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"THE SYRIAN SPOON" COOKBOOK REVIEW

STEVE SHAW

This Syrian vegetarian cookbook has just been published and it’s full of the exotic flavours of the Middle East. For those looking for healthier ways to eat, this is a little gem. It also has a fascinating backstory.

The Syrian Spoon is the result of a collaboration between the charity Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees (SWR), Sevenoaks School and two Syrian refugees who have been able to start new lives in the town with their families as a result of the charity’s fundraising and support work.

With Love from Mouna and Khaled


Please read the blog below.

Photo by AKIKO SHAW


The recipes in the Syrian Spoon all come from two former refugees - Mouna and Khaled. Mouna grew up in a village in Syria and has been cooking since she was 12 years old, learning her skills from her mother. Khaled learned to cook in a cafe in Lebanon and spent time as a cook in an upmarker restaurant in Dubai.

How they both came to be refugees and ended up in Sevenoaks is a long and heartbreaking story, but it’s lovely that they’ve brought their culinary knowledge and the flavours of Syria with them to share with all of us.

Syrian Vegetarian Cuisine

Syrian cuisine is heavily influenced by the country’s history – over the centuries Syria has undergone conquests by the Arabs, Persians and Ottoman Turks, so the traditional food is quite similar to that to be found in the Levant, Lebanon and neighbouring Middle Eastern countries.

What’s Inside?


The 62 page cookbook is divided into 5 sections, and includes a selection of appetising salads, sides, main dishes, complementary dishes and desserts.


From falafel to stuffed peppers and from “mahalabia” to “konafa”, there’s something to suit every taste. Several recipes really caught my eye, including a dish of oil-cured aubergines called “maqdous” (which can be kept for about 6 months) and “kawaj”, a Syrian summer vegetable medley, served with rice and yoghurt salad, which sounds ideal for eating outside on sunny days


This is a very accessible little cookbook. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a photograph of what the dish being served should look like, a list of ingredients (including the appropriate measure of each), a “What to Do” explainer with easy step-by-step preparation instructions, and a serving suggestion. Those dishes which are served with a sauce, a cream filling or a scented syrup, for example, have extra preparation guidance.


It’s pretty hard to imagine a cookbook with clearer instructions. The one minor gripe I have is that there’s no index page which you can scan and quickly find a particular recipe, but this is really a very small inconvenience.


In case you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to get the ingredients for the recipes in this book easily, most of them can be bought locally in large supermarkets. Anything you can’t find should be available from local Turkish supermarkets, or online.



Where Can I Buy It?

The Syrian Spoon is available in the following stores in the Sevenoaks area: Cook, The Chocolate Shop, Sevenoaks Bookshop and Deniz in Seal, or you can buy it online here: https://www.empathyaction.org/empathystore/p/syrian-vegetarian-cook-book-standard-edition

(Additional charge for packing, postage and handling for online sales - see the Empathy Action website for details.)

The price is £12 and all profits from sales of the book go to SWR, who are helping displaced people from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine find accommodation and settle into the local community.

WORKING WITH SAVE THE CHILDREN IN UKRAINE

DAVID SKINNER

SWR volunteer David Skinner is currently working for Save The Children in Ukraine, and has written this piece to share with the SWR network. David worked for Save the Children for 15 years before his retirement, and was asked by Save The Children to get involved in their Ukraine response.

I thought people associated with Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees might find it interesting to hear about my experience in Ukraine.

I have been deployed by Save the Children to fill a role in the international response architecture. Essentially to coordinate the various humanitarian actors – UN, INGO, Ukrainian NGO and Ukrainian government – ensure that the impact of the crisis on their education of Ukrainian children is minimised

As you might know, I was with Save the Children for 15 years – in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as being their Global Education Director. But I retired in 2020 and I had no intention of working for Save the Children again: I figured that retirement should mean retirement. But of course, when I was phoned - out-of-the-blue - I could hardly say no. I had been thinking about how to support the effort in Ukraine. My wife, Libby Ancrum, is heavily involved with Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees, but I was doing little. So, the opportunity to come out to Ukraine was of course welcome. Doubly so as I would not be Country Director or Team Leader (as I was in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh). As Cluster Coordinator I can concentrate on policy, advocacy and coordination and not worry about the supply chain, industrial level HR, or the audits.

I've now been here since early April. I am accustomed to the air raid warnings. We get several a day (the all clear has just sounded on one this morning, for example). When I first arrived, I went down to the bunker dutifully. Now I don't. Few people do in L'viv or Kyiv: the missiles are accurately targeted at military infrastructure. (Of course, in areas of more active fighting people respond with more alacrity).

