Wednesday, 8 June 2011

International Rusk Day

Life's worth taking the rusk


“There's an International Rusk day??? Ouma goodness” (@gussilber)

Yes indeed, the inaugural IRD has been proposed as a means of recognising one of South Africa’s most famous ‘foods’, the rusk - the dry, barely edible, twice-baked, misshapen biscuit-type thing that (most) South Africans rank among biltong, boerewors and Nick-Nacks as our staple foods, and after which South Africans living abroad continually hanker, especially the Ouma variety.

Why 23rd June?
Well, Penny Haw (an esteemed local writer of intriguing columns) noted that this particular day is the birth date of Ouma's sister, Anna, who said, "Bets, die biskuit is mos soe hard ek moet nou rus(k)". [Betty, the biscuit is so hard I must now rest]

Why celebrate the Rusk?

There are many reasons why this celebratory day is long over-due. Not least because of the important role that rusks played in the Boer War and continue to play in our lives, all cogently presented in the compelling article by the above-mentioned Penny (@PennyHaw), entitled “Rusks…because your dunking days are never done. And you will finally find out why Ouma became a local food heroine.


Penny notes there are international imitations of the SA rusk: Italians, for example, have cantucci (a double-baked almond rusk-like biscuit), and “Germans have been crunching zwieback, which translates to “twice baked”, for centuries, while mandelbrot and kamishbrot are other Eastern European derivatives.” The Dutch love beschuit for breakfast but they are softer than the Ouma rusk and, I am reliably informed by an esteemed Dutch EcoAnthropologist, are used for ceremonial (e.g. to celebrate births) and other purposes.


How does one eat a rusk?

Eating such a hard food substance is not for the faint hearted or soft-gummed. One has do be fully committed to dunk. Penny explains further: “The accepted and correct way to eat a rusk is to dip it in a cup of tea or coffee. (Anyone who tells you otherwise, does not deserve to eat them.) This requires practice.”


The physics of ordinary biscuit dunking has been recently sorted out (See) but science can’t help us much when it comes to the rusk-tea/coffe dynamic interface. Rusk dunking is a meta-physical art that many have tried (and continue to try) but few have perfected.


I was at university with a chap called Duncan Rusk, who presumably had got this this dunking art down to a tea. [I wonder if his career post-university has taken a dip and whether he has perhaps ended up an old soak, but I digress.]


All this talk of food has made me hungry. So look what I (ably assisted by MrsM) made – the best seed/nut bran rusk since the Big Bang, ever!



And here’s the easy recipe (from my grass colleague,Terry). It is easier than making a galaxy or a smallish solar system but does require more ingredients and takes longer. Of course one needs grass in the form of three different kinds of bran but also lots of nuts and fruits (and go wild here). They could be classified as health rusks but they are actually edible and require no dunking, but then again, “no rusk, no gain!” (@lynnbarbour).


Terry’s Bran Rusks

Ø     5 cups All Bran (I sometimes substitute 1C oats and 1 C hi bulk bran for this or the next ingredient)
Ø     2 cups Digestive Bran
Ø     2 cups self-raising flour
Ø     1.5 cups caramel sugar (non diabetics can make this 2C)
Ø     1 Tablespoon backing powder
Ø     2-3 C chopped pecan nuts/almonds (the more the better)
Ø     Seeds (I throw in a few handfuls of sunflower/linseed/sesame /pumpkin seeds if I have)
Ø     500g Flora Lite margarine
Ø     3 eggs
Ø     500 ml low fat buttermilk

1.     Mix all dry ingredients together (sieve flour and BP)
2.     Melt margarine and pour over
3.     Add buttermilk and beaten eggs
4.     Mix well
5.     Spread in well greased roasting pan – I line bottom with greased wax paper
6.     Bake at 180°C for 50 min
7.     Turn out and when cool cut into pieces
8.     Dry on mesh tray on baking tray at 100°C  overnight.
9.     Enjoy!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Jail sentence


Sceptics have queried my criminal past – they have been asking for the true story and to see my prison tattoo. Well here is it (the true story) – in all its gritty, unadorned detail, in sans serif font.

