Archives for the month of: December, 2013

New Lives for Your Christmas Tree, and Pine and Juniper Needles in General

The link above is a wonderful resource– great ideas for infusing oils, vinegars, fats, booze, spices, teas, syrups, and more.   Our Christmas tree happens to be plastic, something my husband found in a skip and eagerly rescued, and we’re all attached to setting it up and taking it down every year.   But we miss the scent and the naturalness and sacredness of a real tree.  So many things to do with conifer needles.  Looking forward to exploring the writings on this link in general.

Here’s another, if you are a high-end meat-eater, roast your lamb on a Christmas tree branch:

Christmas Puddings in the Age of Melt

This brilliant Christmas Cake was made and iced by Ladies Fauset– climate activists Claire and Sophie and their mother Barbara too. They made it to honour Phil Ball and all the Arctic 30, Greenpeace heroes who paid a price of imprisonment for drawing attention to Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. The cake is funny and celebratory and a kind of Christmas toast. Of course there’s also the pun — the problem with the ice(ing).  But when I saw the photo, the crack reminded me of that kind of anxiety that accompanies the knowledge that our world is in a state of change and crisis that is going to have quite some consequences.

Christmas is one of those holidays through which we mark time, years advancing, my children growing. Because I juggle with pessimism about the future, I hide the sadness to protect their innocence. We act jolly. But I feel time marching forward– New Years is stong for this too– when I want it to stay still, so we can stop ice melting and oceans warming and figure out what to do PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!

My husband is a climate change campaigner, and so we speak often about the subject, about the future, but also about how people who know and don’t know deal with the knowledge of how serious a situation we find ourselves in, regarding the climate.

So I could only laugh when I realised the Freudian Slip of a Christmas dessert  George came up with for our Christmas dinner: Baked Alaska. It was quite delicious: a soft meringue baked in a hot oven around a store-bought Madeira Sponge wrapped around frozen foraged blackberries and home-grown raspberries mounded on a core of vanilla ice cream. It came to the table as a festive masterpiece, and spoke of the wish, The Wish, that something sweet and cold could stay protected and eternal beneath all our technological machinations.


(A brief read on Wikipedia told me that when the microwave was invented a Hungarian physicist and “molecular gastronomist” produced something the opposite, a “Frozen Florida” in which the meringue remained frozen but the inner liquor was heated. Oh the possibilities of climate chaos, and every weird combination of everything, everywhere.)

Meanwhile I bought a £2 (reduced from £4) Christmas Pudding, not because any of us  especially enjoy it, but because the brandy heated and set on fire makes the most beautiful dancing blue flame, something spiritual and numinous, sacred, magical,  heat and light in this cold dark time of year. I think we’ll light it tomorrow, because we haven’t done so yet tonight.

And I’ll say a little personal prayer of thanks to people who are putting their lives on the line, like the Arctic 30 did,  trying to guide a better future into being– and let myself feel  inspired and empowered by them to be ever more active and vocal.


Mary is a breastfeeding mother, to state the obvious.  Lots of realistic depictions here.

All over the news: Pope Francis encouraged a woman shy to breastfeed her infant in public to feed that child, there and then.  To feel free and empowered to do it.. “Please give it something to eat.”  Comfort, always, and food, breast-milk so perfect nutritionally, in sweetness, in fats, in taste, in what it delivers immunologically and microbiologically and the nearness of warm loving skin, through which it’s delivered.  Lactation really is a miracle, and very beautiful, and the first food a mother can give her baby, and Slow Food, because a body makes the milk in the time required, and all about “Food Sovereignty” because a woman can decide, in a kind of beautiful dance with Baby, when to feed, how long to feed, how much milk to produce, not intrinsically tied to corporations or regulations or industrial regimes.

I remember the years when I was breastfeeding my babies, even as a non-Christian, feeling a spiritual affinity with Mary and the nursing Baby Jesus.  (And when you’re heaviliy pregnant, it also becomes possiible to deeply imagine the physical travail of riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, and the kind of anxiety that must have accompanied not knowing where one would spend the night.  (No one helped Mary give birth, did they– she did it alone, without a midwife?  I can’t believe I don’t know the answer to this question.)

The breastfeeding Mary powerfully symbolises love, and the addressing of hunger.  This wonderful article discusses how the symbol of the breast predates the centrality of the crucifixion as a symbol and  “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity…”

I always felt, as a breastfeeding mother, that there was a meanness and cruelty to the judgement that I shouldn’t nurse publicly, forbidding to the infant too, that we should go instead into a toilet or restroom for privacy.  Lactivists across the world are battling for a change in social outlook on this.  Yet– what if issues around breastfeeding became linked with food rights and food sovereignty and all the broad ways we are coming to define them.  I find it really powerful that Pope Francis has made these connections– drawing a wider metaphor about social aspects of food, from a crying baby who wants some boob, without a need to disentangle comfort and hunger — which exist together and can be answered together.

