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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 219: May 2014

[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, here we go again, April and May are usually the driest months in Ireland and we did enjoy some good dry weather in April, good for getting out and about but only sometimes for sitting out (though Easter, late this year, was great in our necks of the woods), sometimes that wind could skin you as they say. I am also hoping for better weather in May for the Afri Famine Walk in Co Mayo (see news section this issue) which was absolutely sodden, or should that be sodding, last year – despite the historic welcome at Delphi Lodge. Squelch.

Art and peace
That Canadian analyser of 20th century communication and culture, Marshal McLuhan said that “Art is anything you can get away with.” And so it is. One person’s innovative, cutting edge art is another person’s tedious or tawdry, threadbare, theatrical (in the over-dramatic sense) tripe. There is no simple guide to what art is in general even if you can define particular aspects of art, such as painting a portrait or writing a novel. But even here definitions can fail us – I wouldn’t like to attempt a definition of ‘post-modern’ for example.

When we come on to the interaction of art and peace we are also on very shaky ground, not least because ‘peace’ can be as amorphous a concept as ‘art’, so if you try to generalise on the two you could disappear in an unintelligible heap. What is clear is that without art, visual and oral/aural (including the written word and music), we might as well give up trying to communicate about peace.

Yoko Ono is not someone who has come into my consciousness too much. Of course I was aware of her continued existence or work, it would be difficult to live in the west and not be, and I knew the fact that she had a positive reputation beyond what I would have thought of as a somewhat vacuous bed-in for peace with John Lennon way, way back in 1969. Anyway, a friend visiting Australia brought me back the catalogue – and a badge - from the “WAR IS OVER! If you want it” exhibition in the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. My friend was highly impressed and engaged with the exhibition. However I can just imagine someone who didn’t know what was on seeing a piece and saying “What is that yoke*?” (* Hiberno-English for ‘thing’) to get the response “That is no yoke – that is a Yoko!”, and then they give the further response “Ono!”.

Anyway, what surprised and impressed me in looking at the catalogue is how close Yoko Ono is in some of her work to classic peace/pacifist/nonviolent understandings. “WAR IS OVER! If you want it” (the last four words either tiny and/or in brackets) is close to classic pacifist interpretations of war and peace, and while not the same as “Wars will cease when men (sic) refuse to fight” it is not too far away either. A classic aspect of nonviolent theory is that rulers only rule with our permission (implicit or explicit) and that we are powerful if we use the capacity of nonviolence to bring about change. If we do indeed want something badly enough then we may just work to get it.

In her ‘Play it by trust’ interactive chess game, where all the pieces are white, “Once the game commences and the pieces intermingle, it becomes difficult to know who controls which piece and thus, the idea of competition founders.” This is certainly a clever subversion of a competitive game, indeed, of a game which has its origins as a ‘war’ game. Unfortunately, as in Northern Ireland, most of the time people’s colours are only too obvious. Differences may be large or small – and exploited by people for their particular ends – but we are seldom dealt a ‘white’ starting board. Perhaps we can learn something about commonality and common humanity from the all white game but life is seldom like that.

The catalogue for the exhibition talks about Yoko Ono’s identification with blue sky and drifting clouds from her time in the Japanese countryside following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs of 1945, when she was a 12 year old and “the hours that she and her brother spent watching the sky and clouds drift past, inventing menus in their heads to counter their hunger due to food shortages.” Indeed, if we really contemplate a blue sky and clouds we might think it is difficult to do other than think of beauty, the sky encompassing the whole world, and so on. Yet some people can probably stare at a blue sky and plan atrocities of one kind or another. The same reality or symbol can be used in different ways. Yoko Ono uses it in a creative and positive way.

One other piece which stood out for me in the description in the catalogue was ”Touch Me lll” with individual parts of a woman’s body in silicone. A bowl of water is provided for viewers with an instruction to wet their fingers and touch the body. The damage done is taken “as a reminder of the violent treatment that so many women endure in their daily lives.” This could be powerful if (and partly because) uncomfortable.

Having wish trees is now quite a common phenomenon, in the case of this exhibition it proclaims they are “inspired by the Shinto temple trees of her childhood”. She chooses trees local to where the exhibition is happening, and keeps what is written although also keeping the wishes private.

