Cooking with the moon

Cooking with the moon

TODAY IS A GREAT TO TO COOK IN BATCHES FOR FREEZING, MAKE  BREAD AND BAKE CAKE AND COOKIES

I read that Mauro Colagreco, owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Mirazur, situated on the French Riviera, has changed his menu post-COVID lockdown.  That would not be surprising for a place listed on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. But why is it news-worthy? Because he will tailor his offerings in accordance with what the moon is doing.

I am sure many readers thought ‘Ridiculous new fad- what next?’. Well, this ‘fad’ is actually not so new, it is in fact a few thousand years old.

Here is the article 

Mr. Colagreco reasons that he is already using biodynamically grown produce and so he might as well not stop there but carry this method over to the kitchen. Ah, now it makes sense. 

In the Biodynamic garden, one aspect is that the gardener is plants, sows, and carries out any work in accordance with the biodynamic calendar. This has given Biodynamic farming always a ‘woohoo’ appeal, fit for a few crazy souls, but nothing for the sensible masses. But what many don’t realize is that for centuries this was actually THE normal way of farming, nothing ‘woohoo’ about this.

Generations of observations have led to practices which ‘just worked’ – olives picked on certain days had more oil and apples more juice. Spinach sown on this day was less susceptible to disease or grew quicker. The ‘why’ was less questioned, it just was called ‘tradition’ and it worked.  

I assume the menu choices you will see in the near future at Mirazur, will be guided by the change of the moon phases and the elements.  When you take a look at our online calendar The Month Ahead   you will see that each day shows a moon phase (Waxing Moon, Full Moon, Waning Moon or New Moon) and an element (Water, Air, Earth & Fire) and activity symbols that are connected.

These symbols represent the observations that led to the creation of these calendars. But their widespread appeal was (and still is) that they are such great tools to structure time and life.

So what is cooking with the moon?

If you grew up with this ‘way of eating’, then your body is sort of programmed to fancy certain foods at certain times.
I guess this is nature’s way to make sure you get a well-balanced diet. If you have never heard or experienced it, then it does need a bit of time to get used to it. Firstly, you have to ‘detach’ from your current eating habits and ‘re-teach’ your body to develop what I call ‘healthy cravings’ and food management. I am currently working on a program that will teach these steps in more details.

But here is quick intro if you are completly new to this way of cooking and eating.

Eating with the moon cycle:

The Waxing Moon: As the moon grows, so do we. People seem hungrier and gain weight easier. It is a great time for those who find it hard to put weight on (say after an operation) or anorexic.

If you struggle with too much weight, it is crucial that you watch this time. Don’t lose weight, rather stabilize your weight and aim not to gain. Prepare meals that are filling and full of nutrients (fresh, healthy, organic produce is, of course, best) and that contains very little sugar and empty calories, such as white flour.

The Full Moon: Again, it is easier to put weight on, but as it is just a short time, you may as well enjoy it and go for a slap-up meal. Traditionally diets started at Full Moon.

The Waning Moon: Losing weight tends to be easier now.  We are also more active and as a result may eat less, as we are too busy with other things.

If you have no weight issues, just focus on moving more and keep eating a normal, healthy diet. If you need to lose weight, now is your perfect time. These 2 weeks go for it – there are numerous strategies depending on lifestyle habits and body types.

New Moon: Traditionally a rest and fast day. 

Another area are the elements. Each day has a special quality and again you can see this on the calendar which ‘day quality’ is dominant.

Fire – dedicated to fruit – this could be picking, pruning fruit bushes and trees or making jam 

Earth – anything to do with root vegetable and the earth. Digging, weeding harvesting potatoes, sowing carrots, etc.

Air: Anything to do with flowers and oils. Sunflower would be a top example. This is a great time to pick olives and press their oil, incorporate flowers into salads and dishes and eat ‘flowery’ vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Water: Leafy vegetables like spinach, all kind of salads and in the garden a great day for planting, fertilising and extra watering.

The reason I combined the gardening and eating is that until very recently you would grow your vegetable, harvest and eat them – usually all on the same day. There were no chest freezer or fridges available. When your trees had an abundance of fruit, you made jams, compotes, cider or stored them in a way that it lasted for a long time.

Root vegetables got pickled or fermented. Freezing is not a bad habit, but it works best if you pick and freeze, so the nutrients stay as fresh as can be. If you take only one thing away – try to eat less, but better and shop for food that is ‘alive’ – ideally grown near you, by an organic or even better biodynamic farmer or grow your own, making sure the soil is a nutritous as possible.

