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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 222: September 2014

[Return to related Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, there is no doubting it being autumn – which seemed to begin in early August. The rest of the summer wasn’t too bad but the latter part was pretty miserable so far as temperatures and wind are concerned, and my courgettes never got the chance to turn into marrows in a week. But I hope you got your head showered, metaphorically speaking, and that you’re ready for the rigours of autumn and winter work, whatever is your metier. Anyway, here I am back after the holliers and so on with the show in this issue of Nonviolent News No.222 – it’s ‘two much’, though I don’t see anything about Desmond Tutu or Leah Tutu in this issue (they are patrons of Afri by the way).

V & V (5): To fulfilling tofu

Continuing our tour of Vegetarian and Vegan food, we get to tofu (‘toe-fu’ rather than ‘tof-u’). Tofu gets very mixed reactions, well, to be honest it tends to get negative reactions from many people. By itself it is bland so it depends what you do with it, but then a lot of food is like that. Some people react against its consistency where, even when ‘firm’ it tends to be a bit the consistency of scrambled eggs. But people in this part of the world don’t react against the consistency of scrambled eggs do they? So it’s a bit of what your expectations and cultural experience is of food. And tofu is a very easy vegan source of protein.

Tofu is coagulated soya milk, then compressed. So it’s a solid turned into a liquid turned into a solid (or semi-solid). There are some questions about the modern mass use of soya flour (finely ground up roasted soya beans), and the digestibility of same, in processed foods (they’ve taken the goodness out so they try to put something back using soya flour.....) but so far as I know there are no questions about the use of a traditionally processed soya product such as tofu beyond a) the question of whether it’s made from GM soya, and b) the fact it contains lots of phyto-oestrogen (plant based substances which act like oestrogen on the body) – so men may not want to eat too much of it, as in every day. If you have questions on this you can do a web search but remember tofu is a traditionally processed soya food.

The first thing to be considered is getting your tofu. You can buy tofu very cheaply in some supermarkets now but it may be made with genetically modified soya (as with all such labelling, if it doesn’t say it isn’t then it almost certainly is GM). In specialist shops and Asian food stores you may be able to get fresh, GM-free tofu (including that made in Dublin). If you are buying fresh tofu which is likely to be better for you than long life, then you definitely do need to use it within a short space of time because it will go slimy and perhaps unusable if its sits in your fridge for a week. But if it’s long life that’s available, go for it (that tends to be firmer again).

In starting with fresh, firm tofu, after I take it out of its pack I rinse it under the tap, let the water drain off and if firm enough I squeeze it ever so slightly while avoiding crushing it, and then put it on a tray on which I have placed several layers of kitchen roll underneath a clean tea towel. I then slice it, a block of 16 x 11 cm (5 cm deep) giving me perhaps ten slices lengthways which would typically be about 1.5 cm width. The slices are spread around on the tea towel to let more water drain out. This may need an hour or two and you will notice, over time, that the firmness or consistency of tofu from even the same supplier can vary. If you want to get the tofu firmer then it is necessary to fry the slices in a small amount of oil until lightly browned; you will need to move it frequently with a slice to avoid it sticking. Pre-cooking it like this also means your tofu will keep for up to a week further in a fridge so for this reason alone it may be worth doing in advance of its use by date.

The easiest thing to do with tofu slices is to simply fry them up in a small amount of oil on a heavy pan with flavourings such as some chopped chilli, garlic and ginger (or you could use onion, mushrooms or whatever ingredient or combination you fancy). To do this with finely chopped accompanying ingredients, you may need to start frying the tofu (not too high or it will stick and burn, some sticking may happen anyway) for seven or eight minutes first or your accompaniments will be crispy bits before the tofu is browned – but maybe you like your chilli, garlic and ginger like this. You can finish off with a bit of soya sauce or other flavourings before removing from your pan. Serve the tofu slices with the accompanying bits piled on top, and possibly a tomato sauce along with your other meal constituents.

A very easy oven tofu can be made by slicing your tofu into cubes and cooking them in a marinade. Some recipes make lots of marinade that the tofu sits in and you then remove the tofu and presumably throw out the rest of the marinade. This is unnecessarily wasteful. If your tofu has been drained then it will easily accept a coating of your marinade and there is no waste.

For somewhat less than a block of tofu, say 700g (the blocks I buy are 950g), I usually use perhaps 6-8 dessert spoon fulls of soya sauce, 1 – 2 heaped teaspoons of dry mustard powder, and a few cloves of garlic put through a garlic press. Mix the tofu in the marinade, spread out in a casserole dish so it is only one cube high, and cook in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes at gas mark 4-5, 180-190’ C. You can experiment with different marinades including curry or wasabi ones, according to your taste. The length of time in the oven, and the temperature, will obviously affect how crispy or firm the top of the tofu goes; this is a matter of personal taste, and needs experimentation.

To make tofu go further (if cooking on a budget and/or for a number of people, or simply because you like it) you can cook it in a batter with other ingredients. I previously covered making chick pea/gram flour batters but you can also use a flour and egg batter. Simply fry the lot until cooked and don’t be too worried about trying to keep all the pieces separate – unless doing in very small batches this won’t be possible and is unnecessary. You can experiment with different flavourings for this and obviously it needs well flavoured and/or seasoned.

