In August this year, we went back “home” for our annual holiday in paradise. We are among a handful of fortunate people to own our own property (and a beautiful one at that) on what must be one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. The Garden Route coast. Our house is in the sleepy seaside village of Glentana. Home to retirees and wealthy “Gautengers” (people from Gauteng province) who own holiday homes here. There are no malls or designer shops. Just God’s country. A few minutes down the road lies the historical Hoogekraal Farm, one of the oldest farms in the Southern Cape. Most of the farm has been sold to Lagoon Bay. A developer whose hope it is to develop a unique “lifestyle experience” here amongst the fynbos, above the mighty Indian Ocean with views to the majestic, purple Outeniqua Mountains. The “lifestyle experience” will include two championship golf courses, a shopping village, a five star hotel, the residential village and of course various water sports in the salt water lagoon. All of this apparently “nestled” in one of only six floral kingdoms in the world. How they will manage to do all this whilst keeping the magnificent natural flora, only they will know. To me it appears impossible.
It appears I am not alone in my sentiments. A group of Glentana residents, concerned about the environmental impact of the project have taken the developers to court. In an area where there has been severe water restrictions during the recent droughts, golf courses are not a good idea. It is estimated that the proposed golf courses will use up to four million litres of water a day. I find it unbelievable that in this day and age where going green is vital for future generations, developers can even propose a development of this nature. There are numerous developments all over the world that take green issues to heart and are able to build sustainable and environmentally friendly projects. It appears as though Lagoon Bay has taken the fast cash route and not the long term sustainable route. What a pity.
The implication of their short sightedness is huge. Lagoon Bay could provide jobs. The original Hoogekraal farms provided housing and work to its labourers and their families. The farms are no longer and as long as the legal wrangling continues, the families that have been displaced by the development, continue to suffer. Some of these families live in small Cape Dutch style houses, now without running water or electricity. Many more live in makeshift homes and shelters fashioned out of corrugated iron sheets, wooden planks and bits of plastic. Also without plumbing, running water or electricity. This community is jobless and hopeless. Unemployment is rife as is alcohol abuse. Just off the main road to Glentana on the road to Hoogekraal sits the area’s only shop. A superette selling anything from shoe polish to onions. It also sells alcohol. Alcohol that keeps the adult community members numb to their social problems and numb to their responsibilities as parents. Sadly, even some children are not immune to the numbing effect of alcohol.
My mother first became aware of the problems in this community whenever she visited the superette to buy a loaf of bread or milk. Snotty nosed, bare footed, hungry children would be begging for money or something to eat. After some time she began making some enquiries and soon afterwards found herself working side by side with the local social welfare department. Making home visits to the community and becoming a part of the little farm school, Hoogekraal Primere Skool (here Afrikaans is still the first language among the local population). Working with the school, she has managed to secure donations from businesses to supply the children with school uniforms and school shoes. This has meant that none of these children need come to school barefoot in the cold winter months and now all the children, even those from disadvantaged families where buying a school uniform is very low on the priority list, have uniforms. A much needed boost to their morale.
In an effort to supply clothes to the children, I appealed to the generosity of Dubai through my Face Book page and was overwhelmed by the response. We flew to South Africa with 25 kg of donated clothes for this community. On the day that we handed out the clothes it was heartbreaking to see children so overwhelmed by this gift. For many of them this was probably the first time in a very long time they had received “new” clothes. Gifting these clothes was an incredible humbling experience and one that every designer clad kid/adult should experience. Always being on the receiving end does nothing for your character. By serving others, giving back to the earth and those less fortunate, you find happiness.
A Primary School was built for the local children by the farmer who owned the land. The school has sixty-six pupils, four classrooms and four teachers. The teachers each teach two grades simultaneously. The school provides one cooked meal and a fruit for each child every day. This is usually a bean and vegetable soup. There is no cafeteria, and no tables and chairs for these children to sit at whilst they eat. There is also no play equipment or playground. The area around the school is an uneven, potholed affair where the boys try to kick around a punctured soccer ball. Some kids play a game in the dirt using stones and bottle tops. Although there is real poverty and obvious neglect amongst many of the children, they all appear reasonably happy. This life is all they know.
