Archives for the month of: February, 2014

A Painting, A Market, An Enticement

I’ve been a collage maker for most of my life,  have boxes and boxes of assorted materials, things I’ve collected, torn from magazines, etc. I have no idea where this is from, but I ripped it out long ago and kept it. And I love it.

I love the scene, the seafood, the eggs, the vegetables (are those cardoons in the front right?), the olives, the people, the bare light bulbs, and especially the loaded moment of the encounter that is just about to happen between the man in the yellow shirt and the woman with the bags and the nice bum.

In its day, I’d guess this would have been thought of as a market, not a farmers market or a specialist market or even, probably, an alternative to a supermarket.  It just WAS.   WHERE people bought their food.  Something to re-envision.

Wish I were there.

Where do we think it takes place? Italy? Spain? Portugal?

And wouldn’t it be wild if a reader were to know more about this picture– who painted it, where I might have seen it originally, etc.


A mere few hours later:  I am truly blown away.  My friend Vohn, who blogs here, has identified the painter as  Renato Guttoso and this scene as located in the famous Vucciria market of Palermo in Sicily.  Further point of interest:  a google search on the image of this particular painting lead me to another WordPress blog called OrganizedMagnificenceGlory that pictures the same scene realised in a slightly different style. The mystery continues.

PS 22 Jan 2015– if y0u happen up0n this page, make sure t read this update.

I  like an occasion, and Valentine’s Day certainly is one– to celebrate love: familial, platonic, marital, erotic. (I know I’ve left out Agape, but what could you possibly cook for that?)  Usually I make a nice family meal with lots of things shaped like hearts and take out my mother’s pink tablecloth.


But like most things chocolate, Valentine’s Day is so over-sugared, we’ve diminished the breadth of the experience of love as well as left out those who feel: lonely, searching, rejected, burned, exhausted, unwanted, unlovable, unloved, bitter. Maybe Valentine’s Day could be, not about excluding so many, but empowering everyone to celebrate just where they are, at this particular moment, on that ever compelling, painful and wonderful journey called LOVE– sweet, bitter, sour all.

I had also wanted to write something about Aphrodisiacs– foods, drinks, smells, and substances that open our bodies up to desire and allow us to feel both active and receptive. I asked friends — so many talked about the power of smell– of bodies, and also of flowers/ essential oils– Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Rose.  Others mentioned fruits, tropical ones, lychees, figs, mangoes, pears, peaches, pomegranates, mulberries, raspberries, cherries– all in perpetual fruit in this Valentine’s Garden-Beyond-Seasons.  Lots of people were into foods with a sensuality in the mouth– creme caramel, panna cotta, creaminess in general — and finger licking– buttery, as in artichoke leaves, and truffle oil.   Of course delicious chocolate is ever sexy, as are chilis, that spicy heat that gets lots of us feeling alive.  Smoking a little weed is wonderful for certain people.  As is nice wine.  And of course gestures of love, of help, of sharing the burdens of life.   And if only the sweet gestures of intimacy and tenderness were a substance– but that’s what I suppose we seek from chocolate, when such gestures may be lacking.

I own a wonderful book called Make Your Own Aphrodisiacs, by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.  I recommend it, and their Hedgerow Medicine website, to you,  and yesterday I began to look through it and started getting 100 inspirations, even if I didn’t have, at that late notice, ingredients on hand to try their recipes.  The authors look to traditional Chinese, Indian and European ideas of foods and herbs that inspire sexual energy, and they concoct modern and appealing recipes using world foods. Really fun.  And much better than any of the Tantra/ Aphrodisiac cookbooks I’ve ever so far happened upon.

Reading their description of Moctezuma, Aztec King, drinking his Xocolatl reminded me of a friend who always made his cocoa without sugar, and how I enjoyed experiencing the taste of chocolate without its bitterness being hidden.  He did use milk, which isn’t ancient.  I like bitter.   I like sour.  I feel these flavours are rejected because they are not easy, and as well because our sweet-obsessed society skews our taste buds… In my fermenting workshops, I often ask participants when they are uncomfortable, to just “be with” the sour, or the bitter, and try not to judge the experience, especially as negative.  And this all brought back to me the connection to Sweet Bitter Love, being able to be with, to honour, the parts of love that aren’t so easy or sweet.

Xocalatl, it shall be then!

And easy enough ingredients: water, chilis, vanilla, cocoa powder.  (I thought I could also use cocoa nibs and grind them, but cocoa powder just felt effortless.)


The recipe had me simmering then straining the chilis, then mixing all the liquid and further simmering with the cocoa and vanilla extract.  I don’t know.  In the end I added extra raw chilis to intensify the spice.


