On the ground at the DSEi arms fair [archive]

I wrote this article a long time ago for the Indy on Sunday, but the experience has stayed with me and I thought I’d put it up here. I attended the DSEi arms fair and it was an education.

If you walked around DSEi with squinted eyes, you might think it was a normal trade fair. There are bright colours, glossy brochures, models and video screens demonstrating the wares. But when the gaze comes into focus, the videos are of battlefields – even cluster bombs at the Israel Military Industries stand – and the models are of missiles and bombs, such as the 12ft Tomahawk cruise missile used by the Royal Navy, on sale from its US manufacturer, Raytheon.

UKIP on the campaign trail in Newark

I visited a UKIP rally for the Newark by-election: this is my report for the Spectator blog.

After the European elections, we can smell blood,’ said a cheerful UKIP activist, Scott Cross, from Hampshire. Former Tory activist Steve Stanbury, who defected to UKIP a few years ago, felt ‘exhilarated and invigorated for the first time in ages.’ And this exuberance was given full vent when their saviour Farage appeared. Entering the packed 500-plus crowd in Newark’s genteel Kelham Hall, the ovation was standing and the roar was deafening. The grand Victorian hall is usually used for weddings, but marital celebrations had nothing on the enthusiastic applause from UKIP’s blue rinse brigade yesterday, still buzzing from their triumph in the EU elections a week earlier.

The jellyfish man: an encounter with ‘liquid love’

What happens when we die? Some people have very vivid Near Death Experiences, which could provide an answer. This guy, Ian McCormack, felt that God was guiding him as he was on the brink of death after being stung by box jellyfish. When he asked for forgiveness, he found himself in the presence of Jesus.

There is a short version of his testimony, but I’d really recommend listening to the full version below. What really struck me is his description of being in the presence of God: ‘liquid love’.

Making free fuel from scrap paper. No more shredding!

I’ve found a great way to beat the fuel crisis, plus avoid all that boring shredding of bank statements and so on.

Turn all that scrap paper into fuel!

SAMSUNG

I bought a paper compressor, to make logs with. You have to soak the paper in water, then put it in the compressor, and press down hard. You then have to leave it to dry for a few weeks – so you need space that is reasonably warm. I dried them in the conservatory. The results are on the right in the picture above (the other paper is for kindling)

It’s only just got cold enough to try it out, so I’ve been burning them along with normal paper as kindling and a few coals in my wood-burning stove. The paper logs last almost as long as a normal log.

They call themselves ‘briquette makers’ and all sorts of strange things, but if you google eco paper log maker, you’ll probably find it.  I got mine second-hand on ebay so it was cheap too.

Salmon with nettles & roasted veg

I just had the most delicious meal… made with nettles!

I got about 15 nettle leaves (fairly young ones), washed and chopped, and put them into an aluminium foil parcel. I added about 3 tbsp. of white wine, a glug of olive oil, plus lots of salt n pepper, and then put a frozen salmon fillet on top. I rubbed about 2 tsp of English mustard into the top of the salmon, and wrapped it all up. I popped it into the oven with some potatoes, artichokes and parsnips roasting in thyme alongside it. The fish took about 20 mins (it was a small fillet) and the veg a bit longer… it was delicious!

Rhubarb and ginger jam recipe

I was round at some friends’ house, and they offered me some rhubarb. Now, I love Rhubarb and Ginger jam, and you can’t get it in the shops. So I jumped at the chance.

I adapted a recipe:

1.4kg Rhubarb, clean and trimmed
1.1kg sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ginger paste
200ml water

Use a pan that won’t react – I used a proper jam making pot, but stainless steel will do. Stew rhubarb and ginger in water until soft. Add sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil, boil rapidly for 15 mins or so. When it sets, put on a cold plate to see if a skin forms. Don’t overboil, though.

