was when I was a kid. Too many forced family Christmases during our hot summers kind of ruined the experience for me. And since popular world culture dictates that it should be a time of snowy winter during the holidays I've always felt kind of cheated.

I discovered this book online while searching for 'African Christmas.' I was trying to see if there are any images that related what Christmas is like here, this was the closest I came. The other option was a Santa on a surfboard. Sad.

This will probably be my last summertime Christmas for a while. Next year we'll probably be in Taiwan and the year after that potentially the States, who knows. Although I am a little nervous about spending a whole week with my family in a house on a wildlife estate outside of a city I am also looking forward to spending time with them again. I have not actually spent any real time with them in 3 years. And luckily there is a pool and I am planning to start my mornings with bloody mary's or mojitos and progress from there!

So to you and all your family. Happy holidays, enjoy the togetherness, all the food and all the drink. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Catering for Cameo #2

Some more images from the gallery opening we catered for a while ago. The show was titled Cameo and took place at Salon 99 Contemporary Art Collection on Kloof street, the artist was our friend Francesco Nassimbeni.

The Spread at the gallery

Black and white cupcakes with white and dark chocolate ganache frosting on top

Pink strawberry flavored meringues

Pink meringues dipped in white chocolate with a strawberry flavored ganache on top

Chocolate wafer cookies with decorative cameo design

Some of Frankie’s art at the show

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Together

I watched Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together for the first time earlier this year. It became an instant favorite. Don’t let the title mislead you though, there is very little happiness in being together for Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung). But the yearning to be happy, to love and be loved, is just so incredibly beautifully portrayed in this tragic love story, set in Argentina.

The movie came out in 1997, years before Brokeback Mountain, starring two major Hong Kong hunks, with movie posters that did not hide the fact that the movie had a gay theme (unlike this one) and started out with a sex scene between the two main leads. I wonder why the movie did not make the same impact as Brokeback? I suppose partly it was because it did not have any mainstream appeal, it was not a Hollywood production with actors who are not really known in the ‘West.’

I really loved the story, the cinematography, excellent acting and the brutal honesty in portraying two lost men in love. The movie ended in a night market in Taipei, which also struck a chord with me.

For the past few weeks The Turtles’ song from which the movie took its title has been playing over and over in my head. Maybe I should go rent it again soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another week on the web

1) Absolutely adorable pets at Skunkboy Creatures
2) A nutella tart would be perfect right now- Happygrub
3) Make this spiced clementine sherbet and then invite me over, please- Endive Chronicles
4) Feel free to do some Christmas shopping for me at Making it Lovely
5) I want this sandwich for lunch today- Eating Asia
6) Neat kitchen ideas- Design Sponge
7) Priscilla Presley's face scares me just a little (actually a lot)- Dlisted
8) Now this is seriously fucked-up, what was the BBC even thinking turning this into a debate?- BBC
9) Fun styles in Australia- The Sartorialist
10) I like the lung sculpture here- Hibernian Homme

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Take me back to your house- Hanlie and Henk's light house

Finally, the promised Take me back to your house of a local home. I first visited Henk and Hanlie place when we were doing the catering for her birthday party. We were introduced to her through one of our friends, her brother Louis. We arrived with platters of food before the guests started arriving and I almost ended up moving in. It was love at first sight.

When Henk bought a house in Hartlevale, a suburb of sweet Victorian homes bordering Observatory, they were still living in a house with a view in Higgovale in Cape Town's City Bowl. Hanlie was not to keen on giving up the comfort of living in the city and a view to boot for a house in a neighborhood that is notorious for no views and almost zero natural light. But thanks to clever planning and months of rennovation they now live in possibly the lightest house I have ever encountered in this part of the city.

The walls separating the kitchen from the living room and dining room came down, skylights came in and a wide glass accordian door leads from the dining area into the back garden, resulting in an abundance of natural light streaming into their house, giving it a pleasing and inviting feel.