As I haven’t seen the exhibition it is difficult to judge Yoko Ono’s work, or what impact it would have had on me. However I would certainly be intrigued to look at her work more closely if I had the opportunity. There are many ways that art and peace can be explored. It looks like Yoko One has tackled some of them. We are all artistic, as I have argued before: it is up to us to be artistic and creative in how we work for peace and human progress.

Weighing in on gram flour: V & V* Recipes (2)

*Vegan and Vegetarian

The advantages of gram flour are enormous: it is easily made into a batter (just add water), it is versatile, gluten free, vegan, and nutritious. Whether you use it for bhajis, pakoras, falafel, or even pancakes, it does the trick. It just takes a bit of getting used to cooking with it but if you start then you’ll probably wonder what you ever did without it. I don’t use it every day or even every week, maybe every ten days or fortnight but it is great if someone is on a gluten-free diet or you like Indian food, as we do. I usually make bhajis with onion, peas and mushrooms – a meal in itself.

Gram flour, or chick pea flour, is a special variety of chick peas for making into flour. It has all the nutrition of chick peas. The first rule is always to sieve it, even if your kitchen is very dry and it is stored in an airtight container it is still liable to go lumpy. So weigh the amount you need first, then get out your big sieve and put it through and you won’t have any problems of trying to get lumps out of your mix (always a pain). The variety of spices that you use with your gram flour recipe is open to a lot of tweaking to support your personal taste. Despite having a variety for different recipes I now tend to use approximately the same spice mix whatever I am doing, except for falafel – experiment is the only way.

As to the consistency of the batter, well, experimentation is also the answer. The terms pakora and bhaji are interchangeable and have northern and southern Indian origin for the same kind of thing. My own personal use (and it is only personal and has no basis that I know of in Indian cuisine) is I call pakoras single pieces of vegetable covered with the batter and deep fried, and for this I tend to make a slightly more runny batter than for bhajis, for which I use more chopped up veg. You can use basically any vegetable in the pakoras; mushrooms and cauliflower are good, but vegetables which need some cooking need to be small and the oil to be hot but not too hot, or the outside can be well done but the inside not.

Variety is the spice of life, and spices are one of the varieties of life, so don’t be afraid to try different flavours and mixes, though it is always wise to cook some particular blend first just for yourself or immediate family so you are not inflicting something that doesn’t quite work out on those apart from your loved ones! [Only inflict it on your loved ones, I get it Billy – Ed.]

You do need to make something saucy to go with gram flour recipes, unless of course you are eating your bhajis on the hoof. I give an easy sweet and sour recipe here, though I tend to go easy on the sweet and heavier on the sour. You could also do a tomato, or any other kind of sauce – I mentioned an easy tomato sauce the last time. You can do whatever else takes your fancy, mashed potatoes or root vegetables, a salad, another complimentary veg, whatever.

Gram flour pancakes are perfectly doable and the most nutritious pancake you are likely to get. But the mix doesn’t stay together as well as a wheat flour batter so you need to be careful not to let it stick to the pan, and not make them too big so you can turn them without them breaking up. With these savoury pancakes you can do small-cut sautéed veg and a sauce, or even sautéed veg in a sauce, or whatever else you might like with savoury pancakes. I have never tried them sweet, without the normal spices, but come to think of it you could experiment with cinnamon or other ‘sweet’ spices and serve them with stewed fruit (if you try this let me know how you get on).

Here’s the recipe I have for bhajis: 400 – 450g gram flour, 4 teaspoons ground cumin, 4 teaspoons turmeric, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 4 teaspoons ground coriander. Sieve gram flour and add spices. If you want a lighter result you need to add a teaspoon of bread soda just before cooking. I usually add some chopped chilli as well and you can, if you like, add salt and/or chopped coriander. Add cold water to this mix, stirring well, until you have a thickish batter. Then add a couple of large chopped onions (more if smaller), some chopped mushrooms, and peas (if frozen, defreeze with boiling water and drain before adding). This would make enough bhajis for 5 or 6 people, if serving other dishes with the meal so for three people I would halve the amount of gram flour. You can make bhajis with just onions, or with any other mixture of veg that takes your fancy.

