Happy Birthday Granny. Let’s spa-lebrate!

unspecifiedOh, yes. I think I am going to enjoy this!

girls-at-the-spaFrom left: Olivia Chetty from the Maritzburg Sun; Jade Le Roux from Public eye; Veggietot Mom; Hazel Whitehead from Beauty Shout Box; Carmen Barends from meanderings.co.za; and Sabrina Maingard from Fashion Nanny.

Granny Mouse Spa hosted a spa day this week in honour of their tenth birthday. What makes the spa unique is its homely feel – an extension of the Country House so famous in the Natal midlands. Unlike many spas’ clinical aesthetic, Granny’s feels just like that: as warm and comforting as a trip to your granny’s house. The rugs, the raw wood finishes, the opulent armchairs and cottage furniture like kists and wicker side-tables create the perfect cozy environment in which you can relax and enjoy the world-class spa treatments.

20160922_130607The entrance to the spa blends seamlessly in with the rest of the homely, peaceful grounds

img_3778The waiting area

unspecifiedWelcoming foot ritual – part of every guest’s experience

It’s little touches that add up to a great spa experience, like heated massage beds, scented eye masks, and having your slippers put back on your feet before your therapist leaves the room, so you can float straight off afterwards without keruffling under the bed for them.

We were treated to a basic facial, an Indian head and neck massage, and a hand and foot massage (it’s not often that a hand massage goes all the way up to your shoulders, but they do things the right way up here). The facial used products from CSpa, a delightfully fragrant range made locally from plant-based ingredients. The staff are happy to custom-make treatments and packages to suit guests’ needs, and they offer kiddies’ treats on request.

unspecifiedYours Truly being pampered (Thanks to my friend K for the pic!)

20160922_111623The spa’s Jacuzzi

20160922_111328Delicious spread laid on by culinary artist Kirstie du Toit from Granny Mouse. The freshly juiced carrot and ginger drink was particularly delicious, and the brownies, well, yum!

The spa – managed by Camelot – keeps up to date with health and beauty trends and regional operational manager for KZN Iska Bharath says the signature treatment – so special it’s even been patented – has really taken off. Called The Infinity of Beauty and Indulgence, it includes a full body scrub with fresh lavender, rosemary and salt; a detoxifying seaweed back wrap; a CSpa facial; and an aromatherapy massage along the back of the body. I’ll have to go back for this one! Want to try it yourself? Email spa@grannymouse.co.za or drop them a line on 033 234 4071

20160922_130629

 

The Key

In this frenetic world we seldom feel (or are) fully in control. We do what we can to try to stay on top of things, and leave the world a better place than we found it, but life sometimes gets the better of us.

Like this morning. Once again, I found myself looking for my keys. This   ALWAYS happens to me! It’s usually the last thing I do before I walk out the door, so I’m generally in a rush, shouldering a handbag, laptop bag and nappy bag, with a toddler on my hip and dragging one of her brothers in each hand. That is NOT the time to start having to run up and down stairs, scouring every cluttered surface for my keys.

So I made a decision. I may not be able to prevent deforestation of the Amazon today. I may not have time to found an organization to distribute food to all the starving orphans in Africa. I might not even get to the bottom of the festering mountain of laundry that’s waiting for me in the back room. But I can sort out one thing: my keys.

I went out and bought a hook. I returned home and put it up on the wall. And I hung my keys on it. From now on, the keys will go from my hand to the hook to my hand, so I’ll never have to waste time scratching around for them while my toddler unpacks the nappy bag and the boys are late for school.

There’s still a lot that needs my attention, but at least now I won’t be frazzled and late, so I may actually do a better job of it. The key, I think, is to take things one step at a time.

I bought this hook from Owen, a wire artist on Mackeurtan Avenue (outside Checkers). This business is his only income to support his family, so in doing some good for myself, at least I’ve helped do some good for others too. He has some really beautiful stuff, and he also makes to order. If you pay him a visit, tell him I say hi 🙂 

The McBlog-post

We were driving along Old Fort Road the other day, when Three-year-old Ariel piped up, “Hey, there’s Donald! Let’s get tips!”

 

It took me another block or two to realize that we’d just passed the Golden Arches, and that somebody (probably his grandfather) has obviously been taking Ariel there for chips.

 

I’m no huge fan of McDonalds. I think their décor is tacky, their chips taste like sawdust, and I distrust any meal that can be put together in the time it takes to drive the three metres from one drive-thru window to another.

