Winter soup dinner diet & comfort homecooking

farmers market

Autumn/winter vegetables bought from the organic farmers market

 

Last winter, I embarked on a ‘soup dinner diet’ for a few months during the autumn/winter period, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I did it again this year. Oddly enough, I don’t actually believe in diets, and have only been on diets a few times in my life (for a short period each time). I love food, and would not want to restrict myself, but I noticed that I would put on weight during the winter months due to lack of outdoor activities. Hence I came up with the idea of having just soup for dinner as an experiment, and to my surprise, it really worked. I did lose weight after a few months of having mostly soups in the evenings, even though I wasn’t extremely strict – there were nights when I just didn’t feel like it. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted during the day, and kept a record of what soups I made in the evenings.

Besides losing weight, I also discovered that soup meals are more economical. Sometimes a big pot would last for days, even my food shopping has become more ‘focused’ and less random.

Being a pescatarian means that my soup would be made of vegetables (and occasionally seafood). The trick to this diet is to a make a big batch of vegetable stock beforehand (usually during the weekends) and then freeze it in small tubs. Over the winter months, my freezer would be filled with tubs of vegetable stock, which would be used as the base of my soups.

I am a big fan of farmers market, and luckily I live near one too. Every week I would stock up on fresh organic vegetables for my soups. Although I do shop in the supermarkets as well, I try to buy vegetables that are in season rather than the ones shipped from Africa and South America.

 

vegetable stock

Vegetable stock made from skins and scraps

 

I learned from a popular Japanese cook/food writer/designer Masaki Higuchi to use only the skins, ends and scraps of vegetables to make the vegetable stock, which not only tastes good but also reduces food waste. When I told this to the vegetable farmer at the market, he said it makes sense as the ends of vegetables tend to have more flavour, and he would try making it too.

Rooted vegetables are seasonal during the autumn/winter periods. Pumpkin, beetroot, sweet potato, parsnip, and various squashes like delicata butternut, ambercup, acorn and sweet dumpling etc are not only good for soups, they are good for roasting, too. I found that parsnip soups are really filling and comforting during the cold winter months.

 

pumpkin   pumpkin soup

roasted vegetables

squash soup

Top row: Pumpkin soup; 2nd row: roasting different variety of beetroots; bottom row: minestrone with squash

 

Minestrone is an easy and versatile soup to make, and you can easily alter the ingrdients depending on what you have at home. I also like to add some orzo pasta topped with some freshly-grated parmesan to make it more satisfying.

Besides rooted vegetables, there is also an abundance of mushrooms during this perid, and one of my favourite soups is mixed mushroom soup.

 

parsnip soup

mushroom soup

corn soup

Top: parsnip soup; 2nd row: mixed mushroom soup; bottom: sweet corn soup

 

For the last few years, I often would get colds during the winter months especially when work becomes busier and more stressful. Yet this year, I did not catch a cold, and I would like to believe that my soup diet was one of the reasons.

Probably the most immune boosting soup in winter is French onion soup. According to health expert, onions can cure cold, cough and boost immunity, so this soup is one of my winter favourites and it tastes delicious too.

 

onion soup

French onion soup topped with Gruyère cheese

 

My soup recipe book now contains close to 100 soup recipes that I have made in the last two years. I rarely plan on what to buy before my visits to the farmers market, instead I pick whatever I fancy and then come up with something afterwards. Although I like to read cookbooks or check out recipes online, I never follow them exactly as I view cooking as a creative process, thus being spontaneous makes it more fun.

 

mixed veg soup

fish soup

Top: vegetable soup with kale and barley; bottom: fish soup

 

Ramen is one of the most comforting dishes in winter, but it is hard to find an authentic ramen shop that serves ramen with vegetable base in London, so I tend to make it at home using my own broth. I have also made dashi at home, which can be used as the soup base for miso ramen.

