This Place is in My Bones

Steampunk poetry evenings are a non-negotiable date in my diary.

Last night,  the first Steampunk Poetry book was launched.  This enchanting compilation of local poems, by people we all know, edited by Lara Kirsten, is available at Steampunk for only R100 – hurry while they are hot!  I wrote about these special evenings a while ago.

I don’t usually write poetry, and at Poetry Night read work by other poets that I love – Chris Mann, Clive Lawrence, Pablo Neruda…  Last night I read my own poem for the first time.  I wrote this after a short visit to Old Kilgobbin a couple of weeks ago. I was astonished at how my car followed the road with such ease, knowing exactly where to go, and, when I walked I could have done so with my eyes closed. I simply knew the way. I guess that after wandering up the same track at least once a day for 20 years, things are etched into my body.  It didn’t make me sad – just amazed – and inspired to write my first poem. One may just lead to another. Who knows?

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This Place is in my Bones

Each familiar footfall

Follows the road’s caressing curve.

Frog sounds echo between my ears

Jackal calls creep along my spine

Stars sit on my shoulders, and

Moon shadows cross the path.

Mud squirms between my toes as

Cold water clutches at my hips.

Memory drenched muscles.

Mostly it is the silence that has sunk into my bones

I’ll take the silence with me.

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Guerrilla Gardeners and Other Revolutionaries

I am surrounded by many very interesting (and occasionally rebellious) gardeners.

They inspire me constantly and also teach me all sorts of interesting things – not least about growing food.  Often I write stories about them which is a great excuse to pick their brains and find out what makes their gardens tick – more about that below.

Just last week, we gathered a small, but effective crew for a morning of Guerrilla Gardening in Howick.  Guerrilla Gardening is the phenomenon of taking over unloved public spaces to grow flowers and food – it happens all around the world.  No permission is asked, and often it is done in the dead of night. We didn’t bother being surreptitious in Howick, but we couldn’t resist a little dress-up to get in the mood.

guerrilla gardeners

First, we replanted a bed in deep shade in the Library garden with Albuca fastigiata and Crassula multicava, before freeing a shrub smothered in invasive balloon vine. Triumphantly, we crossed the road, gathering a couple of passersby and converting them to our cause.

subversive seed scatterers

Along Main Street we scattered Africa Daisy seeds harvested from a garden further up the road and plotted to plant a mass of sunflowers for summer.   We filled in spaces between the aloes with Bulbine bulbinella which is a great herbal remedy and much loved by insects too.  Then, as all good guerrilla gardeners should, we retired for tea and carrot cake on the lawn.  Lindiwe Phikwane, who was once a local councillor, laughed after washing her soiled hands “Gardening is not nearly as dirty as politics!”

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So, on to other tales of green fingered revolutionaries.

These are stories I have recently written on my other blog – Midlands Mosaic – which celebrates the characters and colour of the Midlands.  A tiny taste is offered here, but really I would love you to head on over (click on the blue links) and then hit that follow button while you are there…

Rebel Seed Eidin Griffin has shared so much of her food and seed knowledge with so many people that she really needs no introduction. Her monthly workshops held in the Garden Shed of Happiness in the Fordoun Garden are a riot – of colour, energy, enthusiasm and ideas.  Whatever you do, don’t miss them!  Send her a message 083 429 2867 right now.

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Not sure where you get your fossil fuel fix, but the Everything Store has to be one of the most charming places to do that.  Here, not only is the petrol ‘farm fresh’, but pump attendant Fana Sithole is an absolute delight and always pleased to chat about how your spinach is doing.

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Half of Xola Keswa’s family think he is completely crazy, but another faction believe he will “organify” the world! His passion for sharing the permaculture message is boundless, his enthusiasm infectious and his ability to connect with kids (and grown ups) from all walks of life is wonderful.

xola gogo's garden

When I still lived on top of the hill in Dargle – just a short walk through the forest lead me to Lawrence Qholloi who has gardened in all sorts of conditions all around the world, building up a wealth of experience about gardening – and life.  A fascinating man.

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If you are taking a break from planting your own abundance today, you might like to delve into stories of other lovely, local gardeners on this blog – Charlene Russell, Ntombenhle Mtambo, Pam Haynes, Tutu Zuma, Bridget Ringdahl and plenty more under the Tastes tab of my Midlands Mosaic conversations. 

 

 

 

Making a Mound

Always fun to try something new in the garden.

Especially with a friend who is strong and keen and knows more than you do! I don’t usually have company when I garden, but I can highly recommend it. Recently, I have become intrigued with Mounds – Hugelkultur – so decided to give it a bash.

The best thing about this method of creating a bed is that it uses up so many things that are lying around (often annoyingly) in the garden – lawn clippings, old logs, dried leaves, pruned branches, over abundance of comfrey and stops one being tempted to take all this biomass to the dump.

Hugelkultur are raised beds that hold moisture, build fertility and maximise surface area. The word is German and means means hill or mound. It is built with layers of logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available.

