As much as I enjoy traveling, I also enjoy being settled—in part, because the idea of ‘neighborhood’ is so important to me. I love developing a few favorite local spots, recognizing other people who live and work near by, and getting in synch with an area’s unique character. And keeping check on the flow of people in the neighborhood can bring unanticipated benefits, as well. Bordeaux and I have a general rule that if we see large crowds gathering in unexpected places around our neighborhood, we investigate. This could conceivably be a faulted plan, should we stumble into a high-tension political rally, or some sort of riot, for example. But our experience has more often proved that where we see parked cars and gathering families, there’s often something good to eat.
Thankfully, these instincts proved correct on Saturday. Though the parking spaces across the street from us are generally empty on weekend mornings, on this particular morning the sidewalk was lined with cars, with more pedestrians ambling over from spaces found further away. We postponed our trip to the supermarket, and followed them into the leafy pedestrian avenues of the public gardens.
Immediately, a group of boys surrounded us, brandishing Styrofoam takeout boxes.
“Hey, buy from me!”--“Eight Rand! Eight!”--“Fine, O.K., two for ten Rand!”
“I don’t even know what you’re selling…”
But by that point, they’d moved on to other potential clients. Continuing in, we discovered a teeming high school fair. Kids and parents were crowded around folding tables, competing for customers. We found tables crowded with curried mince wrapped in roti, boerewors on the grill, and slap chips drowned in vinegar. Desserts were even better represented, with heaps of traditional South African treats like milk tart, malva pudding and pineapple cheesecake, and some non-traditional treats, like marshmallows speared on bamboo skewers. But these could hardly distract me, as I quickly found a table selling my favorite South African dessert—peppermint crisp fridge tart.
I’m guessing that some people may be unlucky enough never to have encountered such a thing, so let describe it for you. A peppermint crisp fridge tart is not a delicate dessert, not a carefully crafted confection. Any aspirations the word ‘tart’ may have at evoking qualities of refinement are made impossible by the awkward and overbearing bulkiness of the word ‘fridge’ preceding it. But this is exactly why it’s so delicious. There are no pretensions here—just an incredibly rich, decadent, homemade dessert consisting mostly of very simple ingredients. The base of course is a healthy supply of ‘Peppermint Crisp’, a brand of flaky chocolate bars filled with a green honeycomb of biting minty flavor. These are crushed, mixed with a sweet milk sludge, and leveled into a crust of ground biscuits. It is then left on its own to chill in the fridge, as if even the act of baking would be too extravagant for this dessert. The result is spectacular.
The easiest way to conjure its taste is by evoking—though I know this benefits only my American audience—Girl Scout cookies. While some may favor those odd coconut rings or the shortbread children (and maybe one or two people like the hard little oatmeal-raisin discs), the best of the cookies is obviously the Thin Mint. The melty chocolate coating, the biscuit crunch, the fresh peppermint flavor—this may be the only reason Girl Scouts continue to exist. Eating a slice of peppermint crisp fridge tart is like taking a box of Thin Mints, churning it with vanilla ice cream and graham crackers in a blender, and then eating the end result with a spoon. Only better.
The entire pie was purchased on Saturday, and as of this writing there is a slim slice left in the fridge. We had a little help, but the two of us did most of the consumption. Which brings me to a realization. While being involved in your neighborhood can certainly have some major benefits, it doesn’t always benefit your health.