AFGHANISTAN

Afghani Proverb: Give graciously; even an onion 

With a population just over 33 million, there are 2.7 million Afghani refugees living in Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh alone. Due to a number of civil wars in the 1970s and subsequent internationally led wars since, Afghanistan is now one of the least secure countries in the world with frequent internal violence and the third highest rate of child malnutrition. Taliban factions continue to terrorise many parts of the country, and life for women and children in particular is extremely difficult with poor access to health and education, as well as extreme limitations on their freedoms.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 106,933 people by improving water sanitation and training people to care for children suffering from malnutrition.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Kabuli Palau and Bourani Banjan

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With evidence of civilisation since the neolithic period Afghanistan has a long, rich history; including it’s important part in the trade and presence on the ‘Silk Road’ not least because it was almost exactly half way between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. Once an extremely wealthy country, in part because of it’s strategic geographical location on the Silk Road, and because of it’s rich agricultural (both crops and animals) and mineral abundance.

This abundance led to an equally impressive food culture, still centred around grand banquet dishes and the sharing of food with both friends and strangers. The national dish – Kabuli Palau is a classic example of this. In Afghanistan rice, is and was, considered to be the most important element of any meal and royal families would invest time and money to impress their guests with beautiful platters of the grain. The sultanas and nuts ( and sometimes pomegranate seeds, as can also be found in Iranian rice dishes) symbolise scattered jewels and the golden hue of the turmeric emulates the precious metal gold.

Ingredients 

Serves 6

Kabuli Palau

  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 6 medium carrots (grated)
  • 300g fatty lamb (chopped into chunks)
  • 1 mug of rice
  • 100g of nuts and sultanas
  • 2 tsps turmeric
  • 2 tsps fenugreek
  • 2 tsps red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsps celery salt
  • 1 tsps ground ginger
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 4 shallots
  • Ghee or vegetable oil
  • Coriander stalks (chopped)
  • Salt & Pepper

Borani Banjan

  • 2 large aubergines (sliced length ways)
  • 1 medium onion (very finely diced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (finely diced)
  • 250g lamb mince
  • 1 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsps sugar
  • 2 tbls tomato puree
  • 250g natural yoghurt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

Kabuli Palau

Add the diced onions to a pan with ghee and sweat until soft and golden. Once the onions are cooked, add the lamb and brown followed by the chopped coriander stalks, turmeric, fenugreek, chilli flakes, celery salt and ground ginger. Once the mixture has become aromatic, add a little water and allow to simmer until the lamb is tender. Add the rice and seasoning then stir in boiled water until it covers about an inch above the rice. Transfer the covered pot into a hot (200 degrees C) oven.

While the rice is cooking (around 15 minutes) finely slice the shallots and crisp up in oil, sprinkling a bit of sugar over them to bring out their sweetness. Toast the nuts and sultanas then put both aside till the rice is cooked.

Once the palau is ready stir in the toasted nuts and sultanas and half of the fried shallots. Serve with the remainder of the fried shallots on top of the rice.

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Borani Banjan

Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the sliced aubergines and leave to one side. To a medium hot pan with oil add the onions and leave to sweat until soft and golden. Once cooked, add the garlic and stir until golden then add the lamb mince, cinnamon and seasoning and simmer for around 10 minutes. Once cooked through stir in the tomato paste and sugar with a splash of water and leave to simmer on a very low heat.

Rinse the salt off the aubergines and pat dry. Fry on each side in  a little oil until browned and soft in the middle. remove from the heat and place on a serving dish. spoon the mincemeat sauce over the top of the aubergine slices and finish with yoghurt and fresh coriander.

