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Scribble, cut out, clip – the art of handcrafting recipe books


Some more delicious home-made recipe books

Taking a look at how people other than my best friend (see here) keep their recipes



“At some point I made the decision not to keep my recipes in a book or a folder, but to keep a box with reference cards. I’ve been using the system since the early nineties and it still works for me. These are a few of the most used recipes. From the selection you can probably deduce that I cook because I must, but I bake because I like to. And that I have a sweet tooth. I have recipes in English, Afrikaans and German.”



CATHERINE: “When I graduated university in Sweden, I had just finished two years studying in Spain, and started this book when I moved back home, while looking for my first job. I knew I would eventually move out and wanted to be able to cook something other than pasta or toast! Also, I really started enjoying food late, in my early 20s, especially after my years in Spain.My mother also has a cookbook with cut-out recipes that she got from magazines and from my father’s mother.

“When I lived in France and Swizerland after university, I cooked some easy recipes, mainly pasta-dishes, but most stores sold the baked goods I liked, and I would go out to eat the other more elaborate foods I liked, so I never had to make it from scratch. When I moved to South Africa, the food here was so different to what I use to eat back home that I started cooking and baking myself. Also, those familiar recipes reminded me of home. The recipes are in Swedish, French, English and Spanish. Most of the ones that were handwritten are those I wrote down from my mother’s recipe book and are in Swedish.”



“I have my mom’s recipe book from her home economics class from the 1950s. Love it and use it to bake. I also have my late dad’s favourite recipe book, in which he ticked off recipes every time he used them. To see his handwriting always pulls at my heart. Both are very, very dear to me.”


larascraps“My recipes are written on scraps of paper stored in my well-used Annabel Karmel cookery book. I only learnt to cook after I had childen and AK has brilliant kids’ recipes. These are recipes I use almost daily, borrowed and adapted from friends/family/the internet/magazines/books/wherever and made my own because they passed the all-important family taste test. If I make something and everyone likes it I write it down and add it to the collection. The book I store them in is quite literally busting at the seams.


The best recipe books are home-baked



DSC01258My best friend S has a lot of cookbooks in her home. Huge, intimidating tomes with food so fancy and obscure the sheer volume, range and possibilities for nourishment make me want to lie down and have a little rest.

But in amongst her voluminous collection I discovered on a recent visit there (she lives in a different city) a hardcover A4 notebook with yellowing pages: her home-made, pieced-together, patchwork of favoured recipes.

She started it just before she left home, neatly cutting out edges for tabs under which to organise found recipes and carefully transcribed instructions from her mother. The outside is a montage of pictures of food cut from recipe books, dating – simply by virtue of stylising and fashion – the book to the late eighties.

DSC01260The book contains more than twenty years’ worth of kitchen experience. But it holds more than that. The crinkle of the dusky pages are a small history of this woman I have loved and respected since the very first day we spoke, hunkered down behind the school gym bunking PT: her neat straight-up handwriting and logical thinking; the choices she made for inclusion and, by extension, for exclusion; the book’s bilingualism, which reminded me that when she moved to South Africa she could only speak English; the little flame of ancestral feeding that’s kept alive here; the testimony to family, friends and food, and to times spent around various tables in various homes – from suburban parental home, to shared digs and rented flats to her first own home, bought carefully and bravely as she started to establish herself in her career.

S’s handmade cookbook – her home-baked, artisanal, lovingly accrued recipe book – is one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid eyes on in ages.

DSC01252I pulled the book from the shelf and paged through it on the new kitchen island in a freshly renovated house structured, appropriately, around a large, airy kitchen in that same house, which she now shares with a man who cooks, undaunted and lovingly, the kind of food for which you have to pay a small fortune in high-end restaurant.

After all the changes, relationships, renovations, after all the years of being an adult, my childhood friend’s handmade book feels like an artefact, a carefully curated collection – a paper umbilicus to that first kitchen where, under her mother’s eye, she topped-and-tailed beans, made stuffings and mixed batters.

I can take or leave large, glossy recipe books, but the tenderness I felt towards S’s home-cooked version leaned towards a most satisfying sentimentality.

Joburg Jumble

DSC01265I spent last week in Joburg – and the weekend in Pretoria – for work. I grew up in the latter, and worked for two years in the former, just after democracy came to South Africa. Oddly, I haven’t been back to Joburg – except to pass through Oliver Tambo International Airport – for…well, actually, I can’t work it out, but I think maybe not since 1998. Can that be?

Joburg is big, loud, green, mad, garish, gorgeous and exciting. And Joburgers are fabulous. I am always wary of generalisations – especially those that seem to repeat a received wisdom – but I only had warm, funny, strong, intelligent interactions with the people I met.

Joburgers rock. They mix. They know. They do. They go.