Occasionally, I would see fresh tiger prawns being sold in my local supermarket, so it gave me the idea of making Thai tom yum noodle soup. The heads and shells of the prawns can be used to make the stock, and adding rice noodles makes the soup more substantial. The spicy and sour soup is perfect as a healthy winter meal.

 

japanese ramen

tofu soup

tom yum soup

tom yum soup noodles

 

Oden is a classic winter comfort dish in Japan, which are often sold in food carts, but you may also find it in some izakayas, restaurants and even convenient stores. The one-pot simmered dish is often consisted of an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu with rice cakes and daikon etc. The soy-favoured dashi broth becomes more flavourful as the pot simmers away, and it tastes even better the next day. I love having this dish around New year.

 

oden

oden

Homemade oden

 

As much as I love this winter soup diet, having soup every night for four months can be a bit boring, so occasionally I would cook other non-soup dishes either as weekend treats or as sides to accompany the soups.

Since I bought the Dishoom cookbook, I was eager to try some dishes from the book. The two paneer dishes worked out extremely well, especially the curry, which I think is an uplifting dish to eat at home when it is grey, cold and rainy outside.

 

paneer

paneer tikka

flat bread  flatbread

Indian nights: Matar paneer (paneer and pea curry), paneer tikka, flat bread

 

Although I find winters quite depressing sometimes, cooking gives me joy and motivation. If I am stressed out during the day, cooking helps me to destress and relax. I love experimenting and creating something new. Since quitting meat some years ago, I learned to be more open and adventurous with vegetables, and I discovered how versatiles vegetables can be. I almost always cook from scratch, and I rarely eat ready made meals as I believe that “We are what we eat”, so never underestimate the benefits of healthy eating.

 

homemade pizza

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polenta chips

avocado salsa

inari sushi

Top: homemade pizza; 2nd row: Padrón peppers; 3rd row: polenta fries; guacamole with pitta chips; bottom row: inari sushi

 

 

‘Just sitting’ at the zazen weekend retreat

zazen retreat

 

For the past few years, I would spend one February weekend attending an annual zazen retreat organised by my zazen group at a farm outside of London. Our zazen group is quite small, so most of us know each other quite well. People come and go, and there is no pressure to attend the sessions regularly.

The path that brought me to my teacher and the group was windy, but it was worth it. After my teacher moved away from the UK, the annual retreat would be a good opportunity to spend quality time with him and listen to his talks. Our group’s practice is based on the teachings taught by the 13th century Japanese Zen master, Dogen Zenji, who founded the Soto school of Zen in Japan. However, our group is not associated with any Soto zen organisation or institution, since my teacher (and his teacher) do not like the hiercharchy, rigidity and dogma of any organisation – even the Buddhist ones.

 

zazen retreat

 

Due to my upbringing, I have felt like an ‘outsider’ all my life, and I never felt the need to belong to a group, yet my views changed since I became a regular at my zazen group. In Buddhism, Sangha means a community of fellow practitioners, and it is the third of the Three Jewels (the other two are The Buddha and The Dharma i.e. the teachings), so it is an important part of the practice. Practising with a group of people from all walks of life is not only interesting, it also broadens my horizon. They are not friends who I hang out with, though they are more than acquaintances, and I know I can turn to some for support if I need it. I dislike clique groups, so perhaps the reason why I like this group is that we tend to maintain an adequate distance between us. Low-key and friendly, but not cliquey.

 

zazen retreat  zazen retreat

 

There are many misconceptions regarding zazen. I want to clarify that the zazen practice taught by Dogen is neither mindfulness nor meditation. It is not about emptying the mind, finding happiness, or seeking enlightenment (this is the major difference between Soto and Rinzai Zen); the core of Dogen‘s teaching is Shikantaza, which can be translated to ‘just sitting’. This form of practice was introduced to Dogen by his Chinese teacher, Rujing, a monk of the Caodong school of Zen Buddhism in China. Unlike other kinds of meditation practice, it does not require you to focus your attention on the breathing or solve a koan or visualise, instead you just sit in a full or half lotus position (if possible) wholeheartedly and be aware of your body-mind (N.B. body and mind is not separate). This kind of practice is more difficult, but over time, you would become more aware of all the sensations in your body and the fleeting thoughts that come and go. Letting go of thoughts, stories and images does not involve conscious effort, as long as you don’t grasp or dwell on them, they would eventually fade away.

