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

Monday, 17 December 2018

not-your-average-nutroast (recipe), Christmas trees & Tongues in Trees

Some of you will know that I am almost entirely vegan (though not quite as 'pure', yet, as I'd like to be). You may also know that after the intense hard work of the 7th draft of my SPELL IN THE FOREST book, currently doing the rounds of the publishers, it was such a relief, as well as a surprise, to find myself writing a plant-based cookbook. Except, of course, it's not just a cookbook, but a wide approach to living with heart, and sustainably.
Anyway, one way and another, mostly as a result of having an excess of produce in the garden this year and a stepson staying who was very enthusiastic about my culinary experiments, I've developed a number of new recipes.
I was really pleased with this fresh take on an old vegan favourite, so I offer it for those of you who are plant-based, going plant-based, or needing to cook for relatives or friends who are (the younger generation has done so much for compassionate eating – it was rather overwhelming to see just how many vegan cookbooks there are on the shelves in Waterstones at the moment. It's a prompt to make mine different.)

Nut, mushroom and sage roast

10 sundried tomatoes (buy dry ones; soak overnight or use hot water for 30 minutes; save soaking water)
2 mugs in total of a mix of brazils, hazelnuts, almonds &/or chestnuts (tin is fine), roughly chopped
1 mug oats
1 slice wholemeal bread, torn
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
good-sized bunch of fresh sage, chopped
2 small onions (preferably red) 
2/3 cloves garlic
500 gms mushrooms, sliced (a mix of types/dried wild mushrooms soaked overnight adds flavour)
1/2 can chopped plum tomatoes
2 heaped tbsps nutritional yeast flakes
oil (I use cold-pressed sunflower oil – Meridian – as I like the flavour)

Gently sauté the sliced onions, sliced mushrooms (rinsed and well-drained if soaked), until soft, in 2 tbsps of the oil. Add crushed garlic after 5 minutes.

Meantime chop the nuts roughly in a blender, then add the bread.

In a big bowl combine the above with oats, finely-chopped sage, chopped sundrieds (squeeze and reserve water) yeast flakes and sunflower seeds.

Add the soaking water from the sundrieds, the half-can of tomatoes and a good slosh of oil. Season to taste (freshly-ground black pepper is a must). The mix should be loose-ish and moist.

Pack into an oiled bread tin (2lb size) and cook at 175º (fan 160º) for an hour-plus.

I served this with an onion gravy (I cheated and bought the Essential one, which is organic, doesn’t contain palm oil, and is also gluten-free), roast cubed squash with smoked paprika, lemony greens and a fresh beetroot and red cabbage pickle.


My guess is that most of you who read this blog will already not support the purchase of cut Christmas trees. However, if it's not too late, I want to put in a plea if you are tempted.

I know it's a tradition. I know it makes all the difference to the midwinter drear (here in Britain). But.

It's said that our tradition of bringing evergreens into the house and lighting them to remind us of the cycle: that even in the darkest times the light is not far behind (you can't kill the spirit, as the old Greenham Common song goes) dates back to the druids, who would hang lights in the outdoor living evergreens at the midwinter solstice.

I'm very much in favour of this, but not of growing and logging conifers to do this. Conifers themselves as cash crops not only don't nourish the soil, but acidify it, so discouraging growth of other plants. Because they as a species are chosen to grow fast to reach a loggable height, there is no time for the mycelial network (which feeds the tree community, passes messages and is generally A Good Thing) to develop. Worse, any chance at such a network, crucial to soil and plant health, is utterly destroyed for a long period by the logging operation. And a conifer plantation will support far fewer mammal and especially bird species, as well as insects, than a broadleaf forest.

In many places, sitka spruce, the Christmas tree species, often displaces native heath- and moorland and deciduous tree-growth, and makes it increasingly inhospitable for the bird and animal species for which it is home and which are often themselves in decline: curlew, birds of prey, owls, snipe, small rodents among others, and insect species.

And then there are the insecticides which are sprayed on many of our cash crops, including some conifers, against insect damage. The insects which feed other species die, and the toxins are washed into soil and watercourses; any residues will come into our home with the tree. According to a letter from an ecologist in the Guardian on Saturday, often Christmas trees are sprayed with anti-freeze – anti-freeze! – it can kill a cat, and is a carcinogen – to help against needle-fall.

Convinced yet?

And of course a plastic one is just as bad: hardly a symbol of the evergreen nature of the life-death-life cycle, as we all know plastic is not only a fossil-fuel derivative but doesn't break down for literally 100s of years.

What to do to celebrate the turning year?

I can think of three options, all of which I use.

One is to rear a little conifer in a pot, as we have done. It's not so brilliant for any tree to be raised in solitary confinement where its roots can't intermingle, but conifers apparently are better at it than many species. 

Two is to bring in boughs of holly, trails of ivy, and/or some small conifer branches.

Three is to find a shed dead branch, and peel it. You can of course spray it silver, which is beautiful, but the paint will probably also be not right-on. (Driftwood?) Either way it does look amazing dressed with some white fairylights and some glass baubles.

My daughter and I have had a tradition for the last 20+ years of buying each other a beautiful Christmas tree ornament; we now each have a collection of handpainted wooden, straw, glass, paper and metal small tree-baubles, often handmade, sometimes simply gathered, like cones. This is sustainable tree decoration, and the tree really is a centrepiece.

If you already do anything like this, or are inspired to do so, I'd love to see your photos. though sometimes Blogger won't let people contact me through the Comments; I'm sorry, but you could find my contact details through the websites to the right.

And if you only read one book next year, and if you haven't yet read it, do find the most inspiring book I've been absorbed in in years: Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees (wonderful translation from the German by Jane Billinghurst).


On Thursday I'm sending out the first modules of my new yearlong moon-month tree course, Tongues in Trees. There is still time, just, to sign up for the self-study option, on which I have space (also one space for the tutored course).

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