Hoogekraal Primary School has now become my family’s charity project. My mom continues to work with the school and community to help wherever she can. At the moment she is involved in helping the school prepare for their first ever Christmas concert. My son Gianluca has taken it upon himself to raise funds for the school so that the children can benefit from better facilities. Through the gift of photography, I was able to take individual school portraits of all the students. This was the very first time that they had ever received a school portrait. It felt good.
The days of making a quick sandwich for the school lunch box are well and truly over. You realise just how dependent you are on wheat and other grains the minute you have to begin thinking about gluten-free alternatives for your children’s lunch boxes. Out with sandwiches, wraps, wheat muffins, bread rolls, mini hotdogs, pizza, left over pasta etc. The list is endless. Thankfully I have a child who is quite open to experimenting with new flavours so preparing the school lunch is not as daunting, however it does require quite a bit of planning and preparation.
When cooking dinner, I now make more than I need so that there will be left overs for the next day. I also have to make sure I always have fresh fruit and vegetables like carrots,cucumbers and cherry tomatoes which make excellent finger food. Eggs and dairy are also no longer options for us, which means no cheese, yogurt or the odd boiled egg. My staple grocery cupboard items have become rice cakes, sunflower seed butter ( which is a delicious alternative to peanut butter and hazelnut butter), nuts (no almonds, peanuts or hazelnuts unfortunately), chickpeas (both tinned and dried) for salads and making hummous, tinned and dried beans, dried fruit, rice, buckwheat pasta, soba noodles, rice noodles and a selection of gluten free flours.
I really like lunch boxes with separate compartments. This enables you to pack a selection of foods without them all becoming mixed up. They have the added benefit of having fewer containers to wash up afterwards. On this particular morning, the said lunch box consisted of a salad made with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives and a drizzle of olive oil. Some carrots and thinly sliced grilled steak left over from the previous night. For dessert some fresh strawberries.
Ok so a bit of a fiddle from the usual sandwich. However, a much healthier option. It’s visually appealing and your child is getting complex carbohydrates, protein and a whole bunch of anti-oxidants.
This particular lunch box came home empty. That’s success in my book!
“Food Prices – from crisis to stability” is the theme for World Food Day this year. It also coincides with Blog Action Day 2011. It’s crazy that my previous post was all about obesity and the excess food many of us consume whilst more than half of the world’s population is starving. The issue of food, its sustainability, cost, production and consumption is a huge one. A subject that may be overwhelming to most of us, yet we are all active participants whether we realise it or not. Our food choices, the contents of our shopping trollies and our wasteful lifestyles are all contributors to this worldwide phenomenon and problem. So many of us will simply say “What can I do? I am only one individual? How is what I do going to make any impact?” Of course you are right. No individual can make a difference. However I believe that if we all just do one little thing towards helping, we can have an impact. Perhaps I am naive and too idealistic, but I do believe that we need to spread this awareness and we need to start thinking about what we can do as individuals.
Food prices have sky rocketed in recent years. I am sure you all know this just from the increase in cost of your usual shopping trolley. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, state that prices are going to remain volatile, and that efforts need to be stepped up to strengthen the resilience of small farmers to improve food security over the long term.
Below are some fantastic educational resources to help us understand what we are up against. Perhaps you will find something here that you could manage to do. Let me know what you think. Your thoughts and replies are always appreciated.
You absolutely need to see this:
What can you do to make a difference?
Follow and do what The Urban farming Guys are doing.
Great ideas how you can get involved immediately from The Meatrix
When I was contacted by The University of Southern California to share these horrific statistics in celebrating National School Lunch Week, I simply could not refuse. Childhood obesity and all its associated health problems has had a significant impact on all areas of Health Science and Public Health and is an ever increasing worldwide problem. Almost daily I am confronted with overweight children on the school playground and in our school and community swimming pool. I am always shocked that young children can be this neglected. It is certainly a case of over eating and under nourishing. We must also remember however, that it is not only overweight children (and adults) that are running the risk of health issues. There are many, many people who are skinny and equally under nourished. Unfortunately this always equates to a lack of education on the part of parents and with that the sad consequences of ill health and the various social issues that accompany this phenomenon.