I spent the first week or so in L'viv. It's a beautiful city. Normally filled with tourists (rightly so) now filled with displaced Ukrainians. My sense then was of a country creating its own myths. It is strange watching news items that are going to be in history books for hundreds of years: the Snake Island resistance to the Russian warship (the cartoon of which is now everywhere you look), the sinking of the Moskva, the lifting of the siege of Kyiv, the ghost of Kyiv, the lifting of the siege of Kharkhiv, the fighting in Mariupol. The city is festooned with Ukrainian flags. The streets are filled with people singing nationalist songs. The sandbags around the statues, the numbers of people in uniform and the air raid warnings all added a sense of jeopardy.

Kyiv was different. When I first arrived here it was empty. Rush hour on a week day felt like a quiet Sunday afternoon. Few cars, few people, few open shops. But what was most strange - and it took me time to notice - there were no children on the streets. None at all. It felt very post-apocalyptic. Now - with the fighting concentrated in the east - the city is filling up again. Cafes are opening as are shops. (It's not completely returned to normal. The Deep Purple concert scheduled for the end of May - and for which we were all excitingly holding tickets - has just been cancelled).

Kyiv was excused the worst damage of the fighting. But the outskirts were badly affected. The motorway to Kyiv goes passed Bucha, the site of Russian atrocities, and there is much evident destruction. The Ukrainians had also taken down a motor way bridge to impede any Russian advance. This is now being rebuilt.

I went into Chernihiv, to the north east of Kyiv, early on. We were the first NGO to arrive after the fighting. It was heartbreaking to see half a dozen destroyed schools and to talk to children, parents and teachers. They have displayed great resilience, but they have clearly been significantly affected, and they were 'only' besieged for four weeks. Kharkhiv has been surrounded for eight weeks, with continuous artillery fire. The situation deeper in the Donbas is even worse. There are going to be significant reconstruction needs: infrastructural, educational, and in respect of mental health (every child in Ukraine will have suffered to some extent).

The response itself is interesting. The humanitarian actors are struggling to come to terms with a government that knows exactly what it wants and is looking for much more than the sticking plasters. I am not yet 100 per cent clear (I don't think any of us are yet) exactly how best to contribute. That I think is my task for the next few weeks. I have committed to stay until the middle of July.

I hope all is well in Sevenoaks. People with whom I have spoken in Ukraine are of course appreciative of the military support the UK is providing, as well as the civilian assistance. They are less convinced as to why the UK has such a bureaucratic, forbidding and unwelcoming visa regime. I explain that the visa regime reflects the views of the current government and its supporters. Many people in England are embarrassed by it and are actively welcome.

In this context I am proud to be able to talk about the efforts of Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees



LOOKING FOR LANDLORDS ACROSS SEVENOAKS DISTRICT

STEVE SHAW


If you’re a private landlord with a vacant property anywhere in the Sevenoaks District that’s currently available to rent, we’d love to hear from you!


Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees (SWR) is a charity helping to support and resettle refugee families from Syria and elsewhere in our District. Our work is undertaken under the auspices of the Government’s UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS). There are vulnerable refugee families in the countries surrounding Syria, and elsewhere, waiting to travel to the UK just as soon as there is a property available here for them. We need to secure more properties locally as a matter of urgency, and to do this we need the support of local landlords.


An Update on Our Work


Thanks to the generosity of local landlords and other SWR supporters, we are currently helping to resettle four families in our District already. We’re delighted to say that they are all doing very well, making new friends and building their links into the local community. The children are working hard at school and their English is improving all the time.


We've been able to keep our language support programme going (remotely) through the lockdowns, and have been supporting the families also with small financial grants. This financial year, since April 1st 2020, we have spent over £15,000 on refugee support. This includes laptops, tablets, printers, Flash Academy licences for online learning, additional tutoring in mathematics and English, assistance with rent deposit for one individual, travel costs for finding work, and other welfare grants.


Last year, with the kind support of Sevenoaks School, the families were able to publish a fundraiser cookbook called “A Taste of Home” which was full of delicious recipes from Syria. This has proved very popular locally.


With More Landlords On Board, We Can Help More Families


We are hoping to secure at least two more properties this year in the Sevenoaks District and enable other vulnerable refugee families to join the ones that are already here. We are focusing on private landlords because it is important that social housing is kept available for local people in need.


An attractive package is on offer for any private landlord able to help. We make the whole landlord sign-up process very simple and you will have the security of knowing that monthly rental payments will be both reliable and secure. Rental payments can be made direct to you, or your managing agent, by Sevenoaks District Council (SDC).

Landlord Testimonial


Two Sevenoaks residents have been participating landlords in the scheme for over two years and recently told us this:


"We had heard about the UK Resettlement Scheme and owned a rental property which was becoming available. It seemed a good way to make a real difference for a refugee family seeking a new life in the UK. The support from the council and Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees has been invaluable in helping the family to settle. These lets are intended to be for the longer term and so landlords avoid all the costs of getting new tenants and the gaps in between lets. We enjoy the stability of the arrangements and the scheme ensures the rent comes in regularly.”


