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Boro at Somerset House

Boro at Somerset House

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day, Michelle and I went down to Somerset House to check out the Boro exhibition. To quote the website:

Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.

Boro at Somerset House

You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.

Boro at Somerset House

This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

Dim sum masterclass at Ping Pong

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Last week Ping Pong invited me to take a dim sum masterclass at their Westfield Stratford restaurant. The restaurant only opened there last month, and I’m glad to have one close to home as I love their food. So I was excited to go and learn how to make their tasty dumplings myself…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Armed with a delicious – and rather potent – cocktail (which may or may not have hampered our dim sum success) we first got an introduction to the art of dumpling from Ping Pong’s head chef, before being let loose on the ingredients. The dough for these steamed dumplings is made from fine wheat flour, potato starch and water, which gives it the characteristic chewiness. You can also add colouring from natural vegetable sources (spinach for green, beetroot for pink, carrot for orange etc) and they are then stuffed with a meat, seafood or vegetable filling before being steamed to plump deliciousness.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There’s a technique to getting the perfect little scalloped shape: tuck, fold, press. Naturally the chefs who make up to 3,000 dumplings a day are pro at rolling out perfect ones each time, but us mortals struggled a bit to get the hang of it. With their encouragement, I got a few looking quite neat.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Some of us took it more seriously than others…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There was a friendly competition for the best dim sum roller amongst our group. I won, and got a bottle of bubbly for my efforts! I have to confess, I probably had a head start as I learned a similar technique on the Japanese cooking class I did a while ago.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

After our handmade efforts came back from being steamed, we got to enjoy them, then we were treated to several more classic Ping Pong dishes too. We all went home pretty stuffed and merry from the cocktails. If you fancy taking a class yourself, they can be privately booked for a group at a cost of £40 per head, which includes the masterclass and meal afterwards. Check Ping Pong’s site for details.

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Recipe: Quinoa, avocado and roasted pepper salad

Quinoa salad

I’ve been trying to cut down on wheat lately: I don’t think gluten agrees with me very well, especially in the quantities I tended to eat it. As a veggie, it’s all too easy to make it the staple of every meal: toast for breakfast, pitta for lunch, pasta for dinner… which led to me feeling pretty bloated and sluggish a lot of the time and wondering if it was down to diet. I haven’t gone completely cold turkey on wheat but I have been making some switches which aren’t too painful and do seem to be making a difference. In fact when I had a fairly wheaty binge at the weekend I felt awful on Monday, which is good encouragement to keep at it.

Quinoa salad

So I’ve been enjoying porridge for breakfast (and not even missing my beloved toast!), lots of Mexican and Indian inspired dinners (corn, bean and rice-based meals are my new friends) and making lunches from scratch when I have the time on work at home days. My favourite easy lunch fallbacks are things like soup, avocado on GF toast or a hummus wrap in a corn tortilla, but when I have a bit more time I’ve been raiding the veg drawer and putting something more interesting together.

Quinoa salad

This is actually the first time I’ve ever cooked with quinoa – it’s a grainlike little seed that resembles bulgur or cous cous, but it’s actually gluten-free and high in protein rather than starchy carb. I never bought it before because it’s quite expensive and I thought it’d be fiddly to prepare, but I do think it’s worth the price as it’s so healthy and very quick and easy to make up.

Quinoa salad
Quinoa salad

I put together this dish based on most of my favourite flavours: avocado, tomato, pine nut, sweet romano pepper – charred to give a bit of smokiness – and plenty of lemon juice and hot sauce. Delicious as well as vegan and GF, oh so saintly! You could add all sorts of other things depending on what you have: blanched green beans, feta cheese or sweetcorn would all be tasty additions.

Quinoa, avocado and roasted pepper salad

Serving Size: 1

Ingredients

  • 50g dry quinoa
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 1 plum tomato
  • 1 romano red pepper, or 2 smaller paprika peppers
  • Pine nuts, small handful (optional)
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes
  • Your favourite hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. Get the quinoa on to cook per the packet instructions: mine says to boil for 10-12 minutes in 250ml water
  2. Slash the pepper once or twice with a knife, then pop directly on top of the hob flame, turning often until blackened all over. (If you don't have a gas hob, halve the pepper lengthwise and place skin-side up under a hot grill). Leave to cool a little and scrape off any really black bits. Dice the flesh.
  3. Dice the tomato and avocado. I go a bit Jamie Oliver and just season it up while it's on the chopping board: drizzle with olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, add lemon juice and chilli flakes to taste, and mix up with your fingers.
  4. Drain the quinoa and while it's still warm, mix in the pepper and avo-tomato mix and plate up. Sprinkle pine nuts on top, add a dash of hot sauce if you like (a citrusy habanero is particularly good) and enjoy.
http://www.whatkatiedoes.net/2014/03/recipe-quinoa-avocado-and-roasted-pepper-salad.html

I’ve been saving more GF (and non-GF) veggie food ideas on my Pinterest board. Do you have any favourites to share?

Panama Day 5: Panama City, Casco Viejo

Panama: Pacific beach

Our last day in Panama with Air France and Enjoy Panama UK! Despite packing so much in that it felt like the trip had been five times longer than it was, the last day still came around too fast. We packed up one final time and said goodbye to the lovely Marriott and the Pacific Ocean.

Panama Coffee
Panama Coffee

Today’s itinerary was a leisurely sightseeing and shopping day in Panama City’s old town (Casco Viejo), but first we stopped to stock up on coffee. Kotowa is a gourmet local coffee brand and they grow their beans in the town of Boquete in the west of the country. (Boquete sounds worth a visit in itself, at least according to our tour guide whose father is the major!) I bought a bag of rare Geisha coffee, so named for Gesha in Ethiopia where it was developed, but also coincidentally this coffee is popular in Japan because it has a mild flavour more like tea. Kotowa run tours of their plantation which sounds like a fun activity for another trip.

Panama: view
Panama: view

Heading into the city, a quick stop to admire the views. The marked difference between Panama’s old and new towns is quite remarkable – skyscrapers that way, charming colonial decay this way.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

We took a wander of the streets, admiring the pretty squares, spotting some cool looking restaurants and ducking into shops for souvenirs.

Panama City

You can spot shaved-ice sellers in the squares; they have a super cool little cart with a large block of ice on top, with a little machine that quickly shaves and cups the ice all one. It’s then topped with flavoured syrups and condensed milk, for 75 cents or so.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

It’s a very pretty area to wander around, and I could have easily spent a few more days discovering all it has to offer.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

Along the bay is a pretty covered street lined with market stalls selling local handcrafts and souvenirs. I love the traditional embroidered textiles called Mola that the Guna Indians make and sell; I brought a couple home.

Panama City
Panama City
Panama City

Finally, we had a quick peek into the American Trade Hotel, a brand new hotel from the Ace group housed in an old department store building. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’d certainly try to stay there for a few nights if I was visiting Panama again.

Panama City

After one final beer pit stop, we packed into our bus for the last time and headed to the airport. We were lucky enough to be upgraded by Air France again, and I slept for nearly the whole flight back. Once again thanks loads to Air France and Enjoy Panama UK for sending me on this trip. What do you think, would you consider Panama as a holiday destination? I can’t wait to go back.