A Feast for Solstice

Our Solstice Shorts Festival is TOMORROW (21st Dec, 6.30PM GMT, Tickets via Eventbrite)

The festival spans the entire time any person might want to eat their evening meal, so we invite you to eat along with us. In reality I will be too busy to eat properly and will be picking at an excellent cheese board and pickles.

However, if I weren’t running a festival, I would be feasting, because that’s what you are meant to do at Solstice, alongside the lighting of fires (tick – in our house anyway!) and telling of stories (tick). The tradition is the feast before the famine of the coldest part of winter. In our Words From The Brink mode, it is  the feast before we run out of things to eat because we’ve killed all the bees and nothing will grow… but in the mean time eat drink and be merry.

I always think a mead hall would complete the midwinter feast, smoky, dark, full of song – but that always makes me think of Beowulf and the monster at the door. I made mead once (beer made with honey, rather than that sickly liquor that passes for mead), it was a success!

This year’s climate crisis theme has also had me thinking about the cost to the planet of my feast. If what follows sound confused, it is. I’m a concerned amateur, not a food miles specialist.

I’m never going to voluntarily become a vegan, but I’ve been a vegetarian for 42 years (18th birthday, ostentatious prawn cocktail, 30 dead things…) and I’ve had pretty much the same festive winter meal since around then.

So I thought I’d share the recipes (or ingredients list at least), and the how okay with the planet is this worries, because that’s the monster at the door, isn’t it – or, possibly, inside with us.


I don’t bother with starters except in restaurants where generally the veggie option are more fun than the mains.

But if it’s going to be a feast, doesn’t it have to have more than two courses? (Why?) So no, no starter.

Cost to the planet Nil!


Nut roast. This is my older sister’s recipe, and my mum’s recipe for stuffing, so a family tradition.

The main ingredient is hazelnut. I have a pair of hazel trees in the garden which, if the squirrels ever left any, would mean this was pretty much the self-sufficiency gold star. But in principle, I could grow the ingredients myself.

I run two versions of this, one relies heavily on stale bread (tick, except it uses so much that you have to buy extra bread to let it go stale). The other uses chestnut puree and/or tofu (smoked) to replace the breadcrumb, and depending on the consistency can do away with the egg otherwise needed. Chestnuts can grow in this country, but in reality, are imported from France. Tofu, very bad on the air miles and the processing, but delicious in this recipe. Herbs actually picked from the garden (tick). Those eggs could be homegrown too, a neighbour keeps rescued battery hens. Our garden isn’t quite big enough to let them be free range, and the local foxes would be lined up with their napkins on, so no, no hens.

The Stuffing is lemon and celery, and makes the meal, in my opinion. More stale bread, celery, onions, lots of butter, lemon rind and juice. More garden herbs. In theory I could grow lemons and celery in the garden. In practice the lemon comes from Spain, the celery is local. Butter is the very devil though, isn’t it, and spoils the virtue of the meal singlehandedly. Oil doesn’t quite work, and I loathe all things coconut, so butter it is.

Sides: roasted veg Potatoes, parsnips, carrots -all seasonal and could be (and in some cases have been) grown in our garden. These can be cooked at the same time as the roast, which only takes an hour so doesn’t use too much power. Different recipes for each, involve parboiling, coating in olive oil and roasting at a high heat, but the carrots have a splash of wine and brown sugar and a handful of dried fruit added – a Persian recipe, and delicious, as well as being, unfortunately, a bit bad for the planet in terms of airmiles.

Red cabbage – either pickled, or Normandie style, cooked with apple and caraway seeds in a light tossing of oil. All could be homegrown; I have successfully grown a red cabbage (success rate was 1 in 5, mind you) we even have a couple of apple trees, though we’ve usually eaten them all long before solstice.

Pickled walnuts. One day I will try pickling my own, this is the food of the gods. No feast is complete without them. Walnuts can be grown in this country – but it’s a long wait from planting tree to first harvest!


We always have chocolate yule log, Delia Smith’s recipe, with some personal finessing. Of course, this is a gluten free recipe, so I make it alongside the Solstice Cake when we do the festival live. Essentially, 6 eggs, 6 oz of sugar, 1 oz cocoa (showing my age with my measurements). Yolks and sugar mixed til creamy, cocoa sifted and mixed ingradually, followed by beaten egg whites folded in very carefully. Bake on a big shallow baking tray, 20mins, roll up while still warm, then unroll, spread with chestnut puree sweetened to taste (icing sugar is best for this), and a spoonful or so of cream to get it to spreading consistency. Spread with whipped double cream, roll up, dust with icing sugar. Sugar processing not good for planet, although if beat sugar, can be grown locally. Cocoa airmiles, cream cruel to cows.

