Detox…

As with most other Earthly inhabitants, and as with most years, January is always a month of reflection, reflecting on the events of last year and the plans and anticipation for the year to come, along with the perennial screaming pleas from the weighing machine to “get the f*ck off me!”

I spent sixteen days off over the Yuletide period with the family, with good quality time alongside everyone that was allowed to be around the table, around the table. As is customary, we ate too much, drank in moderation but often and put on the inevitable hip inches. It’s allowed.

Now that the festivities are well and truly behind me, I instantly turned to my rack of well-being books, naturally gravitating to the paleo and meat-free tomes as a way to start shredding the excess pounds. As I did that though, my higher-self seemed to stop me dead in my tracks, as my lower-self was sending a very loud and clear message that other things needed to be considered this time.

My material body is in pain, as penned my times before over the years and in my last post, my tinnitus is absolutely raging at the moment and my recent venture into “mushroom stacking” wasn’t the only thing required to abate my invisible and subjective malady.

As the first few days in January are quiet, I took to the internet and discussions with my hippy friends to see whether other things may be needed. Commence Operation Detox!

Research and chatter has revealed that tinnitus is thought to be an inflammation of the inner ear (among other things) so a diet avoiding items that inflame to body (wheat being a classic example, our ancestral DNA was never meant to take it from the beginning, the agricultural revolution really does have a lot to answer for!) and to take items that are rich in anti-oxidants was the way to go. Not only that, but sodium also has a part to play in the downfall of our well oiled meat machine, too much salt can also play unwanted tin whistle tunes inside the head it seems.

Why didn’t I take the blue pill…

Not only am I now taking a variety of supplements as outlined above (left stack of Lion’s Mane and Niacin for tinnitus – right stack of vitamin D3 and zinc for Covid prevention – yes it’s a thing!), my mind-body-soul coach “L” suggested that I get onto Anthony William (aka the Medical Medium), who has an interesting backstory of contacting “the other side” to provide nutritional advice to his clients and the general public. One of the main approaches in the morning is to kick start the detox process by consuming a flagon of celery juice. Let’s see what state the guts are in over the coming weeks, clean and gurgle-free I hope.

Juice Dalek…

So here we are at the start of the New Year, regressing to a well established, free to all (no subscription required) and age old lifestyle and optimized way of life. Ladies and gentlemen, let me re-introduce you to The Mediterranean Diet!

Before launching into what that entails, two things spring to mind. Firstly, my wife lived in Sicily for a number of years before we met and recalled this morning that her diet / lifestyle whilst there was great and her joie de vive was never better (youth playing its part of course!). Secondly, I reminded myself to watch the video below, which was a Ted Talk I saw a few years back which gave some insights into several studies completed from various parts of the world, including Sardinia which for the geographically challenged is an island slap bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Whether we actually want to live to one hundred is a moot point, the take-aways from the talk are well worth taking note of:

The Mediterranean Lifestyle

Whilst the focus on the below is a scientific approach to food and drink, lifestyle choices do go beyond diet. As Dan mentions above, exercise (especially the use of natural techniques and not putting the body under too much strain/pressure), mindfulness (in whatever form of that suits) and community (traditional ways of exchanging ideas and information via verbal dialogue and body language, not via technology) all play their part too in the enjoyment and fulfillment of life as a whole.

Live well, live longer…

The Mediterranean Diet:

A diet that is high in healthy plant foods and relatively low in animal foods (although eating fish and seafood is recommended at least twice a week) is a good rule of thumb to bring optimized nutrition. The following outlines the basic principles of what to eat and what to avoid:

Eat Often: Vegetables (tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots,, sprouts, cucumbers, fruits (apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches), nuts & seeds (almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds), legumes (beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas), tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams), whole grains (Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread and pasta), herbs & spices (garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper), fish & seafood (salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels), healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil), water & wine (red wine – one glass maximum per day) and tea (herbal or black tea without milk or sugar).

Eat Moderately: Poultry (chicken, duck, turkey), eggs (chicken, quail and duck eggs), cheese & yogurt (cheese, Greek yogurt).