Make your own delicious strawberry jam

Make your own delicious strawberry jam

Strawberry jam

  Early July is a great time to pick strawberries and make jam.  Here is a  delicious recipe for making your own jam. It is quick, easy and home-made jams just taste so good, especially with scones or toast.

Fire Days, in particular when you see the symbol above work really well. This will make sure your jam won’t get mouldy, providing of course you sterilized your equipment correctly!

What do you need to make your own delicious strawberry jam?

A general rule for making jams: Fill your jam glasses with boiling water before use or even better sterilize them in a pressure cooker. If you like making your own jam, then I suggest you keep a pot and cooking spoon just dedicated to this task and make sure that they are both REALLY clean. Done on the right day and with the right method/equipment, you can rest assured that your jam will last and you can make a  good supply for the next couple of month. Home-made jam is to do and makes great presents.

Recipe for simple Strawberry jam:

Equipment needed: 1 large cooking pot and wooden spoon (both very clean), 8-9 medium-sized jam jars (sterilized) or 4-5 large jam jars (sterilized), all jars must have tight-fitting lids. I tea towel. 

Ingredients: 1kg strawberries (washed and stalks removed, 1kg jam sugar, 1 small unwaxed lemon, a small pinch of pepper

  • Sterilize 8 to 9 medium jam jars (or 4-5 larger ones). Put them on a tea towel, so they are ready to receive the hot jam mixture. Make sure you also sterilize the lids as this is often a spot where mould forms.
  • Cut the washed strawberries into small pieces. Then rinse the lemon and grate the rind finely. Finally put the strawberries, grated rind, pepper and sugar in a clean pot and boil for about 4-5 minutes.
  • Pour the jam mixture straightaway into the sterilized jars and cover them tightly with cling film. Then close the lid on top of the cling film. This will give it extra protection.

If there is time you can also bake your scones and enjoy both with a great cup of tea.

Recipe for scones: 

Equipment needed: 2 plastic cake mixing bowls, pastry brush, whisk, baking tray, round pastry cutter

Ingredients:  225g self-raising flour (or 225g of plain flour and 1tsp of baking powder) and a bit extra for dusting, a pinch of salt, 2tbsp caster sugar, 55g butter (bit extra for greasing), 150ml buttermilk, 1 egg (beaten), 50 g of mixed sultanas, raisins or other dried fruit (optional) 

  • Preheat oven to about 200/220 degrees centigrade and grease a baking tray with butter.
  • Pour the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter using your fingers. You will get a crumbly mixture. Then add the sultanas or other dried fruit.
  • Beat the egg into the buttermilk and add the sugar,  so it becomes a golden coloured mixture.
  • Make a well in the middle of your flour mixture and add the egg/buttermilk/sugar mixture. Work quickly, as speed here is important. You should now have a soft dough.
  • Dust your surface with some flour and shape the dough into an even thickness of about 1cm. With a round pastry cutter, cut out the round scones and place them next to each other on the greased baking sheet. Repeat until the dough is gone.
  • Glaze the scones with a little milk using your pastry brush and bake them for around 10-12 minutes until they have risen and are golden brown.
  • Leave them to cool on a plate and serve with cream, strawberry jam and a good cup of tea. This is a very English way to spend a summer afternoon.

 

What happens during a Summer Solstice?

What happens during a Summer Solstice?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the night of the 20th to 21st June marks the longest day of the year. Nowadays, in a time with an all-round electricity supply, this may not seem significant. But picture a day a few hundred years ago. There were no street lights, TVs, or other artificial sources of light. In the home candles and fireplaces were the only tools to illuminate the darkness. Outside however the only light sources in the night sky were the moon and the stars.

Stonehenge, UK

Having longer access to daylight was so significant that our ancestors worshipped the longest day of the year. It meant that the growing season was at its peak and the countdown to the shortest day of the year (21st December) would begin. This is of course only true when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. “Down under” the opposite happens and the December Solstice is the longest day in the year.

Monuments to worship the Solstice included The Karnak temple (Luxor, Egypt), Stonehenge (UK), Angokr Wat (Cambodia), and the Serpent Mound (Ohio, US).

Serpent mound in Ohio, US

On Serpent Mound, believed to have been built thousands of years ago, a large serpent and head are carved into the landscape. On the 21st June, the open jaws of the serpent align with the setting sun, as if the dragon is spitting out ‘fire’. This spectacle was even further enhanced by a large crystal (showing the eye of the dragon), which was situated in the serpent’s head. Unfortunately, this large crystal was stolen during the 18th century and the solstice effect is now only half as effective.

