Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Working on Tenzo Zen Cooking Notes…

In the last couple of weeks, with the kitchen work still fresh in my mind since being up at Ardfern with the Zen Group, I started getting some notes jotted down to help others on the practice of Tenzo, and particularly in terms of the preparation, timing, various kitchen duties and roles, that sort of practical thing. It started off as a few pages but with the recipes, plus creativity and images coming in, is snowballing already into a bit of a project! Even managing to squeeze in a bit of old waka poetry from Dogen and the Edo mountain-poet-calligrapher monk Ryokan too.

seven gems
with both hands
I ate what was
given by somebody

(Waka, gift of seven Zakuro pomegranites given to Ryokan)

Tenzo materials

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

Tokyo and Toyama Washoku (Japanese Food) Excerpts

From the quirky dishes of the lively Izakayas in the East side of Tokyo to Toyama’s famous salty Black Ramen and fish for sushi and sashimi from the rough seas of the Toyama Gulf (Japan Sea). And the fantastic Gyouza button for service at Oushou…

Japanese restaurants

Colours and shapes in the kitchen…

Enjoying some simple cooking in the last month or so with classic Japanese sauces – the black bream worked out really well baked in foil in a hot oven with bata shoyu (butter and soy sauce mix) and some veg. A wee side dish that was also quite nice was aubergine, carrot and sweet potato or bell pepper with a mayo soy sauce equal mix sauce added at the end and simmered a little. Good to get some vitamins and fatten up a little too!

Arran Zen Retreat

In July the Glasgow Zen Group had their summer retreat down at Kilmory in the south of Arran. It was great to have a longer sustained period of Zazen meditation over a few days for the mind and body to settle down and drop off whilst tuning in to reality more… being Tenzo again, responsible for providing the meals, needed a lot of focus as well as hopefully some ‘magnanimous’ or ‘big’ mind as Uchiyama puts it, and everyone’s effort was much appreciated too. We ate more than our usual of genmai brown rice plus soya beans in many forms, as well as other simple Japanese dishes, nothing heavy to get in the way of zazen. Here are a couple of the recipes, the onigiri (riceballs) are always quite fun to make.

Genmai onigiri

Cook genmai in rice cooker (short grain brown rice, organic, or white japanese rice). 3 cups of rice will likely feed 4 to 6.
Lay out seperate plates with ingredients –
Coverings for outside of different onigiri – nori seaweed cut into rectangular strips, tororo konbu soft kelp shavings
Plate with salt and bowl water
Fillings – katsuobushi grated fish mixed with shoyu soy sauce, shio konbu salted kelp strips, tuna mayonnaise, or other ingredients like chopped umeboshi pickled plum

Pretty simple really. Lay out some of the warm/still a little hot rice, add some salt to clean hands with water, take some rice and squeeze ( gyu – gyu!) into a ball. Use your little finger to make a hole and put in a small amount of one of the fillings. You can’t fit in that much! Gyu again to seal the riceball and add nori or shredded kelp if you have it to stick to the warm exterior. That’s it. The salt is designed to help prevent the food going off. Another simple variation is mixing some of the rice with furikake ( small bits of tasty dried seaweed, egg, fish etc) so you can end up with an array of tasty surprises.

Renkon Tamago Konnyaku

(Lotus root – egg – yamcake) feed 4
Renkon 200g, frozen fine too, peel, slice 1cm and cut in half
Hard boil 4 eggs, shell
Konnyaku about 250g, wash and half longways, slice 5mm
Can of drained scallops, or crab 280g
Sauce: mix 3tbsp miso, 1tbsp sugar, sake 1tbsp, mirin 1tbsp
Put all in a pot with two thirds cup of water, simmer, add sauce, put lid on, simmer for 20mins.

Cooking some winter Japanese food

After some Tenzo cooking duties at New Year have been using genmai brown rice more for experimenting with filling chahan dishes, plus simple miso shiru soups like tofu and spring onion. You are going to need miso and katsuo dashi fish stock for that and some mirin, sake optional (but great to drink hot with dinner after a studio shift!) and shoyu soy sauce. Spring is on its way so more salads like nato (fermented beans) salad with scrambled egg (good with sugar and soy sauce in) and sliced tomato will be good…

New Year Zen Retreat


Glasgow Zen Group dojo

Glasgow Zen Group kitchen


Over the new year weekend I went to the inaugural Glasgow Zen Group retreat, or sesshin, at Kagyu Samye Dzong in Glasgow’s west end. Every morning up at half past five to start the day with one and a half hours zazen meditation before breakfast during the holiday may not be many people’s idea of fun, but as a zazen practitioner in it for the long run it was right up my street. A great way to start the day! It is so fortunate to have such a positive group and encouraging teacher John Fraser. To get away from the hussle and bussle of everyday routine for even a small number of days and meditate and study zen philosophy is very nourishing and revitalising for my general mindset and approach as an artist. Zazen meditation is not an escape, but actually means facing up to the world so zen practice for me is invaluable in being able to fully experience the world around me, so is a real gift artistically!

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