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

IRAQI KURDISTAN

Kurdish Proverb: A zikê birçî tune guhên – A hungry stomach has no ears  

Kurdistan is located in the North of Iraq and was officially formed in 1970 after years of ethnic violence between the Kurdish people and the Arab Iraqi government. Peace did not last and since mid 1970 Kurds have faced continuous attack from the dominant government. Genocides ordered by Saddam Hussein during both the Iran-Iraq war and in 1991 devastated the Kurdish population. Since the death of Saddam Hussein and the withdrawal of US troops, tensions between the Kurds and Arabs have remained. More recently Kurdistan has seen an influx of more than 2 million displaced Iraqi and Syrian refugees fleeing war and settling in the region.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 297,082 with access to clean water and  providing women and children with mental health support.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Fasolia and Rice 

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As with many of the dishes from the Middle Eastern region, this dish really reminds me of the food I ate growing up. Kurdistan actually lies in between Iraq and Iran and the food in differs depending on the proximity to those two countries. Iraqi Kurdish food is very similar to the cuisines found in the gulf and this white bean stew is no exception. Dishes are usually served with vermicelli rice and various side salads.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 70g concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin berlotti beans
  • 1 tin butter beans
  • 2 tsps cumin
  • 3 tbls ghee or vegetable oil
  • 1 portion vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1/2 cup of vermicelli
  • Salt & pepper

Method

In a pestle and mortar crush garlic with a little salt until smooth. Add crushed garlic to hot 1 tablespoon of hot ghee or oil and cook gently for 1 minute. Once golden add tomato paste and stir then add 3 cups of boiled water. Cook gently for 10 minutes before adding chopped tomatoes, stock and cumin then leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, make rice. Fry vermicelli in one tablespoon of hot ghee or oil until brown then add rice and a pinch of salt. Once the rice has become white cover until a centimetre above with boiling water. Turn down the heat as far as possible, cover and leave to cook for 15 minutes. Once cooked, turn off the heat and leave the lid on –  the steam will keep the rice warm and prevent it from going claggy.

Your sauce should have reduced by now. Add the tinned beans (you can use soaked dried beans of course!) and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with rice and fresh chopped parsley. I also had some pickled chillis and fresh radish on the side which is great!

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

 

SPAIN

Spanish Proverb: Al hambre de siete dias, no hay pan duro – For a good appetite there is no hard bread

Action Against Hunger operates from 5 host countries; one of which is Spain. The charity works to tackle child malnutrition and provide access to safe water.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Baked Cod with Chickpeas and Saffron 

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Like all countries Spain’s cuisine differs greatly from region to region. Arabic influence is particularly prevalent in the south of the country with ingredients such as saffron and chickpeas brought over in the middle ages.

Ingredients

Serves 2

  • 2 fillets of cod (or any other sustainably sourced firm white fish)
  • 3 handfuls of baby plum tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 4 shallots
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

  1. Start by finely slicing shallots and adding to a pan with oil, cook till caramelised. Add sliced garlic, fresh rosemary and the baby plum tomatoes and cook down.
  2. Soak a pinch of saffron in hot water with a tiny bit of chicken stock.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, sugar and seasoning to the pan and cook down before adding the saffron stock.
  4. Cook for 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly and tastes good – add more seasoning if it needs it.
  5. Pour a little sauce into the bottom of an oven proof dish followed by the fish fillets and the rest of the sauce.
  6. Bake at 200°C for 10 minutes and serve with salad and warm bread.

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

HAITI

Haitian Proverb: Sonje lapli ki leve mayi ou – Remember the rain that made your corn grow

Haiti is situated directly in the middle of a hurricane belt and experiences frequent natural disasters with catastrophic consequences.  In 2010 Haiti suffered the biggest earthquake seen in the country for over 200 years. Of the population of 10.5 million; between 200,000 to 300,000 people lost their lives, many more injured and over 1 and a half million left homeless.

Five years on Haiti is still recovering from the devastation of the earthquake. In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 310,051 people primarily with health care and access to clean water.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Soup Joumou

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On the 1st January 1804 Haiti declared independence from the French colonisers. The Haitian Revolution is known to be the only uprising that successfully led to the overthrowing of the slave owners and a republic ruled by the former slaves. Amongst many other things, the slave owners put bans on what Haitians could and couldn’t eat, including pumpkin which the French considered a particular delicacy.

Traditionally eaten on New Years Day, this soup became a symbol of independence and freedom with Haitians no longer having to abide by the dietary restrictions the slave owners had placed on them.

