Archive for the ‘Well Being’ Category

Growing Out Of The Wall

Passing by the wall of an old Suffolk church today, we were called to attention by an amazing display of St. John’s wort growing out of the cracks, so we stopped to pay a visit…

and found a whole array of burgeoning wild blooms, including harebells,

and yarrow,

along with the more familiar kinds of wall plants, like ivy-leaved toadflax,

and pellitory of the wall itself:

Let more wild plants cheer up old walls!

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Rehabilitating Valerian

Valerian rehabilitatedThe poor old valerians in our garden have been ravaged by goodness knows what this year (and last). I’ve not yet seen the culprit responsible, but the news is not all bad.

Valerian (I mean the native, wild, medicinal Valeriana officinalis here, and not the commonly grown and escaped Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), which can be seen in red and white versions in gardens and on walls in the summer) easily restores itself from the strongly aromatic roots.

20160715_192259-2 lowresSo I just dug them up and put them in pots (using homegrown peatfree compost topped with a layer of bought peatfree to suppress the weeds) and they’ll be sprouting new leaves within a week or so.

Valerian is one of my (many) favourite plants, and has been used through the ages as a herbal sedative, and for insomnia. I sometimes drink the tea to help me relax, and find it does the trick.

Mostly though I love the plant for itself… and I’m determined to discover who else does next year and see if I can stop the great stripping!

Pics: Valerian repotted; Valerian reviving a week later (15th July 2016); Valerian flowers (all by Mark In Flowers)

Valerian in flower July 2016

A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

Mead 4 JULY banner low res

This morning I got my first mead of the summer on the go – red roses, strawberries, wild honey, spring water and a bunch of fresh herbs, most from the garden, and everything apart from the honey from no further than two miles away.

The fresh herbs include anise hyssop, apple mint, lemon balm, spearmint, yerba buena (what would we do without the mint family?), along with some sunflower fellows: alecost leaves and mugwort flowerbuds.

Over the next ten to fourteen days there will be vigorous stirrings and smellings and bubblings and fizzings, followed by very merry drinkings!

See this post for how to give it a go yourself: How to Make a Herbal Mead Elixir

Goldfinches

As I write this from near the east coast of England at 2pm on 17th December 2015, the weather outside is mostly overcast with pale gold light streaking through the clouds to the south. It is also extremely mild, probably 14 degrees Celsius.

Not such a different temperature in fact to that of the early October day when I took this picture of a flock of goldfinches which had landed in the elder tree at the bottom of the garden.

Goldfinches detail [2] Oct2015 1024x575

It’s not a particularly sharp or fine picture and I don’t have a very good camera; but something about the flashes of dandelion gold on the goldfinches’ wings, as if the colour came directly from the sunny flower of that plant itself, whose seeds they love to eat, made me want to post it…

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir

This month the 8th issue of Dark Mountain (and first themed book and paperback) was published. Titled Technê, it is a wide-ranging collection of essays, reflections and maker guides on all aspects of technology and tools. At its launch at the /i’klectik/ art lab and cafe in Lambeth, I demonstrated in six intense minutes how to make a wild autumn mead, whilst Charlotte gave a slideshow of some of the artworks and photographs in this densely illustrated volume. I also joined the crew for this issue as proofreader and Charlotte co-edited the book and wrote two of its pieces. This is the first, a short practical one about making mead, which also appears on her own blog:

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir – by Charlotte Du Cann

This is a mead made for a talk about Dark Mountain at the 2 Degrees Festival at Toynbee Studios, Whitechapel, last June. My fellow editor Steve Wheeler and I had been invited to present our talk without any technology or power, as part of a ‘de-industrialising‘ workshop called ‘Breakdown breakdown’, organised by the artist and activist Brett Bloom.

I took a jar of mead along as part of the performance.

