THE DARK CONTINENT – Part II
All I know is that every time I go to Africa, I am shaken to my core.
- Stephen Lewis
The day broke bright and warm and I could already sense movement in the house. Hushed voices and muffled noises gave proof to the bustle on the other side of my bedroom door and I wondered how long it had been going on while I slept. I pulled myself from my heavy slumber and my dreams and stumbled into the tiny dining room where I caught a glimpse of Colleen at what had become her permanent station, in front of the computer, her pajama-clad body a haze in the splash of bright light that spilled through the window behind her and splayed out onto the floor. The excitement was palpable as I watched Colleen handle a final phone call, punch frantically the last details into her computer and Donald rushing in and out with his arms laden with boxes of forgotten goodies. Although we were all nervous as to how the day would go, whether utter success or dismal failure, we were all ready to face Food & Wine Blogger Indaba, Cape Town 2011.
Fueled on mugs of café au lait and toast with marmelade (eaten while tossing hunks of white bread to Tasha who scrambled for piece after piece as no other dog could quite do as joyously), I followed in the family’s wake towards the stunningly beautiful venue of the Indaba, Monkey Valley Resort, whose name alone intrigued this Florida-turned-European girl. Are there really monkeys hidden among the lush greenery, swinging from palm to palm waiting to play monkey jokes on the chattering crowd below or dashing back and forth across the white sand of the beach? The lodge was filling up quickly with South Africans, chattering away, milling about, hugging each other, each and every one excited to be gathered together in this one sunny spot. Pink, sugary sweet welcome cocktails in hand, we wended our way into the main hall, claimed our seats and the conference began.
I never get tired of listening to brilliant, talented, devoted bloggers and writers talk about blogging, the do’s and the don’ts, the can’s and the cannot’s, the should’s and the shouldn’ts…. and this group of wonderful people were as passionate as they come. And funny. Jeanne, Jane-Anne, Michael, Abigail and Phillipa, among others may have stated what for me has now become the obvious, the evident, but hearing each of their stories, listening to the words that tumbled from their lips so eloquently and the reason that I blog all came back to me loud and clear: Passion. Passion for the food, passion for the writing. And what is imperative through it all: Honesty. Integrity. Sharing. Is it all about the numbers? Is it only a great race to the top of the heap? No matter my days fraught with worry over stats, no matter my occasional jealousy that oozes from every pore of my body when I see others recognized or acclaimed, those who may or may not deserve that golden ring, when I am not, no matter the sleep lost for wonder of what I am doing right or wrong. No, I blog as these others blog or write or cook or photograph: because we love what we do. The stories of each of these bloggers sitting in this room are so diverse it is obvious that there is no set pattern or standard and neither should there be. Where would the interest be in that? No, each of these South African food and wine bloggers listening eagerly, anticipating, taking notes, breathing in every word spoken, every lesson shared, reassured me of these evident basics of blogging and reset me on my own personal path once again.
After a lunch that afforded us chatting and getting to know each other time, Jeanne and I led a writing workshop and tried to impart as much information, share as many ideas as was possible in such a short space of time. We urged writers to think beyond the obvious, the expected and be creative when searching for adjectives: a simple eggplant, for example, becomes so much more intriguing when spoken of as voluptuous, curvaceous, silky, the hue of shimmering garnets rather than oval, smooth, shiny and purple. We pushed the attendees to think of a food or ingredients in a dish using all 5 of their senses rather than limiting the description to merely taste and scent. We had the group shout out the first thoughts that came into their heads when we called out a name: Christmas, Apple Pie, Spaghetti and told them they should search for inspiration in any form when writing for their blog: they needn’t limit their posts to just the food, that they should incorporate memories, trivia, anecdotes to create a story, an interesting, emotional, intriguing, enchanting place for their readers to visit. And we explained that they could consider their blog as their home, each post as a dinner and, as when inviting people into their homes for a meal, they should create an atmosphere, set the mood before serving the food, using words as they would cutlery, tablecloths, lighting, flowers, music…. And we hoped that each participant carried away a newfound passion and patience and plenty of ideas for their writing.
