Archive | August, 2010

The Lacuna

31 Aug

A lacuna is a gap in knowledge, an open space, in history and literary theory. Barbara Kingsolver takes advantage of this definition by leaving much for the reader to figure out in this exquisite book about love, politics, fear and loss.

Harrison Shepherd is a shy young boy, dragged to Mexico from his home in the United States by his Mexican flapper mother (this is the 1920 after all). She flits from man to man, following the money she so desperately needs.  Harrison needs to adapt to his new surroundings and language, but he never quite finds a place to fit in – except when swimming in the sea.

Harrison is again moved to Mexico City and, forced to find an income, fate leads him to Diego Rivera as he is painting his mural in the National Palace. From being a plaster mixer, Harrison finds his life irretrievably united with that of Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo and exiled Communist figure, Leon Trotsky.

This epic novel stands out as it is not Harrison Shepherd himself who is a revolutionary, a dreamer or martyr, but his life is so interwoven with the politics of his time that he is swept up and cannot lead the simple life he craves. 

From revolutionary Mexico in the 1920s to the Red fearing USA post-World War 2, The Lacuna involves a side of history which is ugly and often left undiscussed . This is not only America’s hypocrisy and fear of Communism and all it entails, but also the profound misunderstanding and misinformation that lies at the heart of this fear.

Kingsolver writes The Lacuna through two narrative voices – Harrison Shepherd through his journals and letters and Violet Brown, his assistant who has compiled all his writings. With these dual voices, Kingsolver creates a rounded image of a man who does not understand the importance of his place in history and his deep discomfort with himself. Violet Brown’s voice is strong, believable and sure, whereas Harrison Shepherd’s voice is unsure, nervous and vulnerable. At times the voice created for Shepherd feels too old for his character, too affected, but that is part of his discomfort with himself.

Frida Kahlo is portrayed as a fiery woman, much like she is by Salma Hayek in the film Frida. Her connection with Harrison is special is it is only with him she shares her weaknesses and Harrison his. The relationship between them is integral to the novel and she provides much of the drama.

I loved reading The Lacuna and, at 670 pages, it was easy to read and left me wanting to find out more about this time in US and Mexican History. This is Kingsolver’s best work – it does not have the sentimental ending of The Poisonwood Bible and it is no wonder she has taken so long to write it. One has to wonder whether she had similar arguments with publishers about the title as Harrison Shepherd does in the novel.

P.S. This is a work of fiction – Harrison Shepherd, as much as it pains me write it, did not exist, but I hope you all know that Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky were definitely real people!

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Voila

29 Aug

Up early for the second saturday in a row! I could barely believe it myself, but this was also for a special occasion – a catch up with a friend. We both love food and a little bit of decadence, so we decided on Viola in the new section of the Cape Quarter in Green Point. What a great choice!

If you love tea, Voila is the place to head. The owner is a tea fanatic and stocks interesting teas from all over the world. The breakfast menu is complete with tea suggestions (just like wine pairings a some schmancy restaurants) and each tea comes in a particular pot – delightful. I myself am not a tea fan – excuse the anti-climax – so I opted for a smooth and creamy cappucino.

Breakfast is a very important meal to me. In fact, it is also probably my favourite meal and Voila did not disappoint. Wendy had a stunning omelette with mushrooms, bacon and the works. For the cholesterol, or just plain health conscious the option of an egg whites only omelette is available. In trendy Green Point, choices like this are uber important. My breakfast went right to the other end of the spectrum. Named Wild Strawberries, I was presented with three fat flapjacks surrounded by grilled strawberries and bananas, drowned in syrup and topped off with Greek yoghurt. Oh. My. Gosh. The bananas and strawberries were gooey and sweet – perfect with the slightly sour taste of Greek yoghurt (for even more decadence you can have mascapone cheese instead of yoghurt).

Voila also makes their own fresh juices which you can mix and match. I had pineapple and apple to accompany my breakfast. The sweetness of the raw juice, with all the goodness of the foam that comes with it made me feel like I’d had the ultimate power breakfast to get me ready for my day ahead. Unfortunately I must say that the price of the juice is a bit steep. R28 for a glass of juice, even if freshly squeezed, is pretty ludicrous. The other prices were reasonable, making the juice price even more surprising and annoying.

The atmosphere at Voila is very relaxed. The decor is quirky, but really appealing and the setting of the new Cape Quarter is stunning. The waitresses were friendly, and left us to catch up on conversation, rather than interupting every five minutes to check on us (I hate over-attentive waiters!). The restaurant also opens up on to the European-style square of the Cape Quarter, which makes it the perfect breakfast spot for the coming summer.

Voila is not only a breakfast spot – they are open for lunch and early evenings too. Their description for their menu us French contemporary which sounds right up my street. I have not yet had the pleasure of trying the rest of their menu, but the atmosphere and breakfast make me sure I will be having a beautiful summer lunch there soon (without fresh juice!).

