San-syou Pepper

I love San-syou pepper. It seems to be quite hard to find in Australia. We can get some that is already ground, from the Japanese supermarket in Sydney, but it is quite old by the time that we get to it and has lost a lot of its flavour. I’ve always been happy with it, but I didn’t know how good it could be fresh.

We are lucky enough to stumble onto a place where they are preparing some fresh san-you pepper. We get to see, smell and taste the whole seeds, as well as the freshly ground san-you pepper directly after being ground.

I didn’t know that it has a high citrus note in the aroma when it is fresh. It’s great stuff. It’s hot and spicy and so delicious. Be careful however, because if you get too greedy like me and take too much, then it suddenly overdoses the taste buds in the tip of my tongue and my tongue goes numb. It’s powerful stuff. Restraint is the key.

A little goes a long way.


We Go To The Markets

We go to the markets in the grounds of the Kitano shrine and see some amazing thing, but not what we expected.

On our way to the bus station we see men at work.



At the markets, we see how okonomiyake is really cooked here in Kyoto, or at least one of the versions of it. best of all we get to eat it and it is delicious.

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We meet the amazing cat lady and her fashionista cat.


We see lots of old pots, a few of which I buy. But only the smallest sake cups, as we still have 5 weeks to go and I don’t want to be carrying too much.

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We end an amazing day with a meal of fish grilled over charcoal. Oishi des!



Templed Out

The Lovely and I continue our temple sojourn around Kyoto. From Gold to silver, from dry  to wet. From gravel to moss, from austere tea house to dense bamboo thicket. We’ve come to visit the Bling-By-The-Lake again. It is cosily nestled into the side of the hills that surround Kyoto on the North Western side. There are people everywhere here today. They come in waves that coincide with the arrival of the bus or trains. However, there is always the possibility of finding a quiet place and moment to take in the atmosphere and be still while being there with it.


Ofcourse, there are other beautiful vistas beside the lake and its bling. We walk around the lake and up through the gardens. This thins out a lot of the visitors straight away. The whole place is so well kept. I starts me wondering how many gardeners that it takes to keep a place like this clean and tidy as well as weeded and pruned?

It doesn’t take long to find the work going on all around us, but very discreetly, just slightly out-of-the-way, but there in plain sight, if you take the time to see.

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We take the opportunity to take tea in the garden. No one else seems interested in this simple pleasure today, so we have the garden to our selves.

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We take the walk between the Golden Temple and Ryoanji Temple, famous for its raked gavel garden. It’s an easy 15 min stroll. The crowds thin out toward lunch time. Everyone seems to go off to have lunch.


We spend some time here taking it all in. It is certainly serene. Although people are coming and going like gentle waves and tides all the time. It is possible to just sit and stay focussed and let it all pass.

I leave with a sense of quiet.  I go to the loo and see this warning on the ‘sharps’ disposal bin in the cubicle. “While applying your make-up, don’t drop your baby in the sharps bin. Or if you do, don’t try to remove your lost child by hand, you might get jabbed. Do not drop your cigarette butts in the ‘sharps’ bin after the baby”. What kind of world is this? Why would this warning be necessary, unless it has happened once? It’s a jarring juxtaposition with the raked grave outside.

IMG_2972Next, we go to the silver pavilion, which isn’t, but it has a lovely garden. The Silver Pavilion is situated right across town on the other side of the city nestled into the hills on the North Eastern side.  We take the time to do the full walk. It’s a very beautiful garden and looks all the more impressive now in spring, after some rain and a warming climate. The mosses are glowing and wet under the forest canopy. The last time I was here, it was autumn and quite dry, so the mosses were very thin on the ground.




As we leave the Silver Pavilion precinct we encounter the all the usual marketing and merchandising. Selling us some object that we don’t need to clutter up our lives to celebrate the non-acquisitional nature of true buddhist philosophy! Actually, I’m not a Buddhist. I don’t believe in reincarnation or the cycle of life. I believe that we are here just once. So make the most of it now! While saying that, I do still find comfort in the concepts explored in Zen. Be here now! The past is finished and gone, so don’t dwell on it. The future hasn’t happened yet, so don’t worry about what hasn’t happened and may not happen. There is only Now. Live to the full. I attempt to live this way, but mostly fail. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.

