You are currently browsing the daily archive for December 27, 2015.

Europe’s migration crisis — with more than 1 million newcomers arriving in 2015 — continues apace.

This is the largest migration in the world since 1907, outstripping the number of European immigrants to Ellis Island that year.

As ever, public opinion is divided. Although this article in The Guardian is from September, the thousands of readers’ comments are as fresh today as they were at the time. Some wrote about migrants who went from a safe country to safe country in the Middle East before migrating to Europe. They were unhappy with conditions in each place. Will the EU satisfy them?

As an Englishwoman from London put it, she would like a better council house. She’s living in Hounslow near Heathrow Airport. She’d much rather live in council housing in Mayfair:

maybe if I scream and shout, get the media to take photos of my plight, they’ll all agree and I’ll get a home in Mayfair …

That is what the situation looks like to many people.

In his Christmas message to the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman told the nation that he is ‘profoundly convinced’ that the migration is ‘an organised invasion’, not a ‘spontaneous movement of refugees’.

No doubt, his words were met with approval as 70% of Czechs are opposed to their country taking in migrants and refugees. Most of the newcomers have chosen to pass through the nation on their way to western Europe.

Statelessness has also become a problem. A Guardian article says that many Syrian women giving birth cannot confer Syrian nationality on their children because it must come from the father. If the father is missing or dead, the child is stateless. This can also happen if a couple is married ‘informally’, with no official paperwork proving their status.

However, statelessness is not limited to migrants and refugees. It also affects Europeans. In Latvia, 12% of the population — mostly people born in the country to Russian parents — are stateless. They can study for a nationality test and become Latvian citizens, but many stick with the identity papers they are given which allow them to earn a living. The nationality exam is notoriously difficult.

Illegal immigration from Africa also poses a problem. An orphan from the Ivory Coast who was trafficked to Senegal as an adolescent found his way illegally to the UK as an adult. Because he has no birth certificate and never knew his parents, he cannot claim Ivorian citizenship. The British government has given him a stateless travel document that will allow him to study and work.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, The Telegraph reports that staff at Riksgransan, a ski resort in the Arctic Circle have made no end of arrangements to accommodate a group of 200 Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers. Sven Kuldkepp, chief executive of Lapland Resorts, worked with his staff to make their stay as pleasant as possible. They have organised hikes for adults and every child has his own sledge for winter fun on the smaller slopes. Celebrations of the Afghan festival of the longest night — Yalda — were also held.

Residents are encouraged to use the gym. One refugee is giving English classes to the adults. Retired teachers from a nearby town are giving lessons in the Swedish language.

However, there is one problem: darkness. The days in the Arctic Circle are very short at this time of year. In fact, seasonal darkness has allowed staff at Riksgransan to house refugees. It is closed to skiers until mid-February. The lack of light has not gone unnoticed, and the Afghans are unhappy.

Some have complained to the Swedish Migration Agency.

Does Afghan education curriculum exclude the study of geography? Surely, most people are aware of the very short days in the Arctic Circle.

The Telegraph spoke to some of the refugees at the ski resort:

“The last time we saw the sun was a month and a half ago,” complains Hakim Akbary, 31, who worked as a translator for international aid agencies before he fled Kabul.

Another objected to the cold and the food:

According to Marwan Arkawi, a 19-year-old Syrian, this is not unusual: the darkness and isolation has started to get to everyone. Even in this mild winter, the temperature is regularly 14F (-10C).

“Frankly I am imprisoned, I cannot go anywhere,” he says. “It’s like Hotel California but without a sun, and really, really bad food. We are all biologically depressed.”


The only people who go outside for fun any more are the Afghan children, he adds.

“I think they’re built of iron or something. The Afghans are adjusting much faster because they’re used to the weather.”

Mr Akbary says that the last time he went out for a walk was 20 days ago, when he took a short hike to the Norwegian border.

“We are not used to this cold weather,” he explains. “After 10 minutes outside we are shaking.”

