Let’s Go Bowling

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Who knows why men do anything?

In my head, it’s a serious question that at least deserves a whole-hearted attempt to tackle it appropriately seriously. Or at the very least a half-hearted attempt to make it look like that’s what’s happening.

If a brief scan of this morning’s newspapers is to provide any insight into the answer, here is a roster of potentials.

Men are:

Undersexed, oversexed, unfairly maintaining unprecedented power in the workplace, unfairly experiencing decreasing power in the workplace, too many carbs, too much protein, too little protein, too many pictures in magazines of cars/women/expensive watches they can’t have, veganism, porn, prevailing economic conditions, advertising for men’s conditioning and beauty products makes us all feel like goblins, too few new beauty and conditions products to meet our goblin needs, we suck at knock-out cricket, Tom Cruise, not enough of us are Ryan Gosling, we now spend more time thinking about social media than sex.

I’ve probably left out a few. I’m sorry – I was temporarily distracted by a YouTube clip of a sleepwalking kitten that sneezed on a ghost panda.

So, let’s just say that it was for all of those reasons that I decided to make an entire three-course lunch based around food-that-you-can-serve-in-bowls. It felt important, like something that might help the kids or stop people from cutting off Rhino’s noses.

Although in truth, a lot of it has to do with the fact that all my plates were dirty and I reeeeeally couldn’t be bothered to do much washing up. Also, speaking of newspapers – there was also a very particular soup recipe that I’d come across in one of them that I was intrigued to try, and so decided to make the rest of the meal similarly ‘bowl oriented’ (Chilli con Carne and an amazing cake made by the brilliant Leanne Rencken – @inderbelly on Twitter). Just so that the soup wouldn’t feel different from all the other parts of lunch and maybe wouldn’t be invited to play on the swings or something.

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This thing with the newspapers isn’t a coincidence, incidentally (balls, I feel a tangent coming on). It’s a ridiculous prejudice to have, but I’ve long viewed recipes skimmed from newspapers or magazines to be suspect; somehow second-class recipe citizens, not quite good enough to be in a stupidly-expensive hardcover book featuring the author on the cover making a face with the punchable grin of someone about to pass out from the effort of desperately having to suck in their stomach for the length of a four-hour photo shoot.
But that’s dumb – and I know that now – because the ’second class soup’ was an unadulterated winner, which is when I started to think a little harder about this anti-newspaper recipe thing I’ve cultivated and began to realise how completely hypocritical it was. Considering that one of my most treasured possessions is a scrap-book of recipes from my mom, almost all of which were clipped from newspapers and magazines or handwritten on the back of oil-splattered pieces of paper. I also found, the more that I’ve thought about this, that I liked the transience of a newspaper recipe; if you don’t actively hold onto it, cut it out, photocopy it, scan it or, lets face it, just take a picture of it with your iPhone, then it’s not coming back. You become something like a curator, adding to your own private gallery of collected recipes – creating an assembly that’s unique to only you.

Holy crap. I started this with a diatribe about the opaqueness of men’s decision-making hierarchy and ended with recipe curation via a wobbly speech about soup.

It must be October.

Sweet corn and yellow pepper soup (for 8)

adapted from a recipe that appeared in The Financial Times

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Ingredients

1 onion
2 sticks celery
30g butter
4 yellow peppers (de-seeded and thinly sliced)
3 mielies (corn on the cob for the non-saffas)
Fresh thyme
A bay leaf
1 tsp rice
1l of chicken stock
2 ripe tomatoes
60g goat’s cheese
12 leaves of fresh mint
Olive oil.

What to do

Finely Chop up the onion and the celery and whack it into a large pot with the butter, and get it on the stove over a medium heat so that they can stew gently. Once they’ve gone soft and transparent add the peppers, shove them in and leave to calmly bubble away for ten to fifteen minutes.

Cut all the corn off the cob, then add to the pot with the thyme and bay leaf, and get it all nice and mixed in. Then add the chicken stock and half a liter of water, bring to the boil and let it simmer away and boil down for 45 minutes. Once that’s done, liquidise the soup until, rich, thick and yellow.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters and remove all the interior seeds and pulp, then cut into small cubes. Finely chop the mint and crumble the goat’s cheese.

Serve the soup hot, with the tomato, cheese and mint sprinkled on top.

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Your Hands Smell Like Fish

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I'm in a weird 'fuck you' kind of mood. Not belligerent as such – more just… acerbically contrarian.

