Oat Risotto with Wild Garlic, Roasted Squash and Feta

I’ve called this a risotto but it’s probably more like a warm salad. Groats are the whole oat grain containing the germ and bran similar to wheat or spelt berries. Once cooked they have a satisfying chewy consistency. If you can, it’s best to soak the groats for several hours or overnight before cooking (don’t worry if not, although you might need to cook for an extra 5 minutes or so). I’m using groats grown just a few miles away produced by Grown In Totnes, otherwise, Hodmedods also sell them nationally.

I usually make this with spinach and garlic, but as we’re in mid wild garlic season here I’ve used that instead. (Wild garlic is definitely delayed this year by the unexpected snow we’ve had, the flowers aren’t even out yet in April!)



  • 1/2 medium squash (kabocha, crown prince or butternut)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 200g oat groats, rinsed
  • vegetable stock or water
  • A couple of handfuls of wild garlic, well washed
  • 100g feta


  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  • Scrub the squash, then cut into bite-sized chunks. No need to peel.
  • Place in a baking tray, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and mix. Bake for around 20 minutes until soft.
  • In a large pan heat some olive oil and gently fry the onion until nice and soft, 5-10 minutes is good.
  • Add the groats, coat in the onion and oil. Cover with vegetable stock and cook over a medium heat until soft, it will take about 20 minutes. The stock should mostly be absorbed.
  • Turn off the heat. Add the wild garlic and mix to wilt. Scatter over the roasted squash and dot with feta. You can put back in the oven for 5 minutes to warm through, or even better pop under the grill to lightly brown the feta.

A bit more…..

  • As the basic recipe is cooking the groats in stock like a risotto, you can add any vegetable or meat that you have to hand
  • Use chicken stock or add a splash of wine, even finish with cream if you like!
  • Leek and celery are good instead of or as well as onion
  • Replace the squash with roasted garlicky fennel, season with thyme and lemon zest
  • Use a locally produced soft goats or sheep’s cheese instead of feta
  • Any greens can be used, sturdier leaves such as kale may need a little cooking
  • Some lardons can be a good addition to the mix for non-veggies
  • Vegans can replace the feta with some capers and toasted nuts







From Hanami Live to Tatami Live

Two years ago we had the most incredible evening which stemmed from a crazy idea that blossomed due to the generosity of all involved.

The Todd Wolfe Band, a blues-rock band fronted by Sheryl Crow’s former lead guitarist was touring Japan in April 2015. The tour manager happened to know Peter Barakan, a well-known English DJ and promoter of foreign music to his Japanese followers. After the success of our Philip Henry and Hannah Martin gig, who’d appeared on his radio show, Peter suggested he contact us about doing something in Ayabe. The band were up for it, but we needed a venue.

We were about to move on from Ayabe Yoshimizu guesthouse, and potential venues we looked at were not working. My husband had the crazy idea of hosting a live gig under the cherry blossom at the onsen (hot spring) park, calling it Hanami Live  – hanami, cherry blossom viewing and live meaning a live gig.

And it would be free….. we’d collect donations and the band could sell CDs, but the concert would be free for the whole community.

Hanami parties are hugely popular in Japan, especially in the milder regions but given that the beginning of April in Ayabe can be chilly at best and in the thick of snow storms at worst it was quite a gamble for both us and the band.

To our amazement, the Todd Wolfe Band agreed. We had a few short weeks to pull it all together. Again, Gekkiken theatre NPO supported the event providing the lighting, a sound engineer was found, publicity printed and volunteers recruited. Ayabe Onsen donated accommodation for the band.


In the days leading up to the event there was warm spring sunshine but on the day storms lashed and the strong winds made setting up the lighting dangerous. Quick decisions had to be made and within an hour my husband had secured the restaurant in the onsen park as an alternative venue. Online events pages and local radio let people know the gig was still on, but instead of Hanami Live, it had turned into Tatami Live. The band were to use a small Japanese style room as the ‘stage’, tatami is the Japanese straw matting on which shoes are never worn. The band joked that playing a gig in their socks would be a first.