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The gradual decay of wood is a source of long-term nutrients for the plants and acts as a sponge storing water to be released when it is drier.  The composting wood generates heat which helps plants during the colder months and soil aeration increases as those branches and logs break down.  The most important aspect of all is that the mounds sequester carbon into the soil. I think building soil is the most important thing we can do on the planet – certainly better than planting random and inappropriate trees.

 

We made our heap on existing veggie garden, so there was no need to lift the turf.  First we dug a trench about 30cm deep.

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Then we filled it with a selection of logs from different invasive trees (soft and hard wood) we had removed a while ago. Because they had been piled up for ages, they were colonised with mycelium, so the decomposition was already starting – perfect!

r IMG_5140 pile of logs

Apparently, if you have removed turf to create the trench, you should add it back on top of the logs, upside down.  We had no turf.

r IMG_5166 logs

We continued our layers – next adding lots of branches and twigs.  Then cutting comfrey leaves and adding them.

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It was quite exciting finding that we had all these lovely ingredients lurking nearby.  Next we put in a layer of old grass clippings.

rIMG_5187 comfrey and grass

We tipped out one entire worm bin onto the heap. So many worms! So many sprouting pumpkins! Lots and lots of egg shells! All too good!

r IMG_5206 contents of worm bin

Then dried leaves that we raked up nearby. It was certainly getting taller!

r IMG_5209 mound covered with leaves

Next came compost. Wandering Jew piled in the hot driveway, had decomposed into absolutely lovely compost – who would have guessed?

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We topped it with the soil from the trench,

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planted seedlings (heavy feeders like cabbage), then covered with a layer of mulch.  During the first year of break down the wood (and fungi) uses a lot nitrogen, so we planted plenty of nitrogen fixing peas and beans.

r IMG_5251 planting

Actually, we emptied all those half packets of seeds that sit about losing their vitality. Whatever comes up will be a lovely surprise.

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Over the next couple of weeks, I watered the mound every day. Hadedas love walking on it, eating seeds and pulling up worms.

r IMG_5254 watering

After three weeks, we were harvesting leaves. Yum!

r mound after 1 month

So naturally, I am planning another mound.  While I haven’t observed all the alleged benefits yet, it was so much fun and looks so pretty, that it is definitely worth repeating.

Thank you Xola for the inspiration, energy and let’s do it attitude.

 

Cave Women

Late last summer, I went hiking with two wonderful women and slept in a cave for the first time ever.

Christeen Grant is a seasoned hiker and guides small groups of fortunate people to explore the Drakensberg, often. Carol Segal is all round happiness.  How lucky was I to have these lovely creatures for company?

In high spirits we set off in the mist from Garden Castle bound for somewhere high in the hills.  I am not a fan of carrying stuff, but if you are heading into the Wilderness Area you really do have to!

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As some of my friends will know (artichokes around the campfire….), camping is no excuse for bad food. Carol and Christeen are also passionate about local, seasonal, healthy grub –  a recipe for success! So, as many of my blog posts do – this one will mention the food. No palm oil laden, instant noodles or over packaged, dehydrated rubbish for us.

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Garden Castle is the southern most part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, dominated by the Rhino – a 3051m Peak which extends about 2km from the main escarpment. The rivers are lined with my ‘Berg favourites – Merxmuellera (grass) and Ouhout (tree).

Walking with women who are on the same wavelength is always a joy.  We all see the miniature gardens in the stream, notice reflections, the way the ground changes colour underfoot and the subtle hues of the grass alongside us,

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the bathing bird, the half submerged, striped river frog, the string of ants, the grasshopper in his smart red and blue uniform, the lizard peeping out of a crack and interesting rocks.  Always interesting rocks.

r-rock-bowlThis walk was extra special because we were headed into the Wilderness area.  We didn’t see a soul during the whole time we walked – how luxurious is that?   Pristine Wilderness is defined as untouched by modern man, where humans are only visitors – areas with an intrinsic wild appearance and character.  We are exceptionally fortunate to have these so close to home. No wonder Europeans think the Drakensberg is heaven (I have just observed first hand how crowded their world is).

Wilderness is valued not only for the biodiversity, ecosystem services and beauty, but also for spiritual and symbolic reasons.  There are no signs of humanity, no alien invasive vegetation and no signs. You hear only natural sounds, you see no lights, the rhythms of nature dominate.  Spending time in Wilderness is without doubt good for you.r-garden-castle-hike-096

We stopped for lunch in the shelter of some tall rocks, where a little stream burbled out of the bank.  Carol had picked veggies in her garden that morning to share – so we were assured of good food energy to complete our hike!

TIP: Cos lettuce survives the rigours of hiking better than softer varieties. Seed crackers are super light.

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While we were pretty wet, we didn’t mind because the misty light was perfect for photographs. Christeen could identify most of the flowers we found, but I have since forgotten the name of this lovely orchid.

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We had intended to climb higher before stopping for the night, but my knees were sore and the mizzle was thick, so we called it a day at Sherry Cave.  Amazing how Christeen managed to whip up hot tea out of nowhere!

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Sherry Cave was remarkably comfortable!  It was off the path, far above the river, where we went for a splash and to collect water, surrounded by grassland with incredible views across the valley. We explored a little, slithered on the smooth river rocks and did lots and lots of chatting before having an early supper.