Lots to say really about the industrial food grid and the sacred time before child is on it….  but must go cook dinner for kids now, so will revise later  🙂 …

We have a family joke that cracks us up every year. We eat the children’s chocolates and replace brussel sprouts in the golden wrappers. One year my ingenious husband decided to wrap the chocolates reverse-ways, in the leaves of the sprouts which he’d carefully unfurled.  We gave those to the kids.  This is the merriment we create– HO HO HO.

Last year the prank stopped feeling quite as amusing when I began to contemplate child slavery in the cocoa trade, and realised Ferrero Rocher lacks Fair Trade or anti-slavery certification. Quite effectively petitioned by internet activitists, via Change.Org, the company Ferrero SpA has committed itself to  ensure the end of child slavery in its supply chains by 2020. (Read about it here )

2020?  2020?  Surely change can happen more quickly then this, even within the mega-complicated worlds of international agribusiness.  7 years from now, 8 years from the date of the petition– that’s so many childhoods stolen by trafficking and poverty and 16 hour days and beatings and all the horrors– and yes I know children in other parts of the world have to work and I’m not romanticising “childhood” but I do insist that equitable “development” seeks education and social justice as foundations for the hopes of the future.  And when we are talking about the pleasures and magic I seek to give my own children, as their own childhoods, it somehow matters all the more.  7 years: do we let this company off the hook for now, because it states a good intention?  That’s a question– I’m open to hearing interesting opinions.

Here’s a website that discusses lots of the issues around chocolate

So what should we do?  The mega business also produces Nutella about which today I saw a great and shocking graphic

There is so much politics in that map, between countries, labour markets, eco-systems, futures, commodities trading….  Looking at that map I mentally enquired about their relationship to palm oil, such a troubling ingredient in the unfolding story of processed foods, rain forests, climate change, agribusiness…  Apparantly Ferrero is a strong supporter of “sustainable palm oil”; whether this is a total corporate greenwash kind of notion I need to find out. (Readers, please advise!)  In fact, I realise there’s so much I need to learn about palm oil.

I know that all over the internet there are recipes for DIY Nutella, hazelnut spreads, chocolate spreads, raw cocoa spreads, all kinds of deliciousness that one could investigate while keeping a more ethical control over ingredients.  I could even forage cobnuts as the hazel , or acorns to substitute, for goodness sake, and and do a local-foraged-seasonal version!   I am currently contemplating whether I should try to make my own Ferrero Rocher bonbons to wrap in Brussel Sprout leaves. The exercise becomes rather elaborate, and maybe some of the humour gets lost.  I know we environmentalists (along with feminists) are accused of being humourless, and I see this happening in this very blog post!  Oh Friends, help me, it’s all so complicated….

a PS several days later– I’ve discovered a new blog, which I love, and he’s got a homemade Nutella recipe, and this is the one I will try first if I ever decide to give it a go:

Carl Legge ( is a wonderful blogger and cook who’s book The Permaculture Kitchen I eagerly look forward to next year.  I just checked in on his site and noticed his plea for us all to help this small scale potato breeding company to develop a non-gm anti-blight spud.  I’m for it and am going to donate!   I think about potatoes a lot, in relation to carbohydrates and what we can realistically grow in various small-scale settings.  Of course we need LOTS of varieties of potatoes, and roots in general, and we need good practices of crop rotation.  But I’m interested in this project, and these potatoes, and wanted to share the info here.

Japonica Quince (Chaenomeles)

I love love LOVE the red flowers and climbing geometric branching of this ornamental plant, and never quite realised the fruits were edible until a friend Sheila, knowing my predilections, offered me the crop from her back garden. Her mother made jelly with these back in the day, and maybe I’d want to too?

I am a keen learner and experimenter, though was slightly daunted by the thought of time required, and am ever aware that these kind of activities represent a  luxury of time and energy– even if I am staying up too late and slightly cursing myself all the while.

I did happen to have some larger proper quince, and with my friend Emily did a comparison– Japonica more astringent, a lemon perfume to the orange fragrance of the Quince.   Japonica reminded Emily, and I could somehow agree, of those old-fashioned candies, violet and lilac  — an echo of a perfume…  hard to define except in dreamlike reference to something else…

Thank you to EdibleThings to whom Google led me, for leading me to the Wikipedia definition of Bletting which as a concept has so many metaphors and so much resonance in many aspects of fruit gathering and harvesting .  Where there was “rot” in the fruit there was fragrance — these japonicas are so much about the smell.  And the colour– an incredible yellow after simmered then pureed through the food mill.