I hope that these statistics will create an awareness that our health, and the health of our children, is directly related to what we eat and the type of life we lead. National School Lunch Week, runs this week until October 14th.
In July we spent a three day stop over in Hong Kong. When people talk numbers, I switch off (I like to think it’s because of the dodgy maths teachers I had at school). I knew that we were going to encounter a lot of people, but I don’t think I quite appreciated just how populated a place is where more than 7 million people actually live. For the first time in my life I experienced what it was like to be swept up and carried along in a wave of heaving human bodies. It felt claustrophobic, exciting, interesting and exhausting.
Hong Kong comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, The New Territories and several smaller islands of which Lantau Island is one. We stayed on Hong Kong Island in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. It suited our needs perfectly. We could take the hotel shuttle bus to Central Station and from there take the Metro to anywhere we wanted to go. We made use of all of Hong Kong’s public transport; the metro, the tram, taxis and of course the Star Ferry. It all works pretty efficiently once you get the hang of it.
Three days is really not enough time to experience everything Hong Kong has to offer. With a 9 and 11 year old in tow we decided to follow Eyewitness Travel’s Top 10 Hong Kong. In order to get a feel for the city, we decided to check out the popular sites like the Big Buddha & Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, The Escalator which is a 792 meter (2598 ft) long escalator which links Central, and So-Ho, the harbour, Hong Kong Park, the street markets, where we only passed through briefly since wrestling with throngs of people is not our ides of fun, and of course the food on offer. We did a lot of walking the streets and I have to say in general the boys handled it very well. Of course we had to stop for refreshments quite often since little bodies don’t have as much staying power as bigger ones and much encouragement to keep going was often needed. It was monsoon season, so not the best of weather to see the Big Buddha or Hong Kong from the Peak, but we had to make do with what time we had.
Of course the food markets were the most interesting to me. Food in supermarkets is ridiculously expensive, however quite affordable and of course much more interesting at the markets. I was struck by how hard people work in this city. I never saw (although I think there might be…) beggars. Everywhere people were busily going about their work either on the side walk eateries, food markets, collecting cardboard for recycling, preparing goldfish for transport, cutting flowers, cleaning; lots of activity just to add to the already frenzied atmosphere.
It’s also quite easy to go gluten-free here. Rice being the staple, there is not much to worry about. Breakfasts at the hotel were an interesting combination of traditional Chinese food i.e. Dim Sum (a type of dumpling) and Congee ( a thin rice porridge) and the typical western fare of cereals, yoghurt, eggs, waffles with syrup (guess what the boys ate), fried sausages, bacon and fruit. I have to mention here that I was struck by some of the Chinese families in the dining room. Those who ate their traditional food of congee, dim sum and fruit were much more slender than those who were tucking into the western breakfast. Just something I observed. Of course we spent a good part of our time munching on delicious dim sum, little soft dumplings made with rice flour, encasing minced pork and shrimp, lots of lightly steamed baby pok choy and sprouted broccoli, steamed rice, rice noodles, shrimps and the list goes on and on. One of the things I think one has to do in Hong Kong and simply not think where the food is coming from or how it was handled. I think if you do, you probably won’t eat a thing. I was struck by the obvious lack of hygiene in the street restaurants (however none of us got sick, although I was grateful that the boys had their vaccinations updated before we travelled), what appeared to me to be a lack of respect for food, especially of animal origin. I think the reason may be because there are just so many people who are all trying to make a living and trying to survive what looked to me to be a hard life. This is of course just my opinion based on a very short observation. Eating and observing was all part of the fun, and although we refrained from eating meat and fish on the streets the vegetable and rice dishes were all delicious. As with all eating in foreign countries, the trick to discovering the best restaurants is to see which ones are full of locals. This is true for Hong Kong too. In a small restaurant, full of local people, we feasted on fish, and the most delicious, cholesterol inducing lemon chicken. The boys loved it and we simply couldn’t get enough.