Meanwhile, sterilise jam jars by putting in oven on 150 degrees for about 10 mins. When jam is ready, spoon into jars. Put a wax disc over jam, ensuring all bubbles are out. Cover with wet cellophane and a jam cover, fix with a rubber band.

I must find a friend who can divide their plant, so I’ve got my own free supply in the garden!

Food from weeds: Nettle soup

I’ve always liked the idea of making food out of garden weeds – I don’t use weeds for compost so usually they end up on the rubbish tip. I’ve liked the idea, but have not been sure about the reality!

20130531_135625

So I decided to be brave and try out this recipe from Good Food magazine, using the very healthy looking nettles that are sprouting around my garden. I only got stung once when picking them. I picked about 200g, which was the leaves of about 8-10 tall nettles.

It’s basically a simple vegetable soup: potatoe, carrot, leek and onion with nettles. I used milk instead of cream. The recipe just wilts the nettles before blending but I wasn’t so brave, I gave it a good 5-10 minute boil after the nettles had gone in. Although I washed them thoroughly, I was a bit nervous about what had been in the garden. A bit silly, all our food ultimately comes from a garden, with bugs, animals and all sorts running around there.

The soup does not give off a very nice smell, to be honest. It tastes very similar to spinach soup, I think. Not bad at all!

Apparently nettles are nutritious – with vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. That’s pretty good for a weed…

English: Damselfly perched on nettle The wild ...

English: Damselfly perched on nettle The wild plants and weeds growing beside the path are visited by a great number of insects; the iridescent blue of a damselfly, taking a very short rest, is contrasting vividly with the green of the nettles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sugar, spice, and all things nice… like beetroot? Egyptian Lentil Soup Recipe

Close-up picture of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum).

Close-up picture of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love a bit of spice. It livens up some really cheap food and makes it taste delicious – especially pulses and lentils! So I loved this recipe from ‘The Spice Routes’ – another cookbook from the World Food Cafe, which produces great ideas.

Egyptian lentil soup

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
2 leeks
2 beetroots (I used pickled beetroot, which needed using up!)
1 potatoe
200g red lentils
Hot water/stock
Seasoning
Lemon

Dry roast the cumin seeds in a pan. Take out and grind. Add dash of olive oil to pan, and fry the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Add ground cumin. Then add rest of veggies, all chopped. Allow to sweat and cook a little. Then add red lentils and enough water and stock to cover everything. Let cook until lentils soft. Add lemon juice. Season, then blend. I used half a lemon because the beetroot would have made it too tart.

Delicious! I’d heartily recommend that cookbook.

Chilli recipe: cheap as chips

This is my favourite low budget recipe. It’s really quick to make and tastes delicious, and I think it must be less than $1 a portion (it’s certainly less than £1 for two)

Chilli and chips

Red onion
Oil
1 tin kidney beans
1 tin tomatoes
Chilli powder / paste to taste

To serve:
Tortilla chips

Optional:
Jalapeno chillis
Yoghurt
Grated cheese

Chop red onion and fry until quite soft. Add chilli to taste, beans and tomatoes. Bring to boil and simmer for about 15 mins. Serve with tortilla chips (you can just dip these in to eat it, you don’t need forks!) and if you’ve got any, cheese and jalapenos. Delicious.

Spiced ginger biscuits made with wholewheat flour

I hate throwing food away, and generally ignore ‘best before’ dates. But, it’s important to use the stuff that’s hanging around in the cupboard! I realised I’ve got loads of brown flour to use up, so looked for a good recipe. These are really delicious – you don’t notice the ‘brownness’ at all. Because I used syrup and not molasses (it’s what was in the cupboard) they’re a bit lighter than this recipe, that it’s adapted from. I only had ground ginger so just used that, but I bet it’s nice with fresh ginger too.

