9th September 2010
EID MUBARAK! May the Blessings and Mercy of God be upon you and your loved ones this day!
Thirty days of fasting is over for another year. I’ve had quite a varied diet during Ramadan, much of which I have shared with you through my recipes. I’ve eaten very well on an evening, but I have managed to lose about 2.5 kg in weight over the last four weeks. Was I missing breakfast? No. Was I eating low-fat meals? I don’t think so! Have I dehydrated to the point where moisturising cream cannot help me?
No. The reason I believe is quite simple. I’ve not been snacking during the day! I have a terrible habit of relieving midday office boredom by scoffing the occasional choc-bar, or taking a very milky coffee or five, or tucking into a tiny-wee-cake-that-doesn’t-have-too-many-calories-really…
It’s amazing what a bit of self-discipline can do. God willing I can keep up this new-found discipline and get back into the habit of exercising again soon.
People continue to ask me to cook certain things, and I appreciate that because it gives me inspiration for future videos. I have a LONG list of desserts that people have asked me to cook. Crème brule, caramel custard, Victoria sponge, soufflé, Madeira cake… the list goes on and on. There are only so many calories that Man and I can consume, and even my colleagues at work are beginning to fear Monday mornings.
However there are times when a suggestion REALLY inspires me and I just have to dive into the kitchen to cook it. This happened twice over recent weeks. Watch out for “Nargis Kebab” and “Cassoulet”. Coming to a YouTube Channel near you soon!
So please keep your requests coming, but don’t be disappointed if I don’t get around to making it straight away. All good things come to those who wait.
I felt very humble this week. One of my YouTube subscribers has started a blog called “Cooking with Titli” in which they describe cooking my recipes. The person behind the blog, Zielony Pie, claims to be a newbie to cooking – hence the pseudonym Zielony from the Polish word for “green”, as in novice. Zielony has said that they will try one recipe per week.
I thought this could be excellent additional information for my recipes, so I’m going to put a link on my recipe pages on this site to Zielony Pie’s blog. I’ve already done that for Carrot Cake and Brownies. Then I thought… if anyone else makes any of my recipes and blogs it… let me know! If you write well and include good photos I’ll put a link on the recipe page to your blog.
I try to create recipes that almost anyone can cook, regardless of their experience. So if you make any of my recipes and write about it I’d like to know, especially if you are quite new to cooking. That way you can share your experiences with other people who enjoy cooking or want to cook and maybe encourage them to try a new dish!
17th September 2010
I had never imagined how much a cooking video could result in an out-pouring of abuse and hatred. I’m talking of course about my video for “Halal Cassoulet”.
First, let me say a big Thank You to those people who sent me messages of support. I really appreciate it. I want to assure you that I’m fine and I have no intention to change anything in the future. I have quite a thick skin when it comes to things like this. YouTube is a brutal medium, full of people who spend their days hurling abuse at other people behind an anonymous username. When you understand that you stop taking things personally, even though people may make deeply personal comments.
Cassoulet is a French dish. It’s actually quite an uninspiring dish of pork and beans, sorry to say, but it is quite nutritious. It had been on my list of “things to cook” for some time, but I wanted to spice it up a bit and, obviously, substitute the pork. The recipe is tastier (in my humble opinion) than “regular” Cassoulet, however it seems to have attracted the attention of a number of bigots, xenophobes, racists and anti-islamists, almost all of them French. Many of the comments are abusive towards Islam and me personally, but it revealed very clearly something I have felt and understood in the seven years I have been living in this part of France.
What I am about to describe are the experiences of myself and Man. We are both white, English and speak reasonable French. I bear no grudges against French people and I have no agenda to promote. Some French people may be slightly offended by what I write, but I write only of my experiences and my feelings and in this part of France. I don’t mean to offend, only to describe situations and feelings.
I have often seen and heard French people described by outsiders as “sociable, but not hospitable”.
Let’s deal with “sociable” first. If you go into any shop in France you will be greeted by the staff with a “Bonjour” (Hello). There will be many occurrences of “Merci” (Thank you), and an “Au revoir” (Goodbye). In this part of France at least there is also a final “Bonne journee!” (Have a nice day!). It is very common also in the bank, for example, when someone comes in and joins the queue for the counter the newcomer will often wish the people already in the queue a “Bonjour”. It all sounds very quaint and polite.