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Organic wheat grown in Lesotho, sundried tomatoes and olives (from the Karoo) and fresh basil pesto. Honestly, it couldn’t have been better if we were at home. There was even a drop of red wine to wash it down with.

TIP: dried tomatoes and dried olives are very light and super tasty. We cooked the wheat before we left and packed in individual locking plastic containers.

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We woke to a rosy world as the dawn caught the cliffs opposite.  Breakfast was water moistened oats with dried fruit – surprisingly yummy.

TIP: we carried the dry oats in three individual zip lock bags, so we did not have any extra weight – adding a little river water at breakfast time.

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With no rain in sight we explored the enormous boulders around us, wandered in the grassland and had another cup of tea before heading off through the flowers.

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We splashed and rock hopped across the streams.

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We were dying to swim, but which wonderful pool was the best?

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Late morning, we did stop for a long laze in the sunshine and skinny dipping in the cold mountain water.  I plopped my pack down right next to a snake, who very politely slithered away.

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Valiantly, we tried to finish off our delicious picnic food, but couldn’t. I have heard that hikers almost always take more food than they can eat.  Sensible I suppose, as who knows what might happen (snow! floods!) and the need for extra rations arise.

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As is to be expected on hikes like this, things just keep on getting better around every corner.  Just before we reached Garden Castle Camp, we came across a troop of baboons and were able to observe them for ages. How splendid is this fellow?

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Oh my word.  We were tired, but ever so happy on the drive home to the Midlands along quiet country roads.

Christeen runs Southern Secrets Hiking and Backpacking with her husband Philip, so you could always hire her to take you on an adventure of your own.

r miniture landscaped garden

 

There is Magic in them thar Hills

There is nothing like a change to focus one’s attention.  For twenty years, I have lived in the Magic Cottage on Old Kilgobbin Farm in Dargle.  This week, I become an Howickian for the rest of this year (at least).

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While I really do appreciate most days living in the beautiful hills, these past two weeks, it seemed that Dargle put on her very best show – just for me.  There was dancing  (lots) and long walks, beautiful sunsets and spectacular stars. How lucky can a girl be?  I felt I simply had to share some of the Midlands treasures I have been showered with this fortnight.

sunset

Inhlosane is a Dargle icon.  Everyone loves this hill that one can see from across the Midlands.  Early one misty morning, I climbed it with some friends and the enthusiastic Everglades dog.  At the top we explored for hours and picnicked among the rocks.

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Summer flowers were out in abundance. In hidden gorges, I discovered Berkheya leucaugeta which I had never seen before.  I love finding new flowers! Especially such cheery ones.

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With late (very welcome) rains, the uMngeni was flowing strongly, so I stopped at the hidden Dargle Falls to pay my respects to Mama River.  I hiked down to the Dargle River too (particularly close to my heart), but sadly she was only trickling.

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I walked a lot in the hills that I love so much.  Through hay fields, beside wetlands and over grassland. I saw three oribi, a few bushbuck, a couple of duiker and some reedbuck too. Dizzy and I will really miss these walks that have been so easily accessible from our back door.

dizzy-nikki-grassland-crop

Orchids have been flowering particularly well this season. I stopped often to photograph them, and the spectacular Brunsvigia natalensis too.

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I showed off the magical mist-belt forest to my friend, Xola. It is always nice to have someone appreciative to share things with. I took my first ever selfie to celebrate!

xola-nikki-selfie

There were plenty of beautiful fungi,  delicate Steptocarpus in flower and the Samango monkeys clicked in the tree tops. We drank from the spring and sat quietly on moss covered rocks simply soaking in the sounds.

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On the veranda of il Postino, I crammed in more pizza than I have for months!  I love hanging out with the super friendly Mzamo, Wonder, Lucky, Anna and Thembelani so it wasn’t a hardship.  I enjoyed wood-fired pizza during a stoep schlurp afternoon with my pal Judy, with friends for a Dargle Conservancy committee meeting,  with my family who came all the way across the hills from Boston and on a particularly memorable night – with strangers. On this evening, the restaurant was full, but the owner, Chris,  kindly whipped a reserved sign off my favourite table and declared “I have been keeping it for you!”  A little later, a smart woman and her elderly mother arrived searching in vain for a spot for supper – we offered them space at our table. We had charming evening and then, to top off the magic with more magic – they paid for our meal!

r-il-postino-sign

I read one of my favourite Midlands poems, by Chris Mann, at the epic monthly Poetry Evening at Steam Punk Cafe. This gathering of creatives is so special and inspiring it is almost impossible to describe.  On this occasion, I was privileged to be asked by Midlands legend Helen Shuttleworth to read one of her poems too.  I love the juxtaposition of the dusty car park with noisy trains trundling by as poets perform with passion.  Catching our breath at interval, we devoured Ayesha Thokan’s delectable veggie breyani.

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At home in the evenings, I drank champagne on my veranda,  wandered along the road – greeting strangers that appeared out of the dark –  saturated in the surround sound of owls and frogs. I marveled at the night skies from my very best bench-with-a-view.

