Whether you follow former Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, on Twitter or not, chances are you stumbled across one of his popular posts sharing his attempts at home cooking. While his skill is often criticized (in good humour I am sure), it made me think how relatively easy (and inexpensive) it can be to cook good food and in general, to get the most out of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that quality living is something that we can easily talk about when we don’t have to worry about where our next meal comes from. We live in challenging times. Even those South Africans who are employed, have many worries. We are still recovering from Covid’s financial impact, the war in Europe is no one’s friend in finance and we are bombarded with talks about inflation and rising rates of interest, fuel and basic commodities. Is it insensitive to talk about a quality lifestyle? Should we not just be very grateful for what we can afford?
In the wine industry, our marketing generally speaks to how our product can add quality to your life. Some brands might be focused on the more everyday consumption, offering affordable options that can be enjoyed more regularly. Other, usually more expensive, brands focus on special occasions or on connoisseurs who appreciate the finer things in life. We often talk about recipes that matches our wines or suggest ways in which your wine experience can be improved – even the type of glass you choose can influence the taste of your wine!
But it doesn’t have to get that technical. Even when being sensitive to unique situations, there are still ways to make life just a little more pleasant. With some basic knowledge, a little bit of time and effort as well as a clever tip here and there, no one has to stare at a pot of bleak, boiled meat for dinner. In generations before convenience options and time-saving recipes, most of this might have been general knowledge. I can’t think that any of our grandmothers would have started even the most basic of stews without browning the meat first?!
Perhaps Mr Mboweni’s posts are so popular because we all need some escapism. Just for a moment or two we want to see what he has cooking and ignore the war horror stories, forget about the rising fuel price and how we will get through winter with the relentless onslaught of loadshedding. Perhaps, we just appreciate that he is trying to do something special. With that in mind, here are a few simple and cheap ways to make your food and perhaps life in general, a little more enjoyable.
- Be clever with your ingredients. Buy the best quality you can afford and keep in mind that seasonal is cheaper, healthier and definitely tastier. Buy fresh, rather than canned or preserved. Plan your meals so that you can maximise the value of bulk buying, but without wastage.
- Try and get on top of the most basic cooking skills. You don’t need Ottolenghi’s flair for flavour, Massimo Bottura’s skill or Jamie Oliver’s speed. You don’t even have to know who these people are. Add flavour throughout the cooking with inexpensive, but flavoursome ingredients. Onions, garlic, ginger and lemon go a long way in picking up the blandest of dishes. Spices can work miracles even if you only invest in the basics such as cinnamon and coriander. Boiling in water, in my humble opinion, is only good for eggs, pasta and rice. Use stock or rinse your almost empty marmite jar with hot water. Yes! Didn’t you watch your mom in the kitchen? Dishes that take time, need time. Plan as such, cheaper cuts often take longer to cook, but they can be wonderful when allowed the time they require. Everyone’s afraid of fat but browning your meat in a little oil or adding a cube of butter before you dish up your vegetables, can make all the difference. Taste. Use enough salt.
- Think about your drinks. Who in South Africa enjoys a warm beer? Even if you only open a bottle of wine on special occasions, don’t spoil it by serving it too warm. You don’t need a fancy coffee machine or all the special roasts to enjoy a decent cup of coffee but brew your coffee with care – coffee boiled is coffee spoiled.
- Use your Sunday’s Best. No one can afford a special glass for every bottle they open, but enjoy your wine in a decent glass – it makes a real difference. The same goes for crockery and cutlery. Allow yourself that little bit of joy when you set the table with your pretty plates.
- Life is not all about what you eat and drink, but many similar principles apply to the clothes you buy, the way you manage your house or look after your vehicle, your health, your wellbeing…
What do I know?! I might be a winemaker, but I would not even call myself a home cook. My food responsibilities begin and end at the braai and I am spoiled with people who care about what we consume. Perhaps caring is the key word. Care enough for yourself and your family to bring a little bit of quality to your life – even in the smallest of ways. A lot of it has to do with planning. No one has enough time and the moment you are under pressure or in a hurry, it is easy to forget about the caring part and opt for convenience – probably on credit.
I really enjoy Mboweni’s food pics. Perhaps he is overdoing the garlic or adding too much water to his stew. Perhaps he is just not that good at styling and taking pretty pictures of food. But he seems to care about cooking something decent and he does not seem to take himself too seriously. Adding quality to life is actually not only about having something that tastes or looks better, but also in the joy it brings – whether it is on the palate or in the process.