Rooms that should have been dark (clockwise from top left)- the dining room leading to the garden, the Victorian-style en-suite bathroom lit up by ceiling windows and the skylight in the master bedroom, the skylight over the sink in the kitchen allows for maximum sunlight, and the living room whcih woud have been hulled in darkness is everything but (the armchair and puzzle coffee table was inherited from her grandmother's farmhouse).

The kitchen is a fun reflection of a retro farmhouse kitchen, but with some modern conveniences. Separating it from the dining room is a cooking island with gas stove and electric oven and plenty of workspace.

Hanlie, who likes surfaces clean and tidy had four drying racks installed above the sink for items she uses regularly like plates, glasses and cups. The bottom row of kitchen drawers were fitted with screens and are used as vegetable drawers, keeping kitchen clutter to a minimum.

Hanlie's love of vintage and antique furniture, nostalgia harking back to her grandparent’s family farm in the Freestate they used to visit on school holidays as kids, is evident in the furniture and display items in the house. The hutch above was picked up at a second-hand store and now proudly displays other items she inherited from her grandmother like this coffee and tea set. The air vents on the hutch was repeated on the cabinet doors in the kitchen.

The master bedroom, sunny and warm thanks to the skylight, is a fun mix of old and new. The modern headboard and bedside tables are playfully paired with an antique store find bead spread and dresser. The closets, covered with textured floral wallpaper, form the entrance to the en-suite Victorian style bathroom, which compliments the house's original style. The ceramic frog prince is one of two froggie paraphernalia still in her home. Hanlie loves these amphibians and has boxes full of them in storage. She's still debating whether she should allow them into the new home. I say yes! She is also planning a small frog pond in the backyard, which will happen as soon as she convinces Henk to start digging.

Art pieces decorate walls throughout the house and are all from friends like the Marlise Keith above the bed in the master bedroom, the Norman O'Flynn prints (above top-right and bottom-left) and works by Liza Grobler (above top-left and bottom-right).

Looking over the pictures Alexander took of Henk and Hanlie's place I could almost feel the light playing on my skin and the love that went into remodeling and decorating this house. Hanlie said that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but the house we visited seemed pretty much perfect to me.

Asked aboutt he house with the view in Higgovale they gave up Hanlie just shakes her head and says she doesn't miss it for a moment. She has definitely found her home.

You have got be kidding

To quote from a song by the Sugarcubes, 'Oh my god and Jesus as well' and then in the words of the rest of the world, 'Say it isn't so.'

I was just guided by Dlisted to the website of the Lohan family (minus daddy Michael of course). Up to this point I was not aware of this site and my life was better for it, but now I've discovered it and I'm feeling a bit shaky as a result. WTF?!

Not only are you updated on the latest sadness in their lives but you can buy their second hand shit! Again, WTFFFF?? This takes fame-whoring to a whole new level. Then again I suppose they do need the cash. They do pretty high living (interpret 'high' anyway you like), and despite Lindsey there is no talent in that house. Yes I think Lindsey could have been a great actress but she's snorted all of that talent away it seems. When was the last time she did anything worth watching?

So if you feel like a pair of Dina Lohan's old skank boots you know where to go. You can pick up a whole wardrobe there. Don't wait too long though because I am sitting here with my Visa card ready to max it out on Lohan crap as Michael K pointed out, there might be some great recreational goodies still hidden in the pockets of those old Lohan purses.

Monday, December 14, 2009

About me

Lord I have been neglecting this blog. I did not even get to a weekly update on Friday. Skandaal! Mainly I've been procrastinating on one entry for weeks now, I'll try to get my behind in gear and post this week. It's one I'm pretty excited about. I've also been kind of busy with sewing again, markets, and packing up our Cape life.

