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

Mnandi

I am feeling pleased a punch.  The cook book I have been working on for absolute ages as a fundraiser for the Mpophomeni Conservation Group has finally been published.  My design diva pal, Des put it together just the way I dreamed it and I think it looks delicious.

MNANDI cover

My friends in Mpophomeni are the inspiration. How could I resist not sharing their stories and recipes when they say interesting things like this:

  • Hope Majozi (I call him my second favourite vegetarian in the world): “People are unaware. They do not realise the cruelty of meat production.”
  • Ntombenhle Mtambo: “Teaching young people to grow food and medicine and become more self- sufficient is the most important thing we can do – but it must be fun.”
  • Penz Malinga: “With animal agriculture now the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, we all have change our lifestyles, and eating more vegetables is a great start.”
  • Lindiwe Mkhize: “I worry about the kids – they need fresh nutritious food and plenty of water, not white bread and horrible juice filled with colourants.”
  • Tutu Zuma: “My food forest and medicinal plant garden keeps me strong and healthy. I have never been hungry – I eat green food throughout winter.”
  • France Mtshali: “If you want to live a long life work hard, eat fresh, local food and lots of greens.”
  • Sthembile Mbanjwa: “It feels nice to pick your own food that you have grown with your hands and to save seeds for the next season.”
  • Mary Mlambo: “Many young people don’t understand how important growing good food is. They want to be pilots and doctors, but you can’t get food from a plane or hospital.”

dancing in the rain 4

I feel very fortunate to have been able to combine all the things I care about – eating  plants rather than animals, using renewable sources of energy, living local, growing your own, foraging for wild greens, building community, brilliant colour  – in this book.  Lucky, lucky me!

So this is a tiny taste of what it is all about.

Seasonal cooking is never a chore.  It is a joy.  It is a celebration of colour and flavour, of the time of the year, of the love lavished by the gardener and cook.

In Mpophomeni township in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands, joy is a fundamental part of living. Here food is grown from the heart, meals are meant to be shared and stories are told with pride.  In this book of fresh garden food, the people with their hands in the soil and their creative customers share their delight in seasonal produce.

winter

Savour Sthembile’s handmade lasagne with just picked spinach, try Tutu’s sun-cooked rhubarb stew and make Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek or her favourite crunchy fennel and orange salad.  Customers at the Mpophomeni Community Garden, Caroline Bruce, Oaklands County Manor, shares her recipe for Sauerkraut while Kate Chanthunya of Rondavel Soap shows us how to make a salad dressing using maas.  The imifino (wild greens) section will encourage you to take a whole new look at the abundant greenery in your veggie beds.

nosipho and salad

Anna Trapido, author of Hunger for Freedom – the story of food in the life of Nelson Mandela, wrote the ‘shout’ for the back cover: “We are what we grow, cook and eat. Mpophomeni’s gardeners and cooks are an example of what South Africa can and should be. Through the pages of this delightful book readers will come to love and admire a remarkable and resilient community. The recipes so generously offered are not only delicious but also inspiring and insightful – each one allows a reader to taste a piece of the story.”

r grinding pepper onto potato salad 1

I hope that Mnandi (which translates as ‘tasty’) will inspire you to take part in the magical process of growing and preparing food that is good for you and good for the planet too. Available at Mpophomeni Community Garden, Mpophomeni Tourist Centre, Dovehouse Organic Farm Shop, Lazy Lizard Bookshop and Howick Falls Info Centre in Howick,  Three Tree Hill Lodge Bergville, Oaklands Country Manor Van Reenen, BookWorld  and Tatham Gallery Shop in Pietermaritzburg, The Lilac Crane and White House Books in Nottingham Road, African Art Centre, Earth Mother Organics, KZNSA Gallery, Home Grown at Litchi Orchard, and It’s All Good in Durban.  Or from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Official launch at the Midlands Literary Festival at Yellowwood Cafe in Howick on 27/28 August.  I will be doing a presentation at 10am on Saturday morning, and we will be signing copies all weekend. Do hope you can pop by to celebrate with us.

Publication is sponsored by N3 Toll Concession who have always loved the food we serve them when they visit.  Thank you Andy Visser for the spark and Thandi Rakhale and Con Roux for your continual enthusiastic support. Thanks to my tribe of creative friends (who are not Mpoppies) who contributed recipes, ideas, time and advice – Sue Derwent, Erica Platter, Kate Chanthunya, Eidin Griffin, Sam Rose, Bridget Ringdahl, Karen Zunckel, Kim Ward, Lesle Hall, Caroline Bruce, Cheryl Blackburn, Liz Gow, Alison McKenna and Paul Van Uytrecht.

