From carnivore to vegetarian: all in a year’s work

IMG_20160124_143357Last week it was my turn to write an article for the school newsletter and my topic was vegetarianism (fitting!). Here it is for you to peruse at you leisure.

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you should or shouldn’t eat meat, lecture you on the unsustainable practices of the meat and dairy industries or try and shock you with horror stories of animal cruelty. All I’m going to say is that being vegetarian has worked out brilliantly for me! First, some background:

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For some, becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is as easy as, ‘I’ll have a soy latte, please!’ For others, like me, the change is a gradual one. When I was at university there was a vague week when I decided not to eat meat for seven days, for no other reason than to see if I could do it. (I could.) For a few years after that, I forgot all about it.

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I was always the girl first in line at the all-you-can-eat chicken wing buffet, the girl who could eat half a kilogram of ribs without batting an eyelid, the girl who rarely ate a meal that didn’t include meat. Then at some point, I realised I simply wasn’t enjoying eating meat as much as I always had. Now, for most South Africans, where barbecuing (or braaing) is a weekly – if not daily – occurrence, not liking meat goes against a huge part of your upbringing and culture. South Africans even celebrate Heritage Day with a traditional braai. Still, I stopped eating meat.

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I should mention that I didn’t stop eating all meat at once like a smoker going cold turkey (unintended pun!) but it was a gradual transition. First I cut out beef and pork which was incredibly easy to do. Next to go were fish and chicken and this was a much trickier feat. For a year I still ate chicken or fish once or twice a month until finally, in July 2015, I ate my last chicken wings and haven’t touched chicken or fish since. I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll be vegan one day but I can say that the more I learn about the dairy, egg and honey industries the easier it gets to leave these products out of my food choices.

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By now you’re probably wondering what this has done for me, how becoming a vegetarian has benefitted me. The most obvious benefit was losing weight. Without the high fat content of animal products and the increase in fruit and vegetables the weight falls off with very little effort, a definite bonus. Before becoming vegetarian I used to think that not eating meat would limit my creativity in the kitchen. Instead, it’s had the opposite effect. I’m so much more inventive and I’m cooking with ingredients I never would have before – enter soy milk, cashew nuts and dates – and don’t get me started on the ridiculous number of incredible vegan dessert recipes you can find online or invent yourself; it’s endless fun. Other positive effects of being vegetarian are having more energy, getting sick less often and saving money on food – eating out and grocery shopping tends to be much cheaper when you’re not eating meat.

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In addition to health and financial benefits, being vegetarian or vegan helps you to create a more environmentally sustainable food culture, lowers your carbon footprint and, of course, says, ‘No!’, to the misuse and cruel treatment of animals for nothing else than human profit.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Get researching. Get informed.

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(I made all the dishes pictured above, either from recipes found or recipes I created.)

 

Franschoek Food and Wine Festival at Montecasino

The town of Franschhoek is without question the gourmet capital of South Africa. Now, you have the chance to experience the excellence of Franschhoek right here in Gauteng. If you love food and wine and you’ve been looking for something to do this weekend, you can stop searching – the Franschhoek Food and Wine Festival is taking place from 28 to 30 August at Montecasino in Fourways.

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This week, I attended a small wine tasting at Jenda restaurant in Montecasino’s Sun Square for a sneak preview. Jenda is a stunning restaurant and a wonderful setting for a wine tasting. They provided first class snacks for the evening.

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John Maddison, food and beverage manager for the Sun Square at Montecasino, guided our tasting of six wines from four of the wine estates that will be featured during the festival.

The first wine we sampled was a first release unwooded chardonnay from GlenWood Winery. It is tangy on the nose with strong citrus and subtle apple coming through. Light and crisp on the tongue with no sour aftertaste. Very easy-drinking and an excellent choice of wine for Autumn. The winemaker is DP Burger, whom Maddison describes as ‘friendly with a sense of humour’.

Black Elephant Vintners is a wine company that produces wines from selected vineyards in the Franschhoek Valley. According to Maddison, they are quite controversial in their approach to wine branding and they have a sort of ‘cult following’ of people who enjoy their wines.

We tasted a sauvignon blanc with a particularly fun and quirky name – Two Dogs, a Peacock And a Horse. It’s rather unusual in that’s it’s almost completely colourless. On the nose you get a particularly aromatic bouquet. I loved how it smells! It’s a wooded sémillon (one of the least popular grape varieties in South Africa). The taste is grapefruit and litchi centered. This was my favourite wine of the evening; I’m definitely keen to be a part of Black Elephant’s cult following.