In the meantime, here's a 'meme'. I was tagged by Jeanne of Cooksister a while ago. One-word answers to the following questions. Let's see:

1. Where is your cell phone? Chair
2. Your hair? Short
3. Your mother? Nuts
4. Your father? Difficult
5. Your favorite food? Can't
6. Your dream last night? Forget
7. Your favorite drink? Coffee
8. Your dream/goal? Travel
9. What room are you in? Living
10. Your hobby? Food
11. Your fear? Death?
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Can't
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. Something you aren’t? Heterosexual
15. Muffins? Banana
16. Wish list item? Airfare
17. Where did you grow up? Limpopo
18. Last thing you did? Lasagna
19. What are you wearing? T-shirt
20. Your TV? Without
21. Your pets? Cat
22. Friends? Life
23. Your life? Rootless
24. Your mood? Fine
25. Missing someone? Maddie
26. Vehicle? Pick-up
27. Something you’re not wearing? Watch
28. Your favorite store? Uhm?
29.Your favorite color? Few
30. When was the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Forget
32. Your best friend? Christel
33. One place you go to over and over again? Taiwan
34. One person who e-mails you regularly? :(
35. Favorite place to eat? Balcony

There you go. Insightful isn't it? Bet you feel like you know me intimately now. Thanks Jeanne, that was fun! And to the rest of you I hope I'll have more fascinating and deeply intriguing posts for you to pore over soon, I know you all live for this here blog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Just don't say gay

I was searching for information about Tom Ford’s film A Single Man, his directorial debut, when I happened on this entry on Towleroad. In short, the promotional material for the film including the American trailers and the one-sheets make absolutely no reference to the fact that the lead character is gay.

Now, I don’t think every movie with a gay lead character needs to have billboards and trailers screaming GAY to the world. In the end it is going to be just a movie covering various themes and issues, amongst them homosexuality. But from what I could gather the gay theme of the movie is completely hidden in this promotional material, and I have an issue with that.

What really got to me was Tom Ford’s reaction to questions about this, one of them at a private viewing party was “But this is not a gay film. I don’t even think about that. There are so many gay characters on TV that it’s almost become a cliché.” Okay, I kind of get that, but then he went on to say this in an interview with Kevin Sessums in Advocate “I don’t think of myself as gay. That doesn’t mean that I’m not gay. I just don’t define myself by my sexuality.”

That really irks, me. I get that he is trying to say he’s moved beyond labels and all that, but we, the world at large, have not. And for a public figure like him to ignore this fact by saying he does not view himself as gay is sad and problematic. It’s like saying you don’t see race and it’s not an issue. If you don’t you need a seeing-eye dog and you need to wake up to reality, just come take a look in South Africa, race still matters a lot. And so does sexuality.

I think Tom Ford is a brilliant man, pretty smart and very creative. I do admire him, but this sounds dumb and ignorant. Perhaps he moves in circles where it is easy for him to say “I don’t think of myself as gay.” Because it does not matter, but to most of us being gay is still a pretty big deal, and not something we can ignore.

We get stares when we hold hands in public, someone recently reminded us that judgment day is coming in a shopping center. In New York State gay marriage won’t be legalized, both Democratic and Republican senators voted against it. Adam Lambert is being dissed by ABC because he shoved a guys head into his crotch onstage. Something Janet Jackson has done way back in the nineties and no one batted an eyelid. Here in South Africa where same-sex marriage is legal there was a huge outcry over a male-on-male kiss in a soap earlier this year. A Facebook group opposing the show was created, 18000 people joined. In Burundi homosexuality was criminalized this year resulting in an increase in discrimination against gay men and women, Uganda is set to pass a bill making homosexuality illegal with harsh punishments for perpetrators. 

Now, is not a time to say you don’t see yourself is gay. For whatever reason.

