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Orna's Blog

Ode to Africa

I was deeply touched by our trip back to South Africa to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday—turned family reunion—and felt compelled to share it on OrnaBakes, which is an extension of who I am.

America is now undoubtedly my home, but I’ll always have Africa inside of me. It was wonderful to finally show my husband, Sam, where I grew up, giving him a deeper understanding of who I am and the culture that shaped and molded me. (I’m definitely not your typical “valley girl”!)

Unfortunately, even entire stores devoted to biltong (dried and cured meat) didn’t turn Sam into a fan. (It’s hard to explain why it’s so much better than jerky… it just is!)

Biltong Store

Biltong is such a part of South African culture that you’ll even find it on pizza. (Yummm)

Biltong on Pizza


I couldn’t have imagined the sheer joy of reconnecting with my first cousins from Australia and Israel—some of whom I hadn’t seen since I left South Africa TWENTY years ago.

Shifren Extended Family

Left to Right: Sam Purkin, Orna Purkin, Neil Silver, Maurice Leibowitz, Glen Silver, Joshua Shifren, Amit Efrati, Neville Shifren
Angela Benjamin, Sharon Saevitzon, Marlon Silver, Leora Benjamin, Sydelle Leibowitz, Aaron Leibowitz, Ronit Efrati, Danielle Ben Meir, Petra Shifren
Boetie Shifren, Zach Shifren, Gary Shifren, Demi Leibowitz, Moran Efrati


To my astonishment, my cousin Glen—in his recent interest in cooking—had happened upon my blog by chance! He attempted making his mother’s “Bulkas” from her handwritten recipe, but they didn’t turn out quite the way he remembered her making them every Yom Kippur. He researched it online, and was amazed that the website he found—describing the familiar taste, smell, and distinct shape of those traditional Cinnamon Buns—belonged to me (his first cousin), and mentioned his own mother, my dear Auntie Phyllie! (I had attempted to get her recipe, but her daughter, Sydelle, couldn’t find it. I would never have guessed that Glen was the one to ask!)


Orna and Glen

Orna with cousin Glen Silver

Glen has since become known in Sydney for his superb Cinnamon Buns! All this time, I had no idea that my cousins in Australia had been following my blog and been moved by my story.

Click here for my Traditional South African Bulkas Recipe


The highlight of the my dad’s 80th was surprising him with, Ag Please Boetie—our version of the famous South African Jeremy Taylor song, with customized lyrics by multi-talented Glen. I managed to push through my laryngitis to sing all 12 verses, and everyone chimed in on the chorus. (Let me know if you need a translation for: Kneidlach, Potjiekos, Teiglach, etc.)



Sam was horrified to see a lamb on the spit, but I loved every bite! It reminded me of every special celebration growing up.

Lamb on the Spit

So happy I chose to watch Forks Over Knives on the way home, and not on the way there!


Experiencing a Safari in Pilansberg with my whole family was unforgettable.

Everyone on the Safari Bus


Being so close to the animals and their young—completely unthreatened by us—was indescribable.

I’m proud to have taken this pic with the video camera!

Three Giraffes

Sam Purkin gets credit for this one.

Mommy and baby elephant


Sharing a King David Sloppy Joe with my hubby at my alma mater was like going back in a time machine—and the familiar taste didn’t disappoint!

Sloppy Joes at King David

Eunice was kind enough to give me the old, unchanged recipe—coming soon to OrnaBakes.


We had a laugh connecting with old Germiston friends at a cocktail party thrown by Avron and Caron Melamed, who put on a sumptuous spread—all from her new kosher cookbook, A Pinch Of, coming soon!

Cocktails at Avron and Caron Melamed's House

Left to Right: Gary Shifren, Glen Silver, Neil Silver, Sam Purkin, Clifford Sher, Avron “Saffy” Melamed
Elana Mirkin Luntz, Sharon Saevitzon, Brenda Maloon Haarburger, Orna Purkin
Sydelle Leibowitz, Marlon Silver

You may recognize Avron from viral YouTube clip, “Chef Grabs the Microphone”—ironically sent to me by my Canadian in-laws, who couldn’t believe that I knew him. (Hoping this pic will earn me some extra points with them!)


We had firsthand experience of the crime and danger, when my brother, Neville, witnessed someone breaking into my other brother, Gary’s car.

I couldn’t believe that my brother and crazy cousins were running outside!

Even more shocking was that my husband was following them out—video camera in hand (of course)! He unfortunately didn’t manage to get any footage of the poor guy running off, but he forever went up in their esteem!


LOVED visiting Charly’s Bakery in Cape Town—South Africa’s version of “Cake Boss.” (Thanks Tali Brodkin for recommending that I go there!)

Charlys Bakery


This is not just a bakery—it’s a magical place.