The other thing about Hong Kong that struck me was that I did not actually see any litter on the streets. For a city with this many people, it is remarkably clean, apart from the public toilets which must rate as one of the worst in the world. However, you can smell the pollution in the air. It is something that follows you around. Not tangible, but somehow you can feel its presence like a ghost. It is only when you leave the island and head towards the airport that you can see the air over the city thick with smog and pollution.
Hong Kong is an interesting place to visit. It can however be very claustrophobic, and certainly my children found it so. On the last day when we had had enough of the humidity and the throngs of people, we headed for a mall and…..to Starbucks. The Mall was not dissimilar to any of the malls in Dubai, but on this particular morning it brought stillness and respite.
I would like to visit Hong Kong again. Next time however, it would be nice to explore some of the outlying islands where life is a little more tranquil. I hope. Can you relate to this?
South Africa celebrates its National Braai Day on September 24. To celebrate, Cook Sister is hosting Braai, The Beloved Country. As a South African I could not pass up this opportunity since I had recently experienced quite a few braai’s whilst back in the motherland. A braai or BBQ is a proud South African tradition where enough meat is grilled on an outdoor fire to feed a small, hungry army or in our case nine people on this particular day. A braai is always a social occasion. It’s so much more than just grilling meat. It is a cultural phenomenon. It’s intrinsic to the South African way of life. You cannot be South African and not love a good braai!
The braai is usually accompanied by pap, a traditional staple from maize. Imagine a white, fluffy version of polenta. Pap is usually accompanied by a gravy made from tomatoes and onions. Each family usually have their own secret gravy ingredients. My mom’s version includes tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic and a touch of chilli. This is then simmered into a sauce and served with pap and of course whichever part of the beast you happen to enjoy, be it boerewors ( a traditional South African sausage), lamb or pork chops, steak or a bit of ribbetjie (lamb or pork rib).
Many braaiers (those who braai or bbq), have their own sauces and marinades that they rub, dip and massage into the meat to get that perfect flavour. I follow the school of less is more cooking, so I keep things simple. Mostly because I believe that the quality of ingredients should speak for themselves. Meat should be free range, grass fed and preferably free of nasty additives.
We visited the most wonderful butcher in George for the meat you see in the photograph above. Boerewors (loosely translated as Farmer’s Sausage), is a traditional South African sausage, which comes in a variety or flavours such as Grabouw, Rooikrans, Farmstyle and Weskus Plaaswors to name a few. Each has its own combination of herbs and spices to give its unique flavour. Traditionally it is flavoured with coriander, cumin, cloves and nutmeg. On this particular day we found Rooikrans and the most delicious fig and blue cheese Boerewors. It was heavenly! The meat is loose inside the sausage membrane, similar in texture to Italian sausages. Boerewors made by a good butcher, usually with a combination of pork and beef, is free of additives and full of natural flavour. We couldn’t resist a rack of pork ribs, an all time favourite of ours and of course some wonderful Karoo Lamb chops (shame poor little lambs).
Of course you do nothing to the Boerewors apart from putting it on the fire, but the chops need a little something extra just to add that extra dimension to the goodness that nature already created. We have the most beautiful, robust rosemary bush in the herb garden, and of course rosemary and lamb are a perfect match! I simply rub the finely chopped rosemary and some olive oil into the lamb chops and let them rest to take on the flavour of the rosemary for at least an hour before they are put onto the braai. They are simply delicious. No fancy ingredients or combinations, just finely chopped rosemary leaves and a touch of olive oil. If you have fantastic, high quality meat, you really need nothing else. The flavour is already there.
Happy Braai Day South Africa.
Rosemary Rub for Lamb Chops.
Several large handfuls of fresh rosemary
Pull the rosemary leaves off the stalks.
Using a mezzaluna (what else?) or sharp chef’s knife chop the rosemary leaves finely.
Rub the chops with a little olive oil. Sprinkle the rosemary liberally onto the meat and pat onto the meat.
Allow the meat to rest and take on the flavour of the rosemary.
Braai until preferred “doneness”. I like mine still pink inside.
