Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Waxing lyrical for sectarianism
Using songs for satirical purpose is as old as the hills and as young as tomorrow. If you can't write a new song, just put different words to an existing one. Of course this can be used in reactionary as well as positive ways. One of the foremost Scottish anti-Catholic songs is known as 'The Famine Song', and takes the Sloop John B song and puts new words such as "The famine's over / Why don't you go home?' – a bit ironic considering a fair whack of Scotland was culturally Irish one and a half millennia ago. As the News Letter of 30th March reported "Members of a loyalist flute band accused of provocatively playing a sectarian tune outside a Catholic Church [in Belfast in 2012] claimed they were instead playing a Beach Boys hit, a court has heard. Police interviews read out at the trial of the 13 accused revealed how they denied taking part in a rendition of the Famine Song while marching in a circular formation outside St Patrick's Chapel in north Belfast. Senior judges in Scotland have ruled the controversial tune – which includes the line 'The famine's over, why don't you go home?' – to be racist. But Belfast Magistrates' Court heard on Monday that the defendants told police they were performing Sloop John B by the Beach Boys. Played to the same music, that song declares 'I feel so broke up, I wanna go home'."
I'm not sure how the trial and the trail has gone since but given the alternative realities that exist in Northern Ireland, you can read it as you wish.
V & V (11): Balance
'Finding your balance' is a difficult act when you don't know how or where to find it. Finding your balance in terms of diet is an essential part of healthy eating but we will look briefly at it in this episode of our short tour through vegetarian and vegan food. And yet, if you ate out in cafes and restaurants all the time and are a vegetarian you would (apart from getting very bored) not be properly nourished. I'm not sure who restaurant cooks and managers in this part of the world imagine vegetarians are but a whopping great plate of pasta (likely to sit in your stomach until the next day) is not really what I would call a balanced meal - it is far too stodgy and may not give you vitamins and minerals from vegetables, and it probably has very little protein.
I am not a nutritionist so if you do have very particular needs in terms of a diet then you need to seek special advice (and there are books which give very detailed run downs on the nutritional constitution of different foods). But seeking out and using different food groups is pretty reliable advice, not very difficult to do, and designing a meal yourself which should cover different bases is not too hard either. I try to get most protein from beans and pulses but also use seeds and nuts, dairy products, and eggs for protein. A meal lacking in protein or crunch? Add some buts or seeds. A meal lacking in fresh veg? Add a quick salad. Sunflower seeds can be toasted in 15 minutes easily, nuts be nicely roasted in an oven in twenty minutes.
So what would I consider balanced meals? Here are a few examples:
1. Indian cauliflower, brown basmati rice, mushy peas, toasted sunflower seeds or roasted nuts.
What I call 'Indian cauliflower' is cauliflower florets cooked in an onion, sweet pepper and chilli sauce. Chop and fry up/sauté four medium onions, along with some chilli to taste (maybe one red chilli) and when they are nearly done add up to two diced red peppers. Cook for another five minutes. This is then liquidised using a very small amount of water – I use a hand blender – and I add an onion cube at the same time or you could add bouillon or other flavourings and I would put in a good dollop of paprika (dried pepper) and maybe a small amount of curry. Coat your cauliflower as best you can and cook in a heavy pot on a low to medium heat – too high and the bottom may burn; the cauli may take 25 minutes. The sauce will coat the cauliflower better as it cooks and some of the moisture comes out of the cauli; you can regulate the thickness of the sauce by leaving the lid of the pot off to get it thicker, or on to keep it thicker.
Basmati rice I like for the taste but even more so because I cook it in a pressure cooker (13 - 14 minutes at pressure) and it adapts very well to varying amounts of water (I don't measure precisely); I usually do extra to have rice as the basis of a filling for stuffed peppers or for risotto. For mushy peas I tend to use split peas, soaked, in the pressure cooker at pressure for 4 minutes or so, flavoured with Cajun space, curry and some bouillon. Roasted nuts I tend to mix cashews and peanuts, rub all over with a very small amount of oil and sprinkle with a small amount of salt; watch them carefully because if the oven is too high you'll have burnt nuts which isn't great.
