I always wondered how the smell of gingerbread spices is so universally Christmassy. It must be something about the sweet warmth of the cinnamon-ginger-clove-allspice-etcetera combination that evokes some sort of human response that resonates with fairy lights and a layer of fresh snow on the ground. Of course, cross-cultural trading comes into it; an Armenian monk brought a recipe to France, Germany shared it with Sweden where nuns , and so forth. Common trends include doubling as edible window decorations and digestive aids, justified by their prettiness and the medicinal properties of all its spices. The next time I finish off a tray of gingerbread men, I’ll rest assured it’s all for the sake of my digestive health.
So although this recipe was loosely based on the Swedish pepparkakor (…and the Norwegian pepperkaker, the Danish brunkager, Finnish piparkakut, Icelandic piparkökur, Latvian piparkūkas, Estonian piparkoogid, so on) it’s veganised and de-glutened so that it could pass as another gingerbread varietal. I have had my fair share of nightmares with vegan baking experiments, resulting in one too many gummy muffins and gritty brownies. This type of crisp cookie, however, is much easier to get away with; it has all the spicy warmth and fragile thinness of a gingersnap, even when chock-full of coursly ground almond flour and natural sweeteners. The tangerine seems like a curious seasonal twist, but you won’t question it when the baking smells begin to waft from the oven.
I very nearly shelled out for a set of metal cookie cutters, but just couldn’t bring myself to buy something that would become more back-of-the-kitchen-drawer redundancy after a single batch of cookies, seeing as I bake once in a blue moon—especially not when the same amount of money could fund another bag of almonds or jar of coconut oil to consume! As seems the case all too often, I resorted to the student habit of ad-libbing a tool for the job. Simple stencils cut from thick watercolour paper, traced around with a short knife. It’s a good thing stars aren’t the curviest Christmas shape. With the remaining scraps, isosceles (devolving quickly into scalene) triangles worked well. But if you do have cookie cutters then by all means, this is the time of year to dust them off and put them to use.
Vegan Tangerine Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingersnaps)
100g almond flour
125g whole spelt flour
1 organic tangerine, zest of
2 t cinnamon
1 t clove
1 t ginger
½ t cardamom
¾ t baking soda
1 tangerine, juice of
70g (~5 T) coconut oil, melted
15g (~1 T) muscovado
20g (~1 T) date syrup
20g (~1 T) honey
1-2 T brewed coffee
Brew a cup of coffee and set aside. Combine the rest of the wet ingredients along with the sugar to dissolve.
Combine spices together with flour and then stream in the wet ingredients, folding together. Add coffee by the tablespoon as necessary to form a sticky but firm dough.
Shape into a ball and cover with cling film, leaving to refrigerate overnight or at least 5 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Removing dough from the refrigerator, let it warm up enough to roll thinly. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters of choice, or simply slice them up into geometric shapes.
Transfer to a slightly greased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes depending on size and thickness, watching carefully so the almonds don’t burn. Once cooled, a light sprinkling of icing sugar does Christmassy wonders.
I am thankful for one-pot wonders that work beautifully with a hectic schedule. I am thankful for buy-one-get-one brussels sprout stalks and a holiday to celebrate the under-appreciated Brassica oleracea.I am thankful for a steamy kitchen warmed by the oven and all 4 hobs going at once.
I am thankful for friends who are afraid of tinned cranberry jelly but not of dark meat. I am thankful for the extra piano bench in our flat that created space for one more body around the tiny table. I am more than thankful for the chance to share Thanksgiving with just a few who haven’t celebrated before.
And although sometimes I feel “behind” for restarting undergraduate, I am so utterly thankful that I’ve had this extra year to soak up more and more of art and design, more of life in London.
I am so thankful for countless things and places and people—and thankful that in the midst of a fast-paced term, there’s a calendar day to remind us that God’s blessings are beautiful and never-ending.
Prepare the spice mix and rub well into the turkey. Keep airtight in the fridge to marinade overnight.
Heat up some neutral oil in a large stockpot and sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes before adding in the turkey to brown on all sides, sealing in moisture and flavour. Add the rest of the dry spices along with the cranberry juice and just enough water or stock to cover. Boil and then reduce heat to simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
Add the sweet potato chunks, carrots, fresh cranberries, and all dried fruit. Add another 500ml of liquid continue simmering for another 1½ hours, topping up with increments of water if it becomes too dry.
Meanwhile, place potatoes into a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until fork-tender—about 20 minutes. Heat olive oil in a saucepan, then add in the garlic and rosemary for a couple minutes until fragrant. Remove from heat, discard rosemary stem, and add in the drained potatoes along with some (warm) milk. Mash with a ricer or sturdy wooden spoon until just smooth enough but not gluey. Season generously with salt/pepper, to taste.
When the tagine is finished stewing, serve hot with the mashed potatoes (or couscous, if adhering less to a Thanksgiving spread), a sprinkling of fresh parsley, the brussels sprouts below, fresh cranberry sauce, and glazed carrots/parsnips. The tagine can also be made the day before, letting the flavours develop more overnight before reheating with a splash of broth the next day.
Cranberry Brussels Sprouts
1 cup cranberry juice
1 T wholegrain mustard
1 T neutral oil
handful of pecans, chopped
1 t muscovado sugar
½ t cinnamon
2 T olive oil
1 tree of brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ cup dried cranberries
stilton (or other blue cheese)
Bring cranberry juice to a simmer in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Reduce to half, then whisk in mustard. Continue to cook over very low heat while preparing the rest of the dish.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir for a few minutes to evenly coat the nuts, tossing and stirring constantly until fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Add olive oil and turn up the flame. Add chopped brussels sprouts and sauté until tender and caramelised, about 5-10 minutes.
