Ardfern Zen Retreat – a few recipes from the Tenzo…

Ardfern Zen

Here are a few recipes and images (many thanks to Ylva Champion for her photos) from the kitchen during the retreat. Huge thanks to all that helped with the food prep.

Ardfern 2Ardfern 3Ardfern 4Ardfern Zen 5Ardfern Zen 6Ardfern Zen 7

TOFU TERIYAKI (bit tricky as delicate, side for 4)

1 pack of tofu – carefully removed from packaging using scissors and wrap up with kitchen roll for 10mins to take off excess water. You can add a weight delicately to help this.

Cut into half longways then opposite way into rectangular shapes and carefully spread out on big plates or a dry chopping board, and cover lightly with corn starch over each bit.

Mix a sauce in a bowl: soy sauce 2 tbsp, sugar 1.5 tbsp, mirin 2 tbsp, sake 1 tbsp. Fry a little vegetable oil on high heat, add tofu, and the sauce to coat the tofu, simmer for a few mins until becoming golden.

Carefully put in bowl with sauce. Garnish with a few spring onions finely chopped and some mayo. Tip, you can other proteins (chicken is a typical meat for this sauce) instead of tofu.


Means Morning Pickles. Basically chop up a mix of 2 or 3 few veg bitesize like chinese leaf, carrots, cucumber, aubergine, and put in a sealable bag or a bowl with a good bit of salt. try 1 tbsp sea salt with a cucumber for instance. Squeeze mix for 5 mins, seal bag and set aside for a few hours or overnight in bag or with something heavy on top. Taste and if too salty wash off salt until the right saltiness.

Another option which is pretty tasty and quicker too (takes about 10-20 mins to pickle) is to add some dashi fish stock and a little soy sauce (shoyu) and sugar too and chopped chilli when you mix everything up with salt at the start. You can tell you haven’t used
enough salt if liquid doesn’t come out from the veg.


Kabu white turnip x 3, sweet potato x 1 large, chop wagiri (thick coins) and put in pot. Add soya milk 200ML, dashi stock 0.5 tsp with bit of water 50ML, so the veg is almost covered by the liquid.

Boil, then add miso 2 tbsp, simmer until veg soft and soup is reduced to half. Tip: you could also use other potatoes or radishes

West Coast to East Coast: Overlapping Lines and Spliced Surfaces

east-west 1

Getting into the Spring/Scottish Summer season have been making more work outdoors and doing some long journeys too… the light is super just now, bright from five or six in the morning towards ten at night. Getting into the habit of cycling more (these images grew out of coast to coast movement) with materials attached to the pannier racks and making rapid works in varied types of areas – rural, industrial, infrastructure – and developing later on in the studio with a bit more colour and thinking space to play around with.

east-west 2east-west 3

east-west 4east-west 5

east-west 6

east-west 7

GSA Alumni Exhibition, Scotland Art Gallery, Glasgow

Bath Street

I’ve been asked to participate in a Glasgow School of Art Alumni show at Scotland Art Gallery in Bath Street (Glasgow City Centre). One of my darker pieces, ‘Box Two’, a three foot square painting, oil on canvas, will be exhibited. The gallery is in the city centre not far from the art school itself, and the show runs from the 6th June to the end of the month.

Box 2

Dogen’s Waka: 2 Poems, 2 Commentaries

First poem and commentary by John Fraser:

My free translation of Master Dogen’s poem Shobogenzo:

波も引き風もつながぬ捨小舟 月こそ夜半のさかひ成けり

In the heart of the dark
The moonlight holding
A small boat drifting
Unmoved by the wind
Unthrown by the waves

Dogen’s poetry – because it is imagistic – makes it easier to express apparent paradox than prose.

We could say that Dogen/The Zen Practitioner (“the small boat”) isn’t moved by the wind and waves (dependent origination) because he isn’t separate from dependent origination/Indra’s Net. But we could also say – reflecting our experience in Zazen – that we sit in the middle (‘heart’) of dependent origination, yet allow it to drop off (“drifting”).

I take “the dark” to be non duality, and “the moonlight” to be the compassionate awareness represented by Avalokitesvara, and so I changed “framing” in Heine’s translation to “holding” to emphasise this.

In the poem, everything is functioning within the whole, yet each is exerting itself completely in its own dharma position.