We take our leave ‘karate’, empty-handed and head out along the Philosophers Path. This is a lovely winding, gentle walk along the canal, from the Silver-less Temple back toward the city. The cherry blossom is still lingering on some late trees and the petals drop down into the water and float along  with the steady current of the canal in a soft pink carpet.


This walk culminates back near the Nanzen ji temple, so we make our way there. This is one of the first Buddhist temple sites Established in Kyoto. It is quite extensive and is a National Cultural Asset. It was established in the mid twelve hundreds and subsequently burnt down and re-built in 1600. It also has a raked gravel garden with rocks and mosses, but not as imposing as Ryoanji. However, because this temple is quite out-of-the-way and a long walk from anywhere. There are very few people here. So it is very quiet and peaceful.



It’s been a very full couple of days of long walks around this lovely city. We finish up by visiting the Kodai-ji Temple in the evening to experience the gardens under artificial light. There is a bit of a projected light show in one of the pavilions, but the best part is the garden walk up the hill and around the extensive site. Very beautiful with the almost full-moon rising. A lovely day and night and we have the sore feet and legs to prove it. What more could you want?


reflections on the pond.

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Crouching dragon, Where’s the tiger?

We end the day with well-earned gyoza, Kimchi and a beer.


The Temples of Kyoto

We have a lot of good cabbages coming along just now so we decide to have a cabbage pancake, our version of okonomiyaki from Japan. We slice the rest up finely into a cabbage salad with sesame and shiso dressing.

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We follow this delight from our garden with sushi in Tokyo.

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Followed by a full Japanese delightful mixed meal in Kyoto.


We spend a day walking the temples of Kyoto. We re-visit our favourites, because they make us feel somehow centred and located in a place that we know as familiar, but also because a half hour spent sitting quietly there is very relaxing and grounding. There are temples here dedicated to anything and everything. There are temples featuring gold, silver – or the lack of it, rock, gravel, bamboo, water, moss. You name it there is a temple or shrine here dedicated to it.


Gold in water, Gold in spring, Gold in winter, Gold inside and out.

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We spend a couple of days visiting a lot of them. It’s so good to revel in the non-acquisitive nature of buddhism.

There is an ancient tree in a shrine by the side of the road. It is very old and needs a little bit of health-care. There are a team of workers and flying arborists, trimming, lopping and preserving what can’t be lopped. It will give this old tree a new lease of life.

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I’m so pleased to be back in Japan.

Two Special pots

I’ve been able to spend a bit of time to clean up a couple of doubtful pots from the ‘zone of death’. They cleaned up rather well  I think. I was a quite surprised. I thought that they were stuck to the kin shelf. the pots from the floor were covered in charcoal too early and are just too dull and lacking interest. However there are always a few nice surprises. These are they.



A Nice Firing

We have just unpacked our latest firing with mixed results. The wood for this firing burnt well and got us to temperature in 12 hours with a good, constant reduction, but it produced a mass of  very slow burning embers, so even with all the mouse holes open we ended up with a load of embers which buried the potential ‘gems’ of the firebox area beneath their cloistering bed and smothered the jewels of the firing that should have come from the exciting ‘zone of death’, This area, close to the ember pit can produce some excellent dramatic qualities, but instead, on this occasion, all the potential jewels did not reach their full potential. They all survived intact, but as blackened bisque instead of shining gems. The jewels of the kiln are now more like Swarovski than De Beers.


The back of the kiln was a little under-fired, so there are a few pots from there that just need a little more heat. They can be reheated, ‘microwaved to perfection’ in our little wood kiln, the next time we get it out for a spin. The rest of the setting was very good – by our standards. There are half-dozen really nice pots, nearly all of which were Janine’s. But I have some small bowls that are good enough to show at Watters Gallery, so I’m happy.
So, a good firing. We are so lucky!
Two of Janine’s vases
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Three of my new bai-tunze paste little bowls with limpid porcelain glaze and subtle wood ash deposit and bright body flashing.
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After the firing, I picked, washed and sliced open 300 small tomatoes and dried them for use later in the year. These things are so delicious, that I end up eating a few handfuls of them as soon as they emerge from the oven. It’s a slow patient process using the lowest possible heat that the oven is capable of. I turn it down manually, so that it only just remains alight. It takes all day turning and rotating them often with the oven fan on.
6 trays of little tomatoes, cut in half, butterfly-style, all tries out and shrinks into just 3 litre tubs of sweet, sharp, crunchy, sour and very delicious dried tomatoes.
I make a vegetable stir fry for dinner. Garlic and chilli with capsicum, celery, carrot, beetroot and aubergine. A little block of frozen marrow bone stock from the freezer and a little fish and oyster sauce.
Best wishes from the 2 well-fed, lucky potters

