A day in Edale

Last weekend I attended the level 1 plant-based macrobiotic cooking course, presented by Macrobioticshop.co.uk, at Mam Tor House (aka The Old Winery) in the beautiful Hope Valley in the Peak District.

Our small group of just seven students was welcomed with tea and raw home-made chocolate brownies and lemon verbena raw crisps (delicious!) while we introduced ourselves in the warm September sunshine. Course leader Georgina then talked us through some of the ingredients we would be working with, their importance in a macrobiotic diet and what we could expect from the day.

The first part of the morning consisted of a couple of demonstrations by Georgina during which she created our dessert of amazake, kuzu & foraged blackberries and a vegetable miso soup. One of my specific hopes from the day was to learn to work with ingredients I’d not used before and the amazake dessert fulfilled this objective perfectly.

After the demos it was our turn to don the aprons and get cooking. We were presented with a selection of beautiful ingredients – fresh, locally grown organic vegetables, macrobiotic staples from the shop and some items foraged locally that morning. Each of us was given a recipe (or two, depending on complexity) to work with to prepare our dishes, the intention being that between us we would create a banquet that we’d share for lunch.

While our dishes were cooking, Ishmael introduced us to the process of fermentation and offered us the opportunity to sample some of his home-made, flavoured kombuchas. Kombucha (fermented, sweetened tea) was a new experience for me and quite alien to anything I’d tasted before. I think it’s something of an acquired taste but perseverance brings rewards and after my initial ‘confusion’ surrounding the fizziness of the tea, I grew to really enjoy it. The beetroot-flavoured version was particularly good.

Lunch was something for us all to be proud of. It looked great and the range of new flavours, tastes and textures were delicious and inspiring. Afterwards, the theme of fermentation continued as Ishmael led a demonstration on the making of the staple Korean dish kimchi (fermented raw vegetables). After the demo, each of us was given the opportunity to select two or three of our favourite vegetables and produce our own jar of kimchi to take away with us.

The day closed with more tea and the amazake & blackberry pudding that Georgina had prepared earlier. I’m not a sweet-toothed soul and I very rarely eat desserts but I was pleasantly surprised by the amazake. It was neither too sweet nor too creamy for my taste and I’d definitely make it at home. After lingering for a while, talking and reflecting on the day, we gradually began to make our way home.

Throughout the day it was evident that Georgina & Ishmael are clearly knowledgeable & passionate about their respective subjects. The course was well-designed & structured and delivered with a lot of love & enthusiasm. Overall, the day was a great example of the sweet stuff of life – a lot of fun; new knowledge; delicious food; inspiration; art; science; meeting new, like-minded souls and healthful treats to take home.

Yurt life with the Macrobiotic Shop

A few years ago we made the mutual decision to move away from the city. It was something that had been slowly growing inside each of us. An uncomfortable feeling that the culture around us no longer provided nourishment – that our way of living was too far removed from the things that stirred us. These feelings were somewhat satiated by a move to rural Sussex. We were able to regularly see the night sky and know the cycles of the moon without checking the newspaper. We found edible wild foods on our doorstep. Yet, even so, it wasn’t a place that felt entirely right, still very close to the city and a countryside mostly devoted to the homes of the wealthy.

A year later, and a move to the Peak District, scrunched between Manchester and Sheffield, we found a new home in an area of real beauty and even glimpses of wildness: rocky cliffs, flowing rivers, big hills and simmering skies. The move north felt good. Even so, we felt ourselves drawn further north, beyond the borders of England and into Scotland. This year, to mark a special anniversary, we felt it was the right moment to briefly try out a way of life that really appealed to us. And so, a short stay at Black Isle Yurts was booked for late August. Located about 15 miles from Inverness, the yurts were hand built by the Adam family, with most of the design and build carried out by Jenny and her brother Kenneth.

Simple and effectiveWillow Yurt

We had both been anticipating the trip and the stay in a yurt, but I don’t think anything could have fully prepared us for just how special and nourishing our time there would be. Our yurt was situated about 200 metres down a wooded path, with really beautiful chanterelles there to greet us. The interior of the yurt was very simply but beautifully furnished, with a wood stove, a small table, a basic cooking area and a comfortable wooden bed. It was going to be a really peaceful and secluded several days, with  no electricity, no running water and no access by car.

