Category Archives: Culture

Changing Views

I’m looking out of Ankur’s window in Kashipur, India. The sun is going down, spreading rays of pink and golden light across green fields. I keep watching. Nothing happens…

Sitara’s window opens onto a patio in Chennai, India, where a hanging chair swings idly. In front of Kristens’ window in Shawnee, Kansas, USA, a black cat is washing itself, while Andrea’s window in Lucerne, Switzerland opens onto lake and mountain scenery. The website is window-swap.com and it comes with an invitation to upload  video of the scene through my own window.

This quarantine project by Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam aims to give us a fresh view while we are unable to travel. With a second wave of Covid-19 beginning all around the world, perhaps this project has legs for a little while longer. Or perhaps, in this new normal, people will stop travelling so much and stay home more? What do you think? How do you feel about travelling these days? How do you feel about staying home?

Hiraeth Book – Our Longing for Belonging

In my book Hiraeth – Our Longing for Belonging, I talk about how we love to travel but how, over the years, we seem to have forgotten how to build community. We know how to travel, but do we know how to come home?

There is something poignant about these images from people’s homes. At a time when we are largely unable to visit each other, we are invited to enter, settle and stay a while, listening to the sounds of everyday lives. We are asked to linger without speaking or interacting. Without doing anything. We are simply hanging out together.

From Simone’s window in Villongo, Italy, we hear the call of a cuckoo. From Sebastian’s window in Shanghai, China, we watch a neighbour hanging their washing. From a window in New York we hear traffic. Rain washes down the window pane. These homes tell a surprising amount about their residents, but perhaps even more about me. My reactions, the length of time I spend in each window tells me whether I enjoy that view, that lifestyle. I find myself making judgements. “Great view!” “Boring!” “Amazing”. “Why would anyone choose to live there?” In some windows, I spend the full ten minutes of video. Some I scroll past right away.

Forty Days of Quarantine

Where we have been quarantined this year reveals so much about us. About our choices (or lack of them), our work (or lack of it), our family demands and responsibilities.  The period of forty days of quarantine holds significance as a length of time that supports change to happen. Christ wandered for 40 days in the desert. Babies in some cultures are quarantined  for 40 days after birth. 40 days speaks to a state of purification and transition. Historically, quarantines signify change and following mass quarantines, such as during a pandemic, there have been mass uprisings – revolutions reflecting a shift in consciousness.

Garden Harvest 2020

Emerging from their first period of confinement and preparing for the next, many people affected by both private and public events are are putting in the work to make changes in their lives. This might be a change in views, for example with regard to racism; or a change in daily habits, such as diet or exercise. Many of us have been reflecting on our impact on the world and on our situation in life. This crisis has made us think more about where and how we live, our resilience or lack of it, our good fortune or lack of it.  Consider how, in early April, there was a shortage of seeds dues to so many people wanting to grow food. Was this because many people had more time, or was it a direct result of seeing the fragility in our food systems?

One friend, who was locked down alone, is re-thinking how he wants to live. Would he prefer to have his loved ones around him?

Friends confined with children are wishing they had more space for them to play. More support with day-to-day childcare. More time for them to just be children.

Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support? A child of your imagination?

Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support?

Woolgathering as an imaginative practice

This practice of staring out of the window – anybody’s window – resonates with me as something of value. In one of the weekly meditation groups I facilitate, we honour the practice of woolgathering,  defined by Patti Smith in her book of the same name as :
one of those inexplicable things…Where one, lost in thought, may feel a tap upon the shoudler and find oneself far flung, in a swirl of dust, swung about and brought to a sudden halt.
Patti describes how, in childhood, she would ‘wander’ through her window at night :
And the wind caught the edges of the cloth that covered my window. There I kept vigil, alert to the small, easily becoming, through an open eye, monstrous and beautiful.” Is it possible, engaged as we have been in physical travel, that we have forgotten how to travel in our minds? Neglected the skill required to “rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.” In short, have we lost the art of imagining?

