Hope Lives on This Island

Woke up to a nice breakfast of eggs, biscuits and of course, African Rooibos tea, which I am learning to drink with warm milk.

So began my first entry in a journal that would document my 14-day journey throughout South Africa, undoubtedly one of the most memorable experiences of my life to date. In late summer 2009, I was privileged to join my daughter and a group of fellow students and administrators from her school on a sojourn that took us to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kirstenboch Botanical Gardens, Pilanesburg Game Reserve, and so much more. What I saw, learned and felt during that magical time could never be adequately described in these few short paragraphs.To say that I was awe-struck by the riot of colors, sounds, aromas, indeed the raw beauty of South Africa, would be an understatement.

On our first morning, as we stood among the ten Pillars of Freedom in Walter Sisulu Square, we watched hundreds of people set up shop for the day, meticulously laying out produce and other products in hopes of earning a day’s wage.

Inside the Regina Mundi Church, site of many peaceful protest gatherings during Apartheid, dazzling stained glass displays paid panoramic homage to the country’s freedom fighters.

At Nambitha, a Soweto cafe located on Vilakazi Street, (home to famed Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu), we feasted on an indescribably delicious buffet of roast chicken, pap (a white porridge made from maize or other type of grain), creamed spinach and pumpkin.

Even on the trash strewn, rutted mud streets of the Kliptown township, there was beauty all around, as smiling young children scurried to catch up with our group, holding our hands and serenading us with songs in their haunting native dialects.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that trip and especially about the children. As I plan our next meal, knowing there is ample food in the pantry to make something satisfying and healthy on a moment’s notice, I think about Zimi, introducing us to his neighbors, who transform their tin-roofed home each day into a business, where they sell tripe and other foodstuffs in order to provide for their families. I remember the smiling young boys, filling large plastic bags with cheese curls to sell in the markets and on street corners.

Mostly I think of the words of the great Desmond Tutu, with whom we were fortunate to meet, who told us: “As individuals, we are not islands — we need each other.”

Simple enough. What an honor to have traveled more than 8,000 miles to learn this important life lesson — and so many others.

Now back to that tea. I developed a fondness for rooibos and upon my return made it a part of my regular morning routine, admittedly without the warm milk. I’ve enjoyed it with scones, biscuits and these popovers, which I believe are the most delicious partner I’ve found yet. Enjoy them with your favorite tea or coffee, and be sure to share with others.

The head note for this recipe, which appears in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, states that popovers are best enjoyed right out of the oven, and I agree. However, if you cannot finish them in a first sitting (not that difficult a feat, trust me), they are almost as wonderful as leftovers.

1 T melted butter or neutral oil (I used grape seed), plus additional for the muffin tin
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and place it in the oven to warm while you prepare the batter.

Beat together the eggs, milk, butter or oil, sugar and salt. Beat in the flour a little at a time. The mixture should be smooth but not overworked. Fill the muffin tin sections at least halfway. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 15 more minutes or until the popovers are puffed and brown.

Remove pan immediately and serve hot.

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