Monday, September 15, 2014

Hot Find - a Coal operated Iron

Welcome to Africa 

Sometimes we have electricity and sometimes we don't...... 

The reasons given by the powers that be are complex, but they go something like this :

- somebody stole the cables
- the infrastructure is on the brink of collapse, so we have to share what little power there is ( load shedding )
- the people who run the national electricity provider have stolen all the money and now there is no money to upgrade the networks and conduct maintenance
- the average salary at the national electricty supplier - Eskom-  equals what I earn in three years, but they are idiots and have destroyed a perfectly good infrastructure through corruption, nepotism and sheer incompetence 

Having been warned by people who are " in the know " to get prepared for electricty outages - I am on a mission to do just that . I dont want to be caught short !

My options - buy a bicycle operated washing machine, convert my appliances to gas, diesel, wind, wood fired, anything but electricty and all will be ok.
To this end, I have been keeping my eyes open for solutions to beat my nemesis - the national electricty supplier Eskom.
Then one day recently - while strolling through a kitchen market in Chiang Mai Thailand ........

Eureka ! I found a coal operated iron ! Not even an antique but a real brand new one !

My mind flashed back to a remote Jain temple courtyard in Rajasthan where I had seen one of these in operation by laundry wallahs doing piles and piles of white cotton sheets under a massive fig tree .

Operated with hot coals which have to be replenished from a gently burning wood fire nearby , this style of ironing seemd romantic and slow like the days gone by. I was sure my maid would LOVE me for this.

And so I arrived home with my trophy find in my luggage - my first non electricty dependant appliance. This was a few months back - my maid Samantha just graciously smiled, nodded knowingly and then put the iron on display on the kitchen window sill where it sits today - as yet unused. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wild Harvest in the Overberg

Winter time in the Cape region of South Africa, and it is the rainy season. The wild fynbos plants are experiencing a growth spurt from the season's rain, and this is when they form fresh new leaves and their veins run thick with fragrant and healing oils, their flowers emerge and growth is lush and abundant.
This is the time for wild harvesting in this area .We begin our season's harvests one fresh cool morning in July. Up before dawn, we drive to the area where we plan to harvest, enjoying the exquisite scenery en route. The aloes flower at this time too - and this is Aloe Ferox - also used in Rain products in the Aloe and Avocado range
Proteas ( our national flower ) are blooming in great swathes and there are groups of hungry sunbirds feasting on the sweet new nectar. We pick some proteas for mom as a thank you for the crunchy cranberry rusks we enjoy with the early morning coffee.
The trusty landrover has been kitted out, serviced, oiled and greased - even new shocks fitted to cope with the rough terrain and the extra load of water tanks on the roof. We are ready to harvest
The fynbos plant kingdom is the smallest and richest in the world - one of seven plant kingdoms globally with around 8000 species- 70% of these plants are found nowhere else in the world.There are 1300 species per 10 000 compared to the South American rainforests which have 400 species per 10 000 This is an exceptionally special and unique place. 

We have our factory located in this region, and are thus  privileged to be able to wild harvest our raw materials from our "backyard" so to speak.
John, our Fragrance Forager
has the distillation kit firmly bolted to the sides of the landrover with tanks of cooling water on the roof to enable us to distill the plants on site - right in the wild - fresh straight from picking
And of course, there is always time for tea and those rusks of mom's.We are up the mountain and it is chilly - nothing like a hot cuppa to warm the hands and heart

This is Joe - our KhoiSan medicine man. He knows his plants and keeps a lookout for them from the sides of the Landy as we drive - banging on the roof to alert us to stop when he spots something

The terrain requires four wheel drive - it is steep and rutted and the tracks run as mini streams from  all the underground water during this wet season
We harvest Aasbos - or Bait Bush - so called by fisherman as they use it to clean their hands after handling their bait. This plant we are harvesting in the coastal dune belt where these plants occur in abundance
It is an olfactory journey - 
with Joe handing us bushels
 of plant materials to smell
 and identify. Some of them 
are sub species and we have 
to continually refer to our
reference books as we go
The mobile office with a basket of plant books for backup.We consider 
ourselves as pruners - we never cut everything from a bush , but use a rule of thumb of no more than a quarter. Pruning stimulates new growth and it means we are harvesting sustainably

