Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “food”


One thing that everyone in our family likes to eat is pizza, and sometimes, if there isn’t time to cook anything, we’ll buy takeaway pizza from one of the places that sells it.

The trouble is that none of the takeaway places makes pizza that tastes as good as home-made pizza. So when our son Simon isn’t working, he makes pizza, and he made some for supper last night.

Our homemade pizza

Our homemade pizza

Most bought pizza is baked in circular pans, but we don’t have any of those. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to the taste.

Another advantage is that if you keep shop-bought pizza more than about half an hour, it doesn’t taste so good.  The homemade variety tastes just as good the next morning, cold or warmed up.

Blueberries or Gunk?

I too would like to know the answer to this — for example, are the “blueberry muffins” sold at Mugg & Bean made with real blueberries? Do blueberries even grow in South Africa?

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino's at The Grove.

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino’s at The Grove.


But right after posting this we went out shopping, and had breakfast at Cappuchino’s in The Grove Mall, and what did I have for breakfast but a blueberry muffin. I poked it and prodded it and disected the blueberries, and concluded that they were the real thing and not gunk.

But then I got home to read this: Big food companies want to call GMO foods “natural” | Grist. You win some, you lose some.

Clarissa's Blog

So I just saw this documentary at the gym where somebody said that the blueberries in blueberry muffins are not really blueberries bur, rather, some chemical gunk.

Is that true? Because that’s kind of icky.

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What is a muffin?

In an online discussion of English usage recently the question of muffins came up. These kinds of discussions seem to recur every couple of years. Last time round it was on scones and biscuits and cookies. Each English-speaking country seems to have its own terminology for such things.

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

It just so happened that my wife was making muffins for breakfast today. which made it easy to take photos to illustrate the process. She happened to be making cheese muffins,  which are “savoury” rather than sweet. Americans seem to find it difficult to understand what “savoury” means, so I hope it will help to think of, say, blueberry muffins as “sweet” and cheese muffins as “savoury” (or savory, if you prefer).

These are South African muffins.

They may therefore differ from American muffins, American “English” muffins, and British English muffins, and possibly Australian muffins, New Zealand muffins, Canadian muffins, Indian muffins and muffins of any other English-speaking countries.

They are made in muffin pans, which are sold in shops as muffin pans. That seems to imply that calling them muffins is not un ique to our family, but quite widespread in South Africa.

In many tea or coffee shops you can order muffins, which are sometimes bigger than these homemade ones, but are basically the same shape. They come in various flavours — blueberry, bran, lemon & poppyseed, chocolate chip, carrot, and a number of others.

The homemade cheese ones can be eaten on their own, or you can cut them in half and butter them. Plain ones without cheese can also be buttered and have jam on them.

Val got the recipe from her mother, who wrote down all her children’s favourite recipes in notebooks which she gave to her daughters and a niece. Most of them, including this one, probably came from her own mother, Martha Ellwood, who was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Cumberland is in the north-west of England, and so their muffins may be different from those in other parts of England. Cumberland cumpets are certainly different from crumpets elsewhere in England, and resemble Scottish pancakes, so perhaps the muffins are different too.

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

And here, for anyone who wants to try it, is the recipe for Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffins:

Dorothy Greene's Cheese Muffin Recipe

Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffin Recipe


Bacon butties

This morning we had bacon butties for breakfast.

Bacon butties

Bacon butties

The first time I ate a bacon buttie was when I was a student in Durham in the 1960s, and someone offered me one. I’d never heard of a “bacon boetie” before, which what I thought I’d heard her say. I later found that it was spelt “butty” or “buttie”. Some people apparently pronounce it differently, but I pronounce it the way I first heard it, in north-east England. How do you pronounce it?

But bacon butties made pleasant eating, and we’ve had them in our family ever since.

A couple of years later I was in Namibia, and there was a similar food item, but with salami instead of bacon. It was a called a Brötchen, a salami Brötchen. So that’s what I called it. So you have bacon butties and salami Brötchens. You don’t have salami butties and bacon Brötchens.

In a recent discussion on English usage the names for food came under discussion, and it was interesting to see how much variation there is. I had learnt two local names for similar kinds of food, but in two places very far apart.

