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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Hello again. I start off on a food angle this month, upon my oat(h).
The milk of human kindness
The world will have to eat a lot less beef and dairy products as part of dealing with global heating. Cow’s milk and cheese may not disappear from some diets but consumption certainly needs massively curtailed; vegan cheeses are making strides but are relatively expensive as yet - and some have very little nutritional value. What cutting down on cattle products means for Ireland in terms of agriculture, significantly dependent on cattle for numerous millennia, has yet to be worked out; the Irish government has not been really dealing with this issue in climate plans. While a different diet or supplements for cattle may help them to produce less methane, it is unlikely to entirely deal with the problem.
So what alternatives are there to cow’s milk? There are of course other animal milks, such as goats milk, but plant based milks are a better bet. A wide variety of plant based milks are available in the shops including soya, almond and oat. Given the amount of water used to produce almonds I am not sure almond milk is the best (despite the fact that almond milk is only just over 2% almonds). I do use soya products but there are some issues there and a lot of soya is not recommended for men as it can mimic the effects of oestrogen. Oats are produced locally and are relatively cheap but commercial oat milk seems to be the same price as the others in general.
You can, however, make your own oat milk quite easily and very cheaply. I have been trying. One problem or issue is that without emulsifiers/stabilisers your own oat milk (which is an emulsion) will separate after a while and you will have to stir it back together. It also won’t have the added vitamins that shop bought milk has, whether you consider that good or bad; one brand of oat milk readily available consists of 9.8% oats, but has chicory root fibre, sunflower oil, calcium, sea salt, gellan gum as stabiliser, and B2, B12 and D2 added vitamins. However separation is not a problem if you don’t mind giving it a stir before use – and it is not at all a problem if you are going to make a sauce with it, or a smoothie, straight away.
Of course, as always, you need to consider what is a balanced diet and if a major source of your calcium or B12 is from cow’s milk or milk products then you may need to consider alternative sources of these if you are switching and/or using your own plant based milk.
Anyway, here are my researches and they are not highly scientific. The basic recipe is one cup of oatmeal – your ‘normal’ porridge oats are fine – to two cups of water or very slightly more if you prefer. If you have time to soak it for a period (half an hour to some hours) I suggest you do but if you don’t just proceed with it. Different people give different advice on the internet; one thing I certainly wouldn’t do it is rinse out the soaked oatmeal before adding more water – what is the point with a product (oatmeal) where you normally eat all of it?
Liquidise the oatmeal and water well in your blender or smoothie maker; be careful with a normal blender as it may slurp out (you could use less water and then add it after). Then simply strain it through a sieve, a large one so it doesn’t get blocked so much; you don’t need muslin or anything else, in fact when I tried it with muslin it was too fine and it took ages to drain. If you don’t mind very fine bits in your milk – this may also depend on what you use the milk for - you can even dispense with straining altogether....it may not be what you want in teas and coffees and for drinking but fine with muesli, porridge or various recipes. You can even do both – strain some and not the rest. If you do strain, the remainder can be still be used in muesli, porridge or bread.
Simply keep your oat milk in the fridge, covered, and use it within a few days, it might keep for up to a week but I wouldn’t give any guarantees on this. You can make a smoothie easily – no need to wash whatever you have liquidised the oatmeal in if you are doing this straight away. A smoothie, any smoothie you make, will separate over time but if you are thickening a hot sauce with homemade oat milk it will stay thick this way.
I am quite partial to a white sauce such as parsley sauce which you can flavour with things other than parsley to make the taste stronger and richer (some oil, or nutritional yeast flakes such as ‘Engevita’, spices such as a subliminal amount of curry powder), or use lots of parsley.
With oat milk which has a substantial amount of oats in it – I haven’t tried this with shop bought oat milk – you don’t need to thicken your sauce in the normal way that you would either starting with an oil and flour roux before adding your milk and heating while stirring well - you won’t roux the day - nor add cornflour in water to the heated milk. It is unnecessary because heating your own oat milk you are basically going to make a very thin porridge as a sauce – but since some people react against porridge you don’t need to say you have made a ‘porridge sauce’ (!) and instead you can simply and truthfully say it is made with oat milk. You will need to heat it carefully while stirring well and add some more water to avoid the possibility of it going into lumpy porridge. It is also a bit glutinous in texture so it may not be to everyone’s taste as a sauce but you can try it and see; I find chopped thyme to be a good addition.
