Well, here I am again after a month off for good behaviour. Christmas is but a distant memory, apart from the Christmas decorations dotted about the place which keep on turning up for months after you think they have all been assigned to their box in the attic or a jumbly cupboard. And for gardeners now it is certainly time to start planting seeds indoors. And so the world revolves and tilts. But starting to see a bit more light in the evenings is always great, while winter still does its worst.
Aesop's fable on turning the tables
The tortoise and the hare is one of Aesop's fables that we probably all know. The tortoise and the hare take part in a race and it looks pretty obvious who is going to win. The commonest interpretation (there are other takes on it, some probably with the purpose of being contrarian) is that the hare is so sure of victory that it decides to take a rest and falls asleep. The tortoise, however, keeps on trucking and through steady but slow determination to get there wins the race. I think this metaphorical story is as true today as it was in "Aesop's time", if there was an 'Aesop', at least when these stories were first put together more than a couple of thousand years ago.
It came to mind when I was commuting to the day job on my bicycle. It struck me that in urban areas the hare is the motor car, the tortoise is the bicycle. However in fact some days on my bicycle I can hare (!) past the stationary cars who are in a queue to get past a junction while I sail on by, and know exactly how long it will take me to get to work, and arrive feeling invigorated after some not too stressful physical exercise – I go at a reasonably fast pace.
In general, cars in urban areas can be more of a hindrance than a help; getting there can be slow because of the other motorised traffic, and when you get there you have still to find a parking place. And cars whizzing through or past where you live is not what local residents want. Whereas with a bicycle, you know pretty closely how long it will take you to get there, and parking is no problem, unless there is an issue of finding a secure parking place. And when you start to take cost factors into consideration, there is no comparison. By the way, INNATE's poster on cycling is here.
V & V (9): It's nuts
Well, actually nuts and seeds – and in the case of peanuts, a peculiar kind of bean. Barring those who have allergies (about which some recent research indicated there may be the possibility of a cure for some), this area of food is brilliant for nutrition and as simple or as complicated as you like to use. Roasting nuts or toasting seeds is so so simple to do, and very easy to whip up (so to speak – no whipping involved) to add to a meal which needs some contrast or protein.
You can toast any seeds on a heavy pan and perhaps add soya sauce at the end where it dries almost immediately onto the surface of the seeds, giving them a salty flavour. I use sunflower seeds, usually doing more than we would use in the meal to have as a snack or to add to a salad (a great addition just before serving). Put your seeds on a heavy pan and cook over a moderate heat, stirring frequently to ensure they don't burn. If you are busy doing other parts of the meal I would often turn the heat down quite low so I need to pay less attention to them, although obviously this takes longer for them to cook. When most are golden brown, turn off the heat, tilt the pan so they slide into one corner (though I suppose round pans don't have corners...) and pour over some soya sauce. Stir. The soya sauce will dry on the surface of the seeds almost immediately and the amount you use depends partly on how salty you want them to me.
I use sunflower seeds about once a week in this way, a great and tasty addition to a variety of meals. They are best fresh, whether hot or cold, but will keep acceptably in an airtight container for a week or more (they probably won't go off after that but won't be as nice to eat after a couple of days). You can do the same toasting with other seeds, whatever is your favourite. You could also experiment coating the seeds at the end of cooking with other liquids such as balsamic vinegar (the seeds taste slightly sweet), Worcester sauce, ume plum seasoning (also very salty), thin chilli sauce etc – whatever turns on your taste buds, though soya sauce may well turn out best, you may find alternatives you like as well. For those who are vegetarian, please note that the commonest brand of Worcester Sauce is not vegetarian as it contains anchovies (fish).