We also sampled a typical shiraz from Black Elephant which was very accessible and easy-drinking for its age (2012).

From Chamonix we had a taste of the Chamonix Reserve and the Pinot Noir Reserve. The Chamonix Reserve is a well-oaked wine in a light straw colour. It’s 55% sauvignon blanc and 45% sémillon. The aroma is one of exotic spices and subtle grapefruit. It’s a fairly serious wine so the taste is slightly acidic and savoury with a starkness to it. However, it’s sweeter than you think it’s going to be after you first smell it. It’s an outstanding food wine.

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Well-oaked, the Pinot Noir Reserve gives you earthy compost, pepper, berries and cherry on the nose. This particular wine is well-structured and quite a dark ruby red in colour (a fairly deep red for a pinot noir). It can be chilled and is thus a lively spring or summer wine. Incredibly complex, pinot noir is known as the winemaker’s heart breaker: you might have an excellent harvest, press it and then the wine changes drastically during fermentation. Pinot Noir is not particularly well-understood in South Africa and it generally appeals more to the ladies. Maddison describes it as ‘the princess of red wine’.

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The last wine of the evening was a shiraz from Franschhoek Cellar. An easy-drinking, simple, straight-forward wine with a strong aroma of pepper and black cherry. I found it quite astringent, but not unpleasantly so. A new world shiraz, not for aging but for drinking now.

What makes the Franshhoek Food and Wine Festival unique is that the people guiding you through the tastings are the actual winemakers themselves and not just salespeople selling you a wine. You will be able to experience firsthand the passion, love and effort that goes into producing a truly excellent wine.

If these six wines are anything to go by, the Franschhoek Food and Wine Festival is definitely not an event to be missed. In addition to featuring fifteen of Franschhoek’s best wineries, the event will also feature four of the Valley’s top restaurants and over thirty fine chocolatiers, patisseries and cheese-producers. Truly French-inspired!

This wonderful taste experience will be accompanied by the incredibly-talented Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra.

Don’t miss out on this chance to experience the wonders of South Africa’s culinary capital!

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Festival session times:

Friday 28th: 18:00 to 22:00

Saturday 29th: 12:30 to 16:30 and 18:00 to 22:00

Sunday 30th: 12:30 to 16:30

JSO session times:

Friday 28th: 19:15 to 20:00 and 20:45 to 21:30

Saturday 29th: 13:45 to 14:30, 15:15 to 16:00, 19:15 to 20:00 and 20:45 to 21:30

Sunday 30th: 13:45 to 14:30 and 15:15 to 16:00

General tickets cost R150 and hospitality tickets cost R570. Both can be purchased on iTickets.co.za

For more information check out http://franschhoekfoodandwinefestival.co.za

Adventure is out there!

Discover the Luxury Art of Refilling

If there’s one thing French fashion designer Thierry Mugler knows, it’s that everyone loves a little something fancy. Mugler has artfully blended luxury with subtle economical and eco-friendly elements. The year 1992 saw Mugler’s creation of The Source – a modern take on the perfume fountains of the eighteenth century. Mugler’s Angel and Alien come in exquisitely-designed bottles and it can be tough to part with them when they’re empty. So, the concept of The Source was born.

Last week, my darling friend Lloyd invited me along to a small event at Stuttaford’s Sandton City where I had the chance to experience The Source for myself. By the way, check out Lloyd’s fashion, lifestyle and entertainment blog at asseenbylloyd.blogspot.com. He took these selfies of us:

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It was a lovely, intimate affair complete with sparkling wine and excellent canapés from Vicky Crease Catering. I was very impressed by the spread. It included sweets and savouries as well as vegetarian options for the hippie types like me. The only complaints we had were the drippiness (did I just invent that word?) of the parma ham rolls and the mini cheese tarts. When you’re eating canapés at a special event, you generally want to avoid the dreaded food badge. Everything else was simply delicious; we especially loved the custard tarts topped with kiwi and strawberry. The pastry was amazing.

