Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

I am going to spread myself a bit thinly this month – as my first piece will reveal.

A vegan spreads spread

Whether you are a vegan or a veggie or flexitarian trying to reduce your dairy (cheese) input, for dietary or ecological reasons, what savoury materials to put on your daily bread is a question you may ask, or want to explore. For some, there may also be a question of cost as vegan alternatives can be expensive but there are plenty which you can prepare yourself, and many combinations of reasonably priced products that you can experiment with.

Hummus is of course a great stand by and making your own is quite easy; since it freezes well you can make a load and then take out what you need when you need it. One tip here, however, to avoid wastage unless you eat prodigious amounts, is to freeze it in ice cube containers and then you can take out exactly the amount you want rather than a whole container – and it thaws faster too. Recipes for hummus are readily available online but allowing it time in your food processor (along with enough oil and water or aqua faba – the water chick peas are cooked in) is key to getting a smooth result.

Bottled, longer life tapenade is not always great and fresh tapenade in delis and elsewhere tends to be expensive. Some tapenades can also have anchovies which doesn’t make it veggie let alone vegan. You can easily make your own very cheaply with supermarket green pitted olives (I avoid the small black ones which you get on bought pizzas which I don’t like). Simply drain and then liquidise the olives well – I use a hand blender; you can process a small jar, probably less than 200g of well drained green olives, with a dessert spoon or two of olive oil; you can put it back in the same jar and it will keep for some time, a week or possibly more, in the fridge. You can of course add garlic, lemon juice etc for flavour but for me the salt of the brine that the olives were in is sufficient and I don’t go with the caper of adding capers. If you can get better, larger, softer olives at what you consider a reasonable price then making tapenade with these will of course give you a superior product.

Guacamole is easily made with lots of recipes online however mockamole’ is a guacamole substitute or spread using frozen peas as the base. It is worth exploring even if the cost (financial or water use) of avocados doesn’t particularly worry you. It may look like guacamole and have the same consistency but it isn’t going to taste the same but deserves to be thought of as its own thing – perhaps as ‘legumeole’ – rather than a poor substitute for guacamole.

The recipe for this mockamole/legumeole will need refinement by yourself to get a taste you like. One possibility is; a mug of frozen peas (brought to the boil and chilled in cold water and drained), a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon or two of tahini, one or two garlic cloves, a small amount of chopped fresh or dried chilli (amount according to your taste), a couple of tablespoons of chopped red onion (or white if you don’t have red), a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon or two of ground methi/fenugreek, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper as desired. Blend well until quite smooth. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients and amounts until you get what you really like. You need to use a reasonable amount of oil or tahini to give it the umami (“”Uuuuuuuu, Mammy, this tastes great!”) sensation of guacamole. [Words never fail you, Billy, you flail them instead – Ed] [My word, you are taking an interest in my writing! – Billy]

Mayonnaise is not one that I have cracked as a home made vegan recipe; (no eggs cracked either) using aqua faba (chick pea water) it tasted all right but turned out very liquidy and it would need more of a thickener. However whether you use egg based mayonnaise or a vegan one, and bought or home made, mayonnaise and salad vegetables or a chopped salad are a great combination on bread – though lettuce and green salad veg in a vinaigrette dressing quickly die a death. I no longer bother growing lettuce – the slugs like it too much – and instead grow my own rocket and land cress, with perhaps three sowings in the year; a late sowing in August or early September may over-winter well and give you an early crop. Chopped radishes can of course be great on bread.

Combining different things is also very much part of the game. One easily made spread is ‘Tahini-Tamari’ mix; stir in a couple of dessert spoons of proper soya sauce (natural, not the forced, cheaper varieties) into half a jar of tahini; I usually use a spoon or two of olive oil to make it less solid. If you have concerns about sesame allergies you could try it with other nut butters, and while tamari is gluten free, other soya sauces probably aren’t.

You can allow peanut butter on your bread to be shared with any manner of other products; pickles, chutneys etc; I particularly like peanut butter with Patak’s garlic pickle or chilli pickle. Making your own pickles and chutneys is quite easy and you shouldn’t end up in a pickle yourself. Something like apple chutney can be relatively inexpensive with bought cooking apples, or a mixture of cooking and eating ones. For a sweeter chutney (you can still make it as spicy hot as you like) I make a banana and date chutney, perhaps picking up riper bananas that are being sold off more cheaply to clear. And if you have your own garden produce the sky is the limit. However my advice with chutneys is to use a good cider vinegar to avoid too much harshness but that can add to the cost.

