Fried Dandelion Buds

I don't use the term 'weeds' because, after some years of carefully cultivating edible wild plants - blackthorn, blood-veined sorrel, horseradish, Good King Henry, sea beet, winter purslane etc,  I realised my garden consists mainly of that which the council sprays with poison by the roadside. But this, of course, is precisely why I offer it an urban organic sanctuary.

 Dandelions, however, are in no need of my charity. When Inca was alive it was pleasing to tear up big handfuls for her and spare the kale and broccoli, but now she has wheeked her last wheek and there are too many sauté dandelion greens for dinners. The raw leaves are too bitter in any quantity for my green smoothies and I am not going out to dig up their roots every day because this is time-consuming and dandelion coffee sounds like a lot of work for minimal reward thus is wholly incompatible with my tenets of edible forest gardening. I don't do anything out there that doesn't taste good, smell good or feel good. All I really want to do is keep the dandelions from going to seed and thus completely dominating the other weeds, uh, plants, I mean, and I require delicious motivation for this task ('Will Garden For Food'). This reminded me of controlling the gaudy orange nasturtiums by eating seed pod capers. De-budding the dandelions every day would both prevent them going to seed AND pre-empt their gauche yellow flowers (look, I don't like orange and yellow in a Scottish garden, ok? I'm tweedy). 

It's possible to pickle the buds like nasturtium seeds but I fried them - in proper fat, not some hideous calorie-free chemical abomination - until they were crispy, then drained them on kitchen paper and scarfed the lot. 

This does not so much commend the dandelion bud as confirm my long-held belief that pretty much anything will taste ok if it's fried...

Giving Up Lip Balm

unglamorous bedside vat of coconut oil

Since I had my first taste of The Body Shop's Morello Cherry, some time in the late eighties, I have been hooked on lip balm. My mouth has never been naked since. Never has a man kissed me and not been smeared with fruit, rose or honey scented gunk. I dread to think how much of it I have swallowed.

Whilst I could happily never look at a bar of soap again, I crave moisturising products. My husband complains he can barely keep a hold of me at night, so lubricated to within an inch of my life am I. Cuticle cream, foot lotion, leg gel, body butter, massage oil, moisturiser and - above all else - lip balm. I have skin that tends towards dryness, spend a lot of time outdoors in cold, windy, wet weather, love hot baths and salt scrubs and have come to hate the feeling of unoiled flesh afterwards. However, I also hate both nasty, synthetic lotions and spending £20 each on half a dozen lovely, Weleda potions. I favour an inexpensive, multi-purpose, edible product and none fits the bill better than organic, raw, virgin, coconut oil, even if it looks slightly less chic besides my bed than a Neal's Yard Remedies glass jar. I've used coconut oil for years in my baby massage classes but now I've come round to it as a general moisturiser for face and body and even a shaving oil and deep conditioner. I hear you can do your teeth with it too but I only put it in my mouth when I am eating a delicious fried something or a raw cacao pudding (which is quite often because I am dedicated to greasiness on the inside too.)

My one stumbling block on the road to total coconut body moisturisation has been my lips. I've heard lots of people recommending coconut oil as a lip balm but if you have a hardcore, lifelong, lip balm addiction like me, you tend to scorn light, rapidly absorbed products like coconut oil. The only lips balms I use are thick and heavy and based on problematically unethical petroleum jelly or Burt's Bees wax. My lips stopped producing their own oils a couple of decades ago and become tight, dry and painful almost immediately if their protective layer of gunk is wiped off. Even though it stays put for hours between eating and drinking, I still reapply lip balm as often as every ten minutes, like a chain smoker. It is the ONLY thing I take with me absolutely everywhere I go. I basically only exist as a device invented by lip balm so it could see the world.

Well: no more free rides, lip balm.

I always knew 'giving up lip balm' was a thing, I'd just never been ready before. I am now. I did some research and the most commonly given advice is to scrub the lips regularly with a toothbrush and apply a vitamin E capsule morning and night, which I have been doing diligently. I haven't managed to go completely cold turkey and apply either coconut oil or the much thicker Napiers calendula salve (for 'runners with tender nipples'...) on occasion during the day. At times I have been extremely irritable when my sore lips seemed to be dominating everything else in the world, which in itself annoyed me with its ridiculousness. But after a week something strange has started to happen: hours and hours go by and I am completely unaware of having dry lips. I wake up and eat and brush my teeth and it is mid-morning before I remember my lips. They still feel dry and tight and I need to scrub them or apply vitamin E eventually but it is no longer a matter of urgency.