What surpriswed me in the discussion was that Americans would regard both of them as a “sandwich”. And this revealed an interesting difference in what kinds of food are regarded as a sandwich in different parts of the world.

In the USA, apparently, anything between two pieces of bread, regardless of the shape, size or consistency of the bread is a “sandwich”. A hamburger is a “sandwich”. A hot dog is a “sandwich”. In my dialect, I would never dream of calling a hamburger or a hot dog a “sandwich”. A sandwich is always made with two slices of bread cut off a loaf, and evenly cut on both sides.

A buttie is not a sandwich, though you can make a buttie from a flat slice of bread, as well as with a roll (as in the illustration above). But if you make a buttie out of a slice of bread, you use one slice of bread, butter it, put bacon, or chips, or whatever on it, and fold it over. That’s a buttie, not a sandwich. A sandwich is made of two slices of bread.

If I go to a cafe and ask for a tomato sandwich, nothing more needs to be specified, except that they might ask “brown bread or white”.

But in America, “sandwich” is far too wide a term. They might ask whether you want a sub, hoagie, po’boy or hero (whatever they may be). Actually I did once see a “hero” advertised at Steers in Auckland Park. I ordered one just to see what it was, and it turned out to be a very ordinary steak roll. You didn’t need a heroic appetite to consume it. It tasted pleasant, but heroic it was not. Nor was it, in my dialect, any kind of sandwich. It was a steak roll.

So if you’re travelling far from home and are hungry, and feel like eating a sandwich, make sure the local meaning of “sandwich” is the same as yours, or you may get something you don’t expect.


Casbah Roadhouse

On the way home from Vespers last night we stopped at the local Casbah Roadhouse to buy supper, to save the schlepp of having to cook so late.

I took this photo on my cell phone to record part of our way of life.

I was interested to see that in their main sign they managed to get “Pizzas” right, but they could not resist the greengrocer’s apostrophe (pea’s, carrot’s. cabbage’s) in the smaller signs advertising “Coke combo’s”.

There is a chain of Casbah roadhouses all over the country, and this one opened in about 1998. It wasn’t on a main road, so we wondered how long it would survive, but it still seems to attract a fair number of customers.

When they opened in 1998 their medium curry and rice cost R14.00, but now it is nearer R50.00. The quality seems to have remained consistent. The same can’t be said of their hamburgers, though. When they opened their hamburgers were excellent, and good value for money. At some point they seem to have switched from making their own to buying mass-produced hamburger patties from a central supplier, and probably frozen. They have a rubbery texture, and have far too much salt, which makes them not only unhealthy , but almost inedible. Their other stuff is still fairly good.

I looked to see if they had a web site, but though two other branches in Pretoria did, at Gezina and Annlin, there didn’t seem to be one for the Kilner Park branch. But they did tell the story of how it started.

On the 29th of January 1955, Smittys Teapot, in Brakpan, was taken over and transformed into Casbah Roadhouse by Sylvia Kongos and her brother Peter Theologo. The other brothers, Evangelo (Ponch), Russel (Lucky), Costa and Johnny soon joined them. The name “Casbah” was taken from the show Casablanca.

After gaining experience in that first family venture, the brothers went their separate ways and opened their own roadhouses.

Evangelo, or Ponch as he was known, started his roadhouse career in Brakpan, but then went on to open roadhouses in Alberton, Wemmer Pan, Johannesburg, Malvern, Benoni, Vereeniging, Krugersdorp and Port Elizabeth.

Ponch always believed in VFM. Value for money. Everything that you made for a customer you had to make as if you were making it for a friend.

Evangelo(Ponch) Theologo is known as the “King of Roadhouses”.

A quick introduction to Russian culture

This week I scanned some photos of my first trip to Russia in 1995 into my computer, and posted some on Facebook, and thought I’d post some here too.

IL-62I flew from Johannesburg to Moscow on an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62, an interesting experience. When I’d spend two years studying in the UK I returned in 1968 on a Vickers VC 10, and the two aircraft looked very similar. Both had four engines in the tail, and I was delighted to be able to fly in both.[1]

The flight, via Togo and Malta, lasted 17 hours, and my friend Andrei Kashinski met me at the airport with his friend Maxim Zapalski, who had a car, and, since it was my first visit to Moscow, they took me straight to Red Square. Andrei had arranged accommodation for me in the guest house of the Danilov Monastery, where he was supervisor of the rebuilding programme. He insisted on feeding me, though I had just had a substantial breakfast on the plane. He phoned another contact, an online friend Sergei Chapnin, who arranged for me at attend a youth conference at a parish in Klin, about 80 km north-west of Moscow along the St Petersburg road. The priest, would be coming to Moscow, and could give me a lift to Klin.

