Book review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I’m not a fan of science fiction writing at all, but I’ve watched the PR machine around this book and was a little curious. I obtained a digital copy via a Humble Bundle deal, and read it on my Kindle – and must be honest, I was hooked from the get-go. 

The fact that the book is set in Johannesburg, in areas that are known and familiar to me helps – I like to have a little bit of reality to hang fantasy on! The lead character, Zinzi December, is intriguing, and I suppose the fact that she’s a writer by trade (if you call a 419 scam correspondent a writer!) also helps.

The book moves quickly, the plot intrigues are fast paced, and the science fiction / fantasy elements are very well crafted. I’m not sure if it’s a genre thing, or whether it’s a polite borrowing from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but the bond between humans and their animals is very well crafted and presented. 

The climax is fast paced and spectacularly brutal, and I’m happy to report that the book does not have a happy Hollywood ending. However, the closing pages do leave the door open for Zinzi December to return, and I will certainly read any sequel that may appear. 

I enjoyed the book so much that I’m no reading Beukes’ next book, The Shining Girls, and I will look out for her first one, Moxyland too. 

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Super easy apple pie

I’m firmly of the opinion that you can’t have too many spices in an apple pie, and the inspiration for this recipe comes from one that my mom has made for years and years. I made this version yesterday for a bunch of people who came for lunch. It makes quite a big pie… but  regardless of size, there was none left by the time we went to bed last night! 

Most apple pies (including my mom’s one) use a short crust pastry. It can get a bit soggy if you’re not a pastry genius – and besides, I like to shake things up a bit – so I used Donna Hay’s cheesecake base this time.

For the filling mix these ingredients together: 

2 cans of pie apples

zest of one lemon

half a cup of caster sugar – or more if you want something sweeter

one teaspoon cinnamon

one teaspoon mixed spice

half a teaspoon nutmeg

5 cloves 

Dried fruit – I’ve done this with chopped dates, raisins or cranberries – include about half a cup, according to your preference. 

Pour these onto the baked base. 

For the topping: 

2 cups of your favourite muesli

1/2 cup of melted butter

1/2 cup of sugar. 

Mix these guys together thoroughly, and then crumble over the apple mix. 

Bake at 200 degrees C for 25-30 mins. 

Serve with ice cream or cream. But ice cream wins every time, in my book… 

 

The Chocolate Pig Out Cake

ImageA pic of this did the rounds on Facebook etc, and then a friend sent me the recipe – translated from Dutch. Turns out, you don’t need a recipe much. You do need a lot of chocolate though.

Pretty much – make a sandwich cake, sticking the two layers together with normal butter icing. Or Nutella. Because you never can have enough chocolate. Make sure that the sandwiched cake isn’t higher than the length of a Kit Kat.

Put icing around the sides. Or Nutella – because the answer is Nutella.

Use a big knife to cut the KitKats into single fingers. There will be casualties, which, depending on how you look at it, may or may not be a tragedy. Stick the remaining Kit Kats onto the icing/Nutella on the side. You may need to find a happy helper for this part -the Kit Kats don’t always stick on – which is why this really does need to be finished off with the ribbon to hold it all on.

Then for the top. The original recipe talks of using chocolate ganache, which worked the first time I tried it – but didn’t the following twice. I was under a bit of pressure for this particular one, and so the answer was – you guessed it – Nutella. Which looks like mud. This cake took about a jar full for the top – but it was a particularly big cake

You can decorate with anything you want, really – I found these pigs at Kadies in Fourways, which is also where I found the Yoda that I used for a similar one that I did for Matthew’s birthday. You could pile it high with Smarties – or decorate with icing or real flowers.

Book review: Bared to You, Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

These are crackers of books to launch the book reviews on this blog, but anyway… here goes.

So, we all know about the hysteria around the 50 Shades trilogy, right? I’ve read the first one, and found it very contrived to be racy, although I will admit to …er… certain side effects. But I had no desire to read the second or third books, although I have heard good things about …um… character development in those. I found Anastasia to be simpering and pathetic, although I did enjoy Christian quite a bit.

My husband suggested these two books to me – they’re in a similar vein, and I suspect that if 50 Shades hadn’t been out there, these are the books that would have enjoyed the kind of frenzy that those books saw.