Eat Rarely: Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison).

Never Eat: Sugar-sweetened food and beverages (incl. table sugar), processed meats (sausages, hot dogs), refined grains (white bread, pasta made with refined wheat), refined oils (Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others) and other highly processed foods (incl. those marked “low-fat” or “diet”, butter/margarine and various processed foods.

Low-Sodium Diet

A low-sodium diet limits foods that are high in sodium (salt). Following a low-sodium diet will reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart failure and hopefully in my case, tinnitus. We still need sodium in our diets for the salts lost during exercises and trips to the toilet, but moderating our in take is something to consider.

Salt – not worth its – well salt…

The recommended daily limit of sodium will vary depend on factors like gender and age, but generally speaking the daily recommendation is between 1.5g – 2g per day.

Nowadays, food labels tend to display the sodium they contain and a quick walk down the aisles at Morrison’s this morning revealed the same so it does become easier to calculate and regulate should you wish to be scientific about it.

Foods that have less than 5% of the daily limit of sodium are considered low in salt. Foods that have 20% or more of the daily limit of sodium are considered high in salt, and the following lists which food to avoid:

Processed Foods: Mixes for bread, biscuits, cake, and pudding, ready meals.

Instant Foods: Packet mash, cereals, noodles, and rice.

Packaged Foods: Stuffing, rice and pasta mixes, snack dip mixes, and macaroni and cheese.

Canned Foods: Canned vegetables, soups, broths, sauces, and vegetable or tomato juice.

Snack Food: Potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, pork scratchings, salted crackers, and salted nuts

Frozen Food: Ready meals, entrees, vegetables with sauces, and breaded meats
Meats / Cheeses: Smoked or cured meat, such as corned beef, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage, canned meats or spreads, such as potted meats, sardines, anchovies, and imitation seafood, delicatessen or lunch meats, such as bologna, ham, turkey, and roast beef, processed cheese spreads

Condiments & Seasonings: Limit use of salt, such as such as garlic salt, celery salt, onion salt, and table salt salt. Regular soy sauce, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, flavored vinegars, ketchiup and especially monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Bread and cereal: Choose breads with less than 80 mg of sodium per serving.

To keep the flavours up during cooking, replace salt with herbs and spices to foods instead of salt during cooking. No one wants to eat bland food, else the mind will wander quite easily over to the cookie jar (though if the above is put in practice, then it would be fine as it will be empty!).

Time will of course tell whether the above actions yield the positive outcomes and planned noise reductions inside my noggin, if at first you don’t succeed…

My Mycelium…

One of the big takeaways from my inaugural foraging trip last year was just how incredible mushrooms are.

Not only do they possess their own kingdom (neither animal, vegetable nor mineral) which is impressive in itself, but, when the right ones are consumed (and there are plenty of poisonous ones out there to be avoided), they provide many benefits, including mind (neurogenesis creating/repairing neural pathways), body (nutritional boosts via vitamins and anti-oxidants) and soul (altered states of consciousness leading to an improved human experience).

Whilst I’ll come back to the mycelium later, stoned ape theory and psychedelics in future posts, it’s clear that my friends and family have cottoned on to the fact that I’m looking to grow more of my own produce more this year.

As a result, I received not one but two “grow-your-own-mushrooms” kits, one which cultivates oyster mushrooms via old/used coffee grounds, and a second which grows the standard breakfast white mushrooms via mycelium soaked wood chippings.

I decided to start off with the white mushrooms and got quite excited to unbox it and get mushrooming.

Arch-Duc White Mushroom Kit (£15.99 on Amazon)…
Don’t’ eat the orange one…
Instructions for the polyglot…
First peak inside…
Step-by-step guide to fungi food…
The substrate, mycelium-based wood clippings…
Small bag of peat…
Operation Pete completed…
100ml of misted water…
Plastification…
Safely ensconced on top of the kitchen cupboard…

I have become patient in terms of waiting to harvest the fruits (and vegetables/herbs) of my cultivation activities (apropos my smart garden) so will do the same for the mushrooms.