All money from sales will go to MCG projects.

r bunch carrots

 

 

Eating Orangutans

When I was little, my Dad made the strong bars for the new orangutan cage at the local zoo.  We got the special treat of going ‘back stage’ to see the orangutan.  I remember lots of concrete, metal bars, a pile of straw and being told not to go close as the orangutan could reach out and grab us. I think it was pretty scary. Now, of course, I think the poor lonely creature probably wanted to reach out and touch someone else.  Back in a time when orangutans were pretty unknown, I remember feeling very pleased to have had this encounter – it made me feel a bit out of the ordinary – but also a bit sad.

Nowadays, I really am out of the ordinary – particularly about food.  Eating orangutans is absolutely, definitely not something I will do. However, most people are doing so without thinking. Enjoyed a Magnum ice cream on a hot day?  Lays crisps with evening drinks? Marie biscuits for morning tea?  Horlicks before bed?  Nutella on your toast? All these things and a gazillion more, contain palm oil. Apparently approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. By default, they contain orangutan.

Last week, I went out without packing a snack. I stopped at the garage for fuel so popped into the shop to see if I could find something to nibble on. There was NOTHING, absolutely nothing, without palm oil listed in the fine print. The chocs, sweets and chips I knew about but I was aghast to find all the packets of peanuts, cashews and almonds also contained palm oil. I settled for a coke – another evil, but for another story.

young Orangutan by Photographer Andrew Suryono

What’s the issue with Palm Oil?

Palm oil use is responsible for mass deforestation and a decline in Orangutan populations.  When tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, not only does it drive extinction of plants and animal species (about 20 000 orangutans dead in the last 10 years and only about 40 000 left in the wild) but deforestation on this scale releases huge amounts of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere, contributing directly to climate change. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning. Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. These original forests are ‘carbon sinks’ which store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world. Clever humans – just when we need to be storing as much carbon as we possibly can!

It’s estimated that 98% of Indonesian forest will be gone within the next 10 years due to palm oil plantations. For cheap oil? Cheap only because we are (still) raiding the planet – the true cost is borne by the environment and though not included right now, we will all pay for the destruction of functioning ecosystems.

