Why do flowers never last as long as you would like? The lilac, which flowered in the last month, has barely reached full bloom it seems when some of the petals are turning to mid brown. Sometimes spring flowers – daffodils and tulips – do last a good while if there is a cold snap (think 2013). But the thought that flowers never last is more of a feeling than reality because there are some plants that flower for a long time; cue my regular mention of schizostylis which can flower from late autumn through to spring (obviously individual flowers don't last that long but the flowers keep coming) if there is no very heavy periods of frost. And then there is the late flowering red hot poker we have which can also flower from early autumn through to spring if the weather stays mild. I suppose flowers don't flower to please us but as part of their propagation cycle; we may cultivate particular varieties that we like, and breed new ones, but to a considerable extent they do their own thing, which varies from plant to plant, from shrub to shrub, and there's the rub. C'est la vie.
There is something amazing and almost childlike in the way people can whip up enthusiasm for something which until recently they knew nothing about. Take the Giro d'Italia cycle race. Many people in Norn Iron, and in the Republic, got really enthusiastic about an event, admittedly a very big sporting event internationally, which people knew absolutely zero about a month previously. And most will forget it again just as rapidly. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that but it does reflect an interesting facet of human nature; short-lived enthusiasm. I was out there cheering with the rest of them, I might add.
Of course those behind organising it spoke of the free publicity (well, hosting it cost several million) through it starting in Northern Ireland. Certainly. But personally I felt the decision, and the thought behind, not permitting election posters on the Giro route was wrong. The only reason for doing that would be if it obscured people's views and I don't believe it would do that. Of course we all clean the house before we have visitors to stay (well, most of us do). There are two reasons for so doing: so the guest feels welcome, and so we don't look bad. But do you want your guests to get a false impression of how you live? Presumably most of us clean our houses on occasions when we don't have visitors coming as well. For me, not permitting election posters on the route strays in to false impression territory – and what is wrong with showing that the North has an at-least-partly-functioning sort of democracy? Surely visitors and media cameras will see enough flags and murals to know that Northern Ireland has its own idiosyncrasies?
What I found great about the Giro too was when the roads were closed for the time trials or the race the 'natural' way to get there was on foot or by bicycle. So not only was it a bicycle race but bikes, of all sorts and varieties, were in evidence on the sidelines as well as steaming through at tremendous speed under human power.
The best slogan that I saw associated with the Giro was the t-shirt stating "Northern Ireland has always loved the Giro". Now this may need explaining a bit. The Italian 'Giro' is I understand pronounced "Geero". But 'Giro', pronounced 'Jiro' with a hard 'g', is also a colloquial term for the dole/bru/unemployment benefit payments, dating back to 'Girocheques', perhaps from the 'seventies, which worked through the Post Office. So saying 'Northern Ireland has always loved the Giro' could be a way of saying "We have always loved welfare payments"! I presume the slogan was being ironic and not sycophantic but you never know. It's a bit like the old one, dated by currency decimalisation in 1971, that said loyalists in the North were "loyal to the half crown rather than the Crown" (the half crown was the largest common coin, worth the equivalent of perhaps €5 today). Though given the state of the Northern Ireland economic dependency on British subvention, 'being loyal to the half crown' goes for Protestants, Catholics and dissenters I think.
I'm one of those nerds who read election literature, for a variety of reasons. There probably aren't a lot of truly 'floating voters' in Northern Ireland but I would claim to be one. I vote for whoever I consider needs, or deserves to be, encouraged at the time of voting for some forward thinking stand and this has included parties on both 'sides' as well, possibly, as the middle. But I am afraid I don't 'do' support for conservative parties though I have voted for paramilitary-related parties, small parties, occasionally less small ones.
The NI Conservatives were standing in my local area elections as well as the Euro elections (where they came last of the ten candidates). Their leaflet, complete with a pic of someone named David Cameron, had different slogans about what they have achieved. One of these was "Renewed respect abroad"; well, I am afraid I have only one thing to say to that, hohohohohohohohohohohohohohohohohoho. The idea that Cameron and the Tories have earned Britain 'respect' internationally is so silly that I had to mention it.