You see, I had not only come to listen and learn, to meet other bloggers and become a part of an even larger foodie community, but I had come here to share my own passion, my own experience and what knowledge or inspiration I could impart to others. This is, for me, as exciting and fulfilling as the act of blogging itself.
The day ended as it started, with excitement and joy, albeit with many more friends and so much inspiration. We shouldered our goodie bags heavy with bottles of wine and beer (South African Breweries), Griottines (Sagra Foods - can’t wait to bake with these!), gorgeous Wüsthof paring knives (thanks to Paul and Yuppie Chef), fabulous Le Creuset spatulas, issues of Taste magazine, cookbooks from Food Lover’s Market and Provita (Anne Myers) and fabulous Balsamic Reductions thanks to the great folks at Verlaque. And thanks to Fairview Wines for supplying the wines for the day – and more later about Fairview and a wonderful wine and cheese tasting out at their place with Colleen and Donald! Jeanne and Nick, Colleen and Donald and I ended this wonderful, memorable day with a very memorable meal at Harbour House restaurant on Kalk Bay in Cape Town with a special table overlooking the inky waters of the Indian Ocean crashing up onto the rocks below us, a spectacular bright yellow moon shining down from the darkness. No better way to end a day than with special friends around a fabulous meal.
Chocolate Cake. I have noticed (how, you may ask me, did it take me this long to make this discovery?) that my most successful blog posts seem to be those offering a slice and a recipe of a dense, moist, rich chocolate cake. Ah, the way to anyone’s heart, it seems, is a chocolate cake. But how about one made with olive oil and maple syrup? This fabulous cake from Peter Berley’s cookbook The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, is one I have made many, many times in the past yet it had somehow gotten lost in all of the brouhaha of discovering and creating new recipes for Life’s a Feast. But a recent blog post and radio program on olive oil by one darling friend, Lael Hazan along with a brief discussion on my Facebook page which grabbed the attention and inspired the words of another wonderful friend and chocoholic Minna brought the memory of it rushing back through my head full force. So I pulled out the cookbook, found the recipe, measured the ingredients and now I offer this cake (for them) to you. With all of the olive oil and maple syrup, this cake can be nothing but incredibly moist and dense. At times I even undercook it so the center is gooey, like a French moelleux. The rich chocolaty flavor is infused with the earthy, almost woodsy sweetness of the maple syrup and is simply stunning eaten alone. But I have added Chef Berley’s recipe for a quick, easy raspberry coulis, which complements the chocolate perfectly. Add a simple dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream and there you have it, heaven on a plate.
A cake containing no milk, butter (unless choosing so), cream or such fats, I make this Chocolate Cake or his Vanilla Cake, also made with olive oil and maple syrup, for those around me needing something lower in fat and better for the cholesterol.
CHOCOLATE CAKE with Olive Oil and Maple Syrup
And Raspberry Coulis
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
1 cup flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups pure maple syrup
1 cup water
½ cup pure olive oil (or can be replaced with ½ cup melted unsalted butter)
2 tsps vanilla
1 tsp cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly oil a 9-inch x 2-inch round (23-cm x 5-cm) cake tin, line the bottom with parchment paper, lightly oil the parchment then dust the bottom and sides of the tin with flour, shaking out the excess.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the maple syrup, water, olive oil, vanilla and vinegar. Whisk to combine.
Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, though I prefer using a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with dry ingredients splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with lump-free batter is to first make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter of the liquid ingredients into the well, and with small, brisk circular movements, whisk the liquid with just enough of the dry ingredients until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free paste in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry and briskly whisk again until, aha! your batter is smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid ingredients and give it a go. Pour this batter into your pans and bake until the center of your cake or layers is just firm to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes, depending upon your oven as well as how firm you would like the center of the cake.
Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Slide a knife around the edges to loosen, the flip the cake over onto a cooling rack, peel off the parchment paper then flip upright onto another rack and allow to cool completely. Transfer the cool cake to a serving platter and prepare the Raspberry Coulis.
Turns a delectable chocolate cake into a spectacular dessert.
2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen, thawed
2 Tbs pure maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
Purée the raspberries in a blender or processor and then strain to remove the seeds. Stir in the maple syrup and the vanilla.