When I was little, my Dad made the strong bars for the new orangutan cage at the local zoo. We got the special treat of going ‘back stage’ to see the orangutan. I remember lots of concrete, metal bars, a pile of straw and being told not to go close as the orangutan could reach out and grab us. I think it was pretty scary. Now, of course, I think the poor lonely creature probably wanted to reach out and touch someone else. Back in a time when orangutans were pretty unknown, I remember feeling very pleased to have had this encounter – it made me feel a bit out of the ordinary – but also a bit sad. Nowadays, I really am out of the ordinary - particularly about food. Eating orangutans is absolutely, definitely not something I will do. However, most people are doing so without thinking. Enjoyed a Magnum ice cream on a hot day? Lays crisps with evening drinks? Marie biscuits for morning tea? Horlicks before bed? Nutella on your toast? All these things and a gazillion more, contain palm oil. Apparently approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. Last week, I went out without packing a snack. I stopped at the garage for fuel so popped in to see if I could find something to nibble on. There was NOTHING, absolutely nothing, without palm oil listed in the fine print. The chocs, sweets and chips I knew about but I was aghast to find all the packets of peanuts, cashews and almonds also contained palm oil. I settled for a coke – another evil, but for another story. What’s the issue with Palm Oil? Palm oil use is responsible for mass deforestation and a decline in Orangutan populations. When tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, not only does it drive extinction of plants and animal species (about 20 000 orangutans dead in the last 10 years and only about 40 000 left in the wild) but deforestation on this scale releases huge amounts of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere, contributing directly to climate change. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning. Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. These original forests are ‘carbon sinks’ which store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world. Clever humans – just when we need to be storing as much carbon as we possibly can! It's estimated that 98% of Indonesian forest will be gone within the next 10 years due to palm oil plantations. For cheap oil? Cheap only because we are (still) raiding the planet – the true cost is borne by the environment and though not included right now, we will all pay for the destruction of functioning ecosystems. So what can we eat or use? Fortunately for me, I don’t eat sweets, so that is not such a hard one to avoid. Crisps I do love and have found that Flanagans doesn’t contain palm oil or the veggie chips from Woolies – sweet potato/beetroot. Paul makes ice cream from scratch, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the Madagascan Vanilla one from Woolies is safe to buy. Biscuits, cakes and muffins are a real challenge, if you buy those. Anything with Vegetable Oil listed as an ingredient is suspicious – if it does not specify sunflower/canola/whatever, then it is very likely palm oil. The Mooi Plaas Wholewheat & Cranberry and Butter Yoghurt rusks have no palm oil, but others in their range do. Even one of our favourite baked treats from the Karkloof Farmers Market contains commercial biscuits – so you really do need to ask about ingredients. We were aghast to discover that even some of Fry’s Foods (those vegetarian protein alternative products) contained palm oil. We wrote to them and were told they were had stopped using palm oil in everything besides their pastry products. We check the label every time. Toothpaste, cosmetics and soap – well, I use small production, organic, preferably local ones but you still need to check. I like ESSE moisturiser (the creators are in Richmond) so wrote to them to ask about palm oil. They replied right away (which was impressive), “We don’t add palm oil as an ingredient to any of our products but palm oil is sometimes used in the production of one of our emulsifiers. The German supplier of this emulsifier generally uses coconut oil but sometimes switches source. Under such a circumstance their suppliers of palm oil are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or are otherwise certified sustainable palm oil producers (CSPO).” I am comfortable with that. Of course, besides voting with our money, we can also speak up about the issue. Online petitions have had some major victories. Betty Crocker in America (cakes) agreed to switch to sustainably produced oil recently after huge public pressure and Ferrero (chocolate) and other big brands have become members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group. http://poig.org/palm-oil-innovation-group-announces-new-members-leads-change-from-plantations-in-indonesia-to-supermarket-shelves-across-the-globe/ ‘But it’s so hard’ someone said to me recently, when I encouraged her not to buy the pretty handmade soaps she was planning to give all her friends for Christmas. It is not really, you simply need to ask if the ingredients are not printed on the packaging. If they are, all you have to do is read them and pop them back on the shelf if they do contain palm oil. There are soaps without palm oil – Rondavel make fabulous ones (including a vegan version! yay!). You can choose Flanagan’s crisps or ice cream made with real dairy. You could also bake your own muffins, or ask someone who needs a little extra income to provide you with sweet treats, made with ethically sourced ingredients. If you are not particularly enamoured by orangutans, Sumatran tigers and elephants and gazillions of the small guys are also being decimated, never mind the millions of Indonesians that rely on rainforests for their livelihoods - entire forest communities now face poverty and displacement. Fortunately, we all learned to read in Primary School, so can put that skill to good use in the supermarket queue. Reading labels is a good thing anyway as you never know what other nasties may be lurking. Even easier is simply not to buy anything in a package. I think that if something has to list the ingredients, it is not real food anyway. I’d rather eat leaves. Oh, and you won’t believe it, but there is still a solitary orangutan, named Opal, in a cage at the Lion Park Zoo. Can she be the same one I met so many years ago? Compassionate friends are working hard to get her released to a sanctuary. http://www.heraldlive.co.za/world-rallies-around-spca-call-get-boswells-orangutan-sanctuary/ Images of orangutans are from an article by Sarah Arnold in the Mirror. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/pregnant-orang-utan-pictured-clinging-final-1896974

So what can we eat or use?

Fortunately for me, I don’t eat sweets, so that is not such a hard one to avoid.  Crisps I do love and have found that Flanagans doesn’t contain palm oil or the veggie chips from Woolies – sweet potato/beetroot.  Paul makes ice cream from scratch, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the Madagascan Vanilla one from Woolies is safe to buy. Grabbing a chocolate bar in the queue is virtually out of the question. Paul has discovered that the Ayeshire Cream Fudge chocolate bar from Woolies is both locally made and palm oil free.

Biscuits, cakes and muffins are a real challenge, if you buy those. Anything with Vegetable Oil listed as an ingredient is suspicious – if it does not specify sunflower/canola/whatever, then it is very likely palm oil. The Mooi Plaas Wholewheat & Cranberry and Butter Yoghurt rusks have no palm oil, but others in their range do.  Even one of our favourite baked treats from the Karkloof Farmers Market contains commercial biscuits as a base – so you really do need to ask about ingredients.  We were aghast to discover that even some of Fry’s Foods (those vegetarian protein alternative products) contained palm oil. We wrote to them and were told they were had stopped using palm oil in everything besides their pastry products. We check the label every time.

Toothpaste, cosmetics and soap – well, I use small production, organic, preferably local ones (Pure Beginnings, African Organics) but you still need to check.  I like ESSE moisturiser (the creators are in Richmond) so wrote to them to ask about palm oil. They replied right away (which was impressive), “We don’t add palm oil as an ingredient to any of our products but palm oil is sometimes used in the production of one of our emulsifiers.  The German supplier of this emulsifier generally uses coconut oil but sometimes switches source.  Under such a circumstance their suppliers of palm oil are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or are otherwise certified sustainable palm oil producers (CSPO).”  I am comfortable with that.

mooi plaas rusks

Of course, besides voting with our money, we can also speak up about the issue. Online petitions have had some major victories. Betty Crocker in America (cakes) agreed to switch to sustainably produced oil recently after huge public pressure and Ferrero (chocolate) and other big brands have become members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group.