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I harvested fresh food from my garden for the most delicious meals – cavalo nero and purple beans, new potatoes, tomatoes and wild greens. I invited friends for lunch – under the tree on perfect afternoons, or beside the fire when it mizzled all day.

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As the first chill of Autumn swirled about our ankles, lots of butterflies came to celebrate my garden with me. My neighbour Barend – whom I always look forward meeting on the road as we have so much to chat about – dreams of re-branding the D17 – Butterfly Valley.  Lovely idea.

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Of course, I swam in the dam as often as I could – it really is my favourite thing to do. Early some mornings, late in the afternoon and even in the midday sun. There are thousands and thousands of tadpoles in the shallows and dragonflies wearing jewel colours flitting about on the edges.

dizzy-at-the-dam

Dawn rambles in the farmyard are a morning staple – cup of tea in hand.  Just the donkeys for company and maybe the Barn Owl swishing by, if I am early enough.  Piggy-Sue usually takes a walk at about the same time as Dizzy and me.  On one morning, while Dizzy was scavenging in the scraps of hoof the farrier had left, I watched as Piggy-Sue chatted through the fence with the old donkey Jack. Gently putting their noses together in greeting.

donkey-head

I laughed and stretched at our regular Pilates class, hosted by Helen with energy, grace and an abundance of kindness. This gathering reminds us twice a week to value our community, to breathe and to stand in self-carriage.

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Also at the Lion’s River Club, I spent a happy hour watching the local frisbee club in action.  What a game this is!  I am in awe of their skill and commitment to the spirit of the game. No contact, self refereed and when they compete, three of the seven team members must be women.

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I could hardly believe my good fortune when invitations arrived to join two fabulous evenings of music. The first in the gorgeous Red Barn at Corrie Lynn – Tim Parr, Steve Fatar and friends – and the irrepressible Cech Sanchez who had us all dancing in a flash!

corrie-lynn-barn-concert-en

The Solar Powered Stage created by Kim Goodwin at the Zuvuya SunFest was magnificently, magically memorable.  Surrounded by love and good friends, we enjoyed poets and singers before the incredible duo of Nibs van der Spuy and Guy Buttery took to the stage, entrancing us with their guitars.  The clouds covered the cliff tops, the late sun streamed on our backs while kids frolicked in the dam.  A perfect Dargle afternoon.  As evening fell, the pizza oven disgorged deliciousness, the dogs chased the sparks around the bonfire and a variety of local DJs set us all dancing wildly. Marvellous.

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I enjoyed conversations with the Zulu staff, many of whom have lived at Old Kilgobbin for longer than me.  Sad that I won’t be around every day, they invited me to stay in the spare room in the staff compound with them – what a lovely thought!   I visited Baba Sokhela who has lived here for over 50 years – expending all his youth, energy and strength on this farm before he retired. He even built my Magic Cottage many decades ago.  Over the years, the Sokhela family have invited me to share so many celebrations – membezo, weddings, umgezo and more funerals than any father should have to cope with. It has been an honour to participate.  They have so graciously coped with my vegetarianism – letting me know not to come too early when an animal will be slaughtered and even giving me a gift of meat to take home for my dog!

baba-sokhela

With lovely fellow Darglians, Pauline and Rose, I spent a fantastic morning learning about Regenerative Gardening with the effervescent Eidin (who until recently, was a Darglian too).  We bounced along the back road to Notties, chatting happily, dreaming of abundant gardens and admiring the views.

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Last Sunday, I took my other favourite back road – to Boston past Inhlosane – to join my friend Carol’s Mindful Walk and Forest Meditation morning.  What a treat that was. I especially observed how the folk who usually live in town reveled in the beauty, tranquility and fresh cold country water that I may occasionally have taken for granted.

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If I could have had one wish, it would have been a Dargle Trade barter morning to top everything off. This regular get-together of like-minded, self-sustainable types is thriving and makes me feel pleased about all the effort I have put into Dargle Local Living over the years. However, I can still drive out to share, swop and catch up on gossip as it is actually only 15kms away…

In Zulu culture, after a big celebration or ceremony, the day after is called ukulanda isigqoko – the fetching of the hats.  The hosts need to cook a bit more food and prepare extra drinks for those who may have left belongings behind and come to fetch them.

I left my red hat at Zuvuya last week, so I guess I will simply have to go back to Dargle to collect it.

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Thanks Anthea Taylor and Xola Keswa-Dlamini for taking the pictures of me.

Eataly

My favourite new Italian word is chiocciola.  Snail.  The symbol of Slow Food and, this year, recreated in giant recycled plastic by Cracking Art to decorate the paths, walls and streets of Turin during the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (SFTM) event.

