Friday, May 08, 2015

A Foreigners’ Guide to Load-shedding

Homework by candlelight
Some things are uniquely South African, like braais, fynbos, vuvuzelas and Table Mountain. Now we have one more thing to bewilder and confuse visitors from abroad and overseas readers of our social media platforms: load-shedding.

Load-shedding has consumed all of our energies and channelled our collective frustration into a froth of social media invective and subversive wit for the last several months now. If you’ve seen the word Eishkom once you’ve seen it a thousand times, but if you’re still in the dark (pun alert) about what we’re talking about, here is a short guide:

Load-shedding is when the power to your whole area gets switched off for a few hours, usually when you have a cake in the oven, an important deadline to meet, or a very exciting rugby game on TV. You may know in advance that it’s going off, or you may have no warning at all.

In theory a schedule is all  worked out and clearly defined. You can look up your area's schedule of 2.5 hour slots online and see what times are allocated to your area.

For each area there are three scenarios: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3.

Stage 1 is relatively benign – one of your three daily time slots alternates over three days and some days you have none at all.
Stage 2 you have one slot every day, sometimes two.
Stage 3 is the killer, two or three slots every day

But here is the wild card.
You never know if there will be load-shedding at all, if so what time it will start, and which stage will be put in place.

It might start off being announced as Stage 1 and then suddenly change to Stage 2 with less than a minute’s warning. Or they might say all day that there will be no load-shedding, only to put Stage 1 in place a minute before 6pm, which is when our time slot starts, crashing all our computers.... again.

So what is that Eishkom thing all about?
Eskom is South Africa’s national energy provider.  Eish is a very South African word expressing exasperation or disbelief, with a long drawn out vowel sound to funnel all that frustration. A natural match.

Why are Eskom doing this to us?
It’s not just to browbeat us into submission and make those new-age hippies advocating alternative power accept the need for more nuclear power stations built by the Russians (I think... unless you subscribe to conspiracy theories). Our national power demands have gone up and the infrastructure is all suddenly getting older (apparently Eskom didn’t see that one coming) and is in urgent need of maintenance. Some of our shiny new wind power farms are working, others are standing there not turning and waiting for parts that never come. We have lots and lots of free and gorgeous sunshine, but it’s too expensive to harness it (why?).

Because this is a light and fluffy post I won’t mention that pundits tell us this is only going to get worse, or how bad this is for our economy, and can reassure those who are thinking of coming over here to visit our beautiful, hospitable country that all the essential infrastructure is still working – hospitals don’t get load-shed, most hotels and restaurants have generator back-ups and much of the CBD isn’t targeted at all. If you come and stay with us I can promise candlelit dinners cooked over our gas hob, braais and, without the distractions of computers and TV, long chats on the sofa in the dim candlelight.

We’ll survive. Our computers might not and our cakes may all collapse but, to look on the bright side, (call me Pollyanna if you want) this might be just what is needed to get the solar industry to go mainstream and to motivate a whole lot of us to get off the grid, so that Eishkom won’t need to build any more nuclear power stations after all. Here’s hoping!

Fellow South Africans - if you haven't yet got a reliable load-shedding alert system, try Gridwatch, a Smartphone app from News24, that works pretty well... as long as Eskom give anyone advance notice that is!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Guilt-Free Chocolate Discovery

Edited to add: Before you get as excited as I was about this new chocolate there has since grown up a storm of controversy around it. Its labelling is misleading at best - there is sugar in this bar, it just comes from honey according to the makers, but it isn't going to be any good for diabetics or paleo people. They do a diabetic bar apparently, but check it all out  before you buy and don't go by the over optimistic labels shown below! Shame as it's very tasty! Here's the manufacturer's statement.

Oh my word! I have just discovered the chocoholic’s dream fix – a bar of dark chocolate that is sugar-free, fat-free and perfect for sharing with banting friends (or is the sharing aspect a down-side? Will have to think about that).

Basically this bar is all chocolate, no weird ingredients, and it is smooth and dark, just how I like my chocolate. Only problem is it disappears too quickly – the bars look nice and big, but they are thin, so the temptation is to keep snapping off a bit more and a bit more till it’s all gone. But then that happens with any good chocolate in this house.

The story that I was told at Nature’s Deli, where we happened upon this bar the other day, is that the Swiss technology division who produce the couverture have developed a new natural way of taking the bitterness from the cocoa beans, a bit like decaffeinating coffee, but without using any chemicals. So all you get in the bar is 70% organic cocoa and 30% organic cocoa butter. Then it’s tempered six times instead of just once or twice, to get silky smooth chocolate that melts in the mouth.

If I have any criticism it’s that the packaging could do with a little more work to make it user-friendly. Because the bar is thin it has a cardboard backing and the foil inside is glued to the card, which made it hard to re-wrap neatly. Not something that’s going to put me off buying it though!

The Le Chocolatier factory is in Paarl and their retail shop is in Stellenbosch. You can also buy online or at a few health shops around Cape Town. Oh, and it only costs a few rand more than my other favourite (but mass-produced with no pretensions to organic status) chocolate bar, so it's good value for that amount of foodie halo polishing credentials.

Now I’ve gone and finished the bar, all in the name of research while I was writing this, so I definitely need more, sooner rather than later.

Disclosure: I wasn't asked to review this product and my sister-in-law bought it for me to try, thanks SIL!