‘But it’s so hard’ someone said to me recently, when I encouraged her not to buy the pretty handmade soaps she was planning to give all her friends for Christmas.  It is not really, you simply need to ask if the ingredients are not printed on the packaging. If they are, all you have to do is read them and pop them back on the shelf if they do contain palm oil. There are soaps without palm oil – Rondavel make fabulous ones (including a vegan version! yay!).  You can choose Flanagan’s crisps or ice cream made with real dairy. You could also bake your own muffins, or ask someone who needs a little extra income to provide you with sweet treats, made with ethically sourced ingredients.

If you are not particularly enamored by orangutans, Sumatran tigers and elephants and gazillions of the small guys are also being decimated, never mind the millions of Indonesians that rely on rain forests for their livelihoods – entire forest communities now face poverty and displacement.  Learn a bit more about the issue.

PEOPLE-ONLY-Orangutan-Boon-Mee (1)

Fortunately, we all learned to read in Primary School, so can put that skill to use in the supermarket queue.  Reading labels is a good thing anyway as you never know what other nasties may be lurking.  Even easier is simply not to buy anything in a package. I think that if something has to list the ingredients, it is not real food anyway.  I’d rather eat leaves.

Oh, and you won’t believe it, but there is still a solitary orangutan, named Opal, in a cage at the Lion Park Zoo. Can she be the same one I met so many years ago? This makes me too sad for words.  Compassionate friends are working hard to get her released to a sanctuary.

Images of orangutans are from an article by Sarah Arnold in the UK Mirror and the baby under the leaf is by photographer Andrew Suryono.

Vegetarian? Absolutely.

When I met Erica for tea last Sunday morning, she told me she had been up since dawn making saffron, turmeric and coconut ice cream. “It is such a gorgeous golden colour, and I know it will taste delicious too” she grins. While she has grown the turmeric herself, coconuts are a bit of a challenge in Howick.

Erica is no ordinary cook – she is changing the world one delectable meal at the time and growing the herbs, salads, onions, garlic and greens she needs for her catering business right outside her door.  “Sustainable, ethical, delicious food is my thing, and now I only cook vegetarian food.”  No wonder I like her so much.

Erica Brown food table

Erica wasn’t always vegetarian. Her journey started while swimming on a deserted beach in New Zealand. “Suddenly, I was surrounded by dolphins, as they circled their sonic clicking sound went straight through me. It was an incredible experience.”  Knowing that dolphins were often harmed in tuna fishing, she immediately stopped using tuna and soon afterwards all fish because of overfishing and shocking farming practices.  “I felt that I couldn’t complain about the state of the planet if I was not doing my best to make it better.”  As a chef she started to ask about the produce and use only free range and organic wherever possible. This didn’t always go down well with the owners of the restaurants where she worked, as their focus was usually on profit.  Eventually she stopped cooking commercially, horrified by the food wastage, food miles and over packaging.

erica pea hummus

Nowadays, Erica runs a vegetarian catering business in the Midlands and is a regular stall holder at the Karkloof Farmers Market, serving up scrumptious and inspiring meals that happen to be extremely good for you too. “The reaction is always amazing,” she comments, “people are surprised that vegetables taste so good and that there is such a diversity of interesting ways to use them.”

erica patties

Juicing is another passion – a way to get nutrients straight into your blood stream – and her customers love her interesting, healthy combinations. “With so many people juicing as part of their cancer recovery diet, I always say, why not start drinking fresh juice while you are still healthy?” Certainly can’t do any harm. Naturally she only uses fruit and vegetables in season and is amused when asked for orange juice in the middle of summer, gently explaining that they are not in season then. She relishes every opportunity to spread the sustainable living message through her wholesome, home-made vegetarian food. “This is all part of a learning journey for many people. I am sticking to my guns even though some people tell me my business won’t succeed if I don’t compromise. I care that bears are starving because the wild salmon is overfished and no amount of profit can make up for that.”

For a taste sensation (and a little bit of learning) look out for Erica’s pop up restaurants, her foodie stalls and juicing demos – you will be delighted you did.

Contact Erica on 071 031 0182  Thank you Peter Upfold for the photographs.

erica brownies

Camping with Lipstick

  • tent
  • self inflating mattress
  • vacuum packed ready meals
  • sunscreen
  • tutu, headdress, wings, goggles
  • lipstick

Camping kit sorted.  Ok, I am clearly not a regular camper. The only reason to camp is if there is no other accommodation available and the destination is exceptional. Aaah, Afrika Burn. Of course. I reckon camping won’t be so bad if I can wear lipstick everyday without feeling weird among khaki-clad hiking/camping types.