 

I’m not alone. Global pressure groups have been formed to bring down the junk food giant. One of the most successful movements was founded nearly three decades ago by Italian journo and foodie Carlo Petrini, who became incensed when a McDonalds opened near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986. His concern was partly aesthetic, but he also resented every culinary indiscretion that McDonald’s stood for. In fact, he was so affronted that he founded the Slow Food Movement, an international nonprofit organization promoting a diet based on “good, clean and fair food for all”.

 

I think there’s much to be said for the values of a movement like this. They are good, traditional values enshrined in most of the world’s venerable cultures. Others clearly agree: today the Slow Food movement boasts a network of 100,000 members in 153 countries (including nine chapters South Africa).

 

Boo, fast food! 

 

We all know now that fast food is unhealthy. It’s usually seething with refined flour, saturated fat, and sugar. This kind of diet is one of the largest contributing factors to the soaring rates of obesity and heart disease in the modern world. Anyone who needs further convincing should watch Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Supersize Me”, in which he eats only McDonalds meals for a month and experiences cholesterol spikes, mood-swings, lethargy, headaches, heart palpitations, and gains over 11kg.

 

And it’s not just bad for our bodies. The now-infamous “McLibel” trial found that – despite the fast food Goliath’s protestations and cries of slander – the company not only endangered the health of their customers, but that they also exploited children through their targeted and misleading advertising, caused unnecessary cruelty to animals through their farming and sourcing practices, and exploited their workers by underpaying them. Not very nice, and definitely not Veggietot values.

 

To be fair, McDonalds took this one on the chin for the entire global team of fast food joints. Most of the big names that offer plastic toys with their meals or free-delivery-within-the-hour-or-your-pizza’s-free, argues Petrini, threaten the viability of traditional cuisines. Limited, standardized menus represent the loss of cultural individuality on which ethnic food has always been prized.

 

Have some culinary pride, Man!

The Slow Movement was founded by concerned citizens who were worried about traditional foods disappearing under a mountain of branded polystyrene boxes. Their aim is to promote sustainability and national pride in these cuisines.

 

But it’s not just about food. It’s about cultivating local cultural pride and community involvement. It’s about sustainable environmental practices that don’t exploit the land, the indigenous ecosystem, or those who work within it. It’s about health. It’s about joy. It’s about life.

 

Join the movement

 

So no, McDonalds is not the root of all evil. But it’s not very good for us, either. We need to cut back on fast food and fast life – they’re not good for our souls.

 

So join the movement. Slow down. Smell the roses. Then sit back and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, environmentally ethical, locally produced, bio-diverse and ecologically sustainable, culturally sensitive snack. And remind me to chat to Grandpa.

 

For more information on the Slow Movement, visit www.slowfood.com. For more of my inner mental ramblings, subscribe to this blog (hit the SUBSCRIBE button above).

Things You Should Know Exist #1

We’ve all seen science shows about bikes that generate electricity through pedaling. There were a few prototypes along Durban’s beachfront during the COP17 Climate Conference last year (for more on that, read this post).

But now it actually exists.

In South Africa.

Hopefully, soon, for domestic use.

Industrial design company Ideso have created a green charging station powered by a standard bicycle. It was on display this week at the Design Indaba in Cape Town.

HOW IT WORKS:

The battery is connected to a standard bicycle (not included) and the motion of pedalling generates electricity, which is stored and accessed via plug points into which you can plug a variety of electrical appliances that need charging. The battery is also completely portable once disconnected from the bike, so you can take it with you from room to room, home to office (or vice versa), lend to a friend or even take it camping.

HOW MUCH PEDALLING?

Pedalling for just 3 minutes will generate enough power to charge your phone.

9 minutes will power an electric drill.

36 minutes will charge your computer.

And 80 minutes of pedalling will charge the generator battery fully, allowing you to charge all these appliances and more – without using an iota of coal or other non-renewable resource! (Not to mention the health benefits to the pedaller!)

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

An Ideso rep chatting to me told me that these could become commercially available if enough interest was shown. She was naturally hesitant to quote prices without conclusive market research, but suffice it to say that her estimate is significantly less than the cost of a computer, smartphone, tablet, or many of the other things most of us have and “can’t live without”. And think about all the cash you’d save on charging those items (again, in addition to the environmental bonus and health benefits to you).

So contact Ideso and tell them you’re interested. Call them on 021 914 8444, or click here to send them an email.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t live in Cape Town. Let’s create awareness and show innovative design companies that there is a market for fun, clever, healthy and environmentally responsible products like these. It’s the only way anything’s ever going to improve.

