Monday, 16 November 2009

Jerusalem (artichokes), the golden

Last autumn I went to a local boot fair and bought a bag of Jerusalem artichokes off a man who had grown them in his own garden and was selling them for 20p a bag. I peeled a few of them and used them in a pasta sauce, which I found very much to my liking. The rest I stored in our shed over winter, and in February of this year I planted them in the small raised bed in our back garden. Nothing happened for ages and I forgot about them, until finally they sprouted and grew up into these tall, sunflower-like plants. (Apparently Jerusalem artichoke is a member of the sunflower family, so that's not entirely surprising.) Today I dug up the first of the plants. My OH blanched the artichokes and roasted them in goose fat, and they were gorgeous. Tomorrow I will be taking over the reins in the kitchen - I plan to make a Greek dish, pasticchio, with a little extra something... a layer of Jerusalem artichoke slices.

Update: I made the pasticchio, complete with slices of blanched Jerusalem artichoke. It was gorgeous - the artichoke added a subtle extra something, without being overpowering or out of place. In case you didn't know, pasticchio is a pasta bake flavoured with a pinch of cinnamon. You cook some pasta quills, you make a cheese sauce using a roux, and you make a bolognaise sauce (minus bacon but with that pinch of cinnamon). Then you mix the pasta quills and bolognaise-type sauce, add a layer of blanched Jerusalem artichoke slices, and finally a layer of cheese sauce, plus grated cheese on the top. Bake in the oven at about gas mark 6/200 deg.C for half an hour. As I said, gorgeous.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Are You Free, Mr Humphries?

I came across this question recently on an Internet forum: "What's better - a regulated society for the benefit of the whole, or a society free of regulations so individuals can do as they please?"

As a person living in today's Britain, it's a subject that's often uppermost in my mind. We have a lot of regulations in this country - thanks partly to our membership of the EU, partly to vociferous lobby groups and partly to (some) people's belief that if you only pass enough legislation, then every one of our problems can be regulated away.

Of course, it doesn't actually work like that. The law of unforseen consequences applies here, just as it does in other aspects of life. An example is the recent case of two policewomen who worked at the same police station, and looked after each other's children while the other was on shift. In Britain you have to be registered to be a childminder, so even though no money was involved, the two women had actually broken the law. A neighbour reported the two women, and they were told they would have to make alternative arrangements or face prosecution.

It's incidents like this which make me believe that Britain is no longer a free society. Or put it this way, we are well on the way to that unhappy state although thankfully, we haven't reached the nadir experienced by people in - say - Hitler's Germany or Stalinist Russia. But what is it about these regimes that is absent in Britain, and could we end up going the same way?

Hard-line totalitarian regimes like the Third Reich or the Soviet Union relied on a relentless surveillance culture and a willingness on the part of ordinary citizens to report their neighbours for real or imagined infractions. If the story about the policewomen is anything to go by, it sounds as though British society already has that box well and truly ticked.

Another feature of totalitarian regimes is the "need" for a scapegoat (the Jews, the bourgeoisie) that the regime can use as a focus for people's discontent. If all the blame can be placed on the scapegoat, then it provides a handy distraction and absolves individuals (and governments) from any responsibility for their own actions. Thankfully, I don't think the UK has reached that point yet, and I hope we never do.

Is that the whole story though? Or are there other elements which are present in the hard line regimes, but not (as yet) in Britain? Well, I think I've nailed one. In a totalitarian set-up, you lose the right NOT to have to subscribe to whatever ideology the regime is peddling: not to sing the party song, not to go to rallies, not to send your kids to Hitler Youth meetings (or their equivalent) and not to join the Party in order to get a place at university or a good job. If this sounds like an interesting concept, read more here.