You can add tofu to all sorts of other dishes, e.g. into sauces, into a ‘palak paneer’ instead of the paneer cheese, when I suppose it becomes a ‘palak tofu’, into risottos or vegetable crumbles, stews or stir fries, or pasta (see below). It is usually better to add it near the end, giving it just enough time to heat up; it doesn’t need further cooking and with vigorous stirring it may disintegrate.

Just cooking for two or three people I tend to get tofu as an ingredient for two meals in the week out of one block. If I am using sliced (rather than diced) tofu I would fry up all the slices and then take off the ones for keeping for another meal. For that day’s meal I then add whatever flavourings I am using to the pan. The remaining tofu, kept for a few days in the fridge, would typically go into a pasta dish to add some protein – in this case I would usually dice the tofu and heat it up by steaming and adding it to the pasta before serving, unless the pasta is being heated or cooked in the oven when it is added before going in. Ajvar/Ayvar (pronounced ‘Eye-var”), spicy Balkan pepper sauce – if you can find it - is an easy and tasty alternative to pesto for pasta which with tofu is a meal in itself, though I’d usually throw in a couple of other things as well.

‘Silken’ or soft tofu is for use in cooking, i.e. adding to mixes, and not eating ‘as is’. For other purposes generally the firmer the tofu the better. Tofu is one of those ingredients which is infinitely flexible but which initially can be infinitely baffling, as to what to do with it. But with a bit of experimentation it will soon be a regular part of your diet and nutrition, you will know immediately what you want to do with it, and not know what you did without it.

On hearing the sound of drums
Living where I live in Norn Iron I regularly hear the sound of drums, mainly ‘loyal order’ drums, sometimes not too far distant, sometimes carrying a distance – drums are meant to make a loud sound after all. As a believer in nonviolence I don’t go for marching, parading about in military style uniforms and all that crack, even if it is seen by a considerable number of people as part of their culture. But I will revisit here a theme I have explored before – what would an ideal Norn Iron look like? And how could people celebrate their (divided) culture positively?

The first thing would be to try to make their culture as attractive to others as possible. So we would have lots of British or Ulster-Scots culture events with free food and drink....targeted at Catholics. Some of this might be ‘British’ rock or pop, it wouldn’t have to be ‘Ulster’. Oh, and on the political front we’d have events where people emphasised and celebrated the ‘British’ values of tolerance, inclusion and so on, and explored what that meant in Norn Iron. And we would have lots of Irish traditional music and dancing events put on by Catholics, but with country and western or other tastes thrown in, including the likes of the Saw Doctors, again with the food and drink provided, to entice the Protestants. And there would be political events where speakers would emphasise the importance of the Protestant role and presence in Ireland, giving historical examples as well.

But we would go further than that to indulge in further expressions of empathy and open solidarity, whoa. So when loyalist Prods are feeling a bit lonely and left out of things, as many are at the moment, Catholics would indulge in a spate of erecting Union Jacks and Ulster (white background) flags in their areas to make the Prods feel safer and more welcome. And graffiti would express how much loved and wanted they are; instead of ‘KAH’ (Kill All Huns’) we would have ‘HAP’ (‘Hug All Protestants’). Meanwhile some Catholics, of the dissident republican variety, are also feeling left out and their identity ignored. So Protestants would take to erecting tricolours and starry ploughs around their areas and writing graffiti about how much they identify with Ireland and things Irish, and proclaiming ‘HAC’ (‘Hug All Catholics’).

With luck we would get so lost in a sea of flags and graffiti that no one would know whether an area was Catholic or Protestant any more, and no one would care. Oh well, I can fantasise, I’m obviously not being too serious here but would do a lot more for community relations than some things. Don’t burn the other side’s flag – fly it!

Pretty sickening those ‘Islamic State’/jihadist videos showing beheadings etc. Well, I presume they are because I haven’t actually tried to see them. It must be as sickening as watching a family wiped out by a US drone, or indeed by a missile or explosive attack across the Gaza border. The military jihadist (I use this term because ‘jihad’ can also be understood as spiritual struggle in Islam, it should not necessarily be understood as connotating military struggle) is doing the act of killing by himself, up close and personal. That does not excuse the act. The operator of a drone is pushing buttons, setting coordinates and controlling from afar, maybe thousands of miles away. That does not excuse the act. On balance which is more sickening? I am not saying one or the other is, I leave you to judge or simply say they are both completely contrary to justice, to human rights, to humanity itself.

But which one gets condemned in Western society, by the President of the USA, and highlighted in the media? No prizes for guessing the answer to that.

- - - -

Well, that’s just about me for now. But, afore I go, I have a couple of comments on news items in this issue. Firstly, about the Northern Minister for the Environment deciding that boring to test for shale gas, in preparation for fracking, needed both planning permission and an environmental impact assessment. You know the song “Goodbye Muirsheen Durkin, / Sure I’m sick and tired of workin’....”, well that could be “Good boy Mark H Durkan / You’re bin doing some good workin’ ”. And war games at Croker/Croke Park (flyover by US warplanes) – enough to make you croak, while actually the planes are designed to make others croak – anyway it seems ridiculous to celebrate a football game with military planes, and, as Afri says, totally inappropriate.

I always hate the first sight of school uniforms in the autumn, a symbol of all that work and pressure piling up. But once you get back into the routine, well, it’s heads down and on with things. When I’m with you again it will feel like winter is encroaching but that too has its benefits, such as coming in from the cold and relaxing [What’s that? – Ed]. But meanwhile let’s enjoy what there is of fine autumn weather and the trees which I hope will look stunning......

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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