I’m a migrant

I’m a migrant. In October 2006 I moved to Britain to take up a job that I couldn’t find in my own country. At first I wasn’t taking a job away from British people: the grant I was hired on specified that the post should be fulfilled by someone from abroad. But I stayed in Britain after my contract finished, and I took up positions that could also have been filled by British people.

I’m a migrant. Like those people from eastern European countries like Poland and Romania. But because I’m from a western European country, I was accepted into British society without much trouble. I do not need to justify my presence here. I am not, like the Polish people I shared a house with when I was a student, coming from a situation of hopeless unemployment and poverty; I am not exploited, forced to pay extortionate rents and to get up before dawn to work hard for 12 hours on a job the people in this country do not want to do, so I can send money to my family back home, and maybe one day start a little business for myself there.

I’m a migrant. Like those people from countries like Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan who are trying to reach European coasts on leaking boats across the Mediterranean, or who are desperately attempting to get on a train or lorry through the Channel Tunnel. I could have had safety, a well-paying job, good health care and social security in my own country, with the added benefit of being closer to my family. In contrast, they come from places that are dangerous, where there is war, terrorism and persecution, as well as poverty. Not places I would want to live.

I’m a migrant. And so I struggle when I hear these people being vilified. They are not really all that different from me. Why do we fail to understand and respect their motives for trying to come here? I find it especially hard when I hear harsh judgments from Christians. Are we not called to be compassionate and gracious, full of love, like our Lord? Are we not strangers in our own land, called and even commanded to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2)? I am not pretending to have the solutions to the current problems, but I would dearly like to see the tone of the debate changing from an us-versus-them to a what-if-I-were-one-of-them discourse. So here you go: I’m a migrant.

The pastel city

Having recently travelled to Geneva, Florence and Venice on holiday, it is interesting how different cities can have such different atmospheres. At the moment I am in Weimar for a research stay of three weeks. This is the fourth time I’m here and I’ve got to know the city centre fairly well. What I like about it is its quiet atmosphere, although it is also very much alive.

It’s a very interesting city, and visited by many German tourists, though it is little known outside Germany. This could be due to the fact that the nearest international airports (Frankfurt and Berlin) are a train journey of several hours away.

There is a lot of history to take in, both great and not so great. When you walk from the station to the city centre, the first grand building you encounter makes you feel as if Hitler could step out on the balcony any moment to give one of his infamous speeches. The Gauforum is one of the few remaining large-scale public buildings from the Nazi period. I think it’s good that it remains as a memory of that terrible time, but it is a bit unnerving. It also reminds you of the fact that in the forests nearby, concentration camp Buchenwald was the location of much suffering (though a labour camp, not an extermination camp). I visited this during my first stay in the city in 2008. Besides famous prisoners like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Elie Wiesel, my father’s uncle Wout was imprisoned there for his role in the Dutch resistance. He survived, but many others did not.253511924_6_9b1-

The Gauforum

The city has had many famous inhabitants. Lucas Cranach the Elder, who painted the famous portrait of Martin Luther, painted the altarpiece of the city’s main church of St. Peter and St. Paul, and is buried in the churchyard of the Jakobskirche, just opposite the Institute that I’m working at. Johann Sebastian Bach started his professional career here, briefly taking up a post as court musician in the chapel of Duke Johan Ernst III in 1703. Later, from 1708 to 1717 he was the organist and director of music at the ducal court. Apparently there were some problems toward the end of his employment, and he spent a month in prison before being unfavourably dismissed!

The city’s glory days were in the Enlightenment and early Romantic period, when the city was home to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Germany’s equivalent of Shakespeare, and the other founders of ‘Weimar classicism’: the playwright Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), who was the superintendent of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul from 1776 to 1803. The ducal court played an important role in this, inviting Goethe to come to the city in 1772 after the publication of his famous book Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. Not only is Goethe the literary giant of Germany, he was also a scientist who was interested in botany, anatomy and physics (particularly colour). Some of the first fossils found at one of the sites that I am studying here are part of his collection! His house, as well as a host of other buildings from this period, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Goethe’s house has an impressive library and a lovely garden. The city centre is full of classicistic architecture, with houses in pastel colours and windows decorated with garlands.DSC02784

The back of Goethe’s house and his garden

Weimar continued to attract cultural giants, such as Franz Liszt, who lived here from 1842 to 1861. You can visit his summer house, where he spent his summers between 1869 and 1886 and I have heard his grand piano played by students of the Weimar-based Franz Liszt conservatory! Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) spent the last seven years of his life in Weimar.