Free Fuel

It’s dark and quiet. I’m here alone in the very late night, or very early morning. I’m in the kiln shed firing our wood fired kiln. It’s not 5 am yet and I’ve started our 8th wood firing for this year. We can’t start our firings too soon in the year, as there is a fire ban in place until the end of March or sometimes April, depending on the year and the state of the forest and the immediate past rainfall. I have fired our kilns during the summer in years gone by. But only after a good fall of rain, when the fire danger is reduced to low/medium risk. When the bushland all around is wet, there is no chance of my kiln starting a fire. If I want to fire over the summer period. I pack the kiln and seal it up, then wait for rain. It can take a month or more, but I can’t take any risks when there is a fire danger.
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We are firing the mid-sized kiln of 1.25 cu. m. We don’t fire the big kiln anymore. At 4.6 cu. m. it is just too big for us now and the amount of pottery sales that we can make these days. We have found that it is better for us to fire the this kiln more often and get all our tests through in reasonable time so that I can continue my research into my local raw materials, especially the development of my single stone porcelain bodies and glazes. Now that we have a reliable small wood kiln that can fire our tests in at any time, it just takes 3 hours, this will make our testing and research regime a lot easier.  As the night marches on relentlessly into the early dawn, the birds start carolling, mostly magpies by the sound of it. They just love the dawn and make a big fuss about it. Dawn seems to be some time after 5 am when it is still quite dark, and before 6 am, when I can switch off the light and make entries into the kiln log without needing the light on. The birds are carolling madly now as it gets lighter in the eastern sky. It’s a tremendously beautiful sound, so gentle and lulling. It’s like some pure form of happiness made audible. It’s infectious. I feel happy! Why are they so infectiously happy? Are they celebrating the fact that they are still alive and not eaten during the night by some predator?
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In this unique firing, I’m burning a type of timber that I don’t know anything about. I’ve been given a dead tree by the local tree-lopper guy. I don’t know what sort of tree it is, as it has no leaves or bark, but I know that it is not something that I have come across before. This is nothing unusual, because there are thousands of different tree species and as a rule, I only burn the local trees from around here. Mostly trees that Janine and I have grown here on our 7 acres of highland sclerophyll forest over the years. However, because I’ve lived in this little hamlet here for over 40 years. I have met a lot of people and they know that I have a wood fired kiln, so every now and then someone turns up with an offer of free wood for the kiln, just to get rid of it and not have to pay the dumping fee at the local council recycling centre, which is also located at the other end of the shire and 45 minutes drive away and is quite a drive. We are located at the opposite end of the shire from the recycling centre.
What I do know about this dead tree is that it is interesting. It is quite light in weight like a soft wood such as pine, but it has a strange twisted, interlocking grain like a hard wood such as a eucalypt. It turns out to be quite hard to split, even using the hydraulic splitter. It’s quite a tough wood. I’m hoping that it will burn well. But this is not knowable in advance until I actually get it into the fire box and see what happens over time. I have a lot of wood already cut, split and stacked ready for firing. I have several stacks, each about enough for a firing. I have stringybark, paperbark, ironbark and she oak all ready and prepared as well as a firings worth of radiata pine, from a load of trees brought here by a local contractor who was asked to clear a building block to make a house site. I naively said “yes. Bring the trees here, sure, I’ll take them”!
It turned out to be 8 truck loads in his 8 tonne truck. He had more, but I just ran out of space to dump it safely. He kindly sawed off the root ball, de-limbed them all and cut them to the 6 metre length of his tipper tray so that they would stack and carry efficiently. I have no way to know if each load was the full 8 tonnes or not, but it surely was a very large pile of logs by the time the last load was dumped here. It took up all of my wood storage space and then some. I could hardly move the ute and wood splitter around. I simply had to start at the far end and whittle away at the pile until I could make a space large enough to turn around in. Then I worked my way cutting and splitting all the way up one side to clear the driveway, back up to the road. I have been working my way through this huge 1/4 acre pile of trees for a while now and there is still a big pile of logs left to work through.
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These logs are free fuel. Something not to be sneezed at in these days of increasing energy prices, but only free as long as you already have a spare 1/4 acre of forest clearing, a couple of chain saws, a tractor to drag the piles apart safely, a hydraulic wood splitter and a ute to transport the cut wood around, and then a wood shed to keep it all dry once it is cut and split to be stored and seasoned, then, ultimately I can burn it for “free”!
This firing has a lot of tests in it, as all my firings do. If I don’t have time to make some new tests and follow-up on new ideas. I feel like there is something wrong, something missing. After a lifetime of potting. It’s 48 years now since I got to throw my first pot on the potters wheel and was hooked. Any firing without tests in it is an empty firing. It’s the test pieces. The promise of something new revealed, that makes the unpacking extra special and not just plain mechanical work. It is the stimulus of expectation that makes the difference. I know that I should be aware of my all too human failing of expectation, just observe it and let it pass, but it just hangs around until I see those tests.  As it often turns out, they are not very special, but every once in a while there is something interesting that makes it all so much more rewarding and worth while. It’s probably something like a kind of addiction. Hanging out for that next hit of pleasure, that next intellectual/aesthetic indulgence. It can just be a test ring or a shard. The object itself isn’t all that important, it’s the internal machinations and the thought processes that it provokes.
I have 10 new body pastes in this firing, but so as to keep it all under control. I am using all my reliable and well-tested rock glazes on them. Glazes that have proved to be suitably stable and beautiful. I can’t afford to use unknown bodies with unknown glazes on them. That would be asking for trouble. I have set up a system where I am testing each of the 10 new porcelain body recipes with each of my 10 rock glazes. Each new clay recipe/variation glazed with 10 well-known glazes. A hundred bowls in all. This should reveal something. I don’t know quite what yet, but I’m keen to find out. Even if there is nothing special or ’showable’ it’ll still be something to cross off as not worthwhile, so then I can work on something completely different. I suspect though, that there will be something in there. I just don’t know which one. This firing hopefully will reveal the best, or most likely contender for further refinement.
I’d like eventually, to be able to make something that is both meaningful and beautiful — on a shoestring
All will be revealed in a few days.
This is the life of a frugal self-reliant potter. Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect, nothing lasts.
Its just like a good salad!
Best wishes

