Archives for the month of: January, 2014

Birthday Cake: An Adventure in Egglessness

My son really really really –please Mum, PLEASE–wanted a Victoria Sponge with whipped cream and fresh strawberries for his January birthday. But strawberries aren’t in season! Well, I let that one go, trying not to be too ideological and inflexible. But his good friend was coming for dinner and is allergic to eggs, and I wouldn’t shift on that….

…Even though I’d been so lucky as to find local, somebody’s garden’s ducks’ eggs, with duck eggs reputed to contribute to the loftiest of cakes:


Usually if baking eggless or vegan I would employ the flax seed substitute that does work so well: 1 tbsp ground Flax seeds +3 tbsp Water =1 egg.   But I just wasn’t in this kind of mood.

So we had to find a good recipe for a sponge cake. Lazily, I did an internet search and found a goodie right away, a really really really good one. 

And because the cake bakes in 7 inch tins, it feels really lofty too.

This amazing eggless-cake is so moist! I used a neutral flavour olive oil, but would have used coconut oil if I’d had enough. I filled it with jam, whipped cream, and strawberries.   I intend to experiment with various flours, including gluten-free ones, and spelt, and Khorosan too–maybe mixing in polenta and buckwheat, even  amaranth.  Maybe cocoa powder for a chocolate version?  So many possibilities…

And I think as so many among us have food allergies and intolerances, it’s only a good thing to have a whole variety of ways to make the classics.

The main takeaway for me: my 12-year old daughter asking, a bit holier-than -thou, where those out-of-season strawberries had been grown.  All these years of my incessant label-reading have somehow effected her.  She saw me compromising, and let me know she saw me.  All I can say is– those strawberries were reduced for quick clearance, and her brother really really really wanted them, Mum!  And I’m vulnerable to pester power.

Good fortune lured me to a wonderful Forest Gardening/ Edible Perennial website, where I happened upon the Scottish Forest Garden blog on the Yellow Nutsedge –the edible bits thereof also known as Ground Almond — Earth Almond –Earth Chestnut– Tigernut — Chuffa — and botanical name Cyperus esculentus.  And it’s a tuber, not a nut!

Here’s the entry from the Plants for a Future Database . And ya gotta love all the good folk who help to make Wikipedia so enriching–this is an especially good encyclopedia entry in which we learn how important this plant was in ancient Egypt — and that Tigernut Milk can be fermented.  Really worth a read .  And I like this little description of planting and preparing from a gardener in Connecticut.

A very strong and growing interest for me is thinking how to creatively apply historic and global culinary practice to the unusual foods we may need to begin growing and eating  as our climate gets crazier and we need to diversify. There’s lots of information about so many wonderful and delicious edibles, particularly coming from Permaculture resources– and as a creative cook I want to eat interesting, nutritious and delicious foods and to be there responsively to anything that can and will be grown.  And share what I learn with you!

So when I read about the Tigernut, as above, I recognised the name as that mysterious thing from which was made the delicious drink I’d enjoyed in Barcelona. Here you can see the website of the orxateria where I was so enamored of  this yummy creamy sweet comforting drink called Horchata– and a little promotional video with a song that brings laughter and a little dance — and another bit of Armchair Travel:

If I had these “nuts” I would make Horchata with a recipe like this one.  Yes, I’d experiment with using less sugar… The Latin American versions are centred on ingredients like almonds, rice, cinnamon– and I’m sure are most delicious as well.

Really I am very concerned indeed about our agricultural future, for lots of interlocking reasons.  Imagining what to make with what we could grow gives me a kind of hope– or at least, a potential project.

PS 18 April 2014  Here’s a fascinating piece on a brilliant blog about the History of the Nutsedge in Ancient Egypt.

PPS 9 April 2015 Here’s a very informative article from a Paleo perspective, and others.

Watching this video is a fun way to spend eight minutes learning about cheese made from unpasteurized –raw –milk.  The film introduces the concepts of Post -Pasteurian food preparation as well as the Human Microbiome — all the invisibles that live with us and in us and are part of our health and evolution.

I love cheese.  One of my all-time-favourite cheeses is actually from St. David’s , in Pembrokeshire, in Wales — the  unpasteurized  Caerfai Caerphilly which is so smooth and young with a perfect yet mild tang .  It’s a traditional Welsh cheese, and beautifully made.  If you have the chance to try it, please do!

And here’s a photo of the unpasteurized Chèvre my husband brought back from Brussels, where he was working and ended up in hospital on a heavy course of antibiotics, necessary but effecting his own previously quite thriving Microbiome.  So it’s To the Probiotics go we– the sauerkraut, the Beet Kvass, the yoghurt, and cheeses like this, alive and keeping us alive.

