You can tell it's nearly summer, because The Other Half decided to cook yesterday.
Well ... in a Man Cooking sort of way. Lighting a fire, watching the fire and then putting meat on the fire, while consuming alcohol.
That's perhaps a little unfair, because he also made 'pot bread', a South African speciality, which is cooked on the grill too. It didn't start auspiciously. He made the assumption that when the recipe said "20ml" it actually meant 'two large spoons full'. And the usual pinch of salt became a spoonful. Which would have been two if I hadn't spotted what was happening. So he produced an incredibly light dough.
I made a side salad of courgettes, very, very thinly sliced (a potato peeler does this well), and then tossed in a dressing of lemon and lime juice, lemon zest, virgin oil, honey, salt and pepper.
This is most definitely not South Africa.
The Other Half was born in Yorkshire, but when 12, his parents decided to move to South Africa – to Pietermaritzburg, to be precise; a place which has been rendered beautifully in print in Tom Sharpe's first two novels, Indecent Exposure and Riotous Assembly (he returned as soon as he'd finished his education and earned enough money for the trip home; and refused to visit until apartheid was dead and buried).
Sharpe's books were published in the 1960s, but the town is still recognisable – and I swear I met one of the characters when visiting a few years ago. A member of the police special squad, he was an old school acquaintance of The Other Half, and we managed a pretty instant dislike of each other.
A group of his former school friends, hearing that we were visiting, decided to arrange a braai for us. By the time of the evening in question, we'd already met one of them and his wife and all got on very nicely indeed. At the braai itself, however, I found myself on the receiving end of white South African customs – the women sit quietly at one end of the patio while the men stand around the fire with cans of Castle beer in their hands, jabbering away.
Sorry, but it just wouldn't do. Fortunately, The Other Half's sister, who was also with us, was company and moral support – since my attempts at convivial conversation with the other women fell about as flat as the proverbial pancake. And my jokes went down like a lead balloon. Perhaps it was because I would insist on actually talking to their menfolk too – and drinking beer. Out of a can.
Braais are not examples of healthy eating. Come to that, South African food – let's clarify: white South African food – is a million miles from healthy eating. There's meat – lots of it. Occasionally with some fish – 'turn 'n' surf' – but you'll struggle to find a vegetable. Other than potato. Mixed with bottled (never homemade) mayo to make a potato salad. And nobody eats that anyway – it's just there for show. That's braais for you. In detail.
The rest of the food isn't much better. Saturated fat and sugar are everywhere – it's no wonder there are high levels of heart disease amongst Afrikaners.
In the middle of the trip, we'd stayed at a resort in the mountains for a week (a break was required from The Common Law Mother in Law and the shopping malls of 'Maritzburg). The exchange rate had allowed us to bask in what was luxury for our inexperienced (at that time) traveling tastes. The dining room was amazing – but finding any healthy and light food was a daily adventure in itself.
After internet research, The Other Half went to three different London addresses yesterday morning, in the hope of finding South African produce to put on his fire – in particular, boerewors, a famous form of sausage. Two of the shops were closed, the third didn't have any fresh meat. He returned with biltong by way of compensation (which The Queen B instantly decided was fabulous) and sat down looking peeved. I refrained from noting that I had advised him to ring first – advice that he had considered silly.
So I returned to the farmers' market and bought steaks so that he could still do the Man Cooking thing – he seemed so disappointed.
But South African beer wasn't to be found for love nor money, so I just poured him a chilled glass of rosé from the south of France. And anyway, he'd already topped his bread with dried oregano and sage and declared it to be "fusion cookery".
It's not much of a braai, to be honest: just a very small tin box on legs, with a rack on top, bought locally from one of the Turkish shops. But then again, such things shouldn't be complex (he pours scorn on those creations that employ gas bottles and so on – presumably that's more Boy Cooking than Man Cooking).
The fire had been going for a while – newspaper (several pages of yesterday's sports section – which I hadn't had time to read before they went to their fate), plus charcoal and some wood (dried branches from the bay tree that we'd saved when we hacked it back last year). And then he put vegetables on (asparagus and a skewered, quartered onion).
The pot bread had squished up (no real surprise – too much yeast and liquid to too little flour). But it cooked very well and tasted darned good. I'm wondering whether I should increase the amount of yeast that I use in order to get a lighter dough.
And the rest of it was all jolly good too.
Perhaps I'll have to let him do Man Cooking again – at least a couple of times while the summer lasts!