Saturday, 11 June 2005
Food for Thought
Topic: Recipes and Food
Have you ever tried tapioca pudding
? My mother used to prepare lots of rice puddings and tapioca puddings when I was small but I haven't eaten one for years. Recently, I read how tapioca is made. It actually comes from the tuberous root of Cassava or Manioc, a shrubby plant originating in South America and now one of the world's most important food crops. Manioc was probably first cultivated by the Maya Indians but it has a serious disadvantage - the starchy root actually contains a poisonous compound called linamarin which can produce cyanide if eaten raw. So the root has to be washed and peeled, shredded or grated and then soaked for several days to allow the plant's natural enzymes to convert the toxic linamarin to sugar and cyanide gas - the gas then dispersing harmlessly. When the shredded root is soaked in clean water and left, starch settles. The water is then poured off and the process is repeated four or five times. Finally, the starch is collected and cooked and stirred until little balls or pearls of tapioca are formed.
The South American Indians
used to squeeze the manioc pulp in a special basket called a 'tipiti' to remove any toxic juice before washing and then they roasted the remains. The result was a coarse meal or flour known as 'farinha de mandioca'. Starch settling out from the extracted juice was then heated on a flat surface, causing individual starch grains to pop open and clump together into small, round granules (tapioca). The remaining juice was boiled down to destroy any poison and used as a sauce called 'tucupi'. Now all that is really quite amazing. How did anyone ever discover that a poisonous tuberous root could be shredded and pummelled and washed and cooked to make it edible?
The evolution of cooking (if that is the right term!) is extremely intriguing. Today, human beings cultivate and eat a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and seeds
but, in the distant past, those food sources were far from abundant and difficult to find. Also, many plants, such as grains, were spindly prototypes of today's plump cultivated varieties. So, how did our hunter gatherer ancestors learn what they could eat and how to prepare it? Some mammals can eat plants which are poisonous to human beings so how many early humans died through experimenting with alternative food sources they had observed other creatures eating? For that matter, how many died from eating unprocessed manioc? Hunger must have been a very powerful driving force to make people experiment with ways of preparing something they knew could make them very ill or even kill them.Homo Erectus
and other early hominids would have hunted for meat but they would also have eaten every seed they could find. Anything bean-like or pea-like would have been stripped off the bushes, together with wild berries or nuts and the stems or roots of starchy plants. But how did early man ever think of grinding millet or other grains into flour and then mixing it with water to make a dough? Perhaps they started by grinding nuts and seeds when their teeth began to wear down! Certainly, many nuts and seeds are more nutritious when broken down by grinding as that releases more of the protein. (One good reason to chew food well). So, was it an accidental soaking of ground up seeds that forced them to try to 'dry' it over a fire?
Actually, it is easy to understand how early man thought of roasting nuts or burning off seed husks or roasting meat - it would have just needed a forest fire to flash through their hunting grounds for the concept of cooking to take hold. Although many foods, including fish and meat, can be eaten raw, they are undoubtedly less of a strain on the digestive system, and probably more tasty as well, if they are eaten cooked. One reason is that many seeds contain substances like tannins which are destroyed or greatly reduced by cooking, thereby making them more nutritious and much easier to digest and people would have been quick to notice the advantages and to learn how to harness the power of fire.
It seems that everywhere that early humans went, they found some new foodstuff to eat. I think that we owe a great deal to the resourcefulness of so called 'primitive man' who was actually very clever and extremely knowledgeable about his environment. They knew what to eat and how to prepare it and they also knew what plants and herbs could cure various ailments - something which today's scientists are still learning about from old 'folk medicine
Today, human beings worldwide eat and enjoy a huge variety of foodstuffs. We, in the Western World, are particularly fortunate when it comes to food. We just take a trip to the supermarket and load up our trolleys with whatever we fancy or can afford. Yorkshire puddings, meat pies, rhubarb crumble, Indian curry, Chinese sweet and sour pork - you name it, it's in a cabinet somewhere. Everything is prepared for us from lamb chops to fish fingers. We can enjoy any vegetable out of season from the frozen food cabinet or buy exotic fruit flown in from all over the world. We can buy packets of 'freshly prepared' vegetables all sliced up and ready to cook, even peeled potatoes ready for boiling! So much so that some young people, (like the girl who served me once in Marks and Spencers), have no idea what peas, broad beans or runner beans look like before podding or slicing. Our great grand-parents, who had to bottle and preserve, would be utterly amazed.