Veggietot Mom puts in some electric action – you can see the black battery on the base, connected to the back wheel. In case you were wondering, she pedalled just about enough to charge her phone. Apologies for the poor quality of the shot (taken on said phone), but it was all in the spirit of fun and spontenaiety. 

nifty 2012 diary for veggie tots and activists

I know it’s February, but if any of you, like me, are only just getting into the swing of the year, I have a great tool for you.

The Go For It 2012 diary gives you space for your daily notes, plus tips on how to make a difference to your world every day.

 

Do you ever get the feeling that “the issues before us seem so huge, so complicated, so difficult to deal with that it’s hard to believe that anything we can do will make a difference”?

 

The authors remind us that: “There are a lot of us in the world. A lot of people doing a lot of little things could have a huge impact. And by doing something, we are showing that lots of people really do care. Together we can change the world.” Now those are Veggie Tot values.

 

Inspired by Michael Norton’s 365 Ways to Change the World and South Africanized with local facts, figures and resources, this nifty little A5 book is filled with useful links and ideas of how to take action to improve your environment and society.

 

It covers categories from community activism to global accountability, peace, health, entrepreneurship and, of course, ways to care for the environment.

 

Although it’s aimed at larger veggie tots (i.e. high school kids), it’s also a great resource for parents or anyone interested in taking action to make our community and environment a better place for all to live.

 

And if tree-hugging, street-marching, MP-petitioning activism isn’t really your thing, there are hundreds of personal tips on how you can improve your home and relationships on a daily basis.

 

So if you haven’t yet made a new year’s resolution, take a leaf out of this book: “Resolve to change the world, one step at a time. Follow this diary, do something each day, and try your best to succeed.”

 

The Go For It 2012 diary is available from Phresh, at Earthmother Organic (Bulwer Road, Durban), and costs R100.

 

For more information, orders, or to get involved in this dynamic project, click here.

Feedback on food packaging

Thought you guys would be interested to know that I received feedback on the letter I sent to Pick n Pay questioning their heavy produce packaging (read the letter here).

The General Manager of Fresh Produce for the company responded:

“Thank you for taking the time to write this letter.

Your points are very valid and it is something that we as PNP must address and put in place ASAP.

1)      We need to reduce our packing where possible but there are certain products that must be packaged. Here we need to look at recyclable packaging.

2)      You can buy loose selling produce from PNP and use your own bag. At our scale we will have to unpack the product from your bag else we will be charging you extra for the weight your bag. Please check and ensure that the other retailers are not making an extra few cents out of you by including your bag weights to the product weight?

3)      We need to get scales onto our tills; this is something that the company has been working on for some time. We have had some challenges with this, but you as the customer do not want to hear it.

We still have a lot of work to do to get where you want us to be but we will strive to get there ASAP.”

Not sure about point 1) as other establishments sell everything – pawpaws, avo’s, green beans, mushrooms – loose and I manage to get it home fine. Hmm, not berries yet though come to think about it. They’re probably the only fresh produce I buy despite the packaging. And if they had a loose option, I’d certainly use it!

Anyway, it’s a nice way to round off the week with feedback – at least I know that they’ve read and considered my points, and when it comes to review time I might make some positive influence.

Wonderbag split pea soup

Yesterday afternoon I decided to experiment with my new Wonderbag (read my last post for background).

I fried some onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and turmeric, added split peas and chopped sweet potatoes, and covered the lot with veggie stock. The split pea package said to cook for 30-45 min, so I boiled them for 15 and popped them in the Wonderbag. Two hours later the split peas were almost cooked but not quite, so I left the pot in there for another few hours. By bedtime, it was cooked!

I probably saved about half an hour’s worth of gas and I could get on with other things (including leaving the house to take kids to swimming lesson) without worrying about burning the soup.

I like this Wonderbag!

Wonderbra, move over!

As I was doing my rounds at my local Checkers today I came across an interesting promotion: buy any three 200g Rajah curry powders (about R50), and get a Wonderbag, valued at R99, absolutely free!

 

What is a Wonderbag, you ask, dear readers? I asked the same thing. A Wonderbag is an insulation-cooker that retains heat from your stove/oven to slow cook your food. You bring your food to the boil and then pop the pot into the insulated Wonderbag and a few hours later (depending on the foodstuff), your meal is ready.