In his book What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins explores the need to unbind ourselves from what we know and to unleash the power of ‘what if…?’ What if there are more choices than we know of? What if we allow ourselves NOT to know, but enter into a state of not-knowing? Not with our usual companions of fear and dread, but with curiosity and surrender?

During the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been running writing workshops based on the narrative form known as The Heroine’s Journey. On this path, we learn that meeting our unknowing takes courage. In the stillness of non-doing, we are tested by all the dragons and monsters we try hard to avoid. Instead of doing battle, how might we befriend them? How might we come face-to-face with these parts of ourselves and integrate them into our journey?

Ready to Change your View?

If you are ready to look through your own window, hear your own story and  perhaps weave a new one, you may be interested in my new creative co-mentorship programme. The Heroines Alliance offers a co-creative space where you get to explore what’s next for you. Whether literally or metaphorically, if you feel ready to change the view from your window, maybe you’ll join us?

Next Heroines Alliance group begins September 2020. Click here for details and sign-up.

In the meantime, please join us for an online discussion of Hiraeth book and a wee writing workshop on Thursday 13th August 2020 courtesy of October Books, Southampton, UK.

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Corona Kings and Heroines

It surprises me to say that I can finally claim to have something in common with both UK Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles. We all have mild symptoms of the novel coronavirus. To be clear, because of some the many things we do NOT have in common, (like wealth and status) this fact may never be confirmed. While these giants have confirmed a positive testing, I (and Husband) may never be tested and therefore, may never know for sure.

Breathless

Earlier this week, I dreamed that I was running for a bus and woke up short of breath. At first I wasn’t sure which came first – the breathlessness or the dream, but the breathlessness did not subside. A friend of mine tells me she also had a dream where she was running and woke up breathless. We started comparing notes. Since the news we get about symptoms of covid-19 is mostly from serious cases, I thought I’d share some of our experience so that you know what to expect in the early days and how to treat yourself. It’s important at this time that you isolate yourself and not risk infecting others.

Symptoms

The virus occupies the upper respiratory tract – nose, throat and upper chest. Early on we noticed these things – some so mild or brief that you might miss them, or mistake them for something else.

  • nose running very clear liquid – short-lived but very unusual
  • head and neck discomfort
  • conjunctivitis
  • sore throat
  • sharp stabbing sensations (not quite pain but discomfort) in the ribcage and lungs
  • a sense that the lungs are cloudy
  • shortness of breath

I consider myself fortunate to have a background in yoga. I have been practising pranayama – specifically versions of  kapalabhati (shining skull), nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) and generally spending time with slow, gentle, deep breaths.* Every day we breathe over a steam bath containing thyme, eucalyptus and tea tree. I burn tea tree and eucalyptus in an essential oils burner to clean the air and boost the immune system. I burn dried sage, for the same purpose.

We take a daily multivitamin and have done since we were quarantined 14 days ago. We spend time outside when it’s not too cold. We rest and sleep. We drink lots of warm water with lemon, honey, thyme, linden. We eat healthy food and since the first symptoms appeared, have not drunk alcohol. This is all in an effort to support the immune system. We have not been anywhere since these symptoms began.

The effects of the virus seem to come and go. One day feeling better, the next worse. Tiredness, brain fog and breathlessness are common to all of us.

Support

If you want support with any of these practices, do reach out to me or better still, to your local yoga teacher. Many teachers are now offering online classes and are also relying on this for income, so reciprocate if you can. I would also like to recommend my homeopath @rhiandaviespowellhomeopath, who is an amazing healer and is working (online) with me to treat symptoms on a daily basis.

Meditation and Writing Home Retreat

During this time in isolation, I’ve delivered the writing and meditation course I usually teach as a Heroines Home Retreat. I’ve been creating daily audio meditations, which include writing prompts designed to help us tell our own unique stories of this extraordinary time. The meditations include breath practices to help increase capacity in the lungs and relaxation tools support the immune system. If you feel this might be a useful support for you, click through for more details and a sign up form.  We’d love to have you along with us.