It all started with split pants. Not mine but those of the school-going brother of the lovely lady I was courting (now the lovely Mrs M) at the time. Previously I had to rescue him when he bit the barber’s finger but this time I was called in to take him on an emergency trip to buy new school pants before school.

Off we roared off in Miss M’s twin-carb blue mini GT (with black stripes) to the shops.

But, and it was a big butt, there was Fat Freddie, the notorious local traffic plod standing in the road, legs astride, just before the shop. I tried to circumvent him but he waved me down.

“You are the bliksem (lightning) in donderse (thunder) trouble”, announced FF. Does you know your licence plate are skew?” “Don’t you mean, askew?”, I queried. “%$#@* askew you, he proclaimed, and what are that hellse groot (hellish big) noise that are coming out your exhaust - are it a gat (hole)???” he politely asked.

Well, it turned out that it were/was a gat/hole in the exhaust (one which I was planning to fix that afternoon) and it was one worthy of a R40 fine, which was almost one-third of my Navy salary at the time (before subtracting haircut and mess fees). And I could just not afford that so decided to plead my case in court.

The chap before me was a real crim and started shaking when sentenced. “Take him away!!”, roared the judge.

Then it was my turn.

Patriotism and impecuniousness were the two pillars of my defence strategy. The former because I was, at the time, doing national service in the navy and the latter because I was, at the time, doing national service in the navy. I explained to the judge how he could sleep safely at night because of my contribution in the signal office but I could not tell about my undercover day-time beach defence work, lying prone on a towel on the sand (in a speedo) spotting Russian aircraft, and doing regular swimming patrols beyond the waves to check for Russian submarines – I would have had to kill him if I revealed that.

“I, therefore, sentence you to ten days in Durban Central Prison” he pronounced in response. “It looks like you need the holiday from all your hard work”, he added, “… and with good behaviour you may be able to get our in five” (days, not pieces).

“Or a reduced fine of R30” he offered.

So I paid up and fled, a free man, but sans haircut and courting money and impressive prison tattoo.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My HeartVeld

I could tell you why I love grass and grassland (veld, as it is locally know), with all it's constituent, intimately interrelated biotic and abiotic elements and manifest beauties and mysteries -  I can go on all day about this, as you know - but let me just leave it up to Oom Jannie Smuts (South African statesman, general, and intellectual) who coined the word 'Holism"...

Jan Smuts on Grasses, Veld and Ecology

“Give me the grasses, the rolling veld, the bushveld Savannah, with bush and trees dotting the endless grass scene in all its variety of shade and tone, with scents and sounds of bird and insect added, and shy animals stealing through the grass cover...

...This is the grass pattern of life, and there is no fascination like it.  It is the combination of it all, the ecology of the grasses with their associated plant and animal life, which gives it such a unique interest.”

Foreword by the Right Hon. J.C. Smuts in “Grasses and Pasture of South Africa”

Tim Dee (in Four Fields) goes further, wider … 

“Let [the Masa Mara ] then be one field. The sun splashed down between great cakes of cloud on to countless communities of grass-life: spread acres of tall grass and of short, herd after herd of mixed animals, browns and blacks and fawns, scattered trees and their tethered shadows. Every yellow, every green, every brown surrounded me, running from my feet to the edge of the world.”

“The grass which covers everything is not just superficial – it becomes the Earth as well as growing from it, for the movement and shape of the land rhymes with the movement and shape of its outgrowth; the grass is both the world’s body and its gesture”.

Behold the wonder, the joy - the ever-unfolding living creativity of Darwin's tangled bank:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us... 

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity,  from  so  simple  a  beginning  endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Darwin (1859): Origin of Species

(Photo: @plainjerry)