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After we’d had a chance to grab a glass of sparkling wine, sample the food, mingle and snap some pictures, the Thierry Mugler representative, Melissa, gave us some background about the featured fragrances:

Angel was launched in 1992 and was wonderfully innovative and unique. It was the first blue fragrance ever created and was also the first fragrance to contain no floral notes. With Angel, Mugler instituted the basis for a new fragrance dimension: Oriental Gourmand, that is, it smells good enough to eat. Angel is unarguably a ‘foodie’ scent, right up my alley!

Angel is experienced in three stages. The first stage is the celestial facet where it takes flight into pure, open air. The second is the so-called delicious facet which makes Angel so very addictive. The final facet is the voluptuous one. This facet gives Angel it’s excellent sillage or long-wearing trail.

Angel is the only perfume that has its own specific method of application which Melissa demonstrated very well!

Muglerusa.com states that it’s most effective to start with spraying a light cloud of perfume into the air and (cat)walking through it (with attitude, if you please). To finish, spray a touch of fragrance to your pulse points (preferably not all of them at once). It’s essential that Angel lands on your skin in a mist as it’s an Eau de Parfum and can otherwise be overpowering.

Angel comes in a stunning bottle design called étoile (star).

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Alien was launched in 2005 and quickly became another Mugler favourite. Alien is a beautiful gift brought to us by a solar goddess not of this world. She is clothed in light and gold. Like angel, Alien is revealed in three stages. The first is the floral facet centered on Indian jasmine. The second is the woody facet which makes Alien so modern. The final facet is the amber, the facet that gives Alien its softness. I’m mad about the smell of jasmine and I adore Alien. It’s also terrifically long-lasting, and leaves traces where ever you go. Where Alien and Angel are concerned, it’s wise to follow the ‘less is better’ rule.

Alien is available in four fragrances: Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Essence Absolue and Eau Extraordinaire. Each comes in an exquisite bottle designed with various precious stones in mind.

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Both Alien and Angel have matching body products. The Angel body cream contains molecules that cause tiny explosions on your skin throughout the day so the lovely fragrance doesn’t fade. The Alien body cream is the shimmer kind. It’s extremely special as the shimmer doesn’t come from glitter. Instead, the shimmer effect is created using particles of 24 carat gold, making it an extraordinary beauty treatment.

The Source concept gives customers the option to refill their empty Mugler fragrance bottles in-store. It features Angel Eau de Parfum and Alien Eau de Parfum. The empty bottle is positioned under a tapered cartridge so that not one drop of precious perfume is spilled. This technique also avoids exposing the liquid to air and light.

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This unique experience means big savings when it comes to paying for the luxury of a Thierry Mugler fragrance and affords one a comfortable sense of longevity. I particulary love how The Source pays attention to the environment: according to figures in 2011, 2.3 million perfume bottles are saved and 383 tonnes of waste are spared worldwide each year.

It’s truly magical that a brand as luxurious as Thierry Mugler has succeeded in putting into action a concept that gives its fragrances a dimension that takes into account the consumer’s needs on an individual level while also considering the massive environmental impact made by the fashion industry. One hopes that more and more fashion houses and brands will take a leaf out of Mugler’s book and make an effort to combine the heady rush of fashion with responsible, environmentally-aware practices.

Beware of Angels.

Feel Extraordinary.

A little gift from Thierry Mugler.
A little gift from Thierry Mugler.

Adventure is out there!

Exulansis

Exulansis: n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness. (John Koenig from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows).

As a traveller, I find myself experiencing this particular kind of sorrow fairly often. Although, I think that it’s often less about other people being unable to relate and more about our inability to sufficiently convey our experiences in a meaningful way. Luckily, I’m too determined (and talkative!) to completely give up trying to make people understand why the travelling experience is one that I, and countless others, crave above all. So (due to popular demand) I have finally started a blog, and only about five years too late. This is just a small glimpse into the life I lived in Thailand. Here goes!

I have just spent two years and three months living in a city called Hat Yai in the south of Thailand. It was an absolute blast. Every last second. The people, the exploring, the adapting, the lessons, the frustrations, the joy … and on and on and on …

Hat Yai is one of those cities that at first doesn’t strike you as particularly inviting, breathtaking or attractive. You arrive there after the incredible vibrancy and chaos of Bangkok and your first thought is, ‘Oh hell. What have I done?’ But man does it grow on you. So much so that you go home after a year, decide after two weeks that you can’t be anywhere but there and jump on a plane (or three) straight back. Once you start exploring, you realise that the city is full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. In particular, there are countless temples, shrines, and statues. Some of the temples are large complexes, while others are only a tiny room.