Can’t wait to taste them in twenty-three days from now.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have suffered from tinnitus for almost three decades now and from time to time, spikes over a period of several weeks can negatively influence my mood, stress and sleep patterns.

I have habituated this well over time (on the basis that I had no other option as there is no cure for tinnitus) but was interested to find that mushrooms may be the answer.

Known as the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’, Lion’s Mane mushroom is one of the most important Chinese herbs and is a symbol of success, power and longevity.

Its benefits allegedly include the stimulation of nerve growth (reparation and new), especially in the brain, and as tinnitus is likely to be the noise generated by misfiring neurons connected to the synapses in the ears, and if damaged neural pathways can be repaired, then in theory the noises in side my head (excluding the voices, that’s a different topic altogether!) can diminished or be silenced.

There is also the notion that vitamin D3 can be stacked with the Lion’s Mane too and I have started taking this too today.

The final part of the stack is the micro-dosing of psilocybin mushrooms, which in small quantities again may also have curative powers, re-wiring the brain and improving perception of the five (and possibly sixth) senses. Clearly the untaxable and criminalised acquisition of such mushrooms is illegal in the UK (and most of the world), so my stack may just contain a double not a treble…

The Infinity Garden…

Living even more sustainably in Twenty-Twenty-One is one of my primary goals (beyond surviving the impact of Covid-19 of course).

I made significant in-roads into reducing my own, my families and my colleagues carbon footprint (via a Sustainability Cook Book I released to the masses in late December). Some of it by my own volition and some of it as a consequence of this year’s limitations on travel and consumerism.

In the book “How Bad Are Bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee, it proposes that we should all try to live a 5 tonnes lifestyle (less where possible), and after doing the official UN carbon footprint calculation, my families overall tonnage was twenty-four tonnes, 6 tonnes per head, not bad when you look at the average in say Australia is twenty tonnes per head.

So a few further tweaks to the family processes next year (switching to hybrid car, off-boarding one of the children to his own house and eating a plant/fish-based diet with minimal red meat) will help reduce it to four tonnes per head. Phase One complete, Phase Two being the long term plan of setting up an off-grid small holding.

My foray into techno-agriculture (Blade Runner 2049 larva farm on standby) was met with some success. Growing my own produce (albeit in micro-quantities) gave me some insights to cultivating edibles and The Infinity Garden is currently performing admirably…

The Infinity Garden v1.0
“We sow the seed, nature grows the seed, and we eat the seed” – Neil The Hippy

I have been impressed with the quality of the growth, I had heard mixed reviews on the outputs, but I must say everything that has churned out thus far has been very “Cuprinol”.

Basil…
Chilli Peppers…
Coriander…
Lavender…
Mini Tomatoes…
Sweet Peppers…

With an addition of not one, but two grow-your-own mushroom kits and a book of the greatest and best Indian Street Food recipes from one of the best (if not the best), restaurants in Liverpool (Mowgli), I feel more armed with organic opportunities already for the coming year.

A friend of mine “I”, who is also part of the eco-retreat build starting soon, has also just acquired nine allotment plots and is keeping an eye out for me so that I can join the collective, putting to bed my vision for a vertical garden in the confined space behind my house.

I would not have thought twelve months ago that I would be that much more in-tune with nature and the universe in general, but it just goes to show that even in chaos, opportunities for positive change are there, one just needs to take a breath, focus and do…

Smart Garden: First Crop

They say that there is nothing like the taste of your own produce, and if the biltong produced recently had anything to go by, then those first lettuce and basil leaves would be equally as sweet.

I have been very impressed so far with the output from the Smart Garden. Incredibly easy (although expensive) to set up with zero maintenance, just plant the pods, fill the reservoir, turn it on, click back and whittle some whilst watching stuff grow.

Of the three plants planted, the lettuce was by far the fastest to sprout and bloom into edibles, closely followed by the basil. The tomato plant however has taken longer to get off the ground but the guide advised this in advance so not quite ready for my first BLT.