The Last Beta Firing? Success at iteration 7

Janine has just completed the 7th firing and design iteration of the little wood fired kiln. It worked well and there are now no more obvious and glaring changes that need to be made to the design. Of course there are a lot of little issues that will need to be tweaked over the coming months. But I can’t see anything that will require a major rebuild. I think that this design as it stands now is a good one. – Until I think of something better!

The verandah of the pottery now has a collection of these little prototypes all parked there out of the weather. They all work well enough at lower temps, so I will use them for our raku firing weekend workshops. The image shows a very full wheel barrow of wood, enough for two or more firings to stoneware.
The design that I have ended up with is now ready for a limited production run.
This last firing of Janine’s was more or less perfect. Except that we managed to crack a kiln shelf. Janine had a lot of flat ware, so I retrieved a kiln shelf from the rack that hadn’t been fired for over 20 years. I think that the shock of a fast firing and possibly moisture absorbtion that couldn’t escape fast enough was the problem, as this hasn’t happened before. I would usually like to season a new kiln shelf more gentle. Perhaps by rubbing in salt and pepper with a little olive oil might work next time?:) By lunch time we’re famished. Because I managed to catch up with the fresh fish man, we have ultra-fresh sashimi grade tuna. So its sashimi for lunch.
I also make fresh pippies in white wine, chilli and saffron sauce for dinner. What more could you want to celebrate a successful firing day. Followed by a fresh salad from the garden. We have a local grower of saffron now, so we support them.
I have been making a new batch of spy holes for my kiln factory. I throw them on the wheel, very slowly, out of a very coarse mix of crushed high alumina grog and a small amount of kaolin to bind it. The mix is so aggressive that my hands are starting to hurt after just one pot-board full. This mix really takes your skin off. But that’s OK. 20 or so will last me for another year. If I wanted to make any more I’d have to wear gloves. I’ve heard some potters claim that they throw till their fingers bleed, but I’m not that stupid. I know when to stop.
I fire the spy holes in the little wood kiln. This little wonder fires cone 8 on the bottom shelf, cone 9 in the middle and cone 10 at the top. A perfectly useable working stoneware temperature range. Certainly OK for a 3 to 3 1/2 hour firing schedule. My bowls turn out well too. Some nice, soft, pastel glazes.
I’m really pleased that everything has come to a clear resolution at this time. As for the next couple of months. I’m fully booked on other projects and I wont have any time to play with this little kiln for a while. In the evening we de-seed chillies for drying in the kitchen window, along with beans and corn, destined for drying and grinding for polenta. I also finish drying some tomatoes in the oven. Once dried in this way they have the potential to keep almost indefinitely, but they never do. They are so yummy that I eat them like lollies. They never last the year. It’s great to add a handful into winter stocks. They add that certain piquant, sharp sweetness to sauces or a ragu.
This is just another day in the mixed household of self-reliance.
Best wishes from Mr. Beta and Ms Better

