Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Abalimi bezekhaya - urban farming

My friend Marijke and I were given a tour of some Cape Flats microfarms supported by Abalimi bezekhaya. Rob Small, an indefatigable mover and shaker at Abalimi, and its founder, drove us around. The first piece of farmland we visited in the townships was farmed by six women, all over the age of 60.

Situated under power pylons, the land and water are provided by the municipality of Cape Town. Organic growing training is provided by Abalimi.

Among the healthy crops I noticed beautiful purslane - a weed - were being tossed. I would like to see it finding its way into people's pots and food boxes. This morog (edible weed) tastes good but is perhaps considered famine food in the context of the all the other "legitimate" vegetables being farmed. If only the farmers and their customers could see how much it sells for at the Union Square Farmers' Market in New York. $5 a bunch.

Tomatoes grown too long for market, but in great shape were wheeled away for use at home.

Marijke and I chose small red onions to buy. Mine found their way into a lunchtime Savoy cabbage soup with white beans, verjus and ham.

To find out more, visit Abalimi

Weekly Food Box: Harvest of Hope

I returned this morning from a trip to the townships on the Cape Flats, where Rob Small, director of Abalimi Bezekhaya, showed a small group of us around the community gardens his NGO funds, where men and women grow food for themselves and their communities, as well as for the burgeoning Harvest of Hope, which delivers organic food boxes (CSA's) for pick-up in Cape Town every week.

At the Philippi Business Place we saw the boxes being packed. I bought one myself for R95, and was critically impressed by the high standard of the produce it contained: carrots, aubergines, baby heirloom tomatoes, butter lettuce, leeks, spring onions, potatoes and green peppers, onions, six eggs.

If you would like to receive a box of your own every week, email harvestofhope(at)abalimi(dot)org(dot)za. They are distributed to schools in Cape Town, where you pick them up. If you organize a group of your neighbours to join, one member can pick up every week. To join you sign up and pay up in advance.

I can't stress enough what this does for the community that produces the food, or how good the vegetables themselves are, or that they need and warrant your support.

I am notoriously picky and came away with my mouth watering. There are other organizations doing similar work and Rob-the-activist explained that he refuses to compete: his interest is in a groundswell of support for this kind of locavore consciousness and the growth and support of the community. But: I, as a consumer, say, These are gorgeous vegetables. And not all of the others are. So.

My bagful.

Gardening on the Edge

I am dying to get to all my camping pictures but must put on the brakes until after next Monday - I've been side-tracked by a talk I'm giving for The Cape Horticultural Society, Gardening on the Edge, about living and gardening in New York, and am updating my presentation: I have a whole year's worth of new pictures and deciding what to throw out is hard!

If you're in the area and morbidly curious, the details are:

Monday the 2nd, 8pm

The Athenaeum

154 Campground Road, New lands

For info call Glenda: 021-531-571

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cape Town, Springbok, Vioolsdrif

Our first and only car trouble struck at Garies, about half way to the Orange River on Day One. We tested the spare tank of diesel, a handy add-on in this Landcruiser, carrying 120 litres of fuel... It would not pump into the main tank. Which meant we had a lot of extra weight to carry around. Much later on an extremely bad road it jolted into action and pumped 30 litres over, but not again.

Window picture. Somewhere around Kamieskroon, 80 km from Springbok and near the last third of our first day.

We stopped on the road near the Vioolsdrif border crossing to Namibia to take pictures of the first glimpses of dry desolation. Everywhere there were pretty white crytal stones on the dry ground.

Ever-present barbed wire fences fencing in...what? Stock, presumably, but we saw relatively few sheep and springbok. Mostly separating stones from stones.

In Springbok I bought a toothbrush at a gas station. I liked their sign over the dry goods.

Endless straightness. Excellent road, the N7.