The walk to Willow Yurt
Forest path
A real abundance of mushroomsChanterelles
What we hadn’t fully anticipated was the feelings and emotions which were generated by living in a round dwelling, even if only for a short time. Around the world, and for tens of thousands of years our ancestors always chose to live in circular structures. Yurts, tipis, Celtic roundhouses, African huts and wigwams are all round. As the great Lakota holy man, Black Elk, noted

“…the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars.  The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle, from childhood to childhood…”

I feel that unless you have experienced this first hand, the words can sound idealistic at best, and mystic mumbo-jumbo at worst. But I live and work in a world of boxes and straight lines:  house, car, work, train, shop, pub. My whole environment seems to consist of nothing but straight lines.  Spending time in a circle felt very natural but also very special, even more so with the natural light pouring in from the domed ceiling. Unlike a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt being the Russian work for the Mongolian one), the fire in Willow Yurt was set to one side, next to the door. A more efficient use of space no doubt, but perhaps lacking the central role of the hearth or firepit which is the focal point of so many traditional ways of life.
The beautiful roof structure
Domed roof in the morning

A jungle-like canopy of ferns outsideLattice work walls, ferns outside our window
Preparing a few mushrooms

A yurt-dweller preparing his dinner

Indeed, so blissfully meditative was the time spent there that is was difficult to motivate ourselves to explore much further, even though the Black Isle is full of interesting places to visit. We both felt ourselves slow down in both our movement and thinking. I have personally chosen to live a little more simply than many people. I have never had a smartphone, and I have been living without TV or radio for many years. I drive only occasionally and listen to music only from time-to-time. Yet, even so, I have noticed my ability to concentrate has withered over time. In that circular space, without electricity, my powers of concentration were re-invigorated. This was most noticeable in the better reading ability I had, but overall I just felt much more focussed and able to think clearly.

In stark contrast to the Peak District, the Black Isle had a real abundance of wild food, especially mushrooms, which we gathered in good number to cook some really wonderful food on a two-ring camping stove. I was able to identify at least a dozen different species of mushroom within three or four miles of the yurt, including some really excellent ones such as chanterelles, shaggy parasols, boletes and one really exquisite porcini.
Chanterelles again!
Preparing wild mushrooms for dinner

Kuksa with a wee dramThe foragers return to a wee dram
Beautiful!
A special Porcini

As well as spending time in our circle and eating amazingly well, we also managed some short trips away, including a long walk along the deserted coastline which lies just below the cliffs which bordered our yurt. Looking towards Inverness we could see the city just a few miles away, along with the airport traffic. Even though this area is relatively unspoilt, this is something that cannot be taken for granted. Locals spoke to us of their worries about plans to allow large transfers of crude oil just a few miles offshore in the Inner Moray Firth near a large dolphin habitat. Cromarty Rising, an environmental group opposing government plans to devastate the local area by bringing large oil tankers into the area, has a lot of support but their struggle is a reminder of just how vigilant and fiercely protective we must be in order to safeguard the habitat we share.
Beach flower
The Black Isle coast
Sea, sky and rocks
Looking towards Inverness

Leaving the Black Isle was something of a struggle, having so thoroughly enjoyed and deeply appreciated our time there. Since then we have been looking into the notion of living more simply in a round space with much more seriousness. Whatever happens, the warmth, inner peace and quiet we enjoyed will stay with us.

Fire

Course report: Plant-Based Macrobiotics Cooking Class, September 2nd

Last Saturday we hosted our first  Plant-Based Macrobiotics Cooking Class at our new venue in in Edale, Derbyshire. We’d hosted several classes before on a slightly smaller scale, but we’d decided to get a little more professional about it, and The Old Winery was the perfect setting on a perfect September day.