And an unrelated interesting fact: the barbecue originated in Haiti!

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 large butternut squash or medium sized pumpkin
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 celery stick
  • 2 small potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 scotch bonnet chillis
  • 1 small bunch of parsley
  • 1 handful of fresh sage and thyme
  • Chicken stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

Start by cutting butternut squash rubbing with oil, sage, thyme and seasoning then roasting until  caramelised.

In a saucepan sweat chopped leeks, garlic, onion, celery and parsley stalks with the remaining sage and thyme. Once softened add the the chilli (add more than two if you like it spicy!) potatoes and roasted butternut squash to the pan and cover with chicken stock.

Meanwhile make a parsley oil by very finely chopping parsley and mixing with olive oil.

Once the vegetables have all cooked through turn off the heat and blitz everything in a blender. Pass through a sieve for an even smoother consistency. Check seasoning and serve with drizzled parsley oil.

In Haiti Soup Joumou is traditionally served with chunks of braised beef, this is a vegetarian version but the meaty original can be easily made in exactly the same way, remembering to remove the meat before blitzing. It’s also popular to put thin pasta in with it for extra body!

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Today on 1 January 2016 I can very proudly say that together we have raised an amazing £560 for Action Against Hunger so far. Let’s match it and more this year!

Here’s to a fantastic 2016 🙂

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

PAKISTAN

Pakistani Proverb: بھوکے کو سوکھی بھی چپڑی کے برابر – Nothing comes amiss to a hungry man

Alongside continuing internal conflict and political instability, Pakistan suffers frequently from natural disasters which affect vast numbers of it’s huge 199 million strong population.

In 2010 monsoon flooding led to 20 million people needing immediate humanitarian assistance. The affect of this and subsequent monsoons are ongoing. According to the World Food Programme almost 40% of Pakistanis live below the poverty line and spend more than 60% of their income on food.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 728,150 people through their food security, nutrition and water sanitation programmes.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Nihari

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As with most country cuisines, Pakistani food differs from region to region. Often mistaken for Indian cuisine which features far less (or no) meat than it’s northern neighbour, Pakistani food is arguably among the most popular in the world. Rich, spicy and aromatic influenced by South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern flavours, there’s hardly any chance that your mouth won’t start watering at the thought of an aloo gosht, korma or biriyani. The Pakistani love of meat and external influences of the cuisine are particularity recognisable in the national dish of rich slow cooked beef curry, Nihari.

The word Nihari comes from the Arabic ‘Nahar’ meaning day – and this dish is named so because traditionally the curry is made with beef shanks, slowly cooked all night and ready to eat at breakfast following the dawn prayers the next day (or Nahar). Nowadays Nihari is enjoyed at all times of day, though the best most deeply flavoursome variations are of course the ones left to cook for long periods of time.

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Ingredients 

Serves 4

  • 500g beef brisket (This is what I had but it would be even more delicious with short ribs or shanks)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large piece of ginger
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of each of the following: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of fenugreek powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 3 teaspoons of chilli powder (or how ever hot you like it!)
  • 3 tablespoons of ghee
  • 2 cups of basmati rice

Method

Start by heating a pan up and toasting the whole spices until fragrant. Remove from heat and pound into a powder in a pestle and mortar, mixing in the other powder spices.

In a mini chopper blitz the onion, and add to a large pan with warm ghee and half a teaspoon of salt on a low heat. In the same chopper puree the ginger and garlic. When the onion has softened but not browned add the ginger and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes taking care not to let the garlic colour.

When the pot starts smelling good add the meat and brown on all sides then add the tomato paste and ground spices and keep frying on a low heat until the spices become fragrant.

Pour in water until just above the meat and add the chopped stalks of a whole bunch of coriander. Cover and cook on a very low heat for at least 5 hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart. The sauce will reduce quite a bit – if it reduces too much just add a little more water. Right towards the end add three quarters of the bunch of coriander leaves.

To make perfect rice every time follow this method:

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add rice making sure that you have boiled water already prepared. Fry the uncooked rice until white and then pour boiling water up to a centimetre above. Place a lid on for 10 minutes and turn right down- when you remove the lid the rice should be perfectly cooked and lovely and fluffy!