We had an eventful border crossing, having reached it at 4.30pm on the 10th. It left a foul taste in my mouth, though no one else seems much perturbed by its telling.
We cleared South African customs, three hot offices right on the river, and went another few hundred metres to Namibian customs. Exiting those unwelcoming offices we found a young Namibian policeman circling the truck. He asked if we had meat or alcohol. Chops and wine, I said. He asked to see the wine. I showed him the box. He told us to follow him. In his airless office he told us that in the past we would have been fined R100 for not having a ZAR sticker on our truck, designating its country of orgin. Oh, we said. Yes, he said. And we would have to pay duty on the wine, but The Guy was not there to inspect it. Oh, we said. So....So! he said, we have a football club here, and we are taking donations. He pushed a piece of Xeroxed paper over showing official transgressions with their corresponding fines, and helpfully circled the ZAR Sticker Absent transgression, with its R100 fine. Then he redirected our attention to the football club.
Ah, said Vince, and filled in our donation of R100.
The policeman said he would waive any duty or fines.
Yugh, yugh, yugh.

Above, you wouldn't think it, but this is the largest river in South Africa.
We drove another ten minutes through a dry moonscape and followed the signs to the Abiqua River Camp, our first night's stop. Green lawn, trees, and great brown Orange River, with South Africa across its waters, flowing lazily into the Atlantic.

We bought the first of many bags of ice, and put up the tent, Vince teaching me how.

And popped our bottle of Prosecco into the impromptu ice bucket.

The afternoon wind sprang up as it would do every day that followed, and once it had calmed down and our tent remained fast, we sat and watched the river, a fish eagle overhead, a heron on a sandbank, and planned our first braai fire.

Dinner was easy after a rough start with setting up the kitcehn: kebabs, the leaves from our fridge, and hard yellow cling peaches, sliced into the leftover wine.

Our first morning's coffee was long in coming. We realized our stovetop espresso maker did not fit onto the gas bottle's plate. And the wind kept blowing the flame out. After about 6 attempts we had our first, fraught cup of coffee, using the grill for our braais balanced on the gas. I thought nervously of mornings to come. Vince wondered why he had not married a camper.

We deflated the air mattress, packed up the tent, reclipped the storage boxes, and headed north.

Camping supplies: two weeks

Vincent at check out [where a security guard shoplifted a can of Red Bull right beside us. Must really have needed it]. Ah, Pick 'n Pay. What would we have done without you? This is where we bought the bulk of our supplies. For the refined touches we shopped at Woolworths and bought things like peri-peri marinade (which we ate over Keetmanshoop lamb chops, at Nossob, in the middle of the Kgalagadi, in a thunderstorm).

Note all the self-rising flour. My cousin Andrea, editor of Go! magazine had given me an easy recipe for potbrood (potbread) - one small bag flour, one bottle beer. So I had Intentions. The long life milk was for our ritual morning coffee, and at Woolworths we stocked up on Illy.

Above, Box Number One: pepper cracker was a must; I don't know what I was thinking with the chicken stock cubes; the garlic was eaten, the spaghetti in the Namib; and rusks. I like them. And they made us friends and influenced people. See later posts. Marmite, packed for emotional emergencies, was used only once, on our last day at Kersefontein and within sight of civilization, if you can call it that.

Box Number Two: lemons. I wrote a food piece for Go! last year and mentioned lemons. I stand by it. Never travel without them. They put up with just about anything and transform anything. The tonic was destined for hot places and cubes of ever-available ice. The desert is full of ice. Who knew. And Ceres fruit juices packed into the tiny fridge between our seats in the Landcruiser were a cold balm on long dusty and bumpy roads.

Above, my father packed us a box of wine. Every night was a surprise. That wine must have gone above 45'celsius at times in the car and managed, with one exception, very well. Standouts were the Allesverloren Tinta Barocca and the Zondernaam Cabernet. The Thelema Cab 1997 didn't make it. Over the hill. We buried it with honours under a camelthorn.

And our secret weapon. The game salami, made from nameless and unidentified animals hunted by my brother Anton, not seen in many a moon. My brother, not the animals. We felt bad about the hunting but not about the eating. It was delicious.

And now a word for our sponsors:

My father, HPV - for the 4 x 4 Toyota Landcruiser VX Turbo and the diesel that went into it. We could not have done it otherwise. We love that car. It was our home, our transport, our protector. Coming from my carless NYC society, I never knew I could feel that way about something with an engine and wheels.