  • Note : If you have pre-existing respiratory conditions, do consult a professional before attempting these breath exercises.

ps. We can still smell this fragrant lemon blossom…

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Lockdown or Retreat? Resilience in Action

Coronavirus as 21st Century Warfare

So this is what war looks like in the 21st century. As one wag put it (there are lots of wags in social media),

“Our grandparents were asked to go to battle. We are being asked to sit on the couch.”

So this is me, on my couch in my little eco-casita in Spain. To be honest, for me life has not changed much. Husband is working from home. I am offering an online meditation and writing retreat, which keeps me both busy and well-connected to my tribe. We have plenty to occupy us and a comfortable place to be in, surrounded by nature. Others, however, are not so lucky. Just today, two people have joined the retreat group from their places of isolation. One has been forced to go and stay with a friend because her living conditions with a new flat mate were not conducive to 24-7 confinement. Another is joining because she lives alone and is struggling with anxiety. From the UK, I speak to my son, who finds that there is no hand sanitiser to be found anywhere, not even in his workplace, who are nevertheless recommending that employees use it.

“Get some tea tree essential oil” I tell him. “It will not only kill germs, but will boost your immune system too. Scientist Husband refutes my hypothesis, so I am forced to go and get Mr. Google (or in this case, Ms. Ecosia) to put him right. I send it to my son as evidence. “Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including terpinen-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi. Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders. These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.”

I do a virtual fist-bump with my son and tell him most people will be unaware of the uses of tea tree so it’s probably still available. Sure enough, he finds some in his local chemist.

Alternative Lifestyle Resilience

The tea tree incident is just one example of how, as an alternative-lifestyler with twenty years of yoghurt-weaving under my hemp-crocheted belt, I feel more prepared than most for this crisis. We’re not exactly preppers, but we have solar electricity, solar hot water, and most of the tools we need to fix basic stuff around the home. We grow food and preserve it. The other day, I found a stash of tomato sauce that we bottled last summer. It’s delicious and saves me from having to put more pressure on the shops at this moment. My son informs me that there is not a single bag of pasta to be found anywhere in his town.

We giggle at the idea of some people sitting on twenty kilos of pasta, with a spare bedroom stuffed with toilet roll, but the truths are harsh. Our system cannot cope easily with increased demand. It functions on a just-enough, just-in-time assumption and is thrown by shoppers wanting more of something at odd times. I’m sure, given the proximity to Easter, that if it were chocolate eggs we wanted to hoard, there would be plenty, but wet-wipes? Forget it.

Permaculture as Inter-dependence

My friends in the permaculture movement feel similarly prepared. My timeline is full of people offering free meditations, body healing and advice on how to boost the immune system, and I enjoy them alongside the dark funnies about sending stool samples to the government for “testing”. These people have taken the time and made the effort to make their lives more resilient to sudden change. For a start, they tend to consume less. They  have organised themselves to rely a little less on mainstream services. Not towards independence,  they understand that is a myth, but further towards inter-dependence. Towards community and in many ways, towards themselves. They have more ways of coping. More tools for anxiety, stress and other strong emotions which accompany times of transition and change.

Most of us understand that the system supposed to support us is mostly stacked against us. But still people feel disappointed that the people charged with protecting us serve the wealthy first. We will do well to remember, next time we get a chance to vote, what kind of policies served best at this time. My friends in Spain are not complaining about being isolated in their homes, though under conditions that rule only dog-walkers may go outside, they are scrabbling to borrow dogs from their neighbours! On the whole, we feel grateful to the care-workers and government officials who are making difficult decisions every day to protect us. Mostly, we want to comply. To protect each other as well as ourselves.

Connection in Community

This is one of the heartwarming things about all this. The reaching out, the wish to support, the compassion. This must be a taste of why some older people feel nostalgic for wartime. What they remember is not only the rations and the pain of untimely death, but the intense joy of human connection. The kindness of neighbours. The comfort of community. For a while, we are not pitted against each other in competition, though there will always be those who profit in times like this. For a while, we do not see so clearly the colour of skin, the cultural background, the religious or political affiliation. We do not hear accent nor even language. We see humans. Human to human. And human to animal, too. Human to environment. Human to spirit. We would do well to rememebr this.

