Cape Town - When you feel that long, dark cloud is a-coming down, but before you feel like you’re knock knock knocking on heaven’s door, is the time to take a left turn, or a right turn, and head on down that road and see where it takes you.
Driving solo through smalltown South Africa, approaching unknown villages in the lee of darkening mountainsides which half an hour ago were just shifts and changes of blues and purples in the far distance but which now are looming large and forbidding, you start thinking about a few things.
About how home and hearth are always best and how the darkest cloud, that one over there, the impenetrable one, the one that even weeks ago you never foresaw, the one you fear could dump all hell on you – that one – never will carry enough in its dark heart to swamp you. Never mind silver linings, in the dark of winter you know that what you need is a warm place, the love of family, the kitchen range lit, logs in the fireplace, and a tender crackling.
You need a slow simmer, a pot emitting a steam filled with joy and promise, and as the aromas build and the day recedes, taking with it its woes and challenges, you know what you have to do. Shove aside the dark veil, yank down the forbidding curtain, stand square in the doorway, stare straight ahead, and know that the stuff you’re made of, the stuff you have and can create, is worth all the wealth and power that the money-grubbers possess and want more of. And that those who deign to have power over you will soon themselves be a-knock knock knocking on heaven’s door, God help them.
So you spare them a pitious thought while you hunker down in your modest kitchen. You remember that time when you were in the kitchen of one of the country’s wealthiest men, a man who made every million and billion he possesses off the backs of people, many of whom have more creative stuff in one small compartment of their brain than all the wealth in this man’s portfolio. You remember gazing in awe at the richness of the floor-to-ceiling cupboards, the R6 000 toaster, the R8 000 kettle, the R42 000 Aga oven, and being gobsmacked when his friend told you: “Of course, he’s never used the kitchen. Never cooked in his life. He eats out every night.” Not even breakfast. And that’s living?
So, when the Rottweilers bare their teeth, you remind yourself of these values, and determine that there will be no knock-knocking, and that the dark cloud seemingly a-coming down will soon pass, and that other Rottweilers have done their worst in the past, again and again, and you have survived them all.
You get into that kitchen, warm the family with all your best stories as you all share tales of lives loved, spent and misspent, and wonder how sterile it must all be for those with the wrong kind of riches.
While the boat is being rocked, you buy wisely and cheaply, so the hunk of brisket, one of the cheapest cuts of beef, looks more appetising than usual because where others see the raw meat in its packaging, you are seeing it in a pot on the stove in a broth while simmering for hours and hours with flavourings no more complicated than onion and carrot and celery and garlic, and some red wine from a box, with a splash of good old-fashioned Old Brown sherry to sweeten it up.
Potroast of brisket
1 x 1.5kg piece of brisket, tied with string
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large carrots, diced
1 stick celery, sliced
5 or 6 sprigs thyme
100ml vegetable stock
1 glass dry red wine
50ml Old Brown sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
The brisket I bought was rolled up and tied with kitchen string in three or four places, so either buy it trussed like this, or do it yourself with kitchen string. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and brown it well on all sides to seal in the juices.
Keep aside while you gently brown the onions and garlic until soft and golden brown, not burnt. Add the carrots and celery and the thyme sprigs and cook, stirring, for two minutes.
Heat the vegetable stock (you could use one of the excellent ready-made liquid stocks which are much better than the dry cubes) and add the red wine and sherry. Add the meat to the pot and pour this broth over the meat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer gently for three to four hours. Remove the brisket and wrap tightly in foil. Leave to rest while you complete the sauce. Skim off any residual fats and discard.
Add a little more vegetable stock and sherry, simmer to combine, and serve with a generous chunk of the brisket. Pour large glasses of red wine.
That long, dark cloud is lifting.