Honey and water infused by botanicals make the simplest, most off-grid, hands-on, archaic, indigenous drink you can find anywhere. You can conjure mead elixirs from any fruit or leaves or roots, depending on your intent or sense of adventure. Fragrant elderflowers, bitter dandelion roots, birch bark, hawthorn berries; the mead circles of rural Tennessee, according to master fermenter Sandor Ellix Katz, make them with just about with anything. Ours had a fruity theme: conference pear, lemon balm, apple mint, lime blossom honey. The key ingredient in mead is raw honey. The honey has to be non-pasteurised, so it contains the wild yeasts that make fermentation happen.

Midway through the presentation, just after Steve had whirled about the circle of people, reading from his Dark Mountain piece, Ragnanok, about modern warrior training in Sweden, I passed the mead around to see if anyone could guess what it was. No one did, although a girl from Finland did say it reminded her of something her people made with raisins.

‘Well, if you know your Nordic mythology,’ I said, ‘you’ll know that when Odin and his sky warriors weren’t preparing for the Last Battle, they were drinking mead!’

The first time I encountered mead, I was investigating plant medicine in Oxford. One night, I dreamed my head was covered in bees. It was intense. The second time was at an editorial meeting in London. Six of us had been running a newspaper against the odds and were closing shop after three years. We sat in a circle, feeling The End drawing nigh, when the managing editor exclaimed, ‘Let’s have some mead!’ and brandished a Kilner jar containing an elixir of rose petals, redcurrants and windfallen cherry plums. Five minutes later we were all falling about laughing. I thought I was going to burst with happiness.

‘It might be the end of the world as we know it,’ I declared to the audience. ‘but at least we can have a good time!

INGREDIENTS:

1 handful each of mint and
lemon balm leaves

1 ½ litres of pure spring or
boiled water

1 pear (organic), chopped (or
any unsprayed seasonal fruit)

½ jar of raw honey (small
local producers rarely process their honey)

1 ½ litre Kilner jar

METHOD:
Pick a good handful of lemon balm and mint leaves from a garden or unpolluted location, and make them into a strong tea with some of the water (just off the boil). The water needs to be pure non-carbonated spring water. If you use tap water make sure it is well boiled, or left open overnight, to rid it of chlorine (although it may still contain chloramines depending where you live). Let it cool.

Dissolve the honey with some of the cooled tea in the Kilner jar, then add all the rest of the ingredients, plus several fresh lemon balm leaves.

Leave the jar somewhere warmish and visible. Every day take up a wooden spoon and swirl the mixture briskly anti-clockwise and then clockwise.

It doesn’t matter if you keep the jar open or closed, but if you close it you need to ‘burp’ the jar every day. It will make a satisfying hiss as the CO2 escapes and froth vigorously. Each day the mead will look different. The colour and fragrance will change. Transformation is happening!

After about 10 days it is ready to drink – though you can bottle and keep it for years. It is particularly delicious mixed with wine, fruit cordial, apple juice and/or sparkling spring water.

All the ingredients in this mead are traditional herbs for relaxing and cheering you up. Contrary to expectation, facing the end of the world as we know it can be a cheerful thing, as every attempt to deny the situation, or to keep things going against the odds, disappears. It opens up a space you didn’t think was there. Suddenly you can see what or who was around you all the time, but you were too fraught to notice. 

The alchemical mead jar at the centre of the talk was a kind of metaphor for the Dark Mountain Project. I wanted to show hown if you gather some creative uncivilised ingredients (people) together, they can made a heady, healing and joyful brew. What is happening in that Kilner jar is the magic and medicine of fermentation – communities of microorganisms working together, exchanging material, creating new forms, making life happen. All the active ingredients in honey are dormant until you mix them with water, and then everything wakes up. The yeasts that live on the surface of leaves and the skins of fruit add to the live action and flavour. The sweet nectar of flowers gathered and processed by millions of bees feeds them, and then us. Rewilding in a jar.

Sip, share and enjoy!

Images: front cover of Dark Mountain 8 designed by Andy Garside; a late summer mead with cherry plums, rowan berries and mallow (Mark Watson); Mark in action at recent Raw Food and Drink demo at Giddens & Thompon’s Bungay (photo by Josiah Meldrum)


‘Kimchi Slaw’ Variations and a Jar of Smreka

Dear Reader, this post follows the variations on my recent ‘kimchi slaw’ fermentations. See here for original recipe link.