So today I took the lettuce and basil with some mozzarella cheese and salsa, and I must say it was great. Clearly the amount of produce that the smart garden generates isn’t going to allow one to go off-grid, but what it has done is given me an appetite (in more ways than one!) to install my vertical garden on the patio and come spring, start growing my own vegetables, herbs and plants.

Clearly pre-prepped soil pockets, water, light, heat and a total lack of bugs has allowed Crop 1.0 to flourish, I’m sure outside gardening will be a whole different ball-game but looking forward to the challenge.

Biltong 2.0…

Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.

The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.

The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).

Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)

In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.

For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!

Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.

In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!

I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.

So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).

I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.

As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.

The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!

It’s a jungle out there…

Well I’m starting to get quite excited about eating my first crop of BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato).

It’s been just four days and already the seeds are starting to germinate in my new smart garden (well the Basil and Lettuce is, not sure what is going on with the Toms yet)…

I’m surprised I’ve not had a knock on the door from the plod yet, as the garden sits on the windowsill of the office, it does look like I’m growing my own weed through a hydroponics system from the pavement outside.

Maybe next crop…

The Good Life…

The list below contains the food I regularly eat as part of my paleo lifestyle, applying the 80/20 rule (80% of the food and drink is strict paleo, 20% is the wiggle room needed so the brain or stomach doesn’t crave so much, e.g. root crops, cordials and vegan chocolate etc).

I have also indicated whether I can grow, forage or hunt my own food and each item has, in project management parlance, a RAG status (Red = Cannot; Amber = Difficult; Green = Can) and next to it, if it is amber or green, what action I need to take to acquire it (VG = Vertical Garden; SG = Smart Garden; F = Foraging; H = Hunting).

Although I have only just started to grow basil, lettuce and tomatoes in my smart garden, the list below is my typical weekly shopping list, over time I hope to replace all of the amber items with green (red items being either luxury or things which will fall off the list over time), and self-produce all such green items rather than purchasing them from the local greengrocers, butchers shops and Bargain Booze store…

It’s also fair to say that with my limited space, I won’t be able to produce anywhere near enough food to disconnect myself from the food-grid just yet, but the skills and lessons learned over the coming years will set a true foundation for off-grid living which takes place in a mere 2462 days from now…