Orna at Charlys Bakery


Take a moment to read their heartwarming, awe-inspiring story.

Story of Charly's Bakery

The best part was when lovely Lebo behind the counter graciously agreed to sing “The Click Song” for us, with authentic Xhosa clicking—in contrast to my pitiful Jewish White Girl clicking!

If you’re ever in Cape Town you MUST try the Melktert (Milk Tart) and Almond Tart!


Taking the cable car up Table Mountain—now named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World—was just as spectacular as we imagined.

Cable Car on Table Mountain


Stunning View from the Cable Car

The View from the Cable Car


Breakfast was a Giant Crunchie from the Tuck Shop. (See, I told you that Crunchies are the Chocolate Chip Cookie of South Africa!)

Giant Crunchie

Sam maintains that mine are still the best. Click here if you dare to make them yourself!


It was pretty awesome seeing the Penguins at Boulders Beach. (Yup, they do have penguins in Africa!) From just two breeding pairs in 1982, the Penguin Colony has grown to about 3,000 birds.

Penguins at Boulder Beach


Loved this sign

Penguin Under Vehicle Sign


And this one (Only in South Africa!)

Dog Poo Sign


We were psyched to be invited to the taping of SAF3—a new rescue show by our friends Greg Bonann (creator of Baywatch) and Tai Collins (writer/actress)—set in Malibu, but conveniently shot in gorgeous Camps Bay, where we were staying.

Camps Bay


Camps Bay Beach


Would you believe that we missed the shoot?! Partly because the treacherous Cape winds (known as the “Cape Doctor”) forced them to quit early.

Still, we enjoyed a celebratory post-shoot dinner, joined by Tai’s lovely, interesting girlfriends who were also visiting from Los Angeles.

Tai Orna Kate Heidi

Left to Right: Tai Collins, Orna Purkin, Kate Schumacher, Heidi Stoecklein (LAPD)
Heidi was the first woman awarded American Legion State Officer of the year! (July 2013)


On a sadder note, my brother, Neville, took Sam on a tour of Johannesburg, and they were outside beloved Mandela’s house taking this picture just days before he died. May he rest in peace.

Stones outside Mandelas House


This picture—now so much more meaningful—was taken at The Waterfront in Cape Town.

Sam and Aja with Mandela Statue


Other highlights were Cape Point, Hout Bay, and Sun City.

But the absolute best part of the trip was reconnecting with family and friends.


There’s nothing quite like old friends who knew you when you were young!

Orna Joss Sim

 Jocelyn Katzen, Simone Blumberg, Orna

I couldn’t include pics of everyone here or the post would go on for days, but you all know how much I cherished our time together. There was a huge void left by the missing friends who are now spread around the world. That’s the sad part of emigration.


I’ve never felt so unconnected (minimal internet access/no iPhone/lame cell that wouldn’t even send a text) in one way, and so connected in another (friends/family/animals/nature/culture). There’s something to be said for just being totally in the moment and not thinking about your next post!

Makes you think, doesn’t it?





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17 Responses

  1. Simply wonderful blog, I felt as if I were on the trip with you. The thrill of showing your country to your husband and darling little Aja was so moving.

    For any of your readers who don’t have the privilege of knowing you personally, let me tell them you are the second best thing ever to come from South Africa, Madiba being first…..I of course would put my money on you!

    1. Thank you dear Judy. As a blogger yourself, you can imagine how difficult it was to condense all the experiences, people, and places into one post – on a food blog to boot! Hopefully I managed to capture the essence of the trip and spirit of the country.

  2. Hi Orna

    This post certainly took me down memory lane. My kids were at KDS Victory Park and I’ve been making their famous hamburgers for years – and yes they were delicious!
    We’ve been in glorious Sydney for 27 years and whilst I rarely think about South Africa, this post certainly invoked so many memories.

    1. Renee, after getting reacquainted with my cousins, we will most definitely be planning a trip to Sydney in the near future. (I think my hubby needs a few years to recover from this trip though!) I’m glad my post took you back to SA even just briefly. 🙂

  3. Orn what a treat to read. It was so incredible to see you and to finally meet Sam & Aja. Promise to try at least one recipe a week. Love to all xxx

    1. Darling Simmy – loved hanging out with you – just like old times. How about baby steps my friend – just start with one recipe and I’ll be happy! 🙂 Love you. xoxo

  4. What a small world… Not sure if you remember me from Germiston… Lived a few houses away from The Silvers… Ashleigh… Maiden name Frank… Loved reading your blog… Mazel Tov for your dad x

    1. Hi Ashleigh, Small world indeed! So nice to hear from you – I’m sure the Silvers will be happy to hear about it. Thanks for taking the time to write!

  5. Yay a fellow Saffa here in the US. I just joined Weight Watchers and a friend sent me your post on Simply Start.

    Have a good day

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