Clearly my lips are starting to manage on their own again. This made me wonder if the constantly coconut-coated skin all over the rest of me might not also be able to do a better job if it were basted a little less enthusiastically. I did some more research and noticed Dr Hauschka recommends avoiding night creams. Of course, Dr Hauschka is flogging £60 'Rhythmic Night Conditioner' as an alternative so a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt may be required there, but I thought I'd try eschewing anything at all at night. I am a little concerned that the year I turn 39 might not be the ideal time to start experimenting with less moisturiser but I've decided to give myself until I'm 40 to test it out. If it's been disastrous I'll have to spend the next decade face down in a vat of argan oil or something. At least I'll be able to afford it with what I've saved on lip balm.

Making Seitan Jerky

Look away now, gluten-free people: this is your nemesis. I am about to tackle the International Surplus Gluten Mountain you have created. Yeah, I know, I'm not a big carb fan, but technically gluten is the protein bit of the grain. God knows where it comes from (for He created Seitan) or who might have genetically modified it or how many fieldmice were hurt in the process, but I CANNOT COVER EVERYTHING, GUYS. Plus it's the main ingredient in seitan jerky which I really love. You can buy seitan jerky in health food shops but it's a lot cheaper to make your own. When I say, 'make your own' obviously I mean have your husband make it for you...

I used to eat seitan when I was a teenager and it was called 'mock duck'. I remember it had a little indentation patterns in it which were supposed to resemble duck skin. I had no idea what it was or how to make it.

Turns out it's wheat gluten mixed into a dough with nutritional yeast ('nooch'!) and spices and boiled.

It actually tastes pretty good just like that, but I wanted jerky.

So I sliced it, put it in a marinade for a while then baked it (all by myself). It goes chewy and delicious.

All praise Seitan.

Five Kinds of Seaweed

I love seaweed. I love how it's the flora of the beach. I love the translucency and the way it crumples and layers like tissue paper. I love the smell of it, yes, even piles of it rotting on a hot day. I love how it makes amazing fertiliser for the soil, how you can hang it in your house, heap it in your bath. I love the names: bladderwrack, dulse, kelp, laver. I love the feel of it underfoot and around my legs. I love eating it.

I love it so much I have it tattooed on me.

Of course, I love it in sushi but also also on its own as a crunchy snack. 

These are noodles made entirely from kelp and seasoned with nori.

This amazing carrageen moss came free with Ffyona Campbell's book The Hunter Gatherer Way and instructions to simmer it witch-like into a squidgy slime for skin and hair that she calls a spa treatment. I love it, of course.

Badger in a Jumper


I'm not a fan of animals in clothes, not even humans really, but Badger* is old and it's cold and he still likes to go out in the garden so I tried to convince him to wear the woolly jumper I bought when Slinky went bald from adrenal disease. As he has aged, he has wearily resigned himself to wearing a collar with a bell so I can find him when he gets lost under a pile of logs, but, dammit, he has to draw the line somewhere...

*He is covered in sooty smudges from rolling around under the woodstove. I am currently working on his technique for my future ferret chimney sweep business.

What January Looks Like

My love of chocolate avocado shakes has been well-documented. But avocados, cacao and almond milk are expensive and Real Foods doesn't accept poems as payment.

Plus, my garden - tragically bereft of snow - is full of rainbow chard, perpetual spinach, Daubenton's and asparagus kales as well as winter purslane, new lamb's lettuce and even some nine star broccoli leaves.

For some reason I always thought that 'green smoothies' were made entirely out of jars of powder supplements and, whilst I love spirulina, chlorella etc in principle, I don't want to drink something that feels like a hippy Slimfast shake. I'm not a big fan of juicing either because that just seems like hippy soda. What I like is to get some actual plants and bludgeon them to milkshake consistency so I can consume them whole and raw but in less time than the three hours it would take to chew all that kale, thus leaving my mouth free to talk more crap to anyone who will listen. And it turns out that blended with some frozen banana, mango or pineapple and a bit of lemon or lime juice, all those green leaves make a palatable smoothie that smells of freshly mown lawns. Suck on that, January.