As I sit here on my couch, door open to the wide outside, a bird chirrups enthusiastically into the afternoon air. There is traffic on the road below, but much less. Less aeroplanes fly overhead. Even since yesterday, the first day of our confinement, my being feels calmer. We have at least thirteen more days of this. I think I can get used to it.

ps. If you’d like to join our Heroines’ Home Retreat, we’re virtually open. Email me directly: helen [@] livinginthefuture.org

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Helen and Shanti Cat

Hiraeth book – in print sometime soon…

Last night I woke up anxious. A knot in my belly and a need to open the window to breathe fresh air reminded me that with a deadline looming, I was not yet prepared. It felt a bit like those jeopardy moments that show up in any tv docudrama. OH NO! The book might not make it to print in time for the first signing events! Trouble is, in the tv version, you KNOW it will all be ok, because, well, editing.

Wildfire in Australia

Grappling with this personal moment of tension, I’m acutely aware that in Australia, many of the people who appear in this book have been evacuated from their homes along Northern New South Wales. At least three of the established eco-communities I visited are at risk. The rainforest where 40 years ago, environmental defenders staged the first direct actions in Australia, is burning. My anxiety floats over to visit them, then back to think about people under floodwater in the UK, and then drifts via relief for my own currently safe position to rest back on the unfinished book cover.

Hiraeth book - cover
Hiraeth book – cover Image by Natasha Brooks Artist

Does this problem affect you too? How to hold everyday priorities when on a wider scale, the picture looks so bleak? How can we live good lives when there are so many factors to take into account?  I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that decisions take longer these days.

Counter-intuitively,  I find that slowing down helps. Just when I think I need to rush rush rush, obstacles start showing up, inviting me to slow down and take it easy. “Soandso is not in the office until Monday’ or in this case, “Your book cover is back in the design queue.”  Since what I think is my intuition has been hijacked by Western capitalist culture and wants everything now, I’m having to practice another way of being in order to access the flip side of that demanding, over-stimulated part of my psyche. She is never satisfied anyway, so why not give her more relaxed sister a turn at the wheel?

Practicing another way of being

This practice takes me out into nature, into the company of friends, or bids me meet my internal self right where she is. Whether in anger, joy or despair, the invitation is to fully experience, which can mean some extreme highs, but also some difficult lows. These are extreme times. Perhaps this wider range of response is to be expected?

Sorry, I don’t have answers or quick-fixes, but if you want some company on your journey, you might like to have a read of this upcoming Hiraeth book. If it ever makes it to the printers.

Hiraeth book
Hiraeth book : https://hiraethbook.org/

 

 

 

 

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Image by Helen iles

From Comfort Zones to Vegan Pesto

“Resting into the deep comfort zone, we might sense a gathering of energy, of power. So that when the bodymind moves again with intention, it moves from this place of power. This kind of action is grace-full – effective, not wasting energy, every movement just enough – empowered by the practice of rest, and infused with the sacred.”

Meditation as Deep Rest

This experience emerged in the meditation space last evening, where we were exploring what it is to rest deeply, moving against the cultural norm that is pushing us out, out, out beyond our fear. To be forever pressing ourselves in this way… Pressuring ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone, it is no wonder that we also become beyond tired… So far from the well of our source energy that we are somehow dragging our selves through the world.

A couple of years ago, I began a practice I called Mindful Mondays. On Mondays, I decided, I would stay home. Husband would take the car, which meant I could walk, but not drive, and because we live quite rurally, this meant that I was mostly solitary. What I found was that without timetable or appointments, my days floated freely through household chores and more – sometimes much more, sometimes less. Taking the pressure off, Mondays wore a ring around them, like that red cord in the art gallery that tells us some areas are off-limits. I grew to love Mondays.