11th March 2015
Kimchi-Smreka March 2015New ‘kimchi slaw’ in the jar, this time leaving out the shitake mushroom water, powdered kelp and onion and adding organic sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca). This was dried, so I rehydrated it, draining the first 1/2 cup of water away (the smell was a bit strong for me, though I may give it a go next time).

I added another 1/2 cup water, then liquidised both sea lettuce and liquid for the sauce along with the cranberry juice, garlic, raw honey (from Bungay Community Bees), 1 homegrown Ring of Fire chilli, a lot of fresh ginger, half a dried pear and the flesh of a small apple.

These pickles/slaws/kimchis are really versatile. This morning’s version has a good, fresh smell of ginger and leek – I’ll be burping the jar from tomorrow and starting to eat it in three days.

The bubbling jar in the background is fermenting juniper berries aka smreka, following a recipe from Bosnia which appears in Sandor Katz’s excellent The Art of Fermentation. It’s been on the go for three or four weeks now, I release the lid at least once daily for burping, and I’ve had a sip – very light and sweet, even though it’s just juniper berries and filtered water with nothing added.

Early Feb 2015
The bulk of my latest fermentational ‘kimchi slaw’ experiment is made up of a Chinese cabbage Charlotte brought back from a Turkish shop in Tooting (on a recent Playing for Time visit to Lucy), along with local organic carrots, leeks, apples and a little chopped red cabbage.

This time I added a dash of organic cranberry juice to the sauce and the whole jar smells completely fresh and amazing. See here for full recipe and method of my previous kimchi slaw along with all relevant references, acknowledgements, inspirations and links!).

I’ll be tasting this one on Tuesday 10th Feb (giving it a full three days in the jar) and will report on it here (below the picture) for anyone interested.

Kimchi-Slaw 8 Feb
11 February 2015
Well that is my favourite ‘kimchi slaw’ ferment so far (even though I say that every time!). I enjoyed the fresh tartness of the apple (no pear this time), and the pungent flavour of those leeks goes brilliantly with the ginger. We opened the (litre) jar last night and finished a third of it, with handcut (by me) chips (French fries) done in the oven with rosemary, green peppercorns, rapeseed oil and lemon.

Text and Image by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.

Is it Kimchi, A Slaw, Both Or Neither? I Don’t Know But It’s Delicious

P1020654 800x600It’s a ferment; it’s alive; it’s a revelation; it’s a meditation; it’s raw veg in brine; it’s part of a movement; it’s inspired by a dish that’s a national treasure; it’s fizzy; a few days later it’s not so fizzy; it’s radical; it’s an addiction.

It’s cabbage and carrot and radish and onion and garlic and chilli and ginger.
And a pear and/or apple, and honey, tamari and sea kelp and chives and salt water.

It’s also shitake mushroom water but that didn’t scan in the verse.

Anyway I’ve been making this pickle for a few months now, based on Korean kimchi and inspired and aided by fermentation revivalist Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, and the recipes by Garden Betty in California and Holly in Argentina, which I came upon on their blogs.

I’ve introduced my version of ‘kimchi slaw’ to people in the Raw Food Demos I’ve been giving at Giddens and Thompsons local greengrocers in Bungay, and talking about it to everyone else! Fermentation is something that really seems to excite people. It’s certainly got me going lately.

photo 4

The recipe here is my version as it stands now. It appears everyone does it differently. And the ‘kimchi’ never comes out the same twice. It must be the influence of all those shapeshifting microorganisms!