Sinn Féin topped the popular vote in first preferences in both elections in the North but got fewer local council seats than the DUP, who may now be looking over their shoulder a bit in the way that the Ulster Unionist Party did at them when they were top dog. But there were no big changes in the North and the same three MEPs were returned. Alliance saw its vote slip slightly in percentage terms but did relatively well with councillors, admittedly as a smaller party with very patchy representation; given the attacks over the 'flegs' issue, they must have been breathing sighs of relief.
In the Republic Labour got a comeuppance in the local and Euro elections. It's interesting that, the junior partners in coalitions get the blame for decisions taken by both (whether they are right or wrong, and in the case of the current coalition I think a lot of those decisions were wrong). I suppose the difference is that people who supported Labour expected them to know better and act differently, while many Fine Gael supporters expected them to do just what they did. The Green Party in the Republic has still to work back from their (disastrous from their point of view) liaison with Fianna Fáil, and the Progressive Democarts in their time as junior coalition partners disappeared altogether. Something similar is happening in a drastic drain on support for the Lib Dems in Britain though few people there, including Lib Dem supporters and voters, had expected the possibility of a Con-Dem coalition.
Meanwhile in the Republic Sinn Féin pulled up to be almost neck and neck with FG and FF in the Euro elections (they did less well in the locals) – and the fact that Fianna Fail (no fada on the latter word because I am writing an English and not an Irish word here) got the most votes in the local elections and equal to Fine Gael in the Euros shows an astounding capacity of electors to forget what they actually did to the country in nearly bankrupting it, or, if they didn't nearly bankrupt it then facilitating those who did. How elastic Sinn Féin's vote proves to be – are others amenable to vote for them in the future given their past and their left of centre leanings – remains to be seen. They have however, for the moment, trounced Labour to be the main slightly left of centre party in the Republic. In the North, though, as evidenced by the lack of progress on so many issues and the debacle that is OFMDFM, Sinn Féin remain part of the problem of division and not by itself an answer.
I have quoted here before the predictions of Baron Kelvin of Largs, a k a William Thompson, yes, he of the Kelvin scale (I think on the Kelvin scale he registered 100%). Cutting edge scientist he was in his day, and born in Norn Iron 'of Ulster lineage' as his statue in Botanic Gardens, Belfast, proudly proclaims. I am informed online that his ennoblement was due both to scientific achievement and his opposition to Home Rule in Ireland. But eventually we all get past it and in his case he died, aged 83, in 1907. In his latter years scientific developments had passed him by and he made some predictions such as that x-rays were no use, radio would never catch on, and heavier than air flight was impossible. Oh well, I think by this stage in his life he scored an absolute zero (geddit?) on the scale for seeing into the future, in fact if he was playing 'hide and seek' for the reality of the future he might have been told that he was extremely cold.
This is by way of introducing the topic of internet radio stations. I have recently acquired a new hi-fi system from my family courtesy of a birthday; this is in our kitchen (cooking and lively music go together so well). But it is linked by our wi-fi (hi-fi on wi-fi) to the internet and thus to internet radio so I can listen to any station that broadcasts on the internet. Interestingly, given the old fashioned word 'wireless' for radio, and depending on how the signals are routed, this 'wireless' may actually be 'wired' most of the way.
I have a lot of exploring to do and the internet stations are programmed using my tablet with stations listed by country, genre etc; if I want jazz from the Caribbean, well, it is easy to find. The two new stations that I am particularly enjoying at the moment are LiveIreland LiveIreland is somewhat ironically named because, while it is a lively and wide selection of Irish traditional and folk music 24/7, it is certainly not 'live'. I am however enjoying listening to this comprehensive selection of Irish traditional and folk music and seeing what I recognise of tunes, singers and songs – and looking up on my tablet (which controls the stations) the names of those I don't know but am inquisitive about, which is a lot. It's all very enjoyable apart from a crummy station identification.
It is interesting I think, and a reflection of our globalised world though not really far away in global terms, that my favourite 'world' music is Fado from Portugal – despite the fact I have never been in that country and don't speak a word of the language. Fado (from the Portuguese for 'fate') is a unique Portuguese folk blues, owing much to Portuguese connections overseas. As Portugal hit democracy from 1974 onwards, Fado was somewhat tarnished by its connections with the ancien regime but so deeply embedded in the culture that it came through into the modern era in a healthy state. Searching through the Portuguese stations for one that might play Fado, the name 'Rádio Amália' (after Amália Rodrigues, one of the all time greats of Fado) immediately suggested this genre, and I was right. Very atmospheric.
Listening to lyrics in a language that you don't or can't understand is also fascinating in different ways. Perhaps you understand the title or topic of the song, perhaps not, so you have to listen to it in a different way. In most cases you may well get a correct hint of the atmosphere of the song. But not always, and ignorance can be bliss. Take the Finnish folk rock group Varttina. Their music sounds upbeat and even joyous at times but don't believe a word of it. Here is the first few lines of the first track of their Miero album of 2006:
"I throw off sparks
I tear from my tongue words as twisted as tree-roots.
I poke the fire of hatred with my words;
I hurl hate back at you.
My mood blackens,
Blacker than the mind of any mortal.
My loathing drips blood,
My pain slashes, curses, drenches with pus...."
- and that is just for starters. Yes, well, how's that for Nordic noir. Maybe it's just as well I don't speak Finnish.
Anyway, if you visit me these days in the kitchen you might get Irish music, you might get Portuguese. I haven't however been looking for Finnish stations that specialise in playing Varttina. I don't usually look for news on the radio as these days I pick up my news on websites and with the odd newspaper, and, when I can, a television news in the evening. I need some other things in my life apart from news, thank you very much, and cooking and music together are the perfect way to unwind a while. Speaking of cooking......
V & V (3): Pulse-ateing pressure
Having dealt with gram flour the last time, I am going to deal with a similar but much broader area this time – beans and pulses in general. This is such a wide area of cuisine that you could write up a series of books and continents. However I will try to give a very brief overview and a few hints for your experimentation – if you are the kind of person who wants exact recipes then this is not what you will want. While we are, in our household, lacto-ovaro-vegetarian, eating dairy products as well as eggs, we try to get the majority of our protein from beans and pulses, and many of our meals would be either vegan or next to vegan.
If you want to use beans and pulses, the first advice I would give is – buy a pressure cooker. They are not fashionable at the moment, at least in our neck of the woods, but indispensible if you are using dried beans. When Cuba fell on hard times with the downfall of Russian communism, and the end of cheap fuel, the government gave every household a pressure cooker, and it is economical and ecological as well as speedy. You can of course use tinned varieties of beans, now more readily available beyond 'baked beans' (haricot beans in tomato sauce), but it is cheaper, better and less wasteful to use dried. The first thing is to soak your beans or pulses for about 8 hours – e.g. from breakfast to cooking dinner in the evening. If you forget and have a couple of hours you can 'catch up' by pouring boiling water on them in a casserole dish and leave them covered.
Rinse your beans or pulses before putting them in your pressure cooker but most are perfectly clean. Soaked whole lentils only take 3 – 5 minutes at pressure in a pressure cooker, and chick peas I would give 18 minutes at pressure. If you didn't soak chick peas and used an open pot (I never have) I think you'd be talking about a couple of hours! Chick peas are the one to go for if you want a bean that stays fairly firm no matter how much you cook it. Soaked butter beans for frying I would give about 12 minutes – otherwise they can be too soft.
I would advise you with beans and pulses, particularly split peas, to turn the heat under your pressure cooker down to the minimum needed to maintain pressure as soon as possible after it reaches pressure. Otherwise the pressure cooker can overheat and 'blow a gasket' – potentially dangerous for you. I think this is because some pulses absorb heat more than other foods. I would also advise using a pressure cooker on a cooking ring away from you so if anything does happen you're not under the spurt of steam. When opening you can either leave it to come down to room pressure itself (if you want the food concerned to continue cooking a bit and you're in no hurry) or use your cold tap to cool it down. If you take care then pressure cookers are perfectly safe.
Now, what do you say about digestibility issues concerning beans and pulses? I won't go into detail but say that experimentation is the only way to find out – and as part of a balanced diet should not be a problem. Some people do question the use (and overuse in commercial food) of soya beans, and their digestibility, apart from their traditional treatment to produce tofu or tempeh which are quite different to 'beans'. So I generally don't use TVP – texturised vegetable protein – like a vegetarian version of minced meat. Oh, and don't forget the good old frozen pea which is a very useful last minute addition, by themselves or added to something else, to a meal which needs a bit more nutrition.
All right, on to what you do with them. You can find a million and two recipes on the internet if you search for 'Latin American bean recipes', 'Chick pea recipes', 'Indian recipes' (using chickpeas, or lentils for dhal) or more specifically a particular bean or pulse. They can be used in stews, vegetable crumbles, as sauces, fried, and in salads or as the basis of a salad. Here are the outlines of a few recipes we do:
Basic lentil or split pea dhal (a k a 'dal' or 'dahl'): Cook your lentils (we usually use the common red split lentils) or split peas. With lentils you can add tomatoes or tinned tomatoes while cooking. I usually flavour it with curry, Cajun spice and some veggie bouillon. This is our basic dhal but if you want something more exciting you can find recipes online, which would usually fry up other ingredients before adding to the dhal (e.g. cook onion and garlic with finely chopped fresh ginger and freshly ground spices - using freshly ground cumin seeds is particularly good). If you are lacto-vegetarian and you want a richer dhal you can add grated cheese.
Chickpea stew: We tend to make this slightly Thai-style with coconut milk and creamed coconut. Basically sauté (cook in a small amount of oil but cover so the moisture stays in) a number of different veg, including chilli – red or green according to taste. When the veg is nearly cooked add your coconut milk or creamed coconut and cooked chick peas, and flavour, and heat together gently.
Whole lentil stew; I tend to use a fair bit of onion, maybe some sweet pepper, and mushrooms, as well as flavourings which vary quite a bit (wasabi – horseradish-type powder – is handy).
Aduki bean stew: Adukis which are soaked may require 16 minutes cooking at pressure though if they go mushy it just makes a different kind of stew. Sauté onions and sweet pepper with a bit of chopped chilli and, when they are nearly done, I add a peeled and cored cooking apple which I have chopped. Throw in your cooked beans, some water to moisten the lot, and what flavourings you like, this one usually includes some soya sauce, and simmer gently to get it all to gel together.
Fried butter beans: as mentioned above, I just give soaked butter beans 12 minutes at pressure, and take them off and strain them to avoid them getting mushy. I then fry them up in oil (or oil and butter if you like) flavoured with garlic, wasabi and maybe some curry, before a final dash of soya sauce.
I have a fondness for the word 'aduki' because when my eldest child was a toddler, the word always caused them laughter. If you don't have enough of 'whatever' left for another meal, keep it and make a soup, adding some fried onions or other leftovers. I am particularly fond of lentil soup....and have a sister in law whose dog was called 'Lentil' (yes, they are veggies too...)
There have been so many words expended and exchanged over the Pastor McConnell comments on Islam and Muslims in Norn Iron that I hesitate to say any more, the controversy in the North has been massive – and the Editor is writing a Headytorial for this issue on some of the background issues I understand. I suppose that one quick comment I would make shows the importance of thinking before we speak – even a religious minister giving a sermon, especially one commenting on controversial topics and in a divided society.
But I am a fan of the absurd. I sometimes put the subtitles on when watching television, which, if they are instant (as opposed to a film, say, or a documentary which has had subtitles added in advance) can be wildly inaccurate, indeed hilariously so. Anyway, watching a snippet of Pastor McConnell on the Nolan Show on BBC NI, he (who is pastor to a congregation of a couple of thousand in a megachurch with a slick media operation) said "I am just a simple pastor". However the subtitles came up with "I am just a simple pasta". Wonderful, how a technical inaccuracy can produce a beautifully absurd comment and by such a means reduce things to nonsense. Someone else who heard this story indicated that he obviously had got into hot sauce.
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That's me for now. I hope your summer is gearing up well and we get some weather to indicate it is indeed summertime. Just the odd stretch of sunshine here and there does wonders. Oh well, we can dream, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).