Wednesday, 8 June 2005
Here are a couple of 'funnies' that my husband heard on BBC Radio Two's, "Wake up with Wogan", this morning between 8 and 9 am. Purportedly, both true stories.
A man goes into a newsagents and asked the girl, "Do you sell first class stamps?" "Yes, sir", she replied. "Oh, good. I'll have a dozen, please." "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. We only sell them in books of twelve".
A gentleman boards an aeroplane at Dublin carrying a packet of fresh edible crabs. He asked the Air Hostess if she would be kind enough to store them in the refrigerator in the galley. "Certainly, sir. No problem". Relieved, he made his way to his seat. On landing, the tannoy comes on. The Air Hostess had an announcement. "Would the gentleman who gave me the crabs at Dublin please come and identify himself".
World Ocean Day
Topic: Special Days
World Ocean Day was created at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and is celebrated annually on the 8th June. At the moment, the organisers are campaigning to have this day recognised and officially designated by the United Nations. They need 10,000 signatures. If you care about our oceans, why not sign this petition. You can do it online HERE
One of the most damaging of ocean activities is the practice of deep-sea trawling
. Everything, edible or not, is scooped up in the heavy nets. Coral is destroyed and fragile ecosytems are gone forever. The ocean floor is left a barren desert, with no shelter or food for the myriad of tiny fish fry. This practise should be banned as a matter of urgency. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition has just released a white paper highlighting this problem, Six Good Reasons for a time-out on high seas bottom trawling
. If something is not done soon, many fish will become extinct. Cod is already endangered and it is a fact that the mature breeding population is virtually non-existent. This means that immature fish are now breeding much earlier than normal. What effect this will have on the fish stock is unknown.
I can remember my Dad telling me that the sea was a wonderful source of food for mankind which would never run out. But it is running out. Also, the seas act as the lungs for our world and provide vast amounts of oxygen. However, if we turn the oceans into dank, polluted water deserts, what will happen then?
Do you want to have to explain to your grandchildren or great grandchildren what Fish 'n Chips tasted like? I certainly don't. Now is the time for our generation to do something before it is too late. One way is to support the campaign for the preservation of our beautiful oceans and their diverse marine life. We must do this for our descendants' sakes before it is too late and that point of no return is looming closer day by day. Go on, sign that petition now - I have.
Monday, 6 June 2005
Daft as a Brush (or Two)
Did anyone notice my deliberate mistake this morning?! There it was - the little notice I put at the top of the page for all and sundry to see. You didn't notice! Oh well... I had only put '1944: 60th
Anniversary of D-Day"! Seems I am living a year in the past.
I even mentioned it to my husband on Sunday: "I must amend my notices to say it is the 60th Anniversary on the 6th June". "Yes", he agreed. Now, of course, he says he was thinking of the 60th Anniversary of the end of the war! Are we both going senile?
Men in white coats coming....
Saturday, 4 June 2005
Douglas Jennings, RAF Evader During World War II
?Jump or Die? - A Personal Recollection from 1939-1945
Topic: My Web Pages
If any of you have visited my web site, you will know that my aunt, Marthe Janssen-Leyder
was a member of the Belgian Secret Army during World War II. I met her once when I was four years and ten months old. She came over to London in 1946 to see my father and stayed with us for a couple of days. She was planning to arrange a meeting with some of the airmen who had been helped by her group but it was not to be. A few days later, she died from a stroke - the strain of the war years had taken its toll. I had some papers my father had kept, some 'stories
' she had typed out for us and some family memories. Then, a couple of years' ago, I was contacted by a Canadian Historian, Michael Moores LeBlanc, who told me how to get a copy of her 'Award File' from the US Archives in Washington DC. I now had some names - three Airmen she had helped, one USAAF and two RAF. I found one of them, Douglas Jennings
, living about twenty miles away from my home. He was the same airman pictured in the Belgian Newspaper
cutting I had.