Every night I dreamt the day’s happenings in mix of languages, in day-glo, in slow-mo, in detail. My brain was hyper-sponge, sucking in by day, squeezing out images in a steady stream by night.

Soon as I get time I’m going to post about some of my bookie experiences Jozi.


So many books, so few surfaces

The other day a friend walked into the kitchen and said: “It looks as though a huge family of readers was abducted by aliens in the middle of reading.” Every surface had a book splayed open it. I blinked a little disbelievingly.

too many books 002Just now, I walked into the living room to tidy up. This is what I found:

  • NW by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton) – my novel
  • Katalekte by Breyten Breytenbach (Human & Rousseau) – the poetry (there’s usually one on the go)
  • Flowers by Andrew Zuckerman (Quercus) – just arrived from publisher for review
  • JM Coetzee: ‘n Geskryfde Lewe by John Kannemeyer (Jonathan Ball) – really interesting, but super-heavy, can only be read on arm of armchair for support
  • Zuma Exposed by Adriaan Basson (Jonathan Ball) – just picked it idly off the to-be-read pile and got a bit hooked in
  • Life in Five Seconds – Matteo Civaschi and Gianmarco Milesi (Quercus) – very unusual “stories in simple drawings” book. Kids and I have picked it up intermittently since the weekend to puzzle together
  • The Viewer – Shaun Tan and Gary Crew (Lothian Children’s Books) – because I am an admirer of Tan and a collector of his books. Bought this one at the weekend with a gift voucher
  • Ideas Gifts (Human & Rousseau) – not sure why: I spotted the spine and paged through it. Ideas is currently my favourite South African magazine and these craft ideas always make me feel hopeful and happy like Pollyanna
  • What’s for dinner, Mr Gum? By Andy Stanton (Egmont) – my children love me reading this to them (even though they’re past the age of being read to) because I “do voices”. Mr Gum is so funny. Not just lift-one-side-of-your-mouth funny. The kind of funny where you have to put the book down sometimes to wait for someone to recover from laughing fit.
  • The History of the World by Frank Welsh (Quercus) – because my son started on The French Revolution at school today and, well, you know…these big books are so much nicer – and the information is so much more contained – than what you see the net.

I walked out of the living room. There was no tidying to be done after all. Just some more disbelieving blinking.


Ga-Zoom or Zike-Bike? Tripping into Dr Seuss

Possibly the most raggedy set of books in the house is the pile of Dr Seuss books on a shelf in the entrance hall. I like the scruffy aesthetic of the yellow and red spines. The other day, my daughter – who is ten and reads big, fat rather advanced novels for young adults – asked me to take them down for her to look at, because she can’t reach them where they are.

This reminded me of how, when the children were tots and other mothers came to the house with their own babes, they would get all tense and upset whenever their kidlets scooted over to the shelves on fat-nappied bottoms to pull out the books. This is inevitable. Books and babies are locked into a mysterious magnetic relationship. I just haven’t found any scientific study yet to confirm this. On more than one occasion the mothers would take the books out of the babies hands and I would reassure them that it wasn’t necessary.

“But aren’t you scared they get damaged?”

I’m more frightened by undamaged books. A pristine book is an unread book and frankly, that’s just a travesty.

I used to keep children’s books and adult paperbacks I wasn’t precious about on the lowest shelves. I still mostly do, even though we seldom have babies or toddlers around here anymore. I put them there so that they CAN be easily reached.

Pix of kids reading 002Anyhoo, back to the unreachable Dr Seuss books. I took the pile down and handed them to my daughter who settled them on her stomach on the couch and began to read. In between she told me that when she was little she used to fantasise and fervently wish that she could turn into a character in one of the books. Particularly, she’d always hoped to become, even just for a short while, Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss “in her big balloon swimming pool over her house”.Dr Seuss 002

We agreed frantically that actually it was hard to choose which Dr Seuss page you’d want to be on: take a drive in Bumble-boat with Marvin K. Mooney? Indulge in some Schlopp? Schlopp. Beautiful schlopp. Beautiful schlopp with a cherry on top? Be in one of the various Dr Seuss 001fantastical vehicles that go to the Right?

Tripping into, through and on Dr Seuss is one of those pleasures you can never outgrow.

A story for Christmas


Drawing by Willem Samuel

In spite of the extra time I’m banking on over Christmas, I am unlikely to get through the piles of books I have. For the first time in my life I will not have a book title on my Christmas wish list. But I am not without a book-related wish.

At the risk of sounding like a desperate vacuous wannabe Miss World tottering on six-inch heels and speaking through a superglued smile, staking her winning ambitions on a vaguely formulated desire for world peace, I will share my hopeless wish.

But I insist that it is not a frivolous wish; that it has gravitas, history and gargantuan piles of academic research to back it up as a real answer to many of the ills that plague the world.

