Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ginger Beer and Licorice

After my recent hypothermic escapade I took a trip to the shop and slapped down £10 for a bagful of ginger. I grated it, mixed it with water in a gallon demijohn and drizzled a good lot of honey into it. I then left it uncovered on the kitchen counter. After a day or so I started drinking it, in great need of it’s medicinal effects. After a week or so it was more like the ginger beer that you can buy, but of a different quality, not as sweet (as Crabbies anyway.)

Grating ginger by hand.

Grating ginger by hand.

Drizzling honey.

Drizzling honey.

Finished ginger beer in the demijohn. (Le demi-Jean)

Finished ginger beer in the demijohn. It just remains to strain it after a few days. Careful not to overfill, even this is pushing it. All the trapped CO2 makes a raft of the ginger and it can overflow.

Recently, I bought another wonderful book ‘Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers’, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Coming to the section on ginger beer I read that ginger is widely used, by herbalists and native folk alike, for improving peripheral circulation (hands and feet), for the libido – wahey!, and for colds and flu. Which is wonderful. I was also struck by the fact that it’s a source of Aspergillus mold. That’s the same mold used in koji, for making the traditional Japanese ferments: miso, sake and amazake. Aspergillus is used to break starch down to simple sugars. Exciting for me because koji is expensive to buy and making it is beyond me whilst I’m living with my folks. So i’d like to experiment using ginger to kickstart a rice beer perhaps.
In the little section on licorice there’s another little gem, which is that “licorice contains a saponin glycoside, glycyrrhizin, that is 50 times sweeter than sugar and non-fermentable. It adds a wonderful sweetness to some beers”. I’d love to be corrected if i’m wrong but I think only carbohydrate sugars will ferment, which is why Stevia leaf can’t be used to ferment a brew. Glycosides are a sugar molecule bound to a non-sugar. Stevia contains steviol glycosides.
It would have to be licorice root, from the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra, not the gummy sweet, all-sorts type. I bought some recently: pure, dried, in a stick form, it’s strong stuff! Quite brittle. I’ve also bought the root itself in the past, good as a toothbrush once the ends are chewed. It also states that licorice is used to give a good foam, or head to a beer. Multi-purpose, I like it, makes a head and leaves a residual sweetness. Well worth an experiment or two.
The book is worth a read, for those interested in the history of pre-hops, herbal and medicinal beer and ale. He’s no great fan of hops, “why would you want to go to sleep every time you drink beer?”. Besides which, it is a source of estrogen, making it an anaphrodisiac, leading to the common condition of Brewer’s Droop. The thought of brewing herbal beers witha whole range of intoxicating effects is very attractive to me. Many herbs are stimulating compared with hops’ depressant action.
Who’s with me?! Let’s brew beers that make us want to dance and sing.


Alternatives to Vegan Cheese

For those of a vegan mindset i’ve discovered 3 alternatives to processed “vegan cheese” that warrant a serious look. Bearing in mind that directly switching from dairy cheese to one or more of these alternatives won’t fire all the same neurons in one’s brain.
Richness and velvety smooth texture are possible. Subtle, cultured notes too. The convenience of having a dense block of nutritious protein ready whenever you want, maturing and improving whilst you idle, totally do-able. And if you’re vegan already, chances are your taste buds are ready to embrace the new, without needing to compare it to dairy.
Some indigenous non-cheeses.

  • Tofu no misozuke.
  • Kishk / Keckek el Fouqara.
  • Cultured nut cheese

Tofu no misozuke
A creamy, luscious, indescribable joy for all vegans, omnivores and non-labellers. A lip smacking sensual delight.

The good people at Rau Om have developed a recipe, based on a single encounter with tofu no misozuke whilst travelling in Japan, and what’s more they have been good enough to share it on their website. I have had the best results by following the recipe. It’s difficult for me, I like to adapt as I go, but this requires trust. They’ve done the frustrating recipe development so we don’t have to. And for all that it’s actually a very simple recipe, with only 5 ingredients: tofu, miso, sugar, sake (although vodka fills the same function and works well), and time.
The key to the texture are the enzymes in the miso, breaking long protein chains down into flavourful and rich, unctuous oohs and aaahs…but now we’ve got to wait 2 months for the next batch!IMG_0129 

Cooked grain, mixed with salt and a starter culture, then kneaded every day for around 7-10 days, then stored or eaten. I’ve used various grains and cultures. My best batch so far was millet and coconut kefir (made with a water kefir starter). It was tangy, fizzy and absolutely delicious.
It can also be stored in olive oil, which worked well, but i’m not sure it’s necessary if you’re going to eat it quickly.
On the kefir front I’ve dried some water and milk grains to take with me on my travels, to share with folks. I’ve read that they re-hydrate really well, and aren’t too affected by the process. I’ll give that a practise run before I go. Here’s a good link with more info.
Cultured nut cheese
Very simply, soak cashew nuts (for example), grind or blend in some way till smooth, then culture, again with kefir, buttermilk or sauerkraut juice. Miso is a great addition. Taste it when thoroughly mixed and add more salt if you like. You don’t want to add too much liquid. Then culture it somewhere warm, and leave it somewhere cool when it’s reached your personal level of readiness.
I use a suribachi, a Japanese mortar with grooves that seem to grind better than a Western pestle and mortar. I’ve also a tried a brazil/cashew/miso cheese, very nice! I’d like to try adding sesame/tahini. As i’m not vegan I might try adding kefir butter to it, for richness and tang.


Exposure hypothermia is an insidious process.  It creeps up on you.  If you are the victim you may well be the last to notice it.  Whatever the level of your experience, you should never underestimate the risk.”   Paul Kirtley, of Frontier Bushcraft.

Last weekend I had my first foray into the art of bushcraft, after being invited to join a group of more seasoned folk, up the woods in Silsden, North Yorkshire. We were lucky with the weather, incredibly so. I don’t think we had a drop of rain the whole weekend. We even had glimpses of spring-time promise, snatches of radiant sunshine…But gosh, did it get cold at night! I shivered through the first night, having made the basic error of not stripping off my dampish, sweaty clothes, giving them a chance to dry out from my radiant heat. I spent the next day learning about fire, how to make a pot hanger, and finding a nice branch with which to make a catapult. By nighttime, and a pleasant enough evening spent around the campfire, I was cold again. More to the point, I was still cold. With my cotton clothing I was not able to retain as much body heat as if I’d had a dry, woollen base layer. Besides which i’d been sat on the ground all evening, not finding the logs all that comfortable. I know now I could have grabbed my sleeping mat from under my shelter, lay upon it and insulated myself from the malevolent, icy tentacles. By the time my teeth were chattering and my body was gripped by uncontrollable shivers I realised the error of my ways. It all came in a flash, like a download that had finished..downloading. Your software is installed. My companions didn’t miss a beat, filling me with chocolate, stoking the fire for hot water and fetching the articles I had so sorely lacked, my sleeping mat and arctic sleeping bag (thanks Pip). I got in, stripped off and slowly warmed up. By the next morning I had begun my own personal debrief. My brain buzzed from the moment I woke, thinking of ways to ‘Dear Gods above and below never let me feel such cold again’. I’ve spent the week since sourcing the kit I will need to fulfil that wish. And nursing literally the worst cold i’ve had in years. It felt a humbling experience, to have so misjudged one’s basic needs.