The Survival Guide, which I read carefully before we set off, warned us to come prepared for dust, wind, rain, cold, heat, mosquitoes, devil thorns and flash floods. We also had to take every drop of water we would need for a week with us and bring out absolutely everything we carted in – Leave No Trace.  This was no ordinary camping trip.

my tent

Afrika Burn is community of participants who come together voluntarily to create art and a new world in the Tankwa Karoo once a year. Eleven principles act as guidelines for the event and illustrate how a community can recreate the world.

Tankwa dust is legendary.  On arrival, Burn Virgins (you could obviously spot us a mile away!) were required to bang a gong and roll in the dust, before heading into ‘town’ to find a rocky spot to hammer in our tent pegs.

karoo afrika burn trip 2016 1130.JPG

Tankwa Town (created annually by volunteers) is a barren plain ringed with hills. The Roggeberg to the North and East, and Cedarberg in the West.  The nomad tents rise like little mountain ranges too. Roads are created with tape and have delightful names. The main ones follow the clock – 6ish, 9.30ish and 10ish.  The side streets are alphabetical  (so thoughtful for late night revellers trying to find their camp) using interesting words with X in them – so Elixir, Flummox, Generation X, Hex… This year was the 10th anniversary of Afrika Burn, so the overall theme was X. Crossroads were illuminated with solar lights and You Are Here maps.

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The very useful Survival Guide had said that goggles were essential. Despite it seeming very odd, I am glad I packed some as they were very handy when the dust storm rolled through. I wore them on my way to yoga class in the morning, to eat lunch (out of the packaging, with extra crunch) and to wander around the Binnekring in the early evening watching the people.

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Everything (well most stuff) happens on the Binnekring – a circular road around the open area where the art is displayed.  Thousands of people perambulate whirling umbrellas or trundle along on bikes. Marvellous mutant vehicles cruise by offering music or drinks or snacks. Folk lounge on bean bags or sit on hay bales enjoying pancakes, vetkoek, coffee or ice cream – all the treats that are gifted by the hosts of the Theme Camps. Some dance, some drum, some walk on stilts. It is an astonishing collection of creativity and colour and absolute magic. Everyone participates by dressing up, playing an instrument or jiggling hoola hoops – there are no bystanders.

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Flags flap, balloons bob and tents strain at their tethers. The heat of the day is tempered by the breeze. No one bothers to cling to their tutus or headdresses – they simply go with the flow. The wind is an integral part of the Afrika Burn experience – illustrating beautifully the transient nature of the event, and indeed life.

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The morning yoga class set to resurrecting the tent and sweeping the canvas floor before the calm, white-clad teacher settled us down for some vigorous breathing with our eyes closed and backs to the bracing breeze. The Alienz Coffee Shop which provided free coffee to everyone who brought a cup took a battering, but was soon up and running as those in need of caffeine restored order.

All sorts of bits and bobs blew away to get snared on the bossies along the water course.  The detritus is called MOOP in Tankwa Town – Matter Out Of Place. Whatever you take in you have to take home and it is astonishing that 12 000 people actually do this!  There are no bins. We volunteered for MOOP collection a couple of times, disentangling ribbons of toilet paper from thorny bushes and found that what we collected was seldom willfully discarded, but simply lost in the wind or the party.   We seldom found copies of the entertaining daily paper – The Stofadil Sentinel – sure everyone wanted to take a souvenir home.

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Even when there was no swirling dust, the earth was obvious. Hard, with stones everywhere.  Interesting stones, I must say. Some sharp and standing upright in shards, others smooth and extremely shiny, swathes broken into neat rectangles and some that looked like elephant skin. I did spend a fascinating morning with a Geologist and Archaeologist out in the wild part, but can’t really remember anything I learnt.

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I have never been to any sort of festival before – the thought of thousands of people and a few chemical toilets has put me off.  Here the loos were lovely.  Long drops, dug by volunteers before we arrived, with buckets of sawdust beside them, treated with effective micro-organisms every day, and surrounded on three sides with shade cloth to ensure a little privacy.  One morning I overheard a tie dye clad young man excitedly telling his friend he had spotted a Rufous naped Lark from his favourite loo with a view! I was dreading the thought of mass use toilets, but these were perfectly nice. Just in case, I adopted three nearby anyway, tidied them and cleaned the seat a few times a day after decorating them in a Fresh-as-a-Daisy theme with trails of lacy white daisies and daisy coloured poetry to read. I hoped that users might be better behaved if it was a pretty space – I need not have been concerned.