(I had never known, and learned from the Brutons’ book, above, that Vanilla comes from an orchid whose “very name is derived from the Spanish for ‘little sheath’ or vagina”;” vanilla to me is liminal between food and perfume, and in every way is such a happy ingredient to be included in this recipe.)

Uncle Phaedres, Finder of Lost Recipes has interesting things to say about Xocolatl, if you fancy a read.

The result? It’s nice, and actually with the spice tastes invigorating.  I might add lots of vanilla seeds and pulp to the mix next time.  I drank it by myself.  I am feeling a calm surrender to everything in my life. A little heady, actually, a little high.  I can imagine this drink as an aphrodisiac.  I can also imagine it as a night-cap.  I can sit with my bitterness, my sadness, and my joy.  I am on my Journey of Love.  I can experiment further with Xocolatl…

[EDIT, half an hour later:  This beverage IS an aphrodisiac, I can attest.  That combo of chili heat, bitter cocoa, perfumy vanilla– quite effective at its task.]

Being  the fermenting enthusiast I am, I’m most interested next time to explore what would happen if I let this Xocolatl concoction ferment– seemed for sure that historically some kind of fermentation would have been desirable if not unavoidable.  Searching around the internet on this subject, I found this very fascinating piece on the website of one of my favourite museums in Philly, the city of my youth.  This is an amazing piece that looks at the Aztec archaelogy of drinking and storage vessels, discusses the pulpy fruit around the cocoa seed, mentions human sacrifice and blood and colouring agents that represent them, and finishes with a video about a cocoa beer they name Theobroma, which might be similar to what I make next time.  (Or maybe mine would be more like a chocolate mead– or, a spicy chocolate liquer– which would really be… something else!)  Stay tuned!

PS  Have any readers experienced these shamanic Cacoa ceremonies like this kind of thing?  (I can’t vouch for that link, I just know this is something groovy people are up to!)

and here’s an Instructables for a “Mayan Chocolate Drink” if you were to have cocoa beans themselves.

And a short film and article about small scale growing of cacao in Mexico– whether to grow cacao is an act of cultural and economic resistance….   and the squirrels get to eat too.

And one thing more, from Waging NonViolence, Revolutionary Antidotes to Consumerist Love …

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear People, wherever you find yourself in your life story of love — I raise my teacup to you!


Well, success I would say.

Several weeks ago I set myself the task to ferment a jar of peppers– dried, fresh  and sweet all together, submerged with some garlic in a salty brine with the intention of an eventual Harissa, my favourite Middle Eastern condiment.  I even love the processed stuff that comes in tubes, but wanted to taste a version with that particularly perfect sour fermented flavour, after my good experience with pickling jalapenos in this way.  I wrote a blog entry about it and stored the jar on my busy counter tops in the hypothetical section called “In Progress.”

Three and a half weeks later, I noticed that the garlic had become that unsightly blue that sometimes develops in lacto-fermented cloves of garlic.  The lovely, ever helpful and knowledgable Sarah of Killer Pickles  referred me here to learn that “Garlic contains anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments that can turn blue or purple under acidic conditions. This is a variable phenomenon that is more pronounced for immature garlic but can differ among cloves within a single head of garlic.”  Yet it was that blue that told me there’d been enough fermentation ( thus acid production) to proceed. (I was kind of tempted to intensify the blue in photo-edit, and resisted.)


First step was to strain the peppers of their brine, which was fragrant and spicy and sour and bright, and went in as the final splash in the day’s soup, as I’ve described before.



The pepper skins themselves I put in some vinegar for … whatever that turns out to be.

Then as per classic recipes for harissa, I blended the pepper and garlic pulp with olive oil and added ground seeds that I’d sieved to remove the husks: coriander for brightness,  cumin for depth, and  beloved caraway for a kind of bitter that really levels it all out.  Here, in the photo below, I’d drizzled a little extra olive oil.


Well, paste, no– I think if I wanted a paste texture I’d add tomato paste/ puree– not sure how I’d thicken it otherwise.  (Any thoughts anyone?) It’s more like a thick sauce, and a really good success of an experiment. It’s a hot spicy with out torment and with various levels of depth.  Next time I might ferment the seeds along with the peppers, or perhaps roast them Indian style in the oil at the end. That could bump it all up even more– but I’m not really sure more intensity is called for.  In the meantime,  I am just really into this idea of fermenting ingredients that then can go on to play a role in grander schemes…


I thought I’d share an aspect of my “approach” to daily meals.