Another week on the web

1) A different kind of shepherd's pie. I am a Viking
2) An anniversary endive salad- congratulations Erin! The Endive Chronicles
3) Why I want to go back to Hanoi. Hanoi Scratchpad
4) A lasagna story (in Afrikaans). Voer
5) Help pick a homemade rug. Dreamesh
6) A wish list. Skunkboy Creatures
7) Support if you can the Scalabrini Refugee Centre here in Cape Town. Blog here and website here.
8) Make popicon portraits! Dos Family
9) Now this is how you sell a house (NOT!). Dlisted
10) Jeeze, not a good week to be gay in America, this sucks. CNN and LA Times

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I desire- Onitsuka Tigers

I love Onitsuka Tigers. They are just the funnest footwear around. I fell in love the first time I laid my eyes upon a pair back in Taiwan, but oddly enough I've never owned any. I almost bought some last year on vacation in Kaohsiung, but I went back to the store the next morning they hadn't opened yet and so I missed my chance as we had to catch a train.

With my next paycheck (whenever that may be) I'm not risking anything and grabbing myself a pair of these Mexico 66 Onitsuka Tigers. They were the first Tigers to be introduced with the iconic stripes and were worn at the 1966 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Since it might be a while before my next proper paycheck I will not hold it against anyone who feel like splurging on a pair for me. I'm a UK size 8, thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

As a South African Thanksgiving holiday was something I never celebrated or cared for. I did enjoy the occasional dinner back in Taiwan with American friends, but on the whole I couldn’t be bothered. After I started dating an American things didn’t really change, Alexander not being one for this particular holiday, he’s more into his Halloween and Christmas.

Last year would have been the first time for us spending Thanksgiving together in the States and I actually became quite excited about experiencing this major vacation (most of my US friends wax more lyrical about Thanksgiving than Christmas) in the US. Alexander’s sister was going to cook a proper holiday meal for us and we were going to celebrate it on the day of our arrival in LA with some of her friends. This never happened due to that unpleasant little situation at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand. We spent Thanksgiving at Incheon International.

We were going to give it a skip again this year, until I got it in me that I wanted to try making turkey. Next thing I knew Alexander was inviting people, Marie was making her house available for the feast and I was standing in the kitchen with an enormous poultry cadaver while pumpkin as being roasted for pie. Fun!

Alexander suggested making a South African stuffing, so I decided to use the very SA boerewors sausage as stuffing, mixed with loads of rosemary, sautéed onion and garlic, breadcrumbs, grated carrot and dried peaches soaked overnight in brandy. I heard that one should get some of the stuffing between the skin and the breast to keep them from drying out, which is what I did. A gross process, but it made all the difference. And I even made a brandied gravy using the giblets! Yes, I cooked with giblets (flaming brandy in the kitchen and all). And it was good.

Alexander made pumpkin pie from scratch. And from scratch I mean he roasted his own pumpkins (white pumpkin and some green gem squash) and made his own pie crust. None of this store-bought nonsense for our Thanksgiving pie thank you! Don’t they look great? He used the squash seeds and all which added a beautiful texture to the pies.

Our friend Marie (who’s house I’m in love with) invited us to host it over there. She has a massive open kitchen and she pulled together two tables and all the chairs in the house to accommodate all the guests. Thanks Marie!

All the guests were asked to bring something to the Thanksgiving feast. We had peas and bacon, a potato dish, fresh beetroot and feta salad, turkey and stuffing and, my absolute favorite part of the evening, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, decadence! I had loads of the latter and took lots more home, which I stood eating in front of the fridge with a spoon the next day.

We also had lots of dessert- Alexander’s pumpkin pie, pecan pies and homemade chocolate mousse tartlets with mulberries. I forced myself to have some of all the desserts, which I guess is not very healthy but Thanksgiving only happens once so don’t judge.

We had an excellent evening and I think a very successful Thanksgiving. I think I’m going to make a habit of this, celebrating Thanksgiving every year. As long as there is an oven and turkey I’ll be having fun with this one. After all, I did marry into an American family and as a devoted husband it’s the least I could do to make their customs my own. I want to insert a smiley face here, but I won't.

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