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We had carted in the suggested 5l of water per day per person and found that this was more than adequate. Obviously, we didn’t bother much with washing and soon got used to the powdery film on our limbs, matted hair and very wrinkly faces. Interesting how easily we adapted to a waterless world.  One afternoon our neighbours offered us the last bit of hot water in their portable shower and Penny and I had a very luxurious wash using only ONE LITRE each!

Our neighbours deserve a special mention as making friends with them was definitely a highlight.  We set up beside four young people from Pretoria – also Burn Virgins, who were so organised and utterly charming and offered us gluten free pancakes in the morning and woke me up to watch the midnight burn with them.  On the other side was Ebenezer Roux a succulent grower from Cape Town -he just loved camping and spent most of the time pottering around his camp housekeeping. He got the kettle boiling first thing so we could have a cup of tea together. One evening, he gave me a list of all the vegetables he had brought from his pantry so that we could cook up a big ratatouille to share. Beside him were a Gauteng couple whom he had met at the Burn before and who were now his firm Tankwa friends – an annual rendezvous in the desert. Tucked between us and the Afrikaans youngsters was a couple from Tanzania and their son who has just finished at UCT – they cooked glamorous things like Spagetti Carbonara and drank red wine and greeted the day with a ‘Salaam Alaikum’.  Behind us were lovely travel bloggers, Andra and Sergiu, Romanians who live in Vienna. They had a very organised VW Kombi that they slept in with their toy monkey, and the aforementioned shower.  When the big crowds arrived for the weekend, Hawaiians Juicy and Mantis squeezed their off road rental with a tent on top between us and the road. What a delight they were. Veteran Burners who have often been to the original Burning Man event in Nevada and had the most fantastic costumes, including incredible platform boots and eagle wings (which they gifted to Penny). They told us the quickest way to get to Tankwa Nature reserve when we left and saved us HOURS of driving.

Penny and Ebenezer

Apparently 1500 or so people simply left during the dust storm, packing up camp after their tents had collapsed in the high winds, or simply preferring their breakfast grit free. Most people were more resilient than that – carrying bedding and belongings to more robust tents, offering shelter to neighbours, sharing 10 pound hammers and hunkering down.

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Ballgowns billowed and the creative buckets in the free showers at Camp New Beginnings swung wildly. Burning Mail managed to stick free stamps onto free postcards and send them off around the world, or deliver them by bicycle around the camp.  I don’t expect anyone tried to play tennis in the wind at the Love All Tennis Camp.  The rainbow CD and rag décor at the Pancake Pozzi twirled, but they kept serving pancakes, and there was afternoon tea in china cups with biscuits on offer too.  The Independent Republic of Boerassic Park was undeterred by the wind, serving up vetkoek and folk stories to the early risers.

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I contributed to the artwork named Octopus’ Garden – a crochet coral reef of many colours set on the ancient seabed – feeling fortunate that there was a way that I could participate from my comfort zone of hook and yarn.

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Radio Tankwa filled the airwaves with news about what was happening where and an eclectic selection of music. Eclectic is a word that epitomizes the entire event.  Wealthy revelers arrive in helicopters at the airstrip while battered panel vans brave the tyre shredding roads. The contrasts are immense and much of the time, one’s senses are overloaded.  Most of all the kindness of strangers, the spontaneous conversations in unexpected places, the sharing and generous gifting overwhelms the whole experience. There is really nothing negative to say.

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Burning the Artworks seemed a bit odd considering that some had taken weeks to build and were incredibly beautiful.  Fortunately, in conversation with strangers we soon learned that the FIRE is often the art – the way the sculpture burns. The flames that shoot high through the centre, the whirlwinds of embers that spin off into the desert, the petals of the Lotus that opened one by one as the flames licked the base.  Cleverly thought out and planned by the artists.

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The burns took place in the evenings and while there was a schedule, the fire crew made last minute decisions on the conditions and the wisdom of burning.  The best way to find a burn is to follow the flashing red lights of the fire trucks as they head across the dark empty space.  Soon crowds of self-illuminated folk (think LED lights in tutus, tiaras, on bicycle wheels and backpacks) wander across to ‘the burn’.  Some sculptures burn easily while others require dousing with petrol and flame throwers (a bit disappointing).

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Our favourites included the Desert Flower made of subtle coloured hessian; the Clan X – giant dancing figures; Die Laghuis for the small and engaged crowd; Obscura 2010 – Tintin’s Rocket which seemed so different from anything else; the silent burn when everyone in the entire place switched off the music and sat in reverence watching the flames; the Lighthouses which was pretty silent by default as many people had left already and those who remained had no need to be noisy, the sunrise burn; and The Moment which burnt at midnight.  This sculpture was created by a team of Russian artists – a beautiful cracked egg supported in the air – my favourite I think.