Voila: Shop 42,Cape Quarter, 27 Somerset Rd, Green Point, 021 421 1237. Breakfast: R40+ Coffee: R15+ Service: Friendly and satisfactory. Open Monday to Saturday 8am-6.30pm and Sunday 8am -3.30pm

Cupcake Magic update

28 Aug

There has been so much interest in this stunning little book. It is available through Kalahari.net for only R121,51 or Exclusives Books for R135.The ISBN number is 9781862058101. Get yourself a copy – even if you seldom use it, it makes a lovely addition to the kitchen shelf. I have discovered that Kate Shirazi has also published Chocolate Magic and Baking Magic. I think I will need to visit the book shop very soon!

Inception

26 Aug

This is the smartest movie I have seen in a long time. Inception is built on layer upon layer of narrative, setting and characterisation. Just when you think you have it all figured out, there’s another layer. It’s like Russian dolls that way: as soon as you think you’ve gotten to the smallest doll, you discover the crack that reveals another one.

The story follows Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio) and his team (including Joseph Gordon- Levitt) as they plan a subconscious burglary – they steal ideas through the subconscious mind. This sounds tricky, and it is for the team and the audience. First you have to suspend disbelief and allow the premise that people can in fact enter dreams. But the dreams are so brilliant, so real, that the film sweeps you up and the difficulty in telling dreams from reality makes the film.

Cobb of course has his demons to battle (as does any worthwhile protagonist), and it is with these battles raging that he attempts his most difficult project ever. Enter Ariadne (Ellen Page) and various other team members. Cillian Murphy is the target and he is as cool as ever, though less ruddy than in his previous films (The Dark Knight, Red Eye)

This may be a film about a heist but it is not way simply a hi-tech robbery film of The Italian Job and Ocean’s 11, but the story also looks at far more intriguing themes like forgiveness, acceptance and guilt. Ellen Page plays the grounded confidante to Di Caprio’s troubled mind and she is the character that ultimately drives the story forward in revealing what has happened or will happen.

Layers are integral to Inception, and the way they interlink is something I’ve never before seen. Some may compare it to The Matrix, but this goes far beyond those simple levels to a far more complex and meaningful story. 

Leonardo di Caprio has, with Shutter Island and The Departed, shot to that echelon of stardom that few reach and his performance in Inception is laudable. He plays it cool, yet accesses some really deep emotions without heading for melodramatic territory. He is going to be one of The Greats and Inception will surely be one of the films that will appear in Classic Di Caprio DVD sets in the future.

Go see Inception on the big screen, as the visual effects by Chris Ourbould are stunning and the big screen will allow you to become totally immersed in the reality/fantasy of the film. It is worth going to see Inception for the cinematography alone.Christopher Nolan is a brilliant director and this is even better than The Dark Knight. And the ending… It is mind boggling. Please, see this film!

Cupcake Magic: little cakes with attitude

26 Aug

Have I mentioned I’m obsessed with cupcakes? Those delicious little bite sizes of heaven which have glorious potential for flavour and decoration and all round yumminess? I haven’t? Well, this is where it went from mild interest to full blown obsession – Cupcake Magic.

Kate Shirazi has created a stunning book dedicated to mixing, baking and decorating my favourite delicacy. The best part about this book is how the chapters are divided – “Low Faff”, “Mid Faff” and “High Faff”! From this I could immediately tell that this was going to be my kind of book. If you have ever baked cupcakes (which I highly recommend trying, even if you think you can’t bake) then you will know that the decoration depends completely on time at hand and the mood you are in. Cupcake Magic caters perfectly to finding the perfect cupcake for both these criteria.

When I have time my personal favourite is the “Black Forest Gateau Cupcake” (pictured below), but for quickies, I opt for the “Basic No-Mucking Around Cupcake” which is true to its name and can just be sprinkled with icing sugar – mmmmm… good. (Mine are pictured with purple royal icing).

Kate Shirazi has devised easy, light and fluffy recipes which all bake in 20 minutes. Her icing recipes are so useful and she also includes how to make decorations for the more adventurous (I have only got as far as roses!). Her style is informal and she will guide you every step of the way to perfect cupcakes, including tips on ingredients, baking supplies and decorations (I love edible glitter!).

Something interesting about the recipes is that they all call for margarine. Most bakers frown on this, but Shirazi bravely takes a stand and admits that for cupcakes, and only cupcakes, she prefers margarine because it makes for fluffier batter. She has quickly won me over with edible proof. Plus, who couldn’t trust someone who saves battery chickens and only uses free range eggs? (She did actually save battery chickens and now has her own egg supply at home).