Long Nights

Badger the house ferret is looking a lot older than he was a year ago, older even than on his road trip this summer. He spends a lot more time asleep.

Asleep on my lap in bed in the morning.

Asleep under my duvet in the afternoon.

Asleep on the sofa in the evening.

Asleep on my zombie wedding dress etc.

But he still makes it out into the sparse daylight occasionally.

Devils on Dolphins' Backs or Five Fruit Roast

My friend E makes these amazing little hors d'oeuvres of mango chutney stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. I wanted to make a vegan version and I tried with fake bacon but the reason I don't like - one of the many reasons I don't like - fake meats, is that making something stripey and bacon-shaped does not make it bacon-y. The properties that bacon brings to the dish which 'fakon' lacks are:

  • fat for lubricating
  • the ability to crisp up
  • salt and umami 
  • a wrapping device

so I looked at others ways of obtaining those properties from actual whole foods.

For the fat and salt I chose everyone's favourite appetiser: the olive and I shoved some chilli inside because I wanted to make it like a miniature, plant-based, five bird roast... then it went in the date...

...which was rolled in mango chutney.

For the salty, savoury wrap I used moistened, seasoned nori strips in the manner of sushi.

You can either cover them during heating to keep them moist or uncover them for crunch. They only take ten minutes in a hot oven. I'm not sure they would convert a bacon lover because people seem to really fetishise that shit, but they taste pretty good to me.

Easiest Baked Goods Ever

This, from Simple Veganista, is the kind of baking recipe I favour, by which I mean actually me and not my husband who bakes more elborate fare:

two very ripe bananas
cup of rolled oats
some other stuff you like (handful chopped nuts/shredded coconut/bitter chocolate chips; vanilla essence; cinnamon; salt)


Mix and cook until done (in my oven that was 12 minutes at 180F).

 Squidgy, banana bready deliciousness for about three seconds work. Good hiking food.

Elderberry Rob

It has been the best year for berries.

Everywhere they're weighing down branches with their red, orange and purple lusciousness: sea buckthorn, rowan, rosehips...and elderberries:

You don't want to eat them raw but, stewed to collapsing point and strained,

they make either a lovely syrup for coughs 

and cordial (or 'rob' in Scotland)

or a vinegary sauce for stews.

(We made that one a few years ago and are maturing it.)

Queen of Nachos

I be the Queen of Vegan Nachos, at least this side of the border.

These are my rules:
lots and lots of guacamole
always homemade salsa; no nasty-arse stuff in a jar
red and green fresh chillies plus at least one kind of preserved jalapeno
a lawn of coriander [cilantro]

Also: purple chips trump yellow because of the Rule of Purple.

Hunting, Gathering

Exactly twenty years ago I dropped out of high school aged eighteen, emaciated and severely depressed. I retreated to my bedroom, a space to which I had taken a claw hammer some weeks previously in order to remove all furniture and fittings and render it cave-like. It contained only a blanket on the bare floorboards, a few floaty dresses and a rat called Molly who was actually male as evidenced by his enormous testes. I believe I did own a pair of vegetarian Dr Marten boots too but mostly I walked barefoot around the streets of London. There were no window coverings in my room because I considered it vital that the moonlight influenced my menstrual cycle. I was reading a lot of Tom Robbins at the time. I'm not sure if my parents were honouring my eccentricity - for which their conservative, suburban lives cannot possibly have prepared them - or just didn't know what else to do with me, but they provided vegan food three times a day and let me work things out in my own time.

I rejected the assistance of both the local psychiatric unit and the newly available Prozac and instead left for a few months of backpacking in east Africa for which it cannot be said I was particularly well equipped, a handful of school exchange trips to the south of France having been my only previous travel experience beyond the British stone circles and moors of family holidays. But I stayed alive, thanks mainly to a very supportive travelling partner, and I got within touching distance of a mountain gorilla who seemed to know a great deal more than I did about how to lead the good life. I also learnt I could out-run depression if I kept moving.