Cracking Art plastic Slow Food snail

Once I had accepted the invitation to attend, I was determined to make the most of the expense (both carbon and cash – see previous post!) and planned to spend time in Milan and the hills of Cinque Terre too.   Some tastes of my trip follow.

cinque-terre-coastline

Formaggio

Cheese is an abiding memory of SFTM. Great piles of odd shapes, big balls hanging from the rafters, enormous wheels of parmesan, grey squidgy lumps piled of bracken fronds from France (formaggio de bocca), delicate slivers on wooden platters, the dark crusts on the rounds from Campagnia, huge holes in Emmentale, and pale oozey balls.  Cheese from around the world was featured, but Italian cheese ruled.  I ate a lot more cheese than I usually would (when in Rome…). The delegates’ canteen offered a big tray of chunks (yes, chunks) of parmesan and a soft ripe brie style cheese beside the selection of charcuterie.  Restraint was required.

parmesan

I loved the smoked provolone (and the odd lifebuoy shape when whole), but think some of the goat and sheep’s cheeses were my favourites.  One day, I couldn’t make it back to the canteen for lunch, so snacked on a Pecorino sosatie beside the River Po instead. Did I say restraint?

cheese-sosatie

The million or so visitors to the festival did not miss the opportunity to try new things and stock up on good, clean, fair, delicious food – within three days the Irish stall had completely sold out of the 350kgs of raw milk cheese they had carted across the North Sea!

Naturally, the world’s rarest cheese was there – from Montebore in Valle Nostra – made with 75% cow and 25% sheep’s milk, with a lingering flavour of chestnut. Loved the wedding cake shape.

rarest-cheese

Verdura

Despite the fact that the central public gardens were planted with cavalo nero and the veggie patches we passed in the train were filled with kale and chard, it was a bit of a challenge to find greens to eat. Obviously at the SFTM, it made sense to showcase non-perishable produce during the five day festival, so that was understandable.

slow-food-festival

At lunchtime, the delegates’ (there were 5000 from across the globe) buffet featured a big bowl of green lettuce and maroon radicchio.  After a couple of days of scrumptious pasta, couscous, barley salad, soups (and too much cheese), I simply ate the leaves, topped with a spoonful of farro (spelt) and drizzled with lovely olive oil and vinegar.

canteen

Luckily, our hostess, Franca Farinetti (probably the only vegetarian in the area!), has been a slow foodie since the movement began 20 years ago and cooked the most delicious cavalo nero and cannellini bean soup (all ingredients from their garden), when Ntombenhle and I arrived home exhausted after a day of long bus rides, lectures, tastings and meeting people.

cabbage-and-kale

In the stalls, I snacked on the biggest and best capers ever – from Sicily, admired purple potatoes and exceptionally long leeks, and watched weather worn women from Puglia as they deftly knotted tomatoes together.

tying-tomatoes

In Turin, I ate caponata melanzane in Galleria San Frederico – not especially green, but veg

at least. On the sidewalk, a passing couple stopped and danced the Argentinian tango to the sounds of a student string band.

tango

In the village of Corvara, I was thrilled to find wild oregano, mint, borage and dandelions growing beside the country lanes, so nibbled as I walked.

corvara-street

One day I picnicked on tomatoes and small Ligurian olives bought in nearby Pignone supplemented by the wild greens.  A fresh feast.

There were lots of pink Cyclamen and yellow Crocus in flower in nooks and crannies too, but I didn’t think I could eat them.

On my last evening in Italy, my room featured a tiny balcony overlooking the street.  While I could have eaten at one of the numerous cafes and bars in the neighbourhood, I chose to watch the sun set and the trendy Torinese emerge for the evening, from high, with a deli-bought radicchio, rocket, watercress and lettuce salad, topped with burrata and a slice of farinata. Perfect.

balcony-salad

Pane, Pasta and Pizza

Italians eat a lot of bread – and pasta.  With bread at every meal, it is no wonder that there was plenty on display in the white tents of Valentino Park where the event was held.  Much of it made with heirloom grains to recipes handed down through generations. This was good bread. There was a vast selection of fabulous flours on offer too – farina della tradizione artigilana biologica – from which the various breads, pizzas and focaccia were made.

bread-on-shelves

Popular fast-ish food for festival goers was thickly sliced of bread with slices of cured meat or cheese. Seldom any salad or garnish – perhaps just a drizzle of oil.  They looked unappetising, but were very popular.  The whole loaves of bread looked wonderful – piled in mounds.  I tasted many tiny bits dipped into olive oil.  Isn’t this bottle just beautiful?  Holding very precious oil, obviously.

olive-oil

Biscuits are also an Italian favourite. Thin, flat and crisp ‘tongues’ flavoured with rosemary, salt or olives or long crunchy grissini – Stirati – extra-stretched bread sticks.  Speaking of snack food, I found pesto crisps! How yummy is that idea?  Come on Woollies.

tongue-biscuits

One evening, the local branch of Slow Food organised pizza and beer in the Alba town square for the South African delegates.  A mobile wood-fired pizza oven cooked to order while we were entertained by CoroMoro – a group of asylum seekers from across Africa who sing traditional Piedmontese folk songs and are a big hit in the region.   It was wonderful.

