Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sea foraging

After getting bolder about foraging for nettles and herbs around our neighbourhood, we've started getting mussels and seaweed when we go to the beach. 

We ate a lot of seaweed back in Boston- packaged, dried, salted and with sesame oil. Here in Cape Town, Korean-branded seaweed is pretty expensive and packaged with a lot of plastic, so it's pretty exciting to try out drying our own. Noah and Eli love picking it out of rockpools, and now is the perfect time to forage- the sea lettuce is plentiful but there's less likelihood of red tide etc.- apparently that tends to happen late summer.

As for mussels, we just get enough for Noah and Eli (10-15 at a time), as an extra source of protein and for the excitement of eating them soon after we get home from the beach. I choose places where they're very plentiful and where the clean waves wash over them. There are a few spots in Sea Point that are perfect.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Smoothies, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, and Nasturtium Pesto

Here are some random things:

  1. Nasturtium Pesto. My unadventurous palate had it's doubts, but it's really good stuff. Not as good as basil pesto, but almost. Given that the nasturtium is free, I calculated the total cost of making it at around R50 (using local parmesan, garlic, olive oil, and macadamia nuts as the other ingredients), for the equivalent of 4-5 bottles of what you'd buy at the shop for R35-R40 each. So while it's not cheap to make, you're getting much, much better ingredients than store-bought pesto, and you're saving at least R100 in the process.
  2. Simple Sweet Potato Gnocchi. (steamed sweet potato + as much flour as you need to make a workable dough, roll out into worms, cut into 1.5cm pieces, flip on a fork, boil until they float, and you're done) Sweet potatoes are very cheap at the farmer's market right now, and few people seemed to be buying, so I got a lot and we're using them for everything.  
  3. Noah squeezes the orange juice and picks the spinach. Which means it takes a really long time. Which is fine with me. 
  4. Smoothies. We somehow don't have an ice tray right now, but bananas, oranges and strawberries are in season so I cut and froze bananas and strawberries, and each morning we have the best smoothies with about 3 leaves of spinach from our garden, about 8 strawberries, between 1 and 2 bananas, and the the juice of 2-3 oranges. It's worth experimenting with: we're also trying out frozen guavas occasionally. Anyway. I'm really into it because usually I just feed the kids most of the good fruits and don't end up eating enough fruits myself; this way we all benefit.
  5. Strawberry ice-cream. We ran out of frozen bananas and the kids were going crazy, so I tried blending about a cup of milk, a large cup of frozen strawberries, a little plain yoghurt, and a teaspoon of honey. The result was a great strawberry smoothie, but when I ran it through the ice-cream maker, it immediately became the best strawberry ice-cream ever. I suppose you could also just freeze the smoothie a little, but we were in a hurry. 
  6. A ball taped to a string hanging from the doorway is the best thing ever. Until the kids start fighting over it. But still. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A visit to Newlands Forest

We've lived in Observatory for almost two years without going to Newlands forest. Our friend invited us for a walk, and before she arrived Noah and Eli had already settled into the river. It is heaven for small children, especially this time of year when water is flowing but it's no longer cold.
Noah's favourite thing to do was to walk back and forth across the river. 

After throwing a million rocks that seemed to be half his size, Eli was presented with a makeshift fishing rod. 

Eli got hold of the ice cream... 

Anyway, here's to the summer and to beautiful places around Cape Town. It really is an amazingly beautiful place to live.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cooking with Stinging Nettles for the first time

If I am ever in Wales again, I will forage. But when I was sixteen and had just arrived in Wales, I remember being scratched and stung by stinging nettles that cover the hedgerow on the walk to Llantwit. I never imagined that these would be good to eat. But they are! They have a lot of protein and iron, and apparently other health properties, too. I've drunk nettle tea since I was pregnant with Eli, and I'm convinced that nettle tea (and rasberry leaf tea) really helped me during pregnancy and labour.

So it was a bonus to discover stinging nettles at the Ecovillage while harvesting nasturtiums. With the protection of a plastic bag, I picked enough for a meal, while trying to convince the kids not to touch it (thankfully there were plenty of nasturtiums to distract them). I hope to get much more before the season is over.

The experimental batch was easy to cook and had a very mild taste- milder and lighter than spinach. I brought to boil just enough water for them to be dipped in for a moment, and when I pulled them out they didn't sting.