Oat milk made at home is very cheap – I estimate you could get at least 8 litres for the price of a 1.5 kilo bag of porridge oats so it could be as cheap as an eighth or tenth of the price of shop bought plant milk depending on where you do your shopping - but it does require a bit of time and some washing of utensils. I think oat milk has a naturally pleasant taste, unsurprisingly oaty, and while you can add salt, sweeteners of some kind, or whatever takes your fancy, you don’t need to or only according to taste. And flavouring is unnecessary if you are going to be making a sauce or a smoothie anyway because that will be adding its own flavours.
I sometimes make a vegan cream by liquidising cashew nuts with plant based milk and you can make that with your homemade oat milk as well as the cashews. To this I added a small amount of concentrated apple juice but you can experiment with other additional flavourings though not so much as to lose the nuttiness. I will try some amchur, ground dried mango, for example, but again only a small amount.
Utensils used in making the oat milk should be rinsed straight away because that makes it very easy to get them clean – if you let any oaty residue dry it is a pain to wash and the easiest thing is to soak the utensils again. And to cut down on the washing up, you can make as much oat milk as you might use in say 3 or 4 days, and you then only need to make it twice a week. Just scale up from the basic 1 cup of oatmeal to 2+ cups of water but obviously on any larger scale you are likely to need to make several batches at the one time unless you have a very large blender or smoothie maker.
It’s all a part of oat (haute) cuisine. And I wonder if Otis Redding would have liked it, but maybe you would have had to add raspberries or another red fruit to make a smoothie for him. [Get oat of here – Ed]
Death of Des Wilson
I was sad to learn of the death of Fr Des Wilson despite the fact he was 94 and had been in poor health for some time. He was a remarkable and lovely Belfast man who put himself where his mouth was and charted his own course. Being a priest in turbulent times and falling out strongly with your arch-conservative bishop was not easy, and even less so nearly fifty years ago. But he did not retreat from the people of Ballymurphy and west Belfast he sought to serve, instead he had a remarkable career as priest, community activist and educator, commentator, and peacemaker.
You can look up his obits online and Northern Visions has an almost 50 minute interview with him at archive.northernvisions.org which was done in 2009 and shows his gentleness and wisdom. He was republican in his views but that was only one part of his being and he worked on dialogue and peacemaking, and above all he believed in cooperation.
I travelled to Dublin from Belfast with him by car once a long time ago with him driving, an interesting and enjoyable journey as the discussion flowed. However I did wish that he would keep at least one hand on the steering wheel when he was making a point strongly. But we got there. He was always true to himself and a gently forceful champion of the people he lived with and sought to serve; and to me that is his ultimate accolade.
“Thank God for the USA”
This is what the Communist Party leadership in China must say regularly, admittedly not in exactly those words, but with heartfelt gratitude for letting them off the hook in so many ways – something like “Where would we be internationally without America?”. Who could seriously want democracy when what they get is the dysfunctional political system of the USA under Trump?
Of course only some of the dysfunctionalities and excesses in the US are due to Trump but he has certainly made the swamp his own, indeed he has made it many times more swampish. Drain the swamp? More like swamp the drain. We have been swamped with swamp, to the extent that the British eco-activist Swampie needs to bequeath his erstwhile title – with a significant change of meaning - to POTUS who should be known henceforth as Supreme Swampie or more formally President Of The Ununited Swamp.
And who could have a regard for truth when lying seems to be something Trump does as naturally as breathing? It makes other world leaders look statespersonlike for just being able to stand there. Mind you the UK isn’t too far behind at the moment in having a dysfunctional system with its longrunning 1:1 standoff over Brexit and a leader who is an expert liar.....and may be lying successfully enough to get back into power at the forthcoming election.
“The war on terror” instituted by the USA is the perfect excuse for China in a perpetual war on minorities like the Uighurs of Xinjiang. The ‘war on terror’ is of course a war of terror, in China’s case locking up a million or more Uighurs (“lock ‘em up”), even going so far in cultural genocide to destroy their graveyards as vestiges of their culture and history. You have got to Han(d) it to them in the terrible thoroughness of the Chinese government and system. The Chinese ambassador in Britain also used that Trumpian term “fake news” about the internal document, exposed recently in various western media, giving instructions for the running of the brutally repressive system in its internment or concentration camps for Uighurs.
Donald Trump, take a bow. You must be the most popular western leader among the Chinese leadership even more so than George W Bush who ramped up the perpetual war ‘on terror’. With enemies like Donald Trump, who needs friends?
Meanwhile it is probable that China’s economic prowess will mean it gets away with very little in the way of repercussions for its gross human rights violations and attempted cultural genocide. This also sounds pretty much like what happened as consequences for the USA as a result of engaging in its brutal foreign aggression and wars; nothing.