Marmite is just one brand of spreadable yeast extract which people tend to adore or detest; you can try others if you find them. But again the flavoured saltiness of these products can be combined with something else to give you a more complex taste. And there are many different kinds of mustards which you can explore. If you want something stronger to knock your socks off, the sky is the limit with horseradish though supermarket horseradish sauce is unlikely to be vegan; you can buy vegan horseradish sauce in specialist stores or you can make your own – there are recipes online..

So there you have a range of vegan possibilities for putting on your daily bread. There are some things you may not really go for but with an added twist or another product added, e.g. tomatoes, they can quickly become a favourite.

Buddies not bullies

The violence of bullying exerts a terrible cost, sometimes extending so far as young people taking their own life. Such a case was recently publicised in Co Cavan where there was also a possible sectarian element in the case of 18-year old Eden Heaslip (his father is Protestant). Though the family were uncertain whether the sectarian element was just another taunt to throw at the young man in question, it and the other long term bullying was reprehensible and ended in the taking of his life.

But families in such cases often rise to the challenge of addressing the problem which led to their tragedy. The Heaslip family have been fundraising to work against bullying and working under the slogan of Be Buddies Not Bullies, ( Buddies not Bullies is also the name of a USA anti-bullying campaign. ).Most bullying is a form of violence at an age when young people can have great vulnerabilities although workplace bullying can be common too. While there is more awareness of its destructive nature than there was, there is a long way to go in eradicating, as far as possible, this common practice, with social media having opened up new ways to torment those being bullied.

Anti-bullying campaigns include and the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum is at An Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 came into force in September 2021; you can word search for information on this. For bullying in the Republic, both in school and at work, the Citizens Information website has a run down at and search for ‘bullying’.

The mystique of royalty and non-royal ‘royalty’….

Although it may be obvious from what I say, I wanted (using a naval and militarist term) to ‘nail my colours to the mast’ at the start of this piece by saying I am not, and never have been, a believer in monarchy, or even in moanarchy. I consider royalty to be the opposite of any kind of egalitarian principles, and indeed the natural upholders or at least standard bearers of an inequitable status quo. It is a long time ago [And that is even an understatement – Ed] that I did an ‘A’ level in economics and UK politics in Norn Iron but at that stage I was the only person in the class, in my Protestant school, to argue against having a monarchy when it came to the essay on that topic. I do of course recognise that there are many for whom royalty of any sort are seen as inspirational and figures of admiration, but I am not among them.

Now that Prince Andrew is in the bad books over allegations concerning sexual activities with a teenager (or rape in more specific language), he has been stripped of his royal (‘HRH’) and military titles to try to protect the institution that is the British monarchy. But why did he have all those titles in the first place? Just looking at senior male royals, on ceremonial occasions with enough medals and colours on their chest to sink a battleship, makes me wonder about how the mystique of royalty props up institutions like the military and militarism, and vice versa. They give each other a leg up.

I would say that the mystique of royalty is that there are no magical mysteries worth knowing about. Queen Elizabeth and, for example, her daughter Princess Anne have been hard-working members of the institution and clearly highly dedicated to a certain version of public service and Britishness. But what is it about ordinary people looking up in awe to a hereditary ‘firm’? What and where is the mystique? (Or, in the case of the late Princess Margaret, the Mustique.) To me they are another ordinary family stuck in extraordinary circumstances and, like most families, they consist of the good, the bad, and the muggley (cf JK Rowling though the word ‘muggle’ predates her writing and has different meanings).

I have told you before about how I once received my gardening order delivered wrapped in offcuts from a Masonic Order rule book. It made fascinating reading but it clearly illustrated that the assorted made up procedures were not worth the wasted paper they were written on. The secret was that there were no secrets worth knowing. It is somewhat similar with the British royalty – although there are actually quite a few secrets about their wealth, and power (e.g. to influence government dealings which may affect them) which are worth knowing and which they are not keen to publicise.

Their position and influence is because many ordinary people cede that position and influence to them. The classic understanding of nonviolence regarding power applies here; rulers can rule because they are accorded the right to rule and if the people take that away then the rulers are in trouble and can even be ‘ruled out’. If royalty are shielded from too much public gaze then they can get away with more of that royal mystique. Expose them to the light, as has been happening with Prince Andrew, and it is clear they have feet of clay like the rest of us, or worse.