Pour in the reduced cranberry sauce along with half the pecans and dried cranberries, cooking for another couple of minutes until the flavours have come together. In the serving dish, sprinkle over the remaining pecans and cranberries along with blue cheese crumbles.
The first dissertation draft has been handed in! Strangely enough, I managed to eat well during my weekend academic quarantine. Usually it’s all too easy to make bowl after bowl of instant oatmeal and spoon in a mouthful between each bibliography citation, but I think I managed to make myself think of mealtime as an excuse for a refreshing break away from post-structural theory and macro-typography, a time to stretch limbs in the kitchen and nourish my word-weary brain.
When I moved to the UK, I was happy to start sprinkling spellcheck with extra ‘u’s but swore that one thing I’d never understand was The Full English. I was never a huge fan of idolised crispy American bacon, so the thick, floppy, and pinkish British version wasn’t about to convert me anytime soon. How could a nation wake up to crave beans from a can and garnish it with a couple slices of fried tomato? Two years later and all within the same week, I’ve ordered a Full English at a cafe and made in my own kitchen.
There is still a sliding scale of acceptability but, to be fair, this applies to most foods. I’m still foreign enough to celebrate the unorthodox variation, and often opt for a veggie version…it might take more than another few years for the floppy bacon to grow on me. The veggie interpretation I had at the cafe involved bubble & squeak along with a ladleful of homemade baked beans—this combined with a fast-approaching (and terrifyingly unrecognised) Thanksgiving got me thinking about this cornbread and baked bean concoction.
It’s a truly festive frankenstein, complete with pumpkin, cranberries, and cinnamon. The bean-to-cornbread ratio was balanced and bready enough to forego the more traditional slices of toast—not that you’d ever want a reason to decrease your intake of bread. This is a brunch for US expats this time of year, homesick for Thanksgiving flavours and in need of a solid English fry-up to cure any mid-November, mid-dissertation blues.
Pumpkin Cornbread Baked Bean Casserole (& Veggie Full English)
½ lb. or 1 cup dried haricot/navy beans (3 cups cooked)
1 dried bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ T blackstrap molasses
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T date/ maple syrup
¼ cup pumpkin puree
2 T whole grain mustard
1 T tomato paste / ketchup
¼ cup dried cranberries
salt, to taste
½ cup whole spelt flour
¾ cup cornmeal
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
¼ t sea salt
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 T date / maple syrup
¼ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup vegetable oil
tomatoes on the vine
If using dried beans (recommended for texture!), soak them overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain and top up with fresh water, bringing to a boil with garlic and bay. Lower to a simmer and cook covered for 1-2 hours, until tender but not mushy. Only salt them after they finish cooking.
If using fresh pumpkin, deseed (keep the seeds for roasted snacks!) and place the halves face-down in a baking pan filled with a splash of water. Bake at 174ºC / 350ºF for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin. When flesh is fully tender, scrape out and discard the skin.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 400ºF.
Heat up some sunflower oil in a large saucepan, adding in onion and garlic to cook for a few minute until translucent and fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well, cooking over low heat until thick—about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the cornbread batter by combining dry and wet ingredients separately. Fold the two together, stirring until combined and adjusting the consistency as necessary to achieve a spreadable batter that isn’t runny. If it’s too dry, add more almond milk; if it’s too wet, add more cornmeal or flour.
Ladle bean mixture evenly into a casserole dish or deep baking tin and spread the cornbread batter over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes, when the top should be golden and the batter fully baked.
To enjoy as part of an extravagant Thanksgiving Full English breakfast, serve warm alongside fried egg, tomatoes, and mushrooms…additional bacon and sausages for the hardcore ones out there.
Halloween and Guy Fawkes have come and gone, along with daylight saving time. In belated celebration of the former, here’s a scarily good pie with protruding lamb shank bones and mummied up in puff pastry. In less enthusiastic acknowledgement of the latter, here’s a set of photographs that betray England’s coy winter sun, which now slips away behind the trees around 16.30 each day…
Last time I used chestnuts in savoury cooking was for this rice pilaf, and similarly here they work alongside chunks of swede and carrot to lend a festive sweetness to this pie. They’re fussy to peel, but in this recipe they’re hidden in the stew and will taste magical regardless of how gracelessly they’re prepared for the pot.
The swede or rutabaga (Brassica napus) is a root vegetable, a genetic cross between cabbage and turnip according to the fascinating Triangle of U theory. I appreciated them for the first time in Scotland, where they’re fondly referred to as “neeps” and eaten with haggis and “tatties”. In England they’re seen mashed up as accompaniment to stodgy pies, so I figured I’d just cube one up and put it straight into the filler. They retain their firmness quite well, which is a great contrast to the grainy-good chestnut pieces and silky smooth strands of leek.
Halloween also calls for a rare occurrence of meat on the blog, with only wild game being featured before. British lamb is a more flavourful by the time late autumn rolls around, although I imagine most seasonal on-the-bone meat will work in this rather versatile pie with a quick swap of herbs and accessory veg. It’s also an excuse to purchase from nearby Flock & Herd, Peckham’s flagship organic butcher and a personal highlight of gentrification.
Speaking of rutabagas+shanks, I’ve been contributing to the badass food quarterly Root+Bone. Although it has been thus far limited to a simple illustration and some writing/photography spread out over the past two issues, it’s a pleasure to indulge in an extracurricular activity of this scale, which doubles as an amazing opportunity to place my food-related interests in the context of publication design and writing.
They succinctly describe their unorthodox selves as “a free journal that includes profiles, features, recipes, dirt, and the off-cuts of the food and drink culture in London.” In a city increasingly inundated with food-related publications, it stands out with thoughtful curation, daring (sometimes to the point of controversial) pieces, and a small but passionate editorial team that approaches the subject from a playful angle and have proven wonderful to work with.