I used them in brown rice risotto- short grain brown rice and barley with beef broth, nettles and a little rosemary and South African parmesan. I say South African parmesan like it's something we always have in the house. We don't. But I got some for the nasturtium pesto and it's pretty lovely. Anyway, here's to free nutritious vegetables!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Write to Cadbury's South Africa about Social Responsibility

I recently wrote to Cadbury South Africa about Fair Trade and Packaging and social responsibility in general. I share the letter below to make it easier for you to write, too. If you'd like to take any part of the letter below, feel free. The address is their South African office. 

Cadbury is a very large company, and I am interested in understanding if we as consumers can help to push for change-- both with our money (by forgoing products or avoiding companies) and by sharing the reason so that, if there's a large enough group of us, the company is not left guessing. 

Given that one Cadbury product has adopted the Fair Trade label, there is clearly will from within the company to change. I write to Cadbury, rather than Nestle or Beacon or any number of other companies because it's the chocolate I grew up with and love, and because of the glimmer of hope in this one product with the Fair Trade label.

Even if they become completely Fair Trade and stop packaging their products in plastic, it remains that Cadbury products are not "healthy". I am not sure how to deal with that, but I think it's worth engaging anyway, and accepting that for the next while, my diet is likely to include sugar in different forms.

I suppose there are variations of this same letters to be sent or emailed to any number of large companies? Do you want to share any stories of companies you liked but are currently fasting from. Or companies you would like to appeal to to move in the direction of social responsibility?

Here's the letter:

Customer Services, Cadbury’s
No. 18 Harrowdene office park. 
Kelvin Drive Woodmead, Sandton 2191
Dear Customer Services,

Re: Social Responsibility: Fair Trade and Packaging of Products

I am writing to let you know that I love the taste of Cadbury- I’ve grown up with it, it’s part of so many memories of my childhood. I also want let you know that as a consumer, both the packaging and the origin of the product I consume is important to me.

Cadbury products were once largely packaged in paper and foil- both recyclable. Today, they are wrapped in plastic which never degrades in the environment.

I am so excited to find the Fair Trade label on your plain milk chocolate slabs. It is very encouraging to find that you’re interested in participating in the transformation of the cocoa industry, which as you know is currently one of the largest industries involving child and slave labour. While Cadbury has long been guilty of participation in this industry, as a very large player you are also best equipped to understand the complex issues at play, and meaningfully engage in real transformation. I for one wait for the day when all Cadbury Cocoa is Fair Trade.

I believe I am part of a growing cohort of people who are willing to work hard to understand and control our consumption of the earth’s resources, and others’ labour.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my priorities as a loyal Cadbury customer. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

This summer's first Boulder's trip

Noah's been asking to go back to the Penguin Beach for ages and ages and we've been watching the weather and waiting. Finally this week there was a day that was nice and hot, and our summer visits to the Penguin Beach began. There's something really idyllic about the beginning of summer. It's really quiet on a week day, because people are not yet sure if it's warm enough. That, and I suppose most people are at school or work.

In the background there's the usual life stuff: Eug's visa didn't come through and he has to go every two weeks to Home Affairs, Noah's birth certificate is still not through, our stove and vacuum cleaner both broke the same week. But in this, there's Noah and Eli and a life we feel really grateful for. I love that Boulders is far enough away that we have to pack a really good picnic, and take off the whole day. Eug and I each work six days a week, about 3 hour chunk for each of us, and maybe an hour early in the morning or in the evening. Sometimes it's amazing and wonderful- we're working on stuff we chose- and sometimes it's not. I guess what I'm trying to say is that our beach trips are a part of our lives- a wonderful part, but they're also intentional breaks from the regular schedule we've built for ourselves. A guaranteed break from worrying whether I'm socializing Noah, from Noah and Eli fighting, from Eli drawing on the walls with anything he can find. 

This trip, I was surprised to discover Eli has developed a fear of the water. Which he managed to sortof overcome by himself by putting his ball in the water and running out to get it. Noah concentrated super hard on making a garden out of shells.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Common Prayer

Our day often starts way too early and Eug and I are left scrambling to just keep the house vaguely clean or give the other their chance to begin work.