There is an infamous occasion in the interaction between the British public and the royals when they engaged in a televised It’s A Royal Knockout, which was not considered to show them at their best and, while attempting to show them as full of fun actually showed them as full of nothing special. But why I mention this is that the recently deceased Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday) reminisced about participating in this event. Meat Loaf said that Prince Andrew seemed jealous about his interaction with his (Andrew’s) then wife, ‘Fergie’, and tried to push Meat Loaf into the water. When Meat Loaf turned around to retaliate, Andrew said “You can’t touch me, I’m royal”, which entreaty Meat Loaf ignored. But this perhaps illustrates the sense of entitlement which goes with being ‘royal’. And, boy (or prince), has Andrew shown entitlement, and Princess Margaret was the same.

Of course being accorded ‘royal’ status, or feeling entitled, is not restricted to actually being royal. Putting anyone on a pedestal is a dangerous process, so I am not just talking about royalty here. Yes, looking up to people you admire and can learn from is good and natural but you still need to retain your critical faculties. Not (m)any of us are saints, and if you examine the lives of religious or secular ‘saints’ there may be many things that are not admirable. Putting people on a pedestal in any way has dangers; look what happened to some of the priesthood in Ireland, or someone like Jimmie Saville in Britain. The same thing applies to nonviolent ‘saints’ like Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King; yes, they can provide inspiration and learning but they were certainly not perfect, in their private lives or otherwise, and we are foolish if we give them an impenetrable aura of sainthood. Not only is this misplaced but it can diminish and disempower us and our realisation of who we are and what we can do.

Seeing the wood for the trees

It has been mentioned in these pages before ( see NN ) but I thought it was worth revisiting; Afri’s Alphabet Avenue project. The reason is because it is so simple and yet so profound. The Irish alphabet was/is marked out by the names of trees and shrubs, listed below, and therefore you can ‘plant’ the whole alphabet, or a name or initial, if you have the space to do so.

The ‘tree letters’ are: Ailm (Elm), Beith (Birch), Coll (Hazel), Dair (Oak), Eadha (Aspen), Fearn (Alder), Gath (Ivy), Huath (Hawthorn), ĺodha (Yew), Luis (Rowan), Muin (Blackberry), Nuin (Ash), Oir (Broom), Peith (Birch), Ruis (Elder), Suil (Willow), Teithne (Furze) and Ur (Heather). There are 18 letters in the Irish alphabet.

If you look it all up online there is plenty of other information, and even books you can buy, but the information on the Afri website is sufficient for you to take it forward,; you can download the leaflet at Space permitting, you can plant something to celebrate or remember a loved one, or to even spell a simple message. Using it provides a direct link between the land of today and the past. It can also give a whole new meaning to a phrase like ‘reading the landscape’. No swear words though, please, that would be too bizarre. Though that reminds me of the story of the 5 primary school pupils, each holding a letter to say ‘HELLO’ at the start of a school event….except the holder of ‘O’ went to the wrong side……so be careful how you plan your planting!

A tea shop in Sligo

I was reminded of the following story by Garreth Byrne’s piece on a wholefood shop in Sligo and developments in organic farming and gardening in the north-west. It goes back in time to when Ireland perhaps deserved the title “l’île derrière l’île “ (‘the island behind the island’, in French) and knowledge about Ireland was phenomenally lacking not just on the mainland of Europe but in its nearest neighbour, Britain – I am not saying it is adequate today but certainly of a different order.

I am not sure who the speaker was, it was presumably an MP on the nationalist side of the house in Norn Iron at the end of the 1960s, it could even have been Gerry Fitt, who referred in the British House of Commons to “a speech made by the Taoiseach in Sligo”. This was reported in Hansard, the official parliamentary record, as “a speech made in a tea shop in Sligo”…. Today even British newsreaders can get their tongues around referring to “the Irish Taoiseach”. However I await a speech by the Taoiseach in a tea shop in Sligo….or maybe I should await such an event in Teemore – though this is just north of the border, in Fermanagh, but maybe it is a big house (‘An Tigh Mór‘) and will fit everyone to a T who wants to be there (to misuse that phrase).

I hope 2022 is treating you well and you can still intone ‘Om’ (or your favourite religious or secular mantra) in the ‘om’icron period – which we all very much hope is the start of the end of the Covid Era. However I always feel by the end of January that the increased light in the afternoon in our northern hemisphere is a harbinger of better things to come; may it be so. For us gardeners it is time to go to seed again. Until next time, Billy.