When you sit without trying, aiming or judging, you may experience what Dogen describes as shin-jin-datsu-raku, which meansbody-mind dropping off(originally translated from Chinese). Of course, he does not mean it literally, but from my experience, it feels like there is more ‘space, clarity, openness and calmness’ within. This is not a state that you can seek, it happens naturally, and without making any effort. All the effort you need in zazen is to keep your body relaxed and upright, yet this is easier said than done.

 

lower shaw farm

 

Zazen is crucial if you want to understand Zen Buddhism because it is experiential. You can learn Buddhist ethics and teachings from many books, but zazen is not an intellectual practice, it is an ‘action’ that does not involve thinking. My teacher often emphasise that zazen is not about sitting still, rather it is an action that requires constant adjusting and you can only find balance through the subtle adjustments and movements. It is like walking on a tightrope or riding a bicycle – both are balancing acts that require adjustments of the postures.

“Zazen is good for nothing” is a quote by the prominent Japanese Soto Zen teacher Kodo Sawaki (who died in 1965), which completely contradicts other goal-oriented spiritual practices. Zazen is not about self-improvement, and it does not make you a better person; to me, it is more about acceptance and awareness. After practising zazen for 6 years (and prior to it, I spent 6 years practising different forms of meditation), now I simply enjoy the act of ‘just sitting’. I don’t sit because I want to be in a different state, I sit because I want to, even when I feel down/happy/conflicted… We all have the tendency to want to escape from reality, but the truth is it never works. Although practising has not always been easy, it has become a habit to me (like brushing my teeth) and I would miss it if I don’t sit for a while.

 

zazen retreat

 

Many people think of retreats as some kind of spa holiday where you would relax for days – nothing could be further from the truth! It is actually exhausting to sit in a upright position for 4-5 hours a day. We would start each day at 7am and end after 9pm, and the day is filled with different work duties (samu in Japanese), hence a retreat is hardly a holiday. However, after just a weekend of sitting and time away from my digital devices, I usually would feel quite uplifted despite the aches and pains in my body.

Like my teacher would say, “After a weekend of sitting, all the stiffness in our bodies would ‘drop off’ and this would be revealed in our postures”. Surprisingly, our sitting postures reveal a lot about the states of our body-mind. According to some cognitive and neuroscience research, the balance state of the autonomic nervous system is one of the benefits of the practice. Besides the health benefit, Kodo Sawaki Roshi said that “Zazen is to tune into the universe”. I believe that zazen is just one of the many methods that enable us to let go of our self-centredness and be more connected to the universe. If all of us can find a method to feel this connectedness, then perhaps our world would one day become integrated and harmonious.

 

swindon

 

 

Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

London’s new street food halls & markets

Flat Iron Square

Flat Iron Square in Southwark

 

Once upon a time, visitors to London used to tell me that London rarely changes, especially when you compare to cities in Asia. Well, you can’t really compare London to cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but as a Londoner, I feel that London has changed immensely over the last decade. Gentrifications around London has changed the city’s streetscape dramatically, and it is evolving quicker than people realise.

One of biggest trends in recent years is the rise of street food and outdoor street food markets. In terms of food market, Borough market is one of the largest and oldest in London, but it is also the busiest and most touristy one. Try visiting the market on a Saturday, and it is likely turn out to be an exhausting and off-putting experience. In 2010,  Maltby Street Market appeared under the railway arches in the nearby Bermondsey, and soon became a popular food market for many Londoners.

