At least half the words that come out of my mouth these days could just as easily have come out of my mother's mouth… and we all know how we fear turning into our parents I have caught myself complaining that "music today just doesn't have a tune, not like when we were young". I find myself ranting angrily at the bad proofreading in newspapers ("he was loathed to admit", "it was a stationery vehicle" or "the couple are seperated" being some favourites), along the lines of "they don't teach children to read or write properly in school these days!". And I attach greater and greater importance to good manners.
I think living in London, cheek by jowl with 7-and-some-change million people, somehow brings into sharp focus the importance of good manners as the essential lubricant which keeps social wheels turning. Without some semblance of good manners and consideration for others, most of us living here would struggle to contain the impulse to go on a murderous rampage once a week or so. This is usually when some bloke elbows you in the kidneys and practically bowls an old lady on crutches over in oder to scrum onto the Tube train before the disembarking passengers have even reached the doors, just so that he can nab a seat. All this while the "please allow passengers off the train first" announcement echoes uselessly around the tunnel on the PA system. Harrumph.
One of the things that sets South Africans apart from the locals here in London is our willingness to invite people into our homes. Brits will offer to meet you in the pub, the theatre, a restaurant or in the park at lunchtime… but an invitation into their home is a jealously guarded prize. We, on the other hand, will say "you must come over for a braai" as an opening move in a bid to forge a friendship – for us it is the first step; for Brits it is the last. This means that I find myself on the giving end of invitations far more often than the receiving end – and don't get me wrong, I like to entertain and I know that there will be some work involved. But some sign that people appreciate the invitation and the work that goes into hosting would be welcome.
As in previous years, we held our Big South African Braai this weekend and, as usual, invited far more people than our house can feasibly hold. We had invited people a month or more ago so as to make sure that the date was in people's calendars. All of last week, Nick and I anxiously scanned the weather forecast, hoping that there would be a glimmer of hope for sunny wather. But no – the stormy weather remained on track for Saturday. Did we cancel? Did we waver?? No - I figured we had invited these lovely folk over and we owed them a lunch. So we simply set up the BBQ under an awning and made space for people to sit inside while Nick (who is made of sterner stuff than me!) braaied.
As it turns out, we needen't have worried. We went shopping on Friday and catered salads, starters and dessert for the sixteen people we were expecting. We ended up with eight. Some had to work, some had medical problems – fair enough. But I'm sorry, when did "I have made another appointment" or "I have a hangover" sent by text, at about the time I was expecting you to arrive at my house, become a reasonable excuse??
So the party was small but perfectly formed, as one of the guests noted. Those of us who were there had a blast – eating, talking and laughing till dinnertime, and there are few things I find more enjoyable than listening to a roomful of my friends having a good time in my house However, as I catered for the phantom guests, we are now also up to our necks in uneaten salads, so all recipes for leftover chickpea or potato salad will be gratefully received
I hadn't used thyme in a potato salad before and now I don't know why I hadn't – the flavour is wonderful. Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) is a member of the mint family with a wonderful aromatic flavour that also pairs very well with chicken. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and was thought to signify courage. Mediaeval ladies would embroider a sprig of thyme onto the clothes of their knights in shining armour for bravery. This may or may not have helped, but as it is very rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, it is good for fighting off colds and flu, or for an immune system boost. Its powerful essential oil, thymol, was also rubbed into wounds as its antiseptic properties prevented infection. It is still used in mouthwash and skin creams for the same reason.
The potato salad that I made is another one of my dear friend Paul's recipes. Paul likes to experiment in the kitchen, an approach which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. When he visited recently, he requested a braai for dinner and offered to make a potato salad. When I saw him heading for the fruit bowl, I was slightly concerned. "Ummm, can I help you? What are you looking for?" He replied: "Apples", as if that would set my mind at ease! "In the potato salad?" I asked rather dubiously. "Yes. Trust me." he replied.
I did – and so should you. The crispy texture of the apples is the perfect foil for the creamy texture of the potatoes, and I was amazed at what a beautiful pairing apples and thyme make. If you are stuck in a potato salad rut, please do yourself a favour and try this one. It may not improve your manners, but it sure tastes wonderful
POTATO, APPLE AND THYME SALAD (serves 6)
6 large salad potatoes
half a small onion (as sweet as you can find)
1 Granny Smith or similar tangy apple
1 Tbsp dried thyme
2 eggs (optional)
Peel the potatoes, chop into large chunks and steam. Alternatively, you can boil them in their skins, but I find the skins always split and they absorb water and become soggy.
In the meantime, dice the onion very finely and core and grate the apple.
When the potatoes are soft enough, chop into bite-sized chunks and mix with the onion and apple. Stir in enough mayonnaise to achieve the consistency you want (some peopel drown their potato salads in mayo, others go for a drier consistency – you choose). Stir in the thyme (you can add a little more if you like) and add salt to taste.
If using the eggs, hard-boil them, peel, dice and sprinkle over the top of the salad before serving.
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