Kurenkov HomecomingSo back in the car with Andrei and Maxim, and they took me to a flat in a block in north-west Moscow. Guests were expected, but I was the unexpected guest, and the first to arrive. The flat was tiny, but crammed with books on every wall It turned out to be a welcoming party for Alexei Kurenkov, who had just returned on the plane from New York, where he was studying at St Vladimir’s seminary. And there was a fantastic feast — my third of the day, and though I had lost track of the time it felt like mid-morning. It was July, and I’d flown from winter to summer, from short days and long nights to long days and short nights.

So my first practical lesson in Russian culture was within an a couple of hours of arriving. Russians eat a lot, and you can’t visit a friend without being fed. My fellow blogger Clarissa describes this and other aspects of Russian culture in her blog Clarissa’s Blog: What You Need to Know About Your Russian-Speaking Friend:

A Russian-speaking party is very different from the Anglo-Saxon party, for example. For one, nobody stands while trying to balance the plate and the glass. Everybody sits around a big table. Regardless of the economic situation of your Russian-speaking hosts, food will be abundant and will consist of several courses with many food choices. Nobody will ever ask you eat off a paper plate and drink out of plastic cups. The table will be beautifully and properly laid, there will be beautiful table linens and dinnerware.

And that’s the truth. The more people you visit, the more you eat. If you visit a lot, you can end up having six or seven meals a day.

In South African culture, or should I say South African white urban culture, if you are going to drop in to see someone unexpectedly, you try to avoid doing so at meal times, so that your hosts don’t feel obliged to feed you. In Russia, there is no avoiding meal times, because meal times are whenever guests arrive.

It took me a little while to get used to this. I once made the mistake of thinking I could pop in to say hello to someone before jumping on the Metro to go to a service at a Cathedral. No chance of that. Fortunately the Cathedral was full and anyway in Orthodox services people arrive late all the time.

Rural black culture in South Africa is still a bit like that. You can drop in to say hello to someone and then when you want to go they say you must wait, because someone has gone out to catch a chicken to slaughter for a meal. The amazing thing (to me) about Russia is that that kind of attitude has persisted in urban culture, even in big cities like Moscow.


[1] The VC 10 and IL 62 were my favourite passenger aircraft, and here is a comparison:

The Il-62M had a dispatch rate with Aeroflot of 97% with some examples logging as many as 17 flight hrs/day, and it was described as the most reliable type in the fleet at that time (Gordon et al., 2004). It set several international records in its class, mostly exemplifying a range capability far in excess of the conservative Aeroflot calculations applied in Soviet times. Some of these records were set by an all-woman crew of five captained by Iraida (“Inna”) Vertiprahova. With 10 tonnes of freight, the Il-62M had a maximum range of 10,300 km compared to 9,412 km for the VC10 carrying the same weight. With a 23 tonne payload, the Il-62M range was 8000 km, compared to 6,920 km for a Boeing 707 with maximum payload.

Peace is kosher and halaal — but is it nistisimou?

The Times – Peace is kosher and halaal:

“Muslim and Jewish students got together yesterday to cook up a storm at the University of Johannesburg.

The Centre for Islamic Studies and the SA Union of Jewish Students joined forces to promote peace by cooking a meal together.

Caylee Talpert, chairman of the Jewish organisation, said: “This event is meant to mend bridges and to make us all realise that we are all the same. This will ensure that we develop friendships based on knowing each other.”

The cafeteria kitchen at the university was filled with eager students in aprons and chef’s hats.

While I’m pretty certain some Lenten fare (nistisimou) is decidedly not kosher, like shellfish, the vegan style of Lenten fasting food is probably both kosher and halaal as well.

And while some food products are marked Kosher, and some are marked Halaal, I’ve never seen any marked as Nistisimou. I’ve been to conferences and meetings where Kosher and Halaal food has been offered and served, but never Lenten fare.