Cooking in a new kitchen is always a little daunting, especially when you are planning a 16-course meal for 10 people! So there were several late nights in the days leading up to the course while we tried to work out how many pans, knives, chopping boards and mixing spoons we would need. Thankfully The Old Winery was also quite well equipped, so even though we forgot one or two things on the the day, the clean and spacious kitchen had pretty much everything we needed.

The day started off with tea and home-made lemon verbena crisp breads in the warm autumn sunshine, while the students introduced themselves and I then talked about how the day would be structured and started explaining a little about some of the ingredients we would be using. I also talked about the benefits of the ingredients and the importance of preparing balanced meals using a range of tastes and cooking techniques, ideas that are really important in macrobiotics.

The students were all remarkably knowledgeable in different areas, and we had a nice mixture of ages, backgrounds and genders, a really interesting and lovely group to work with!

After the warm-up, I demoed an amazake dessert and a quick miso soup before the cooking really began in earnest. Each student was assigned two dishes to prepare, one relatively quick and simple one, and another slower to prepare and more difficult one to make. The idea was that everything would be finished at about the same time, which nearly worked out.


Cooking demo

While we were waiting for one of the bean dishes to finish cooking, The Fermentation Master did a quick kombucha demo, fascinating the class with the eerie mothers he had floating on a maté tea sweetened with apple syrup. We also tried a few of his other fermented concoctions, but no students were brave enough to try the sour kimchi juice.

 

Kombucha

Lunch was finally served, an amazing array of tastes, colours and textures. Again, I was really impressed at how well everything had been cooked by the students, all of whom showed a flair for cooking and a passion for what they were about to eat.

 

Lunch!

After lunch The Fermentation Master concluded the day’s teaching with a fully hands-on session in raw kimchi making. First a  basic kimchi paste was prepared and then each student worked on their own to produce their unique batch to take home.

 

Kimchi

Before setting off for at the end of the day, we finished off with tea and the chilled amazake pudding. It was great to meet so many amazing and like-minded people, and I am hoping to stay in touch with everyone.

The next course will be held on October 14th in Edale.

Some comments from the students:

“I had a lovely day. Lots to think about, new people to meet, great food and your expertise. What more could I ask for? The venue was superb and I look forward to another class in the future. The whole day was so well planned and executed.”

Great day, gorgeous food. Really enjoyed the cooking and delicious meal.

Really enjoyable & knowledge-filled day. Really impressed by the variety of dishes & flavours we cooked together. I’m inspired to continue the journey. Thanks all!

 

Macrobiotic Shop featured in The Sheffield Star

Last Friday The Sheffield Star published an article entitled ‘Macrobiotic cookery class bids to improve Yorkshire’s health‘. The article reports on the health crises facing much of today’s population and how a wholefoods, plant-based diet can combat many of these issues. Here is an excerpt:

“Japan underwent rapid change at the start of the 20th century when the country’s diet changed because of western influences. This brought with it many illnesses and social problems,” said Georgina.

“George Ohsawa observed the rapid decline in health and set about creating a popular movement for health.” It was based on whole grains, such as millet, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa and pearled barley, and fermented products such as miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and pickles. He called it the macrobiotic diet.

Read more at: http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/health/macrobiotic-cookery-class-bids-to-improve-yorkshire-s-health-1-8662455

 

 

Koji

Koji is a fungus, which interestingly is only found in Japan. Koji has been extremely important in Japanese cuisine for centuries. The Japanese can now do wonders with it. Without koji, there would be no miso, no amazake, shoyu, tamari or sake! It starts fermentation processes and ensures at the same time that the often long fermentation processes can be controlled. Koji creates the unique umami flavour. It enriches, makes the flavour more powerful and creates an end product that is easy to digest.

Hatcho miso ferments in large 100-year-old cedar wood barrels. About 600 river stones are manually stacked on top in a pyramid shape.

HOW DOES KOJI FERMENTATION WORK?
Koji works best with warm temperatures and a high humidity. During the active fermentation, koji needs two to three days to develop explosively in the ingredients that come into contact with the koji (e.g. soy, rice or wheat). One gram of koji contains no fewer than 10 billion koji spores. This fast growth is necessary, as this way other moulds and bacteria have no chance to develop.