The Crossfire books – as these are known – tell the tale of Eva Tramell and Gideon Cross – both damaged souls in New York, who can’t keep their eyes, hands, or any other body parts off each other. She’s independently wealthy at 24, wears fabulous clothes, works in advertising in New York, and lives with a bisexual male model (who is more damaged that she is). Gideon seems to own half of New York (at 28), and sets about owning her.

Cue lots of …er… bodice ripping, shall we say.

I was sceptical of these two books, thinking that they would be the same very tenuous, loose story woven around lots of sex, like 50 Shades of Grey. And yes, there is a lot – I repeat, a lot – of sex. But I found the characters much more appealing – particularly Eva – and I must confess to wishing that I too could be trapped in an elevator with Gideon Cross on my way to  work in the morning.

The second book is not quite as raunchy as the first, although it still has its fair share of censorable moments, and even goes as far as having somewhat of a crime thriller plot. There are still many completely implausible situations though, but if you suspend reality for a while, and just kick back and enjoy the books for what they are – raunchy, racy fun – then they’re a great holiday read.

PS These books really made me appreciate the value of a Kindle – I could read them perfectly anonymously in the company of my mother and mother -in-law…

Kerry’s Cheesecake (well, Kris’s cheesecake, really… )

My Aussie friend Kris taught me how to make this cheesecake on her last visit to SA. I’m so over biscuit bases though, which is why I now use Donna Hay’s base – from MasterChef season 3. I’ve tried her cheesecake, and it’s not great – this one is much better – but her base wins.

Base:

Blend 1/3 cup ground almonds, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup caster sugar and 90g softened butter together. Press into the base of a springform tin, and bake for 15 minutes at 150 degrees C.

Cheesecake:

Beat 3 eggs and 1/2 cup of sugar together in your mixer, until they’re creamy. (Add up to 1 cup of sugar if you want a sweeter cheesecake). Add 2 tubs of smooth cream cheese, 2 tubs of sour cream, 1 TBSP of vanilla essence, 3 TBSP of corn flour and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Beat until its all well mixed and smooth and creamy.

Pour over the ready-baked base. You may have too much for one regular size tin – I often just bake the leftovers in a corningware dish for the kids. Put into the oven at 150 degrees C, for about 60 minutes – or until the middle of the cheesecake has set.  Put an oven proof dish of water in the oven at the same time – this helps prevent the top from cracking.

Leave it in the oven to cool – also helps prevent cracking.

Decorate with fruit or drizzled chocolate or whatever tickles your fancy!

Kerry’s pork and cranberry meatballs of awesome

Friends reminded me of this over the weekend – and although I haven’t made it for bookclub, I think I may well be compelled to in the not too distant future…

1 packet of good quality pork sausages

Approx half a cup of craisins

1 egg

A few sage leaves

Take the sausage meat out of the casings.

Mix in the egg, cranberries and finely chopped sage.

Form into meatballs – any size will do – but don’t go too small, otherwise the cranberries fall out. And you don’t want that.

Either pan fry in a little bit of oil, or grill (for the low fat option).

Serve with cranberry jelly.

Make sure you get in at the front, because they won’t last long…

Rina’s Calamari Stew

Ingredients:
1kg calamari -cleaned,washed and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions chopped (can use tasty red ones)
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 cup good white wine (if you can’t drink it then you certainly can’t cook with it)
500g tomatoes – diced (can use a can of peeled tomatoes with juices)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley

Method:
Heat oil and fry onion and garlic until transparent.
Add calamari and rest of ingredients except parsley.
Stir till boiling.
Cover and cook for about 1 hour. Add parsley.
If sauce is thin, thicken with one tablespoon of maizena.
Serve with rice.

Variations:
As you know I added 1 can of drained chickpeas to add a bit of flavour and texture which at least for the adults was a winner.
You can also add rice directly to the mixture and cook as a stew rather than serve the rice separately. If you decide this, then once the mixture boils, add the rice and enough water to cook the rice as per the cooking instructions for rice and lower the heat and cook accordingly. You can add half a fish stock to cook the rice.

Serve immediately after cooking and enjoy!!!!!