Apart from my trying to wake up before the kids, Eug and I have been giving eachother a couple of minutes (5-15) first thing in the morning to pray and start the day. It's made a huge difference to my ability to listen to God during the day and avoid that feeling of being in survival mode. We've each been using this version of the book of Common prayer,  which consists of a couple of brief Bible passages and a liturgy, as well as a brief story of some event or person who followed Jesus. There's also a midday and evening prayer. I have a low expectation of myself- a few minutes several times a day- because that's what works for me and keeps me wanting more (rather than feeling burdened by another chore).

If you're also trying to follow Jesus, I wonder how you've figured out a rhythm with praying and reading the Bible alone and with your kids?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Links for the week

While the U.S. news has been dominated by the government shutdown, I wanted to share some things I've been reading that might be interesting to you:

  • Check out this article about chocolate over at Simple Mom. I'm a chocolate addict, and while in the U.S. it was easy to walk over to Harvest Co-op and feel awesome about buying fair trade, in South Africa it's a little more difficult. I started with a fast from all Nestle products, then all Kraft products, and finally Cadbury's and Beacon. To be honest, Cadbury's is my favorite chocolate and so I was really happy when they began rolling out fair trade plain milk chocolate. I don't think it's enough, Cadbury's, but it's something. If you're in Cape Town, check out Cocoa Fair. It's excellent chocolate- and if you start buying their brand consider asking for them to roll out plastic-free packaging.
  • I'm not a natural at Farmer's Markets. I get confused about what I should buy, feel overwhelmed by the prices and so on. I feel like a fraud, to be honest, and expensive cheeses and R20 cupcakes freak me out. But yesterday I went to the earth fair market in Tokai and was so excited to find I can buy my fruits and vegetables at a small stall: they're affordable and good.
  • Check out this article by Darren on taking his daughter out to enjoy nature, which I took to be the power of just letting the outdoors speak for itself- I also liked the subsequent discussion in the comments section. I wonder how we create a productive vision of "nature"- as something that actually provides for our physical needs and our spiritual and recreational needs. I'm trying to teach Noah and Eli about mushrooms when we go to the forest, but it's slow going because I only know one edible mushroom. They also hug and pray for trees, but that's another story entirely.
  • Here's an article about trying to get eSNAP benefits in the U.S. (in a pretty well-resourced and well-organized state, in a well-resourced country, no less). Social inequality plays out in so many levels and I can find it pretty paralyzing, but I think you might have better insights. Maybe just changing one's opinion on beneficiaries will help to change some of the red tape involved in applying for benefits: it is surely fear (of being taken advantage of?) in part that produces such a dysfunctional system.
  • For the foragers: my dad has been talking about nasturtium pods for ages, and finally I found enough in his garden at one time to try out this recipe. I've become obsessed with preserving stuff in bottles, especially stolen or free stuff. I also found this recipe for nasturtium pesto. Here in Cape Town, nasturtiums are growing everywhere and I know Noah and Eli are going to love doing some picking. Let me know if you try it out!
  • R75 ($7.50) and 5 minutes later in Tokai.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Summer may just have arrived

It's been a very wet, long winter, but it's finally starting to feel like summer. Late winter I got an Annual membership to the Science Centre, which is just down the road from us: I had this brilliant idea that I should have a place within walking distance that we go to on rainy days. Thing is, I bought the membership before going in and discovering it is just about the most stressful experience I could possibly subject myself to. But I got the membership so we have to go, right? Down the road is A Million Miles in Noah and Eli's world.  By the time I get there, risk our lives darting across main road, and getting up the stairs and into the centre, especially on a rainy day, I'm just about going crazy. Then we get in, and Noah and Eli run in opposite directions,  there are lots of older kids, just one huge hall (lots of space for the kids to run away to, it'll probably be awesome for the kids in 2 years or so). Then we have to walk back. Anyway. So I'm glad it's summer.

First (somewhat shriveled) blueberry of the season. Yes, you can grow blueberries in pretty large pots. They do ok.

This year we're just allowing our peach tree 3 peaches. It's an early peach, to get peaches that aren't stung without having to spray. This tree was R70 at a nursery in Somerset West, and is in two tires in our back area. 
I'm still amazed that the Ecovillage has such a large plot of land just 15 minutes from the Cape Town CBD. It's great in winter, and even better in summer. The Black River runs through it and we get to be in a large field with horses and chickens. Eli is disturbingly comfortable with horses, and he's always going up to them with little handfuls of grass. 
Noah and Eli love getting tiny cups of steamed milk.
Wacking through thistles