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QUICK REVIEW: Finding The Thread


finding the threadFinding The Thread: A Story of Knitting and Crochet in the Cape

Lydia Abel

For years, the crafts of knitting and crochet retreated shyly from the public eye. Then, a few years ago, and for reasons that may or may not have to do with a hipster nostalgia for all things handmade, knitting became de rigueur – a slightly wacky, but quite cool thing to do.

As a some-time knitter myself, I could only find my kin on the net, where all adherents of odd and obscure pastimes go for community. I was delighted to come across this book of Abel’s, and even more so that the production of the book – the quality of the paper, the careful lay-out and the photographs – indulge that aspect of yarn work that so pleases me: tactility.

Abel has managed both a work of reverence for an old craft and a form of light social history in this marvellous book. – Karin Schimke

Read about the knitters of Robben Island here.

I’M DROOLING OVER: Tina Bester’s Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake Tart



Tina Bester

Quivertree Publications

Review: Lesley Byram

There are few things more exciting to me than a visually stimulating recipe book. Don’t even bother showing me one if there aren’t photographs accompanying the recipes. First, I need to see if it’s tempting enough to try and second, what it’s supposed to look like when I’m finished.

Which is why I love Tina Bester’s cookbooks. Not only are her recipes simple and delicious, they are always incredibly well-illustrated – thank you Quivertree Publications. Of course it helps that she’s known as the Queen of Tarts and many of her dishes lean towards the sweet side of the scale.

This book, her sixth, is about making the most of seasonal produce for both sweet and savoury tarts and it’s organised by season for easy reference.

Tina’s books are very user-friendly and, apart from the basic conversion tables, she’s also included a variety of crusts and pastries for you to choose from:sweet shortcrust, savoury shortcrust, chocolate, rough puff, well-behaved (good for just about anything), sour cream, cheddar-cheese, almond and cream-cheese.

When I mentioned her in my previous blog this recipe immediately sprang to mind. It’s one which took my breath away when I first flipped through the book and whenever I pick it up it’s where I get stuck. I have made this several times, only once with the chocolate pastry and as one large cake. The rest of the time, I’ve made it as cupcakes.

It’s surprisingly quick and easy and looks far more impressive than the minimal effort required.

One could ice the cake or cupcakes with cream cheese icing but it’s not necessary and, apart from covering up the lovely marbled effect, would possibly make it too rich.

If you’re making cupcakes you can be quite generous with the cheesecake. The first time I made them I used the cheesecake sparingly and ended up having to make a second chocolate mixture to use it up.

They will keep for a couple of days but are absolutely amazing when they’re very fresh and, unless you are baking for two, there are unlikely to be any leftovers anyway.

Bonus: There are two bowls to lick!

choc-cheesecake-tartChocolate brownie and cheesecake tart

A gorgeous-looking tart that will make any special occasion
that much more memorable.

1 quantity chocolate pastry (see recipe below this one)


350g castor sugar • 150g butter, melted • 4 large eggs • 100g flour • 70g cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt •  teaspoon baking powder •  teaspoon bicarbonate of soda


90g castor sugar • 450g cream cheese • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Press the chocolate pastry into a heart-shaped tin
and bake it blind for 10 minutes. No need for baking paper and beans with this pastry.

To make the brownie mixture, combine the sugar and the melted butter in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Add the eggs and mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the prepared tart shell, reserving half a cup for marbling the top.

To make the cheesecake mixture, beat together the castor sugar and cream cheese with electric beaters until very smooth and light. Add the vanilla and the egg and mix until smooth. Pour this batter into the centre of the brownie batter, keeping it away from the sides of the tart. With a teaspoon, carefully spoon the rest of the brownie batter around the top of the tart. Run a butter knife through the pools of brownie batter for a marbled effect. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely on a rack and then remove the tart
from the tin.

Serves 6-8

Chocolate pastry

110g butter • 100g sugar • 1 large egg • 1 large egg yolk
225g flour • 25g cocoa

Process the butter and sugar together in the bowl of
a food processor and while the motor is still running,
add the whole egg and the yolk. Add the flour and cocoa
and blend into a dough. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm
and refrigerate until needed.

Eighth Day: Music Poetry


Spoken-word poems and poems that employ music—its powers, its rhythms—these are some of the richest, most evocative poetries that describe the indescribable and eschew the page. MOIRA RICHARDS shares five collections that have music at their hearts.

AngSeeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu

Arlene Ang

Cinnamon Press, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-907090-06-6

A black-gowned cellist bows a stormy wake for a white shrouded image of herself, half sucked into (half spewed from?) a heavy Pandora’s box-like chest/coffin. The cover of Ang’s fifth book alerts me to the unquiet read that follows.

Her poems are of bereavement and anguish; her poetry, turbulent, surreal, beautiful. I can’t stay long here – confronted, too vividly, by old pain I’d thought grown over with protective scabs. But I can’t resist returning – this poetry, an affirmation that death, as part of life, is magnificent too.