Meditating Online Together

When I wanted to establish a weekly online meditation group, it made sense to choose Mondays, since I knew I was always at home. Always available. This practice had made me so. And so Mondays had a new commitment, but it felt good. It felt good, too, to use my Monday feeling of availability to offer to hold space for one-to-one guidance, and so gradually, I lost the freedom of non-doing, if in the loveliest of ways!

I learned so much from Mindful Mondays that I feel moved to shift that sense of unpressured beingness to Tuesdays…but what to call it?… and so Timeless Tuesdays is born.

On this Timeless Tuesday, so far I have shared morning tea with Husband, sat for a while with the cat on my lap, and begun to share this story for a blog post. A conversation in my head with a friend in Australia (thanks Rachel) has me yearning to make pesto from all the spring greenery in my garden – kale, broccoli leaves and spinach. Perhaps I’ll pause and do that, then I can tell you how it tastes…

In the meantime, I invite you to make some timeless time for your self. Time to sink deep into your comfort zone, to see what emerges. It might take longer than you think, at first, so be patient with yourself. If you have been experiencing a drought of such self-caring ways, the well might take some filling.

A Month of Mondays – An Invitation

If you feel like sharing this space, or that you need some support, I invite you to join our little group on Monday evenings (or whatever time and day that lands where you are in the world.) Details of how and when can be found below.

Online Meditation

Home-Made Pesto Recipe

End Note : I DID make the pesto. It IS delicious. Try it for yourself!

Recipe : Whizz together green leaves – spinach, chard, or whatever comes to hand, a good clump of oregano or basil, handful of almonds, garlic, chili peppers (go easy!), generous dollop of olive oil, sprig or two of mint and my secret ingedient, yeast flakes! (you can use parmesan cheese if you don’t mind eating dairy). Texture should be juicy, but not runny.

Serve with pasta, crackers, or spread over roasted veggies.

Pesto Ingredients
Pesto Ingredients

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Cauliflower-green

What goes with Cauliflower? Well Being. And Fennel.

Can gardening help fight depression? An article in today’s Guardian newspaper suggests that it can. On a visit to Sydenham Garden charity trust in London, journalist Sarah Johnson discovers that the acre site, with well-being centre, nature reserve and activity rooms has received 313 patient referrals from health professionals, with people spending between 6 and 12 months in ‘green’therapy’ there. I’m familiar with Sydenham, as they featured in a video I made with the Permaculture Association as part of their Thriving Communities project. Sydenham was one of several sites using permaculture to not only build gardens, but to build communitiy as well.

Gardening as Connection

Anyone who has a relationship with land will tell you that growing things is healing. For all the talk of ‘connectivity’ in our online world, humans are more disconnected than we have ever been from our place in the ecosystem. We are less likely than our ancestors to understand how our food grows, what is in season, and when. Gardening helps us reconnect with all this. Why should we care? Well, there’s no ‘should’, but once we feel the well-being that comes from having our hands in the soil, we are much more likely to WANT to care.

The modern world inundates us with lusting after big achievements. Getting out of our comfort zone and aiming high. But with all this reaching and extending, have we lost sight of the small things? Things that are available and achievable can be even more enjoyable!

Growing Microgreens is Easy
Growing Microgreens
Growing Microgreens

Got a kitchen window? Plant seeds and grow basil and coriander to season your meals. Got a balcony? Nurture greens – spinach and salads. Got a local allotment society? Get your name on the list or go along and offer your time to someone who needs a hand. There’s always someone who could do with a bit of help with digging or harvesting and as well as connecting with land, we make human connections too.

Communal task in the huerto
Communal task in the huerto

Husband and I have a few beds in a community garden, or huerto, as they call it here in Spain. He most enjoys the exercise of digging, as well as planting and harvesting, and I love this too, but I also get a kick out of preparing home-grown food to eat. This weekend, we plucked our first full-grown caulifower from the ground – smug and happy that we finally got one past the slugs and caterpillars. It’s true that gardening has its disappointments, but it touches something ancient in me to be able to combine that cauli with the fennel that grows wild here to create a delicious, nutritious soup. Posh restaurants in London and Paris are boasting about this kind of freshness, but they can’t match the flavour of completeness that comes with having nurtured that cauli through two seasons of growth.