FPTP = WV
‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) - simply the person with the most votes gets elected – is the most primitive voting system there is but it is still used in the UK. Although presumably coming from racing terminology, it is perhaps a misnomer because there is no fixed ‘post’ to get past except the second placed candidate. Most readers will have noticed that there is a British general election going on which uses this, including in Northern Ireland where it is an invitation for people to act in a sectarian manner – although some may vote strategically, in the current election for or against Brexit. It hasn’t been changed in the UK because it suits the largest parties but severely disadvantages everyone else.
It is interesting since ‘proportional representation’ (in Ireland’s case PR-STV, the ‘STV’ being for ‘Single Transferable Vote) was introduced as the British were leaving the 26 counties and handing over the North to unionists. They did this to protect minorities (which was maybe a bit too little and very too late). It was considered good enough for the Irish but not good enough for themselves.
In the North the Unionist Party got rid of PR-STV and introduced FPTP because as the (very) dominant party that gave them an advantage; under direct rule it was reintroduced. Fianna Fáil, when it was the dominant party south of the border, tried to do the same thing in the Republic but had to reckon with a referendum to change the constitution; they almost but not quite succeeded the first time but the second attempt was decisively rejected – people had a bit of wit - and they didn’t try again.
PR-STV, which has multi-member constituencies, usually delivers a reasonable correlation between votes and seats. There is a good chance that someone that you voted for will get elected, partly based on your vote. However it allows the two dominant parties in the North to appeal only to their tribal ‘loyalist’ or ‘republican’ constituencies and still come through to carve up power – not that there has been a government at Stormont for the last couple of years to carve up anything – the carvery is closed.
FPTP however only delivers a seat to the candidate who comes top of the poll and the other votes are all ‘wasted’, in fact there can be a lot more ‘wasted’ votes with this system than votes which contribute to electing someone. So that is why I started with the headline “FPTP = WV”, the “WV” being for “Wasted Vote”. What a waste, it is a very unsuitable and unfair system for anywhere, and particularly in a divided society like the North. Though ‘FPTP’ should not be confused with the old loyalist slogan ‘FTP’ which, if you don’t know what it stands for, I leave you to work out for yourself (Clue – the ‘P’ stands for ‘Pope’).
In a heap
It is funny strange what becomes significant in your life, in this case my life. November is the time of year I change around our compost heap, so I have just done the task. Now you might fall about in heaps of laughter at the thought that this is significant in my life but it is. We have two compost heaps on the go; the one that I have just started, putting down coarser material which has died back this autumn, which will receive kitchen waste and garden plant discards (including non seeded weeds but not roots like dandelion which might survive) until this time next year. Then there is the one which I started this time last year which will sit there until March in the coming year and be ready for use from then.
Our compost is helped by a multitude of Friendly Worms. It became a wormery of its own accord which is great (they wormed their way in) and there are myriads of them. The compost heaps are situated on a north facing wall so as not to remove useful growing space, and the wall between the two heaps is slatted with holes so worms can easily migrate from one to the other – by the time I get to remove the ready compost the worms have done their work and moved on to the other ‘current’ heap.
Why is changing the compost heap significant for me? I suppose because it only happens once a year and takes some work, and is an important part of growing plants and vegetables. Maybe it is also symbolic of the phoenix effect – new life and growth from old. What compost is left in the ‘old’ heap which is about to become the ‘new’ one gets distributed wherever needed – this year the raspberries have been the main beneficiary so I hope the crop next year will be good. It adds significant nutrition to the soil. I am not sure whether you can say if you have any chickpea hummous that has gone off and been composted that it becomes humus, as the latter tends to be thought of as leaf-based material adding structure and water retention to the soil, but compost does that too. But in any case don’t get your hummous and your humus mixed up. Hmmmmm.
If you have any garden space at all, or even a backyard with pots and window boxes, I think a compost heap or bin is definitely a Good Idea. And it shouldn’t be smelly or messy; ours is fronted by removable fencing so it doesn’t look a sight, in fact it is a sight better than that in being the most significant part of our garden’s fertility and fecundity.
Well, I hope you panic early for Christmas so you don’t have to panic later. Though in fact I think one of the secrets of the universe it to Panic Slowly. I don’t enjoy the lead up to Christmas but when I get there, yes. Anyway, all that remains is for me, seeing I won’t leave this out from my annual seasonal greetings, as is my wont, to wish you a Very Happy Christmas and a Preposterous New Year. See you again at the start of February, 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).