It was an amazing night that came together beautifully. Over 300 people came: from the local Ayabe Kanbayashi community and all over Kyoto There was a Swedish/UK film crew, foreign guests from Yoshimizu, a 4 months old baby and older locals – all together rockin’ the night away. I loved seeing an 80-year-old Baachan dancing (who’d just put her hip flask down) with our dear friend Tracey, a local Canadian potter.

Everyone left on a real high. There was a real sense of a shared experience which had brought different people from all over the world and of all ages. Many of the older people said they’d never been to a gig in their entire lives and were queuing up to shake Todd Wolfe’s hand. The band made more that night in donations and CD sales than other paid gigs on the same tour.

Posts and messages from the Todd Wolfe Band two years on show how memories of this special night live on for all.

Miles to Go


8月 August in Kanbayashi

The heat of August is intense, except the wonderful first hour after daybreak. But kayabuki, the traditional thatched house comes into its own, remaining cool and dark under its dense, heavy roof.

Produce strung from bamboo poles hang from the kura to dry. School children play in the river and catch insects during their long summer break. It’s a slow, lazy month as it’s just too hot…

This completes my year of life and the seasons in Kanbayashi, north Kyoto Prefecture. Compiling these images each month has made me notice and experience more and has been a very special experience.

I really do miss this landscape.

5月 May in Kanbayashi

May is the month we arrived in Japan and, two years later, the month we left. The landscape is transformed as rice fields are flooded and rice seedlings planted resulting in a soft green that lines the plains.

Most definitely my favourite month in Japan, it is for a short time as if we are surrounded by lakes. Watching the sunrise over the water is special; the moonrise between the mountains reflected in the rice fields is something else.


Takenoko Gohan & Taki Komi Gohan

Fresh, local takenoko, bamboo shoots, can only be enjoyed in spring, much like asparagus in the UK. Bamboo shoots impart a sweet, subtle flavour when steamed with rice and is much loved by Japanese. Here are two recipes to cook in a rice cooker, but can easily be cooked in a pan. Vacuum packed bamboo shoots could be substituted, as I will have to use next spring…..


Takenoko Gohan, Bamboo Shoot Rice


  • 2 cups of rice
  • 5 cm piece of takenoko,prepared fresh bamboo shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use canned if not available)
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • Dashi, konbu and katsuboshi stock
  • Kinome, fresh sansho leaves, to garnish


  • Wash the rice and add to the rice cooker
  • Add the takenoko
  • Add enough dashi to reach the indicator for 2 cups of rice, add the soy sauce and mirin
  • Steam as usual
  • When finish mix the rice to evenly distribute the takenoko
  • Add the kinome to garnish

Takikomi Gohan Rice Steamed with Mixed Vegetables


This usually contains chicken, but I only use vegetables. Any seafood or vegetables of your choice could be added.


  • 2 cups (rice measuring cup) short grain rice
  • 5 cm piece of takenoko,prepared fresh bamboo shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use canned if not available)
  • 1/3 slice aburage (deep fried fried tofu skin), cut into strips, place in strainer and pour hot water over it and gently squeeze to drain excess oil
  • 1/3 carrot
  • 2 tbs hijiki seaweed, reconstitued in water for 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained
  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 30 minutes to an hour to reconstitute then sliced (reserve the soaking water as stock)
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • Dashi


  • Wash the rice and add to the rice cooker
  • Add the takenoko, aburage, hijiki, shiitake and carrot
  • Add enough dashi to reach the indicator for 2 cups of rice, add the soy sauce and mirin
  • Steam as usual
  • When finish mix the rice to evenly distribute the vegetables

Takenoko – Fresh Bamboo Shoots


April and May hail the arrival of fresh bamboo shoots in Japan, a seasonal delicacy synonymous with the arrival of spring. Just like asparagus or forced rhubarb they appear during a short period of time when little else is available. Of course today takenoko is available  vacuum-packed in supermarkets all year round, just like asparagus that is flown in from all corners of the world. Yet harvesting fresh local takenoko is still very much revered and enjoyed.

