Thursday, 26 January 2012

Fr. Theo Mathias, S.J., 1919-2005

Obituary for 
Fr. Theo Mathias, S.J., 1919-2005

Here is Fr. Theo's obituary from JIVAN: News and Views of Jesuits in India.  I have cut into 3 columns for readability.  The full page is scanned at the bottom.

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Nigel Slater's baked pumpkin and roasted plums

Nigel Slater's baked pumpkin and roasted plums

Soft-skinned and full flavoured, the season's early pumpkins and ripening plums open the door to autumn
nigel slater squash recipe
Smashing pumpkins: roasted squash with chilli. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer
I had my first sniff of autumn last week. That first hint that the season is changing usually involves some form of decay, in this case a couple of courgettes that had rotted to golden mush under their rain-sodden leaves in the veg patch. But the scent of early autumn is often one of extreme ripeness, too. Late-fruiting raspberries, plums of every sort and cherry-sized tomatoes are heady now, and their presence marks the change as clearly as turning a page of the calendar.
The smell of autumn hangs over the kitchen with a plate of plums so ripe as to be on the verge of collapse. This year I used early Victorias in a sorbet. It was good enough, though unexceptional until my second attempt when I roasted the fruits first, their flesh caramelising in the oven. The difference was amazing, the richness making it a clear winner. I put a carton of the pale pink and gold water-ice on the table with extra fruit, roasted with gin and juniper.
The plum season begins in July, starting with the diminutive golden Mirabelle, and continues until the dark red Marjorie's Seedling in early October. During the last few autumns I have tucked various varieties into classic sticky gingerbread; chutneyed them with raisins and malt vinegar; churned them into ice cream and served them as a compote with anise- seasoned pork ribs. Roasting them with gin has its roots in my jars of crimson damson gin, the nearest I am likely to get to home wine-making.
The pumpkins in the shops now are generally young ones with soft skins. While some of the larger ones are still sitting in the sun "curing", there are plenty about for roasting. Cut into wedges like melon or hacked into lumps and roasted, pumpkin needs something either spicy or very savoury to stop its slide into sugariness. This week I roasted one in small pieces with butter and then tossed it with a hot and sticky syrup of chillies and coriander – something I intend to try with sweet potatoes, too.
Sweet fruits, sweet vegetables and a distinct whiff of woodsmoke in the air. For the home cook, this is surely as good as it gets.


This is an excellent side dish for baked ham, pork chops or cold beef, or as a main with steamed rice. It is essential to ensure the pumpkin is tender before adding the spices.
Serves 6 as a side dish
pumpkin or butternut squash 1.5kg, unpeeled weight
butter 50g
For the dressing:
caster sugar 4 tbsp 
water 200ml 
ginger a thumb-sized lump 
red chilli 1 large, medium hot 
limes 2 
fish sauce 1 tbsp, or to taste
coriander a small bunch, finely chopped


Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the pumpkin, discard the seeds and fibres, and cut the flesh into small pieces, about 3cm in thickness. Put them in a roasting tin with the butter and bake for 50-60 minutes, turning occasionally, till soft enough to take the point of a knife.
Put the sugar and water in a shallow pan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer till the liquid has reduced by half. Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the ginger and put in the bowl of a food processor. Halve the chilli lengthways and chop roughly, removing the seeds if you wish for a less spicy seasoning. Add the chilli to the bowl, then grate in the zest of the limes. Squeeze in the juice from the limes, then process to a coarse paste.
Stir the spice mixture into the syrup and simmer for a minute before adding the fish sauce and coriander. Remove from the heat.
When the pumpkin is fully tender, spoon most of the chilli sauce over, toss gently to coat each piece, then return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes. Toss with the remaining chilli sauce and serve.


A well-flavoured plum ice that is easy to make with or without an ice-cream maker.
Serves 6
For the syrup:
water 150ml
caster sugar 150g
For the plums:
dark, ripe plums 500g 
caster sugar 1 tbsp
lemon juice of 1


Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan, switch off the heat and leave to cool, then chill thoroughly.
Wipe the plums, remove their stalks and put in a baking dish with the sugar. Bake for 30 minutes until they are soft and the skins have burst. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and remove the stones.
Mash the plums and their skins with a fork. I prefer a lumpy mash to add texture, but remove the skins if you prefer. Stir 200ml of the sugar syrup into the plums, then add the lemon juice. Pour into an ice-cream maker and churn until almost frozen or freeze by hand by pouring the mixture into a plastic freezer box, then leave to freeze for 4 hours stirring it every hour to introduce a little air. Serve with the hot plums below.