Top with fresh coriander and ginger and serve with cucumber raita and a tomato salad.

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

SIERRA LEONE

Sierra Leonean Proverb: NA LכV MEK TεN PIPUL IT FAZIN AKARA – It’s love that makes ten people eat and share

In 2014 the West Africa Ebola epidemic greatly damaged Sierra Leone’s already limited health infrastructure and economic resources. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) before the outbreak in 2014 there were 136 doctors and just over 1000 nurses to a population of 6.1 million. Many of the people who died during the Ebola crisis did not die from the disease but from lack of medical attention from a severely understaffed and overstretched health service. Quarantines, border shut downs and travel and trade restrictions have also affected an economy already troubled by years of civil war.

Happily, as of November 2015 Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola free by WHO after going over 40 days with no new cases of the virus and the last sick person testing negative from the disease. To celebrate the end of the epidemic, Sierra Leonean rapper Block Jones created ‘Bye Bye Ebola’ which you should definitely watch below!

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 30,552 people to implement protective measures to stop the spread of Ebola and gain access to clean drinking water.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

 

Binch Akara Burgers with Scotch Bonnet Mayonnaise

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Akara, a black eyed pea fritter, is dish originally from the Yoruba people of Nigeria traditionally served at 70th birthday parties . Today there are significant numbers of Yoruba people across Western Africa with a large population in Sierra Leone who brought akara with them.

Binch akara, as it’s known in Sierra Leone, is enjoyed as a snack throughout the day bought fresh and hot dipped in scotch bonnet relish, straight from street vendors all around West Africa. Just like jollof rice and other favourites, this bean fritter transcends country lines in popularity and akara has made it’s mark in West Africa as a staple street food snack.

I’ve decided to adapt this classic snack and make it into a bit more meal  – to do this I’ve turned the akara into a burger. Burgers are not something which would usually be my first choice – especially veggie ones because I find that they’re often quite dry. But as this is a fritter I thought it would be perfect made slightly bigger as a vegetarian burger because it would be much lighter than what you would normally get for a veggie option. I don’t think that just because you are choosing not to eat meat that the texture of meat has to be emulated in the substitute. So it’s basically just the same as a snack akara but larger in a bun and in my opinion a much lighter option for a veggie burger! I chose to make a scotch bonnet mayo instead of using relish for the same reason just to make it a bit lighter. This is a really good, cheap and not too heavy West African inspired alternative to a burger! I would serve with sweet potato fries for a complete meal.

Ingredients

For my previous posts I haven’t been listing measurements – this is because I don’t really cook that way. I prefer to cook instinctively and taste along the way. I’ve had some advice recently saying that it’s good to put measurements in even if you don’t actually use them, so from now on I will (where I can) put numbers in front of words!

  • 2 tins of black eyed peas
  • 1 onion
  • 5 scotch bonnets + other chillies if you have some lying around
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Coconut oil
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh spinach
  • Burger buns

Method

First of all start by making a scotch bonnet sauce. You can buy chilli sauce in the shop but it’s SO easy to make your own and way way cheaper. It’s also a really good way to use up a bag of chillies that you’ve got in the fridge. I actually made mine a while ago, it keeps in the fridge for ages because of the vinegar and the coconut oil seal.

Put whole scotch bonnets and other chillies in boiling water and cook on a high heat for about ten minutes. When soft, drain and put chillies in a mini chopper with 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons of sugar then blitz into a paste. Transfer into a clean jar leaving a centimetre of space at the top and leave to cool slightly. Fill that centimetre with coconut oil and put in the fridge to set.

Next make the mayonnaise.

Separate 3 eggs keeping the egg yolks (save a small amount of egg white for your fritter). Add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and begin whisking very strongly. Slowly dribble, or get someone else to dribble vegetable oil while you keep whisking hard. You will get a sore arm but after a little bit the mayonnaise will get lovely and thick. Once it’s at a mayonnaise like consistency season with salt & pepper – most classic recipes call for Dijon mustard at this point but I’ve left it out because instead we add some of the scotch bonnet sauce ‘made earlier’ and mix well!