Nuts can be quite expensive these days so you can use peanuts if you like (which are strictly speaking a bean rather than a nut, and grow in the ground, hence the alternative name for them as 'ground nuts'). I tend to use a mixture of cashews and peanuts, the cashews bought in either half kilo or kilo bags in my local Asian supermarket (in small quantities in shops and supermarkets the cost of cashews or other nuts can be prohibitive). Simply place the nuts on your roasting receptacle (I usually use a casserole lid but you could use a roasting tin or ovenproof plate), pour on a very small amount of oil - a couple of teaspoons is ample for enough nuts for two or three people, mix by hand so all the nuts are covered, and add any salt or pepper you wish. Then cook in a moderate oven for about twenty minutes or so. Do keep an eye on them, particularly until you are used to doing it in that particular oven, because it is very disappointing to be sorting through burnt nuts for ones that are edible. If they look like they are doing too much then turn down the oven immediately or remove them altogether (and if necessary heat them up a bit again).
I use sesame seeds in toppings, sometimes in salads, and in sesame fried cabbage. For the last you need cabbage for as many are eating, remembering that it does reduce a bit in cooking, Savoy cabbage is good. I place the chopped cabbage in a heavy pot with some sesame oil (you could use another nut oil) or a mixture of sesame oil and sunflower oil, or your usual cooking oil. Keep the pot closed on a moderate to low heat and stir frequently; add a small amount of hot water after five minutes or so, and also stir fairly frequently during the half hour or so of cooking. Add more hot water as needed if it is getting dry or looking like it might burn. Meanwhile put your sesame seeds, as many as you fancy, on a heavy pan over a moderate heat, stirring quite often, for ten minutes or so, this develops the flavour of the seeds. You stir in the sesame seeds and mix with the cabbage before serving. This is a very simple way to turn cabbage into a meal for kings.
In the very first of this series – and before I knew how it would develop [That's planning for you – Ed] I gave a recipe for sunflower burgers which are easy to make if you have a food blender. See here.
You can use peanuts or peanut butter to make a great satay or other sauce. Again there are numerous recipes online for satay and you can experiment until you get one that you like and works well in getting it together. I would use a small amount of onion and chilli fried up well, I don't use the enormous amount of sugar some recipes advise but just a little, adding it at the end of cooking the onion and stirring it in well. You can also use garlic, crushed, and curry but depending on how much chilli you use you may not want to use the curry. Add a few tablespoonfuls of peanut butter to this and then, gradually and stirring well, a can of coconut milk. Some recipes also use cider or other vinegar, and you can add salt or soya sauce according to taste. Don't expect a thick sauce but it does thicken a bit as it cools, but it may have been consumed before it gets a chance to go cold....
Of course nuts can also be at the top of the feeding chain (to deliberately change the sense of that term) since a nut roast is often the vegetarian equivalent of the Christmas turkey, or for other special occasions. There are hundreds of recipes for nut roasts and lots online. I would suggest trying a few different ones until you get one you really like. To give your nut roast an extra lift you can also use a stuffing mixture in the middle – this can be lovely, the only comment I would make is to make plenty of stuffing or it can be lost and you are left wondering what you did the extra work for.
Finally, you can cover the nut roast in pastry ('en croute') either of your own making or, say, a bought puff pastry. Covering your nut roast in pastry can be done before the nut roast itself is cooked or, if you err on the underdone side and the nut roast is a moist one, you can have it cooked in advance and then wrap it in the pastry so it is just the pastry needs to cook, and the nut roast to heat up. The latter option is the one to go for if you want to be prepared in advance because doing a nut roast, particularly if you're not doing it frequently, is time-consuming, and not the thing to be doing if you have guests around who need your attention. Your nut roast may need a good onion or tomato gravy or sauce to complement it.
We use different recipes for making a nut loaf and what follows is a rough guide to some possibilities. Take a couple of large onions and chop them finely and cook in a generous amount of oil or butter; if you like you can add finely chopped carrot or other veg at the same time as the onion. Take 250 g of nuts and grind them very finely (until they are tending to stick together a bit) – you can use cashews, brazils or whatever nuts you like. Separately make breadcumbs of 150g of bread. Mix together your onion (and other veg if using), breadcrumbs, the ground up nuts, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic (or more according to your taste), 200 ml of vegetable stock or bouillon, and whatever flavourings you fancy – salt, pepper, lemon juice, spices e.g. grated nutmeg. Line an oiled baking tin with greaseproof paper and put in half the mixture if you are adding stuffing, or all if you are not, and bake in a moderate oven for 30 – 40 minutes (not too long if you will subsequently be adding pastry). Some recipes use egg to help bind the loaf together but for most they should not be necessary and vegans aren't going to be using them anyway.