Breakfast Smoothies

1. Bananas 🔴

2. Blueberries (F) 🟠

3. Strawberries (VG/SG/F) 🟢

4. Raspberries (VG/F) 🟢

5. Apples (F) 🟠

6. Kiwi Fruits 🔴

7. Ginger (VG) 🟢

Lunchtime Soups

1. Sweet potatoes (VG) 🟢

2. Carrots (VG) 🟢

3. Potatoes (VG) 🟢

4. Onions (VG) 🟢

5. Broccoli (VG) 🟢

6. Cauliflower (VG) 🟢

7. Mushrooms (F) 🟠

8. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢

9. Sweet Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢

10. Leeks (VG) 🟢

11. Parsnips (VG) 🟢

12. Pak Choi (VG/SG) 🟢

13. Cabbage (VG) 🟢

14. Celery (VG) 🟢

15. Chilli Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢

16. Peas (VG/SG) 🟢

17. Garlic (VG/SG) 🟢

18. Ginger (VG/SG) 🟢

19. Lemongrass (VG) 🟢

20. Basil (VG/SG) 🟢

21. Apple Mint (VG/SG/F) 🟢

22. Rosemary (VG/SG) 🟢

23. Coriander (VG/SG) 🟢

24. Chives (VG/SG) 🟢

25. Parsley (VG/SG) 🟢

26. Black Pepper (VG/SG) 🟢

27. Vegetable Stock (VG/SG) 🟢

28. Coconut Milk 🔴

Lunchtime Meals

1. Eggs (H) 🟠

2. Salmon (H) 🟠

3. Asparagus (VG) 🟢

4. Spinach (VG/SG) 🟢

5. Lettuce (VG/SG) 🟢

6. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢

7. Spring Onions (VG/SG) 🟢

8. Cucumbers (VG) 🟢

9. Tuna 🔴

Snacks

1. Biltong (H) 🟠

2. Nuts and seeds 🔴

3. Vegetable crisps (VG/SG) 🟢

4. Vegan Chocolate 🔴

5. Blackcurrant Cordial (F) 🟠

6. Elderberry Cordial (F) 🟠

7. Herbal Tea (VG/SG/F) 🟢

8. Red Wine 🔴

9. Coffee 🔴

Evening Meals

1. Venison (H) 🟠

2. Salmon (H) 🟠

3. Mackerel (H) 🟠

4. Tuna 🔴

5. Vegetables (VG/SG/F) 🟢

6. Salad (VG/SG/F) 🟢

Maybe I need to start watching the 70’s sitcom The Good Life to get some hints and tips from Richard Bryers and Felicity Kendall (mmmm Felicity Kendall…)

Smart Gardening…

Back when I had a BBC TV licence (Covid coverage was the death knell for me), I used to watch the programme Click, which as an IT nerd gave me some insights as to what gizmos and gadgets were making their way onto the scene.

One such gadget I recalled from last year was the concept of Smart Gardens, hi-tech hydroponic/LED systems which allowed one to grow small fruits, mini vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from the comfort of their living room, kitchen or in my case, office.

Following on from our foraging foray a fortnight who, and following the wife’s recent membership to a “UK preppers” group on The Book of Face, we wholeheartedly concurred that from next Spring, we would start to grow our own fruits, vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from our small patio garden.

The only downside of living where we do has always been garden space. We have never complained too much though as there are plenty of green spaces nearby and we can see both the sea and the beach from our daughters bedroom.

So whilst I draw up plans and schematics for our proposed vertical garden (raised beds for beets, onions, potatoes and carrots as well as wall planters for fruits and herbs), my mind switched back to the here and now, so after a trawl through Amazon I found the not-so-cheap Smart Garden 9, as advertised on the BeeB.

After humming and harring for a couple of days, I connivingly waited for the wife to drop into the hypnagogic zone and received her royal seal of approval to proceed with the purchase, albeit from the realm of slumber.

I woke up this morning quite excited for the delivery man, and as promised, the service level agreement was not breached and the goods arrived on time.

And so to the unboxing…

Rather amusing Chinese proverb on the inside box, who could argue with that logic, smart bloke that Confucius fella…

Outer cover off revealed the LED lighting system and the “free” pods, Basil, Lettuce, Tomatoes (vegan BLT)…

Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa off the coast of Estonia is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa even existed…

BLT in all of its plasticised glory. Shame that they couldn’t come in more biodegradable wrappings, everything else in the box was cardboard and 100% recyclable…

The main unit, which contains the water reservoir and nine empty micro-pods, ripe for the planting…

Did I say there was an instruction manual to begin with, as a bloke this was of course superfluous (until I got stuck)…

The main unit set up, LED attached to arms and mains adapter primed…

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink (unless you are a plant). Four litres added to the reservoir and one of each of the BLT potted. I decided to do one of each at first rather than overload the unit, taking lessons from the first batch (much in the same way as I did for the biltong recently).

There she grows!

A cautionary note and lesson number one learned, fill the reservoir at the point of habituation not as I did on the dining room table on the floor beneath, I do hope I didn’t flood the pods with all of the swishing around.

Looking forward to seeing how the first batch grows, with the Mighty Cthulhu and the Ever Bubbly Bubblies of Shub Niggurath watching over them, I’m sure things will be just fine with a bit of cultist chanting.

Ia-Ia, Cthulhu ftagn!

Foraging Trials…

There may come a time, perhaps not in my lifetime, and hopefully not in my children’s lifetime either, that society collapses completely.

Hollywood has played all of this out expertly in many films. The Omega Man and Planet of the Apes, lead by Charlton Heston, were some of the first movies I recall seeing which depicted dystopia and one mans struggle to exist in a completely different environment to what he was used to.

