Wednesday 26 March 2014

Please help my lovely talented friend

Now then.  My friend Solange Noir, Soli.  You've met her - and her stunning photographs - before. Here. And here.

Here's the thing.  Soli needs to move.  Pretty urgently.  And, like most of my dearest closest soul friends, she's...well...pretty broke.  She's been offered an amazing place to move to in Tucson and now she's just gotta get there.  And, yup, America's a big place and moving is expensive so...she needs funds urgently.

And it occurred to me that if even a tiny fraction of my readers bought one of her stunning photographs, that would be it. Problem sorted.  It's another of those win-win scenarios really.  Soli gets to move herself and her kids into a healthier, happier environment while you get...something amazing.

Her prints start at $60 - though I confess I'd love a truly vast one.  Maybe those lips...maybe a flying squirrel...maybe a dark and silent pool.  Anyhow...please take a look.  She rotates her shop every month but will merrily dig down through the archives if you're after something in particular.  And please, if you know any cool and delicious shops or cafes or businesses that might like something rather special for their walls, put them in touch?  And if you're broke?  Hey, I understand, truly I do...maybe just spread the word instead?  That's good karma. The fox will bless you.

Come on, guys.  This is what the Internet does really well - spreading the word, doing a little bit of good from time to time.

Is there any rampant self-interest here?  Well, sure.  At some point I'm gonna go visit her and I'd much rather loll around in Arizona than Washington DC.  But...seriously...I just want all the people I love to be happy and healthy. That's the bottom line.  Please help any way you can.  
Forgotten the link?  Here we go again...  Solange Noir.

Gomasio, pomegrates and ras-al-hanout - cooking for mind, body and soul

Okay, so I've been trying to cook a bit more.  Make more of an effort, kitchen-wise.  And my inspiration this week has come from the divine Shruti.  Shruti runs Fairfield House, a vegetarian bed and breakfast in Williton in Somerset - mid-way between Minehead and Bridgwater.  Fairfield House also hosts gentle detox weekends, silent meditation retreats and mindful cookery courses.
Shruti's food is all cooked with total mindfulness and love, and somehow you can tell, by the taste and the way it makes you feel.  Did you know that the nutrient power of food is boosted if you cook it with intention? Apparently tis true.  You can read more about mindful cooking and soul eating in The Energy Secret, should you be interested.
Anyhow.  Shruti gave me some of her recipes and, continuing the spirit of giving, I thought I'd share them with you.

Soda Bread (makes one small loaf)
Now then, I rarely eat normal bread because, although I love it, it doesn't love me.  Three slices of toast and my intestines are outgymnasting the Olympics and the resultant wind could power a small nation all by itself. But Shruti makes this with spelt flour, which is a lot kinder on the guts.  You can use whatever flour you prefer, of course - rye and whole wheat also work well.

2 cups (220g) spelt flour
1 cup milk (almond, soya, or dairy)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mix the apple cider vinegar and milk and set aside to curdle.
Mix the dry ingredients together, sifting so they mix well.
Add the curdled milk (it will look a bit yellow) to the dry mix and make a rough textured dough. Don't over-knead.
Roll into whatever shape you fancy (round is traditional) and bake in a hot oven at 180 C/gas mark 4 for 45 minutes.  Eat warm from the oven.

Note: You can add anything to this really - herbs, seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, olives.

Oh my!  This was a revelation to me.  It's a macrobiotic seasoning that is said to de-acidify the blood.  In addition it's supposed to strengthen the digestion and improve energy levels.  But, above all, it's totally delicious. Sprinkle it over grains, vegetables, salads, whatever.  Utterly yummy.

Dry roast sesame seeds (do lots as I guarantee you'll regret it if you don't make lots).  Add some pink Himalayan salt or tamari.  If you're using salt add it to the hot pan, after roasting.  If you're using tamari, wait until the seeds have cooled down.
Now grind them in a coffee grinder.
Keep in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  They will be fine for up to a week (but I challenge you to keep them that long).

Lovely version of an old favourite.
225g red or white quinoa/frekeh/bulghur wheat
pinch of salt
350ml cold water
Flat leaf parsley
Seeds of one pomegranate
Bunch of spring onions
75g pine nuts - dry roasted
2 medium carrots, coarsely grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice

Cook the grain until al dente.  Make a dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, honey and seasoning to taste). Add all the ingredients to the freshly cooked, warm grain and then pour over the dressing.
Quinoa is an ancient Inca grass that purportedly contains all the amino acids the body requires.  Pomegranate is high in fibre, vitamin C, potassium and flavonoids. Plus it's delicious.

Beetroot and carrot salad
1 beetroot
2 carrots
1 clove garlic
Cumin seeds, ras-al-hanout
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh mint
Organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
Sea salt or Himalayan salt, freshly ground black pepper
Toasted pine nuts

Grate the beetroot and carrot.
Make the dressing with the oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt and pepper.
Dry roast the cumin seeds and the ras-al-hanout.
Mix all the ingredients and then pour over the dressing.  Mix well.
Garnish with mint and pine nuts.

Beetroots are  high in fructose, B9 and vitamin C.  Carrots are high in beta carotene, vitamin A and fibre.

I confess I love this because it gives me an excuse to use the ras-al-hanout I brought back from Morocco. You can either buy this spice mix on-line or make your own.  Shruti, of course, makes her own...mindfully.