We would be pleased to put you in touch with our existing landlords for a confidential discussion about their experiences with the scheme.


What Types of Property Do We Need?


  • 1-4 bedrooms

  • Self-contained

  • Available for at least 24 months

  • Furnished or unfurnished

  • Close to public transport links


How Much Rent Will I Receive?


Monthly rental payable under the scheme is based on UK Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates. For example, the rate for a 3-bedroom house in Sevenoaks is £1,130 pcm and for a 3-bedroom house in Swanley it's £1,050 pcm.

In addition, the following incentive payments are paid to the landlord annually in advance by Sevenoaks District Council: £1,500 for a 3-bed and above, £1,000 for a 1 or 2-bed and £500 for a studio.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and donors, SWR may also consider making incentive payments to landlords in addition to the amounts mentioned above. SWR may, for example, be able to make a limited contribution towards landlords’ expenses for redecorating etc.


How Do the Tenancy Agreements Work?


The terms are similar to a normal private tenancy agreement:

  • The tenancy agreement is between the landlord and the family

  • Minimum period of two years

  • A cash deposit of up to 6 weeks rent is provided (along with one month's rent in advance)

  • The cash deposit is registered with one of the approved protection schemes

  • Rent is paid monthly in advance at the beginning of each month

  • Rent is paid by the family or can be paid by SDC directly to the landlord or to his/her agent managing the property

  • Rent is paid to the landlord from the time the property is approved for use by SDC, thereby avoiding any ‘void’ period


Who Will Live In My Property?


Your property will be home to a refugee family looking to rebuild their lives following the terrible experience of fleeing war or persecution. They are currently waiting for approval to travel here when a property becomes available. All refugees are vulnerable, but the families who come to the UK will all have been identified as particularly vulnerable by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).


Your property will be matched with a family unit of the right size for the property.


The families will have been screened by both the UNHCR and the Home Office. One of the key elements in the screening process is the need to ensure that women and children are offered safety and will be protected from harm.


From the moment the families arrive in the UK and then travel to Kent they are closely supported by Kent County Council, Clarion Housing Association, Sevenoaks District Council and Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees.


What Happens at the End of the Tenancy?


When the family moves out at the end of the tenancy, any claim for repairs or damage to the property would be submitted and paid via the deposit protection scheme.


How Do I Join the Scheme?


We would be delighted to provide any further information you require about the scheme.

If you have a property that meets the above requirements and would like to help a vulnerable refugee family start a new life in the Sevenoaks District, please complete the sign-up form below and we'll be in touch.


Sign up here.


Interested in Volunteering?

Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees is always on the lookout for volunteers to help with Landlord outreach. Specifically we are looking for volunteers with contacts in the housing sector. If you can help us reach more potential landlords then please get in touch with us at sevenoakswelcomesrefugees@gmail.com



A WELCOMING Taste of Home

Eleanor Dewar

As I sit here on a sunny day thinking about all the wonderful things SWR have done and continue to do, I find myself thinking of the appropriate starting point for this News and Blog section. Should I look toward the hard hitting side of our work or something current about Lockdown? Then my husband asked me whether I wanted lunch and that was when it hit me - food.

Food is a language of love and sharing. Food brings us together from quick cups of coffee to celebrations and special events. We all have that one food that makes us feel safe or brings back childhood memories. Indeed one of the first memories I have of SWR is at a meeting where someone had brought home-made hummus and I would have happily eaten the entire tray, it was so delicious.

Food has formed a base for one of our fundraising projects as well, in conjunction with Sevenoaks School, the refugee families have developed a cookbook of Syrian food, A Taste of Home in more ways than one. For starting this News and Blog section we want to welcome you to the SWR family and what better way to say “Hello” than with a recipe. So from our first cookbook here is our offering to you:


SYRIAN FATTOUSH SALAD:

Ingredients

  • 2 pitta breads, khobez or any flatbread

  • 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

  • 3 medium cucumbers, roughly chopped

  • 1 medium lettuce (any type), roughly chopped

  • 1 onion, finely sliced

  • 6 medium radishes, finely sliced

  • 1 bunch mint, roughly chopped

  • 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped

  • 1 bunch purslane, roughly chopped

  • 1 tsp sumac (this can be generous)

For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice

  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) red wine or cider vinegar

  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed

  • Salt, to taste


What to do

1. Brush the bread with a little olive oil and toast on both sides in a hot oven for 10 -12 minutes, or until well browned. Rip into pieces.

2. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onion, radishes, mint, parsley and purslane to a large serving bowl. Toss to combine.

3. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and salt.

4. Add half of the toasted bread to the vegetable salad and toss to combine.

5. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.

6. Scatter the remaining toasted bread pieces over the salad and sprinkle with sumac.

We hope you will enjoy this delicious salad. Our first cookbook is no longer available but you can buy our latest "The Syrian Spoon", see our blog post above.