2. Aduki casserole, (leftover) pasta salad, onion potato bake, fried mushrooms.
Soak your aduki/small red beans and pressure cook for about 17 – 18 minutes. Fry up onion, chilli, garlic if you like, and towards the end some green peppers chopped and some cooking apple (cored and skinned, cut into small pieces). Add the beans and veg together, add some water and any desired flavourings; boil up gently for 5 minutes or so to let everything blend together. Leftover pasta with ajvar, pesto or tomato sauce can easily be turned into a salad by adding some chopped scallions, chopped tomato or pepper, olives etc. Onion potato bake needs to be in the oven the best part of an hour and a half before eating, or pre-cook and reheat. Mushrooms as you like them cooked.
3. Bhajis, fried potato with fenugreek, steamed cauliflower with flaked almonds or grated cheese, sweet and sour sauce.
Bhajis made with gram flour, are nutritious but with other ingredients like onion, mushroom and peas they are almost a meal in themselves. If you have leftover potatoes, on purpose or by accident, fry them up in sunflower oil but try something different as a flavouring such as ground fenugreek. Using almonds instead of cheese on your cauli makes this meal vegan; you could use another veg instead, e.g. carrots with chopped parsley added at the end with a little butter or olive oil. An easy sweet and sour sauce can be made by combining tomato ketchup, vinegar, a small amount of soya sauce, some water, and thickening with cornflour (stirring well) and a small of sugar, if you like, to taste.
4. Vegetable crumble, butter beans with garlic and wasabi, mixed salad, horseradish yoghurt sauce.
I have recommended ground linseed in the crumble top along with whatever flavourings you fancy; see here. Butter beans should be soaked and cooked in a pressure cooker for 12 – 18 minutes (I find butter beans vary more than most others in how much cooking they need – but cook too much and they can easily turn to mush); fry them up in olive oil or butter (or both) with a generous amount of wasabi and pressed garlic. You can make a milder horseradish sauce by simply stirring some bought horseradish sauce into yoghurt. This is horseradish with your horseradish (wasabi) but I find it works well. I find the secret to avoiding boring salads is to vary the ingredients and the dressings; a wonderful salad can be simply diced lettuce with sliced scallions in your favourite dressing with a topping of curried croutons (fried bread made with small pieces of bread). If you want salad to last a while without wilting, try olive oil with ume plum seasoning instead of vinegar but don't add any salt – the ume plum seasoning is itself very salty (that's what preserves it).
The first time doing any recipe can take a fair while but when used to doing it then you can get timing down to a fine art, and know what to start when in terms of the different parts of the meal. Cooking at home you have only yourself to thank (or blame) for the food choice.
The very occasional restaurant menu points out that starters can be served as main courses; as many starters are vegetarian this is an easy way to increase the veggie choice which more restaurants could easily do. If they don't state this you can simply ask them to turn a starter into a main. And if that gut wrenching big bowl of pasta really is the only veggie thing on the menu, ask them (for the same price) to serve less pasta and give you some veg.
The very day I write this I ate Sunday lunch in a well known, modern hotel 'on the east coast' (could be north or south of the border). The carvery dinner had nothing veggie on it. We were offered tortellini to which we said yes, to be served with veg. It was. But when we went to pay they tried to charge considerably more than the carvery price because it was a 'special order'. I definitely lost the bap at that. Not to cater for vegetarians in 2015 and then try to charge extra for a meal whose ingredients are cheaper and came out of a packet? We were not informed of an extra charge either. To give the manager their due, they did then say "How much would you be happy to pay?" to which I replied the same as the carvery price.
It's not difficult to have a balanced veggie diet – at home. It just requires some thought and a bit of preparation at times. But trying to have a balanced veggie diet outside the home is a waste of time, at least in Ireland at the moment.
The great Indian Gandhian, and deep and long friend of War Resisters' International among others, Narayan Desai died in the last month. May he rest in peace. He literally grew up at the feet of Mohandas Gandhi. I think you have heard this story from me before but still.... At an international conference in the 1980s, probably the Bradford Social Defence conference of the WRI, I was sharing a small group with Narayan Desai. An exercise we were asked to do was a typical group exercise; If we were to do something different in our lives, what would it be? When Narayan spoke he shared that he would get up at dawn. It took the rest of us a while to realise that 'getting up at dawn' would actually be a tremendous lie in, because he was used to always getting up well before dawn...