But I feel this sociability is what I would call a “ritualistic sociability”. There is no real feeling behind it. I may see the same cashier at the supermarket checkout four times a week for several weeks, but there is no attempt to engage me in conversation even though the person may show some signs of recognising me. My attempts to converse are often met with curt replies.
I have been in checkout queues in supermarkets where I’ve seen the cashier engaging with the customers in front of me. I have been hopeful for a similar exchange when my turn came to be served, but once I open my mouth and reveal an English accent with my “Bonjour” the cashier will go silent and say only what is considered necessary and polite. There is another theme here, but I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Hospitable. I’ve been here seven years and live in a French village. I am surrounded by French neighbours and I have made many friends around here. Swiss, German, Spanish, English, Irish, American, Russian, Asian, North African, … but I have not been able to make a single French “friend” outside of my immediate colleagues. (I exclude those French people who I have met through YouTube). Language is clearly not the barrier, so there is something deeper. It cannot be to do with my religion – I don’t look like a typical Muslim (on the outside) so unless you KNOW me, you would imagine I was a typical white Christian.
My experiences lead me to the conclusion that French people are quite insular. They are not outwardly hostile, but if you are not French your chances of being “accepted” here are much less. They keep their distance. Speaking the language may help a little, but in my case it seems to have made no difference at all.
The French are proud of their culture – find me a nation that isn’t! In many countries in Europe there is unfortunately a growing wave of Right-wing racism. It is small and contained, but it is there. In the UK there are various anti-foreigner groups which attract people with extremist views, but in France I observe two types of racism. There are the various high-profile so-called Nationalist movements. They are not afraid to make their xenophobic views known in the name of “Preserving and Promoting French Culture”. But there is a more insidious form of racism, a kind of silent racism. Let me illustrate with two examples.
If you are young, talented and looking for a job in France your chances of getting an interview, never mind being hired, are massively lower if your CV shows you have the name Syed, or Abdul, or Fatima, or… The sad thing about this is that many young French Muslims are changing their names to more French-sounding names to give them the chance to get at least an interview and demonstrate their skills.
Secondly, notice how may abusive comments there are on my video “Halal Cassoulet”. I see very few French people at the time of writing who have made comments against the racists and xenophobes. They watch, they read, but they do not argue against. Instead they remain silent, and they condone by their silence. And it’s not just Muslims who are targeted – the French are busy throwing the Roma people out of their country as I write.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that France is any worse than other European country. In a few weeks time Man and I will move our home back to the UK, God willing. Racism exists there too, but it is generally seen as an undesirable thing. I sometimes feel that racism is tolerated in France in much the same way as marital infidelity is tolerated (especially amongst politicians) and is sometimes even applauded!
There is no doubt that people of North African origin do not have an easy time in France and I feel for them. Unemployment amongst them is high and they generally live in the poorest communities. As with any disenfranchised community in the Western world, boredom and frustration often leads to crime and violence – some Asian and Black communities in the UK have the same issues. It seems to be largely forgotten here that many people from the former French colonies in North Africa were forced to fight for the French army during World War II. Many thousands died. Anyone who has ever seen the film “Days of Glory” (“Indigènes” in French) cannot fail to be moved by it. There are very few films that make me cry, but this is one of them. I applaud the director of this film for his courage in making it.
I also despair at the French mentality which resists almost any kind of change. If you want an example, just look at what is happening right now with the raising of the pension age from 60 to 62. Yes, in France people currently retire on a state pension at the age of 60, a full 5 years earlier than just about every other country in the European Union. France’s pension system is crippling the economy, damaging the Eurozone’s credibility and is at breaking point, yet there are days of national strikes bringing the country to a standstill. There is almost a denial of reality or an understanding of the world outside of France.
These are not the main reasons why Man and I are returning to the UK. What I have described so far in this blog about France are relatively minor issues, but they are in our thoughts. The primary reason we are returning to the UK, God willing, is to give Man the chance to build a small business again and regain a sense of purpose in life. When we first came to France Man had dreams of starting his own business. This part of France is rich with the history of the brave men and women who were part of the French Resistance during World War II. He did much research and hoped to offer historical tours to this part of France. After about five years of trying to understand and deal with the layer upon layer of French bureaucracy he gave up. Endless legal requirements, confusing forms and conflicting so-called-expert advice got the better of him. France is not really a place to be an entrepreneur!