Your oil needs to be hot but not too hot or the outside of the bhajis may be well done before the inside. You can use your chip pan (though chips may subsequently taste of Indian cuisine!) or a few centimetres of oil in a pan. It is easier to be sure of cooking them through if you make them smaller, like a desert spoon full or a small tablespoon full put in at a time. Don’t overfill your oil with the spoonfuls of mix so you can move them about and turn them over. Remove one with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen roll to absorb excess oil and taste, checking it is done. You can adjust seasoning in those you cook subsequently.

The easy sweet and sour sauce I do with it sometimes consists of tomato ketchup, maybe a quarter cup or mug, a bit less cider vinegar, a few spoons of soya sauce, and some brown sugar – not making it sweet I add just a couple of dessert spoons, and then almost a cup or mug of water. I heat and mix this before adding a few dessert spoonfuls of cornflour for thickening; mix this with a small amount of water before stirring in to the mix, and bring gently to the boil and it’s ready to serve.

Falafel (or falafel), which has Middle Eastern origins, I find very difficult to make with just whole chick peas – I tried a recipe this way and it was pretty disastrous. However Denis Cotter came to the rescue with his recipe in ‘The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook’, which used both whole chick peas and gram flour. His recipe is for 250g chickpeas, soaked, 250g gram flour, 250mls water, 5 cloves garlic, a tablespoon of ground cumin seeds (if possible grind them freshly – don’t use bought cumin if you have a means of grinding them, as it is the main spice it makes a big difference to have it freshly ground,) ½ teaspoon of chopped chilli, 1 small onion, a teaspoon of salt (I would use less), juice of ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon of bread soda, and it’s not in his recipe but I often add a load of chopped parsley (or might serve it with a parsley sauce).

For cooking the chickpeas, as with all beans, I use a pressure cooker: 18 - 20 minutes at full pressure, with the beans soaked all day (or overnight) beforehand, allowing it to come down to room pressure itself. That should be sufficient (I have better things to do than wait on beans cooking in a conventional pot). Puree the chickpeas with the garlic and spices and then mix the onion, gram flour, salt and lemon juice. Then cook in the hot oil, dropping in small spoonfuls, check cooked through, and drain on kitchen roll. You may want to do a sauce or yoghurt dip, and you can serve in pitta/pita bread if you wish.

Happy cooking and experimenting.

Comment on a comment Comments on ‘Nonviolent News’ are always welcome, as indeed are suggestions to INNATE for tasks or collaborations we might undertake. One comment that came in to us a month ago was “the format is not really appropriate as there are only letters with no pictures and no format and it's a bit difficult to read.” Sorry bout that. Unfortunately, as we replied directly to the person concerned, it is a question of producing ‘Nonviolent News’ this way, without graphics or anything more than extremely basic layout, or not at all. Those engaged with INNATE are volunteers also involved in making a living for themselves (we are not paid – we have no ‘staff’) as well as a whole variety of projects, and engaged with different organisations beyond INNATE. We simply don’t have time to turn ‘Nonviolent News’, produced on a hectic deadline, into the full colour, illustrated and photo-studded publication that we would like to (and could) produce if we had the time. Or if we did then it would appear much less often and therefore be of less use to people.

We do however try to make ‘the words’ relevant and lively. If there is any problem about reading the print size it should be easy to zoom in and increase the page size. And we are aware of our lack of visual impact; our poster series – a couple more sent out with those receiving this as an e-mail edition – is part of an attempt to remedy this. Our linked photo site is another – Your suggestions and offers of help are always welcome. That is the end of the commercial break.

- - - - - -

That’s me again for now. I wish you a good month, May is coming near ‘summer’ and that always feels optimistic. Our drifts of bluebells and honesty have been doing my heart good, though talking about ‘drifts’ make it sound like we have a ginormous garden, we don’t, it is just the honesty seed themselves everywhere (honesty is the best policy) [Honestly, I have heard that joke a number of times here – Ed] and the bluebells have multiplied over the years. See you soon, Billy.

Who 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).

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