What happens during a solstice?

As the earth moves around the sun, its path resembles more of an eclipse than that of a circle.

When the path of the sun is at its most northern point in the Northern Hemisphere (which happens every year on the 20/21st June) we see a summer solstice – the longest day of the year.

During the night of the 20/21st December however, the sun lies at its most Southern point, therefore it is the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere and the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. On the 21st March and 23rd September, the sun forms an exact 90-degree angle, therefore days and nights are the same – everywhere.

There are so many traditions that I can’t mention them all. One of my favourite is the ritual of the Baltic sun goddess Saule. Every day this tireless goddess rides her fiery chariot across the sky, from morning to nightfall, when she retires to her castle. Saule is the goddess of fertility and the land, a similar version to Demeter in Greece.

Farmers prayed to her to have a good harvest and around the Summer Solstice, the whole community celebrated by lighting bonfires. Partly to worship her and ward off evil spirits. Young people wore wreaths of flowers, leaping over fires, singing, and dancing.

Today we are still singing and dancing – although this year we will have to dance alone at home. This is made even more powerful that this year’s solstice falls on a day of a New Moon (signifying retreat, new beginning and time alone – very poignant). And to top all this there will also be a solar eclipse happening on the 21st of June – so a monumental day in the sky!

Here is a link to this year’s Solar Eclipse at Stonehenge . The first in history that takes place on facebook instead of in situ. But this means that you can watch it now the comfort of your own home!

7 Tips for staying at home

7 Tips for staying at home

It is currently a strange time. Practically overnight we turned from people with busy lifestyles to sitting at home wondering how to declutter the home, start home-schooling, and wondering how to cut our own hair. I can of course only recount my own experience here. If you are a key worker or medical staff then your life will have been busier than ever. 

In London, it all started in mid-March 2020.  At first, my friends and I felt a bit uneasy and anxious about what this new situation will mean for all of us.  How could we avoid catching this dreaded virus?  A few days in, we secretly admitted that the quarantine was not too bad and we started to enjoy these ‘enforced, guiltless pyjama days’. 

But there is so long you can sit around in your pjs. After a bit of rest came a rush of decluttering the loft and some obscure bathroom cupboards that had remained untouched for a while. Life felt good and productive. 

Week 3 of lockdown. The enforced ‘holiday’ started to wear thin. One of my friends created a WhatsApp meditation group- very enjoyable experience.  I started writing ‘Gardening With The Moon’ (An Introduction to Biodynamic Gardening – which I hope to finish soon) and of course did a fair bit in the garden. We all confessed yo-yo-ing between good and bad days, some faring better than others. 

Your experience may, of course, be entirely different. You may not be affected at all or you have lost someone close, in which case accept my sincere condolences. 

May was going to be a month full of life, parties and get-toghers. Well, it does not look this way now. But let’s stay positive and use this time constructively. Here are some tasks that we all can do – and they are easy and cheap. 

  Tip 1 – Planting herbs

Dig over a  small patch in your garden and plant some herbs. For all those without an outside space, find a window sill that gets some sunshine during the day. There you can grow chives, parsley, basil, mint, or oregano in small pots. 

For the garden or slightly bigger pots,  grow dill, rosemary, fennel, or sage.

 If you want to have immediate access to herbs I suggest you buy already established herbs in pots. These can be replanted into bigger pot by adding some good quality compost soil or replanted into your herb patch. Make sure you loosen the roots before planting and add some good quality compost (home-made is of course best). 

Herbs are very thirsty and will need watering on a daily basis (except of course when it rains).  Make sure you keep the compost moist but not wet – otherwise your plants will drown.  It is wonderful to have an endless supply of fresh herbs for salads,  cooking, and garnishing dishes. Fresh mint or sage make wonderful herbal teas. 

My top tip: cut some herbs and put them into an ice-cube tray and add a bit of water. These ‘herb-cubes’ will keep up to 6 months. 

Here are some related articles from the LWTM blog series ‘ Cooking with herbs’. 

Cooking with Oregano

Cooking With Tarragon

Cooking With Dill

  Tip 2 – Make your own bread   

It has recently become really popular to make your own artisan bread. I have had breadmakers for years and been doing my own sourdoughs. But here is a quick and easy recipe for all those who want to give it the first try. The recipe below is for a simple and tasty mixed loaf that can be done in any conventional oven. No breadmaker or sourdough needed.