Small portable stoneware wood fired kiln. cont.

We have just fired the 5th incarnation of our little, portable, stoneware capable, wood fired kiln. It fired very well, again easily in 3 hours. It just cruises along at its own pace. 1 hr to 1000 oC and then 2 hrs to 2 1/2 hrs in reduction to stoneware cone 10 over.

This variation was to test out the new chimney arrangement and that worked perfectly, some much better than the previous one. I am very happy with that. Another problem solved!

The hard-working firing team, going at it flat out. Half way through the wood stack in the barrow. Going for the big final effort, no holes barred! Go for it ladies!


I have it adjusted now so that as the temperature reaches 1000 oC. The kiln automatically goes into reduction. I don’t have to use a damper to make this happen. The kiln continues to rise steadily over the next two hours without having to alter any settings in the firebox. It’s lovely.

However, I notice slight difference in the fired surfaces around the setting, so I conceive of another experiment to try and even out this anomaly. I have everything that I need in stock in the spare parts shelf in the pottery, so no need to go out and buy anything. I spend the morning cutting, grinding and painting all the new bits and the kiln is primed and ready to fire again. I need to glaze some more work for this firing, so there will be a days delay while they dry out. This will be variation/refinement firing number 6.

I’ve learnt from bitter experience that if I fire fast with freshly applied glazes. I can blow them off the pot on the underneath side. All my bodies and glazes are currently made here onsite from locally collected and processed rocks, shales and ashes. Everything is made onsite and it takes a month of Sundays to get it all organised, dried, crushed and milled and then bagged ready for inclusion in the glazes. These are weighed out and then sometimes re-milled. and at other times, just passed through a very fine sieve to extract any small detritus that was caught in a gap around the lid of the ball mill and didn’t get fully ground. Glazes with no clay in them are notoriously delicate and friable to handle once dry and very prone to just falling off from the underneath side of pots. Of course i use a little bentonite to help stabilise them and shrink them on as well as creating a little bit of dry strength, but I have found that I can only add 1 or 2 % before it starts to change some of the glazes.

Tragically, as always seems to happen. I found yet one more issue with this configuration that needs a little more thought. During this last firing, I notice that I could improve the kiln shelf and stainless steel grating arrangement. So it’s back to the drawing board, or in this case, the work bench and I make a new set of one-piece ceramic supports that I hope will work a lot better. I pull the kiln to pieces and start again from scratch, right back to floor level and create a new setting design.

Maybe this will be the last of the beta firings?

We will fire again today with a load of Janine’s work in it this time. As she has a load glazed and dried ready to go.

Always so much more to learn.

A Healthier Substitute for Common Salt?

I like to limit my salt intake. I achieve this mainly by limiting the amount of processed food that I buy. Processed foods tend to be loaded up with salt, sugar and fat. Not particularly good for us in excess. By making nearly all our meals from scratch, using vegetables from our own organic garden, we can be fairly certain of what is in most of our food. So we can limit our salt, fat and sugar intake. Salt tends to cause hypertension and hardening of the arteries Something to be avoided. I was brought up in a household where my mother used very little salt. The only salt in the house that I can remember was ‘Blooms’ celery salt, that came in a cardboard box. it was used spearingly at table. So I’m used to the slightly bland, less stimulating tastes of the likes of Tuscan bread and cultured, unsalted butter.