As third year presses on relentlessly and time gets a bit tighter for Wandercrushing, I’ve decided to incorporate more of my artwork and design projects into this blog, merging it with my academic interests and post-grad prospects for the sake of figuring out my design direction—and how food can play a role in it.
Well, I’ll leave the rest on my portfolio site and at the end of the post. For now, feast on Root+Bone in pie form.
Lamb Shank Pie w/ Swede & Chestnut
• 200g chestnuts
• 2 T tomato paste
• 1/3 bottle of red wine
• 2 t flour
• olive oil
• 2 lamb shanks
• sea salt
• black pepper, freshly ground
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 leek, chopped
• 2 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
• ½ swede, peeled and cubed
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut an “x” into each chestnut shell and place into a pot of cold water. Bring to the boil, cooking for 20 minutes. Rinse under cold water until cool enough to peel, and remove the shells and thinner fussy membranes. They don’t need to stay whole for this recipe, so smashing them with the side of a knife might make this task easier.
Mix together tomato paste, wine, and 2 teaspoons of flour.
Heat up some olive oil in a pan and rub the lamb shanks with salt and pepper, putting them in for a few minutes to brown on all sides.
Discard the oil, set aside the lamb shanks, and add fresh oil along with all the chopped vegetables. Cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat, then add one more teaspoon of flour along with the wine sauce and bunches of fresh herbs and bay leaves, stirring together.
Add back the lamb shanks along with the peeled chestnuts so that most of the meat is submersed in the sauce. Top up with some stock or water if there isn’t enough liquid, then bring to the boil and cover to simmer for 1½ hours or until the meat is tender but not retains its structure on the bone.
In the meantime, roll out the puff pastry, cut into strips approximately as wide as your thumb, and preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
When the shanks are ready, transfer them carefully to either one deep baking dish. If the sauce is still too thin, continue to simmer uncovered until thickened to the right stew-like consistency and pour evenly into the dish.
Beat the egg with a splash of milk and brush onto the rims of the dish before criss-crossing the pastry strips around the top of the pie, leaving the bones protruding. There’s no need to seal the edges between strips or trim the sides, as the stew will bubble nicely through the gaps. Brush the top with a final egg wash before baking in the oven for 20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden.
Letting go of summer and embracing autumn can sometimes seem like two very distinct moments. There was the ode to the last ripe blackberries and now, a month later, the first warming soup of the season. It’s one of the tell-tale signs—buying a new box of earl grey tea, wearing leggings under an outfit, craving hot soup for dinner…
This one’s tried and tested by millions, hearty enough to break the month-long fasting of Ramadan in places like Morocco and Algeria. It’s often made with stock bones or lamb, which I’ve omitted partly for the sake of proving that vegetarian soups can be equally sustaining and wholesome, loaded with all sorts of protein from egg, leafy greens, lentils, and chickpeas.
It makes a big textural difference to start from dried chickpeas, and it’s on a matter of soaking them overnight and saving some money in the process! I’ve added some lacinato kale (with a beautifully dimpled matte texture, the kind used in minestrone) but any will suit. Kale tastes of the winter, and when cooked down in stews it lends a dimension of dark leafy greens that warms your insides and steams up the kitchen in a cosy way.
Soak chickpeas overnight, discarding any skins.
Peel and smash or puree the tomatoes, leaving some chunks of skin and seed for texture. Grate half of the onion and finely chop the other.
Sauté onion in a large saucepan with a splash of vegetable oil until slightly browned, then add the tomato puree, tomato paste, fresh cilantro, parsley, spices, lentils, and soaked chickpeas. Stir in 700ml quality vegetable stock and cover in a large saucepan over high heat. Reduce to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes, topping up with more boiling water if stock is becoming too thick or dry.
Add in handfuls of torn dino kale, reserving thick stems for another use. Raise heat and cover again, stirring every few minutes until the kale is cooked down. Uncover and simmer for another 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To thicken up the soup, beat two eggs with the lemon juice and streaming slowly into the simmering soup while stirring constantly.
Meanwhile, pound/grind some fresh cilantro leaves, with cumin and a pinch of sea salt. Stream in some olive oil and use this as a garnish on each serving of hot soup, along with a dollop of thick yogurt, cilantro/parsley leaves, and some wholemeal flatbread.
In my initial touristic excitement before moving to the UK, I made a mental list (okay, also a physical one…) of quintessentially British foods to try as soon as possible. Usually I’m stubbornly efficient about working my way through a complete list before repeating any one item but—two years later—I’ve surely consumed fish & chips more times than I’ve sought out the nearest jellied eel joint. Because this list was primarily formulated from culturally-detached web encyclopaedias, a few items have stuck for one reason or another.
Kedgeree, for example, has always been in my “top 3” but I still haven’t spotted it on a menu. The word itself is met with blank stares and raised eyebrows from native English folk, leaving me to sheepishly insist that it’s ‘a really British thing, isn’t it?’
Maybe I’m eating at all the wrong places and hanging out with all the wrong people, but I wonder if it’s one of those theoretically quintessential dishes, notable in historical context but becoming obsolete in practicing popular culture. I struggle to think of an example from Florida, but I guess I’d need a foreigner’s list of ‘quintessentially American foods’ to have the appropriate perspective.
If this hypothesis has any bearing, you’re also staring blankly at the mention of kedgeree. The encyclopaedic sources describe it as a curried rice dish featuring smoked fish and boiled eggs, brought back in Victorian times by British colonials who fell in love with the old Indian dish called khichri. It was a perfectly hearty vehicle for leftovers from the previous night’s meals, and is henceforth associated with breakfast and brunch. In any case, I’ve revisited my list and decided to finally tick it off by making my own.
