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.

Protein options for my trip

Two important factors for me in my choice of protein are the nutrition and ecological impact. A large portion of the Earth’s land mass is given over to the inefficient rearing of livestock. This is the argument traditionally presented for turning to a vegetarian or vegan diet, being less damaging to the environment.
One important mutritional point is that protein is digested down into amino acids, which are then used as building blocks to create all the combinations of protein needed by our body. Some amino acids are considered essential, they must come from the diet. Some protein sources are complete, containing all the amino acids required by our bodies for growth and maintenance of tissues.
There are many potential sources of protein, with varying amino acid profiles. Amino acids are sometimes said to be limiting. That is, if you relied solely on that protein you’d miss out on that particular amino acid, which would certainly have consequences further down the line. Animal protein is said to give a complete profile. Combinations of pulses and grains can also give a good profile.
Part of my motivation for the cycle tour is to gather more experience, and to find a middle path. We are adaptable, and I believe we thrive on variety.
I’m not a nutritionist, dietitian, medical doctor, herbalist or even a shamanic healer.
I’m a layman with a strong interest in the role that diet and nutrition have on human health.
In fact, even this summer I was talking to a qualified nutritionist friend about my “wheat allergy”. She informed me that what I have is an intolerance. As we were being catered for, I wanted to make sure that the chefs took my intolerance seriously and I took to calling it an allergy. Which is a way of saying that my research into nutrition and health is a work in progress.
This blog for me then, is a space where I can consolidate. I can update it as my knowledge deepens, as I challenge my beliefs and biases, and as others share their viewpoints.
Some of the options include: leaf concentrate, animal, pulses (including soya and lentils), and micro-livestock (insects).
In terms of my upcoming cycle tour I have considered hunting those animals considered pests: grey squirrels, rabbits, wood pigeons etc and would like to find land-owners willing for me to hunt on their land. I’ll forage and fish by the sea: mussels, crabs and various fish. I’ll only visit those beaches recommended by the Marine Conservation Society.
Gathering insects is also a possibility, although some sources claim it’s not wise, not knowing what they’ve been eating. For something like snails, i’ll be following my standard procedure of purging them for at least 3 days. I don’t generally feed them up on anything, but some do. Earthworms are good, once purged, boiled then fried in butter. 
Acorn weevil grubs are another thing i’ve tried. I kept some in acorn meal as pets for a while, to see what i could learn. That brought me recently to the idea of raising Black Soldier Fly Larvae (Hermetia illucens), or Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor). Some people feed them to animals. I’d like to at least taste them before I did that, who knows, they might be delicious!
There is a woman who collects snails from people’s land. Everyone wins. They get rid of snails they see no value in and she gets delicious snails which she does. 
I’d also love to investigate further into making leaf concentrate. Very briefly, taking edible leaves, extracting the protein content into water, then coagulating the protein by heating it, and using the fibre for other things. For a nice description of the process, with pictures, see here. Also, a free downloadable e-book here. And the Daddy of all, the leaf curd manual here. I’d like to blog more about this at a later date, it deserves a whole post of it’s own.

Creamy porridge

I’ve developed a great routine for porridge. I soak my oats for 24 hours to leach out anti-nutrients (phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors), then drain the water and add fresh. A pinch of salt, then slowly it cooks on the fire while I stretch and wake myself up. (After soaking the next day’s). Occasionally i’ll stop and use a small whisk to break up the oats, turning it milky. When the sun has been suitably saluted I give it a short burst of heat on the gas hob, add a good knob of butter, stir, stir, stir then enjoy the velvety, smooth delights of oat cream. Milk + Fat = Cream. I think people might be horrified by the amount of butter I use, but I feel really nourished and well eating it. I don’t buy the anti-saturated fat thing. Death to margarine, it’s not real food.
The other day I bought 5 blocks of butter. St Helen’s goat’s butter, beurre d’Isigny PDO, Jersey, Wensleydale and Yeo Valley Organic. Pip and I tasted them and declared the goat’s butter the finest, followed by Wensleydale. These two had a luscious flavour, creamy, rich and satisfying.

I have made my own butter at times, cultured with kefir. An ancient and stable community of yeasts and bacteria, kefir adds both zing! and a whole host of beneficial bacteria. It sits for a week or so, and is then churned by hand for 5 minutes. The buttermilk is kept for other things, and the resulting butterfat: tangy and delicious.

I do imagine that porridge/oat cream made with raw kefir butter will be an order of magnitude greater again. I have started a batch this week and i’ll update as it develops.