And special mention to its tyres, BF Goodrich, the only 4 x 4 tyres to have reinforced sides. Not a single puncture, on roads littered with black rubber carcae.

Neighbours Guy and Jay: for the bigger fridge that plugged into the cigarette lighter and lived in the trunk. For keeping our chops and wors cold and making sure the butter retained its shape. And for the ammo boxes in which our supplies were packed.

Cousin Andrea and Dr Clark: the folding table that became our de facto kitchen wherever we went.

Brother Francois: for giving my parents the folding camp chairs that were unpacked first at every campsite.

Next Stop: the Orange River and how one gets there.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shaking the sand from our shoes

We are back from our trip to the Namib and the Kgalagadi.

Many adventures, more pictures, wonderful memories, new lessons, a love for dry places and an appreciation of rain.

Over a thousand photos later, I will slowly start to sort and sift and process, and hopefully will start posting soon.

There is food, there are flowers - in even the most unlikely places. There are dunes. There is sand and there are camel thorn trees. Bugs. There are bugs. And animals. And glasses of cold things to drink. There are sunsets, and sunrises, and rivers. There is the sea.

Vincent and I celebrate our first anniversary today, and know more about each other than we started.

More to come...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blog rest

We will be out of cyber contact until late January.

Till then!~


Friday, January 9, 2009


Namibia minus 1 and counting...

We have: a tent and air mattress sleeping bags pillows charcoal for fires a gas cooker food food food for on top of the fires. We have matches.

We have:

polenta basmati smash spaghetti stuff-in-cans-like baked beans peri-peri long life milk Illy coffee small cabbages biltong lamb olive oil parmesan and garlic. And lettuce.

And lemons.

We have water purification tablets that I doubt we'll need mosquito repellant tonic water tot-bags of gin EpiPens First Aid Kit candles binoculars drums of water rusks maps cameras chopper for wood and spade for holes.

We have two cases of wine and Prosecco.


Shadow Country and Dreams from my Father to read.

We leave early tomorrow morning, next stop Vioolsdrif on the Orange River and border of South Africa and Namibia. After that Aus in Namibia then Sesriem at Sossusvlei. And after that a night at a guest house outside Grunau, the White House, where we will submerge ourselves in water with soap, and after that...we don't know.

I am discovering some things about myself that are not particlarly flattering. Like c.o.n.t.r.o.l. freak. I have always wanted to take the little side roads that looked interesting, not knowing where they lead, and now I can.

Now we must pack the Landcruiser. Titter. Talk about sardines in a can.

Oh, we also have sardines in a can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Disa longicornu, Drip Disa

Where clean water clattered in streams from a mossy sandstone overhang along the Aqueduct on Table Mountain, my eye was drawn suddenly to a ghostly blue flower. A disa. But not the red uniflora I have come to expect in late summer along this track. Something more delicate altogether.

After taking pictures of the lovely things, we saw them later, high up on south-facing cliffs, where seepage stained the rocks dark and moss kept their feet cool. Quite inaccessible.

At home, in Prof. Jackson's Wild Flowers of Table Mountain, I read the following:

"This beautiful, pale mauve-blue Disa is rather rare and local, confined to mossy clefts in damp rock faces with dripping water in shady places facing south, from about 500m upwards. ...It was first collected by Thunberg in 1773, who wrote '...with great difficulty and at hazard of my life I got for the first and last time Disa longicornis, which is as beautiful as it is singular in form'.

"...It flowers for Christmas.

"A group of drip disas together [as seen on the cliffs, late]is an arresting sight, not as brilliant as a cluster of red Disas, but somehow more surprizing and poignant [italics my own]".

Of the late Prof. Jackson I can't help thinking of the quote of Petra Muller's that I love, "Ek is 'n man met blombehoeftes."

I am a man with flower-needs.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Olympia Cafe, Kalk Bay

Linguine marinara.

It is very good.