Although smoked haddock is ubiquitous in the UK (and indeed very delicious), it’s harder to find it untainted by shady fishing practices and synthetic dyeing. Living sandwiched between a pair of embarrassingly gentrified South London high streets, substituting with smoked kippers becomes a happy alternative when two independent fishmongers are accessible within 3 minutes by bike. A kipper is a cold-smoked whole herring, butterflied to maximise the exposed surface area. The verb kipper is used to describe the preservation of meat by salting and smoking, but originated from this process as applied to the extra fish (kips!) harvested during spawning season.
They’re are another one of those increasingly obsolete “classic” British breakfast items, so I figured it would pair quite well with kedgeree on multiple levels. Broccoli seems to be overflowing on produce shelves at this time of year, and the dish benefitted from some green in addition to traditional handfuls of fresh parsley. The result is massively flavoursome and hearty, working equally well for a hungover weekend brunch or Monday’s lunchbox.
Feeling a bit invincible after that, I naively packed my heels away and somehow managed to cycle 5 miles home with the incredibly generous but famously heavy OFM Awards goodybag. I’m still a bit dazed from the unexpectedly lavish ceremony and sheer spread of canapés, but it was was an absolute joy and honour to be amongst so many talented, passionate (and eventually quite inebriated) people. From drink historians to knife makers, niches big and small were represented; the Michelin-starred Ledbury and family-owned Silk Road were recognised on the same stage; a goat farm, food blogger, and pub owner were celebrated under the same gilded roof.
Dazzled though I am, I know full well that this photograph is still just a rectangular arrangement of pixels—but it’s also a pithy artefact of my personal investments, developing interests, and artistic endeavours in food across cultures. Winning Nigel Slater’s approval doesn’t transform this snap into anything more than a pretty picture, but it serves as a reminder to me and to everybody else that a singular personal interest can contribute, in some quietly significant way, to a much larger and endlessly vibrant community (in this case, innovators, chefs, writers, entrepreneurs, eaters, critics, visionaries, craftsmen) who shares that hunger and collectively shapes our world.
300g smoked British kipper
4 dried red chilis
1 dried bay leaf
unsweetened almond milk
150g broccoli florets
1 leek, sliced
4 cardamom pods, split
1 small cinnamon stick, broken up
2 t curry powder
250g long-grain brown rice
dash of turmeric
sea salt, to taste
2 T sunflower oil
1 onion, sliced very thinly
2 free-range eggs
Put the smoked fish in a saucepan with bay leaf and dried chills, covering with just enough milk. Cover with a lid and simmer for 4 minutes, then take off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes to finish cooking.
Remove fish from the milk, discarding skin and deboning as much as possible whilst flaking the flesh into bite-sized pieces and setting aside. Top up the remaining milk with water until there is 650ml (~2 ¾ cups) of liquid.
Heat sunflower oil in a wok or deep sauté pan. Add, leek, broccoli, cardamom, cinnamon stick, curry powder, and stir-fry until leek and broccoli are soft.
Rinse the rice, drain, and stir into onion mixture so that oil coats the grains. Pour in the milk mixture and add turmeric. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Add fish over the top before covering quickly again to let the flavours mingle for another 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.
Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of sunflower oil in a sauté pan and add onions with a pinch of salt, which will keep them from burning. Cook on medium heat until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally. Let them drain on a paper towel to crisp up.
At the same time, cover 2 eggs with cold water and bring to a boil, simmering for 6 minutes. Plunge into cold water, peel, and quarter.
Mix up finished rice with the flakes of fish, stir in some freshly torn parsley, and season to taste if necessary. Serve garnished with the crispy onions, more parsley, quartered eggs, yogurt, and a squeeze of lemon.
I moved to New York City more than a year ago for one semester and, and as we now begin our final academic year in London this week, that term abroad seems like eons ago. As my classmate noted this startling anniversary and we reminisced in a chorus of ululations, I realised never wrote one dedicated “travel post” for NYC. I lived and studied there for 6 months and it was technically my native country, but it was just as much a cross-cultural experience as any of my other shorter-term travels (arguably more so, even).
The architecture was staggering, the design community was endlessly rich, the amount of options for good food was overwhelming. The winter was cold and Christmas was magical. I learned and grew—as both a human and a designer, not to mention my waistline—more than I would have ever could have guessed, and it’s time to commemorate that with a solid anniversary post consisting of some old snaps (excuse the iPhone quality), poignantly sardonic excerpts from the weekly blog I kept, and these very cute miniature knishes.
One more note about knishes before I leave you to the sarcastic ramblings from the old blog… I had my first NYC knish at the old Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery in the Lower East Side, and they’re starchy and filling like most of the fantastically stodgy fare introduced to America in the 1900s by Eastern European immigrants. Along with the likes of matzoh ball soup and challah loaves, it comes to mind when one thinks of Jewish cuisine; along with the likes of the Indian samosa, Latin American empanada, and Middle Eastern fatayer, these miniature versions are bite-sized savouries contained in a parcel of wholemeal dough (the concept of which, as far as I’m concerned, is akin to diamond-encrusted rubies). Traditional fillings can include ground meat, sauerkraut, and buckwheat groats, but the beauty is in the customisation—diamond-encrust some amethyst, sapphire, pearl… seasonal sweet dumpling squash is featured here alongside caramelised leek.