I highly recommend this book for any aspiring baker or someone who simply loves cake. Plus the photographs and layout are so gorgeous that this book would give anyone’s kitchen shelves a lift.

Thank you to Sarah Duff for photographing my creations (yes, I actually made these ones!). Please check out her stunning blog at www.veggiedelish.com (it really is delish).

Just to give you a little taste – here’s the recipe for “Black Forest Gateau Cupcakes”

 Makes 12 delicious cupcakes

85g self-raising flour

4 Tbsp cocoa powder

110g castor sugar

110g margarine

1 tsp baking powder

2 large free-range eggs

1 jar cherry jam ( I used Pick’n’Pay Morello jam)

200ml whipping cream

60g dark chocolate

1 tin black cherries, drained

Pre-heat oven to 170˚C. Line muffin pan with cupcake cases (this will make washing up and getting the cupcakes out easier).

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and sugar into a large bowl, or food processor. Add marg, baking powder and eggs. Beat well until batter is light and fluffy. Spoon mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch. Remove and allow to cool.

Once cool, smother the top of each cupcake with a generous amount of jam, then pile whipped cream on top. Finish with some grated chocolate. I then finish them off with black cherries, but Kate Shirazi suggests glace cherries on a stick.

WOW!

River Café, Constantia Uitsig

23 Aug

9 am on Saturday. Not the time at which you’d normally find me out of bed and ready for breakfast, but friends’ birthdays are special and require extra effort. So it was off to the River Café. It was worth getting up early for the healthy breakfast and champagne (sorry, sparkling wine!).

Krone Borealis Brut was flowing with the fresh orange juice (I think myself quite the orange juice connoisseur, so it was definitely super fresh and delicious). The waiters were really attentive and kept our glasses topped up. Their smiles were constant, but unfortunately the lights were flickering. Sure enough, the electricity cut out, but luckily the River Café has a generator and the manager himself came to apologise to the table for the slight delay with our food.

The food was fabulous! My healthy breakfast was a massive plate of strawberries, grapefruit, kiwi, winter melon, pineapple, banana, apple, yoghurt panna cotta and muesli. I felt like I’d had my five servings of fruit for the day – stunning! The yoghurt panna cotta was smooth and delicious, contrasted to the crunchy muesli.

I must admit that while I was trying to be healthy, I was drooling over the fried up breakfasts around me – potato rösti, eggs and hollandaise sauce or eggs, sausages, mushrooms and all the fried-up goodness of traditional breakfasts. I missed the toast slathered in butter the most, so just had to sneak a piece!

The River Café has a beautiful setting, yummy food and friendly staff. The only thing I would improve is the coffee. It was a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday. Happy birthday, George!

If you get to the River Café before the 29th August, you can also enjoy their Winter Special of a three course meal and a carafe of wine for only R195. If it’s as good as the breakfast, I’m sure it’ll be well worth it.

The River Café: Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat Road, Constantia, 021 794 3010  Breakfasts: R40+ Service: Excellent and friendly. Open 7 days a week, but for dinner only Saturday to Wednesday.

House of Kink – bachelorette party!

22 Aug

Sex shops scare me. Especially when they are called things like “Kink”. But add a bar and suddenly it becomes far more comfortable! House of Kink mixes a classy sex shop upstairs, with a cocktail bar and kitchen downstairs. This blends together for their fitting bachelorette party venue.

One of the upstairs rooms was cleared of merchandise for the party (I was pretty glad about this; I don’t know if I could have lasted the night with those things staring at me!). A private bar in the corner was filled with whatever the bridesmaids chose to stock it with and anything else for the cash bar.

Then the food arrived and, wow, did it make an entrance! The delicious snacks made by the House of Kink kitchen were brought in by Bare Butt Butlers! I must say the snacks were tastier than the bare bums on display. These poor boys had to wear only bowties and very small aprons – now that takes guts in a room of pretty girls. The boys were clean and not at all sleazy, which was great because I was not at all interested in seeing greased up male strippers!

The food was great – platters of sushi, calamari, prawn, sesame chicken skewers and bruschetta with parma ham and tomato. Peanut, tartar, tzatziki, pesto – the sauces were brilliant. I loved every mouthful, but could only have wished for a little bit more on the platters.

With flowing wine, chilled background music, bare bums and good food, House of Kink made for an excellent venue and I’m sure the Bride (because she deserves a capital) loved the atmosphere and being surrounded by her girlfriends.

House of Kink is also open as a sex shop, restaurant  and cocktail bar from Monday to Saturday. I’m sure the more adventurous (or maybe I’m just a scaredy cat prude!) will enjoy venturing upstairs. And for the rest of you, Kink serves up a mean cosmopolitan and snack platter!

House of Kink: 3 Park Road, off Kloof Street, Gardens, 021 4240757. Bare Butt Butlers: www.barebuttbutlers.co.za