We also wish to be nearer our families. Fortunately I have the kind of day-job which does not require me to be based in any specific location, and thankfully my employer has agreed to allow me to work from home in the UK.
Man and I have tried to integrate ourselves into French society. Indeed I hear often on the radio and on TV that foreigners (which includes French citizens from the former colonies) should respect French culture and adopt it if they wish to live in France. The irony of this, of course, is that they make it extremely difficult for a foreigner to do just that. Sociable, but not hospitable.
I am writing this blog onboard a flight to Warsaw with the Polish airline LOT. The in-flight magazine always has a column by Lech Walesa, the former Polish president. In this month’s magazine he talks about travelling. He says, “Travelling refines, offers a different perspective, and lets us explore the world. I am always meeting people and constantly learning. Wherever I go I discover how people of different cultures and nationalities respect one another”. How ironic that I should read that today.
How do I feel after seven years in France? Philosophical, I guess. I have been blessed to have travelled and met many people in many cultures since coming here. French culture is simply another culture! I have no bitterness or regrets. I think Man and I have learned much in our time here, and we have learned as much about ourselves as we have learned about France and French people. Another chapter of our lives is drawing to a close and God willing another one is about to begin.
C’est la vie!
24th September 2010
Working in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment is a very rewarding experience. Not only does it broaden your knowledge and your thinking, it also helps you to see the world in a different light.
Most of the people I work with have English as their second language. The range of abilities of these people varies from totally fluent to a very basic understanding of English. I always try to adapt my speech to the ability of the person I am talking to and help them with words if they get stuck. Very occasionally someone will use a wrong word, but the word they use is not of context and causes me to laugh uncontrollably.
This week I was writing a proposal for an office relocation project in Poland. My Polish colleague, Magda, is based in Warsaw and I asked her to provide me some feedback on the proposal. Let me say at this point that Magda’s English is superb. At one point I wrote about access to local infrastructure. She added a comment into the proposal which confirmed that the proposed new office location had “excellent access to buses, the metro system, and tramps”.
On my channel page in the bottom left-hand corner you will see the “honours” for my channel. Each video also has “honours” and typically each video I upload has a spell at No 1 or No 2 for the most-liked video of the day in the category “How-to & Style” in France (thanks to all of you!)
I thought it might interest you to know what the other videos in the French “How-to & Style” category are about… Today my Treacle Tart video is at Number 2. From Number 1 to Number 20 the subject matter looks like this:
Make-up, COOKING (ME!), Hairstyles, Make-up, Make-up, Epilator review, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Shopping, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up, Make-up.
This pattern is very typical. Are young women in other countries as obsessed with make-up as the French seems to be???
I’ve been out for lunch twice this week. Yesterday Man and I went for a curry at one of the Desi restaurants we sometimes go to near where I work. I usually have a fish curry because none of the meat is halal, and I usually have the “Fish Masala”. The fish is nice – often a mixture of salmon and an unidentifiable white fish in a pleasantly spiced orange-coloured sauce.
Last time I thought I’d try the “Fish Madras”. When it came, it consisted of a mixture of salmon and an unidentifiable white fish in a pleasantly spiced orange-coloured sauce. Maybe if I had the Fish Masala and the Fish Madras side-by-side I might be able to tell the difference, but from memory they tasted the same.
Yesterday I thought I’d be brave and go for the “Fish Vindaloo”! When it came, it consisted of a mixture of salmon and an unidentifiable white fish in a pleasantly spiced orange-coloured sauce… I wouldn’t mind, but it cost me €1 more than the Madras or the Masala!
Today I went for Sushi in Geneva with my friend Jen. We ALWAYS have the same thing – 10 pieces of assorted sushi, some soup and a coffee. The food is good, but it’s not the food we that we meet up for.
Jen and I met in a Thai restaurant in France a few years ago. Man and I were there and we noticed an American lady with 3 kids. We said “Hi” and exchanged a few pleasantries. She had just moved into the area a few weeks before, so I gave her my business card and suggested that we should “do lunch some time”. Four or five years and dozens of lunches later we meet up about once a month and talk about life, work, family… all sorts of things. We’ve shared a few traumas over these years and know that we can talk openly about things to each other.
It’s a real blessing to have a friend like Jen who is also “an alien abroad”. In a few weeks time Man and I will leave here. I’ll miss the surroundings, I’ll miss the sushi, but I know the thing I’ll miss the most!