Anyhow try them...let me know how you get on. Oh, and don't forget to eat mindfully too - savour each mouthful.  Put your cutlery down in  between mouthfuls.  Breathe.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Meditating on pain; arguing with the boot

So, I have been meditating on pain.  Not out of choice (because that would be a bit perverse) but because one meditates on whatever comes up really.  I was lying there, in bed, wondering quite how to get through the night, and I thought about how pain is a message.  Pain is simply the way our body tells our mind that something is wrong.   So I acknowledged it, thanked it for letting me know all wasn’t quite right (okay, not remotely right), and promised I’d sort it out in the morning.  But it didn’t go.  So I furrowed my brow and said, ‘Okay, body, what’s this pain about then?’  And my bodymind threw out an image of a sort of dark cloud that coalesced into a boot which kicked me in the guts again and again.
‘Ouch,’ I said.
‘Yeah,’ said my bodymind.  ‘Ouch indeed.’
‘So you’re not going away?’ I said.
‘In the dreams you won't be having, baby,’ it said, and ramped up the pain factor a bit, just to show who was boss.

Well, screw you, pain, I thought.  But, of course, becoming tense and angry just made it ten times worse.  So that was when I figured I might as well meditate it.  I mean, pain is just our mind, right? It’s just messages from the brain.  So there must be an override switch, right?  And meditation works pretty well for emotional and mental pain, so why not physical?  After all, where does one end and the other begin, huh?  The boot laughed and said, 'Just our mind? Just messages? Just?  Just? JUST?'
I tried breathing it away but that didn’t work – the breaths were too long, they stretched too far. So I took the focus smaller and smaller, into each moment.  And started wondering what exactly a moment is; how small it can be.  My focus shrank smaller and smaller still.  And smaller...  Until, suddenly, there it was – no pain.  Just a sensation.  And this is nothing new but it struck me that pain is a time construct – a combination of past memory and future fear.  Rather like music.  More and more these days, as I listen to music, I find myself thinking how funny it is that we can ‘like’ a song, a piece of music, a symphony, a whatever.  When really all we ever hear in the ‘now’ is a single note or even just a part of a note.  It is purely our mind, flicking back and forth over time past and future, that creates a hologram of the whole piece of music.  And, of course, that goes for everything really – every poem, every book, every meal, every drink, every joke, every dream, every kiss, every orgasm, every day, every year, every life.  Every thing.  Strings of moments that we tug together to create meaningful ‘wholes’, chunks of time that become events or things. 

Again, nothing new.  All very Zen.  But, actually, very damn useful.  Of course, it’s hard to keep it going hour after hour.  I would struggle with pain-free meditation for eight hours.  But it bought me time.  It's buying me time. J

Sunday 2 March 2014

Should you disarm the axe-murderer before torniqueting limbs?

So, this morning I packed my son off to Dartmoor for a practice hike and camp for the Ten Tors Challenge. I double-checked his rucksack, his rations, his waterproofs and overnight kit.  And felt a huge wave of nostalgia wash over me at the sight of him, in his girt big walking boots and gaiters.
James and I don't share much in the way of common pursuits.  Outside school, he lives for sport and gaming. He's a sociable animal on the whole.  Whereas, at his age, I spent the majority of my spare time in my room, painting, drawing, dreaming by candlelight, listening to music, strumming my guitar (poorly).
So it's pathetically pleasing to me that my fifteen-year old self and his share one pursuit - getting out into the countryside with a bunch of pals and doing stuff, usually in bad weather, usually in considerable discomfort. When I was fifteen or so we used to go to the wildest places we could (geography and funds allowing) and camp (usually in mud and rain and sleet) and then head off hiking or kayaking or whatever.  Return to our tents soggy and shattered, and usually try to brazen our way into the nearest pub in the hopes of drying out in front of the fire (if we managed to snaffle a pint or two of Old Peculier or similar, so much the better).
'You're so lucky,' I said to James.  'In my day...'
'You didn't even have a tent? And you walked barefoot.'
'Ha ha!  No.  But we didn't have all this high-tech kit.  It took weeks of blisters to break in a pair of walking boots.  We used to douse our feet in white spirit to toughen them up.'
'Not drink it?'
'Ho ho.  But seriously, my rucksack weighed a ton before I even put anything in it.  And there just weren't tiny super-warm lightweight sleeping bags and our waterproof gear wasn't breathable so, at the end of a day's hiking in the rain, we'd be all soggy and cold.'
He just nodded, blithely unaware of just how much has changed in the last forty years.
'Now turn off your phone, okay?' I said. 'So you don't run out of battery.'
I phones, for pity's sake!  Sat nav!  We had to rely solely on map and compass and orienteering skill.
In fact, we used to do bonkers extreme stuff, like hiking all through the night in teams with bizarre challenges being thrown at us.  For instance, you'd be wandering along when someone would come racing out the trees at you, waving his arms and shouting in some foreign language - the challenge being to discover what he wanted and how to help him (or, alternatively, how to disarm and disable him).  Or you'd come across a mocked-up accident scene and have to triage the whole thing.  Or get across a river using bits of wood and pulleys.  Or rescue people from smoke-filled basements.  Now I come to think of it, it was all a bit odd.  But the idea was that you had to work as a team, problem-solve, keep a clear head and just...manage.  I loved it.  So much so that, our team having retired after a few years, we used to return to take charge of the accident scene.  Having a dramatic and macabre turn of mind (and being overly partial to gory horror films at that point) I masterminded scenes of ever-increasing carnage until the organisers quietly thanked us and said our services were no longer required (this might have had something to do with the four boys who fainted when confronted with the dilemma of what to do first: take out the axe-wielding madman on the roof of the mini, torniquet the various stumps, put scattered limbs on ice or slap the hysterical shock victim.
I could never figure out pulleys, sheer legs and so on...that was Jennie's job. 
Anyhow.  I digress.  Today I am staying warm and dry (in the car, hopefully later by the fire) while outside it is pretty foul.  But, you know, I envy my son, I really do. Out on the moor.  In the wild.  In the wet and wind. Wonderful.