A weight off my shoulders
More about food, indirectly. Over the last year or so I have been trying to lose weight and only now approaching my target weight. I always had a fairly active life style but over the years, and there have been a few, the weight gradually crept up. I did manage to stop it going up any more but I hadn't got it down. A routine visit to the doctor led to other routine checks and one was that my blood pressure was on the high side, not yet high enough to warrant medication but higher than it should be nevertheless.
So that meant two things, to help avoid medication. One was to lose weight. The other was to cut caffeine intake. Cutting tea and coffee down to one cap of caffeinated tea and coffee a day (each) was not too difficult for me, and once I got my caffeine habit that low I found I didn't miss it much if I didn't get it. Otherwise I drink coffee substitute, decaff, herbal teas or water, occasionally juice. But losing weight was another matter. I pondered what way to do it. Whatever change I made it was going to be permanent or semi-permanent so I wanted to get it right. A third change would be to do more walking and exercise in general though I do get a fair amount.
I couldn't do the 5:2 diet, eating what you like five days but only your dinner on two days. I need breakfast. So I decided on my own 5:2 diet which is breakfast, a banana or other fruit for lunch and then my dinner on five days, and being rather more relaxed about things at the weekend, usually defined as tea-time on Friday to tea-time on Sunday. It works out well enough. A bowl of porridge for breakfast is very sustaining and keeps me going so I could even skip the banana at lunchtime if I wanted.
I deliberately chose a severe enough regime, but one I was comfortable with, so that I could vary it on occasions. Meeting up with someone at lunchtime? At an event where there is lunch? This doesn't happen too often but I give myself leeway. So long as the exceptions don't become the rule then it's fine. But it still requires the assistance of that well known individual Will Power.
What have I learnt?
1. Do it your own way
What suits you and your lifestyle? Choose what will be doable in the long term. My understanding is that short term dieting may actually lead to you putting on more fat when you stop dieting because your body gets into a famine-feast-famine mode and builds up fat.
You may lose weight fairly fast to begin with, depending on your new regime, but it's not necessarily easy, in fact if it were easy you might have done it before now. Continuing to lose weight can be difficult. So be prepared for the long haul and think of any change as permanent.
3. Go with the flow
Don't beat yourself up if you have something you shouldn't according to your plan. Move away from temptation by changing your shopping habits and not having available what you would find irresistible but want to avoid. Similarly, if going into the kitchen to get a drink, get it and leave rather than linger and be tempted to eat.... But establish your new routine as fast as possible, so it becomes just that, an expected routine that you are happy with. Also, weight can vary from day to day and according to the time of day, so if you are weighing yourself regularly work on a 'running average' so you are not disappointed when you weigh heavier one day than the previous one for no obvious reason (your scales may also not be too accurate!).
4. Eat well when you do eat
If you are eating less, eating well is even more important to ensure you get what your body needs. Coincidentally another item in my column this issue is about a 'balanced' diet.
As indicated, I'm not quite there yet but not too far away either. But the change is, I presume, permanent, unless some other issue comes up that requires me to further review my diet. It is still not always easy but the fact of adopting a new routine means a lot of the time I don't notice that I am trying to restrict the amount I eat. It becomes a positive lifestyle choice rather than a negative diet and that positivity is important.
Have I noticed a difference? Well, at the end of a long walk I might be tired anyway but perhaps I might be slightly less tired, not having carried as much weight about. One difference I have noticed, and it surprised me – if of course it is due to weight loss – is the fact I feel more supple than before I lost weight. Maybe it is coincidental, maybe it is not. And I haven't been on any food 'supple'ments...
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That's me for now. 'April showers bring forth May flowers' may or may not be true but April is actually one of the drier months in Ireland, possibly even the driest (insofar as such a thing exists!). There are not too many signs of growth yet, certainly in the grass – or the weeds in the garden! I hope you have a good break over Easter and when I see you again May day will have been and gone, Billy.
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).