 

 

I’ve heard of these things but was very excited to see one in person (well, you know what I mean). There are several benefits here:

 

It’s easy to use. Simply boil your food briefly, then put the sealed pot in the Wonderbag to finish cooking (guidelines are provided, e.g. rice 5 min on stove then 45 min in Wonderbag; root veg like potatoes 15 min on stove then an hour in the Wonderbag; soaked beans 30 min on stove then 2-3 hours in Wonderbag)

 

It saves energy, by only consuming electricity/gas/paraffin/etc in the first part of the cooking process. Their pamphlet claims that by using your Wonderbag just 2-3 times per week, you will save up to 13kw of electricity/week, or up to 500kg of carbon per year!

 

It saves money, because you use less electricity/gas/paraffin/etc.

 

It saves the environment, because you’re limiting CO2 emissions by using less electricity/gas/paraffin/etc (are you beginning to spot a pattern, here?)

 

It saves water, because cooking liquids don’t evaporate so you end up using less.

 

It makes the kitchen a safer place, as there is less time spent with a naked flame or searing hot-plate burning (of course it should be placed out of reach of small children as they can still get burnt if they tip over the pot inside)

 

It creates employment and alleviates poverty. Most of the bags are hand-sewn in a network of co-ops run by Youth for Survival, a registered skills development NGO.

 

For all these reasons, I thought, a Veggietot Mom’s just got to have one! So off I toddled with my three boxes of curry powder and a free Wonderbag (usually valued at R99, the promotion said). It comes with an instruction/recipe book and I’m very excited to try out some of the recipes, like the sweet potato and spinach curry, the butter bean curry, and the curried butternut stew.

 

I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

If you’re interested in this product, click this link and for ordering details. The website also offers a cute little Wonderbag which holds a 1.5 litre pot, perfect for keeping your hot lunch hot until your want it at work!

Pre-cycling

Packaging is one of my pet peeves. It’s such an easily avoidable nuisance and pollutant, and I shun it at all costs, even if it means putting myself out by moving from store to store during the course of my grocery shopping (though not, admittedly, if the moving entails a lot of petrol, which would defeat the purpose).

I believe this is called pre-cycling: preventing the need for recycling, which in itself requires the use of energy, water, and raw materials.

This morning I received a promotional email from Pick n Pay, telling me about the improvements and investments the company is making and how it impacts me as a consumer (I’ve attached the whole letter below for those who would like to read it).

I’ve long bemoaned the fact the Pick n Pay (like many large retailers) uses so much unnecessary packaging on their fresh produce, so I took this as a sign to stop moaning and offer some constructive feedback. Here is my response:

Subject: Feedback: produce packaging

From: 

Date: 05 October 2011 12:19:44 PM SAST

To: customercare@pnp.co.za

Today I received an inspiring email update from CEO Nick Badminton, including the following paragraph:

“We are consistently recognised as one of South Africa’s greenest companies. Some of the initiatives we’ve put in place include reducing energy consumption, reducing water usage and responsible waste disposal; in fact, we’re aiming for zero waste to landfill.”

As a committed green consumer, I am delighted to hear this. There is one point, however, that I would like to raise. Recycling is important, but is sometimes the lesser of two evils. Products which are sold with unnecessary packaging still entail energy consumption, water usage and waste disposal to recycling plants, and then more energy consumption and water usage to proceed with the recycling process. So while zero per cent of the packaging may end up in a landfill, I still avoid these products at your stores. 

Here’s a confession: I buy very little fresh produce from PnP, even from your commendable organic range. The reason? The packaging.

I make a point of stopping off at Food Lover’s Market or a local grocery store on the way home, and frequently fill 2-3 large (reusable) bags a week with fresh fruit and veggies. At these stores the produce is weighed at the cashier’s till, so it goes straight from my trolly into my bags. There is no polystyrene, plastic, cling-film, or even printed labels to have to worry about producing, or recycling. They don’t even insist on those infuriating thin plastic bags to hold groups of the same produce – they are more than happy to weigh a few kilos each of loose items. 

As a customer, I really appreciate that, and if your stores did this, I’d probably spend a good few hundred rand a month extra buying my fresh produce at PnP. 

Well done for all the positive effort you put into sustainable shopping, community support projects, and customer care. I went to the trouble of writing this letter because I believe that you care about these issues, and will seriously consider what I have to say. I look forward to your response.

Warm regards,
A (nearly completely) satisfied customer.

A call to action (though in a polite, non-obligatory sort of way)

Readers and fellow bloggers, if this issue is something that you care about, please feel free to adapt or simply copy my letter and send it to customercare@pnp.co.za

The more positive feedback they receive, the more likely they will be to act on it.

spring into action with homemade eco cleaning products

So now it’s time to get down to some serious spring cleaning. The problem is this usually involves coating my home with chemicals, which I hate. Especially since I’ve become a mom to tykes that lick the floor and the toilet seat (I can’t watch everywhere at once!), I’ve been ever more concerned about the amount of toxic – often lethal – chemicals that seem to be required to run the average household.