Besides classicistic architecture, the city is also known for its contributions to Art Nouveau. Henry van de Velde lived in Weimar between 1899 and 1914, and designed various buildings. From 1919 to 1933, architects Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe led an art school known as Bauhaus, which is still influential in design.

So even though it is hard to be away from home for three weeks, I do enjoy coming here, and having a break from the business of daily life! Oh, and did I mention the ice cream?001

Restaurant-style: sweet potato with blue cheese

I have a sweet tooth. If I have to choose between, say, crisps and sweets, I’ll go for the sweets. Not surprisingly, my favourite vegetables are also somewhat sweet: beetroot, parsnips and sweet potatoes. I didn’t manage to post a recipe every evening over the past week; I went off track on Saturday. I have a good excuse though: we attended a lovely wedding. And I try to avoid switching my computer on on Sundays (bliss!). So to make it up, here is a recipe with a sweet vegetable that has lots of other flavours too. It’s really easy to make but on the plate it looks like a restaurant dish. This recipe is by Ainsley Harriott, but there are many similar recipes around on the web.

If you’ve got a taste of vegetarian food by now, why not try a ‘meat-free Monday’ every week? It’s good for your health, for the environment, and for the animals that are the ultimate source of our meat and dairy.

Warm sweet potato and roast tomato cheese salad

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

500 g sweet potatoes, in cubes

1 garlic bulb, broken into cloves (! It sounds like a lot but it tastes great)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

basil

4 vines of cherry tomatoes

75 g strong blue cheese, crumbled

1 tbsp red wine vinegar (but balsamic vinegar works too)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Mix the sweet potato, garlic, 1 tbsp of olive oil, cumin seeds, basil and salt and pepper together in a roasting tray and bake for 25 minutes.
  2. Add the whole tomato vines, or place on a separate baking sheet, with a bit more oil, and bake for a further 15 minutes.
  3. Serve out the sweet potato mixture and scatter the crumbled blue cheese over it. Place the tomato vines on top and drizzle with red wine vinegar.

Fusion: ginger glazed root vegetables with couscous

It is March, and most of our garden is still asleep, although some plants are showing some signs of green and flowerbuds… Spring will come soon! But whilst the first vegetables have been sown or planted, there is not much to harvest. In past centuries, this would have been the lean time of the year, where people started to really feel the squeeze, with stored vegetables losing their last bit of freshness as temperatures warmed. Thankfully we have a fully stocked supermarket round the corner!

I do like to ‘eat the seasons’ where I can though. Thankfully we no longer need to go through a period of famine in spring time, but it does feel good to eat things that are ‘typical’ for the time of year. Think of the shepherd’s pie in my first post: I don’t normally cook that in summer. And there is something fun about anticipating those few weeks when British asparagus is available. It also means that your food travels fewer miles around the world, and that local people can use local land to produce crops for local people – both here and in those places that produce squash, courgettes, and oranges in March! So here’s a recipe that uses vegetables that are available in the UK in early spring. Strangely enough it goes well with couscous, and a little of the apple chutney that remains from last autumn’s harvest…

Ginger glazed root vegetables with couscous

Ingredients (serves 4)

Enough winter vegetables for 4 people (e.g. carrots, parsnips, swede, turnip, sweet potato, red onion), peeled and cut into smallish chunks

2 tbsp olive oil

60 g butter

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger

250 g couscous

  1. Preheat the oven to 210°C (gas 6-7).
  2. Grease a large baking tray and place the vegetable chunks in it. Brush with the oil. Roast for 1 hour or until golden.
  3. Near serving time, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the ginger and 60 ml of water and simmer for a few minutes.
  4. Pour the glaze over the roast vegetables and roast for 5 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the couscous.

French: animal-free mushroom bourguignon with rosemary potatoes

A few days ago, I mentioned that animal welfare was a reason for us to reconsider our meat intake. Climate and environment was another. It is estimated that food production accounts for a quarter to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and a large part of this comes from livestock and meat production. Particularly ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) are to blame. They require a large amount of calorie intake in plant food compared to what calories end up on your plate, and the bacteria in their digestive system produce a lot of methane, which comes out at the other end. Livestock account for 25% of all methane emissions, and methane is able to trap 20 times more radiation heat than CO2, so this is quite a serious problem. There is a positive side to this too: methane has a residence time in the atmosphere of only 12 years, whereas the residence time of CO2 is potentially up to 200 years! So reducing methane emissions will have a strong effect in the short term.