In The Omega Man, Heston resorted to a Hunter-Gatherer, albeit in disused shopping malls, foraging by day and hiding by night to stay away from the bad guys.

He had to take what resources he could to survive, and survive he did by knowing exactly where to look and what to look for.

A few weekends back, I booked my sister (for her birthday), the wife and I on a foraging course just outside of Ruthin, North Wales, in an effort do do something less ordinary, get away from the chaos of the news channels and back to nature, and to learn some new skills.

Armed with some preliminary toolkits (books, satchels, snappy bags and knives), our tribe for the day arrived at the mouth of a small wood in the small hamlet of Bontuchel, where our guides from Original Outdoors greeted us with warm smiles and hope. Good start.

We did the usual round of creeping death introductions and when it got to me, I boldly shared the fact that I was likely the bad guy of the group as I worked in the oil and gas industry. The smiley faces turned to frowns and even boos. Was I surprised by this, not really, I was prepared for that knowing that people who choose to go on foraging courses are more likely to be closer to nature and the industry I work in presently has a diabolic influence the fragile ecosystem we live in which is frowned upon by many.

I did go on to say however that the company I worked for was leading the way (according to Gartner’s latest magic quadrant) in terms of its journey towards carbon neutrality and that with oil prices staying lower for longer and Covid reducing the demand for product, they are taking very bold decisions to leave the black stuff in the ground, reshaping their business completely to pursue plans to migrate from an oil and gas major to a true energy company, investing heavily in renewables.

I also shared that I am working very closely with the company’s Sustainability Consultants to take a detailed look at how as individuals we can make a difference both in the work place and at home, creating as we do a gestalt/hive mindset that we can be greater than the sum of our parts if we all know what to do, how to do it and by when.

Clearly this lightened the mood and some words shared can start to paint a more positive light on an industry damned in all parts of society. Clearly we all have energy demands (everyone arrived by petrol/diesel cars for example), but we must all work together to realise our joint goal to save the planet before it’s too late.

“R” and “A” (our hosts for the day) took us through the woods over the next four hours, pointing out plants, wild herbs, fruits, berries and mushrooms that we could look out for in future bimbles.

Over the course of the day, we uncovered twenty different species, all of which are described briefly in note and picture form below:

=========================

1. Beech (Fagus Sylvatica)

Nut/Leaf. Good for mushrooms. Leaves good for gin. Small triangular nuts from the husks if the squirrels haven’t eaten them all. Only found one between the three of us, still hungry…

2. Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)

Mushroom. Grows on slopes and among beech trees is common. Very edible, didn’t take a sample as we only found a few minute ones. One for the foraging list though.

3. Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum)

Mushroom. Black inside. Not edible.

4. Porcini (Boletus Edulis)

Mushroom. Huge and when dried out, expensive to buy. Found under beech or pine. Maggots can burrow, can cut off yellow layer. Slice then dry then fry. Took one for home. Very happy!

5. Bramble  (Rubus Fruticosus)

Fruit. The ubiquitous blackberries. Can also eat stem and leaves too. Top bit of stem (end – youngest) like asparagus. Are several, very sweet, not tart at all. Nicest wild blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

6. Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum)

Leaf. Also known as Stinky Bob. Good for herbs. All edible. Geranium family

7. Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Leaf. Good for salads (like cucumber).

8. Hedge woundwort  (Stachys Sylvatica)

Leaf. Squidge leaves and insert into wounds. Smells like rotting flesh. Squeeze together taste better.

9. Pendulous Sedge (Carex Pendula)

Seed. Starchy carb. Seeds used. Green used. Brown chaff. Paste on stone dry cook for crackers. A lot of work for little reward when out in the field.

10. Hen of the woods (Grifola Frondosa)

Mushroom. Found on dead oak stump. Similar texture to chicken. Darker colour than Chicken of the Woods (which we didn’t find – gutted as this was top of my list for the day. Fry with butter and garlic. Eat in small quantities.

