gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

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Rotten Bananas

at my mother's knee

Recipe: Banana Bread

I have searched for a specific memory of banana bread, but there are none. There is a general memory – like a thread through my life – of bananas disappearing and banana bread appearing and being devoured. Banana Bread is, of course, not something you PLAN to make. It is something that you HAVE to make because suddenly the bananas have gone off and now you have a bunch of rotten fruit and you’re either going to chuck them, or bake.

(Except for that one time when I was all ready to make it, and then opened the bananas and they were too far gone and I had to go and buy new bananas especially for the banana bread and felt like the universe was out of balance.)

I quite often chuck out bad bananas but then the guilt, the crippling guilt. And, of course, the lack…

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A tale of a biscuit

at my mother's knee

Recipe: Renate’s biscuits

This is a tale of biscuits, but it takes us down various memory paths, so you must concentrate.

My father had a friend called Francois Naude, who was an artist but was also in advertising. My dad was a bit older than him, and I think had almost mentored him from when he was very young. Francois was a talented cartoonist, and my guest loo has three of his “cat” drawings hanging in it.

Francois, in the time before I was born, was married to a potter called Jenny. When they got divorced, my parents uncharacteristically stayed friends with both of them.

Jenny went on to have an interesting time of things. She met a man called Sam, and together they worked on a pig farm in Stellenbosch where we had a fabulous holiday looking after baby piglets (and a dog ate my Monchichi toy, causing terrible…

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Comfort dip

at my mother's knee

Recipe: avocado dip

On Mother’s Day, if your mother is dead, you will always feel a little bit sad.

We weren’t actually that big into Mother’s Day in my childhood home – something I now regret – and my mother’s mother actually died on Mother’s Day, so my mom wasn’t the biggest fan of the day. But still, I miss my mommy.

So yesterday between listening to my children tell me that I didn’t really deserve the cards that they made me, and feeling quite hard done by that I don’t have a mom of my own, I needed some comfort food. And one of my favourite comfort foods dates back as long as I can remember – avocado dip and tomato chips.

So great is my love for this dip that it caused me to also love mayonnaise. This is what happened. When I was little – very little…

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Hot stuff

at my mother's knee

The thing that I haven’t told you about yet is the terrible, crippling impediment that my mother had in her cooking life: my father.

My father was “allergic” to foods so numerous that to list them would take hours. Some were genuine allergies (like cucumbers. . . although I suspect this may have been the only genuine one), some were the results of the war (eating raw potatoes in the war put him off potato skins for life, although not the inside of potatoes), some were really irritating (tomato – whether raw or cooked), and some ruled out whole nations of cuisine (curry and chilli). There were many more. In the spirit of transparency, I must admit that I didn’t help my mother much either – three of the vegetables that my father WOULD eat, I wouldn’t – mushroom (genuine allergy), broccoli and cauliflower (Just really don’t like them).


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The First Oxtail of Winter

at my mother's knee

My mother loved traditions, and she loved seasonal cooking.  She loved celebrating “The First [insert food type] of [insert season]”.  And she was strict about it! The first time I ate a hot cross bun before Good Friday I was in my twenties and I felt so rebellious!

When the cold weather starts, it’s time for The First Oxtail of Winter on my mother’s calendar. I eat oxtail all year round, I confess. But there is nothing nicer than a melting hot oxtail on a cold winter evening. And the smell that permeates the house makes me feel like Martha Stewart.

The First Oxtail of Winter was such a big deal on my mother and Janet’s calendars that often the two families would have to have it together. I remember one year when both Mom and Janet made an oxtail – and one was tough – but because they had…

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What grown ups cook

at my mother's knee

Recipe: Roast chicken and veg

When I was little, and my friend Susan and I played house, Susan was always pretend roasting pretend chickens. For her, it was the epitome of grown up behaviour. Maybe she was right, because the first thing that my mother formally taught me to cook, when I was about 9, was a roast chicken.

Everyone should be able to roast a chicken – it’s really easy and it can be a family supper or a special occasion meal. There’s something about a roast chicken that is comforting and makes the eater feel nurtured. And most people, except vegetarians, like it. It’s the most inoffensive of dishes.

My mother’s basic rule for roasting – for roasting ANYTHING – was to cook it at 180 for two hours. This feels kind of counter-intuitive – surely lamb and beef and pork and chicken can’t all be cooked the…

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THAT chocolate cake

at my mother's knee

Recipe: Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake

If it’s celebration time in our house, our friends know that they can expect my chocolate cake. But “my” chocolate cake isn’t really mine, and like most of the things that I cook, it has a story.

Probably the biggest influence on my mother’s cooking life was her best friend Janet Telian, who is a chef (you may show your age if you remember Anton van Wouw, Harridans and Pomegranate in Johannesburg, as well as Savoy Cabbage in Cape Town). Janet and my mom met when her son, Sebastian, and I went to nursery school together. Remember Janet – she’s going to be mentioned again in this blog.

mom and janet.jpgMy mom and Janet in 1985, in my parents’ garden – discussing their food, no doubt!

In my recipe books – and it is written down in several places – the chocolate cake that I always make…

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