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Oh, I must not forget Lizzie X Edition – the life size, mechanised Tyrannosaurus Rex that circled the crowds spewing fire and reminding us all that dinosaurs once roamed these plains. It was very moving.

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Most evenings there were literally dozens of fire dancers doing their thing – completely mesmerizing.  While all this could be really dangerous, volunteer Rangers keep everyone at a safe distance, warn of potential hazards and treat anyone with sunburn or braai fire burns too.

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The volunteer medics treat other emergencies and the Sanctuary offers a quiet space for those having a rough time – all volunteers!  Volunteering rules at Afrika Burn!  I found a space that I fit into perfectly! It is the MOST FUN and highly recommended.  I volunteered as an Info Booth Faery, in Lost and Found, registering media and showing artists where to set up, collecting MOOP and as a Snow Queen in the ice booth.

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Ice is the only thing sold in Tankwa Town – helping to keep everyone cool, food fresh and drinks delicious. It was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I volunteered for and I met some jolly interesting characters at the ice truck too.  We were surprised at how easy it was to keep our supplies cold with a little care and a couple of bags of ice.

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I didn’t focus much on taking photos because I found it quite hard to capture the magic. Better to simply enjoy the moment. Also, I didn’t think the dust would do my camera much good!  With no phone signal, cash or deadlines and surrounded by remarkably friendly members of humanity one really begins to believe that we can recreate Life on Earth in a better way.

In the end, it is the people who participate who make Afrika Burn such an exceptional experience.  Participate, not just observe. We were all the entertainment.  Pyromaniacs or not. With or without lipstick.

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Nineteen

Nineteen years ago, I moved to Dargle.  I thought it was a temporary move to enable me to pay off a big chunk of my mortgage, but I have never left.  The Cow and Chicken consumed the first years. Despite being vegetarian, I was determined that I was the chicken. When Carl and I began to grind our teeth as tourists drove up the hill,  we closed the store and focused on other things instead.  I created the Bugs, lived locally in Dargle, played in Mpophomeni, wrote some stuff.

While there are so many things that I adore about living in the countryside, I will focus on the very best for this blog. Of course, I should mention all the wildflowers and the wild animals and the wild people. The real food  available so close by, the peace and quiet, the extremely nice neighbours.

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To celebrate, I share my 19 absolute favourite and best things about living on Old Kilgobbin Farm:

Swimming in the dam at sunrise – often with a family of Egyptian Geese.  I once made a little film abut an early dam excursion with Dizzy – you can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/86992519

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Skinny dipping in the sun and basking on the raft – more swimming, of course. Being naked in the sunshine is a glorious thing. I am seldom surprised by a passer-by, but it is easy enough to swim to the middle and stay submerged. The raft is a marvellous thing, where wagtails nest and ducks sit. Once I had my birthday party on the raft.

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Walking in the hills – It is real luxury to be entirely alone, with not a single structure in sight and to simply head out of my kitchen door for a micro-adventure at any moment.  I have learned so much about the flowers of the Midlands just by exploring (and writing the Inspector Indigenous column in the Meander Chronicle).  Sometimes in Spring, walks don’t go very far as I crouch and photograph a tiny treasure every couple of paces! My favourite walks are down to the Dargle River and across the hills towards Lidgetton.

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The red flash of Turacos – These gorgeous green birds were called Knysna Loeries when I arrived, but are Turacos now.  They glide between the trees in my garden, red wings aglow and then hop up and down branches making a great racket.  I have nicknamed them turkeys.

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Full moon rising behind the old Prunus africanus in front of my cottage – I have been ruined forever with an incredible eastern view.   Among my group of howling friends, I am often the first to see her rise.  The big tree is very special and quite rare. I am no good at photographing the moon, but here it is as the day breaks.

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Lone Samango monkey feasting on figs – a magnificent creature, who in the past drought stricken year has decided that my kitchen is a good source of snacks and helps himself to fruit and eggs or whatever I have not hidden completely.

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Night sounds – jackals  barking and yowling, all three owl species – Wood, Spotted Eagle and Barn, tree dassies (their loud knocking and screeching terrifies first time guests!) and a gazillion frogs. I do love the frogs and feel very fortunate to sleep with my windows wide open to the sounds.

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Morning moons sinking behind the hill. I often set off for morning walks while the full moon is still in the sky. It always feels special to watch her slow descent – often only moments before the sun is visible in the opposite sky.

Lying in long grass. The grass stalks frame the sky – all green in summer and gold in winter. It always seems like a secret place. A safe little nest.

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The view of Inhlosane.  This hill defines Dargle. You can see it from everywhere and I photograph it constantly in different moods – sometimes on fire, or covered in snow.  I love to climb it too.

