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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 269 May 2019

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Back in the kitchen, I am starting off with a small exploration of culinary delights this month -

Making a pesto of yourself, or maybe a complete palak
I am here going to explore green/spinach-based sauces to go with pasta or rice, loosely speaking pesto or the equivalent. All right, all right, pesto alla genovese has very particular ingredients, the primary taste being basil, and you can also get or make tomato ‘pesto’. Pistou is a vegan basil alternative, and ingredients and recipes for both are easily available online. We do use bought pesto at times but I stopped making it myself since my homemade version didn’t get more points from the family than bought pesto; also it was actually rather more expensive given that my homegrown supply of basil was usually rather limited and I needed to buy some to make pesto, and you may need to consult your bank manager before buying pine nuts.

It may not be pesto but I have been experimenting with spinach based sauces – giving them a spin. These have some advantages; cheaper, not so oily – the oiliness of pesto can be cloying at times – more bulky, and very versatile in tastes and ingredients, and unless you use cheese would be vegan. One possibility is the recipe for palak paneer – Indian spinach with cheese – though we usually make it as the vegan ‘palak tofu’, simply substituting fried cubes of tofu for the paneer.

The base of spinach sauces is liquidised spinach, made fairly moist (just add water to required consistency). One recipe I saw advised liquidising raw baby spinach leaves but as I grow leaf beet, which is coarser, I cook it first before liquidising. Obviously you can buy frozen spinach. I find it is difficult to go wrong if you ‘taste as you go’ and it is a matter of finding your favourite taste blends.

One recipe for palak paneer which I adapt from takes 750g spinach, lightly cooked and pureed. I use more cumin seeds than the recipe recommends, a couple of teaspons which are fried in oil briefly before adding a large, chopped onion which is cooked until soft, and then add a thumb-size piece of ginger, chopped fine, some garlic to taste and one or two chopped green chillies, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add a couple of teaspoons of ground coriander and a teaspoon of garam masala plus salt or soya sauce to taste, and a dessert spoon or two of lemon juice. The original recipe uses some milk or double cream but I skip that. Some recipes use finely chopped tomato, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Adjust the fluid level by adding some more water if required while still heating it.

You can use this with the original paneer, chopped, or tofu, also chopped. Or you can add cooked pasta of your choice, or a mixture, or indeed add chopped cooked veg of any edscription.

But if you want you can add ground roasted peanuts or ground sunflower seeds to the mix, which can add more flavour and nutrition. You can use toasted sunflowers or raw ones (we usually have toasted sunflowers around which have been finished by coating with soya sauce). You can roast your own peanuts or simply take bought roasted ones from a packet. With both peanuts and sunflowers grind them quite well until sticking to the sides of your food processor.

Alternatively, you can forget the palak paneer recipe, add the ground peanuts or sunflowers plus spices to the simple pureed spinach as you heat it. Again the proportions are infinitely variable but I would probably use 2:1 up to 4:1 weight of spinach compared to the smaller amount of nuts or seeds. My spice mix for a few hundred grams of spinach and nuts/seeds uses a subliminal amount of curry powder, a teaspoon of it, and a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground corriander, and ground fenugreek/methi, plus salt or soya sauce. But the spices you use and the proportions are infinitely vairable. Cook your pasta and add to the hot spinach mix, and serve. This is also good cold or, when cold, as the base for a salad. You can also use it to coat rice, and again it can be served hot or cold.

There is plenty of room for experimentation there and seeing what you or your co-diners like. I share this not just because I enjoy food and the sharing of food recipes but because a largely veggie diet is a requirement for surviving on this planet of ours. As they say, there is no Planet B. But there are endless plant based recipe possibilities....and my partner in life complains that there are too many such recipes hanging about......

A minority in a new state
I have been reading the “Protestant and Irish” book edited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne (Cork University Press, 371 pages, 2019), subtitle “The minority’s search for place in independent Ireland”, which is a series of essays looking at a number of different aspects of the Protestant minority’s experience in the Free State from 1922. As someone who comes from that minority, the book is of particular relevance but it should be of interest to anyone with a keen eye for ‘modern’ Irish history – it takes the story up to the 1940s – and indeed the fate of minorities in general.

There are many stories that are relatively or completely unknown, and much complexity and nuance introduced to what is sometimes a controversial subject that is often oversimplified. It does show that the vast majority of Prods had adapted to the new realities by the 1940s, and those that hadn’t at that stage were mainly older people who had been adults under the ancien regime. There are many fascinating stories including Bolton Waller’s peace activism, not as a pacifist but as a proponent of the League of Nations (he died aged 46 in 1936). Generalising from individual experiences is always difficult but the chapter on Southern Protestant engagement with the GAA gives new insights and challenges the notion that Prods were not at all involved.