The team behind Kerb is also contributes to London’s thriving street food scene. Their King’s Cross street food market that started in 2012 was highly sucessful and subsequently, they opened four more outdoor street food markets at various locations across London. Now outdoor street food markets can be found in many local neighbourhoods, and Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.

 

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

Vinegar Yard near London Bridge station

 

Unlike London’s trend-driven food scene, street food has been prominent in Asia for decades. Night markets, food courts, and hawker centres are popular in many cities. I particularly love street food in Taiwan (my favourite are Tian Jin flaky scallion pancakes and oyster omelet), pad thai in Thailand (cheaper and better than the restaurants), popiah and chai tow kway at the hawker centres in Singapore. Prices are cheap and choices are endless.

Although I think street food in London is quite expensive compare to Asia, there are some interesting Asian street food stalls at the Old Spitalfields Market if you are craving for Asian street food. In 2017, the iconic East London market received a facelift and launched an indoor street food market called ‘The Kitchens’. I have visited this market a few times, and have tried a few dishes from various Asian vendours.

At Pleasant Lady, I tried their vegetarian jian bing (£6.8), a Chinese savoury crêpe with fillings, which was tasty and crispy but quite expensive as a snack. At Dumpling Shack, I tried their prawn wontons in chilli oil (£7.9) which was spicier than I expected, and rather expensive for the portion. The ‘best value’ dish was a fried fish lunch box from the Burmese stall Lahpet (now they have a restaurant in Bethnal Green), which reminded me of my trip to Myanmar a few years ago.

Besides the above, you can also find Yi Fang fruit tea and Wheelcake Island from Taiwan here.

 

spitalfields market

spitalfields market

dumpling shack

spitalfields market

Pleasant Lady

lahpet

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Yi Fang

Old Spitalfields market

 

After an explosion of outdoor street food markets over the last few years, street food markets have been gradually moving indoors. In 2018, the team behind Market Halls converted two abandoned buildings into bustling street food markets: Market Hall Fulham and Market Hall Victoria; and in November 2019, they opened UK’s biggest food hall at the former BHS building.

When my friend and her family came to visit from New York last year, I brought them to Market Hall Victoria on their first night in town. After trying out different restaurants and pub for the next few days, they suggested returning to the food hall again on their last night in town. They were extremely impressed with the simple and fresh pasta from Nonna Tonda, whereas I am fond of the authentic Malaysian food at Gopal’s Corner, which has the same owner as the super-popular Roti King in Euston. Since there is always a queue outside of Roti King, I would rather come here for my laksa or roti fix.

 

victoria

roti king

Market Hall Victoria

 

In Sept 2019, Kerb also opened its first indoor street food market in Covent Garden. The Seven Dials market now occupies the two-storey 21,000sq ft former banana warehouse on Earlham Street that used to be a shopping centre selling street fashion shops since the 1980s. The shopping centre lost its appeal in recent years, and shoppers were few and far between.

The idea to turn an uninspiring shopping centre into a food hall was a wise one. The bright and spacious market is inviting, and big enough for 25 traders, including street food stalls, a bar, a bookshop, and food producers’ stores on the ground floor. Out of the thirteen food stalls, I ordered a portion of salt and pepper squid with chips from Ink, a fish and chips stall. The batter was crisy and tasty, but not outstanding enough to make me return and reorder. I didn’t mind the communal tables, but I doubt you can have a decent conversation with friends if you come during the peak times. This market is likely to attract hipsters and tourists, so do be prepared to pay the ‘West End’ prices for your food and drinks.

 

seven dials market  seven dials market

seven dials market

seven dials market

 

If you want to eat street food in a more glamorous setting, then Mercato Metropolitano’s second street food market (the first one is in Elephant and Castle) is likely to impress. Mercato Mayfair is situated inside a Grade I listed, deconsecrated 19th century St. Mark’s church in Mayfair. It is celebrated as one of the finest examples of 19th century Greek revival architecture, and the market opened in November 2019 after a £5m restoration.