My wish cannot be reviled by a god-squadder of any theistic hue or brand. It cannot be subverted by any politician. It will not be sullied or trampled on or argued with, because its very nature and longevity have proven it an unerring joy and an immovable force. It will not be owned, boxed or tamed. It is deeply private and joyously communal.

My wish is that every baby born from now on, and every child that currently walks the earth, will be inducted to the magic of stories by having one told to them by someone they know. By a grandmother, an uncle, the local shopkeeper, an older cousin. By a father washing the dishes, by a mother helping a toddler into her sandals. By a teacher, a Rabbi, priest, monk or imam, the doctor, the dentist, the sangoma, a social worker, a friend.

Because a story is a tilling, the invaluable preparation for a garden. Because stories beget stories. Because stories beget  a demand so urgent (“Tell me of another one, tell me another one!”) that it ignores a child’s lack of confidence or shyness.

Because stories beget curiosity. Because stories begin the first loop of learning more effectively than anything else you can possibly think of inside the ancient human endeavour to hand down something to a next generation.

No one needs time or money to tell a story, and no amount of ersatz stuff you can buy at any shop can ever replace the experience of being told a story by an older person.

No one needs a special qualification, a special education, a special (acquired) language or an especially interesting life to tell a story. Almost anyone can tell a story, some better than others – though we do exult and cherish those particularly.

I wish Christmas really was magic. In the proper way of magic: supernatural forces mysteriously combining to grant wishes. Perhaps if I induce ritual – climb up into a pair of shiny stilettos and speak nervously through bright lipstick – my wish will come true. But no number of world-peace endorsing long-legged, glossy haired women ever brought about even an instant’s ceasefire.

So I’ll just have to rely on words – mine and others’ – repeated ad nauseum: if you want a better world, tell a kid story. Or read them one. And do it every opportunity you get, until you, personally, have done every single thing in your limited power to make something in this often truly vile world a bit better.

This column appeared in the Cape Times in December 2012

The drawing is by the comic book illustrator Willem Samuel whose work can be seen here and who blogs here.

Don’t know how to tell or read a story? Here’s where to look: Nal’iBali website.





Sharp as a Smarteez*

Smarteez: “a fashion collective based in Soweto”.

Ed Suter is one of those guys who seems to be good at anything and everything. I know because in the years I’ve been friends with him, I’ve marvelled at his general enthusiasm, his apparently endless fuel tank, his ability to make connections, know things, go places and land himself a variety of fabulous freelance jobs because of the idea machine in his head that happily enslaves him. He is the kind of guy who makes by-the-by mention that he is publishing a book. I asked to have it sent to me, but it took him ages to get around to it, demonstrating a typical Ed-insouciance about the prolific creative blur that is his life.

Ed has allowed me to show some of the pictures from Sharp Sharp, and here’s what I thought of the book:

Sharp Sharp

Ed Suter


This is the closest a book can come to a desirable toy you just want to have so you can have it. Its shocking pink, yellow and gold cover looks like loaded candy.

The problem with things that are lick-me-I’m-lollipop pretty is that they contain zero nourishment, and leave a sticky slick of pointlessness coating your inner cheeks.

But Sharp Sharp is a bling anomaly: both addictive and illustrative; aesthetic and sharply sensible to a culture that is by no means “sub”, but is certainly side-lined by slick commercialism. It celebrates riotous, rebellious individualism, heaving a resounding cheer down South Africa’s urban by-ways.

Interspersed with colourful pictures of sartorial flair, dappled cityscapes and hand-painted signage, are zippy quotes by street artists.

This book is, on every front – from Ed’s bull’s-eye lens, to the aesthetic it celebrates, to the book’s exceptional, tactile and sharp-sharp production – a homage to a gritty, happy, anti-twee South Africanness.

Here’s where you can see more of Ed’s work and here’s where you can check out publisher’s website.


Sixteen Zaps and a narrow escape


Here’s a stack of history you’ll be envious of if you’re a Zapiro fan. Many of these are now out of print.

But there’s a new one. So, phew! You can still start your collection if you’re just cottoning on to the Zapiro-adulation-slash-vilification madness.

Zapiro, South Africa’s best-known cartoonist, probably mostly because he seems always to be in trouble with President Jacob Zuma, has – not unexpectedly – festooned his jolly new collection of editorial cartoons with a mock copy of the now world-famous Brett Murray picture of the president with his pants down.

The painting, called Spear of the Nation sent a lightning bolt along the uncomfortably shared South African ground and divided the country right down the middle of its struggling self.

On one side were the dignity-indignant frothers, angry as a sack of snakes over the insult to the president. On the other side were the freedom-of-speechers who rhythmically, but apparently to no avail, beat the drum of “I may not like what you have to say – or paint – but I will defend to the death your right to say – and paint – it.”

Checking to see if it will stand up in my house.