 You will need kitchen scales, the ingredients below, a ceramic dish with a lid (ideally round), a bowl, and a mixing spoon.
Ingredients:  560g wheat flour, 190g rye flour, 550g hot water, 16g salt, some cumin seeds (1/2 a teaspoon should be enough), 3gram of active yeast. You could add some linseeds or other seeds if you like. 

1) weigh all the ingredients and put them together into a big kitchen bowl.  I use a big mixing spoon to blend them together. Then add some flour to your hands and knead the dough.  (please use enough plain flour on your hands, otherwise, the dough will stick to you). After a few minutes of kneading, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it to rest. I suggest a minimum of 3 hours. You could also prepare the dough in the evening and let it rise overnight. Then it will be ready for baking the next day. 

Tip: To see if the dough is ready for baking. Pull some upwards.  If it rips easily it needs to rise a little longer.  A dough that is ready for baking should glide out and not rip straight away. 

2) Once the dough is ready,  preheat oven to 250degree C (480F) and put the empty ovenproof dish with lid into the oven. Yes, that is right – empty to heat it up!

3) Take it out when it is very hot (be careful handling it!) and add some sprinkles of plain flour to cover the bottom of the pan. This is important as otherwise the bread will stick to the pan and it will be hard for it to come out.
Then add the dough. With the mixing spoon create a line in the top of the dough – that is where the crust can rise and sprinkle some plain flour on the top.  Put the lid on and bake the bread (middle shelf) for about 35 minutes.
My Tip: Pour water into an oven dish and put it on the bottom shelf, so the bread bakes it in moist air.

For all my members, I will share with you my grandmother’s sourdough starter in the LWTM May newsletter.

  3. Do some exercise every day

It is amazing how just a few minutes a day can make a big difference. I have started running and do on average 5-6 miles (8k)most mornings. If you think about starting from zero exercises to running a regular 8k then my top tip is to get a Fitbit or device that can monitor your heart rate.  I honestly can say that this was my secret to success.  Start very gently and check your heart rate regularly.  Never go over 160, even if that means walking for a bit until your heart rate has down again to 120/130.  If you keep this under control, you will eventually get better and better. Soon you will run the first few miles and enjoy the experience. Once you made it to 5k (3 miles) and you can enjoy the experience – you are on your way.

You can find a few good apps to help you along. One of them is  5k runner. 

Most evenings I do some yoga exercises.  There are so many great videos on YouTube or find a good yoga/pilates app/book.  It does not have to be super advanced. Make sure you warm up with a gentle stretching program and always include some breathing exercises. Over just a few weeks, a stiff body can transform into a body that is more toned and flexible. Try to keep this up for (ideally) the rest of your life.

Other alternatives are brisk walks or a cycle trip. My teenage son does good oldfashioned plank and sit-ups every day. So find what works for you. But do at least 30min per day. There has never been a better time to start exercising. 

  4. Learn a new skill and develop a new hobby 

With more time on your hands, try to clear 20 minutes each day to learn something new. This could be a language, a skill like knitting, an online course in finance or computing, etc. It does not matter, but make a date with yourself and keep to it. Then set an alarm where you stay (ideally) 20minutes undisturbed. No phone checking, etc. If you look after children, give them something to do (depending of course on the age – otherwise do it when they are in bed). Every day you will advance just a tiny bit further and once you emerge from lock-down, you will feel you have achieved something new with the time you stayed indoors. 

     5. Have a DIY manicure and pedicure 

This month is all about exercise and well-being. A big part is pampering yourself. Show some extra kindness to your body with a home-made pedicure, manicure, face masks, body peeling, or body brushing regime. Look them up on  The Month Ahead 

Look after your feet 

Nail strengthening manicure 

   6. Plan your finances

Now times are uncertain and most of us will suffer a downturn in our finances. This true for everyone – whether your work has stopped or you are lucky enough to be still fully employed working from home. The chance that your disposable income will be squeezed is very likely. Here are a few things to keep you financially safe and sound. 

  • check your income over the last few months and work out your monthly disposable income. This is especially important if you work freelance or have more than one employer. Let’s call this figure 1.
  • add together all your monthly liabilities, rent, electricity, gym membership, etc. Ideally, this should be less than figure 1. If it is not, then you need to take action now.  What can you cut?  
  • check over all the financial products that you have. Life insurance, medical care, mortgage, credit cards, etc. Are you still on track, is this product still fit for purpose? It never harms to shop  around for a better deal. Remember, a lot has changed over the last month, so now is a good time for assessing your current situation. If you find yourself in financial troubles, don’t hide, but get in touch with your bank as soon as possible. They may be able to help you by arranging a payment holiday.
  • When money does come in (and try to keep to this formula from now onwards) divide all your income into 4 pots.
    50% expenses (living costs) – 20% to put aside for investments –  20% goes straight into a savings account that is easily accessible (for tax, unforeseen costs, extra necessary purchases)  and 10% for charity/good causes. This is a good formula. However, you can adjust it to your own needs, but make sure that there is always an element of saving and investing there, even if it is 5%. As over time these small sums will add up. 

