Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

A short walk over to the herb garden

No apples left on the tree now

Choosing which herbs to pick

Smelling sage

Our winter wassail, toasting the apple trees with hot sorrel drink

Wassailing is a tradition which can be dated back to the 16th century but probably with pagan roots. It’s a custom which blesses the roots of the cider apple tree and asks for plentiful fruit the following year. Some hot cider is poured on the roots and those who wassailed probably drank loads of cider at the same time.  Because we are in Brixton, we toasted the trees with hot caribbean christmas sorrel drink as a mark of respect to other delicious cultural traditions.

Gathered round the trees

Back at the centre, dividing up the tasks for the food preparation

Many people brought food. There was loads!

Homemade bread to eat with cheese and hawthorn berry chutney made in September

Making a body scrub with manuka honey and decorating labels for the crab apple jelly jars

Starting the risotto on the wood burner

Adding chickweed and yarrow to the mix

Adding the stock bit by bit

a basic risotto recipe



• approx• 1.1 litres/2 pints stock (chicken, fish or vegetable as appropriate)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
• 400g/14oz risotto rice
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 70g/2½oz butter
• 115g/4oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

+ thyme and lemon zest


main courses | serves 6
This is a great recipe for making risotto. You want it to be smooth, creamy and oozy, not thick and stodgy.

stage 1

Heat the stock. In a separate pan heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic and celery, and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

stage 2

The rice will now begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the vermouth or wine and keep stirring — it will smell fantastic. Any harsh alcohol flavours will evaporate and leave the rice with a tasty essence.

stage 3

Once the vermouth or wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Add the thyme and lemon zest. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and almost massaging the creamy starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. Don’t forget to check the seasoning carefully. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

stage 4

Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. This is the most important part of making the perfect risotto, as this is when it becomes outrageously creamy and oozy like it should be. Eat it as soon as possible, while the risotto retains its beautiful texture

Mixing in the herbs

Dishing out a taster to everyone

Promoting Tshey's book The Girl who Smelled like Orange; dual language in English and Amharic

Then we had the great pleasure to hear poetry from Adnan al-Sayegh. Born in Al-Kufa (Iraq) in 1955, Adnan al-Sayegh is one of the most original voices in Iraqi poetry, indeed in contemporary poetry around the world. His poetry is elegant and incisive and carries an intense passion for freedom love and beauty. Adnan uses his words as a weapon to denounce the devastation of war and the horrors of dictatorship.  More here http://www.adnanalsayegh.com

Adnan al-Sayegh, Iraqi poet, beginning his reading

Reading the English version

Passage to Exile

The moaning of the train kindles the sorrow of the tunnels

Roaring along the rails of everlasting memories

While I am nailed to the window

With one half of my heart

And the other half on the table

Playing poker with a girl whose thighs are exposed

With shock and pain, she asks

Why my fingers are falling apart,

Like the wood of old coffins,

And hasty, as if they are afraid of not being able to grab anything

I tell her about my homeland

And the banners

And colonization

And the glory of the Nation

And the sex in public bathrooms

Then she leans, with her wet hair, over my tears,

And does not understand

While, in the other corner

Mozart scatters his tones over the snow-covered valleys

My homeland is sad beyond necessity

And my songs are aggressive, refractory, and shy

I will stretch out on the first sidewalk I reach in Europe

And hold my legs up for the pedestrians

To show them the traces of school bastinados, and the ones from jails

Those that got me here

What I carry in my pocket is not a passport

But a history of oppression

Where, for fifty years, we have been chewing animal diet

And speeches

And hand-made cigarettes

As we stand before the gallows

Watching our own hanging corpses

And applauding the rulers

Out of fear for our families

Whose files fill the basements of secret-service buildings

Where the homeland

Begins with the president’s speech

And ends with the president’s speech

And in between, there are the president’s streets, the president’s songs, the president’s museums, the president’s gifts, the president’s trees, the president’s factories, the president’s newspapers, the president’s stable, the president’s clouds, the president’s boot camps, the president’s statues, the president’s bakeries, the president’s medals, the president’s mistresses, the president’s schools, the president’s farms, the president’s weather, the president’s orders …

She will stare for a long time

At my rain and spit moistened eyes

Then she will ask: “What country are you from?!”


From “Carrying his Exile under his Arm” ( Sweden , 2001; Cairo , 2006)

by Adnan al-Sayegh, translated by Stephen Watts and Marga Burgui-Artajo

The whole room listening

Adnan reads in Arabic

And finally, rekindling the fire for some marshmallow. The children didn't actually like them that much

This walk was the day after the end of the Copenhagen summit to reach a deal to limit carbon emissions.

This was the Solstice message from Starhawk.  It seems very appropriate after the disappointment and failure of the world ‘leaders’ at Copenhagen, who were incapable of acting for the good of the planet, who couldn’t see beyond the limitations of their own struggle for power and held back by fear of how voters, businesses and consumers might react to a genuine, bold shout for the health of the planet and the lives of those who are in the front line of climate change. 

Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year.  Today, in our Wiccan mythology, the sun is reborn. Each year the Great Mother labors through the long night to give birth again to the new year, to hope and light.
This year the darkness has intense.  The bright hopes of last year are worn and tattered from obstructions and betrayals and compromise.  Our personal health and the health of all the life support systems of the planet hang in balance, and how can we tell whether we’ve inched forwards or been sucked back into deals and appeasements worse than what went before.  Last year we hoped for an end to war—this year we see war escalate.  Last year we chose a road of change; this year it looks only too much like the same old road we were on before.
But the message of Solstice is this:  hope does not come once into the world and fulfill itself. Hope and light must constantly be reborn, over and over again.  They wax and wane, and must be renewed.
That renewal, that birthing, requires labor.  Labor means work, commitment, perseverance through that time when it seems you just can’t push any more.  The cervix dilates slowly, pang by pang.  The child begins to emerge, is drawn back, pushed forward another increment.
We are the laboring Mother, we are the spark of light.  New possibilities kick and squirm within us. No, it’s not easy to bring them forth, but we are strong, and we are made for this work.  Bear down…breathe…push.  This morning the sun rises;  each day a new world is born.