So if you have a windowsill, balcony or garden, get in there and plant some food. And while you’re waiting for those greens to sprout, here’s my personal, unique recipe for cauliflower and fennel soup. Que aproveche!

Cauliflower and Fennel Soup

1 head of medium cauliflower, broken into florets

1 medium onion and garlic to taste, diced

1 sweet potato, diced

1 bulb of fennel, and/or a handful of fronds, diced

Olive  or coconut oil il for frying

1.5 litres Vegetable stock

Splash of white wine (optional)

Method

Fry off the onion, garlic and fennel until transparent, add wine

Add sweet potato and cauli

Add stock

Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft

Blend in a liquidiser or mash to puree

Serve hot or cold with sour cream and bread or toast.

Yum.

Cauliflower and fennel soup
Cauliflower and fennel soup

 

 

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Image by Jason Leung

Climate Emergency – or Cultural Emergence?

I wake in the night with a knot in my belly. A cold sweat trickles down my neck. My heart races. In my mind, I see headlines proclaiming that UK governments have declared a climate emergency. And though I’ve been living as though this is the case for many years; though I’ve been telling stories about how we can reduce our impact on the planet; though I’ve been following as closely as I can my own advice to live more lightly, still I am scared. What do we do now?

Cultural Emergence

The word emergency has within it, emergence. What kind of world is emerging? With all the hubris in politics over the past years, it’s easy to believe that we’re approaching the end of the world. Corruption, greed, ignorance – all seem to be hitting a high point. Hatred is all around us, manifesting in extremism at both ends of the political spectrum. It’s truly frightening what wilful blindness can achieve.

In a way, we are reaching the end. The way we’re living now has to end. Governing without caring a jot about the people or land you are supposed to be stewarding has to end. What we are seeing is is the last desperate death throes of a way of being that knows it’s time is up. And yet, underneath all that, there’s a growing movement of people expressing another way of being.  A movement of consciousness, intelligence and spiritual maturity that comes through in flashes of strong and compassionate leadership, considered and determined action and a wealth of healing modalities to support us as we move forward. We understand much better how our past impacts on our current actions, which shows us not only how to attend to our collective pain with care, but how we all deserve forgiveness.

No time for blame

For the damage we have done to ourselves, to each other and to the planet, at this time of emergenc(y), there is no time for blame.  Can we agree that we all make mistakes, that the past is past, and that together, we can create a world that feels safe and fair for everyone? It’s a big ask. We will be required to dig into the deepest reaches of our being. To use our vast human resources and pool our energy for the good. To tend to ourselves, each other and to the world around us as if we, they and it matters. Because we do. They do. It does.

Emergency Bean Burgers?

Queen Bean Burger
Queen Bean Burger

Awake in the night, I ponder the blog post I just published on how to make spicy bean burgers and I wonder how this seemingly trivial activity could possibly make a difference. Why am I making – and what’s more, writing about making – veggie burgers, when the world around me is burning? In response, I can only say that we do what we can. In the article, I talk about how I grew some of my ingredients in my garden, which is one sure way to build resilience. In my modest home, I make nourishing food that increases my personal and family well-being. I avoid the plastic packaging which often accompanies store-bought food, keeping waste out of landfill and out of our oceans. I support a vegetarian diet, which has been shown to be one of the biggest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. To survive this global crisis, we need to care for ourselves, for each other AND for the planet. We are inter-connected, and our future depends on us.

To complete the picture, and to allow my spicy bean burgers to really do the best work they can do, I take them to our community garden and share with some neighbours in a May Day celebration. What ways can you find to turn this emergency into an emergence?


Tune in to my Mayday meditation via the Meditista podcast – and get a new meditation every Wednesday. Or for a more intimate approach, join us in our Month of Mondays online meditation group. It’s a really lovely way to create our own, global cultural emergence.