Joe and John prepare the still for operation , attaching all the pipes for the cooling water flow from the roof, connecting the gas burner and setting up the catchment flask. The guys head out with their picking baskets and secateurs and then gradually return with the plant materials to be distilled.
The drum of the still gets filled with freshly picked organic plant materials, and we sit under a tree and wait while the heat builds and the hydrosol slowly starts to drip from the tank. It is wonderful being immersed in the still calmness of raw nature , the pace is slow and there is time to watch the birds and the ants, feel the warm winter sun on our faces
We make tea and sandwiches for the pickers and we laze around waiting for the golden oil to emerge from the plants. This oil which is fresh, pure, wild and organic will be used in Rain products throughout the year
At the end of the day ,weary , but also filled up with a sense of replenishment that only pure nature can deliver, we head back down the mountain and home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


We take a days journey up the west coast of South Africa to visit a rare and utterly unique plant called Kukumakranka - alias K4- Gethyllis species.
This plant has very strange growing habits and is the basis for many a nostalgic story from the older generation who played games sniffing them out in the sandveld when they were in fruit as their tropical fruity smell is legendary.

We are anxious to meet K4  as we want to use this fruity wild harvested plant note in our African Wild Harvest Perfume Range. We have been introduced to it by a Mr Melck - whose life's passion is the preservation and propogation of this very special species of plants

Mr Melck invites us to his farm and like all South African farmsteads - we experience warm delicious hospitality in the shape of tea and home baked apple and cape gooseberry pie

Mr Melck tells about the strange growing habits of K4. It grows ever so close to the ground and gets eaten by buck, tortoises and hares. It first gives off the leaves, then the leaves die down and one sees nothing there. then out come the prettiest little flowers - again close to the sand and delicious for animals to eat. If the flower gets eaten, it does not have a chance to fruit and seed.

and then......... if the flower was miraculously not eaten, the fruit forms beneath the ground in the shape of little bananas and pushes up out of the soil with a fragrance of tropical summer fruits and strawberries

Traditional use was to place a fruit in the local homemade witblitz for a fruity taste, or to eat the fruit fresh from the soil, or to dry the skins for a fragrant Bible bookmark

Mr Melck knows all the plants on his farm by name and number. He knows which give large tasty fruit and which have interesting colours. He has a tunnel in which is germinates all the seeds he collects and where he carefully nurtures the plants to adult hood - a period of six years before they bear.

His hope and dream is to give away 100 plants to each farmer in the district and to encourage them to take care of the plants and to ensure the survival of this rare and special species.
We have the privilege of receiving the fragrant fruit after  the seeds have been removed. We are currently tincturing them at Rain to use in a seasonal once off batch of Kukumakranka Harvest Product. Watch this space for limited edition items available only as and when we are able to get this ubiquitous fruit.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Big Contract

winging our way to Salt Lake City to meet with Bob Shay of Surefoot 

eighteen months of discussions resulting in a wonderful contract for Rain to open 60 stores in the USA and 10 stores in Canada

sooo privileged to work with Rain Team USA


the Rain Team South Africa celebrate and say thank you for the contract

we are all super excited for this new exciting challenge and opportunity for our brand to expand into the USA and Canada
Thank you Bob
Thank you team Surefoot

the Launch of my First Book

and so, after months of hard work , followed by months of waiting ......
The Rain Book of Natural Soapmaking has arrived

and let me add - that signing books is not quite as fun as I had imagined it would be 

avialable in English and Afrikaans
at all book shops and at Rain stores
the ones in the Rain stores are all autographed ( hard work ! )
the book contains all my secrets on soapmaking with over thirty step by step projects 
and on top of that - you can go onto our website and link into tutorials which are step by step videos showing how to do the projects. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

my out of office office - de oude bakkery stellenbosch

so this is where I meet with people and conduct business when out of my office. it is an enormously creative environment filled with smells of freshly baked bread and roasted coffee.

Max our perfume maker first introduced me to this place hidden down a little alley with no visible signage. I was enchanted and have made this place mine

their sourdough takes three days to ferment - I buy loaves as gifts

the atmosphere is endearing and charming

they have recently extended , added a deli, a butchery and a roastery. They now have a visible entrance off a prominent corner and a new name. dont ask me what it is - I still know this place as De Oude Bakkerj

farewell Father of the Nation

A sad time for our nation as we say goodbye to the man we all love so dearly - our beloved Madiba - who transformed our country and brought us peace and reconciliation. the ANC has never again had such a great leader .

The photo below is a beach collage - a tribute by the people of Durban

My personal favourite - Madiba comforts Helen Suzman