On Saturday 12th December 2009, I was invited to take part in the Christmas party at the Diversity Garden, one of Bankside Open Spaces Trust’s gardens. It was a cold afternoon but to the sounds of Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child, we kept warm.  There were crafts with Frances and we foraged for nettle, yarrow and chickweed in the borders of the garden. 

Flasks and Sorrel ready for the party

Because this was the diversity garden, we decided on a caribbean theme with Christmas sorrel drink. The sorrel was bought from Brixton market.

Chopping yarrow, nettle and chickweed for the burgers



And this is an easy recipe for jerk sauce to accompany the burgers. The thyme was from the garden and the rest of the ingredients from Brixton market.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s an excellent resource into Jamaica’s wealth of history and tradition around herbs and cooking. Every recipe is beautifully photographed and processes of cooking are practically described. It’s excellent on how traditional recipes have been commercialised, mass produced and stripped of ALL their health benefits, to the detriment of the people who go out and buy them. I got it in the Nubian shop in Atlantic Road, opposite Brixton wholefoods.


I precooked the beans and this combination of chick peas and soya beans makes a smooth paste for the burgers. It makes loads so good for a party!

Mixing in the chick peas and soy beans


After frying the burgers on the wood gas camp stove, we warmed ourselves on the generous heat from the fire.

After frying the burgers

Small fire, big heat

This was Carole’s gluten free recipe.

Gluten Free Stem Ginger Biscuits Recipe
175g gluten free flour (plain)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
100g butter or dairy free margarine, plus extra for greasing the baking tray
50g caster sugar
50g preserved stem ginger, finely chopped.
300g of 70% dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 16OoC (fan assisted) or 18O0C normal or gas 4. Grease your baking tray
Beat the butter/margarine and sugar until pale and creamy, or whizz in a food processor for a couple of minutes.
Sift into the butter and sugar mix, the flour, ground ginger and baking powder.
Add the chopped stem ginger, and mix until it forms a stiff dough.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes, in the fridge.
If you are feeling lucky, roll out the dough mix onto a floured surface to about 3-4mm thick, and stamp out biscuit shapes. If you’re mixture sticks to the board or cutter’s don’t dispair. Just take small golf ball sized portions of dough, and pat out flat biscuit shapes in your hands.
This makes for more interesting, irregular biscuits, which are obviously home made.
Bake the biscuits for abou 15 to 20 minutes, or until they have turned lightly brown and are just crisp. Allow to cool and then transfer to a wire rack.
Meanwhile, heat up your chocolate in a bowl inserted into a pan of hot water. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the biscuits in a random manner.

These biscuits will not go off as I guarantee you will eat them all before they get a chance to go mouldy! But if you’ve got more restraint than in our house, they will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days

Flasks of hot tea and the focus of the day: chickweed

The Summerhouse is a lovely place for drawing and reading

The light was beautiful on this first bitterly cold day of the winter

Grating the parmesan for the chickweed pesto

chickweed near the pond

There's not much of it and I only found it in one part of the nature garden

We picked some and left some

Wintry Sun pond reflections


Chopping it with the mezza luna

Some help to prepare the pesto

Boiling the pasta

Waiting for it to cook

And finally, after foraging, cooking and waiting ... eating outdoors on the 28th November in the bitter cold as winter approaches. It was wonderful

On Saturday 21st November, around 30 people joined us for the monthly walk. We met as usual at the entrance to Wyck Gardens

Meeting at Wyck Gardens

There's always so much to see, even in scraps of land on Wyck Gardens

Discussing possible uses and recipe ideas for each plant

Walking on up Wyck Gardens

Inventing a new game for plants

There's some chickweed in this alleyway behind Kemble House, bit doggy though so don't pick it

At the herb garden, just a few apples left on those trees

Looking for herbs and apples

It was a beautiful Autumn day to be out walking

Everyone sharing ideas, curiosity, questions and knowledge

Sage sticks in the making from sage we picked at the herb garden

Sage sticks are used by Native American or First Nation cultures as medicine, purifying and antiseptic; it’s a great one to cleanse a house if you or someone in your house has been ill.  At Climate Camp 2009, the First Nation representatives from Alberta, Canada burnt sage at the start of a meeting, to bless the meeting. More on why they were here here. https://lambethbandofsolidarity.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/solidarity-with-canadas-first-nations-stop-bp-now/

Bind the branch of sage with a thread so reduce the air between the leaves

In the Loughborough centre after the walk

Chopping the chickweed in the mezza luna chopper

We also added flat leaf parsley to the pesto as the chickweed tends to reduce down when chopped

The chopper is safe enough to train young hands to use it too

With some friendly supervision of course!

I need to ask Jo what these mushrooms are ...

Mini grater and maxi grater. Lots of parmesan for the pesto

There's tasks for everyone

Filling the wood burner with wood pellet for a fast and ferocious flame

Fill the burner to just below the ventilation holes

Just about to light it

Let the wood burn for a few minutes before you start cooking on it

I asked for participants opinions on a proposed extension of Invisible Food for 2010

You can regulate the flame to high or low for different cooking requirements

Saucepan on, cooking the pasta now

And finally the pesto, ready to eat