Mini Knishes with Potato, Leek, & Winter Squash
(makes about 20)
salt and pepper
250g seasonal squash
1 leek, sliced into thin discs
3 T veg oil
⅔ cup water
1 T white vinegar
generous pinch of salt
2 cups wholemeal/spelt flour
1 egg, beaten
non-dairy milk, unsweetened
Bring a pot of cold water to boil with potatoes and cubes of seasonal squash, simmer until tender, then drain. Meanwhile, cook leeks with some sunflower oil in a wide pan over low heat until dark, sweet, and caramelised. Combine with potatoes, squash, and egg. Mash well with a fork, season to taste, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 190ºC / 375ºF.
For the pastry, combine oil, water, vinegar, and salt. Add flour gradually while mixing and knead into a ball of dough. Divide into three and cover with a dishtowel to let the gluten in the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Roll each piece into a very thin rectangle and let rest for another 15 minutes.
Spread ⅓ of the prepared filling across ⅓ length of the dough, leaving a bit of a border on the left and right. Roll up like a log, brushing oil across the top as you go.
Beat the remaining egg with a splash of milk and set aside to use for glazing.
Using a knife, divide the roll into 2-inch knishes. Place each down on the greased baking sheet with a few inches of space in between, pinching closed the top side. Repeat with the remaining balls and dough.
Brush the knishes with the egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. I served these with a fancy drizzle of balsamic glaze.
‘I made a trip to the New York public library in Bryant Park, which was surprisingly beautiful, historic, and European. Downside: didn’t get much actual work done between the journey there, the search for food, ceiling-gawking, socket-hunting, etc. Last weekend, Akshitha and I made a trip to the Met and meandered in Central Park, which is far more exhausting than it sounds; it takes a lot of energy to tackle as much culture as the Met has on display. But for now, homework. Reading Calvin, Aristotle, Kant; cranking out 30 typographic logos (sounds frightfully familiar); preparing artwork on vellum for screen printing; researching a company whose packages we will need to greenify; preparing our publication pitch…the list goes on, but I’m afraid to put it fully in perspective until I can cross off a few tasks. I’m off to conquer the list and cross off “update NYC blog.”’
‘I successfully crammed in a lot this past week to make up for such a decrepit weekend. My roommate came home with free tickets to a live taping of America’s Got Talent on Wednesday night, and then I spent my Thursday volunteering at a Fashion Week event, which was horrifying; thank goodness Akshitha was there to nod in tandem with me as fellow volunteers and show guests prattled on about this famous designer or that certain celebrity. We went home with very sore feet and a dozen hair product samples, but it was a good life experience. When at FIT, right? Smorgasburg also happened. That was much more in my comfort zone, and I felt like I could have easily been at a London food market—even the weather has been cool and rainy lately. I got the most amazing quinoa salteña empanada and some garlic and chive gouda cornbread. This is after tackling an 18” pizza the night before; New York tastes good.’
‘Saturday we tried for the Guggenheim, where it would be the last pay-as-you-wish entry (Saturdays between 17.45 and 19.45 as opposed to $18 student fare) before the James Turrell exhibit closed. We rushed through the convoluted subway system, caught a bus, and ran five blocks just to have the line cut off about ten people ahead of us. Unwilling to return home defeated, we took the train across the East River to catch the last hour of the NY Art Book Fair at MoMa PS1, which was incredible. We should’ve gone there in the first place. So now it’s suddenly Monday morning again and I’ve just gotten out of a painful fencing class, sweaty and possibly bruised, but happily scarfing down the free frozen yogurt from down the street. I’ve had it 4 times since I came here and not a single time have I paid for it. I’m not sure how they make money, but I’m not complaining as a broke college kid. Take that, James Turrell.’
‘This past week started off with a near all-nighter (up until 7.30 finalising a project for sustainable packaging) and tornado warnings, both of which set the tone for all sorts of disoriented insanity. There was a vicariously lived date with Sagmeister and a rather exclusive little Type Director’s Club round table discussion, during which the brilliant farm-boy-turned-design-writer Doug Clouse leaned in and told me I had a beautifully composed sketchbook full of notes as I frantically scribbled down everything he said—like the fangirl I am. There was the spotting of Banksy’s debut piece for his month-long residency in NYC—the best one, we decided, because it’s a well-executed typographical joke. There was a masala dosa of epic proportions, many a realisation that the weeks are passing by far too quickly, and a first date at the Magritte exhibit in MoMA.’
‘My Mom’s birthday week visitation and aftermath in bullet points:
Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble made me laugh and cry in the same hour. Thinking of upgrading from classical piano and picking up the pipa like a proper Asian girl.
15 courses of heaven at Eleven Madison Park were worth each and every penny. Weaving plans to elope with chef Daniel Humm so he can cook for me daily. I’m fully willing to trade traditional domestic roles and fix household appliances.
Stuffed full of miscellaneous Asian fare at Dim Sum Go Go / Momofuku / Cho Dang Gol because the next time my mother visits it will be alongside my stepdad, who thinks even fried rice is too exotic.
Snagged half-off tickets for Big Fish on Broadway, which again made me laugh and cry within the same hour. The older I get, the more I appreciate set designs. This one was badass.
Mom caught her flight and I went to a documentary screening for Design is One, at which Massimo Vignelli himself made an appearance for Q&A. I spent half of the time fangirling over his excellent eyebrows and the other half was spent wondering why I haven’t yet forced myself into the Vignelli’s lives and had them cook me spaghetti served up in perfect, stackable Heller dinnerware.
I witnessed perhaps the most brilliantly unorthodox interpretation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to date. It was performed in a Brooklyn warehouse, featured an all-female cast, set in a women’s prison, and involved Caesar force-feeding Cassius Dunkin Donuts. What more needs to be said?