At the time, Doug gave me a copy of his unpublished manuscript, "Jump or Die". It describes his two years of training with the RAF as an "Air Bomber", the initial 'crewing up' process and the crew's eventual posting to No. 57 Squadron at East Kirkby, Lincolnshire in April 1944 after a final two months at No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School. It tells how, on the night of 21st June 1944, (the crew's 18th operation), Lancaster III, LM580 DX-L, took off to bomb an oil plant in Wesseling, German. On the outbound journey, the bomber was shot by FLAK and went down in flames. All the crew
, except for Pilot Gwylin 'Ginger' Guy, who sadly went down with his aeroplane, bailed out. Doug was lucky not to be arrested by the Gestapo. He successfully evaded through Belgium and returned to England in September 1944. One of the first things he did was to visit my father's office to give him news of his sister! After "Survivors' Leave", Doug was posted to an Operational Training Unit at Abingdon - not what he wanted! After some 'drastic action' on his part, Doug finally succeeded in getting another posting to No 9 Squadron where he flew a further eight operations dropping the famous Tallboy Bombs.
I was enthralled with his book. So, I am absolutely delighted to announce that it has just been published through Tucann Books. The book is an A5 sized paperback of 141 pages and well illustrated throughout. Purchase price is #10 + #1.50 post and packing. Copies may be obtained from Doug (who will be pleased to sign them) or from the Publisher, full details here
Lord of the Rings
Topic: Films and TV
We finally got round to watching the video recording of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring". It is such a long film, I prepared our Friday supper, my version of "Cod Provençal", earlier than usual to give us a longer evening to fit it all in!
I had actually recorded it on 30th April but it was worth the wait! What a brilliant film! Ian McKellen was excellent as Gandalf and the trick photography making the Hobbits smaller was very clever and really impressive. Elijah Wood was very, very good as Frodo Baggins - the only minor distraction was noticing his chewed fingernails!
We are both looking forward to the next two films in the trilogy. Might have to get the DVD as it will probably be a while before anything appears on terrestrial TV!
Friday, 3 June 2005
Driving Me Mad!
Is my driving getting worse? Twice recently, I have had people wag their finger at me when I have been at the wheel. Now, I happen to think that doing that is extremely rude, demeaning and insulting, especially when I hadn't done anything particularly wrong or dangerous.
The first time was a week ago; I was in Tesco's car park looking for an empty space. Near the store entrance, there is a 'pedestrian walkway' with white stripes, similar to a Zebra Crossing. My eyes moved left to an elderly lady who had just crossed and then, I spotted the young woman on my right waiting to cross. I admit I stopped a bit sharply but I was clear of the 'crossing' - so why did she wag her finger at me! I felt quite miffed!
The second occasion was yesterday and, this time, I was really furious with 'steam coming out of my ears'! We look after the grandchildren every Thursday and usually collect them from school at ten past three. But this week is half-term week so we had to get to my son-in-law's house by half-past two so that he could leave for work. Well, we were a little late partly because our neighbour for many years was moving and the giant removal van had been parked across our driveway since ten past eight. "Won't be a minute", the driver called out but it was a bit more than that!
I turned briskly into the little cul-de-sac road in Westergate. There was a parked car about thirty yards in front and a car coming towards me. I stopped, again a bit sharply. I had not cut the corner and I was stopped entirely in my lane but the sneering, puerile nitwit at the wheel of the on-coming car just had to wag his finger at me! He mouthed something, too, and drew up beside me. I wound down the window. "You came round that corner a bit fast, didn't you", said Mr Superior Driver. "You could have bumped into me!" Bumped into him
! I had stopped a good few feet from the parked car before he was even level with it. I never think of the right thing to say. "Well, I didn't and I stopped, didn't I", I glared at him. He didn't move, just sat there with an inane grin on his face. My husband, dear soul that he is, kept very quiet. "I am
in a hurry", I said a bit peevishly. So what does Mr Superior Driver do? Well, the asshole goes into reverse and stops level with the parked car smirking at me like a stupid schoolboy!