Raising livestock also requires a lot of water, and of course they need to eat too. At present, 30% of the world’s cereal harvest and 90% of soya is used to feed animals. Imagine how many people this could sustain… Although we must also keep in mind that for many marginal lands, livestock rearing is probably the best use we can make of them, and the manure they produce is used as fertiliser. And I would like to keep on eating my beloved yoghurt…

This recipe inspired by French cuisine is absolutely delicious and does not contain any animal product apart from a bit of butter, which I suppose you could replace with more olive oil… We usually have it with roast potato wedges or cubes sprinkled with rosemary. Bon appetit!

Indian: kitchiri

One of the things to be careful with in a vegetarian diet (and even more so in a vegan diet), is to make sure that you take in all the nutrients you need. Carbohydrates and fibre are not really a problem for us: we love bread, rice and pasta, and a lot of vegetables also contain fibre. Protein and fat are not too hard if you eat dairy, and use vegetable oils for cooking. As for vitamins and minerals, these can be a bit more tricky, but the important thing is to eat a varied diet. And there are some superfoods that, if regularly included in meals, will prevent deficiencies. These include milk, cheese and yoghurt (yay – one of my favourite foods!), lentils, eggs, oats (yum), apricots and spinach. I certainly haven’t lost weight or health over our meat-low diet!

Coming back to protein, you may know that all proteins are made of only 23 different building blocks, or amino acids. Our body can synthesize most of these from scratch using the nutrients in our food. However, there are 8 ‘essential’ amino acids that we cannot make ourselves and must be obtained in their finished form from our food. Animal protein sources contain all 8 of these – so eating dairy and eggs will sort the problem. Most plant foods do not contain the full suite of 8 essential amino acids. But the interesting thing is that if you combine pulses with cereals and/or nuts and seeds, you get them all!

So here’s a recipe following an ancient and still popular Indian tradition to mix rice and lentils. A dish containing such a mix is called ‘kitchiri’, later developed by British colonials into ‘kedgeree’. In Victorian times they ate this for breakfast with smoked haddock and eggs! And unlike many other curries, it doesn’t take hours to cook it, though you may need to buy some spices first!

Kitchiri

Ingredients (serves 4)

115 g red or green lentils                               2 cloves

1 onion                                                           2 cardamom pods

1 clove of garlic                                              2 bay leaves

50 g butter                                                     1 tsp ground cinnamon

30 ml sunflower oil                                         1 l vegetable stock

225 g basmati rice                                          2 tbsp tomato puree

2 tsp ground coriander                                   3 tbsp fresh coriander

2 tsp cumin seeds

  1. Cook the lentils for 10-20 minutes until soft.
  2. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the rice and spices and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock, lentils and tomato puree and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the fresh coriander and serve.

Italian: risotto with leek and goat’s cheese

Yesterday I mentioned that Anthony and I both independently decided we wanted to reduce the amount of meat we ate. Over the next few days I’ll share a couple of reasons. I can’t remember exactly which animal disease was on the news, it seemed each episode followed the previous one closely. I think most of us just close our eyes because we fear what we will see if we look into the way the animals that end up on our plate are treated. If you do feel so inclined, the meat free week website has a lot of information. Not something you should read when you’re already feeling down though!

But closing your eyes does not mean you bear no responsibility. So one reason for eating more vegetarian meals is that it would be good for animal welfare if we all ate less meat. I don’t have a fundamental problem with eating meat, but I would like to think that the meat on my plate came from a happy, healthy animal that was not forced to grow up faster and fatter than it would naturally have. Unfortunately this is difficult to achieve if we all want to eat cheap meat every day.

Missing the flavour? Here’s a recipe that is full of flavour. I picked it up from a Dutch supermarket. And as far as I know goats are not factory farmed…

Risotto with leek and goat’s cheese

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 tbsp olive oil                                     1 tbsp thyme

3 leeks, in rings                                   1 l vegetable stock

1 red pepper                                       200 g soft goat’s cheese, in cubes

300-400 g risotto

 

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the leek and pepper until soft. Add the risotto and thyme fry for 1 minute.
  2. Add half of the vegetable stock and stir until this has been absorbed. Keep adding a ladleful of stock until all the stock has been absorbed. This takes about 20 minutes.
  3. Take the pan off the fire and add the goat’s cheese. Season with pepper.

A British classic with a twist

I would really like to get back into blogging… I have been blogging, but on other blogs! This week (23-29 March) is meat free week, so I’m planning to take the opportunity to try and get back into it by posting a recipe with some comments each day(!). And as it’s Lent, why not give up eating meat for a week?