The book does address points of contention between the state as it developed and the Protestant minority. Obviously there were bones of contention such as bans on divorce and contraception. But the point is also well made that Southern Prods were not exactly raging radicals so most were quite happy with a conservative social and economic ethos in general, and a condemnatory Protestant comment on Noel Browne’s “Mother and Child” scheme is quoted, oppposition to which is generally considered to consist only of the Catholic Church and those doing its will.

A bigger bone of contention was not with the state but with the Catholic Church’s Ne Temere decree which threatened the very existence of the Protestant community in the 26 counties. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera condemned the 1957 Fethard-on-Sea boycott of Protestant business locally (following a dispute about the schooling of children in an inter-church marriage) in strong terms. The point is also made that this Fethard-on-Sea incident was also not as simplistic a division as sometimes portrayed. A chapter comparing the British colonial expertience in India after independence with the Irish Protestant experience in the South after the setting up of the Free State is also fascinating: Irish Prods felt at home, a sense of belonging, in Ireland in a way that most British in India did not.

As to how my own family experienced the new state, well one side fared badly economically because of work which was done for the old regime and which was not available to them under the new one. On that side of the family all the younger members, apart from my father, eventually left the 26 counties, some going north and some to Britain. But this followed several factors; not having training in a trade or profession, apart from my father in the family business, they needed to move to find reasonably paid employment, and all, apart from my father, were with the British armed forces or merchant navy in the Second World War. Some did work for a period in Dublin but subsequently left.

On my mother’s side of the family, she and her siblings all remained in Ireland because there was a family business to sustain them, despite a couple being involved with the British war effort in the Second World War. On my father’s side there may have been a question of identity for some but I think the issue of economics and jobs in both cases was the most important factor, though I presume those involved directly with the British engagement in the Second World War increased their identification with things British.

Also on a personal note, I am happy to have had one distant family member involved in the cultural and literary renaissance in Ireland either side of the start of the twentieth century, and she is recorded as a “Protestant activist and revolutionary” in the book in the chapter “Protestant Republicans in the Revolution and After”. She was primarly a cultural and certainly not a military activist and nationalist. She was a counterpoint to a majority on that side of my family who would have been both strongly pro-British and pro-imperialist before partition.

However it struck me that the book has future relevance as well. A ‘united Ireland’ may not be as near as some people think, or would like to think, but neither may it be as far away as others think or would like to think. Looking at the experience of what was originally 10% of the population in the Free State, most of whom had allegiances to Britain, is very relevant to thinking and planning for any new Ireland which would include Northern Ireland unionists and loyalists, and that is a valuable activity even if a ‘united Ireland’ never ever happened in conventional terms.

No, you cannot make exact parallels, and much has changed in a hundred years, but nevertheless there are undoubtedly some lessons that could be learnt. The population of Northern Ireland is currently 28% of that in the whole island though the Republic’s population has been growing faster than the North – but Prods would almost certainly be less than half of the population in the North if unification happened. I consider that this book is of some importance not just for understanding the past but in working for a new future in Ireland as well. And today in addition there are many new minorities in Ireland to consider. A possible role for Southern Protestants in reunification is referred to at the very end of the book, and this could be important, but it strikes me that their experience in the early years of the state bears a lot of reflection in looking at unification in the future.

Thinking nationally, acting locally and vocally
Local elections are a peculiar affair in that while some people are thinking about which party or people would be best about emptying rubbish bins and developing the area, most people are probably not too bothered, or their minds are set on wider issues, at the ‘national’ level in particular. So it can be difficult to dissect the results, as to whether people are voting for Joe or Joan Soap for their brimfull of bin full ideas, because they know their cousin, or because their party is in favour more widely. The North has just had local elections while in the Republic they are on the same day as the European ones in the jurisdiction, 24th May.

In the North in particular there have been some rather under-the-belt digs. One Ulster Unionist candidate in east Belfast was trying to undermine the possibility of people voting for Alliance by trying to show Alliance’s keenness to vote with Sinn Féin, which is surely a case, in sporting parlance, of getting the man or woman and not the ball given that Alliance are undoubtedly an antisectarian party, and in fact all parties would have found themselves on the same side as the Sinners on issues. Another candidate in north west Belfast advised “You cannot be loyalist and socialist” – tell that to the PUP/Progressive Unionist Party which, incidentally, still maintains its link with the UVF.

And an SDLP candidate proclaimed – in a local election communication, that “The European Union remains the greatest force for peace and partnership across the planet.” While the EU may have done its bit for encouraging European harmony within its boundaries, if not often solidarity, I wonder if no one has informed the candidate in question about the EU’s increasing militarisation, massive support for the arms industry, and link up with NATO, see for example news items in the last few Nonviolent News and this issue.....
Well, the year is movin’ on, and next month sees the longest day, so make hay while the sun shines. But speaking of weather, a 300 year history of Irish rainfall shows recent winters have been the wettest Between more severe weather events and increased winds causing greater damage, Ireland will not escape climate change unscathed; and the tide will rise. 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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