What is it with the world these days? Everywhere you look there's more disaster, pain, misery and suffering. And more and more I find that, with the barrage of bad news leaping out at us every day from the media, people suffer from compassion fatigue. Looking at the figures, there must be many people who donated generously to the Asian tsunami appeal in 2004 who simply turned the page and did not donate following the recent cyclone in Burma.
Now you can say that these are cold, unfeeling, selfish people, but the truth is more complicated. Many people truly want to help, but they see their money ending up caght in political no-man's land as politicians argue about who is allowed to help whom; funding the bureaucracy of huge international charitable organisations, rather than reaching the people in need; or at worst, ending up in the pockets of the oppressors rather than the oppressed. So it always warms my heart when I find a charitable cause where you can see exactly where your donation is going to go, and that is to those who need it.
I recently discovered Mel's wonderful blog. She is so full of laughter and life and I was instantly taken by her stye of writing. But what really impressed me was the charity which she runs in Cape Town, called Bosom Buddies. If you are in the loucky position of being able to afford private healthcare in South Africa, your experience of giving birth will be as first-world as anywhere you care to name, with a private room and your own obstetrician and/or midwife. However, if (like the majority of South African women) this is not the case, you will find yourself in a state hospital where the care you receive can vary from the good to the okay to the awful. Many women, sometimes only teenagers, are dropped off at hospital by family and left alone and scared to give birth surrounded by complete strangers. The process often entails spending hours sitting waiting in a corridor until a bed is available, and the overworked nurses seldom have time for reassurance and soothing words. Clean linen is at a premium and supplies for the new mum to take home with her are nonexistent. Add to that South Africa's shocking stillbirth figures (and our Minister of Health's even more shocking attempt to conceal them), and you have a situation that would horrify most people – if they took the time out of their safe middle-class lives to pay attention.
Mel is one person who did step out of her comfortable existence and found Bosom Buddies. The charity collects new and good-quality used clothes and supplies for newborns, as well as having a band of volunteers who knit bootees, sew pretty cloth bags, bake and make cards. Mel and other women from her church go to the poorest of the state hospitals around Cape Town and spend time with new mums, giving them each a bag containing supplies for them and their baby to take home. Even more amazingly, they take time to sit with women who have suffered a stillbirth, pray with them, and have special bags for them containing toiletries and a little gift for the bereaved mum. They distribute about 200 of these bags every month.
But, as always, funding is a problem and Mel was quite down recently when she found the store where she keeps her supplies almost bare. The charity only has a bank account in South Africa and therefore needs to use Paypal for international donations, which takes a cut from each donation and decreases the funds that go to Bosom Buddies, and most people are unwilling to spend the money to send baby supplies from overseas. So what great news that Riki, another South African living here in the UK, has offered to collect any donations of newborn baby clothes/supplies/wool for knitting bootees and blankets from the UK and Europe and add them to her shipping container for free! According to Mel, she needs:
"* 0-3 month (mostly) and 3-6 month sizes of babygros and vests
* wool to use for knitted baby cardigans and beanies
* waterproofs/plastic pants
* blankies are also a need, but don't buy new, only if you have 2nd hand – rather * spend those pennies on clothes if you are keen to shop, but gently used is just as good.
And don't forget your local charity shop, Riki says she has found loads of bargains there too."
The container is being packed on the 9th of June so the clothes need to be sent by the end of May. You can either e-mail me or e-mail Riki and we will send you the mailing address. So if you have (or know of anyone who has) old newborn clothes or stuff, or if you feel you can pop some babygros into your grocery basket next time you hit Tesco, please please do so. The donations will be going directly to those who are the most vulnerable and who need it the most.
Right – on with the food!
Andrea, my oldest and dearest friend back home, is a vegetarian (well, a gluten-free vegan these days!). After spending time with her recently on a trip home I was constantly amazed at how dismissively vegetarians are still treated in South African restaurants. You can have, erm, the salad (hold the feta cheese) or the grilled Mediterranean vegetables if you're lucky, or if not, you are stuck with the side order veg of the day (which 6 days out of 7 will be creamed spinach and mashed butternut squash!). Often, she is also far too accommodating when visiting friends, professing to be happy with just the non-animal parts of whatever the hostess has cooked (usually not much!).
Andrea is coming to stay with my over the summer (yippeeeeee!) so I am determined not to fall into the same dismissive attitude and have been investigating options for dinners while she is staying with me. As we have discovered, most vegan meat substitutes contain (surprise, surprise) gluten, so I am trying to find vegetable main courses that can function like their meatier counterparts – I mean, how much fun is a green salad while Nick and I munck on a steak? Something I read in Manggy's post recently stuck in my mind – cauliflower steaks. Now there was a thought. So, having acquired a rather large cauliflower last week, I set about making these steaks a reality. A word of warning – you do need a big cauliflower for this, and only the slices cut through the stem will hold together, so you probably need a plan for the rest of the cauliflower. But those niggles aside, this is a fantastic and easy way to make "steaks" for vegan friends, but also a tasty and very attractive way to serve cauliflower. Next time I might try brushing the slices with curry-infused oil or sprinkling them with cumin, but this time I kept it simple and the result was delicious all the same.
1 large cauliflower
fleur de sel or kosher salt
Pre-heat to oven to 190C.
Remove all outer leaves from the cauliflower and rinse it. With a large, sharp knife, slice vertically through the middle of the head. Continue to make vertical slices about 0.5cm thick until you get to a point where the slices fall apart (when they are no longer held together by the stem). Do the same with the other half of the head. You should get 4-6 slices out of a head.
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and lay the slices flat on it in a single layer. Brush each slice with olive oil and place in the oven. Turn after about 10 minutes or when the slices start to brown slightly at the edges. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with fleur de sel before serving.