When I returned, considerably more emaciated but a lot happier, there was a documentary on television about a feisty, beautiful, young woman who had walked the length of Africa - was walking, in fact, around the whole world. I was completely baffled by the viewing public who didn't get what seemed to me to be the only sensible thing left to do. I started to think what my own journey might be but my body had ideas of its own: a year later I was pregnant. I never considered not keeping my baby; it felt completely natural from the moment I realised he was there. A friend gave me an old copy of Juliette de Baïracli Levy's book Natural Rearing of Children that I ate up like pan-fried placenta. I had no post-natal depression, no conflict over what I should be doing with my life, no aching loneliness and I certainly wasn't emaciated anymore. I was on the lifelong journey of motherhood which was to include The Continuum Concept of attachment parenting, and home educating.

I never really stopped wanting to live in a cave. One day I removed all of the internal period doors in the Edinburgh tenement flat I had moved to and threw them out with the vintage Baby Belling stove in favour of open-plan and raw food. I struggled to reconcile my love of carlessness with a desire to live in the woods, so I tried to turn my stone box in the city into a jungle with hundreds of indoor plants that I fed with the water in which I had first soaked my embroidered cloth menstrual pads. I studied my cervical mucus assidiously so as to be in control of my fertility in future.

By the time my son was walking, Ffyona Campbell had written a book about her walk around the world, about difficult choices and truth and honour, that made me love her even more. She did a reading in Edinburgh while I was back in London but I made my baby's father go; I would have been too intimidated to speak to her anyway. Every few years since, I have reread one of her three books and googled her name, wondering what she was doing now. I never found anything.

Eventually, tired of the effort of bringing the outside in, I moved to a house by the sea, with a garden but still in the city and carless. I have never been interested in digging and sowing rows of vegetables and reading How To Make A Forest Garden had confirmed my suspicions about the unnecessary drudgery of this. Instead I planted hedgerows and native trees and transformed the neat herbaceous beds and borders into collections of roadside weeds that I could fake-forage from in the mornings, barefoot - a rare occurrence now - and in my nightdress while the kids were asleep. I tried some urban farming but the realities of keeping animals captive and enslaved in unnatural cycles for their eggs or milk eventually repulsed me and eating my dependents felt like a terrible betrayal of their trust. Even the sight of a numbered, plastic ear tag on a cow fills me with panic and horror now, as does the word 'livestock'. 

This summer, whilst flippantly discussing Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, I realised that my word is 'freedom' and that it always had been. Freedom from school; freedom from unnecessary possessions; freedom from being stuck in one place; freedom from patriachal control; freedom from pointless, busy work; freedom from being penned in. Tom Robbins wrote, 'It is better to be free than to be happy.' but I've never been unhappy when I've been truly free.

Then I googled Ffyona Campbell again and there she was, leading wild food walks in Devon and writing about hunter-gathering and caves and the sea and the woods and walking barefoot and getting pregnant and honouring women and the gorgeous, delicious perfection of the wild and the seasons. Of course she was. She was always there.

Le Furet

You know that Athena poster of the half-naked young man holding the baby that everybody had on their wall in the eighties?

I'm all about middle-aged guys in flannel shirts cradling ferrets.


Apart from eating blackberry compote and blackberry crumble and blackberry pancakes,

 I have been feeding the garden with seaweed and worm juice and comfrey tea and tucking it in for the winter.

Fishing blackberries out of the pond is a daily task... 

...but the water cleared a few weeks after the plants and barley straw went in, and has stayed that way.

I have been laying on my stomach by the side and communing with the water snails. It's no secret I am an amphibian lover but, frogless, I have discovered that water snails are actually very cool, especially when they move upside down along the surface of the water as though it were a pane of glass. I think this heartfelt attempt to love the one you're with was recognised by the universe because...

...look really really carefully in the upper middle of this photo. IT'S OUR FROG sitting on the bottom of the pond! This afternoon I was just in time to see him jump in the water. So happy that after three years of being trapped in our garden he actually has a pond to swim in! Now he just needs a friend.

The Most Hardcore Thing I've Ever Done

I was lying in bed listening to the tide coming in under the full moon when something poked me in the vagina. From the inside. There was a dull pop and then a small wave crashed out of me and rolled down the bedsheet. This was not the first time I had been in labour, but the last time I had been in a birthing pool so I couldn't really separate my waters from the hospital's. This time the portable birthing pool wasn't due to arrive for two weeks.