Perhaps this is why I have always had low blood pressure. At least I did. I used to get up in the morning and feel a bit dizzy when I stood up after getting out of bed and sometimes had to sit down again for a while, before heading to the bathroom, waiting for my blood pressure to catch up. Once in the shower, I would get a bit dizzy again as the warm water relaxed my blood vessels and my pressure would drop again. Sometimes I would start to see stars circulating in my vision. Just like in the cartoon – only these ones weren’t coloured, just grey. I didn’t enjoy any of this and mentioned it to my family doctor on one of the rare occasions that I ever went, as I have never really had a need to go. He told me that there was no treatment for low blood pressure and that I should be careful. Especially when driving first thing in the morning, because when he tested my blood pressure it was something like 60 over 90. He asked me if I was OK? I said that I was. I felt normal. He looked a bit shocked and warned me that I should be careful that I didn’t pass out unexpectedly.

15 years ago, I decided to start taking a little salt in my diet, and for 10 years I took a small amount of common salt each week. Now, 10 years on, my blood pressure is up to normal. So I stopped taking ordinary salt a few years ago. These days I use a salt substitute that I mix up my self. It has a small amount of common salt in it, but is mostly composed of vegetable matter.

I buy a readily available brand of vegetable salt called ‘trocomare’ (250 gram pkt). This seems to be about half sodium chloride and half vegetable powder. I empty this into a large mixing bowl. To this I add a 500 gram packet of kelp powder, plus 100 grams of ‘K’ salt – Potassium Chloride, some powdered celery seed, if I have it, and one or two small packets of Sumac 30 grams. This is all mixed up and put into sealed containers, to keep it dry, ready for use. The kelp powder has a small amount of sea salt in it, but most importantly, it contains iodine.

Australian soils are quite low in iodine, being very ancient and well weathered, This is especially prevalent in the South Eastern States. Our ancient soils have not had the benefit of massive glacial activity pushing finely ground volcanic rock dust with it that would eventually degrade into deep, rich, fertile soils. So our soils around here are depleted of iodine.

For so many years our nation used glass milk bottles to deliver the daily milk. These bottles were re-cycled, washed, sterilised with iodine and re-used. The infinitesimal remnants of iodine that were left in the glass from the sterilisation were just enough to keep all Australians who drank milk supplied with their daily dose of Iodine. We didn’t have any trouble with iodine deficiency here in the cities, where glass milk bottles were used. Since we have economically irrationalised ourselves, and milk is delivered in plastic, or plastic-coated cardboard, now we are developing an iodine deficiency again.

This iodine deficiency was first noted here back in 1900. There have even been parliamentary inquiries into the mandatory addition of micro amounts of iodine into general food stuffs, such as bread, through the introduction of iodised salt. This is a practice that has been adopted in New Zealand, and  possibly Germany and Switzerland as well as far as I understand it. But I could be wrong on this.

I choose to buy iodised salt when I do buy salt, but it isn’t very often, as a small packet lasts a very long time because I try not to use very much of it. Most of it tends to get used mixed with lemon skins to scour and clean my copper cooking pots and pans. It does a lovely job. Every pan gets a good going over at least once every few weeks. It keeps them looking bright and shiny.

What is the right amount of salt? Salt is certainly addictive. once you get used to that spike in taste, everything else seems to be very bland. I used to know someone who added salt to everything. He didn’t like my food, as it was too bland for him. When he made porridge in the morning, he added so much salt that I couldn’t eat it. It was just too salty for me. when he made a low salt batch the next morning for me, he couldn’t eat it, as it tasted too bland for his taste. He had to add a lot more salt into his bowl. He said that he just couldn’t taste it.

So is salt good or bad for you? I don’t know. Life is a big one-way gamble. I’ve put my chips on the low salt option. It wasn’t too hard to do, as I was brought up that way. It seems normal to me. There just might be something to be said for blandness. It might help me appreciate the subtleties of delicate flavours? I certainly taste the stronger flavours when I get them. And you know, I don’t really like very salty foods. They just taste too salty to me, so I tend to avoid them.

Everything in moderation!

I’m grateful that I’m able to make these choices.