from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 16 January 2016

at the heart of... (+ recipe)

I was at Schumacher College the other day listening to a fascinating talk on biodynamic cooking, and the history of food (I had gone along rather half-heartedly, thinking I didn't really want to spend a half day when I have so much on listening to talk about food, but I had committed to the group in which this talk happened. I am so glad I went; and it also tapped in nicely to things I have been thinking about.)

I sat up when the speaker said that she considers the table to be at the heart of a civilisation, of a culture. I thought about how some of the profoundest conversations, as well as my most enjoyable social times, have been round a table.

I also remembered the reasons for my conviction that all my residential courses are best opened with a shared meal: not only does eating together with strangers break the ice and create warmth and ease, but people will also freely reveal deeply intimate details of themselves in such a context, which in turn deepens cohesion and trust in a group setting.

My recent postings about the vegan thing are connected, for me, with the holistic picture of a life lived consciously – I mean, I suppose, the attempt to live as consciously as possible. For me, eating in a way that causes as little suffering and harm as possible to others and the planet is congruent with other aspects of my life and values, and trying to close the gap between these things is a primary motivation.

But I'm a sensualist, and not a masochist, so this doesn't have to mean bland and virtuous – rather, for me it means tasty, appetising, visually-appealing, fragrant, interesting and healthy deliciousness – in food and in life. (And yes, I'm not above chocolate, chips or crisps, believe me; and don't mention French patisseries...)

Our food not only feeds our body, but feeds too our mind and emotions. If the food itself is good, and prepared with care, something extra is added.

And good vegan food, like good vegetarian food, is not characterised by any sense of lack or deprivation if the people preparing it have imagination, a little nutritional knowledge, and source well. 

This latter means for me as local as possible, as fresh as possible, as in-season as possible, and organic.

We grow much of our own food, and forage a little too. This is so satisfying. The pumpkins above were our over-abundant harvest from 2014: grown on pure muck, they fed us and some neighbours as well all winter (and more).

How we eat matters, too.

When my daughter was young, and I was working in the arts more than full time (I'd usually start again when she went to bed), one ritual was sacrosanct, no matter what. I'd always cook, and we'd always eat supper together, with a candle, at least in winter, and often with music too. We never had a television, and I think that makes a difference.

The ritual continues: TM and I share the cooking, with produce from our own garden as much as possible.

Tonight it will be vegetable tagine. It's so simple. Here's a recipe for you. Tagine is basically a Moroccan spicy stew, traditionally cooked in a clay pot. Usually there's a dash of sweetness; the squash will provide that, as would sweet potatoes; some people add a little honey or eg maple syrup; I like to add a few dried apricots.

Winter Vegetable Tagine

INGREDIENTS for 3-4 servings:
2 leeks or 2 onions
Two big potatoes diced (big chunks)
Three carrots diced (big chunks)

1/2 beetroot
1 small butternut squash or half a medium-sized red one, either prebaked or diced (big chunks) (I bake whole squashes, pricked with a fork, scoop out the flesh and freeze it)

Any other veg to taste, eg root veg, courgettes, peppers, aubergines 
Optional: chickpeas or beans for extra protein

2-3 tbsps olive oil

Tin tomatoes
Cup stock if more liquid needed; otherwise veggie stock cube or Vecon
Small handful dried apricots if liked
Juice of half lemon

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped or minced
3 dessertspoons of harissa or 1 tsp chopped or dried chilli (less if you don’t want it hot)
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, minced or grated
1 tsp crushed coriander seed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp of turmeric
salt & black pepper to taste 

Optional to garnish:
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tbsp of chopped mint 

Almonds or cashews

Dry-toast the whole dry spices for a minute or two, then add oil, and sauté onions/leeks till soft. Add garlic and ginger. Add other veg and spices and simmer gently 10 minutes.

Add lemon juice and tin of tomatoes. At this point add stock if needed, or stock cube (etc) anyway, and apricots (plus honey or syrup if you like). 

Simmer on a low heat for around 20-30 minutes, until root veg are cooked. Taste and season.

Serve over rice or couscous, with steamed greens on the side (I love rainbow chard alongside the warming colours of winter veg); garnish with parsley and mint if liked. Some people add yogurt, or a vegan equivalent (the best by far, though food-mile-high, is Coyo – yogurt made from coconut).

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