Even if you are not into expensive street food, it is still worth a trip to this market just to see its stunning interiors. Wandering around the church one afternoon, I saw pasta and pizzas being served on the ground floor, and upstairs, I saw my favourite Turkish dish – pide– being served at Lala, so I decided to give it a try. Normally, I would go to Mangal Pide in Dalston for this, but the upmarket version was a pleasant surprise, and the seating offered a grand view of the church’s interiors. The crust of the machine-made pide was crunchy and the filling ingredients tasted fresh; although it is more expensive than the Dalston version, I would come back for this if I am in the area. The beautiful setting is also a big draw for me, so I wouldn’t mind trying out other stalls in the future.

 

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

 

Novelty plays a key factor in the street food scene, therefore these markets have to keep changing in order to attract returning customers. I believe indoor food markets would attract more customers in the cold winter days, and judging from the current trend, we are likely to more of them popping up in different locations across the city in the future.

 

“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.

 

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.

 

brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem

 

The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.

 

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Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.

 

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Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.

 

brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition

 

One winter’s day in Brighton

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Not surprisingly, I have never visited Brighton in the winter, but an exhibition on my wish list brought me to the coastal city in January. Obviously, I had to check the weather forecast before booking my train ticket, and it was lucky that the forecast was correct for a change.

Sunshine and blue sky makes a huge difference in winter, especially in Brighton. I actually prefer Brighton’s seafront in winter than summer as it is calmer and less crowded. Walking along the beach in the morning was uplifting; I later returned here to watch the sunset before heading back to London, which was beautiful and mesmorising.

 

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brighton

brighton

brighton

 

Although I have always liked Brighton, I don’t think I have explored it fully in the past. I am aware that many Londonders have moved here over the last few years, and it is not hard to understand why. As I wandered around the North Laine district, I was happy to see many indpenedent shops and cafes in the area. Honestly, I am so bored of seeing ubiquitous branded and chained stores in London these days, it actually puts me off going out to shop. Yet in Brighton, the shops look more interesting (at least in North Laine), and I liked the laidback and friendly vibe too. It is pathetic to hear people in the retail sector blaming online shopping for UK’s dying high streets. I believe that customers only turn to the internet because the high Streets are uninviting and uninspiring. If you visit cities like Norwich, Brighton or even Totnes (the famous Market town full of independent shops), you would see that their high streets are very vibrant and inspiring.

 

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brighton

brighton

brighton

brighton

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brighton

brighton

 

I never realised that Brighton has so many chocolate shops before; I was particularly intrigued when I walked past Be Chocolate by Michel Clement (15 Duke St). The chocolates looked so enticing that I walked in without much persuasion. I had a short chat with the chocolatier, and he told me that they have recently opened a counter in Selfridges. I told him that a counter is quite different from a shop, and I think that the shop is much more inviting. In London, I would rarely go into a chocolatier to buy chocolates, but here, I couldn’t resist the temptation and splashed out willingly. Their chocolates are fresh and excellent, so I do recommend a visit to their shop if you visit Brighton next time.

 

be chocolate  be chocolate

Be Chocolate

 

I have wanted to try out the famous seafood restaurant Riddle & Finns for some time, and since it is the new year, I decided to treat myself on this occasion. The oysters and seafood linguine were fresh and delicious, and I had an interesting conversation with an elderly Scottish gentleman sitting opposite me about our oysters, traveling and Scotland. For some strange reason, while chatting to the gentleman, I felt like I was on holiday, even though I was only less than 2 hours away from home. Perhaps it was the beach walk or the rosé, or a combo of the two…

 

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Seafood at Riddle & Finns

 

It is hard not to notice the wonderful street art all around the city. I found it very relaxing to walk around the city, and felt that the people working in shops and cafes are friendlier than London. It is not that I dislike London, but the city has become too commercial and touristy in the last two decades, so much as that it is losing its charm and appeal. I have been pondering over leaving London for some time now, and a day trip to Brighton has reignited my inner debate. Yet even if I don’t move here, I would love to return this charming city and Hove again in the future.

