On love and madness in Swaziland

Swaziland is a shithole. With more than 28% of its population positive, it has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. (Male) homosexuality is illegal (LGBT+ does not exist in the Swazi lexicon). The king is currently trying to ban divorce. He would also like everyone to just forgive Zuma for Nkandla. He currently has 13 wives (don’t scoff – his father had 70).

It’s also the country I grew up in, and from the age of 5 to 18, I had no idea it was such a shithole. Not (I like to think) because I was stupid, but because it was a wonderful place to be a child. It’s beautiful, with rolling hills and majestic mountains, and people who seemed cool about everything. My parents’ friends lived in cool houses built into the mountains, and on Sundays when we came to visit they’d pad around in kikois smoking joints, and then we’d go swim in a river. My parents wore kikois too, and when we had people round, they would assemble around a big fireplace my father had fashioned out of an old tractor tire rim in the garden, and my mother provided roasted peanuts, marinated fillet for the braai, and Keith Jarrett or Dave Brubeck booming through the speakers perched on window sills inside the house. (They also had a live recording of then Dollar Brand playing piano at another house they lived in down the valley before I was born.)

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When food porn got boring

Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?

It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️

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Postcard(s) from Chicago

So I’m in Chicago, primarily to attend the IFT16 (that’s the 2016 conference for the Institute of Food Technologists – you’re welcome), where two of my favourite thinkers were on the bill to deliver keynote addresses:

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_20160717_102852It’s also my first time in the Windy City, so I of course laid all sorts of other cunning plans to tick off Important Things on my wish-list: dinner at Alinea, Grace (OK, not really in the position to drop $200+ on dinner); failing that, Next (“just” $155); OK fine, I’ll settle for Roister and Frontera Grill. Except neither of the latter are open on a Sunday or Monday, the two days we had to explore the city.

So, my experiences and observations are unfortunately – or fortunately – somewhat more mundane than eating at all the *must-go* places in Chicago (I choose to think of this like the author of Save Room for Pie, which means that there’s always more to look forward to).

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What is expertise?

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 07.35.58It’s a misleading title, in a way, because I was driven to write this here and now by a new article/interview with “original” bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (though as rightly acknowledged in that conversation, that distinction of Uber bad boy must of course go to Marco Pierre White. After Keith Floyd, that is).

I’m a fan of Bourdain, for the record. (And congratulations to him on turning 60, which is why he is pictured here with his face on a cake having narrowly escaped being punctuated by birthday candles.) But here’s the bit that got me:

In order to write well about food you need to eat well, and you cannot eat well if you’re analyzing the food.

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How to make a brain

First, you bake a red velvet cake in a bowl, which you carve into a brain shape. (See, it’s as easy as learning SnapChat!)

Then you melt a bunch of marshmallows and mix them with a bunch of icing sugar until you can roll them into grey pink matter.DSC_0116 Now cut open your brain and slather on some cream cheese frosting and a lot of worms (because who doesn’t want to eat a worm-infested brain?).

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Glorifying gluttony

If being a “foodie” means enjoying reading about what other people get to eat – often in some of the best restaurants in the world – then I will reluctantly admit to being one. (If it just means being obnoxiously obsessed with food, then no. Definitely not!)

But when such an account begins with the line ‘Last night, I vomited in a great restaurant‘, and goes to on to list a menu of glorious-sounding food punctuated by burps and an ultimate reversal of fortune, then I think I draw the line between pleasure and disgust.

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