Hello summer

Having just returned from my second swim of the year in what must be the best pool in the world


), I think it’s time to concede that summer has arrived in Cape Town.

Just as well, because we have in-laws escaping from winter visiting, and since one of them is a long lost South African, tonight’s braai (aka bbq) has been a long time in the planning – and when I say planning, I mean a very careful menu orchestration based on remembered flavours which don’t come a dime-a-dozen in the state of Maryland.

Menu: sosaties, boerewors, baked potatoes (with sour cream and chives), roosterkoek (or roosterbrood? Basically bread rolls cooked on the fire).

That all sounds easy enough, except our menu planner(s) are very particular about what each of those components mean. The sosaties – kebabs, to you and I, featuring meat, apricots and onions – have to be “mildly curried”. Typically they are also made from lamb, but at least one of our party doesn’t eat lamb, so there would have to be a beef variation. Now, as normal as sosaties are in the Cape culinary landscape, neither are they exactly on every supermarket shelf. And besides, if there was one thing I learned at cooking school, it was not to trust any pre-marinaded meat. So, given that I was put in charge of shopping, I naturally took became in charge of making the things too.

I’m generally adept at slapping together a meat marinade, but this time there is a certain pressure to get the flavours right, so a little research was in order. Mistake. There are hundreds of sosatie recipes out there. All the basics are the same (ie. lamb and apricots on a stick), but some put apricot jam in the mix. Some use beef stock. Some boil it up, some just slather it on. The philosophe routinely accuses me of being unable not to tinker with a recipe, but what the hell is a Danish-Swazi girl  (eager to please her South African-American-German in-laws) supposed to do? So I tinkered, I tweaked, I gave and I took away. And then, using my brand new firewires (thank you, mother) for the first time, I constructed some pretty damn fine-looking sosaties:

(Firewires are brilliant in concept: long, flexible metal skewers with a loopy bit to stop stuff falling off, and a long straight bit that stays off the fire, and thus cool enough to lift and flip without burning your fingers. Let’s hope they work).

Also pictured are the two requested types of boerewors: 2010 champion winners (yes, people do compete to produce the best sausages here), and the “traditional” Grabouw ones. Grabouw is a little town not so far from Cape Town, which I mainly like because that’s where they grow Golden Delicious apples, but they’re a bit famous for their boerewors too.

In a moment I have to go and concoct a sour cream and chive dressing for the potatoes. Which sounds easy enough, except I take it our sour cream (actually the proper stuff, aka creme fraiche) is not as fluffy and sweet (aargh!) as the stuff they sell in the US. I plan to combine some creamed cottage cheese and creme fraiche, and if I end up adding sugar to the “sour” cream, I will have to close my eyes while I do so. Perhaps the slightest touch of maple syrup will be enough to fool American palates that they are getting their daily dose of HFCS.

Of course it’s not only Americans who have a penchant for sweet savoury foods – that’s what sosaties are all about. And bobotie. I like sweet and savoury. But I am a little nervous about the roosterkoek tonight. Hot bread straight off the coals, slathered in butter – now that’s one version of heaven for me. But I take it we are required to put apricot jam on there too, to enjoy with our braai-ed meat. But maybe I’m just being a sissy. If I can eat dried apricots with my lamb, then why not apricot jam on bread together with meat? I know people do this: I have witnessed people enjoying bread with apricot jam and biltong right here in my own kitchen.

Yet sometimes an instinctual aversion is evidence of an actual gut in our brains, rather than just silly fear of leaving our comfort zones. Just yesterday morning, after a wonderful night in the country full of gastronomical adventures, we stopped for coffee and a simple breakfast at a little coffee shop. There were no croissants, and the only muffins available were described as “wholewheat with jam and cheese, or with cottage cheese and biltong”. We chose the latter (“we”, very loosely speaking, that is), and I dutifully took a bite of a bran muffin topped with cottage cheese and biltong. Let’s just say some things were never meant to come together. (And I can slag it, because now I have tried it).

But as all the Americans out there wake up to indigestion and the prospect of eating leftover turkey and pie for the next three days, I am glad to say that I still look forward to the coming together of sun, meat, and family this evening. With enough help, I may even come away thankful for the hairbrained idea of eating apricot jam with my boerewors (#unlikelybuttrue).