Stuffing, if you are using it, can vary greatly according to taste but can include a raw grated onion, 150g of breadcrumbs, lots of parsley, a fair dose of thyme, finely chopped sage if you like it or marjoram, maybe some lemon juice or grated lemon, salt and pepper according to taste, and some oil or melted butter to mix it all together. This gets pressed down in the middle of the nut loaf before adding the top half and cooking.
When taking the nut loaf out, put a plate on top before inverting to get the loaf out, and peel off the greaseproof paper. You can serve immediately or subsequently wrap in pastry for however long that takes to cook, also heating the nut loaf again if it has cooled, the pasty could typically take 25 minutes in a moderate oven.
An onion gravy can be made to accompany it with finely grated onion fried until well done with onion stock added, and cornflour to thicken. Or you can use a tomato gravy; as I mentioned in the first of this series "An easy tomato sauce can be made by heating mustard seeds (the bottom of the pan half covered) and then adding [oil and] a chopped large onion, sautéing that, then adding passata (or tinned chopped tomatoes, even fresh ones if you have lots and they are ripe) and whatever flavourings you like. If you don't have whole mustard seeds you can use mustard powder to be added after the onion has been cooked." If you have ripe, fresh tomatoes they can be added, well chopped up, towards the end of cooking the onion and before adding the passata.
All not only delicious but also nut-ritious I can assure you.
A licence to be divisive
That's the problem with divided societies. Every issue has the potential to be divisive, to enter the mad merry-go-round of division so that you cannot get off. Take the recent debate in the House on the Hill (Stormont) in Norn Iron about driving licences. The debate centred on whether the Norn Iron driving licence should have a British/Union flag on it? Or should people have a choice of a Union flag, nothing, or an EU flag?
Whatever option you choose has its problems and is likely to 'prove' something to other people. Don't want a flag? Clearly you're a republican out to deprive the unionist people of the flag of the state and of their cherished identity. You want a flag? You're trying to stick it into people who would prefer to be dead than have British flag on their licence. Give individuals a choice what they have? Then people will be clearly labelled according to whether they're unionist or nationalist, which has safety and other implications (it could even, in extreme circumstances, be a licence to kill). And don't forget there are some people who would strongly object to an EU flag on theirs. You literally cannot win. You can learn from practice elsewhere, you can use human rights criteria, you can do your best to avoid jumping into a very deep hole, but some people will be unhappy whatever you decide.
Unfortunately this is a real reflection of what being a divided society is about. And whatever the appropriate law of unintended consequences is. Britain, under a right wing British government trying to establish its nationalist credentials, is introducing a Union flag on the licences there, certainly in Engerland and Whales, where there was no flag on licences before and politicians there obviously never thought about the implications for Norn Iron. But in Northern Ireland the whole issue takes on a sectarian hue and it becomes then very difficult to make a rational decision of any kind. That's living in a divided society for you – it drives you around the bend in a wheely speedy way.
Keep it buried
We don't usually cover the same news twice in Nonviolent News but this area of information deserves all the attention it can get. As Larry Speight refers to in his column in this issue, research has been done (primarily by Belfast man Christophe McGlade) about what fossil fuels need to remain buried and unused if we are to restrict climate warming to a 2°C increase. And it's a lot. See here. People now can't say they haven't been told or they don't know what should not be done. Fuel companies may try and bury this information but it should be burnt into people's consciousness. A common curse, relayed in countless films, is to wish someone that they "Burn in hell". Humanity risks making that curse come true for itself.
- - -
Well, that's me for now. January sometimes feels the longest month of the year with its short days and cold weather, and February can be extremely wintry too but there is usually a hint of the hope of spring, whether in extra daylight, the crocuses, or maybe, sometimes, the temperature. As I said at the start, time to get planting those seeds indoors – with our low summer temperatures some things either need a long growing period or simply because of the plant's life cycle they need lots of time. In a future issue I'll look at window-box-and-tub gardening for the kitchen – what can be grown with no garden space or soil available.
Until next time, 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).