According to Mr Arkawi, arguments now break out continually over trivial matters, such as seats in the restaurant, or people jumping queues, or over the noise some residents make late into the night, having been turned seminocturnal by the lack of daylight.

Perhaps it is time for complainers to be grateful for safety, shelter, food and gentle amusement where it can be found.

Back in the UK, The Telegraph reports that the Charity Commission has warned that some aid workers who have gone to Syria or Iraq have been recruited by terrorist groups:

There are increasing fears that extremists are infiltrating Muslim charities in Britain in order to promote violence, recruit vulnerable young people for jihad, and steal money to fund terrorism.


The number of formal legal disclosures of information between the commission and the police and other agencies over charities caught up in alleged Islamist activities more than doubled between 2014 and 2015.

Officials from the watchdog also carried out 80 inspection visits of charities which were judged to be vulnerable to terrorists and extremism, either because they operated in Syria and other high-risk areas or because of their activities in Britain, such as inviting radical speakers to events.

It will be interesting to see how this situation develops in 2016. I expect it to get worse before it gets better.

Although Christmas has come and gone for another year, perhaps home cooks have made notes for next year’s festive lunch or dinner.

I certainly have. For the first time, our household had a hassle-free Christmas Day dinner.

Here’s how we did it.

Vegetables and Chef Mike

We cooked most of our vegetables — sprouts and carrots — on Christmas Eve.

This meant that we reduced Christmas Day washing up by a third. Those pots and pans were out of the way. Reheating involved employing Chef Mike — the microwave. Others might prefer using the oven.

On Christmas Day, the only things I needed to do were to prepare parsnips and potatoes for roasting.

Roast potatoes and parsnips

As a parboiling substitute for the potatoes, I put Chef Mike to work.

After washing and drying two or three medium-sized potatoes, cut lengthwise down each potato — 1/4″ or 1/2 cm deep — to allow steam to escape in the microwave. Microwave them for five minutes then let them cool thoroughly on a chopping board before peeling.

Put a tablespoon of goose fat in a small roasting tin and let that heat for five minutes at 180°C (350°F). By this time, the roast goose should be out of the oven and resting on the carving tray.

Whilst the fat is heating, peel the potatoes. To get rough edges that crisp in the oven, break each potato in half rather than cut it.

I also had another small roasting tin with 1 tablespoon of goose fat heating at the same time for the parsnips, which I peeled shortly beforehand to prevent them from going brown.

Large parsnips can be cut lengthwise into quarters. Smaller ones can be left whole, but cut the thin ends off, because these can overcook and burn.

Potatoes and parsnips take the same amount of time to roast — approximately 20 minutes.

Easy-to-carve goose

This year, I did two things which made the goose easy to carve.

Before I put it in brine — see ‘Roast goose — reduce cooking time with brine‘ — I broke the legs and removed the wings.

Breaking the legs properly will leave them on the carcass, skin intact.

To remove the wings, I used sturdy kitchen scissors. This took five minutes per wing. When cutting through the skin, I left a flap approximately 2″ or 5 cm long that I placed over the gap where the wing was. I secured this to the carcass with a sturdy poultry lacer pin. (When it came time to roast, this worked amazingly well with no loss of meat juice.)

I then poured boiling water over the goose, dried the bird and put it in brine. Afterwards, I dried the goose and let it sit on a rack in the roasting tin overnight. Our kitchen is cool at this time of year, so I left the bird on the counter top.

Using the brine method reduced cooking time by half, once again.

Removing the wings and breaking the legs made carving very easy.

Goose wings = great stock

After removing the goose wings, I put them in the stock pot to caramelise in a tablespoon of goose fat along with the neck and the giblets.

Sear everything, add just enough water to cover, then bring them to the boil. Season the liquid with salt and pepper then simmer it for two to three hours.

I left the stock, with the wings and giblets in it, to cool overnight. This made an excellent base for Christmas Day gravy.

The same method can be used with turkey, another unwieldy bird!

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