Even slightly under-ripe plums will respond to this treatment. Serve as a hot pudding with cream or spoon it over the sorbet above.
Serves 6
plums 1kg
butter 40g 
caster sugar 4 tbsp 
gin 2 tbsp
juniper berries 6 large, squashed
To serve: 
double cream


Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Melt the butter and sugar in a nonstick pan, then add the gin and juniper berries. Wipe the plums and put them in a baking dish, then pour over the butter and sugar mixture.
Bake for 50-60 minutes till the plums have burst their skins and are soft and slightly caramelised. Serve with a jug of double cream or the plum sorbet above.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Thoughts on Britain's 2011 London Riots

 West Midlands police want to trace these people in connection with the disorder on Monday nightRoy and I stayed up till 2.45 a.m. yesterday following the coverage of the London riots on the Guardian's live blog and other media and social media.
It was grimly fascinating watching the protests, rioting and looting spread from London to Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham and Kent. 

 There were however some peculiarly British features which separated the riots from those in Mogadishu to which  the German magazine Spiegel compared it
A burning capital city. Marauding bands stealing whatever they please. A police force that appears to be impotent. And a fire brigade that can't put out blazes because its rescue forces are attacked by a mob. The television images dominating screens this week could be right out of Mogadishu. As difficult to imagine as it might be, the pictures aren't from Somalia, but from London, right in the centre of Europe. And they will never be forgotten.
One of these which greatly amused us was that the looters queuedoutside the jewellery, sporting goods, electronics and mobile phone shops they had come to loot . First come, first served! 

I read much commentary on the effective disenfranchisement and disengagement of the young (90% black according to eyewitness accounts) looters from society. In a milieu in which people are defined by what they possess, and wear, and in which the money to buy and own these coveted things is not easily come by, walking into a store cushioned by the safety of numbers of a mob and just picking up an iPod, iPad, sneakers, smartphone, gold chains, diamonds and bling must be an irresistible temptation. Big wants, small or no earnings--that probably played a role in the riots.

Sociologists will be dissecting these riots for a long time. I guess it was a toxic mix of underemployment, an unsatisfying education, poor career prospects, boredom, disaffection,  racism, low stakes in one's community and society. Perhaps the handouts of a welfare state reduces the incentive to be entrepreneurial, and invent the rags to riches, Horatio Alger autobiography so beloved in America--and which continues to be written there. 

Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to pray. I have long stopped praying about things I do not feel passionately about--because I sense such prayers do not reach the heart of God. And so, instead of praying that the riots stop (which, of course, I should have done) I found myself praying for the individual looters. Young, frightened, confused, insecure and very, very angry people. Praying for a transforming spiritual encounter for them. That they would know the peace and comfort and fellowship of friendship with the Living God. 

 I would rate my own experiences of the living God somewhere near 1 on a scale of 100 compared to, let's say,  John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman the Moravian missionaries who sold themselves into slavery to reach the Haitian slaves. But how life-transforming and peace and joy-giving this friendship has been! 

I used to think the biggest field for evangelism in Britain was the Asian community--Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and ethnic Chinese, with their various religions. The Afro-Caribbean community are nominally Christian, and indeed church--very lengthy, joyful services with much singing, smart suits and dresses and fancy hats--is integral to their community life (as I observe on Oxford Sundays). 

I heard the Ugandan bishop Zac Nyiringe say at St. Aldate's that he wished his Ugandan people would love church less and religion less, so that it could spill out of a Sunday morning celebration into weekday life to a far greater degree. 

And that is a challenge for all of us!