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You can drive around a corner and suddenly there’s a huge statue of Buddha.

After then there’s the endless eateries all over the city. Popular, touristy Thai food is renowned for being a hundred kinds of awesome and the food in Thailand’s deep south is no different. From markets to street vendors to restaurants there are hundreds of places to eat at. I managed to get 100% addicted to chilli and even put it in my scrambled eggs now. Sometimes, you get given something to try or you order something without knowing what it is or you decide to go wild and eat something outrageous. It’s brilliant. I ended up eating chicken cartilage, raw squid, chicken feet, crickets and worms. Thai kids eat the worms and crickets as a snack, like potato chips. I’ve always loved food but I think living in a culture that is so food oriented has contributed to my current food obsession.

Eating is a huge part of Thai culture.
Eating is a huge part of Thai culture. There’s always plenty to go around!

Since Hat Yai serves as a travel hub, visiting nearby islands is ridiculously easy and affordable. I was lucky enough to visit some of these incredible places, places that look like they are straight out of a travel brochure. The beauty and variety of the Thai islands is unrivalled and each one offers a myriad of activities to keep you busy: kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, rock climbing, camping, boat trips, fire shows, cabaret… the list is endless.

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One of my absolute favourite trips was spending four nights camping on an almost-deserted island with my friend from New Zealand. We basically had the island to ourselves and spent our time exploring and being completely chilled out on the beach. It was amazing! Definitely one of my top five holidays.

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Hat Yai is less than an hour’s drive from the Malaysian border. Another of my top five holidays was going there for the F1 Petronas Grand Prix. Can anyone say bucket list? It was phenomenal! Some friends and colleagues of mine commandeered the school van and we left from Hat Yai, crossed the land border at Sadao and went on to Kuala Lumpur. Seven hours in a van with no air conditioning in 35’C heat might sound nuts but it was one of the best road trips I’ve ever taken. The Sepang International Circuit is one of the less popular circuits which makes it much more affordable and less crowded than many of the other circuits. Even so, the atmosphere is electric. We had seats on the K1 grandstand right on the first turn and when the race starts and all the cars take the corner as one pack the noise is deafening and the excitement is almost palpable. I was nearly jumping out of my skin the whole time. What’s great is that you get to see the pre-race press conference with the drivers and the qualifying so you’re really getting the full F1 experience. It was magnificent!

The circuit is about forty-five minutes outside of KL so after the qualifying we drove into KL. It was my fifth time in Malaysia but my first time in KL and although we were only there for a couple of hours, KL quickly became one of my all-time favourite cities. It is incredibly busy and cosmopolitan. There is so much to see and do! I also got to visit the Petronas Twin Towers which is something that’s always been on my list of things to see. We saw them at night when they were all lit up and they are absolutely magnificent. They exceed any and all expectations you have of them. I would definitely recommend Malaysia as a place you should visit at least once.

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The Thai culture is so complex that you could spend a decade there and still not feel like you have learnt enough. The people are, on the whole, welcoming, friendly and willing to help out. I have learnt more in the past two years than is even remotely possible to expand on here. Probably the most outstanding lesson I’ve learnt from Thai people is to be way more chilled than I ever was before: things will happen when they happen, things don’t need to be done right this very second and there’s nothing you can do about it. The Thais have two excellent phrases for this. The first is ‘mai bpen lai’ which can mean ‘no worries’ or ‘no problem’ or ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’. The second, and my personal favourite, is ‘jai yen yen’ or ‘calm your heart’. If you were looking for a life motto, you’ve just found one. Feel free to use them liberally.

See? 100% chilled.
See? 100% chilled.

Growing up in South Africa means that I’m used to all sorts of creepy crawlies and Thailand was no different: spiders, scorpions, centipedes, mosquitoes… But nothing can prepare for you for the king of all insects: the Asian cockroach. They are massive. And they have wings. Yes, wings. These machines of terror have the ability to fly. Why this is okay I have no idea. Since my first apartment was on the ground floor and surrounded by a garden, I ended up dealing with these monsters at least once a week. Sometimes more. I actually got quite good at it. Picture this: Hayley spots a roach on the floor, leaps out of bed, charges around the room in her underwear until managing to scoop up the marauding insect and launch it out of the window like a sort of roach-capturing ninja.