Brett Murray and Jonathan Shapiro (the man behind the Zapiro name) have known each other for a long time and were this year thrown together by a common enemy as both men were being sued by President Zuma.

Shapiro because, said Zuma, “He is invading my dignity” after the Lady Justice cartoon came to print in 2008. Murray because, well, because, I suppose he too was perceived to have invaded Zuma’s dignity by painting him with the family jewels dangling from his flies.

The charges against Shapiro were withdrawn late in October this year, just as the case was about to go to court.

Now the Zapiro collection number 17 is in the shops. The first one appeared in 1996 – a happy one with a dancing Nelson Mandela on its cover. The latest one has showerhead Zuma depicted in a painting three wine-swilling people are looking at, their heads strategically covering the offended spear. As usual, it is a quick reference river ride down major South African and world political events of this past year.

It’s the kind of river ride where you gasp and gulp and giggle nervously.




Just because I font to

Architect and writer Andries Samuel was so engaged by Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type (read the review here), that he designed his own font.

Does Garfield explain how to design a font in the book?

No, he doesn’t. He does tell the stories of how many fonts came about, though not in detail. The book is not technical in that sense. The background stories do illustrate what a complex undertaking it is and I found this intriguing.

So, it’s not a how-to guide. Why did you want to make a font?

Probably because the book is not technical, it makes it appear straightforward. But it is really hard work, like a puzzle. You have to set some aspects and proportions, then design the principal letters, then revisit them all when they push against this framework as the letters take on a life of their own. It is really easy for the whole thing to become a formless collection of knuckle bones.

Not an easy job then?

No. Though judging by the number of sites that provide basic tools for designing your own font, many people are enthusiastic about it and persist enough to build a decent font. I did not get that far. When I realised I would also have to get into the diacritical signs I felt the experiment had gone far enough. There seems to be a completeness level for a basic competent font and I did not get that far.

How is designing a building and designing a font similar and how is it different?

In a way it is similar to designing a building. Architecture is about space and font is a lot about negative space around the shapes of letters. Also legibility, clarity, simplicity and a set of conceptual principles that structure the design. Buildings are about how they are made, their materiality; fonts are the same, although where their materiality used to be related to carved or wrought or cast letters, this materiality is now being made superficial by digital making. Architecture suffers from the exact same problem.

Have you named your font?

No. I would say it is too unfinished to require a name.

Think you’ll ever try and design another one?

Probably not. It is really time consuming. I am now more considerate of the existing fonts I use and would definitely consider tweaking an existing font next time I am faced with a line of text that needed more definition. Just considering spacing and kerning already makes a difference too.

∫ Ahem. What is “kerning”?

How close the letters come to one another. When pages were laid out by hand, someone could kern the letters using their eye. Nowadays, with computers it is automatic and sometimes disturbing. Designing the font includes setting rules for how the letters relate to one another so designing a font requires the consideration of all the possible letter combinations next to one another. ∫

The alphabet and sentence used here are Andries Samuel’s© design.



And suddenly a red one

They’re 9½ cm wide and just over 14½ cm long and they’re usually yellow. So when I saw a red Reclam book in a friend’s shelf I was curious.

My little yellow Reclam books – Reclam Verlag being a German publisher – are soft and familiar and contain miniscule marginalia. If you ever studied German at university, you’ll be familiar with the tiny font size and the soft pages, like ancient newsprint.

My small collection of Reclam books, with a member of another branch of the family over for a visit.

But here was Mr Familiar in a new coat I’d never seen. And it was in English. Mini-Sagas: An Anthology of Fifty-Word Short Stories. My friend said she’d bought in Berlin, the perfect companion for shortish train rides. I borrowed it. Some of the stories are a bit meh. Some are quite affecting. Some are funny.

How the stories are didn’t feel like the point though. It was the redness that counted. One splotch of colour out of synch and you find yourself doing a whole Google thing. So this is what I’ve learnt about Reclam:

  • It’s been going since 1828.
  • In 1921 it became the first company to introduce book vending machines. Book vending machines? My knees feel wobbly at the thought.
  • There is a colour code. There had to have been for the red to make sense.
  • Yellow: contains classic works in German.
  • Red: classics in their original foreign language.
  • Orange: bilingual books in German and the original language.
  • Blue: study guides.
  • Green: original historical sources with explanations (no, I don’t understand either).
  • Magenta: non-fiction.

I’m not likely to ever want to read Gyges und sein Ring by Friedrich Hebbel or Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Emilia Galotti again, but these books appeal to me too much to ever dump them. So I put Heinrich Heine’s – and Eduard Mörike’s – Gedichte on top of the pile, because those I’ll peruse.

And I’ll return the little red one to its home, and thank it for pushing me towards my little Reclam moment.

  • The Reclam website is another design triumph in all its yellow and white simplicity. Check it out here.