Surely one is not allowed to have this much fun in such a condensed amount of time. I’m paying for it with Sunday catch-up work… but some friends are meeting up at a wine bar tonight, which I will most likely cave into. I’ll remember this trip for the extracurriculars just as much—if not more—than the coursework (or at least that’s what I tell myself); wine is certainly extracurricular.’
‘Two very different guest lecturers, both very inspiring designers. Some words of wisdom.
I deeply believe in laziness; think 8 hours, work 2. You might notice I’m not black. I’m not gay. But if they lose their rights, I’m next. You must fight for others. If you wait for them to come knocking on your door, it’s too late. Knock & blink (referring to the time he arrived in America with his portfolio, literally knocked on Milton Glaser’s door for a job, and ended up designing the covers for Time ’
Week 11:‘I spent a whole field trip day in Brooklyn for both of my Tuesday classes, which happened to be on the two opposite ends of the design spectrum. For Sustainable Packaging Design we visited the branding studio BBMG, which had respectable sustainability initiatives and hip office space, but was wholly unattractive to me as a future career path. I’ll be brutally honest and admit that by the time they got to the slide titled “Concept 9, Version 2″ for a sample client presentation, I couldn’t take it seriously anymore. While each concept looked to me like a slightly different variation on the same Pinterest board, it probably works very well in reality; this is the stuff you see on the shelves of Whole Foods, so I suppose it’s not fair to call it lowbrow. It’s the high end of lowbrow design, but even at that point it loses any element of unapplied artistry, beautifully meticulous specialisation of craft, and becomes a combination of design blog aesthetic, daFont archives, and consumer focus group statistics. Those things can be great, but they’re not what graphic design is at it’s core. Am I being a complete snob? Probably, but I’d rather come off this way and defend my craft than feed into the pervading perception that graphic design is for making clever bank logos and pretty theatre posters. I can imagine plenty of talented people who would be perfectly successful and happy to work in this field; there is certainly a place for this, but it is not what I want. I want Vignelli’s stubborn classical standards and Sagmeister’s cutting-edge gutsiness mixed in with some Mirko Ilic’s rebellion and Doug Clouse’s scholarliness. Louise Fili’s historical sentimentality, Marian Bantjes’s fussy flashiness. Frightening ambition and unexpected humility from the young Jessicas, Walsh and Hische respectively. The list goes on, but it does not include BBMG and their touted innovative solutions. That being harshly said, the experience was nevertheless a valuable one.
On the other hand, there was Peter Kruty Editions, which is a letterpress and bookbinding studio that my Bookbinding instructor owns with her husband. What they accomplish there is far less crafty than I’d imagined; while they do churn out wedding invitations aplenty, they also boasted an amazing repertoire of collaborative artist books that they’ve made with fine artists over the years. It’s all about a very specific set of skills and materials, the content and concept, and caters to the minute percentage of the population consisting of book collectors, curators, and cultured rich people who happen to like the specific artist producing that small edition of painstakingly hand-crafted books. It’s moments like these that make me halfway question my decision to slowly diverge from my fine arts training. Upon returning home, I realised that my fabric was too wrinkly for screen printing the next morning, and there was no iron in sight. I put a A1 piece of cardboard under my bedspread and heated up a frying pan to iron the scraps. It was working wonderfully and I was quite proud of my resourcefulness until I melted a hole in my bed—damn synthetic fibres. Guess I still have fine art student problems.
Similarly, I experienced opposites on the concert spectrum this week. I got cheap tickets to see the Fratellis perform at Webster Hall, a venue and crowd that reminded me—perhaps too much—of the ol’ high school days in Jax beach. I stood moodily in the second row with my aching feet amongst screeching, sweaty preteens and finished a book of Mary Oliver poems between sets. Yes, I was that girl. The next day I happily attended a concert at the Rubin Museum, where pianist Frederic Chiu and poet Hsing-Lih Chou performed a mash-up of French Impressionist music (Ravel, Debussy) and Song Dynasty poetry recitation (Su Dong Po). I guess I always knew I was an old lady, but this really confirmed it.
I traipsed around Chelsea Market and Bleecker Street, saw the leaves change on the High Line, and ate too many meals out. Halloween came and went, I slapped together a last-minute Miyazaki costume, and everybody’s secretly happy that Thanksgiving and Christmas get the limelight now.’
‘It’s old news that New York is obsessed with itself, but I never knew I’d be reaping the benefits. The design culture here is, as a result of that fact, extremely accessible and tight-knit. To lump into my growing collection of designer fangirl photos, I met both Stefan Sagmeister and Timothy Goodman this week, which completes the whole 40 Days of Dating circle. One was in the context of a brief presentation and portfolio review (which went surprisingly well) and the other was in the context of open bar and goofy dance-offs (which also went surprisingly well), but that just proves how varied the creative scene is here. The longer I’m exposed to these popular kids of the design industry, the more apparent it becomes that to make it big you’ll inevitably be intertwined in many which ways with all the others—not unlike high school. Everyone who’s anyone is either co-author, spouse, or former understudy/mentor of everybody else who’s anybody. I will be back for the Art Director’s Club Young Guns award, preferably as a recipient. That’s right, I just committed to that aspiration on a public blog post.
In other news: BYOB Indian restaurants decked out with psychedelic lights, Jazz concerts in a colourful Central Park, the continued hunt for my favourite bookstore, too much time spent in cafés replying to ambitious snail mail, and takoyaki with an old friend from Florida. Laundry, and maybe some homework.’
‘I think the hype surrounding “nice views” were always something that I never understood as a child, but it’s definitely something I appreciate more and more. Looking out at the very tip top of the Rockefeller observation deck was pretty incredible, just to think of each individual consciousness existing within every single one of those pin-prick beehive offices in this grimy, tireless, sky-high city.