Now you can move onto the akara which is really the easiest bit!

In a mini chopper or blender add a whole tin of drained black eyed peas and a splash of water. Blend until very smooth and transfer to a mixing bowl. Put the second drained tin in the blender without water and blend until just crushed – you want a thicker paste for a bit of texture. Transfer this to the mixing bowl. Finally put one whole onion into the mini chopper and blend until very smooth then also add to the mixture and season well. Add the white from one egg and enough flour to bind. Drop the mixture into hot oil in burger sized dollops. Your fritter burgers are ready when they’re crisp and golden brown.

To serve, warm some burger buns then spread your scotch bonnet mayo on the bun add the akara and some fresh spinach – make sure you have extra mayonnaise for dipping.

This recipe will make enough for 4 burgers.

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

WORLD FOOD DAY 2015

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Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty

This is a special post because today is World Food Day. Established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation UN (FAO) in 1979, World Food Day is held every year on the 16th October the anniversary of date of the founding of the FAO in 1945. This year FAO is celebrating it’s 70th birthday and the UN Secretary General and others are hosting a ceremony at Expo Milano 2015. Every year a different theme is chosen for World Food Day; this year the theme for World Food Day 2015, is “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”. Member countries will discuss initiatives to develop sustainability in agriculture to work towards eradicating hunger and poverty.

The World Health Organisation says ‘Empowering women farmers could reduce hunger by about 150 million people’.

The objectives of World Food Day are to:

  • encourage attention to agricultural food production and to stimulate national, bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental efforts to this end;
  • encourage economic and technical cooperation among developing countries;
  • encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories, in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions;
  • heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world;
  • promote the transfer of technologies to the developing world; and
  • strengthen international and national solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.

Risotto alla Milanese

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Rice is the third most cultivated agricultural crop in the word and the most important staple grain. As is the staple food for more than 50% of the world’s population. It provides more than one fifth of the calorie intake for humans worldwide and 20% of daily dietary energy. Although rice is grown across the world, 95% of rice produced for export is produced by smallholding subsistence farms in developing countries with Asia collectively responsible for 87% of global rice production. Post harvest losses due to poor infrastructure such as poor roads and storage facilities, has contributed to farmers loosing notable amounts of income and raising concerns relating to food security.

I’ve chosen to make a recipe from the host city for this year’s FAO ceremony so as not to detract the importance of any of the individual countries on the list.

Legend goes that a young Milanese stained glass window artist sprinkled saffron into the risotto at the wedding of his master’s daughter, the risotto became golden yellow and was instantly a timeless hit. In fact risotto with saffron was first described in writing during the first decade of the 1800s but officially established as ‘Risotto alla Milanese’ by celebrated Milanese chef Felice Lurasci in his 1829 book ‘Nuovo Cuoco Milanese Economico’. Many associate the addition of saffron and it’s golden hue as a symbol of the wealth of Milan; not only is the yellow reminiscent of the precious metal but because saffron is pound for pound actually more expensive than gold. The best thing is that this recipe is such a good excuse to use the saffron I was so kindly donated by Mojgan all the way from Iran!

Ingredients

Risotto alla Milanese

  • Carnaroli rice
  • Saffron
  • Onion
  • Thyme
  • Beef stock
  • Butter
  • Parmesan
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

  1. Soak saffron in a bowl of boiling water. In another bowl prepare stock ready to make your risotto.
  2. For the parmesan crisps, grate parmsan and press down in circles onto baking paper. Place in hot oven and bake until golden the remove and let cool.
  3. Add very finely chopped onion to a pan with melted butter and fresh thyme. Cook slowly till translucent – make sure not to let the onion go brown.
  4. Once softened, add the rice, season with salt & pepper and stir for a few minutes.
  5. Add stock and saffron intermittently to the pan slowly and continuously while stirring the whole time until the risotto is a silky consistency but the rice still has a little bite.
  6. Serve with paremsan crips, fresh thyme and cracked black pepper.

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Enjoy!

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie.