A rivet-ing tale
Well, there I was bemoaning the end of summer last month, and a poor month’s weather during August, and September may definitely have been autumn but it was a very dry and often warm month, one of the warmest and driest Septembers on record. So the courgettes and runner beans have been prolific and we have been having fried green tomatoes, yum. Cooked green tomatoes are actually very different tasting to ripe tomatoes, quite a subtle, pleasant and different flavour, they could be a different vegetable (or fruit, as they are a fruit used as a vegetable). I just slice them, cook them on a moderate heat in a small amount of oil, stirring regularly, and add a bit of black pepper and perhaps a small pouring of soya sauce. [I thought your cookery piece was down below? – Ed] Excellent. Lots more to come too......
My purple sprouting broccoli for next spring is looking in good shape, partly because I made the effort (and space) to transplant them in good time. Apart from a few that have broccled too early they should do well in the spring. Though they say don’t count your broccoli before it has sprouted. It has been eaten very little this year by slugs and I am wondering whether that might be due to some good friends in and around the garden including a robin and....a frog.
Ours is just a suburban garden but it does have a ‘wild’ site across one (nearly 3 metres high) wall and I am wondering whether ‘the’ frog that I have met occasionally over the last six or seven years is resident or a good climber; there is a garden door it could have come under but the rest of our back garden is walled.....it could have gone from bush to bush over the wall. I am not sure about the climbing abilities of the European common frog, my vast research on the internet (quarter of an hour) was inconclusive. I last met my frog friend when I was varnishing windows recently where foliage (well, mainly weeds at that point) goes right up to the window and I saw movement, and then realised that it was a frog, it was lucky I didn’t belt it with the ladder. On an earlier occasion a/the frog actually hopped into our house through the back door when I was going out to bring in the compost bin which was draining after being washed. So, like any important visitor I took their photo. Corrymeela House
For those with at least a passing connection with the peace and reconciliation movements in Norn Iron, the passing of ‘Corrymeela House’ in Upper Crescent, Belfast, really is the end of an era. Corrymeela in Ballycastle is usually known for its hospitality to differing groups coming together to chew over whatever they wanted to chew over, but Corrymeela House in Belfast was also always hospitable to a wide variety of groups, including INNATE who used it as a meeting place, as well as people passing through. Thank you, ‘Meela (as the Corry’meela’ football teams are often known). But they haven’t gone away you know, just down the road as the news section in this issue records. Corrymeela is coming up to the big 50 next year too. And these days it’s all a bit different to the apocryphal story about the early days of the Corrymeela Centre when new arrivals were told they’d have to make their own beds, wondered what the fuss was about in pulling up a sheet and blankets....and then been handed wood, a saw, hammer and nails....... [That story is as old as the hills or Glens of Antrim – Ed].
Not over the Hill
It must be one of the best kept secrets of Donegal if not Ireland. Derek Hill’s former house, known as Glebe House, at Churchill in Co Donegal west of Letterkenny. I’d been in the exhibition gallery before but not in the house, and what a fabulous cornucopia of art and design it is. Every possible space in this former Church of Ireland Georgian rectory is crammed with pictures and works of art by Irish and European artists, many extremely well known, and the walls are decorated with some wonderful Williams Morris wallpaper. Visiting it is quite unlike going to a gallery – much more of an experience.
Derek Hill was a famous English portrait painter though he did landscapes as well. He fell in love with the Glebe House in Churchill, Co Donegal and bought it in 1953; nestled as it is beside Gartan lough you can see why. Derek Hill died in 2000. In between when he arrived and when he left the house and its contents to the state, in 1981, almost two decades before he died, he adorned it in his own idiosyncratic style. The first thing you might see coming through the door is a Louis le Brocquy. Other famous Irish and European artists compete for space on the walls....and even on his bed where he liked to wake up to art.
But he was good at relating to people as well as his art. James Dixon was a farmer and fisherman on Tory Island who, when asked by Hill what he thought of a picture he was painting there said he could do as well. Dixon had already done some painting himself but was assisted by Derek Hill from the age of 70 when they had that conversation and he (James Dixon) kept going until his death at 90. Hill promoted this so-called ‘primitive’ (untrained) school of artists on Tory. Some of Dixon’s work is on display in the kitchen of Glebe House in Churchill and it is powerful.
Unfortunately Glebe House and Gallery will now be closed to next year (for info see http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/North-West/GlebeHouseandGallery/ ) but I would certainly advise you if you are that direction at all in the summer to take a look in, I think you will be as enchanted as I was.
I said enough about Ian Paisley during his life not to say much more now after his death. He played a positive role in the last few years of his active political life in bringing Norn Iron forward, and saying ‘yes’ after a lifetime of ‘no’ must have been difficult at times for him, in particular given the reaction of some of his friends and colleagues. However he played a very negative role during most of his political life, and Northern Ireland might have been a different place if he had said ‘yes’, even a strongly qualified yes, earlier in his life. I will say no more at this point, not because I am paying attention to the old adage not to speak ill of the dead, but mainly because I have said it all, and analysed it all, before. Every possible angle has been covered elsewhere in the media and in personal conversations since his death. The ‘Big Man’ has gone. May he rest in peace.
V & V (6): Pasta mastering
Continuing our look at vegan and vegetarian food, we come to pasta and noodles. There are a million and one varieties of both, and a billion and one ways of serving them. If you are vegan when it comes to noodles you need to look out for ones that don’t have egg in the making. Most pasta, however, is vegan and you can get different specialist pastas without wheat or gluten, but you will probably pay a fair bit extra for the pleasure. So far as a wheat-based pasta is concerned I would however go for wholemeal pasta when you can; it is heavier but more nutritious.
One of the problems of eating pasta ‘out’ is that a restaurant or hotel tends to give you a huge plateful, enough to sit in your stomach uncomfortably until the middle of the next day. It is much better to treat it as one ingredient in a meal. If eating out and confronted with a pasta-only dish on the menu you can ask for a smaller portion of pasta to be accompanied by vegetables or whatever takes your fancy. If the restaurant is sensible about it they should do this with no extra charge unless you are ordering specific extras as side orders – after all the omnivores are quite likely to get veg with their main dish and pasta as an ingredient is likely to be cheaper than meat. I will return to the question of balance in meals at a later date.
Our ‘Friday special’ (not every Friday, and not always on a Friday but so called because it can just about be cooked in half an hour and is therefore an ‘energy running low’ possibility for the end of the working week) is noodles with a stir fry and a simple dhal. I would usually serve the dhal poured over the noodles to keep them hot. Sometimes people think they need fancy ingredients for a stir fry; not so. My basics would be onions, carrots, cauliflower, chilli, garlic and then whatever else is in season, possibly broccoli or courgettes. If I want to add a bit ‘extra’ I might add some slightly chopped stoned olives, or some dried tomato that I have soaked in boiling water and drained and cut up a bit. If you don’t have a wok you can use a heavy pot but you need to cut the veg small in any case. If adding diced peppers or mushrooms I add these when the rest is nearly cooked as these don’t need long on the heat.
You can also use flavoured oils (sesame, chilli etc) for cooking the stir fry or as part of the oil you use. Obviously you can mix your veg with your noodles if you like before serving. So far as pasta is concerned many recipes stipulate the pasta should be ‘al dente’ (firm) but you should cook it how you like it. And if it is being cooked to go into a sauce and that is cooked further then it is going to get less firm.
In terms of pasta sauces, the sky is you limit. You can make your own pesto but I stopped doing it as it didn’t get any more rave reviews than bought pesto – and actually cost more to make. But if you are a vegan or on a specialist diet you need to look at what is in a bottled pesto. I mentioned the last time ajvar/ayvar (pronounced ‘eye-var’), Balkan spicy pepper sauce, as an alternative to bought pesto, and that should be vegan. Or make your own ayvar or alternative. I make a simple sauce for cooking what we call ‘Indian cauliflower’ which could be used as an ayvar substitute.
For this you sauté onions (say 3 - 4 medium) and chopped chilli according to taste (use a small amount of oil in your heavy pot and cover them), and, when the onions are nearly done add one and a half or two chopped red peppers (if you don’t want to go for red you could use yellow peppers). Cook this for another five minutes or so. Then liquidise the mixture (I use a hand blender) but you only need to add a very small amount of water or it will go very soupy. I add some bouillon, some curry powder, and some paprika (which also gives it a darker red colour) and perhaps a bit of soya sauce, you can use whatever flavourings take your fancy. I usually then cook cauliflower florets in it but it could equally do as a pasta sauce in which case it just needs heated up.
If you use cheese you can make a ‘macaroni cheese’ or mix it with cauliflower to combine macaroni and cauliflower cheese; steam or sauté the cauli a bit but not so it is soft before combining with the cooked pasta in the sauce and finish it off in the oven for fifteen or twenty minutes. For a cheese sauce I would usually add mustard powder and/or chilli (red or green) to give it a bit of a lift if not a kick (the latter if you use a lot).