As for St. Peter’s Church on Lexington, you can’t expect anything but the best from Massimo Vignelli…God is so proud. The facade! The spindly spiral stairway! The organ! That altar. As Lella said, “God’s table” has to be sturdy. The Jazz Mass was extremely unorthodox for a strictly orthodox sect of Christianity, there were still only about 30 people in attendance. This is smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan in a breathtakingly-designed building with wonderful musicians and free bread and wine—what’s the deal?’
Week 16 & 17:
‘Last roommate hurrah before she packed up and left for the holidays. We went to see our favourite Spice Girl (Mel B, obviously) at the Katie Couric show, coming full circle from our first bonding experience at Rachel Ray in September. Spent a full day across the river, indulging our hipster tendencies and spending too much money on vinyl records, old books, vintage clothes, and overpriced artisanal sandwiches. What happens in Williamsburg stays in Williamsburg. Last tapas hurrah. Met up for dinner to return a friend’s graciously loaned ukulele and, slightly begrudgingly, visited the aggravatingly hyped Yayoi Kusama exhibit. It was neat enough, but I still can’t fully shake the snooty opinion that it’s a sort of cheap trick combining the faux sophistication of fine arts installation with Instagrammable shiny things. But I Instagrammed it, so I suppose the cheap trick works well. Last Chelsea hurrah with a full sweep of gallery shows and Chelsea Market—ALL IN THE BLANKET OF FRESH SNOW. Steadily, silently, scintillatingly falling snow.
That’s it. Goodbye NYC. But despite what Akshitha keeps wailing, THE DREAM IS NOT OVER.’
This is for every wild blackberry bush we bypassed in Pembrokeshire, each tainted with an unripened August blush and not yet ready for picking. This pancake is to commemorate everySwedishmeal of the bygone summer, which fades further into memory with each cloudy morning and fallen leaf. The strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries of summer have disappeared along with the season, and Rubus fruticosus will soon follow.
But with one season’s end comes another’s beginnings, and the transition into Autumn has perhaps always been my favourite. Growing up in Florida, that first cool and dry breeze ever-so-slightly cutting into the swampy humidity of a summer thunderstorm always sent me into a preemptive unpacking scarves and brewing up a cup of tea.
Today we’ve handed in the keys to our old flat and scheduled an IKEA trip to fill up our new space. Today I officially conceded my summer break and enrolled for my third and final year as a undergraduate design student. It’s the end of sun-ripened London but—just like the blackberry itself—this thick oven pancake has all the makings of an season in-betweener. Punctuated with the berries and sharp lemon brightness of yester-season, a square of this eggy brunch indulgence will revive any memory of a lazy summer morning.
Grease a baking tin or cast-iron skillet with coconut oil and place in the oven at 400ºF / 200ºC to preheat.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well. Whisk wet ingredients and gradually add into the dry, being careful not to over-mix.
Pour batter in sizzling hot pan, swirl in spoons of blackberry preserve, dot in dollops of the cheese and smashed blackberry, and then returning to the oven to bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and puffed up.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with flaked almonds, fresh blackberries, and a squeeze of lemon.
This summer break—possibly my last as a student—didn’t feel like much of a holiday. The end-of-school anticipation for London summertime seemed to have brought about more excitement than the calendar months themselves, but who can really complain aboutexcessivetravelling, dream internships, and a slew of new personal projects, however relentlessly time-consuming?
Nearly two months ago, I went wild camping in Pembrokeshire with a couple dear friends in secluded celebration of my height-of-summer birthday. This may be belatedly posted, but the weather was reminiscent of current late September; we pitched our tent right on the Welsh coast, over which hangs a perennial hint of chilly and wet autumn.
The blackberries were still a teasing tinge of maroon and not yet ready for our campfire crumble, but some other summer produce was at its best: sweetcorn, peaches, and local Welsh beer. Preparing Mexican street food on a blanket sprawled over the wet and windy seaside cliff is more rewarding than I’ve just made it out to be; there’s so much fun in the challenge of adapting kitchen recipes to work in the outdoors, especially away from campsite electricity. Limitations and unpredictability demand resourcefulness, which often results in creative meals (bonus points for making it taste good, too).
I could nostalgically go on forever about the time between our outdoor meals, scrambling across the salt-pounded rocks and reclining to peach-coloured sunsets, but I think these snaps and Ben’sbrilliant film sum up summer far more eloquently than any fumbling words of mine.
Elote (Mexican-Style Corn on the Cob)
3 ears of corn, husks on
2 T mayonnaise
3 T thick plain yogurt
1 lime, zest of
1 T chili powder
cojita cheese, crumbled (or parmesan)
fresh coriander, chopped roughly
1 lime, wedged to serve
Prep the elote dressing at home, combining mayo and yogurt thoroughly in a ziplock bag with lime zest, chilli powder, and salt/pepper.
Soak the whole ears of corn in cold, salted water for 30 minutes before cooking on a grill over the fire for 10-30 minutes, turning occasionally to cook evenly until husks are charred.
Shuck carefully (avoiding released steam) and smear with lime butter mixture. Sprinkle crumbled cojita cheese, freshly chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
Balsamic Roasted Peaches
3 T honey
1 T balsamic vinegar
Prepare the marinade ahead, mixing honey and balsamic vinegar.
At the campfire or camping stove, halve and pit the peaches before brushing with the marinade and grilling until juicy and caramelised. Cover with a lid to speed up cooking.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups spelt flour
1 T baking powder
2 t baking soda
pinch of salt
2 cups beer
¼ cup vegetable oil
In preparation, mix together dry ingredients in an airtight container.