DeliveryRoomBeyond the Delivery Room

Khadija Heeger


Nineteen years since our emergence from the delivery room, South Africa and South Africans too, are as imperfectly perfect and as brimful with possibility as any teenager on the verge of adulthood. Like teenagers, we rail at what disappoints us, not yet sure of the extent to which we actually hold the power for change; like teenagers, we struggle to find our own true, rather than conferred by others, identities. Such is the stuff of this collection, first part of the trilogy, Separation Anxiety.

This performance poet’s poems remonstrate, repudiate and, sometimes, keen. Her words, written for speaking aloud, swell and recede along irregular line lengths and, with repeatings of sounds and phrases, wind a sinuous rhythm through the pages.

A sad yet optimistic love song for us and our not-yet-adult country, and I look forward where the poet takes us in the next part.



Jane McKinley

Texas Tech University Press

How does a poet survive tragedy? Teenaged sister dead in car smash… This poet, at the open graveside, listens and ‘In seven notes of Bach, she has enough / to live. The boxwood sings.’ She stops writing poems; learns to play the oboe.

After ‘thirty years of silence, of images clutched / wordless in darkened corners of her mind’ she lays aside her instrument to write once more. She writes the music of that sorrow; memories threaded through with Mozart, with opera and especially, with Bach who lost a young wife and ten young children to death.

‘I gather up small pearls of Bach / … / an oboe’s dying phrases echo pain. / I linger at his Stammtisch, sipping tea.’


ConfidentConfident Music Would Fly Us to Paradise

by Carol Levin

MoonPath Press

Playing on life’s stage, cast as supernumerary (non-singing performer) for an opera company and subsumed in the flamboyant and sublime, is the poetry of Carol Levin’s fourth collection.

Whether girl with the giggles slid into a burlap sack doubling, at her mother’s behest, as the dead body of Rigoletto’s Gilda, or grown woman dancing the role of a Grace attendant upon Tannhäuser in the grottos of Venusburg, it is the spaces in the sounds the poet explores. The grander the music, the more profound the silences it communicates – as imaged in a poem describing the exquisite prelude to Das Rheingold in which Wagner “sets you adrift / on an inhale of the baton.”

And finally:


Ntsiki Mazwai

African Perspectives

ISBN: 978-0-981439-81-5

Before reading the poems in this collection, you’d do well to log onto the poet’s website, www.ntsikimazwai.co.za and listen, first, to the few sound tracks uploaded there. Hear Ntsiki Mazwai’s poetry performed to the mesmerising rhythms of music, get a sense of her work as performance, learn how you might read Wena out loud inside your head.

We’re none of us ignorant about what life serves up to South Africa’s women, whatever their ages, and this is a young poet who says, “I don’t write quiet storms.” Her collection of poems, the celebration of a spirit determined to triumph, refuses too, to be read in quietude.


REVIEW: Fields of Blood

Fields of Blood

fields of bloodFields of Blood  

Karen Armstrong 


REVIEW: Sue Townsend

“Political differences can be resolved. Religious ones cannot.” So said a commentator on the most recent outbreak of fighting in the Middle East.

Fields of Blood can be thought of as a determined, carefully argued rebuttal of the sentiment expressed in that comment. Armstrong says, on the first page of this book: “In the West, the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident.”

Armstrong, once a Catholic nun, now a commentator on religious affairs, begins her argument in prehistory. Starting with cave paintings, she writes that through most of human history, people have chosen to integrate religion (of some kind) with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed, “because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance,” she says.

Within the major religions that we consider today – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the more Eastern Buddhism and Hinduism – she considers the tension between violence and aggression on the one hand, and pacifism and justice on the other. Contrasting medieval crusaders and modern day jihadists with the pacifist teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, she insists that the violence almost always begins with the state and spills over to religion, rather than the other way around. This, she says, is because any government, whether democratic or tyrannical, peace-loving or expansionist, “was obliged to maintain at its heart an institution committed to treachery and violence,” and because violence and coercionlay at the heart of social existence.

“As an inspiration for terrorism,” she writes, “nationalism has been far more productive than religion.”

Armstrong then goes on to discuss examples of violence involving each of the major faiths, from the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century to the Islamist (and other) extremists of the 21st, including ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. In most of these cases, she argues, violence that originated elsewhere (with nationalism, territorial skirmishes, resentment at loss of power) could be perceived as “religious” but really had little to do with faith or religion.

Referring to colonisation she writes: “Once colonized, a people often depends heavily on their religious practices, over which they still have some control and which recall a time when they had the dignity of freedom.” This is extrapolated to an attempt to explain connections between the heated American faith-versus-science disputes on evolution, same-sex rights and climate change, to world events a century ago.

Armstrong is at pains to show that in modern times Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all atheists, and that the power behind the Holocaust was ethnic rather than religious hatred. An overemphasis on religion’s damage can blind people to the ‘unholy’ terrors that their states inflict.

This is a dense, serious read that should make us think more deeply about our preconceived ideas.