Singing Bowl
Singing Bowl

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Queen Bean Burger

Bean Burger Queen

Tasty, home-cooked versions of a classic treat

When my son was young, holiday food was a bit hit and miss for us as vegetarians, but we did develop a bit of a ritual of going to motorway service stations for a Burger King Spicy Bean Burger. Things have changed a lot since then, but although there are many more options on sale both in restaurants and in supermarkets, I often still struggle with plastic packaging. Making your own veggie burgers requires a bit of planning, but if you have a freezer, you can make a batch that will last a while.

From the Garden!

This week, I’m using some onions and spinach that I’ve brought in from the garden, along with carrots, peppers, garlic and of course, beans! As well as red beans, I’ve added some broad beans, again from my garden. They’re my absolute favourites, and so delicious when fresh that I’m only using a few as a nod to seasonality. If you have loads to spare, feel free to use more.

Broad Bean Harvest
Broad Bean Harvest

To be clear about planning, this process started a couple of days ago, when I soaked some red beans overnight. The next day, I let them simmer along happily while I cooked dinner, then today I made time to process them and make patties. If you’d like to give it a go, here’s the recipe. I’m secretly hoping my son will try it out too, ‘cos he does love a spicy bean burger!

Dried Chilies
Dried Chilies

ps. During this last stage, I had listened to a beautiful talk by meditation teacher Jess Huon, but it might just as easily have been a radio play or podcast. You might even try one of my own Meditista podcasts! Happy burger-making 🙂

Queen Bean Burgers

1/2 kilo of dried red beans
To prepare, soak for at least 12 hours, bring to the boil and then simmer until soft

A cup of fresh or frozen broad beans, lightly boiled or steamed

Then

Lightly fry
2 medium onions, diced
Garlic, chopped
Red/ green/ yellow pepper, diced
A cup of finely-ground oats
Salt, black pepper and chili to taste

Add fried vegetables to broad beans and red beans in a food processor or big bowl and mash until mixture is soft and pliable. Add oats until mixture is dry enough to handle.

Use a little more of the oat flour to dust a chopping board. Take evenly-sized spoonfuls of mixture and roll in oat flour to make burger shapes.

To cook, shallow-fry in oil of your choosing.
To freeze, wrap in paper or foil and lay carefully flat in the freezer

Enjoy!

 

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Singing Bowl

An Oestre Ritual

Leaving my house, I feel the breeze whip my hair across my face. In the treetops, a gusty wind plays, spinning leaves through the air like dangerous thoughts. What on earth did we invite, when we said we would do a ritual for grief?

I’ve been feeling out of sorts all day. Activated. Unable to focus. As though something is stirring in my deep self. When I finally get to speak to Cheryl, my co-host, she says she has been thinking of cancelling, so great is her own sense of disturbance. But as well as being a little scary, it is exciting. What’s the worst that could happen? That we might feel sad? Shed a few tears? And what is the best thing that could happen? Some form of liberation? We choose liberation over comfort.

Creating a Space

Over Cheryl’s garden, the sky hovers gray and foreboding. We consider gathering our circle inside and begin to move the chairs around, but I am drawn back to the trees. To the green grass and the billowing clouds. Nature is a part of this show and will not be excluded.

We set blankets on the cool ground and our centrepiece statue in place. Recently acquired, it is a sculpture of people standing together, holding each other in circle. Flat hands against each other bodies, they touch the heart chakra where it opens in the back of the body. It will be our emblem for this evening.

Statue circle of friends
Statue circle of friends

As women arrive, I find myself making my singing bowl sound a long, mournful note. Mentally, I am calling in the ancestors. Calling in the spirits of this place. Calling in all those who need to witness this happening. They float in silently, taking their seat in the circle.

Gathering with Intention

The details of this ritual ceremony are unimportant. We made them up, suiting them to our purpose. For we are orphans of spiritual practice. We have grown up in traditions depleted of meaning and have sought out significance in different places, different religions, in cultures other than our own. No matter. Our intention is to gather in service of our own inner path. To give voice to that which needs to speak. To listen faithfully to what is said. These intentions are what guides hand and heart.