This cheese is decorated with a Cathar Cross, stencilled in ashes.  It is delicious indeed.  And a wonderful gift to receive….

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Here is a little armchair travel for someone who has committed herself to reduce her involvement with the very Greenhouse-Gas intensive aviation industry. This means, though I LOVE going places and seeing things and meeting people and having adventures and eating delicious food, I don’t really venture far away it as much as I would in a different world-historical scenario.

But: I can stumble upon wishes on the internet, and this, quite strongly, is one.

Read about this amazing Pre-Hispanic soup and the people who make it.

If you are on Facebook, read about an exciting documentary The Path of Stone Soup that examines the history and ritual of this very beautiful and delicious sounding soup.

Close your eyes, the visual element of the video will distract you from the meaning and power you’ll get just listening.  This song is about suffering and redemption, hunger and eating, imagining claiming one’s natural power (Why wait for someday, why make a plan/Fuck birds in the bushes, Let’s take ’em in hand), imagining the day when things are easy, and good.  God is feminine in these lyrics.  The song definitely feels to come from musical genres rooted in repentant and redemptive religion…  I am spiralling down an obsessive Bonnie “Prince” Billy hole… from which I wish to talk to you about:

Dead birds.

My first year living in the UK was 2000, the new millennium, which feels now so very long ago yet a time of hope and the energy of a new beginning.  We lived in Oxford, at the end of a 1930s, mostly-Council terrace across from a kind of shrubby wasteland that led to the Thames.  Nearby was a major ugly thoroughfare road, up a lane was a historic village, and right next door, a sports ground where seagulls sometimes roosted menacingly.  It was all there, a kind of urban planning that as an American felt noteworthy– village, country, city, industrial suburb all crazy-quilted together.  Lots of magpies, nettles, wonderful brambles in summer.

Our neighbour had a friend who would come by to offer us pheasants he’d found as roadkill.  This man maybe was lonely, maybe a wandering character, living marginally, definitely in need of the bare minimum quid he sought. He’d appear at our door with these birds held upside down by their feet, still in feather, which he’d offer to remove should I want to buy.  These pheasants were cheap– maybe a pound or two, I can’t remember.  But I never did buy one from him.  At that point in my life I had no way to understand buying food in this kind of context.  I’m sure I was polite,  and played innocent.

Looking back, how I wish I’d learned to cook pheasants from those ones, rather than those that come bundled in a neat brace (one male, one female) in plastic and polystyrene from the game sellers in the Covered Market.  For all the wild birds that die crossing roads, in that English mishmash of countryside and infrastructure, for all the people who are not in cars and manage to pick up and honour the visible death of living animals, either to reflect upon it or ignore it, a death which renders animal bodies as detritus littering the road–  that would be the kind of pheasant I would prefer to eat, imagining myself a kind of benevolent and mindful vulture.  Maybe that’s the best humans can aspire to?  It’s that kind of day for me…

In The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Culture, by Sandor Katz, there’s a great little section on eating Roadkill, its history, how as a practice it’s being reclaimed, and includes some good safety tips.  Should you be interested….

I know the Bonnie Prince Billy song is about quail, not pheasants.  But I got to thinking about pheasants because I was musing also on the history of poaching, a poor man’s way of hunting, the idea that game belongs to land-owners (a brilliant and poignant send-up of which is Roald Dahl’s Danny The Champion of the World whether you do or do not have kids to read to).  Collecting Roadkill is free, whereas poaching is a little of the “Fuck ‘birds in the bushes’, Let’s take ’em in hand” approach in the Bonnie Prince Billy lyric.  Also hunting of quail in the UK has been illegal for some decades, as quail were becoming dangerously rare.

Here’s an audio of a quail call just to try to keep it real.

And the very different sound of the pheasant.

I don’t know much about the quails in the US, even if they are the same bird we think of here. Old World/ New World naming...  And I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten it, though reading around I think the “pleasure” is meant to be a suck-on-the-bones use-your-fingers kind of thing– a very intimate way to eat an animal.  I am reminded of Young Girl Eating a Bird painted by Magritte that’s always had so many contrary meanings for me– a feral girl, a hungry girl, a savage girl, a dream, the taboo of raw flesh….    Have a look.

And back we come to Quail and Dumplings. The promise of something beautiful and luxurious and soothing and filling to eat, after hunger, after struggle, after suffering.   Here is a link to a wonderful recipe for Pheasant and Dumplings which you could of course transform into literal Quail and Dumplings, as I might do, in a fit of adoration for the music of Bonnie “Prince” Bill.  It’s a great cooking/ foraging food blog in general if you haven’t encountered it yet…

And here, my final offering, wanting to finish with birds that are living, and have nothing to do with human appetite, is another beautiful, haunting, absolutely addictive Bonnie “Prince” Billy Song,  One With the Birds.  Thank you for reading this today.