On site, beat together eggs and oil and add to the dry mixture along with enough beer to make a thick but pourable (and bubbly) batter. Over low heat, pour batter into a disc and when it bubbles and becomes flippable, cook on the other side for another minute or so until golden. Serve with honey, maple syrup, or butter… or bacon.
The charm of analogue photography is something a digital camera, no matter how many megapixels in strength, cannot replicate. I miss the rickety clicking of sprockets as the film is advanced after each shot, the mystery of whether that perfect moment was captured with the right exposure, squinting to decrypt small rectangular negatives against a windowpane, the giddiness upon seeing an image materialise before your eyes in the chemical bath, bringing it out of the red-lit darkroom to examine fully for the first time, and reliving the moment in which the very same scene was carefully composed through a camera viewfinder.
But its attractions and limitations are one in the same, and there were one too many instances of gut-wrenching disappointment, coming back from a beautiful holiday to find that the film was botched—the time spent crouching unbecomingly in front of flower specimens and pestering your friends to “wait, stay right there, that’s perfect, just let me adjust the focus!” was all for naught.
In many cases, it’s more than worth that risk. I learned film photography on my father’s old Nikon FM2 and experienced the glory of a 50mm prime lens with the lowest f-stop I’d ever dialled down to. I saw the world in Ilford black/white and, for once in my life, scrupulously delighted in imperfection; if a stunning orange streak of light-leak is technically a mistake, why bother getting it perfect?
But alas, there’s the ever-persistent and ever-so-boring issue of expenses, of practicality, of security, of turnaround time. I’ve considered reverting to film for this blog venture, but it just wouldn’t make sense right now. Back in the glory days I would spend so much time in the darkroom trying to perfect one print that normal circadian rhythms were sacrificed in exchange for superhuman night vision; I’d walk out and feel like an analogue vampire in the blinding midday light or, even more disorienting, exit into more darkness without realising the whole day had gone by. Maybe one day I’ll convert my bathroom into a DIY darkroom or win a free film lottery jackpot, but for now I’ll just invite the lovely Hollie Fernando into my kitchen.
Despite of all the reasons I lean digital these days (and hey don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of pixelated nuances that make it as artfully delightful as analogue), I fully understand and respect that she “just can’t fall in love with it”. And looking at her beautiful handiwork, that persistent love affair with film is evident in each grainy-good photograph. She’s shared her final snaps with me, with which I’ll trail off this post in hopes of sharing the best of both worlds and adding a little bit of the double-exposed charm back to my own life.
I was honoured when she approached me for a new project of hers, but even more excited to share the process of this meal with a fellow visual feaster. Neither of us had handled a live crab before but I knew that if I were to try my hand at Maryland-style crab soup, I’d want to see this creature all the way through. People are quick to furrow their brow disapprovingly at the thought of killing something in the kitchen before preparing it for the dinner table, as if buying pre-picked crab meat in a vacuum-sealed freezer pack is more compassionate or civilised; on the contrary, I’m of the opinion that freshly and humanely killing your meal is far more respectful to the animal, truer to how we were meant to draw sustenance from resources around us, and generally more tasty!
With crabs, it’s particularly important because bacteria will begin eating away and changing the flavour of its meat as soon as it dies…and no crab should die for the sake of a soup that’s anything less than fresh and flavourful. This is the case with most seafood, which explains why many parts of the world eat seafood while it’s still alive and, in many cases, kicking. (Drunken shrimp and raw oysters, anyone?)
It’s a messy job to kill, cook, and dress a crab, but in the best way possible. Even when taking a hammer and some pliers to the stubborn exoskeletal claws (I would discover fragments of shell scattered about my hair, hours later), we found ourselves in a contented silence; painstakingly extracting the tiny slivers and sweet nuggets of crab meat from every honeycomb crevice was inexplicably therapeutic, serenely systematic. Grab one of these prehistoric-looking crustaceans before the end of their season. I’ve paired them here with piles of Fabaceae and pods of green legume goodies—fresh broad beans, french/string beans, garden peas, runner beans—and a hefty sprinkle of homemade Old Bay seasoning, which is only as complicated as a pinch of every spice in your pantry. And the best advice I can give is to never, ever forget the fresh loaf of crusty sourdough.
Maryland Crab Soup w/ Fresh Legumes
whole live crab
1 stalks celery, chopped
1 t black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
½ onion, chopped
400g tomatoes, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
200g waxy potatoes, cubed
1 ear sweetcorn
150g in-pod broad beans
150g in-pod green peas
150g french/green beans
Old Bay seasoning:
2 bay leaves
1 T celery salt
¼ t paprika
⅛ t black pepper
⅛ t cayenne pepper
pinch of powdered mustard
pinch of smoked paprika
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of allspice
pinch of cloves
pinch of ginger
I educated myself as thoroughly as I could before humanely killing and dressing this crab, and a great thing called Google makes this easy for anyone to do the same. I won’t claim to be an authority, so do check out thesevideos, read up on reputablemarine resource pages, and don’t just shove your live crab in a pot of boiling water!
Bring (unsalted) water to a boil in a large enough pot to fit the crab. Place in the entire crab and cook over high until shells are bright red. Use tongs to remove the crab and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove all the meat to set aside and add big segments of shell back to the pot.
Add the two stalks of chopped celery, half an onion, garlic cloves, and peppercorns into the cooking liquid along with crab shell fragments. Boil this broth uncovered for about an hour, skimming the froth off the top occasionally. Strain through cheese-cloth or a fine sieve into a large bowl, pressing out all the liquid and discarding leftover solids.
In a saucepan, sauté onions and celery in some oil over medium heat until softened. Add all the vegetables, along with the homemade Old Bay, into the crab stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add crabmeat back to the soup and simmer 5 minutes more. Adjust seasonings and serve hot with fresh bread.