I ate fresh ravioli with bright green pesto off a plastic plate from the pop-up Fior Fiore food stall where they promised (and delivered): ‘each product reveals its own character through its unique flavour, close links with its territory of origin and the passion of those who guarantee its existence every day: breeders, farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs united by the common goal of safeguarding the values of food in a modern culinary culture.’

galleria-san-frederico-2

Alice Bottignol, delightful daughter of our hostess Franca, had never heard of the Banting diet – just as well, as they eat pasta every day. On our last evening around the kitchen table, they gathered twisted zucchini from the garden to make a simple spaghetti dish, followed by a salad of just picked green beans and tomatoes.  Epitomising good, clean, fair.

zucchini

At the 5 Terre Hostel, where I stayed in Corvara, the owner Franceso loved to cook. Every evening he would announce his menu plans and invite us to eat if we wanted to.  Penne with tomatoes, vegetable lasagne, risotto, spinach and ricotta tart or farro soup. Ideal after a long, steamy day hiking through the oak forests and olive groves between the villages in the 3 868 ha Parco Nazionale della Cinque Terre – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

corvara

In Corniglia one lunchtime (I had walked from Manarola), I ordered spagetti vongole e lemone under a big plane tree in the small piazza. I know clams are not vegetables, but this dish is a favourite from my pre-vegetarian era so I decided to risk the karma since I was right beside the Mediterranean where the dish was born.  It was fabulous, but not any more fabulous than any other pasta dish I ate in Italy, and I certainly don’t need to eat it again.

I then set off up the steep paths through the terraced vineyards to walk to Vernazza in time to catch the ferry back to Monterosso al Mare.

Cinque Terre - Vernazza

The five famous villages on the cliffs of the Med are car free zones. To get to them, you catch the train or the ferry or walk – or park your car high in the hills and take the steps.

riomaggiore

I chose to walk the high contour paths, but there were thousands of stone steps to get down to each village – and then up again when you left.

stone-steps

Hard to imagine farmers carrying huge loads of grapes from these precarious vineyards during harvest time, but they certainly did before rigging up the rickety looking rails that do the job today. On the hike from Porto Venere to Romaggiore I came across the stone walls built at just the right height for the grape-laden to rest their load.

One lunchtime, I joined locals (some men in their overalls!) on the unpretentious deck of a trattoria for some very fine fare.  I ordered trofie rucola, noci & scague di grana.  Trofie is a small twisted pasta that is a regional speciality and usually served with fantastic pesto (I ate this in Milan). This one was served with walnut sauce, rocket and parmesan. Good lunch on a steamy day with cold white wine and a tomato salad.

trofie-rucala-noci

Another evening, I joined new friends at the Hotel Paese and loved the ravioli with walnut sauce. A fellow diner had ribbons of pasta with wild boar – literally a sprinkling of boar.  I do like how the Italians use meat as seasoning, rather than the main event.  I wasn’t thrilled to spot the signs warning that boar shooting season started in the deciduous forests around the village that week.

forest-corvara

Fagioli

Slow Beans – there was an entire bean section at Terra Madre!  A fabulous celebration of lentils, beans, chickpeas – where crowds clustered at the booths – animatedly asking questions of the passionate producers and paying good money for bags of pale broad beans or almost purple chick peas.  I adored the names – each one a speciality of a particular region – khaki coloured Malato o di San Guiseppe, Fagiola rosso di Lucca with burgundy streaks, pale green Fagiolo Gialet and small rust coloured ones from Fiamagnano.  Many are Slow Food Presidia – set up to save and promote old varieties not in mass production.

beans

In Piazza Castello one was invited to play with an array of legumes – colouring in outlines of farming scenes drawn on a table.  A few volunteers patiently sorted all the mixed-up beans back into the various pots, so the next food explorer could play with their pulses too.  Clever use of touch and smell to illustrate the importance of seeds as the first link in our food chain.

bean-picture

Farinata is a pancake-like creation made from chickpea flour.  I like it a lot and enjoyed crisp, dark gold slices whenever I could.

Birra

Imagine my delight to discover il Teatro della Birre at Terra Madre – a forum for craft brewers to share their experiences and guide participants through the delicate flavours they had managed to extract from hops and what not.  I tasted American, German and Belgian beers, and plenty of Italian ones – a few of my beer highlights follow:

At Terra Madre, passionate small, ethical producers abound. That is the whole point really. A young man introduced me to the Trappist brews – Birra Antoniana – from Padua.  My favourite was La Torlonga, which uses Solina, an ancient variety of wheat that grows between 450 and 1400 meters, resists the intense cold and the snow on poor soils and is grown by only ten organic farmers.

birra-antoniana

It was hard not to judge the beers by their branding. The colourful folk art on the Czech Wild Creatures, the bold colours of Sicilian Epica, the enchantingly named Piccola Birrificio Indipendente. I certainly didn’t taste all that I admired!

lisa-beer

One evening in Monterosso, after paddling in the calm, warm sea, I sat at a pavement café enjoying fresh focaccia and a glass of beer. I can’t remember what it was, but the waiter did explain its local origins with great enthusiasm. The café was closing in two days as the season was over – I felt fortunate to have been one of the very last customers.

monterosso-beach

Frutto

Each morning for breakfast in Monticello d’Alba, Franca offered a big bowl of homegrown plums (prunes) and the very last peaches of the season. They have a special name this late variety, but I can’t remember it.  A succulent start to the day.

peaches-and-plums

The figs were almost over, but one evening when we were invited to join in the folk dancing at Cinema Vecchio (a bit like the Scottish reels we do in Dargle, so I fitted right in – thanks Lucinda!), someone contributed a big platter of fresh figs which we devoured with glee.