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Mist rolling in and tumbling over the bottom half of my front door. Completely magic. We definitely are in the mist-belt. Often just down the hill the weather is completely different.

Stone walls –  The beautiful dry stone walls that criss-cross the hills were built by Italian prisoners of war.

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Star-filled winter skies – the cold clear air is ideal for stargazing.  I like to wander about in the dark and marvel at the pinpricks of light.

Deep silence of Sundays – No brushcutters and lawnmowers and tractors and other noisy equipment that are a feature of keeping the countryside under control. Just quiet.

Farmyard sounds – The Zulu chatter and frequent laughter as farm staff gather for the day. Geese that pose as watchdogs squawking madly at strangers, donkeys that hee haw when they think someone should be bringing breakfast, and horses galloping freely (thundering actually) across the fields.

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The forest –  If I feel flustered, too busy or hot, I pop into the cool, calm forest for a moment to  restore my equilibrium. The enormous Yellowwoods, Stinkwoods and Cape chestnuts are magnificent. Little lichens, orchids and mushrooms invite quiet contemplation. I like to follow the animal paths and sit beside tiny streams. I love the crunch of the leaf litter underfoot in winter, the patches of pink in the canopy during Spring and the filtered green shade in Summer.

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Swimming at sunset (yes,  swimming again!) with hadedas on the banks, a watchful fish eagle in a dead tree and swallows swooping low.  I know swimming gets a lot of mentions in this list, but what is not to love about frolicking in deep water between the fields and the forest with dragonflies?

‘Die kudu blaffie in die lug’ in early February.  It comes as bit of a surprise, the chill about one’s ankles. A gentle reminder that Autumn is on its way. The morning sun changes position and early walks require a scarf.  I first heard of this lovely saying from John Bronner – I assume it means the time of year when the warm breath of the animals becomes visible in the cooler air.

The Bench
My neighbour, Barend,  installed a roadside bench a few years ago. I walk to it a couple of times a day, sometimes with a cup of tea, to linger over the view. It is wonderful at dawn (when Midmar turns pink) or in the late afternoon (when shafts of sun break up the clouds) or in the moonlight.  I hardly ever come across anyone else sitting on the bench.

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Only nineteen – so hard to choose, but I get to add another favourite to the list every year! Here’s to many more years of splashing in puddles, impromptu picnics, rural ramblings and waving to strangers on the road.

 

Bartering for OJ

Sarah Derrett lives over the hill in Lidgetton.  She really walks the local living talk and started a Barter Market on the first Saturday of each month. I love it. You pitch up with whatever excess you have and swop with whoever else arrives. I go home with milk, eggs, mushrooms, peppers, seeds, sunflowers, books, plants, bread and freshly squeezed, organically grown, orange juice. It is fantastic.  I simply had to write a little story about the juice.

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Intrigued by a recurring listing on GumTree under ‘Property – Other’, Sarah went to investigate and discovered an abandoned orange farm. “Fallen fruit was rotting on the floor, the ground was covered in moss. Commercial farmers would have thought it a disaster, but we saw abundance. The fact that it hadn’t been sprayed for years meant the fruit was as organic as one could find.” Sarah and friends set to work to unlock the potential and rehabilitate the farm, creating permaculture gardens and repairing broken basic infrastructure.

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Then, armed with a hand juicer, that didn’t last long, Sarah set about collecting the speckled (no spray, remember), sweet fruit to make fresh orange juice for sale. “It has been so well received. I think many people didn’t realise how many additives there are in commercial fruit juice.”  Recently she purchased an industrial juicer. This is an impressive contraption (appropriately orange coloured) that halves the fruit and turns 3kgs of fruit into a litre of juice in a flash. It is mesmerising. “Often my whole family sits and watches it work” she laughs, “the amount of juice that sprays out is amazing.”

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Lily (4) had a classmate tell her when she unpacked her lunch box recently “Fruit juice is bad for you, it has too much sugar.”  Lily was pleased to report back to him the next day that hers was actually fine – just loaded with natural fructose, but none of the bad sugars and oodles of vitamin C, of course.

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While Sarah is clearly having a lot of fun and enjoying her newly acquired taste for champagne with organic orange juice, the fact that a good food is not lying rotting in a field somewhere, is the greatest joy of the enterprise. Full of fresh and funky ideas, Sarah is dreaming up plans to extract oil from the rare un-poisoned rind for use in cleaning products and health oils; make candied peel and try her hand at gentle freezing methods that preserve the health benefits.

Her delicious juice is available at the Barter it Market at Caladdi B&B on the first Saturday of each month, or at Greetings Café in Howick, Steam Punk and Dovehouse. Sarah has plans for a just-squeezed Juice Bar somewhere in the Midlands soon.

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