Friends were coming for dinner; there would be seven of us.  I roasted a chicken with lemons and garlic and paprika and fennel seeds and this wonderful Palestinian za’atar.  I baked a squash, made brown rice (which I had duly soaked), a black-eyed pea salad with parsley and garlic and olive oil and scrap apple vinegar, and steamed kale with similar.  A sliced avocado decorated the platter that held the chicken. There was some leftover lemony tahini sauce, and I did make a kind of gravy / sauce, with the carmelized bits from the bottom of the roasting pan, and some ancient sweet wine from the bottom of a bottle.

After supper, the bones of the chicken simmered in the extra bean water, with some various scraps of carrot and leek and parsley stem, the seeds and pulp from the squash, and the roasted lemons complete with rind (I like a little bitter, and the acidic nature helps the bones release their minerals).

In the photo above are the leftovers, which I added in the morning to that broth, which I’d strained, reserving the kale for the last minute.  I chopped a carrot for sweetness, shredded half a swede/ rutabaga because it was there, chopped some celery by habit, squeezed in some tomato puree/ paste for the pleasure of squeezing a tube and and for the colour, and served with black pepper and parmesan at the end.


Soup: I make it constantly, usually with leftovers as a main ingredient, exploring inspirations from world cuisines, basing broths on meat stocks or vegetarian stocks and often fermented brines.  I have herbs from the summer preserved in salt, and a lacto-fermented “bouillon” (posts to follow) that I can call upon for oomph.  Then grains, legumes (red lentils an obvious favourite), root vegetables, greens, ginger, spices — sometimes finishing with miso or fermented veg in one form or another, usually sauerkraut.  Fresh herbs if they happen to be there.  It’s not so much rules as a sense of freedom.  Which is a reason I don’t like recipes or the idea of “the best” this or the best that, and ask you to trust your own impulses.   Use what is on-hand as your inspiration, though of course you can plan what to have on-hand.  Food made with love will be received with love– generally.

This one was quite minestrone-esque, and amazing to me because basically it was a pretty direct transformation of the meal the night before, with a few hearty brighteners.

First, should you be experiencing this Deep-Winter Blue-Mood, here’s a little pep-talk of a dance number.  You are a star! Everybody is one!

Second:  I have a habit of accumulating internet links to explore further, but they are beginning to want to break free of my private files. So, though eventually I may revisit them, I’m just going to post them here, now, for readers’ scintillation.

A piece called Spice Tile on the BRILLIANT blog Edible Geographies about an art exhibition at the Victoria and Albert in London until the 21st of April– hope I can get there to see it.

A Love Letter to Nigella Sativa, what I know as Black Onion Seeds.

And creative ways to use Chia Seeds.

And third in this Seed Triumvirate, a recipe for Crackers with Dock Seed, in celebration of the undercelibrated Dock.

Trends in Home-Prepared Pet Food — and How to Make Your Own Cat Food.

A Great List of UK Seed Companies

From Mother’s Gut to Milk, a very informative article on the microbiology of breast milk on the ever-fascinating blog Hella Delicious

and on the subject of breast milk, here’s an artist’s project making cheese from human breast milk in order to raise questions about food systems and ethics…

An inspiring article about Growing Saffron in Utah.

Asian Pear Trees for your garden (a fruit I adore)

A great how-to for sprouting beautiful sprouts.

A piece I love from Permaculture Magazine about traditional methods of drying chestnuts.  (I LOVE chestnuts, so more coming on baking with chestnut flour definitely!)   And another on Reusing Coffee Grounds.

An interesting article called Why Skipping is a Necessary Evil  (though I’d never use the word “evil”) that puts people’s personal hunger in a broad political context.

Remembering the Morecombe Cockle Pickers and their families.

What I thought was a good Real Food Plan for the Broke — the author aiming for each healthful meal to be $.95 per person per meal;  you can compare and contrast Jack Monroe’s approach to budgeting

A book on Home Aquaponics (combination aquaculture [growing fish] and hydroponics {veg grown in water not soil] ) which interests me very much but I haven’t got a kindle…

On Wasabi in Britain in a Forest Garden way; and this, a company, celebrating Wasabi as a Brassica 

An interesting, short documentary on The People’s Kitchen — “a place in which people can come to eat, as well as express themselves, find themselves in society.”

and a blatant plug for my friend Sharon Kane’s Gluten -Free bread assundries website and business. She’s a woman who reclaimed her own health and is on an amazing mission to share everything she’s learned!  She is based in Massachusetts, for American readers keen to do some mail-order.

And, lastly for today,  an important plea for seed diversity in the face of this thing we call Climate Change.