 

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart  brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart  brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

 

To be continued…

“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn

 

Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”

 

Olafur Eliasson

 

Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)

 

In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.

 

Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010

 

Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

 

Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.

 

In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

Autumn/winter wild food foraging in Hampstead Heath

hampstead heath

 

Although wild food foraging is nothing new, it has become quite popular in recent years. I think this is due to our growing interest in sustainability and back-to-basics lifestyle after decades of consumerism. As we know, endless purchase of consumer goods and fast fashion does not fulfil our lives, nor does it make us happier.

Yet how can we change our behaviour/lifestyle living in metropolis like London? Besides buying less, recycling more and shopping at the local farmers market, we can also attempt wild food foraging. After a fascinating funghi foraging workshop in Hampstead Heath a few years back, I was keen to learn more about foraging but never managed to do so until I enrolled onto a wild food foraging course with Jason Irving from Foraging Wild Food.

Jason is an experienced forager, herbalist and ethnobotanist. He used to work as head forager at UK’s leading supplier of wild food, Forager Ltd, for two years. Next year, he will be doing his PHD research in Central America, and our one-day course was the last one of the year.

 

hampstead heath

lime tree  lime tree

Lime tree (Tilia spp.)

 

The sun and blue sky made us feel slightly better for being out and about on a cold late autumn/winter’s morning. Since I live not far from Hamsptead Heath, the heath is like my back garden where I would visit in all seasons. However, I had no idea about the vast array of wild food available here besides funghi. The 3-hour walk around the heath was flabbergasting for a newbie like me. I learned a lot about the usage of many seeds and leaves, which not only can be used as herbal medicine, but also in cooking and beverages. Jason also made us a cake and hot drink from wild fruits and herbs, which was surprisingly delicious.

 

Hog weed seed  common sorrel

Left: Hog weed seed; Right: Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

 

Although I made some notes and took photos on the day, I don’t think I would be able to differentiate all the edible plants and seeds after just one course. There is still much to learn, and I guess getting a foraging book would be a good start. Since there are many foraging courses available in London, I probably would do another one in the summer when more herbs and ripe fruits are ready to be picked.

 

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)  Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Left: Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata); Right: Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

 

Although wild food foraging can be fun, there is also the danger of picking poisonous plants without knowing (we often hear that with funghi-picking). Therefore, it is important to do more research or pick with someone more knowledgeable at the beginning.

 

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)  Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Left: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) Right: Elder (Sambucus nigra)

 

The issue of global food shortages reminds us that we cannot take our food supply for granted anymore. What if one day we find ourselves in supermarkets full of empty shelves? If this happens, then how would we survive? Wild food foraging is not only about survival skills, it is also about sustainability and reconnecting with nature. If we undertstand the origin of each ingredient that goes into our food, then we are likely to appreciate it more.

 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca)  img_4958-min

Left: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca); Right: Beech (Fagus sylvestris)

 

Sadly, over-foraging has also become an issue in recent years. I was told that many Eastern Europeans would mass pick edible funghi and sell them to restaurants for commercial gains despite the fact that it is illegal to do so. Even the head chef of Noma –often voted as the restaurant in the wold– was accused of illegally picking wild mushrooms in Hampstead Heath 10 years ago.

 

sweet chestnut  yarrow

Left: Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa); Right: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

 

Wild food foraging can be a satisfying and uplifting experience, but if we disrupt the eco-system by over-picking, then we are doing more harm than good. At the end of the day, it is crucial to find a balance. If we don’t respect our environment, we may regret it one day when it is too late.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

hampstead heath