Did you know that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan on the border with China? Or that 80% of the global market is represented by just four varieties?  There are 400 varieties of apple in Piedmont alone, so imagine how many interesting ones there are in the world that are being lost, or just surviving thanks to small family orchards.   Slow Food aims, through the Ark of Taste programme, to collect varieties that belong to the cultures of the world – record their existence, raise awareness of their extinction and ask everyone to do something about saving them, by telling their stories.  The display of apples in the Saving Biodiversity Exhibition in Piazza Castello was simply beautiful.

apples

Wandering on the fringes of Corvara, I admired plump pomegranates in driveways, and surreptitiously tasted a couple of grapes straight off the vine.

red-grapes

I loved the great heaps of nuts at the festival – pistachio, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Almonds dusted with the herb savory were scrumptious, pistachio pesto was sublime. Most of all I admired the colours and textures.

pistachio-nuts

Gelato

Ice cream rocks in Italy. One of the first things Ntombenhle and I did in Milan was buy a couple to eat as we explored Navigli (the canals).   Good but not incredible – probably catering to the tourists that thronged the city, even so late in the season.

canal-ice-cream

In Turin centre during SFTM, Via Po became Via Gelato with a long string stalls selling gelati made from specific varieties of fruit and nuts. Everyone was invited to “taste biodiversity in one cup”. One could choose between Renneta or Gala apple (I chose the tart Renetta).  I also chose Limone di Almalfi, Bonda Valley Romasin Plum, Bronte Pistachio from Sciliy and Piedmotese Hazelnut.

plum-gelato

The weather was warm, the sun was shining, everyone was out eating ice cream, including me!

snail-piazza-castello

At every opportunity, I bought an ice cream. I managed to cram in four on my last afternoon in Italy – including Stracciatella.

river-po

Leaving Italy with a tummy full of ice-cream is jolly sensible, I reckon. But early the next morning at the airport I managed to squeeze in a fabulous arancini – fried risotto ball. Where in the world, besides Eataly could one order fresh mozzarella di bufala and arancini with a cup of breakfast tea?

Ciao.

Read more about the Italian trip here.

lamp-turin

Ciao Carbon!

Having consciously avoided emitting excessive carbon for the past 20 years, I am about to embark on a carbon creating extravaganza.  While there is no justification for this behaviour, I thought it likely that others who generally try to live low(ish) carbon lives might find my dilemma and attempts to justify it amusing.

I have long thought that environmental organisations are among the worst culprits when it comes to unnecessary air travel. I so often bump into supposed greenies who fly to Cape Town or Joburg for the day, conferences/ gatherings in Ghana or Germany at the drop of a hat, or are involved in research projects in Ecuador that demand their annual attention.  This has always struck me as ridiculous, but I have sceptically listened to rationalisations about how environmentalists/conservationists should be allowed bigger carbon footprint allowances as their activities were supposedly helping the planet, by finding solutions.

Many years ago, I refused to travel to Europe to receive an award for the MMEP (ok, it was a small and insignificant award). I recall the astonishment in some quarters that I would refuse a free trip, but also that a few people were very impressed at my ‘walking the talk’. At the time it seemed bizarre to have banned staples and set up recycling bins in the office of the environmental education organisation and then jet off abroad for a frippery.

So now I am doing just that – watch as I try to justify this!

An opportunity arose to attend the annual Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin Italy.  I have been a member for many years, certainly believe in the principles of good, clean, fair food and done my best to promote the cause. Ironically (in the light of the air miles I will be clocking up this week) I have never attended any of the local Slow Food functions in Durban as I thought they were too far away to be really local, so confined my slow food jaunts to the Midlands and ‘Maritzburg.

terra-madre-africa

Slow Food really is something that is good for the planet.  But seriously, a week in Italy with thousands of others from across the globe? The focus this year is on Indigenous food systems and I believe 400 Africans are travelling to Turin, along with countless South Americans, Asians and far flung Europeans.  I can’t even begin to imagine the combined carbon footprint! Anyway, I am going, with my friend Ntombenhle Mtambo. They are putting us both up with local families, feeding us and arranging a bus to get around.  So once we are there we will be pretty eco.

On the bottom of my airticket, it states “Estimated Total Carbon Dioxide Emission For Flights: 2812.80 kgs”. There are even suggestions on how to offset this. Ooooh offsets – that’s a whole story on its own, but I will try to focus on my personal issue.  I check the figures on the various online calculators and discover that about 3 tonnes is correct.  Is it possible to make this up/repay the planet?  Friends tell me that I have ‘earned’ it with all these years of solar cooking and harvesting greens outside my kitchen door. I know too that not having children ‘earns major credits’.  However, I was already doing these things perfectly happily, so shouldn’t I be doing MORE?

r-medley-of-greens

After sifting through all the info on ‘trading carbon’ and ‘selling carbon credits’, it seems that tree planting is punted by most carbon offset companies (the internet is littered with them). Ha!  Well, I know how ridiculous that is.  Grasslands store more carbon than forests and trees are always being planted in inappropriate places, which drives me mad. Apparently, I only need to spend R352.32  to make up the three tonnes. This is the amount of emissions an average South African home produces in a year. No wonder this is a thriving business, it is just so easy to do.  I delve a little into a few of the companies and their tree planting projects – some are really enticing. Others focus on protecting rainforest and other ecosystems. I find one that focusses on installing low carbon cooking and lighting solutions in rural areas – that is very appealing and makes a lot more sense than planting random trees.  But I already do that. I have given away many sunstoves, wonderbags, isitofu to save our indigenous forests being plundered and plastic burnt for fuel, and spent much of my energy promoting these things.  Should I just do more of the same?  But how much exactly?