“What’s for dinner?” Once you have kids, that question becomes part of your life. Even my mother-in-law, growing up in the 1930s, in the deep country in a large family as a child of a coal miner, remembers asking her mother, who would flatly respond, to which many of us can empathise, “Crickets and soot.”

Someday I want to make Crickets and Soot for dinner.  Not a fancy Heston Blumenthal take on it, but literally…

Yesterday I decided to take my menu cue from this wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops song and make… Cornbread and Butterbeans.

cornbread, butterbeans

I liked the idea of a meal constructed differently, perhaps more simply, than the ones I often belabour– this one felt like a variation on Dal and Flatbreads, an easy, nutritious, cheap meal my children do enjoy.

What did I learn:

The Lima Bean of my American childhood is reborn in the dried Butterbean (in this case, a lazy tin) of my adulthood in the UK.

The “stew” I made with butterbeans was really good and simple and kind of universal: leeks, onion, carrot, celery sauteed in butter/ olive oil, the beans, some added liquid, salt and pepper and thyme and a bay leaf– and at the end lots of fresh parsley, which is still growing happily in this rainy but mild winter.  The dish reminded me of the Marcella Hazan Italian recipe for a very garlicky white bean soup with loads of parsley.  There’s a mildness to these beans and a slightly mealy texture that one child did end up rejecting, even as both of them continue to open up to new foods, thank goodness, because not being able to be fully creative in my cooking is tiresome.

Cornbread:  I used some kefir in place of buttermilk.  It was a bit on-the-edge and so sour that it instantly reacted to the baking soda/ bicarb in the recipe that it frothed over the jug.   Because it was SO sour I decided to use the full amount of sugar in the recipe, in some attempt to please, i.e. not disgust, those same children as above.  The result, having got in the habit of always reducing sugar in any recipe, was a taste way too sweet for my liking.  And I used the duck eggs that I’d bought for the birthday cake that ended up being eggless.  The cornbread tasted like cake to me, and not gritty.  But still was fun to mop up the beans with it.


The sign read:

An Announcement from our Wholesale Supplier

Important Notice Re Bananas:

Please be advised that there is an issue with the supply of bananas for the next few weeks.

Due to the bad weather (hurricanes) in the Dominican Republic the fruit was of poorer quality going into the ripening rooms and has not withstood the usual storage / ripening process.

As a result the fruit was poor quality coming out and rejected so this has created a shortage throughout Europe.
Subsequently the majority of fruit from other countries has been “sucked out” of the system by much larger buyers and supermarkets…. As produce is scarce this has pushed the price of bananas up. Our suppliers expect that the amount of bananas that they have to offer us will be down by approximately 30% and so we will have less bananas available to offer to customers.

OK, so today I couldn’t buy Organic, Fair-Trade bananas from our local organic shop, which functions as a social enterprise and is supplied by small-scale and ethical businesses.  Our local supermarket still had plenty of bananas if I wanted some.

Yet– already supplies of food are seriously impacted by extreme weather– storms, droughts, floods, let alone dwindling bee populations to pollinate European crops- but there’s so much food in the world it’s easy not to feel it.  And it’s easy if we have money to pay higher prices.  And it’s easy if we are part of food systems that deliver along lines of power (to acquire, to purchase in volume, to push smaller buyers out of the way, and to consumers in wealthier societies).  And of course we’re part of a social lie that there is year-round, seasonally irrelevant, resource depleting, climate-stability destroying– in a word — unsustainable — abundance.

Not everyone on this revolving globe has access to the fabulous but false abundance to which we’ve become accustomed.  Sometimes in a supermarket I feel like I am hallucinating.  And  yet, this false abundance itself is increasingly jeopardised by all the climate weirding that is already happening.

The messages I took from the sign in the shop are questions, really:

What happened to all those bananas that didn’t make the grade?  Must be a massive amount of waste unless flexible Food Manufacturers could suddenly call up a whole new need for pulped bananas for a new product? Unlikely.

Big players have power in a compromised market place, and what do we want to do about that?  ( I did, after all, later in the day, go and buy Fairtrade bananas at the supermarket.)

What’s going to happen in the years to come, when more and more foodstuffs we rely on in a globalised market become scarcer.  Yes, the rich will probably continue to have easier access to the best there is.  But certainly there is going to be less best.  I cannot believe that as our Climate extremes increase, Big Ag or even our small scale local sustainable Ag will always keep up.

Another reason that all of us, gardeners and not gardeners, need to get on with growing and learning and making these practices normal and common.  Not for bananas necessarily, but grains and roots and fruit and greens, diverse foods, so there’s always at least something.