  7. Meditate and rest for a few minutes each evening/morning

As I mentioned above, about 3 weeks ago I started to participate in a meditation group. Every evening before going to bed – I  took out 15minutes. This is the ultimate me-time.  Banishing all thoughts, just concentrating on my breath and ‘rest’. 

At first, I participated only as a goodwill gesture to my friend who took the time to create this group. But after a few days, I really started to enjoy the process and looked forward to these precious 15minutes of productive rest.

I think this is especially useful if you have anxious thoughts and find it hard to get a good night’s sleep. If that is you, I really recommend drinking a cup of chamomile tea before going to bed and then listen to very calming music or a meditation app.

If you are a morning person, you may prefer to follow a meditation program just before getting up.  This will prepare you mentally for the day ahead. 

If you have never tried meditation before, check out some good apps like Headspace – they usually have trial periods, so you don’t have to pay to give it a go.

You will see that anxiety levels will drop and some problems all of a sudden seem to solve themselves. Your unconscious mind is very powerful. 

Back in January, I wrote this article The importance of resting. Of course, I did not have the faintest idea that ‘resting’ would take on such a new meaning. Especially for people employed in the travel and hospitality industry. However, there is a difference between ‘slouching on the sofa’ and ‘conscious resting’. If you have not read it before, please have a look.

 

So I hope one or the other tips will enrich your ‘lock-down life’.  If you have any other good lock-down tips – please get in touch and I am happy to mention them (with or without your mention – up to you).  Please stay all safe and well – and look after yourself!

What is a leap year?

What is a leap year?

The calendar reform and introduction of leap years

In the beginning, all calendars were lunar and guided by the monthly lunar cycle.  When Julius Caesar visited Egypt, he fell in love with Cleopatra and immersed himself in Egyptian culture and scientific teachings.

When he returned to Rome, he brought with him the desire to correct the then outdated Roman Calendar and replace it with a model that followed the path of the sun. In this calendar the Roman astronomers inserted leap years, but they occured on average every 3 years.

His new Roman calendar, also called the Julian Calendar was introduced in Rome on the 1st of January 45B.C. and for centuries this model stood its test of time. But during the Middle Ages, it became apparent that the Julian Calendar was no longer totally accurate.

In the early 13th century A.D. an English friar named Roger Bacon calculated that the solar year was actually 11 minutes longer than Julius Caesar’s astronomers had calculated. By 1267 this had amounted to around nine days. Bacon wrote to Pope Clement IV and asked that the church should correct the calendar. If this issue was left unfixed the months would shift to such an extent that the holy days of Easter and Christmas would fall into a completely different seasons.

Pope Clement IV was very interested and asked Bacon to send his findings to the Vatican.  Over the next year Bacon set off to compose his theories in a manuscript he called Opus Maius (Major Work). In this work he set out (amongst many other topics) to prove that the current way solstices and equinoxes were calculated had gone completely out of sync with the true seasons and a calendar reform was badly needed.

Sadly for Bacon Pope Clement IV died in 1268 before he could read or evaluate this important document. His successor Gregory X was less sympathetic and Bacon’s book became largely forgotten. But the friar did not rest and kept publishing his demands for calendar reform. In 1277 these calls  landed him in prison and his ‘dangerous teachings’ were deemed to be heretic and were largely suppressed by the Catholic church.

It took almost another 300 years before Roger Bacon’s demand finally got taken seriously. Around 1573 Pope Gregory XIII appointed a calendar commission to look into the lost days. By this point it had amounted to 11.5 days.

This commission was led by the mathematician Christopher Clavius who directed work on the commission, but the main author was a physician called Aloysius Lilius (sometimes referred to as Luigi Lilio) who comprehended the papal bull that Gregory would issue on 24 February 1582. Unfortunately Lilio would not see his work to fruition and passed away in 1576, leaving Clavius to credit his work and drive the commission to completion.

The final product – the still used Gregorian Calendar – has now the correct length of year which corresponds exactly with the solistices and equinoxes and the year stays in complete sync with the season. The leap year correction added a day to the shortest month of the year – February – so every 4 years now February counts for 29days instead of the customary 28.