•210g whole wheat flour
•1½ tsp baking soda
•2 tsp ground ginger
•1 tsp cinnamon
•¼ tsp nutmeg
•¼ tsp cloves
•⅛ tsp sea salt
•½ cup dates, chopped finely
•115g butter
•85g dark brown sugar or palm sugar/sucanat
•3 (heaped) tbsp golden syrup
•2 tsp fresh ginger, grated (or extra 3 tsp ground ginger)
•up to ½ C coarse, raw sugar for rolling

Cream butter and sugar together with a whisk; add syrup and fresh ginger. Mix. Add all dry ingredients, slowly. Form into a dough, and put in fridge for one or two hours.
When ready to bake, turn oven to 180 degrees C. Roll mixture into about 20 balls, and roll in dark brown sugar. Put on baking trays about 4cm apart.
Bake for about 10 mins, until the surface looks like it is cracking. Let them completely cool before transferring to a cooling rack and then put in airtight container.

Chocolate and hazelnut muffins

Just a quick one, adapted to use up stuff in my fridge!

220g flour
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsps. baking powder
200g white sugar
50g chopped hazelnuts
200ml fresh milk
100g margarine
1 egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla essence

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Melt marg (just) and wait to cool but still liquid. Beat egg and add to marg with milk and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients. Put in muffin cases, bake for 20mins (ish – check!) at 200 degrees centigrade. They came out delicious!

An atheist denies that Jesus was a myth

Atheists sometimes like to claim that Jesus didn’t exist – even Richard Dawkins has tried to do this. But it’s not just Christians that defend the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Professor Bart Ehrman, who isn’t a believer, and often criticises Christian beliefs and the claims in the Bible, states very clearly that the idea that Jesus didn’t exist, or was a mixture of several people, is not taken seriously by any reputable scholar. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in this interview above, he gives the atheist interviewer a bit of a telling off.

“We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody in his time period… I’m not a believer, but as a historian, you can’t just dismiss it, and say ‘We don’t know’. You have to look at the evidence. But there is hard evidence. For example, we have one author who knew Jesus’ relatives and his disciples – Paul.”

Ehrman’s argument is that the nature of the what Paul says in his letters about Jesus, gives strong evidence for Jesus’ existence.

“Why would he lie about it? Paul says things about Jesus as off the cuff comments, where he’s not making a point. That’s very important to historians. Historians look for disinterested comments. He says things, for example, like ‘James, the brother of the Lord’. That’s very important information… you have a disinterested comment.”

Then the atheist fella tries to argue that Paul didn’t write Galatians, but Ehrman states very clearly, that no serious historians have doubted that Paul wrote Galatians (a letter that contains evidence that Jesus existed).

“You have to do the serious historical work and work out what is an embellishment and what is not… you have to approach it sceptically. I’ve spent 30 years studying this… I can tell you, that everyone who has looked at this thing seriously, there’s nobody that doubts this.

“You can systematically doubt everything, sure, but that’s not how you do history. You do history by looking at evidence.”

Later, in part 2 of the interview, Ehrman talks about the reality that for all ancient historical figures, we don’t have the original documents (it’s very common to hear atheists state that because we don’t have the original copies of the New Testament books, that we can’t trust them).

Recycle or re-use? Ways to use rubbish

English: Recycle logo

English: Recycle logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a good green consumer, I faithfully recycle all the rubbish I can. My local council will take most items, like paper, plastic, glass, and even garden and kitchen waste.
But… I’ve decided that rather than put my rubbish out for an energy-consuming lorry to take away, to who knows where… I’m going to try and reuse it myself.
So:

  • I’m keeping paper and cardboard ready to make paper bricks. I’ll be trying them out in my stove in winter time and telling you all about it.
  • I’m composting my garden waste in the back garden, which didn’t achieve much until I found out what an activator was, and a cheap and plentiful source of it!
  • And, I’m keeping a large pile of jam jars, which I’ve written about here.

You definitely need storage space to take this route – luckily I’ve got a pantry which stores my paper and jam jars. And I’ve got an understanding housemate.

What ways of reusing rubbish have you find? Please comment below.