Within minutes I had awoken everyone in the house because I'm not one for stoicism. Then I called my midwife. Now, I love the NHS, I am rabidly pro-NHS, but - that said - my vagina is a very special place and I like to know exactly who's going in it. The first time I had a midwife I was twenty. I was scared and I trusted this skilled, wise woman with my life and my baby's life. I held her hand and cried a bit and she told me it was all going to be fine and I believed her. Then she wished me good luck, said goodbye and clocked off her shift to be replaced by a total stranger. At that point - a few centimetres dilated with an impossibly enormous child on the eve of my twenty-first birthday - it would have been easier if the baby's father had announced he'd had second thoughts about this whole parenthood business and was leaving me, then exited the delivery suite. I was devastated. So six years later when the memory of the contractions and my vow to never, ever, ever do this again had worn off, I knew I needed a midwife who'd stay till the fat baby sings.

My lovely independent, radical midwife had several clients with due dates in the vicinity of mine. Worrying is my hobby so I was concerned as to what would happen if we overlapped. The midwife said something about women's bodies sorting this out between them, which sounded suspiciously like bollocks to me. Yes, I am a home-birthing, home-educating, lentil-felting, baby massage teacher but I am also a devoted skeptic and I can't stand quinoa (ok, the latter isn't strictly relevant but I like to make people aware of it in case I end up having dinner at their house one day...). I don't believe water molecules have the ability to recall a subtle blueprint of particles they once met but I do think people probably have the psychological ability to heal themselves of many things if they have sufficient faith in the cure. It's never going to work for me though because I don't have any faith. (So please never offer me Rescue Remedy, okay?) However, I am secretly certain that, by a similar logic, I can make bad things happen just by worrying about them enough. Hence I was sure my midwife would be elbow-deep in some other pregnant lady when I needed her. Hence she was. Well, actually she had just got home after a long and exhausting birth and suggested I call back in the morning. It was 3am. I called back at 4am because that's morning, right?

Forty minutes later I saw her headlights cornering the square like a rescue party searching me out. When she came in and started setting up her equipment I - seated on a giant Swiss gym ball - stared incredulously and demanded, 'What are you doing?? I need you HERE. HOLD ME!' before collapsing into transitionary sobs. She said she could tell from the noises she'd heard as she drove up that the baby was coming soon - my neighbour had later said she thought it was seagulls screeching - and she needed to be ready. Then she told me to lift up off the ball so she could put plastic sheeting underneath it. But I was wise to that: 'Oooooooh no! I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to make the baby come out. If I stand up, it's going to come out.' I asserted, triumphantly.

'It does need to come out, love,' she reminded me, but I was pretty sure I could avoid further discomfort (shall we call it) and keep it inside me forever as long as I maintained an unbroken seal with the birthing ball between my legs. 'Come on, just an inch.' Yeah, that's what they all say. The moment I eased up the tiniest bit, woosh, down came the baby. Then I had to stand on tiptoes because there was somebody's head hanging out of me. I swear, people who have not done this: IT IS NO LESS FREAKY THAN IT SOUNDS. His hand was pressed against his face, fingers extending above his head, poking his way out.

There followed some easing out of massive man shoulders (thanks, paternal genes) and suddenly I was holding this huge child, even bigger than the last one. I do not understand the whole, 'He's so tiny! Look at his tiny tininess!' My babies looked gigantic. This one was nine and a half pounds. I know they come bigger but birthing nine and a half pounds standing up in my bedroom with no narcotics is as hardcore as I ever want to get. He came out so fast - second stage was minutes; the whole thing less than three hours - that he was swollen and bruised like a boxer. I didn't even know he was a boy until I remembered to look; I hadn't had a single scan during my pregnancy. He was blonde and blue-eyed and chunky and I named him after my beloved grandfather: a solid name.

The memory everyone has of his birth is, afterwards, my midwife laying the placenta on a sheet of newspaper and giving my six year old son a home-ed biology lesson while he sat cross-legged on the floor eating his breakfast cereal. I kind of wish we'd fried it up with eggs too.

Happy birthday, baby.

Quince in Scotland

I never thought I would ever see the day there was even one ripe quince on my tree. But three! Three and a half maybe! Testament to the amazing summer of 2013.