DSC_2120The timing is important, the shoots have to be harvested before they get longer than about 30cm, the takenoko above looked beautiful with the smooth brown leaves but the green tips had emerged and the edible parts were smaller and more bitter. These shorter, stumpier shoots were perfect.

While busy packing in the last few weeks we had several neighbours pop round asking if we wanted takenoko from the bamboo grove at the back of our hamlet. Despite being up to our eyebrows and deciding to cook only the simplest of meals (and no photos) I couldn’t resist….

Raw bamboo contain toxins which needs to be removed by boiling. Japanese typically boil with nuka, rice bran, or the water used to rinse rice to remove the aku or bitterness. I boiled them for about 15 minutes then simmered for over an hour. The outer leaves are then easy to peel to reveal the crisp, edible centre. Some people seem to peel before boiling or make a vertical slit in the leaves from top to bottom but boiling whole worked fine for me.

The flavour is mild and sweet so it suits being paired with strong flavours and dressings. Takenoko is used in many different seasonal dishes: steamed with rice in takenoko gohan or taki komi gohan, or simmered in soy sauce, nimono, or added to salads.

At one sayonora party for us our hosts had prepared five different simmered takenoko dishes, take komi gohan  as well as wild vegetable tempura, a truly local and seasonal feast that I will never forget.



Sakura – Cherry Blossom


DSC_2152Literally on 1st April we awoke to the mountains speckled with white yamazakura, mountain cherry blossom. I don’t know if it is just because we are leaving and I am more mindful of taking in my surroundings, but the sakura this year has been more lovelier and more voluptuous than ever and it has been a joy to experience. Our local temple is well knowDSC_2247n for its weeping cherry trees and we went up several times to walk amongst the blossoms.

Sakura is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is the national flower. I am often asked if we have cherry blossom in England and of course we do, along with plum and apple, but we don’t pay as much attention or revere it as the Japanese do. There are so many more cherry trees here that have been extensively planted along river banks, in parks, outside schools and other public buildings. Then, there is hanami, or flower viewing parties.

The trees flower for no more than two weeks and their ephemeral beauty brings mono no aware to mind, an awareness of impermanence and the transient nature of life. This is particularly pertinent for us as we pack our belongings, attend leaving parties and prepare to close this chapter of our life


Kinome Dressing

Kinome are the young soft leaves of the Japanese herb prickly ash. The flavour is a fragrant mix of citrus, pepper and mint and the leaves are used as a garnish or in simmered dishes. I like to use kinome to make a fresh, zesty dressing.

The early shoots are just leafing now, in a month or so they’ll be a little prickly and more defined. The seed pods, sansho no mi, appear soon after and once dried are one of the spices used in shichimi, Japanese seven spice.


Kinome Dressing


  • 4 tbs kinome, finely chopped
  • 5 tbs (70ml) olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper


  • Mix the oil, lemon and chopped kinome thoroughly, season to taste

Keeps for about a week in the fridge, although loses its lovely vibrant colour after a day

Kinome, Tomato and Tofu Salad



  • 2 tbs kinome dressing
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 blocks of silken tofu*
  • 1/4 lettuce, washed and ripped in bite size pieces
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper


  • Arrange the lettuce on a serving plate
  • Gently cut the tofu into quarters and place on the lettuce
  • Mix the tomatoes with the dressing and pour over the tofu
  • Garnish with red onion slices and fresh kinome leaves
  • Check and adjust seasoning if needed

*Tofu is best left on a chopping board that is placed at a slight angle on the draining board for 30 minutes or so to expel water, otherwise it will seep into the salad.