As we say off a while, we had a discussion about foraging rules, one of which being the carrying of knives, only three inch blades were allowed, else it’s classified as a weapon. The one I used to take a cutting of Hen of the Woods was a bushcrafting knife with fixed blade, illegal in the current scenario. At least I know for next time.

11. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)

Leaf. The odd flower in a salad. Toxic if too much consumed. Stuffed in fish and used in sorbet. Found in woodlands where there is sunlight (edges and clearings)

12. The Blusher (Amanita Rubescens)

Mushroom. Not worth it because of the toxicity.

One key nuggets though was that the best time to pick mushrooms is dry day after rain. Noted!

13. Jelly/Wood ear (Auricularia Auricula-Judae)

Mushroom. Also known as Jews ear, named after Judas Iscariot and only grows on dead elder tree (“R” was keen to point out that this term is no longer used). It’s a dry jerky-type of mushroom, nice and crispy.

14. Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna)

Fruit/Leaf. Leaves edible in May (May pudding). The berries are collected in autumn and the squeezed into a pulp. Put in muslin and pour hot water through it. Skin and stone stay in the middle – fleshy pulp comes through, after which it can be dried out and turned into fruit leather (nature’s wine gums which lasts forever if stored in parchment. Berries are everywhere, defiantly going to try this (Ray Mears Wild Foods has an episode on making this)

15. Elder (Sambucus Nigra)

Fruit/Flower. Contains cyanide, use only flowers and fruit. Flowers (only a few days sometimes) make Elderflower cordials etc. Berries poisonous if raw. Cook or ferment. Wine gin and vodka, and cordials.

16. Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa)

Fruit. Produces sloes. Gin and vodka or hedgerow jam. Sour raw, I ate one, ain’t that the truth! Wait until they are ripe, pick them, freeze them (bletting) which gets them juicing

17. Dandelion (Taraxacum sp)

Leaf . Raw and peppery. Like rocket on salad. No too much as it’s a diuretic.

18. Crab Apple (Malus Sylvestnis)

Fruit. Bitter when eaten from the tree. Best use as cooking apple for pies and sauces

19. Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis Betulina)

Mushroom. Non-edible – used for stropping knives or as a wound dressing

20. Burdock (Arctium sp.)

Root. Used as starchy fibre. Cannot uproot on public land, can take on provide land with landowners permission

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All in a very educational day with lots of take aways, and a reminder just how beautiful Wales is. Looking back, over my shoulder (using Crowded House parlance) saw the ridge of Offas Dyke in all of its glory as the sun was beginning to set, Foel Fenli, Moel Famau and Moel Arthur seem from below instead of on high. Majestic.

I guess the moral to the foraging story is to make up a shopping list as you would do for the supermarket, and target the items you know will be there (taking into account the location, weather conditions and season) and foraging just what you need and use them or dry them when you get back home so they don’t end up as bin food. It’s essential to know your locations and what grows there, (e.g. oak and beech woods after rainfall increases the chances of acquiring a chicken of the woods).

Easily the most fascinating discussion I had on the day was a side conversation I had with “R” which centred around Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin Cubensis), which we didn’t find on the day (they may have been there but he could hardly point them out!)

Back in my youth, I took the liberty caps once with some friends at home (with my parents and sister away on holiday). Although I took a relatively small dose (30-40 mushrooms in a Pot Noodle) the doors of perception did open, ever so slightly.

I recall initial giggles, the chess board motif of the linoleum flooring of the back kitchen began to twist and contort into weird swirling shapes. We took to our prostate positions in the living room and turned out all of the lights and put on an Ian Andersen (he of Jethro Tull fame) and tripped out. I recall laying with my back to the floor looking up at the ceiling, both of which soon became wall, with the window as the floor, the dimensions of the space around me changed. The only light source was the LED display of the video player, the heightened senses bringing the digits into full 8k high definition and bloated compared to their usual size. The digits then floated all around me, changing in shape and size. All in it was a very interesting experience, one I’ve never repeated but once the door is opened, reality is never really the same again.