I could, of course, give up my car.  That really is a possibility – all I have to do is move into Howick where I can walk and ride my bike almost anywhere I need to go.   That would mean I give my walks in the hills and dips in the dams which I do believe keep me sane and enable me to contribute to helping others live more sustainable lives… Am I simply trying to justify my idyllic life that is made possible by fossil fuel?

No one offers the option of helping you transition to a vegan lifestyle, but I think that may have the most impact.   Most carbon calculators give lots of credits for this, but it is not an idea punted by the off-setters.  Pulses only use 100 litres of water to produce 1kg of food compared to the 13 000/16 000 litres for a kilo of (feedlot) beef.  The Slow Food Bite Sized Guide has this to say:  “Meat consumption is reaching increasingly unsustainable levels and the environmental costs of such an unbalanced diet are enormous. Producing a kilo of beef using industrial farming systems releases on average 36.4 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (the livestock industry produces 18% of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, a higher percentage than the transport sector) and requires around 15,500 litres of water and 7 kilos of plant-based feed.”

r-chickpea-salad

Remember water uses heaps of energy to get where is needs to (unless you are carrying it on your head – then it is your own personal energy) – so the energy savings of a vegan lifestyle are obvious.  The energy footprint of eggs and dairy is enormous if commercially produced.   I eat only free range eggs produced as locally as possible and buy milk and cheese from a cow just nearby, so I think I am doing pretty well.  But now that my attention is focussed on the issue, I need to take into account all the water and energy used to grow the maize fed to the happy chickens – I have yet to come across anyone leaving chickens to forage for themselves.  Even grass-fed dairy ends up looking dodgy – especially during the current drought when fields have been irrigated or hay trucked in (along with some commercially produced food supplements). I can’t find any simple calculations comparing a vegetarian diet to a vegan one (and am so bothered trying to book umpteen busses and trains on the internet that I give up searching).  I am a bit worried about all the extra almonds I might eat for breakfast instead of an egg. If a drought hits Prince Albert in the Cape and the nuts have to come from California, surely it would be better to eat my neighbour’s eggs?

r-mushroom-egg-toast

So back to Slow Food.   As part of the network, more than 2,400 Terra Madre food communities practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality food around the world.  So far so good – that is the reason I am a member.

I wondered if the organisation feels any responsibility for the enormous footprint of this annual fiesta and am pleased to discover that they do make an effort.  This is their blurb and I will be going to see for myself!  Better not be green wash!

“Slow Food has always warned about the sickness of our Planet and it has been working in order to find solutions to this problem. The SEeD project (Systemic Event Design), by the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, it has managed to reduce the expected environmental impact for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016. For the first time, the energy required for our event will be secured from renewable sources. Energy savings during the event will also be made possible through the use of lighting fixtures and low-consumption appliances. The commitment to reduce the amount of waste produced and to promote recycling will be central: more than 100 recycling areas will be set up, overseen by 250 volunteers. Visitors have been invited to reach Turin and travel around the city by using public transportation.

terra-madre-asia

The theme chosen for the 2016 edition, Loving the Earth, will show the way to possible solutions. Serena Milano, General Secretary of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, explains: “Looking after the environment and the planet we live on is the most important issue of our time, and an obligation for everyone who works with food. We want to rediscover the pleasure of taking care of the Earth, together with producers, teachers, chefs, academics, farmers, food communities and above all, everyday people and families. For this reason, we are organizing workshops, conferences, tasting sessions and educational courses.”

Several themed spaces and interactive tours will be dedicated to crucial campaigns to save the planet: from the preserving of biodiversity to the need of reducing meat consumption, from the promotion of a more sustainable fishing, to the need of safeguarding bees and other pollinator insects increasingly threatened by the intensive farming and the use of pesticides, from soil defense to water, seeds and other common goods protection. Terra Madre Salone del Gusto will provide several educational spaces aimed at schools and families to learn how to grow a garden, make compost, chose seasonal vegetables, and take care of seeds. An invitation to cultivate in several contests: in the ground, in a vase, on the balcony, in the garden, in the countryside or in urban spaces.”

So that was a long slow ramble around my head to reach the conclusion that I cannot justify the carbon emissions and it will be difficult to make them up from my current lifestyle.  I simply have to live with them.  I doubt very much that I will do another trip like this one in my life.

Buon appetito!

Do have a look at the important work that Slow Food does – www.slowfood.com or join our local KZN convivium –  slowfood.imifinokzn@gmail.com

terra-madre-europe