I’d also been really amazed at how easy it was to collect the seeds.



I had read that quince seeds are a traditional mucilaginous remedy for sore throats and chesty coughs, and was hoping the same to be true of these wonderful cousins,.    As with apple seeds, one would need A LOT, like a cup at a time, for toxic effect, so worry not with a teaspoon of seeds soaked for a tea– at least I, worry wort queen, would not worry.

What I did with all that pulp: 5 jars of a preserve, not sure what to call it, maybe Japonica Butter —  for each cup, three-quarters a cup of sugar, Cinnamon and Ginger, Nutmeg and Cloves to give a medieval feel and to hear in my heart Maddy Prior singing Of All the Birds (can’t find a link), a wonderful song from a long-gone Steeleye Span record.  I mixed a little with some yoghurt, and I think it will be wonderful as a compote, also maybe as a filling for a gingerbread cake, or on a scone, or as Christmas gifts.  Maybe in a tart or crumble, cobbler or Japonica Quince Betty.

And the pulp strained from the “butter”– well–  I mixed it with water, kept it in an  open top jar for a few days, stirring all the while to let it ferment and keep it simultaneously aerobic, and it’s becoming an ever more acidic wild vinegar (see the post below on making scrap vinegars)– a really beautiful, perfumy vinegar, like no other smell I’ve smelled– maybe like a hyacinth dancing a citrus rhumba.

On the subject of Japonica perfume: a friend told me back in the day a famed use for these garden fruits was as a room freshener, on the mantle or kitchen table.  Let it blet just a little, then — inhale –an incredible, intoxicating fragrance. This is something that might have been familiar to some grandmothers’ grandmother…

So the fruit of Ornamental Japonica– now I know.   Perfumy, bright, historical, astringent, beautiful, laborious, fanciful, foragable from gardens urban and suburban.

POSTSCRIPT 4 Dec 2013:   My friend and “Horticultural Tutor” Emma Maxwell was keen that I understand the following:

True  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) Quince, Cydonia oblonga, is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears).Flowering quinces of eastern Asia in the genus Chaenomeles, also in the family Rosaceae.

So I guess these are clues to research whether all those seeds I lovingly saved are useful or not in therapeutic teas.  Or useful simply to plant for a new shrub?

Huckleberry Memories

Something reminded me of this wonderful grape-lollipop purple that came from huckleberries I briefly simmered and pureed with a little sugar into a coulis. This was several years ago. I’d bought them in summer in a punnet from a local grower, made the sauce, froze it, and we ate it mid-winter on snow as  dessert…   It reminded me of “Water Ice,” which in Philly we called Italian Ice, paper cones of shaved ice (so much like snow in texture) into which the nice man with the cart poured whatever vivid-colour flavour of syrup you requested.  So this was my natural, grown-up, local-foods version.

My memory was jogged because I am now taking an occasional basic gardening class with Emma,  who grew these berries. The more I learn about her permaculture gardening, the more impressed I am, the more I admire how many aspects to growing, selling, teaching, planning, preserving, preparing food (and flowers) she does. I wanted to share her blog here, where she tries to keep track of everything, which is so much:

7 December 2012 Postscript: I am reading my new copy of a book I’ve long long wished to see, Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, which arrived from an internet secondhand trader via the Withdrawn section of the New Orleans Public Library, CENTRAL.   Now that’s a provenance!  And I see she has a recipe for Huckleberry Ice Cream.  I can imagine how wonderful that would be, served, among other possibilities, “in crepes with huckleberry sauce.”

Dried Cholla Buds and Tepary Beans

Was just having a lazy browse on the Saveur Magazine website, and noticed a piece called “6 Native American Ingredients.” Curiously I clicked on a link, and found this website  for the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. They have a small on-line shop. I would absolutely LOVE to try these cactus buds, and the tepary beans, brown and white both. They also have a magazine about traditional and contemporary foodways that looks great! Someday, someday, because I am so far (and postage would probably be prohibitive) but if you happen to be in the USA, you could order yourself those beans and buds and cook them up and tell me all about it.

Here’s another useful link should you happen to be in a cold, wet, constant drizzle of a climate like Wales dreaming of the soul foods of  a hot, dry dessert:


11 March 2014   Just read this Zester Daily piece on Decolonizing the Taste Buds from commodity foods….


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