This is a light, flavoursome pudding-cake that you can face eating after stuffing yourself on mains. Otherwise skip dessert and have cake later.

We’d love you to share your favourite feasting recipes, and reflect on whether the planet can take you eating it.

Tomorrow: Solstice Cake.





Mapping the path to safety

To begin our Where We Find Ourselves blog tour, Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts shares her thoughts on the theme of ‘Maps and Mapping’:

Maps are objects of pleasure and anticipation for me, promises of holidays and beautiful in their own right, but they used to be safety blankets – I went through a long period of agoraphobia and the only way I could take a ‘stroll’ in the countryside (or anywhere else, really) was if I knew exactly where I was going, what obstacles were along the way and how long it would take – getting lost was something I literally had nightmares about. I’m better at it now, but it’s always me with the map in my pocket, if no longer clutched in an anxious grip.

So when Laila Sumpton suggested ‘Maps and Mapping’ as the focus for our global majority anthology, Where We Find Ourselves, I said yes almost by reflex. As we settled into thinking about why, exactly, we thought this a good idea, there was a lot to cover. Arachne has a history with what is apparently called Psychogeography – not planned, but one of our books is on the reading list at a university, so I’m told – these were geographically rooted (routed?) books of stories set in London, and along the east London Overground. I like that sort of thing. But this was different. We didn’t want to over-dictate what our authors wrote about, and wanted to see what would come up. We were hoping  for stories of home, belonging, leaving, journeys, identity, borders, invasion, exile … not of a particular place, but any place that the author or poet felt strongly about. And we got them, especially the search for places of safety – and we got a story about getting lost on a country walk, so that was my personal nightmare ticked off too.

Somehow this map idea morphed into an almost series. Not quite enough of one to say book one of… (although if pushed I will!) but four (so far) conceptually linked books.

Next up, in November, is What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective, an anthology of  poems and stories from Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing writers.

About twelve years ago I studied Neurolinguistic Programming (one of the things that helped overcome my agoraphobia). One of the basic tenets of NLP is that people have a linguistic preference that reveals how they experience the world, showing itself in use of words to do with one specific sense. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic (touch, motion, emotion), far fewer auditory, etc; although the transmit preference may not be the same as the receive preference. I spent some time wondering if I dare stick my hand up and say what about people who don’t have access to all those things? I never did, I found the large group intimidating, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it. When I started learning BSL, my doubts were confirmed, and confounded as well. So when I was discussing the title of a book with movement as its theme (very loose connection to maps!) with editors Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone, I was on about the language of movement or the movement of language, and Sophie entirely disagreed and said that BSL is a language of sight. In my kinaesthetically orientated way I had been thinking about transmitting communication and Sophie was thinking about receiving it. Which is how we ended up with the title What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective.

Alongside these two anthologies I had been talking to Ness Owen and Sian Northey about a bilingual Welsh-English poetry anthology for March next year. Sian came up with the brilliant idea of poems about/inspired by the iconic north-south route, the A470. Disclosure – my Welsh is limited to what can generally be found on a road sign, and saying hello and thank you, so an appropriate theme for me! Out came my maps – of course – and yes, I had driven bits of that road.

We won’t have to translate the title, Sian said. Wrong – because we’ve ended up with a subtitle, Poems for the Road/Cerrdi’r Ffordd.

Nothing screams maps more than a book about a road, and I spent a lot of time looking up places referenced in the poems, and getting to understand the topography of both road and poems. I can’t wait to drive it again, boring my wife silly as I point out places and say oh that’s in so-and-so’s poem. We have a fantasy about hiring a bus to do a book tour along the length of the road from Cardiff to Llandudno. The irony of this, in light of the next book, is not lost on me.

Before we get to the A470, we have another book – the Solstice Shorts Festival anthology, Words from the Brink out in December in time for the festival. Our initial call out had the loose concept of time is running out, and we wanted work that addressed the climate crisis.

At risk of sounding like a spare part from Dr Who, Solstice Shorts is always about time, and the festival has travelled around most of the UK, and even got to Portugal one year, so I thought we ought to be able to get a map theme into our overarching time concept. This year’s festival itself is still very much up in the air at the moment. Venues are difficult, and should we really be trying to have an in-real-life event at all?

Perhaps the link to maps is tenuous, except, actually, it isn’t. This book encompasses the whole Earth – viewed from space by acquisitive or curious aliens, in her personification as Gaia and in the microcosm of a single plant or butterfly. Our authors map their way through climate crisis to disaster, or renewal.

We are on the brink. A gnat’s wink in either direction can make the difference. Which direction  will we take?

You can follow the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves until 30 October.