John Fraser

Second poem with my translation:

夏冬も思ひに分ぬ越の山 ふる白雪も鳴るいかづちも

summer and winter
so different from my thoughts
of the Koshi mountains
white snow will fall
and thunder will crackle

In this Waka poem (5-7-5-7-7 syllables) Zen master Dogen questions the often inflexible human mindset with this example of viewing nature, time and the world around within fixed rules. In the Koshi hills around him is seen and felt the continual yet spontaneous reality of nature and universe, cutting through a preconceived idea of the seasons in his thoughts as being linearly placed and defined in time one after the other – in the second 7-7 part of the poem he contrasts his stereotyping idea by writing that it can snow heavily or rumble with thunder and lightning at any time of the year. The changing and interweaving elements of nature are beyond thought and language.

Circling Connections: Peter Fischli / David Weiss and Alexander Calder

The tongue and cheek, playful search and questioning of meaning in life and art was a major theme in the development of art in the 20th century, accompanied by a desire, starting with the Surrealists, to really subvert and later skirt around any kind of categorising of artworks. I’ve been thinking about the ‘circus’ of fun and hedonistic delight in the works of a few artists that show some loose connections.

Recently visiting the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow) I was captivated for the full thirty minutes of ‘The Way Things Go’, a 1987 film by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It takes the viewer on a comical journey of movement in an old industrial looking interior between a set up of disparate home and industrial objects, such as tyres, bottles, liquids, chemicals on benches, ladders and shoes, that come together after moments of tense waiting for fuses to burn, ignition, steam or gravity to do its job and for something to crash or explode into the next in the vaguely circular set-up. Seemingly filmed in one shot to promote the feeling of a never ending, inevitable process, the film has several cleverly crafted edits. In the continual but fleeting meetings and silly interactions between the many parts of their installation, there is a sense of the circle of life and death and of the inter-connectedness of all things. The questioning has gone beyond one of dealing with the traditional gallery system and being surrounded by the remnants of mass production.

The Way Things Go

Weiss and Fischli have made a variety of work, often characterised with humour – one funny little piece is a quick looking, lumpy clay street with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home happily satisfied after a session in the studio doing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’. The popular film ‘The Way Things Go’ has less narrative but takes forward their ‘Quiet Afternoon’ series of photos from the mid eighties, in which there is a quirky gravity defying and comical still-life combination in each piece of some five to ten tattered bits of home furniture or bottles, packaging tubes, plates, ladles or fruit for instance. The imposed boundaries between ‘man-made’ and ‘natural’ become blurred with one title in the series ‘Natural Grace’ reminding me also of the impending collapse of a piece of balanced stones on a hill top by Andy Goldworthy. In some ways the often used terms ‘land artist’ or ‘conceptual artist’ are truly meaningless and a distraction from seeing work afresh. One other thing I like about many of their works is the rugged, unfinished looking aspect that doesn’t value detail and solid compositions too much. Some later works lose some of the feeling perhaps due to the visual choices of the artists themselves or curators, (especially the photography on show at the GOMA) and started to lack that sense of the fleeting, off kilter aspects.

Two early films (excerpts below), ‘The Least Resistance’ (1980-81) and ‘The Right Way’ (1982-83) capture their energy and half joking, half serious mood that is full of life. There is a method too in avoiding factual documentation and underscoring a desire for unsentimental creative freedom, serving to communicate charged as well as playful encounters and experiments in various environments. Their work has obviously spawned a whole array of materially similar pieces over the years by younger artists, but their overall philosophies give a strong edge to their interesting body of work. As the Panda said: ‘Such understated vehemence’.

der Rechte Weg

The sculptor of mobiles and stabiles, Alexander Calder, was also keen on mesmerising and making the audience laugh with his fun characters and gravity defying objects. His moveable clowns and animals of tin cans, brushes and other bits and pieces were performed like puppets in his ‘Circus’ for kids and adults to enjoy, and are quite similar to the animals and human shaped or characterised objects of the Swiss duo later in their films and installations, such as their Rat and Bear.

Alexander Calder performs his “Circus” | Whitney Museum of American Art

Much of Calder’s work broke the tradition of clunky sculpture rooted on a plinth and challenged the art world like Panda and Rat did briefly in Los Angeles (‘The Least Resistance’), before turning to crime in their case. His mobiles opened new scope for art installations and possibly encouraged the idea that ‘sculptures’ could be much more temporary works (seen only as traces in the work of some of the land artists for example) from cheaper, mass produced materials. Whilst aiming to engage with themes of the universal and inter-connectedness in a circular wholeness, Calder like the Swiss artists also looked for ways to challenge artistic boundaries and have plenty of kicks in the process.