Even in Greese, I’ve found it difficult to find fasting food. The exception, ironically enough, was MacDonalds, which offered a “McLent” special (MacSarakosti): a veggie burger or six spring rolls. One hopes that the chips weren’t flavoured with beef (a Hindu sued them in the USA over that), and that the potatoes weren’t genetically modified with genes derived from rat fat.

Oatmeal’s health claims reaffirmed

Back to Tiger oats!

Oatmeal’s health claims strongly reaffirmed, science shows � Biosingularity: “A new scientific review of the most current research shows the link between eating oatmeal and cholesterol reduction to be stronger than when the FDA initially approved the health claim’s appearance on food labels in 1997.

Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, co-authors “The Oatmeal-Cholesterol Connection: 10 Years Later” in the January/February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine”

Pies, tarts and Synchroblog

Sweet Violet, an American living in South Africa, writes about the difference between American and South African Christmas customs: A View from the Other Side: Christmas on the Other Side

One of the things that comes up in the discussion is the difference between pies and tarts. To me the distinction is that a pie always has a pastry crust on top, whereas a tart does not. In America, it seems, the difference has something to do with size. So we have milk tart (which is a kind of custard tart, or a jam tart, and quiche is a variety of tart. But mince pies are pies, even if made of fruit mince rather than flesh meat.

South Africans do sometimes confuse them, though, especially those for whom English is a second language. A lawyer friend once told me of a judge, who, in sentencing a recently-convicted accused, said “He had a finger in every tart in town.”

Sweet Violet also mentioned turkeys, which she said were not part of South African Christmas celebrations. My memory is different, but perhaps because I grew up on a smallholding in Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg, where we had chickens, ducks and turkeys. We always had turkey for Christmas (and sometimes sold them to our customers for that purpose).

In recent years years, however, turkeys have been more difficult to find. I attribute this to the Rainbow chicken boom of the 1960s, when traditional poultry farms were replaced by battery hens, initially near Camperdown, Natal, but later all over the country. Turkeys didn’t fit the pattern, and demand was seasonal, so it was probably uneconomic to raise turkeys.

One could still get turkeys in supermarkets, though, but they were imported from America. I had visions of all the supermarkets in the USA bundling up their unsold turkeys on the day after Thanksgiving, and airfreighting them to Pick ‘n Pay in time for Christmas. They came wrapped in plastic, and the label proclaimed them as “self-basting”, which made me wonder what kind of sinister genetic modifications had been carried out on them!

Talking about Christmas reminds me of this month’s Synchroblog, with the theme Redeeming the season. As Phil Wyman writes:

Redeeming the Season is the Topic for this month’s SynchroBlog. Now there are a variety of seasons being celebrated at the end of each year from Christmas to Hannukah to Eid al-Adha and Muharram, from the Winter Solstice to Kwanzaa and Yule. Some people celebrate none of these seasonal holydays, and do so for good reason. Below is a variety of responses to the subject of redeeming the season. From the discipline of simplicity, to uninhibited celebration, to refraining from celebrating, to celebrating another’s holyday for the purpose of identificational evangelism the subject is explored.

This is a kind of anniversary , the first one having been held in December 2006, at the instigation of Phil Wyman and John Smulo, when a group of us blogged on the theme of “Syncretism.

This month’s synchroblog is on the theme of “Redeeming the season”, and here are the links to the posts:

Swords into Plowshares at Sonja Andrew’s Calacirian
Fanning the Flickering Flame of Advent at Paul Walker’s Out of the Cocoon
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Eager Longing at Elizaphanian
The Battle Rages at Bryan Riley’s Charis Shalom
Secularizing Christmas at
There’s Something About Mary at Hello Said Jenelle
Geocentric Versus Anthropocentric Holydays at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Celebrating Christmas in a Pluralistic Society at Matt Stone’s Journeys in Between
The Ghost of Christmas Past at Erin Word’s Decompressing Faith
Redeeming the season — season of redemption by Steve Hayes
Remembering the Incarnation at Alan Knox’ The Assembling of the Church
A Biblical Response to a Secular Christmas by Glenn Ansley’s Bad Theology
Happy Life Day at The Agent B Files
What’s So Bad About Christmas? at Julie Clawson’s One Hand Clapping

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