The Lost Tales of the Plant Kingdom

Or, Why are all the reindeer stick-men called Phil? And, Why are they so sad?
*for a clue, see the note at the bottom.To me the art of botany is one of observation. We get to know a plant by the colour, number, shape and texture etc of it’s floral and vegetative parts. It’s habitat and the time of year are important too, but at it’s most simple we can tell a lot from the flower itself. We recognise the patterns and we piece them together, until we know with certainty it’s name.
If we are serious about healing the wounds of the Earth, we must re-introduce plant knowledge in an accessible and fun way. If it’s not fun, why should anyone learn it? We must engage the wonderfully vivid imaginations we have been gifted.
I propose that a way of introducing people to the incredible world of plants is by telling stories. Using standard botanical terms as a jumping-off point, we can weave magical tales. As time goes on and passion develops those terms won’t seem so alien. I can certainly think of no better way to get children interested in plants.
Are you a plant teacher? How do you teach botany yourself? What has worked for you?  Do you have any other memorable ones? Any feedback or guidance appreciated.
My imagination was first sparked by the book Botany in a Day by Thomas J Elpel. The title alludes to the fact that you can learn the first 7 families and their patterns in a single day. Up till that point I’d learnt them one by one, comparing pictures from the library of books I’ve amassed. You certainly can learn plants that way, but deeper knowledge is never a bad thing.
A huge influence for my upcoming journey was hearing of the work of Frank Cook, an ethno-botanist who had the aim of meeting at least one member from each plant genus. He travelled all over the world doing just that.  When I heard that this book was the one Frank took with him everywhere I’d found the missing piece of the puzzle.
I don’t have such a definite plan as Frank’s. Maybe one day a plan will emerge. For now i’m content not knowing where i’ll end up, embracing whatever the day holds. I aim to share the knowledge I have gathered, and to learn from others with knowledge of plants, permaculture and everything that springs off from there.
*For those not aware, the male parts of a flower are the stamen, composed of a long filament, topped with anthers. Get it?

Self-massage and barefooting

It is possible that if you feel pain somewhere in your body, that there are knots in your muscles that contribute in some way. Another name would be trigger points. In short, bands of muscle that are, and remain, contracted. The theory is that these trigger points do not hurt in themselves, but send their pain elsewhere in very predictable patterns. Pioneering work was done in this area by Drs Travell and Simons, culminating in their book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The wikipedia page for trigger points.

Later, Clair Davies published a book called The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. This is the book that I bought, and used to help fix the pain I felt in my feet. I bought a tool called a Theracane and set about massaging the trigger points in my shins, calves, gluteals and beyond.  It wasn’t a magic cure and I still pay close attention to feelings of tightness and discomfort, then set aside time to self-massage. I’m particularly talking about my back and pelvis at the moment. My feet are basically fixed, to my satisfaction. Going barefoot helped more than I can possibly say, in helping to re-strengthen and re-train myself to walk gently. My toes spread, my arches and calves beefed up and my big toes took their rightful place again as the strongest toe, the one that will support most of the weight of your body. Mine had abdicated and left the next toe in line to take the (repetitive) strain. Part of the problem being that shoes had squeezed all the toes together, bunion style. A great link here:

The way I see trigger points is that I pay attention and self-massage.. but I use yoga, and postural self-awareness to try and prevent getting them in the first place.

The advantages to self-massage as I see it:

  • Much much cheaper than paying for a massage therapist.
  • You can use bio-feedback to zone in on the exact place to massage.
  • You can do it any time of day, whenever you feel pain, assuming you have somewhere private to do it.
  • It could empower you to fix your own problems with pain.
  • You needn’t buy the books, you could borrow them, whilst remembering that if your local library doesn’t have them, many will do inter-library loans (for a small fee).
  • You needn’t buy special tools. A branch of wood you’ve carved yourself, a knobbly household item such as a mobile phone, or your own body ie knees can massage the opposite calf, supported fingers can give a great head and face massage.

The disadvantages:

  • It won’t fix all pain. Your pain could be due to medical issues of which I claim no knowledge or expertise.
  • It won’t fix any problem instantly. There could be a wide range of things at play, from your head to your feet.
  • Potentially making the pain worse, even short term, with over-enthusiastic massage. The answer is knowledge about what you’re doing. Knowledge is Power. Research on the net, read books if you can and learn a little about anatomy. The location of nerves, major blood vessels and lymph nodes to name a few. Inform yourself, and be gentle!

What I would say in conclusion is that learning self-massage could help relieve some of the pain you feel, and that if you suffer from chronic pain, or even just annoying aches and pains, that you might like to do some research of your own in this area. I’ve provided links to everything I can find that might be useful, and I wish you all the best in finding the answers to your pain. I hope what i’ve given is a balanced perspective of trigger point therapy, and I welcome constructive feedback and your own stories.

Other resources i’ve found. The only massage one I can personally vouch for is the book by Clair Davies:

Self Massage for Athletes A Google Books link that allows you to read some of the book.

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies Google Books again. .. Sensible advice for aches, pains and injuries. Their words, not mine. Great for those interested in barefoot running, walking and being. Includes forums, FAQs, and many personal stories of improvements in well-being through choosing the barefoot path.