From Dreaming Beneath the Spires

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Cooking With Basil

Nigel Slater's basil recipes

Fragrant, spicy and fragile… inhale deeply and basil will transport you straight to the Med in a herby haze
Nigel Slater mussel soup with tomato and basil
A brush with basil: Nigel Slater's mussel soup with tomato and basil. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer
The leaves of the basil plant are possibly the most tender of all herbs, even more so than the fine lacework of chervil or the fragile stems of coriander. Yes, a basil leaf bruises easily. But once it's crushed, the scent wafts up in little clouds of clove and grass. Unlike thyme or oregano, this is the herb that will turn black at anything lower than 3C, which is, as good fortune has it, the ideal fridge temperature.
Ideally basil should come warm from the sun (a plant in a pot is easy to nurture) but more is sold as cut leaves than on the plant. The leaves will keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for a good few days without coming to much grief.The trick with shop-bought leaves is to remove the bunch from its thin cellophane bag and slide it into a roomy plastic bag, the heavy sort that seals when you press the edges together. A quick spray of water before you close the bag will help your bunch stay perky till you need it. 

I sometimes rescue growing supermarket basil plants, repotting them in garden soil at home and putting them out on the step to take their chances in real soil in real daylight. Some collapse into a dead faint at exposure to the real world, but most relish the good earth and the scorching sunshine and soon become tough little plants of heady, peppery leaves. A world away from their old pampered selves.
I don't have a great deal of interest in basil unless the sun is shining. It is, possibly more than any other, the herb most associated with high summer, feeling strangely out of sorts in the winter. Basil is the tomato herb, the mozzarella herb, the one that takes you to the Med in a haze of pepper, clove and cinnamon. It is the herb whose smell is most spice-like.
Basil loves warmth but hates to be cooked for more than a few minutes. You can sneak it into roasting peppers or tomatoes, but it needs to be covered in oil if it is to keep any flavour. Even then it might lose its top notes. In other words, there is no point in putting it on a pizza. But warmth makes it come to life – a heaven-sent experience that can be tested by simply pressing hard on a large leaf between your hands then inhaling. It is the warmth from a bowl of freshly cooked fettuccine that makes the pesto so fragrant and brings us to the table. The leaves can also work trapped in a tiny cookie.
This week I picked up a few huge bunches of basil, tucked them into the fridge in a plastic bag and have pecked away at them all week. There was the juicy tomato salad with soft ricotta instead of mozzarella; a handful went into a potato salad with chopped shallot and a very light mayonnaise; and then there was the moment I stirred a handful of crushed leaves into the pan juices for a shallow-fried sea trout. (Good, but even better once I had introduced a squeeze of lemon into the mix.) There was also the mussel soup and the little basil shortcakes below. Had they not run out, I might have been tempted to knock up a basil sandwich. Anything, in fact, to get the warmly aromatic leaves into my cooking.

Mussel soup with tomato and basil

This soup can be made more substantial by placing a slice of toasted bread – sourdough, perhaps, or a slice of ciabbatta – into the bowl before you ladle in the soup.
Serves 3
onion 1, medium
olive oil
garlic 2 cloves 
tomatoes 400g
mussels 450g

For the basil sauce:
basil leaves and their stems 20g
olive oil 75ml
lemon juice a little (optional)
Peel and finely chop the onion. Let it soften in a little olive oil in a deep, heavy-based pan over a moderate heat. Try not to let it colour, so stir it regularly – you want it to be pale and soft enough to crush easily between your fingers and thumb. Peel and crush the garlic and add. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add. Cook for 10-15 minutes, crushing the tomatoes with a spoon as they cook to a bright red slush.
While this is cooking, scrub the mussels and check them over thoroughly for broken shells or any that are obviously dead. Tip them into a deep, heavy-based pan and cover tightly with a lid, letting them cook over a high heat for a couple of minutes until their shells open and there is much steam in the pan. Tip into a colander over a bowl to catch the juices that have appeared in the pan.
Sieve the juices to remove any grit. This isn't a detail to skip – even the tiniest amount will ruin a soup. Add 400ml of the reserved cooking juices to the tomato and onion. In the event of there not being that much liquid, make up the amount with water. Simmer for a further 5 minutes or so. Season lightly with black pepper and possibly a little salt. Meanwhile pull the mussels from their shells and drop them into the soup.
To make the basil sauce put the basil leaves into a blender and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and add a little lemon juice and ground pepper. You are unlikely to need salt. Stir the basil sauce into the soup, but not too thoroughly. The point is to have a thick thread of fragrant green sauce running through each bowl of soup.