In the past six weeks since finding out that Gianluca, my 11 year old son, is allergic to 40 different foods I have learned a few things. The biggest culprits/triggers for him are gluten, maize, dairy, eggs, peanuts, hazelnuts, oranges and peaches. To add insult to injury he also tested positive for candida, so no sugar and therefore no grains (even gluten-free ones) for a while.
As someone who actually enjoys the kitchen (within limits…) I have done my fair share of baking. A weekend breakfast always meant pancakes. My kids love pancakes. Usually smothered in honey or nutella. In South Africa we call them crumpets. They’re slightly spongy and very similar to American pancakes, however they are a little smaller than the jumbo sized American ones.
With all these allergies to take note of, I have had to do some research, so that we can still enjoy our family favourites without Gianluca (or me) getting sick. The internet has been an amazing source of information with so many fantastic blogs and websites to help me with this new challenge. Many of my fellow Dubai bloggers have also sent me lots of helpful advise. Thanks guys. I have also spent lots of time in bookshops searching for cookbooks aimed at gluten-free or allergen free diets. So far I have bought three amazingly helpful books. One such book is The Child-Friendly Food Allergy Cookbook by Leslie Hammond and Lynne Marie Rominger. The recipes all give alternatives and guidelines so that you can cook wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free and low in sugar. Amazing! You can actually tweak each recipe to suit your needs. How clever is that?
Now, I did say that I’ve learned a few things. I learned that you can substitute egg in recipes by knowing what purpose the egg has in the recipe. Does it bind the ingredients together? Does it act as a leavener, making your cake rise ? For some recipes there is no substitute. Depending on the recipe, you can add mashed banana to bind the ingredients together, in others you can actually omit the egg and it still works beautifully. You can also buy egg-substitute in health food stores. Cheakpea flour blended with water also acts as a binder. I have also leaned to substitute milk/dairy with either soya milk or rice milk or a combination of the two.
Apple sauce can also be substituted for sugar. Don’t get me started on apple sauce! The best thing to do is make your own. Cook apples up in a little water and then puree them when they are soft. The only pure apple sauce without additives of any kind I have found is by Purity, baby apple puree in a jar. I looked at all the available brands in supermarkets both here in Dubai and in South Africa and Purity is the only one that doesn’t mess with the ingredients that mother nature provided. Why do food manufacturers insist on adding sugar, rice flour and preservatives to canned foods, especially food that can actually be canned without these additions? Thank goodness I don’t need to rely on buying jars of baby food. I was horrified to see all the jars of fruit puree for babies with added sugar amoungst other stuff! Bloody hell people. Ok I’ve got that off my chest….
Back to the pancakes. These, I swear to you taste just like those made with ordinary flour (maybe even better…). The texture is lovely. Quite surprising really. My sons are totally impressed and wolf these down like they’ve never eaten pancakes before… table manners are a bit of an issue right now.
Try these, even if you don’t have allergies. I think we all eat far too much gluten anyway so these will be a good alternative now and again.
The original recipe is for Buttermilk Pancakes, I however have tweaked them and just call them:
Fabulous Allergen-Free Pancakes
2 cups (250g) gluten-free all purpose flour / or 210g rice flour plus 40g of chickpea flour
2 teaspoons of gluten free baking powder or regular baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 cups of soya or rice milk plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of coconut oil (melted) / or melted butter / or dairy free margerine
Sift all your dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and beat the batter until smooth. It takes about 1 minute. If you are using the chickpea flour I suggest an electric hand held beater. The batter should be thick enough to hold together and wet enough to drop off a spoon. Note: If you find that the batter is still to dry just add more milk a little at a time until you have the correct consistency.
Pour the desired amount of batter onto a hot, greased frying pan. I suggest you don’t make them any bigger than the opening of a teacup, since I found that it’s difficult to turn them over and keep then in one piece if they are bigger than that. A good idea would be to ensure that they are no wider than the spatula or egg lift that you are using.
Once you’ve poured your batter into the pan, drop a few blueberries into each round of batter. You can press them into the batter slightly with your fingers if you like.
When there are lots of little bubbles on the surface and lightly golden on the bottom, flip them over with a wide spatula.
Cook until golden on the bottom. Stack them on a plate and serve.
Let me know what you think and how yours turn out.