South African at home in Selby

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By Sandy Bond

Michelle Knecht with husband Don, son Donovan and daughter Jacqueline.

Michelle Knecht with husband Don, son Donovan and daughter Jacqueline.

“Christmas in Africa is during the summer,” Michelle Knecht said. “So we usually spent time on the beach or at a braai (BBQ) close to the water. We do have Christmas crackers (party favors with prizes inside that you pull apart) at our table.”
What brings a South African girl to the South Dakota prairie? Her husband, of course.
“I met my wife Michelle in Pretoria, South Africa while on embassy duty,” Don Knecht said. “We were married on Sept. 15, four days after 9-ll.”
It wasn’t certain that most of his groomsmen would be able to attend the wedding, he said. Luckily, the restrictions were lifted and the wedding went off without a hitch!
The son of Beverly Knecht of Mobridge, and Robert Knecht of Selby, Donald and his younger brother Darin grew up in Selby. After graduating from Selby Area High School they enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1991, and 1995, respectively.
Don served as Marine security guard detachment aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in California, infantry units in Camp Lejeune, N.C., embassy duty in Bujumbura, Burundi and Pretoria, South Africa.
He served as a course writer and performed parade duty in Washington, D.C. He finished his career with two different infantry units in Camp Lejeune, N.C. He deployed once to the Western Pacific Ocean, twice to the Mediterranean. He helped evacuate and secure the U.S. embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, and served in Al Quim, Iraq.
Don retired in September 2011, as a Master Sergeant, after 20 years serving his country and returned to Selby and accepted the position of Selby Chief of Police.
They live in Selby with their children Donovan, 11, and Jacqueline, 7, who attend Selby Area Schools where Michelle has been employed as a para-professional.  They also have a 13-year old beagle, Diamond.
“I first visited Selby with my husband in 2000, and through multiple visits to Selby while he was in the military, I knew that it would be a great place to live and raise the family,” Michelle said.
She and her brother Junior Coetzer and sister, Jacqueline Labuschagne, grew up in South Africa. Her dad had retired from the U.S. Air Force.
Graduating from Voortrekker Hoogte Hoer School, Michelle attended the Academy of Learning in South Africa for two years and received her early child development associates certificate through the Washington, D.C., Air Force Child Development Center. When she first arrived in Selby she was employed as a freelance writer for “The Selby Record.”
“Both my parents, Donovan and Susara Coetzer, were caterers,” Michelle said, “My dad has prepared meals for leaders and presidents from all across South Africa including the recently deceased President Nelson Mandela.”
Michelle worked as a secretary and a computer editor in Pretoria, in a child development center in North Carolina and in Washington, D.C., and as a waitress at hundreds of functions her parents catered.
“But I never really paid attention to what they were doing in the kitchen. Dad was always cooking in competitions and we were his guinea pigs,” she said. “We eat a lot of chicken. The kids don’t mind chicken nuggets.”
Her son Donovan is allergic to fish, her favorite food, but she has cooked it from time to time.
“I prepare some additional South African dishes which at times will go over well with the family, and at other times-not so much!” said Michelle.
Her favorite hobby is taking photographs with her Nikon D7000 camera, she said. Her friends report that the photos are phenomenal.

MICHELLE KNECHT’S RECIPES

Bobotie
2 thick slices of brown bread
2 cups milk
2 large onions, chopped
3 tsp.     apricot jam
1 tsp.  ginger
2 eggs
Paprika
2 lbs.     ground beef
Oil for frying
3 tsp.     curry powder
1/3 cup  seedless raisins
1 pkg. of beef soup powder or oxtail soup powder
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Salt to taste
1 tsp. Aromat (Can be found at West Side Meat Market)
Soak bread in half the milk. Fry onion in a little oil until tender and golden brown. Add the curry powder, ginger, apricot jam and raisins and stir. Add meat and stir, fry thoroughly. Add soup powder and bread. Whisk egg, remaining milk, mustard and salt. Add 1/2 the mixture to the meat. Pour into a casserole dish. Pour the rest of the mixture over the top. Bake for about 45 min at 350 F. Sprinkle with paprika and serve over rice.

Pumpkin Fritters
3 cups  cooked, mashed pumpkin
2 eggs
1 tsp.     salt
2 cups self-rising flour
3 tsp.     baking powder
2 cups cooking oil
Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup     water
1/2 cup milk
6 tsp.    butter or margarine
Pinch of salt
2 tsp.     cornstarch
Beat the pumpkin, eggs and salt. Sift the self-rising flour and mix with the pumpkin mixture until a soft batter. Heat cooking oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Spoon dessertspoonfuls of the pumpkin mixture into oil and fry until light brown and cooked. Drain fritters on absorbent paper, place on a serving dish and keep hot. Heat the ingredients for the syrup except the cornstarch and bring to a boil. Mix the cornstarch with a little cold water to a paste and stir into syrup. Pour over hot fritters. Makes about 3 dozen fritters.

Koeksisters
3 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
3 tsp.     baking powder
3 tsp.     margarine
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
Pinch of salt
1 tsp.     ground cinnamon
Sift the dry ingredients and rub in the margarine. Beat the eggs and the milk. Mix to  a soft dough. Knead for 12 min. Leave overnight in the refrigerator. Use part of the dough and leave the rest in the refrigerator. Roll the dough and cut into strips and plait. Fry in deep oil. Immerse immediately in ice- cold syrup.
Syrup:
16 cups sugar
2 tsp.     lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
6 cinnamon sticks
8 cups water
Dissolve sugar in water before water starts boiling. Add cinnamon sticks. Boil rapidly for 15 min. Add lemon juice and cream of tartar when the syrup is cooled. Leave the cinnamon sticks in the syrup and keep it overnight in the refrigerator.  Do not use the syrup at once. The syrup can be kept in the refrigerator for a considerable period.

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