Since I am obviously someone who does things speedily, after a year and a half in Thailand I finally got myself a scooter. I wish I’d done it much sooner. It beats taking the public song taew by a mile. A song taew is a pick-up truck with two benches in the back that will take you almost anywhere in the city for 10 baht (about R3). It’s fairly convenient and extremely affordable. Actually, a pretty great deal. Except for one thing: you’re subjected to the whims of the (usually insane) driver. This can mean waiting at a stop for up to twenty minutes until the driver decides there are enough passengers, being squished into the back with about twenty people, having to stand on the back and hang on when it’s full or having to cling onto the rail for dear life as the driver accelerates and slams on brakes simultaneously (something I didn’t know was possible until I moved to Thailand). I can’t count the number of times I landed in some unsuspecting local’s lap.

Driving in Thailand is a singularly terrifying experience that brings with it a sense of exhilaration and appreciation of life when you reach your destination safely. If you’re going to attempt it, take everything you have ever learnt about road rules and traffic safety and forget it. Otherwise it will get you seriously injured or killed. Some examples: stopping in a traffic circle to let people in is okay, even encouraged; pulling out in front of other road users at the last minute demonstrates faith in the quality of their braking skills; lines on the road are a myth perpetrated by farang and leaving the scene of an accident saves you money.You cannot afford to lose your concentration for even a split second.

Miraculously, I survived relatively unscathed, bar one accident where a driver in a very large pick-up truck knocked me off my scooter and left me bleeding in the road in the rain. A very concerned lady called an ambulance (totally unnecessary) and the paramedics arrived and cleaned my wounds with what I’m sure was almost 100% alcohol. In the meantime, the mayor’s wife was passing by and recognised me since I worked at her school and stopped to help. By this point two of my friends had arrived (I called them in a state and they ran the whole three blocks from their apartment to the scene). The mayor’s wife very kindly drove us to their apartment where I was force-fed a coke and fussed over until I eventually stopped crying. It was all very dramatic considering my only injuries were a swollen ankle, an elbow contusion, two fairly gross wounds, a hideously bruised thigh and some cuts and abrasions.

On a slightly more serious note, I am incredibly luckily I was wearing a helmet and wasn’t more seriously injured. Others are not as lucky as I was. It’s the norm to see people riding scooters with no helmets. I rarely saw a child wearing a helmet either. It’s commonplace for entire families to be on the scooter all at once. This often includes a dog/cat/bird. Which explains why Thailand has the second highest road accident death rate in the world.

My noble steed.
My noble steed and an American side-kick.

You might be wondering how I funded this magnificent lifestyle of gallivanting, island-hopping and and general shenanigans. I managed it by teaching English. Something I said I’d do somewhere in Asia way back when I was in high school. In my two years I taught students who ranged in age from kindergarten right through to adults. I taught in a public school, two private schools, an international school, a vocational college and in a few language centres. Thai students, whether young or old are an insane amount of fun. They adore games and silliness and have huge amounts of energy you can channel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even during those times when the students were almost uncontrollable and I felt as if I was failing as a teacher. Admittedly, those moments were the exception and definitely not the norm. I love teaching and being a teacher and I live for those moments when a student who has been struggling with a concept has a moment of realisation and lights up with a joy that only learning can bring. It’s pure magic. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Above all, what makes travelling so terribly addictive is the people: the countless locals and fellow travellers you meet. In a city like Hat Yai, the locals tend to stay constant but the expat community is always changing. The change is not always a particularly noticeable one, rather, it is an almost imperceptible shift, a fracture made in the group dynamic and quickly repaired. Essentially, the nature of travellers is to arrive, to explore, to experience, and then, finally, to move on and be replaced, always seeking the next new destination, the next new adventure.

It’s not an easy thing to have a person enter your life in a whirlwind of novel perspective, energy and narrative and then, just as chaotically, exit it. But for however long they are a part of your life, for that splinter of your temporal sequence, you get to be a part of someone else’s story. You get to share in their happiness, their frustrations and their growth as they live out the dream they have to travel just as you are living out yours. And it’s this, this unique connection with other people, at once interwoven and parallel, that makes me to want to keep on travelling.

Some of the Hat Yai Family:

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Adventure is out there!

PS: If you made it all the way to the end of this post, good job!