Fermenting Harisa

I spent some really nice hours today with my friend Joe Purches, a talented portrait and landscape photographer developing a new interest in taking pictures of food.  I had announced to him my intention to begin making a harissa with lacto-fermented chilli peppers and garlic.   Harissa is an addictive North African condiment of pureed peppers, chilli peppers, sometimes tomato puree, and garlic, cumin, coriander and my favourite bitter back flavour: caraway.  Several years ago I experimented with different recipes, but none of my home-made ones were ever actually nicer, IMHO, than what comes in those tubes you can buy in Asian groceries.

Because fermentation will take several weeks, I can’t yet describe what I am going to do exactly, though I made the decision to refrain from adding the seeds (cumin, coriander and caraway) to the brine.  So basically my experiment is to make the paste with chillis and garlic that are fermented rather than fresh.  Today I chopped lots of hot red chlilis, a sweet red capsicum, added some dried chilis, and a head of garlic divided into cloves.  (And yes, I rubbed my eyes prematurely—-argghhahhhh.)  Stay tuned to see how it comes out.  This harissa was inspired by the delicious uses to which we put our fermented jalapenos.

Joe wrote a really nice piece on his blog.  He was amazing to work with, an incredible perfectionist really, but fun and light-hearted.  I feel in awe of people who have the patience– also the tolerance — to contrive a naturalness from their food-preparation scenes.   Everything looks different through the lens of the camera.  Good pictures for a blog take a lot of time.  I’m not sure it’s always going to be worth my time, but in this case, the gift of Joe was a blessing.

His photos are beautiful.  I feel really lucky.  Have a look!

Nibbling on leftover pizza, I mused that breaking my addiction to wheat is more difficult than quitting smoking ever was. I smoked a lot for a long time, read Allen Carr, had a horrendous month and now, 15 years later, I’ve never looked back. Smokers! You can do it too!

But when I alit upon this video demonstration of using fungi to break down cigarette butts, I knew that back in the day I would have tried this. Of course it would have been better to roll my own with nice tobacco and ne’er throw a filter into the waste stream, but it wasn’t like that.

This video also got me thinking that it would be fun to grow some mushrooms again. A few years ago I grew some oyster mushrooms in sterilized straw and used coffee grounds in plastic bags under the guest bed, and they were delicious. Given all the wild fungi growing everywhere this winter, I reckon in this mild rainy winter I could grow some outside.

So I’m collecting how-to resources for myself and others. This Milkwood Permaculture in Australia has an amazing collection of inspiring and really functional articles to get you and me going. Making spore prints is so beautiful and would be really fun to do with kids who were interested…. If readers have other great resources, please link below.

A nice piece on growing Shitakes in your Forest Garden here.

Here on PunkRockPermaculture there’s a really interesting audio piece about Radical Mycology. I also am really attracted to people like Paul Stamets and those he inspires through his work; there’s a utopianism and beautiful non-human-centric approach to healing the disasters humans so readily wreak– with chemicals, radiation, oil spills, ad nauseum–  with mycelium.

Permaculture people, experimenting, working with not against nature, keeping open minds and hearts, inspire me and keep me optimistic when my disposition might be to feel very sad indeed for the state of the world and the ecological future for my kids, and everyone’s kids.



(Thank you Wikipedia Commons for letting me share this illustration.  Am so into THE COMMONS in concept and application…)

Skirrets!  A vegetable of yore– one I am most interested to try someday. Caraway Root as well.  I wonder if these are roots that have that inulin thing going on?  Do follow the link to “The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies,” a marvelous blog. 

Am posting this fascinating historical recipe for my Permaculture friends, who in their edible landscapes and forest gardens seeks to recreate a practical Eden.  And– as rain and sun and heat and seasons all become increasingly unpredictable, as they will, we need to diversify what we grow in all our climes.  So skirrets will be one to try!  Anyone eaten them, or even know what they are?

Here they are on the Plants for a Future Database.

Michael Pollan explaining corporate vs. home cooking — and fun to watch.

This is a Russian friend whose perfect description of how to make Piroshki I couldn’t help but film, there in the Chemist’s, last spring.

I am going to start really making it a point to film people’s hands when they describe how to prepare food. I had a bunch more that were lost in my computer fiasco, but I’m going to begin again. There is so much memory and knowledge in the hands, and a moving performance when they are used this way.

Hey! If you notice someone telling a recipe with their hands, and you are able to film, could you please give it a go, and share with me? I’d love to see if this idea could grow. Thank you!

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