One of the things I found surprising after Anthony and I got married, was that it took us a while to establish an eating pattern that suited us both. Since we lived 4 hours travelling away from each other for most of the time that we were going out, we hadn’t had much chance to tweak our food habits before we got married. One thing we discovered was that before we got married, we had both independently of each other started to reduce the amount of meat in our diet. More about the reasons for this later this week. So after about 6 months of marriage, we decided to try to eat vegetarian meals 5-6 days a week, with meat and/or fish once or twice a week.

But going vegetarian is not as easy as it seems. It does not simply mean that you eat the same meals but leave out the meat. After all, many of our meat dishes have meat as the centrepiece, with the potatoes and vegetables almost functioning side dishes. And of course you also need to make sure that you replace the meat with foodstuffs that provide all the nutrients you need. We bought a vegetarian cookbook, and have really enjoyed all the new recipes we have discovered. This week I will share (links to) our favourites. Most of them are easy and quick to make, so there is no excuse not to try them!

First up is a real British classic: shepherd’s pie. Lamb is not eaten all that much in the Netherlands, and I must admit that I sometimes quite like it and sometimes I really don’t. I came across this warming winter recipe with sweet potato mash from the BBC website, and it’s been a favourite ever since. I have even served it to meat-eating friends who did not notice it didn’t contain meat! It is not difficult to make but it takes a bit of time since it goes in the oven for 20 minutes after preparing it on the hob. So for us it tends to be a Saturday dish. Enjoy!

Women at work

Turns out there are only 8 female professors at the university I work at. My boss is one of them, and we were wondering why this is the case[1]. This led me to reflect on women at work in general. I haven’t studied the history of women’s work at all, but my impression is that for most of humanity’s history, women and men have both worked, often as farmers or in a household workshop. The industrial revolution and its aftermath thoroughly transformed these partnerships, but it was only after WWII that increased prosperity allowed many women to be stay-at-home mothers. The sexual revolution brought a new perspective on women’s work, and today many women pursue their own careers.

So what prevents women from reaching the higher levels of their chosen careers? And what would we need to change to allow for a more balanced gender makeup at these levels? I certainly wouldn’t want to advocate women pursuing a career at the expense of their marriage and children. Having benefited greatly from having my mum around full-time when I was growing up, it’s great if you have the opportunity to be there for your child(ren), although I’m not sure I would thrive being at home full-time. But I think the problem is deeper than a personal decision.

I say this as someone who doesn’t have children of her own: we need to recognise that children are enormously important, and that giving them a good upbringing is just as great a contribution to society as being economically productive in a job. Secondly, we really need to get it into our heads that fathers are just as good for their children as mothers are. When we interview applicants for jobs or grants we should not hold that break in their working life, that gap in their publication record against them, but we should appreciate their efforts to give their children a stable, loving home. The same goes for people who have taken time out to care for elderly parents or a sick family member, for example. Of course we should make sure that their knowledge and skills in their field of work are up to date, but we should also recognise that economic activity is not the only – or even the main – calling people have. Whether they are male or female. In short: we need to rethink our priorities as a society, and adjust our employment structures such that children are valued as much as – or dare I say more than – career and work experience.

[1] A recent article sheds some light on this – and children feature strongly.

Bits and pieces

It’s been a long time since I have posted on this blog… for several reasons. First, we moved house, and spent some time packing and unpacking boxes, buying and assembling furniture etc. Unfortunately I’ve been ill a fair bit over the past year (much better now!). I’ve started a new job, and because I’m now working full-time again, I don’t have as much free time (although my husband is now working part-time and does most of the housework!). And I don’t really feel like working on my laptop in the evening after sitting behind a computer all day…

There are many obvious benefits to the internet. It has made my work as a researcher so much easier, with journal articles and discussions with my colleagues who live far away at my fingertips. I can quickly find out about travel options, hotels, and even if there’s a supermarket anywhere near where I’m planning to travel to. And as someone who lives in a different country from my family and some of my best friends, it is much easier to keep in touch with people now than before the internet came along.

But regardless of all I’ve been a bit tired of ‘being online’. When I’m reading a book or watching a film, I can be fully absorbed in it. A similar thing happens when I go online: it provides an escape from the here and now. But in contrast to a book or a film, it doesn’t refresh me and make me feel more whole; rather, I feel fragmented when I spend a lot of time online. Maybe it’s because there are so many different things to do on the internet, so many people to contact, so many things to read, listen to, watch, discover, that I feel outpaced by it. There are only 24 hours in a day, but online the boundaries of what we as human beings can manage are pushed to the limit. How can we open up opportunities for real interaction and learning whilst still acknowledging that we are finite beings? That each day we make choices, and that a choice to spend time doing one thing means we cannot spend that time doing another thing? What should we be spending our time doing?

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