This can only mean it's definitely time to write a blog post.

So, I'm not good at summer. No good at it at all. I hate open shoes, shorts, "summer advertising", the insane pressure to be at a fucking picnic every five goddam minutes, I hate that I live hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest salt water, and I hate the fact that I'm not nearly in as good a shape as I'd like – something that summer as an event (because that's what it seems to be these days rather than, you know…a change in the weather or something) is clearly, specifically and cruelly designed to expose in me.

The cozy cocoon of winter (where for three glorious months men get to dress like men rather than confused schoolboys) basically ebbs away, leaving behind awful rock-pools of people who smell like coconut and have decided that warmer weather is a good reason to cover themselves with some sort of lotion that has glitter in it.

Apart from being generally grumpy about having feet that don’t look good in sandals (seriously, I look like some sort of Slavic rapist), I guess the real source of all this summermosity (see what I did? Oxford English dictionary you’re welcome) is that I suck at summer-appropriate cooking. However I’d like to think of myself as being more Italian in my cooking influences: lighter, less fussy, fewer – better quality ingredients (which is perfect for the hot season) – there’s an evil French beast lurking deep within me that I just can’t get rid of.

No, that’s not a dildo joke.

I can’t help it, I like sauces. I like thick, comforting food. I like the inexplicable magic that happens in a pot when when you let slow heat work its way through for hours and hours. I like things that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – and all of that is straight down the line Winter Cooking. Which always makes the retreat of cold nights and sharp mornings, in the face of baking afternoons and warm nights, a real struggle for me. Suddenly my kitchen ideas all seem out of step, inappropriate or just plain at odds with the season’s temperatures and dress-code. What makes it worse is that I live on the top floor of a block of flats, where the balcony was long ago converted into an office. I can’t braai (South African for barbecue), which means that other great summer cooking tradition – doing it outdoors, is also somewhat closed off to me.

But, this isn’t going to only be a moan about weather. Because firstly – I’m as stubborn as fuck. And secondly I don’t like not being good at something; it really bothers me, in a sort of deep-down way that can only be equated with the soulful grip of Ryan Gosling’s natural musk.

Which is why, with the determination of a nasty-ass honey badger – I bullied some friends of mine into firing up the grill on the first warm night that was on offer and doing my best to force some sort of ‘summer-appropriate’ cooking on anyone I could get my hands on.

Because this will not stand. I need to get better at this, and the only way to do it, is to do it.

Summer Salmon

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You can tell I’m desperate to be summery in that it’s almost the most obvious complete cliche to barbecue fish, but things become cliches because they work – and this is no exception.

The trick? Try be more Italian (see paragraph 5). Try not to get farmed salmon, and if you are make sure it’s Scottish. Get the fishmonger to cut you thick steaks vertically so that the flesh is held together by the spine, rather than the fillet one typically buys in the supermarket.

Mix the ingredients fresh, make sure the grill is hot, and eat with a simple salad on a warm summer’s night. Or whenever the fuck you feel like it really…

Ingredients (for 4)

4 thick-cut salmon steaks
The juice of a large lemon, and then an extra lemon cut into quarters
a healthy tsp of minced chilli, or 1 dried red chilli, finely chopped up
a healthy tsp of minced garlic, or 2 fat cloves, finely chopped up
1 tbsp of finely-chopped rosemary
1 healthy tsp of dried mint
A good glug of olive oil
(this one is weird, but it’s inclusion is so, so good) 1 tbsp of the pickle vinegar from a jar of pickled onions.
Salt and pepper.

What to do

Mix all the marinade ingredients and whisk by hand until lightly emulsified. Coat the salmon with the marinade, using a brush until it’s all used up and the salmon is glossy and juicy. Then season generously with salt and pepper. Leave it to sit in those juices for about 20 minutes while the fire gets hot. Rub the grill with olive or vegetable oil, so that the fish doesn’t stick, and get it got over the fire.

Slap that fish on there for about 6-7 minutes on each side so that it’s nicely charred, but still pink on the inside, then get it onto a plate with the lemon wedges. Twist a couple more licks of salt and pepper over the fish and then serve with an extra squeeze from the lemons.

I want to say a quick thank you to HOUSE AND LEISURE for including me on their list of exciting young South Africans and moose-whisperers – they continue to be generous and awesome, and if you’re here because of them, welcome. I hope you stick around. Don’t be afraid to lick something.