Calder’s Circus
Alexander Calder: Sculptures

Walking and Drawing, Cairngorms, Scotland, Part 1

not disassociated
edges of chaos

Cairngorms 1

Heading up through Glen Tilt we found piles of old logs and bare wood, massive tyre tracked and gouged layers of mud. A brief glimpse of a spotted woodpecker? Gradually heading uphill over mossy ground with open aspects over the winding river below and to the snow covered tops of Beinn a Ghlo. Memory of a walk around here two years before, creaking down the long quiet slope of Carn a’ Chlamain after a dark blue moonlit midnight walk south of the remote, majestic Beinn Bhrotain. After taking it slow and seeing no one for quite a while, and sitting eating a simple breakfast, we were passed and waved to by some estate workers on Yamaha buggy and shiny Land Rover (carrying another many wheeled vehicle) going uphill out of the forest towards the mysteriously hidden Beinn Dearg. This was the start of a long route which took in a lot of possibilities for drawings too.

Wet Tundraslip
timber stackGlen Tilt
RemnantGlen Tilt 2
Glen Tilt 3Cairngorms

green ochre and vandyke, hill dynamic
beware the stacks, sensing the massif beyond
exposed and bleached purple desert of heather
burnt silvers, sudden blue open void

Cairngorms 2

tectonic, pushing back
multiple, blurred
through to, or across

Dogen’s white heron poem: a Zen commentary by John Fraser


I have been thinking quite a bit recently about the mindset and visuals of Japanese Waka/Tanka and (the shorter, short song) of Haiku which came later. By good fortune at Zazen recently, during his Kusen my friend John Fraser recited and talked about this poem by Soto Zen Master Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), which takes the image of the shira-sagi (white heron) merging into snow, as suggesting non discrimination and interconnectedness. The poem was possibly written by Dogen near Eihei-ji, founded by him in old Echizen, now Fukui Ken where I visited and sketched. Here is John’s intriguing version of Dogen’s waka with the original, collected by Menzan Zuihou in the Edo Period, followed by John’s Kusen commentary on his ideas rendering the poem and imagery:




The whole grass world cannot be seen

In the snowy field

A white heron is hiding himself

Using his own form

“Dogen reverses the usual metaphor for non differentiation, darkness, by using whiteness, snow, instead [very richly, I think], and shows how zazen is an activity [hiding] from moment to moment, not a state. And also, what is hidden and what is apparent is reversed. Activity and Differentiation are hidden, but not erased, and Wholeness [which is usually hidden, but always there] is visible, and by illuminating what is usually hidden, we can see that these are both part of the same ‘thing’, even though we can only ever express half [as the Genjokoan says ‘one half is illuminated, the other is dark’].

The poem is my free translation which differs from the poem in Steven Heine’s book of Dogen’s poetry, ‘The Zen Poetry of Dogen’, in which he titles it ‘worship’, but the word literally means ‘prostrations’ which I think is more acute. Master Shohaku Okumura (Sanshin Zen Community, Indiana) gave a translation of this poem at Sanshinji Temple, and for him, the most important part of the poem is ‘using his own form’, and so he reversed the order of the poem, putting the winter grasses at the start of the poem, rather than the end. I have re -rendered “winter grasses” as “the whole grass world”, because I wanted to emphasise the wholeness within which differentiation [grasses] occurs, and thus, the non duality of differentiation and One-ness. I also wanted to re-work the first line to infer that the Wholeness of which we are part cannot be ‘seen’, because we are part of it [although it can be experienced], and also [making the same point] to allow the first line to be read by itself, as well as in conjunction with the second line..”

Sanshinji Temple

Glasgow Zen Group

Tracks, trails, omens

snow track

Has been a long winter in Scotland and have been out through various trails. Wandering through these half forgotten, foggy forestry roads in the hills. Spider webs and open voids, condensed silence shattered by heavy wingbeats. Have been thinking more about Matsuo Basho, and Ryokan’s roaming too and mountain living.

dreams lost in the grasses, fleeting glimpses

subtle snow smell, looking up and looking outwards

tree closewebs
tree fog 1tree fog 2
tree fog 3tree fog 4

Ryokan’s twilight climbs, life stirred up in the piles of old leaves, playful signs

Thinking about contrasting essences, empty-full, muddy-untainted, speed-slow, darkness-light

skull bridge

over the winter river
an eagle gives me a sharp glare
from the mountain ridge

translation of Ryokan haiku