Lasagne is a dish we tend to do for visitors but we find it is now difficult to get wholemeal lasagne. Spelt flour lasagne we have found just too heavy on the stomach so we are reduced to white or pasta verde (green pasta usually including spinach). The brief recipe for what we do is as follows. Take a couple of large onions and a small head of celery, all chopped, and sauté them in oil or butter and, when they are nearly done, add 200g of chopped mushrooms. Put in two 400g cans of tomatoes (or fresh equivalent) and some bay leaves to flavour and boil rapidly for quarter of an hour or so without covering to reduce the liquid. Take out the bay leaves - the structure of bay leaves can actually be dangerous if swallowed so count them in and count them out. Use black pepper or salt according to taste. Do as many layers as you like (well, two to three) of the vegetable mixture with lasagne on top in a large ovenproof dish. Cover the top layer of lasagne with a quarter litre or more of plain yoghurt to which you have added some grated cheddar cheese and maybe a little bit of cayenne or chilli and mustard powder, and sprinkle with rolled/jumbo oats.
A vegan alternative for the topping would be vegan yoghurt or a spiced vegan white sauce made with soya milk before putting on the rolled oats. Cook the lasagne in a moderate oven for three quarters of an hour or slightly more. A possibility to add some protein would be to add red/split lentils to the mixture and you could cook these separately before mixing in or add them when you add the tomatoes – but in either case stir it regularly and watch the liquid level because lentils going dry can burn your pot badly, you would probably need to add more water. Such a dhal type mixture could be great for spaghetti too. An alternative for protein is to serve the lasagne with roasted nuts or peanuts. Or else you can add finely diced tofu into the mixture.
Everyone likely has their favourite, or at least regular, pasta dish. Pasta can be considered a staple but with something like a carefully prepared lasagne it can be a fancy feature as well. And, if you get bored with pasta, well, give it a rest or try something radically or substantially different (e.g. if you usually use a tomato type sauce, instead try mushrooms or peppers or....). There should be no shortage of pasta or noodle dish recipes online, in fact if you have problems finding them then you may be a bit of a noodle yourself and pasta it....
A Northern vision
NVTV (Northern Visions TV) is back on the air in the Belfast area and now in digital. This community-oriented television station is well worth checking out: “an arts and digital media centre and local television broadcaster based in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. We work with groups involved in the arts, culture and local heritage, media literacy and education, community development, urban regeneration and community relations. Our vision is of a democratised form of media where new technologies are utilised as a tool for expression and creativity, to effect social change and combat poverty, social exclusion and isolation.” It is on Freeview channel 8 (retune your set) and Virgin Media Cable 159. NVTV, which has a twelve-year license, will broadcast local news, current affairs, documentaries, arts and culture, music, local history, business and sports. Initially it will be broadcasting from 6pm – 11pm seven days a week and plans to go on earlier in the day later on. Further information is available at www.nvtv.co.uk
Fighting, the US American way
There is a fascinating article which a friend passed on to me about a US guy who ‘almost’ became a military jihadist not because of his newly acquired Muslim values – it was ‘traditional’ Muslims who talked him out of it – but because of his US American ‘values’: “We are raised to love violence and view military conquest as a benevolent act. The American kid who wants to intervene in another nation’s civil war owes his worldview as much to American exceptionalism as to jihadist interpretations of scripture. I grew up in a country that glorifies military sacrifice and feels entitled to rebuild other societies according to its own vision. I internalized these values before ever thinking about religion. Before I even knew what a Muslim was, let alone concepts such as “jihad” or an “Islamic state,” my American life had taught me that that’s what brave men do.”
Having become a Muslim and ditched Catholic high school in the States at seventeen to study at a madrassa in Pakistan, he found himself (twenty years ago) wanting to pick up a gun to fight for Chechen freedom: “It wasn’t a verse I’d read in our Qur’an study circles that made me want to fight, but rather my American values. I had grown up in the Reagan ’80s. I learned from G.I. Joe cartoons to (in the words of the theme song) “fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.” I assumed that individuals had the right — and the duty — to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice and equality.” He thought of military struggle in terms of compassion. However it was traditionalist Muslims who persuaded him otherwise: “I was also told that I could achieve more good in the world as a scholar than as a soldier, and that I should strive to be more than a body in a ditch. These traditionalists reminded me of Muhammad’s statement that the ink of scholars was holier than the blood of martyrs.”
He concludes “My imagined scenario of liberating Chechnya and turning it into an Islamic state was a purely American fantasy, grounded in American ideals and values. Whenever I hear of an American who flies across the globe to throw himself into freedom struggles that are not his own, I think, What a very, very American thing to do.” (Taken from the ‘i’, 4th September 2014.)
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Well, that’s me for another month, here’s to October when it begins to feel like the winter is really coming in. But I enjoy getting warm as I head out on the cycycle on a crisp, cool winter’s morning. See you soon, 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).