Well, I can quite understand how road rage incidents happen! I was really mad! What did I do? The only thing I could think of... I leant on my horn! After about 30 seconds, he decided to move off but not before giving me two fingers up and a verbal insult on the way. I probably shouldn't have - but I retaliated with similar. I only wish I had thought to take his number because I would definitely have reported him!
Tuesday, 31 May 2005
World No Tobacco Day
Topic: Health Issues
We are horrified when we hear of yet another death in Iraq; since the start of military operations, the total number of British troops killed has risen to 88. Eighty-eight young lives destroyed, eighty-eight families torn apart.
Yet, there is a greater killer in our midst. Did you know that smoking tobacco
is the principal avoidable cause of premature death in the UK, killing more than 120,000 a year
. Yes, one hundred and twenty thousand! That is a terrible and completely unnecessary waste of human life. In fact, tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. It is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide (about 5 million deaths each year). If current smoking patterns continue, it will cause some 10 million deaths each year by 2020. Half the people that smoke today -that is about 650 million people- will eventually be killed by tobacco.
[World Health Organisation
]World No Tobacco Day
(WNTD), observed globally on 31st May each year, is designed to inform people of the dangers of smoking and to tell them what they can do to stop. If you are a smoker, you know that you are endangering your own life - and risking the lives of the people around you who breathe in the smoke you exhale. TODAY is a good time to give up
Many people try to say that they were seduced by tobacco advertising, that they were not told of the health dangers
when they starting smoking thirty, forty or fifty years ago. This is utter nonsense; my husband was well aware of the dangers when he started his National Service in 1951. In fact, the medical fraternity has been aware of the dangerous side effects of smoking for over 120 years
. This article is taken from The Boy's Own Paper
, Issue No. 187 Vol. IV, for Saturday, August 12 1882.
|What Smoking Does For Boys|
A medical man, struck with the large number of boys under fifteen years of age he observed smoking, was led to inquire into the effect the habit had upon the general health. He took for his purpose, thirty-eight, aged from nine to fifteen, and carefully examined them. In twenty-seven he discovered injurious traces of the habit; in twenty-two there were various disorders of the circulation and digestion, palpitation of the heart and a more or less taste for strong drink. In twelve there were frequent bleedings of the nose, ten had disturbed sleep, and twelve had slight ulceration of the mucous membrane of the mouth, which disappeared on ceasing the use of tobacco for some days. — British Medical Monthly.
Yes, his survey was amongst boys of nine to fifteen years old. Shocking, isn't it - but children around that age are smoking today
. There has also been a rise in drinking alcohol and drug taking
amongst school children. Perhaps your child or your teenager is one of them! Is this what you want for your children? Teach them by example - stop NOW. So-called 'peer pressure' may start youngsters on this dangerous habit. Teach your children that it is NOT COOL to smoke or to drink. Tell them that it is the ones who do, who are the weak-willed, immature, foolish people, not the ones who refuse to join in.
Smoking and drinking alcohol at the same time increases the risk of cancers - cancer of the mouth, throat and larynx, stomach cancer, bowel cancer and kidney cancer. Although, a glass of wine a day may be good for the heart, smokers younger than 50 are five times
more likely than non-smokers to die of coronary heart disease. Without doubt, smoking adversely affects the lungs, heart, vascular systems and
brain tissue. If you become alcohol dependent and smoke, or know someone who is, be aware that smoking compounds alcohol-induced brain damage
. Don't take the risk!
Monday, 30 May 2005
Cruelty to Animals
Topic: Nature and Our World
I believe all other creatures have as much right to live as we do. Last Thursday evening, as we left my daughter's house; I saw a frog in the middle of the road I was about to turn into. Along came a car - oh, no - straight over it. Amazingly it hopped again so, disregarding the pouring rain, I leapt out of the car, scooped up my prince in disguise and carried him to safety. This afternoon, I spotted a large bird in the garden, a baby rook! There is a nest in the huge walnut tree in next door's garden. The rooks had been dive-bombing a cat earlier in the morning so, that was the reason, a fledgling in distress. Out I went. He fluttered up and down the garden and cowered in a corner. I picked him up easily; he felt cold and a bit thin. Nevertheless, I tried my best and threw it up into the air - if he landed on a branch, he could be fed by his anxious parents and might succeed in flying properly.