Why are we not all talking about Climate Change constantly, why is it not the main topic of conversation in how it relates to almost everything else?  The silence is deafening!

Yes, we have no bananas today.

Lupini Beans, Hypothetically Speaking

Oh Lupini Beans — happy memories and good times, my college days so many moons ago, in Providence, Rhode Island where a walk down streets of pastel-coloured wooden houses led to a Portuguese grocery store that I loved.  And there I discovered  jars filled with these salty Lupini beans from which your teeth rip a hole in the skin and you kind of suck the bean out of its rubbery shell into your mouth .  (Is that it really?  It’s been so long…)  Kind of like edamame, though edamame has the salty pod you strip off with your teeth to get those nuggets  of baby soybeans that can taste sweet when really fresh.

Something recently brought up a craving for Lupinis (Tremocos in Portuguese), and I began to wonder what they actually are, and whether I could make them.  I somehow had imagined them close to fava/ broad beans, though their name should have easily suggested the Lupin family, which I’ve only known as beautiful blue cottage-garden, bee-attracting flowers that I’ve never grown successfully in this country of slugs and snails.

(This is a post I’m writing hypothetically really, as a round-up of the state of knowledge I’ve come to, to share web resources — of which there are not that many — and an invitation to anyone else’s interest, and a request for more information should anyone with experience happen upon this blog….  My interest, as readers know, is looking at global food traditions to widen what we grow locally, around the world, with Climate Weirding etc. in the name of both self-sufficiency and fun and experimental eating.)

Here’s a wonderful and easy Snapguide to how to prepare the salty snacks I enjoy so much.  But, searching for hours on the internet I was unable to find the dried beans to order by post in the UK– and from abroad, the postage cost just made the idea prohibitive.

dried lupinis

I’m not even sure precisely which lupin species have been used traditionally for food– clarity on this issue would be appreciated.  These beans can be toxic, to humans and to livestock, if not prepared correctly, so there seems to be pretty widespread concern to grow low-alkaloid cultivars.  Yet, the traditional varieties were prepared with over a week’s soaking in water that was changed pretty frequently, so the toxic alkaloids would be leached out.  Hmmmm.   If using these beans dried and ground, as for flour, I guess you’d want to either dry the soaked beans, which seems labour and energy intensive, or in that case really seek out the “sweet” varieties.  I am signposting this issue as something for further research and understanding.  There also seems to be an issue with allergies not being uncommon.

Full of curiosity, I wrote to Alan who writes the really great Scottish Permaculture blog Of Plums and Pignuts.

“Hello!…Can I ask you a question, as someone more interested in cooking/ preparing food than growing …. I’d like to figure out which lupins to grow for the edible seeds that are Lupini Beans/ Tremocos. In your opinion, would any species produce more seeds than others, or be more appropriate or traditional than others?  I am aware of the alkaloid toxicity issue… If you have time, I’d love to know what you think.  I’ve jumped around the web but haven’t found much really.”

“Hi Annie,” Alan replied. “Thanks for the email. It’s always nice to hear from other people who are interested in this sort of thing. The only lupin I have tried growing for food is Lupinus albus or white lupin, which really didn’t flourish at all [up there in Aberdeen, Scotland], to the extent that I didn’t even get any seeds to try. I understand that Lupinus mutabilis is the best one for eating, having been a staple of the Incan empire, but it isn’t hardy here. Tremocos (Portuguese name)/lupini seem to be Lupinus luteus or yellow lupin.  [Somewhere I think I, Annie, read that they come from the blue lupin, Lupinus angustifolius— my memory could be faulty but it nags.]

The most productive lupin in this country is certainly the garden lupin, which is Lupinus polyphyllus. Unfortunately its seeds have very high levels of alkaloids. There are cultivars that I would like to try some day that have been bred for sweetness. Lupinus perennis and Lupinus nootkatensis also look like they would be hardy and might be worth trying.

I haven’t experimented much with lupins as in general they seem to be fiddly and take a lot of preparation. In addition the best ones for eating are often annual, which means that you lose much of what attracts me to the group in the first place. From what I’ve read, they seem to be eaten rather like edamame, but since I can get moderate crops of soya beans here I might be best sticking with them.  Good luck with your experiments.”

Thank you Alan for that useful information!  It also seems like the countries that have a history of eating lupin seeds are warmer and have longer and drier growing seasons than we have had in the UK….

Well, as I’m just putting this all out there in the webosphere as something of interest, here are some links I’ve found that might be helpful

On the Andean lupin

Plants for a Future (for one species, and there are others on their database)

A good Permaculture website

and for a Canadian experience with growing lupins for food.

Illustration from Wikipedia Commons

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