A Red Cabbage Kimchi ‘Slaw

INGREDIENTS (Organic, local and home grown vegetables are always my first choice)

1 small red cabbage or ½ large one
1 large carrot
Japanese or daikon radish (mooli), equivalent size to carrot. Sometimes I leave this out if it’s not available and just use cabbage and carrot as the main vegetables.
handful chives or small bunch spring onions
½ cup sea salt (not table salt)
5 cups filtered water (ratio = 1 part salt to 10 parts water)

1 small or ½ large pear, peeled, seeded, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 thumb ginger, peeled & cut into small chunks
2 fresh red chillies, deseeded if too hot
1 tablespoon raw organic cane sugar OR 1 table spoon RAW honey
½ – 1 small cup stock: liquid from 5-6 shitake mushrooms soaked in warm water plus 1 level teaspoon kelp powder
dessert spoon korean red pepper flakes/chilli flakes OR level teaspoon smoked paprika powder
Note: for the most recent ferment I omitted the red pepper flakes/paprika, as I used two homegrown Ring of Fire chillis in the sauce – mainly deseeded but with just a few seeds left in. It was just the right heat, definitely pretty hot but without going into overburn!

METHOD
Chop/shred red cabbage. Remove hard centre and keep intact for use as plug in the jar.

Place shredded cabbage in a bowl with water and sea salt. Stir and put plate on top of the bowl so all cabbage is submerged. Weight plate down with something heavy. Soak for 1½ – 2 hours or more, stirring and turning the cabbage thoroughly at least once or twice during this time.

Meanwhile soak five or six shitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 mins.

Julienne carrot and daikon/mooli. (I soaked the carrots with the cabbage in the salt water for the latest batch).

Rinse cabbage 3 times and let drain in a colander.

In a liquidiser/food processor place peeled, seeded and diced pear, roughly chopped garlic, sugar/raw honey, chives/onion, ginger and mushroom & kelp stock (without the mushrooms). Blend to smooth sauce.

Place prepared vegetables in a bowl, pour the sauce on top and add red pepper flakes/smoked papriika. Gently and thoroughly mix in all the ingredients.

Place ‘kimchi slaw’ in a clean jar (mason jars are great) and push down firmly. Fold a few outer leaves of the cabbage and cover the slaw. At this point you can put the cabbage heart on top to hold the vegetables down further. The vegetables should be submerged under the sauce.

Keep in a cool visible place. Burp the jar frequently if you’ve closed the lid (see cautionary note below)*. You can start to eat this delicious ‘slaw’ within three days. And mine never last much longer than a week before they are eaten up!

*A Word of Caution – take note but don’t let it put you off! If you are fermenting vegetable in glass jars with the lids on, you should keep them in a place where you can see them easily, because you will need to ‘burp the jar’ frequently whilst they are first fermenting. Even in a cold kitchen (like mine!) in the winter gas can build up in the jar quite vigorously. You do not want the jar to explode! The trick is to keep the lid on loosely so trapped gas can be released.

Kimchi ferment 2 [smaller]

I ferment my ‘kimchi pickle slaw’ in a mason or kilner jar. After pushing down the vegetables with the folded outer leaves of the cabbage and then with a weight if necessary to keep them submerged (the fermentation process is anaerobic), I place the the lid with the rubber seal on top of the jar leaving the metal clasp off (see pictures). This means the lid sits loosely on the jar, which can then burp itself and release the potentially explosive CO2 safely.

The picture above shows my latest pickle, bubbling happily and tasting great! (It was a full jar the day before yesterday!)

Kimchi & Squash

Sources and inspirations:
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing) for detailed kimchi recipes and methods (and everything else about fermentation). Just makes you want to try everything in the book from dosa flat breads to herbal meads. Excellent. Sandor’s book Wild Fermentation is brilliant too. Check out his website here.
Korean cook and blogger Holly at Beyond Kimchee. Lovely, very friendly and informative blog by a Korean cook living in Argentina (written in English).
Another great blog is from Garden Betty aka Linda in California. Again very friendly and informative with great pictures. The first kimchi recipe I tried was the red cabbage kimchi from Garden Betty’s blog.

Text and Images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license: Fermenting ‘Kimchi Slaw’ with lid on (see *note above); Raw Food Demo at Giddens and Thompson Dec 2014, me (left) and glam-fab assistant Simon Thompson (right); keeping the lid loose with fermenting vegetables* and fizzy (delish!) kimchi slaw; red cabbage ‘kimchi slaw’ & cha-cha or bom-bom squash with sage in brine fermenting (see recipe on Cultures for Health website).