So, you can imagine my indignation when I read what had happened to a poor cat
. Shot in the chest with an airgun and severely kicked! What harm had that animal ever done to the thug who attacked her! Earlier in the year, there was a spate of attacks against cats in Bognor Regis and Chichester. One poor creature even had its tail cut off. What makes people do such cruel things to trusting and friendly animals? I can understand, but not condone, a young child pulling off a spider's legs or throwing stones at squirrels and birds; they need to be taught to respect nature. But an adult or sub-adult shooting a pet cat for no reason at all is the lowest of the low!
Saturday, 28 May 2005
Leopold III, King of the Belgians - Belgian Bid to Restore His Honour
Topic: In the News
At the start of World War II, Belgium was neutral. However, the Germans, who had guaranteed Belgian neutrality in 1937, broke their word and, without warning, invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg on 10th May 1940. The Belgian Army fought very bravely for eighteen days but, all the time, they were being pushed further and further back. By the 25th May, the Allies could see that the crumbling Belgian defence was becoming hopeless and on the 26th the French army drew up plans to withdraw to the coast. By 1 p.m. on the 27th, the War Office had issued orders "to evacuate the maximum force possible". In the early hours of 28th May 1940
, Leopold III, commander-in-chief of the Belgian Army, took the final decision to surrender to the German Army, despite the opposition of his cabinet. The King wished to spare his people further bloodshed and suffering - but his action provoked accusations of treason.
Retired Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Roger Keyes
(1972-1945), who had been recalled to serve as liaison officer to the Belgian King Leopold in 1939, was appointed Director of Combined Operations from 1940-41. He closely observed the King's conduct at the time of the capitulation and expressed his thoughts in his diaries. Later his son, Lord Keyes, 2nd Baron, naval officer and author (14th March 1919-4th March 2005) [see TimesOnLine Obituaries
] believed, as did his father, that historians had treated King Leopold III most unfairly and that he had been made a scapegoat for the defeat of France and the British Army in 1940
. He wrote a book, Outrageous Fortune
, published in 1984, in which he set out to exonerate Leopold, whom he regarded as having been traduced by France and Britain for having ordered the Belgian Army to lay down its arms on May 28, 1940, after it had courageously fought the Wehrmacht for 18 days
Recently, [18th March 2005], Belgian Monarchists, urged Tony Blair to "restore the honour" of King Leopold III
; see Belgian bid to restore honour of their king
. Lt. Col. Louis Van Leemputhe, the president of the Royal League of Veterans of Leopold III, is asking the Prime Minister to repudiate harsh comments directed at King Leopold by Sir Winston Churchill and other British officials, both during the war and afterwards.
"We are not asking for an apology but a letter from Mr Blair, simply stating that the British Government regrets the position taken by Sir Winston Churchill, which caused internal problems in Belgium that led to the abdication of the King," he said.
The league has also written to Belgium's prime minister to ask him to rehabilitate Leopold, who died in 1983, and "lift the veil of lies which covers this black page in our history
I am not an historian but, as an outsider, my sympathies are with the late King (who died on 25th September 1983). Leopold III continued his defiance of the Germans right through the occupation. He rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates. The King did meet with Hitler and successfully negotiated the release of thousands of Belgian prisoners-of-war - an event which resulted in some regarding him as a 'collaborator'. Although he was exonerated after the war, he was never forgiven by the Belgium people as a whole and, eventually, was forced to abdicate in 1951. The reasons for this are diverse due in part to old divisions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish people in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south. The reasons probably also extend to Leopold's private life - his behaviour during the war, particularly his re-marriage, incurring the violent disapproval of the Belgian people.
It is time he was forgiven.
For a brief history of Leopold from my main website, click here to view a Pop Up
for the full-size page.
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