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Life Lessons

(by Lana Te Brugge)

At this time of year, I miss my late mother terribly and feel her absence more poignantly. Wow, what a woman! To this day, she is still my strongest inspiration. So much of who I am is the result of her life lessons. She taught me never to give up, no matter what, and that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

Claudette Te Brugge was a force to be reckoned with, a woman of power, strength, compassion, and love. She was a gifted writer, producer, and director of plays that were performed at the two largest theaters in Cape Town, South Africa. Her larger-than-life persona consumed the stage, and everyone knew “Claudie” was in the house when she walked in. Her wit and the ability to laugh at the most difficult of circumstances were a constant source of entertainment. Somehow, she could turn a negative into a comedy that would have us rolling on the floor.

Our favorite moments were spent in the kitchen, cooking and baking, not only for our family but also for the various soup kitchens and church charities where my mother was involved. The food was almost always delicious, but one day the soup was “off,” and we buried it in our back garden. The fermented soup and hot earth were the perfect recipe for an explosion that left a few holes in our garden and the smell of fermented vegetables around the neighborhood.

It was in the kitchen that my mom and I spoke for hours about what was right and wrong in life. It was where I could ask questions, and where she taught me to love cooking, passing on the recipes her mom had taught her. I miss the conversations, the wise advice, even the scoldings I would get when I had done something wrong. (Yep, I was a rebellious one.) My mom taught me that it is not a mother’s responsibility to change her children but to love unconditionally and direct her children on the path of morality.

(My mother and grandmother)

It was an important lesson because of where and how we lived. My family was involved in missionary work, and when I was eight, we moved to the Anastasis, a ship in the fleet of Mercy Ships ( My grandfather was the first white man to take the Gospel into what was then known as the “colored” areas of Cape Town. It was the apartheid era—absolutely forbidden for a white person to be seen with a person of color—and he was often arrested for giving lifts to non-white women in the rain or cold. My grandfather taught my mother to be colorblind; he taught that race and upbringing did not define anyone. My grandmother was always cooking extra food and handing it out to the people walking past her home every day, many of whom were homeless. There was never a moment of going to see her when the gorgeous aromas of her cooking didn’t greet me. While we were visiting, she would continue talking to us while putting parcels of food together with precision.

I am now at a different but similar point in life. My youngest daughter is 14, and again I find myself in the kitchen, this time as a mommy. Every time my daughter and I bake or cook together, the valuable life lessons my mother taught me and the conversations we had come flooding back. I love hearing her questions about the recipes. Imparting years of tradition is important to me, and this holiday season has been special. It is a blessing to see her put on her mask and wrap up freshly baked goodies for the homeless people in our town. There are moments that we laugh together, cry together, and yes, sometimes even argue together. Somehow, cooking or baking allows us to open up and share with each other, and I find that it is the perfect time to listen to her heart. As I prep the food, she’ll sit on the counter and tell me about her day, about school, about her friends and her boy band crushes. Her current dream is to meet the Korean group BTS. She has dreams of marrying one of them, raising a family, and being a mommy herself. When I ask if that is all she wants to achieve, her answer is yes, she wants to be a great mommy like me. That warms my heart, and while many people might think it's not be ambitious enough, I think it is a perfect goal.


Lana Te Brugge is an actress, model, and performer. She is the founder of Bridge Builders, a translation of her family surname Te Brugge. The city of Brussels (Bruges) was named after her father’s family, who built bridges throughout Belgium and Europe. She is also involved with the Brackenfell Community Action Network, which provides for the less fortunate during the Covid 19 lockdown in Cape Town and South Africa. She can be found at Backstage.

Malva Pudding

For the batter:

1 T. butter, at room temperature

1 c. sugar

1 c. walnuts, chopped

2 eggs

1 T. apricot jam

1 t. baking soda

1/2 c. milk

1/4 c. brown vinegar (e.g. malt or balsamic vinegar)

1 c. flour, sifted

1/4 t. salt

For the sauce:

1 c. heavy cream

3/4 cup sugar

8 T. butter

1/2 c. hot water

1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar for 2 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, and continue to beat well after each addition.

Add apricot jam and mix well.

Add milk and baking soda, then vinegar.

Add sifted flour and walnuts gradually and continue to beat.

Pour batter into a 9-in. square greased baking pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a tooth inserted in the center comes out clean.

While pudding is baking, mix all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan over medium/high heat.

Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover.

Remove pudding from oven, and pour sauce on top.

Set aside for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with custard, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

(My mom and grandmother used to thaw out the ice cream, add 1/2 c. of sherry or brandy, and then freeze the ice cream again. Absolutely decadent. I add brandied cherries that I make the year before, bottle, and then serve with ice cream.)


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