And it’s not just the swallowing risk – some scary research is showing all sorts of long-term damage of chemicals in household products, from cancer to skin conditions to breathing problems. All things my family could do without, thanks.

My first step was to get these toxic chemicals out of the house. The standard storage area – under the sink – I found way too dangerous as it is just at baby’s hand/eye-level. So I relegated the cleaning products to the outdoor laundry, bringing them in when required.

Then I started buying “eco-friendly” products (I love the smells of the Woolies “Natural” range but Enchantrix and others do great ranges too). They can cost a bit more than the regular products, but it’s a price I’ve been prepared to pay.

Now I’m experimenting with the home-made varieties, created from things most people have around their kitchens. The main ingredients seem to be bicarbonate of soda (AKA baking soda) and vinegar – both cheap, and comestible (so I don’t have to lie awake worrying what will happen if my sons down-down the lot – they’ll likely throw up but probably won’t die or irreparably blister their entire digestive tracts).

Health24 last week gave a great summary of natural ways to spring clean, including some recipes for all-purpose cleaners (read it here).

Here are a couple of other “recipes” I’ve scoured from the internet to try out at home:

 

Eco disinfectant

Vinegar and lemon juice are both natural disinfectants, but this is a nice recipe for lovely smelling countertops.

750 ml water

10 drops tea tree oil

 

Eco window cleaner

For a streak-free finish, use old, crumpled newspaper to rub this on the window. Amazingly, the ink does not stain the glass.

3 Tbs vinegar

500 ml water

 

Eco floor cleaner

Works a dream on tiles and laminated floors in my home. Apparently vinegar pulls dirt from wood so should be great for wooden floors too.

½ cup vinegar

1 litre hot water

A few drops of your favourite essential oil (optional)

 

Eco carpet cleaner

We don’t have carpets so if anyone tries this out please send me feedback?

Bicarb – sprinkle and leave for 15-30 minutes before vacuuming.

 

Eco bathroom cleaner

Add the vinegar only after all the other ingredients have been combined (see cautionary note below!). Apply; leave to work for a while and/or scrub if necessary; rinse.

1½ cups bicarb

½ cup biodegradable liquid soap

½ cup water

2 Tbs vinegar

 

Eco toilet cleaner

I hardly feel like this constitutes a “recipe”, but the simplest way to clean and disinfect your toilet effectively is with good old vinegar. Pour a good dose into the toilet, scrub to distribute it (including under the rim), and flush. For the outside of the toilet, use more vinegar, or the eco bathroom cleaner described above. For a comprehensive and oftentimes amusing step-by-step explanation of how to clean your toilet with vinegar, read Jonathan Hatch’s How To Clean A Toilet.)

 

Eco drain cleaner

Pour the bicarb down the drain, followed by the vinegar. Watch the bubbles effervesce (call the kids – it’s great fun). Leave for 30 min (or overnight for badly clogged drains) then flush out with hot water.

½ cup bicarb

1 cup vinegar

hot water

 

TIPS

  • Use a couple of spray bottles to make up some of the recipes in advance, then your actual cleaning time will be less. You can even use empty bottles from your old chemical products; simply re-label them clearly.

 

  • Spirit vinegar (the cheap and nasty one) is fine – save the balsamic for your salad. Don’t worry about your house smelling like a fish and chip shop; the vinegar odour generally disappears when it dries. If it makes you feel better, you can always add a drop or two of an essential oil to make things smell sweet. Lavender and citrus oils are popular, but experiment to find one that floats your boat.

 

  • If you didn’t sign up for fourth grade science you might want this helpful little warning: vinegar and bicarb create a fizzy, sometimes explosive reaction when combined (see here for some fun experiments you can do with the kids). So to prevent your spring cleaning from becoming a science experiment gone wrong, be sure always to add the vinegar last. (By the way, I got a bit of a fright when I read that a large enough combination – 5000 gallons of vinegar and a dump-truck of bicarb – apparently killed Bill Nye the Science Guy in an experiment gone horribly wrong – turns out this is a total spoof on America’s satirical news site The Onion. Good for a laugh when you’re bored of your regular news sites!)

 

  • Just like with food recipes, we all have our preferences in terms of aroma, consistency and end result. The “recipes” I came across usually shared common ingredients but often differed greatly in terms of quantities. Feel free to experiment and add essential oils etc – and let me know if you find improvements!