“R” went on to say that there was a hypothesis that mushrooms were not of this earth, not part of the original evolutionary chain, and that some believed that they came in on a comet. A mushroom has its own kingdom (bringing with it a hidden blanket called the mycelium layer) and is neither animal, vegetable nor mineral. Fascinated, I agreed to take an action to research more into the world of the fungus, no doubt posting the findings here.

If that was enough to bake my noodle (not Pot Noodle), what he said next surely did.

“R” asked me if I’d ever heard of the Stoned Ape Theory by Terence McKenna. I said that I had not and he told me to go back home and look it up, but in essence what happened millions of years ago was that as the climate changed in Africa, primates came down from the trees as rainforests turned into grasslands and foraged for different food types.

As ancient bovines grazed and defecated, their patties gave homes to bugs and fungus, which as a source of protein our hairy ancestors ate.

McKenna’s theory goes that under such conditions, psilocybin mushrooms thrive and as a result of eating them, the doors of perception opened for apes and they looked at the world through different eyes and begin to think in a different way, so much so that new neurological pathways were created, new thoughts and ways of thinking allowed for the progression of tools and language and as such the brain began to evolve and grow bigger, until eventually we harnessed fire which gave rise to different diets and the further expansion of consciousness to make us what we are today.

So here we have a possible explanation for the missing link, thanks to the good old shroom!

What was to be a nice day out turned into a mind-bending, thought-provoking journey, not only through the eyes of the Palaeolithic people of Northern Europe, but an unexpected journey back to the dawn of man.

When I got back I dried out our days collection, and put the mushrooms in storage for a meal to come and retired for the evening, knackered.

What a day, what an epic day…

Biltong Update…

So after 4 days of drying, the inaugural batch of biltong was ready.

Armed with a brand spanking new meat cleaver from our flat pack Swedish comrades at Ikea, I took to slicing up each of the slabs of meat, careful to slice as thin as possible. Initial taste test was positive.

One thing I noticed was the quality of the meat, or lack of. When one peruses the shopping aisles for the best looking cut, it’s easy to pick the one that looks the best on the outside, but peel back the layers (like an onion) and sometimes it will reveal not so good news on the inside, as was the case here.

My loss was my old faithfuls gain, on-hand to snuffle the off cuts that otherwise would have been eaten by the waste bin (its disappointed open mouth, pictured right…).

I’m not sure who is at fault here, the farmer for the feed he/she/they give the cow (does corn-fed or grass-fed make a difference?), the supermarket for buying inferior and mass-produced cuts, or me for not acquiring meat from the local butchers, opting instead for convenience as most of us do. Probably a mix of all three.

That said, the overall process worked well, and the taste was great. My eldest son is a big fan of biltong and he gave me a five star review (out of five not ten) for the first batch so I’m happy with that, and I wouldn’t disagree with him.

By far the best cuts were the ones which had dried out more and had more of the dry rub on them, less so the ones which were still relatively pink in the middle.

After a long day, the wood-burning stove went on and the wife and I settled down to watch a new drama about Dennis Nilsen, one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers, armed with our own selection of dismembered cuts of flesh and a glass of South African Pinotage (my favourite wine) to wash it down with.

Needless to say the supermarket limitation of 35g portions don’t apply when making ones own and we managed to snuffle quite a bit, very moreish.

I vacuum-sealed the rest in small bags, but I suspect they won’t last long either.

Outside sourcing better meat from the local butchers and not supermarkets, some tweaks to the drying box are required. Magnetic strips to replace the Velcro ones on the door and hatch will provide a tighter seal on the unit and improve airflow, a tighter mesh on the vent will prevent flies getting in, a metal tray inserted at the bottom of the unit instead of just tin foil will catch any juices and prevent a spoiling of the wooden base, a non-LED bulb will give off more heat (I can’t find old-school bulbs anywhere which is good for the environment of course so not complaining too much) and a place to dry the meat (garden shed as opposed to kitchen as the box is quite big) will prevent grumbles from the her-indoors.

All in all, a good experiment and one that yielded very positive results, not only in taste and cost savings, but in the knowledge that once we go off-grid, no off-cuts or left over meat will ever go to waste.