It will take years possibly, to arrive at your able, because the service is usually very very, very slow. Unfunnily slow.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Skeleton Gorge, Aqueduct, Reservoirs, Jeep Track: flora

There is actually plenty to photograph while climbing the stairs, rocks and ladders up Skeleton Gorge, so I'm not sure why I didn't. We saw lots of small pale blue lobelias, a crassula new to me, Crassula pellucida, with pretty pink flowers and a love of damp places, lots of moss and ferns.

Above, the solitary and striking beauty of the mountains, Watsonia tabularis, now coming into bloom. A picture of watsonias photographed by Vince above De Hel in the Little Karoo is in the December issues of Go! and Weg! magazines - last page.

Above, Erica cerinthoides appeared as soon as we entered sunlight from the wooded koof. Also called Fire heath and Rooihartjie (little redhead).

Above. Stumped. Possibly Bobartia indica in the Iridaceae family. Or Moraea virgata? Anyone, anyone?
Below, the very cool parasite Harveya bolusii. It feeds off the roots of other plants, often daisies. Harveyas are named after Dr W. Harvey, "an auditor-accountant who became treasurer general of the Cape Colony" after arriving in the Cape in 1835, "and who became chief author of that master catalogue, the Flora Capensis." [Wild Flowers of Table Mountain, Prof. WPU Jackson; Howard Timmins, Cape Town, 1977]

Another Harveya, H. tubulosa, I think. They are striking because they pop up with none of the preparation or context that leaves seem to provide. I think of them as the Paris Hiltons of the plant world. Lots of splash and zero substance.

Below, a helichrysum?

I would have thought helichrysum but I can't find it. Maybe an everlasting? Its leaves below are large and soft, and it was growing in a healthy clump with stems about 15cm long.

Below, Aristea macrocarpa - with no common name listed, which I find odd. It is a beautiful plant, just past flowering - this one was an anomaly, late for the party but hanging on for me.

They are usually very tall, up to a metre and a half, but this was about half that, possibly because of its windy site.

Lots of lichens and mosses on the rocks. This is where my attention span begins to resemble a flock of white eyes. No ID even attempted. It's just pretty.

One of the plants that seems to define both the Cape and fynbos, a leucadendron, L. coniferum, I think. The Botanical Society's 2006 Wild Flowers of Table Mountain National Park says that the bracts become red with age...so...

Another flower typical of South Africa and the language, a vygie. But which? There are so many. Ruschia, Erepsia or Lampranthus. This is where my ignorance begins to show. I would wing it and say Lampranthus falciformis.

This buchu below, made me very happy. [Ed 02/21/2009: and it makes me unhappy to report that it is not buchu! Also belonging to the family Rutaceae, known as the Citrus Family, also highly aromatic, it is nevertheless: not buchu.] We found several shrubs as we descended from the Aqueduct, beside the clear brown mountain stream to the reservoirs. Buchu is something of a mythical plant in terms of its traditional medicinal properties. I recognized the leaf as I have never seen this flower - about an inch across - before. The leaves are very small and very aromatic. Fresh, they are far more herbal in the culinary rather than medicinal in the cough mixture sense. Adendra villosa - China Flower, Shepherd's Delight. [The species Agathosma claims the buchu name.]

Below, a pretty little tree (shrub, actually), slender and pliant with the wind, Psoralea pinnata, or Bloukeur, dots the landscape all over the mountain. The pea flowers are very blue: Prof. Jackson says they are "extraordinarily difficult to do justice to in a slide." He may have liked digital.

Near the caretaker's house on the Jeep Track there are lots of pincushions, introduced, I suspect, by a gardener, though maybe not. Leucospermum, yes, but for the species I need a different book.

Vince spotted this gorgeous orchid in the dry and undistinguished brush. I would have missed it. Disa cornuta, or Golden orchid.

Each flower painstakingly painted.

Lower on the mountain, above Cecilia, the erica that brushes the slopes pink.

On a rock wall, dripping with seepng water, a colony of sundews, Drosera trinervia. Its flowers are usually white.

And the special disas we saw? Not the D. cornuta above. See next post!