At the end of the evening, we stand for a moment, mirroring the statue, holding each other in a sacred circle of trust and care, before heading inside to drink hot tea and eat cake. In this way, we follow the path of witches and shamans as they ground the energies of their practice and feed life, but really, don’t all good gatherings end with food and drink? The wisdoms we seek are grown within human bodies and cannot be known outside of our embodiment. About this simple fact, the Buddha was clear, but we are not only Buddhist, not only pagan. Following the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday, we make an offering to charitable causes and I feel a profound awareness of the cycle of giving and receiving. Without opening to give, we remain closed to possibilities of receiving.

In bed that night, I feel my heart settle into a peacefulness that comes from knowing I have been met well. I have connected. With my own deep self, with my friends on this inner path and with Mother Nature herself. The wind has dropped. The trees are still. I sleep the sleep of the blessed.

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Kombucha Brew - Photo by Helen iles

How to Brew Kombucha

If you attend any outdoor, green-oriented event in Melbourne, Australia, such as the awesome Sustainable Living Festival, you are likely come across a kilted, happy-looking guy riding a bicycle-powered cool drinks dispenser. For a mere 5 dollars or so, he will pour you a refreshing, fragrant cup of sparkling, sweetly-sour, gut-friendly kombucha. His name is Deano, and he is founder of The Good Brew Company.

Deano will tell you, with a smile to match his sparkling drink, that kombucha will heal any ill, such faith does he have in his product. And it’s true that this fermented drink made from cold sweet tea has been ascribed properties to manage symptoms of illnesses from arthritis and asthma to heartburn, high blood-pressure and migraines. Fermenting guru Sandor Katz reckons we should be wary of anything that claims to be a miracle cure, but does attest that due to the microbiotic nature of the process , kombucha is likely to bring health to the body, particularly to digestive-related conditions.

Kombucha Jars. Photo - Klara Avsenik
Kombucha Jars. Photo – Klara Avsenik

I have Deano to thank for my household’s ongoing committment to the four large jars of kombucha that cycle through my pantry and the fridge that is generally packed with clip-top bottles of this magical elixir. It helps, too, that my husband is Eastern European, and grew up drinking a brew called Kvass, which has similar properties but is made from rye bread. (Maybe we’ll tell you how to make this another time!)

Kvass from a street wagon
Kvass from a street wagon

The recipe and process for making kombucha is quite simple, and if you think you can handle living with bottles of murky-looking liquid that look like they have an alien being living inside, the resulting pleasure is well worth it!

Recipe and Method for making Kombucha

Step 1 : Obtain a SCOBY – the rubbery, floating disc which Katz describes as a “community” of organisms. Mostly, these are passed amongst friends (thus contributing to another form of community) but can also be purchased online.

Step 2 : Brew a jarful of black tea and sweeten with sugar. We get great results with caffeine-free tea but once in a while, the SCOBY seems to benefit from a caffeine hit, so bear this in mind. Ratio of tea-sugar-water can vary according to taste, but we generally go for 2 spoonfuls tea – one litre of water – half-cup of sugar. Let the tea cool.

Step 3 : Add the tea to an appropriate vessel – we use a large jar – and place the SCOBY inside. It will float to the top and grow to fit the jar! Cover with a porous cloth and place somewhere warm.

Step 4 : Wait. Depending on the ambient temperature, the kombucha will take between 3 and 10 days to brew. Taste often and when it begins to turn vinegary,  decant into clean bottles with airtight lids. We tend to leave another day for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which makes it fizzy. Don’t leave it too long as too much fizz can cause explosions! After a day or two more, place in the fridge. This will stop the brewing process.

Step 5 : Enjoy your kombucha at any time of day, bearing in mind that if you have used caffeinated tea, the caffeine is not affected by brewing.

Step 6 : Send us a message and let us know how you get on!

 

 

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