I recently heard about Inktober so thought I’d give it a go. I’m new to drawing in ink so figured this is a perfect chance to get properly acquainted!
Yesterday was manic so I’m posting yesterday’s drawing a little late, but luckily Inktober is about enjoying drawing and creating consistently, not about militantly meeting arbitrary goalposts ☺️
For me, every piece of art is also a learning experience so I think I may share one of the things I learned from each piece as I go. For this one, I learned I shouldn’t rush, even when I feel I need to hurry 🙃
Another one from the archives. I originally posted this back in 2010 (how time flies!)
I’ve always loved Inari; it’s yummy and for me brings back fond memories… when I was little my Grandma would make it every time we went to visit her as she knew it was my favourite. We used to call it ‘Bag Sushi’.
Inarizushi Bags (here are a couple links to different brands sold by Japan Centre in London to show you what I’m talking about. You can probably find them at your nearest Asian food store or, if you are in the UK, can order them from Japan Centre online: Hime Inarizushi no moto and Hikari Inari Age)
2/3 c sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 cup rice vinegar (you can substitute with white vinegar, but rice vinegar is nicer)
2 medium sized carrots
1 tbsp soya sauce
2 tbsp sugar
approximately 3 tbsp pickled ginger, finely chopped
5 cups cooked Japanese/sushi rice
1. In a small saucepan, mix the sugar, salt, and vinegar together, place over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
2. Wash, peel, and grate the carrots using a large cheese grater. Put the carrots in a small saucepan, add enough water to cover, plus the tbsp of soya sauce and the 2 tbsp sugar. Simmer for 3 minutes, drain, cool, then squeeze out excess moisture. Set aside.
3. Cook the rice and put into a large flat dish, sprinkle about 1/2 of the carrot and 1/2 of the ginger over the rice, then pour about 1/2 of the vinegar mixture evenly over the rice as well. Wet a wooden spoon/rice paddle/spatula and use that to gently turn the rice over, mixing everything together. When the carrot and ginger look evenly incorporated, taste the rice to see if it’s seasoned to your liking. If you prefer, add more of the carrot, ginger, and/or seasoning liquid (being careful not to make the rice soggy) and again gently turn the rice to mix and cool. Do not overmix or squish the rice. If you’d like, you can fan the rice to help it cool.
4. When the rice mixture is cool enough to handle (normally just slightly warmer than room temp), open the package of Inarizushi bags. Stuff the bags with the rice (messy, but fun!), fill them about 3/4 full and then fold over the ends to cover the rice. (Some people fill them to the brim which works well too, but I find the ¾ full method helps keep the rice moist for longer if you have leftovers).
They keep well for a couple days in the fridge if wrapped well (I normally keep ours in a Ziplock bag or on a plate well covered with plastic wrap).
A couple weekends ago, we went for a quick trip to the coast in Somerset. We stayed in the beautiful and very welcoming Swain House in Watchet and had a great mini break. It was the first time in ages we’d been out with our cameras and, though my eyes are feeling a bit out of practice, it was lovely. Here are a few shots from the weekend.
I thought it would be nice to re-share some of the recipes I had on my old site and where better to start than one of my absolute favourites, Sfhia.
I was very lucky to spend time sampling and learning about Middle Eastern food when we lived in Qatar. When we were there, I did a series of recipes on my website, sharing my takes on the things we were experiencing. The recipe that inspired this was from wonderful book, The Flavours of Arabia and it was absolutely lovely when followed to a ‘T’, but to me, in that form, seemed more like a snack than a meal. The bread was lovely and the minced lamb topping delicious, but I felt for it to be a meal in and of itself, it just needed a few tweaks. I’ve changed the dough, but only slightly, just added a second rising to refine the texture a little, and I’ve decided to pre-cook the meat mixture so that the crumb of the bread can retain a tiny bit of softness by cooking at a hotter temperature, faster. Other than that, I’ve added a few ingredients, but I tried to keep them very sympathetic to the region and I’m really pleased with how all the flavours came together.
After all these years, I’m still excited about this one.
Sfiha ~ Syrian Pizza
For the Dough:
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp (10g) dried yeast
¾ cup (175ml) warm water
2 tbsp (30ml) olive oil
For the filling:
500g minced lamb
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp red pepper
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
The seeds from 2 green cardamom pods, ground (you can use a mortar and pestle, or, if you don’t have one, grind the seeds on a chopping boards with the bottom of a heavy frying pan)
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp (60ml) natural yogurt
3 tbsp (45ml) pomegranate molasses
For the toppings:
200g feta cheese
A handful fresh coriander (cilantro)
1 cup fresh Pomegranate seeds
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup natural yogurt
¼ cup (60ml) pomegranate molasses
Pour the water into the bowl you’ll use for mixing the bread dough, sprinkle with the yeast, and allow to stand for 10 minutes until the yeast is active.
Measure the flour into a separate bowl (or keep it in the measuring cup if you have one large enough), add the salt and stir thoroughly.
Add the flour to the yeast & water mixture a little at a time until a dough starts forming, when the dough becomes of a consistency to handle, lightly flour your hands, turn the contents of the bowl out on to a clean work surface and continue to knead the rest of the flour into the bread until the dough is still slightly sticky, but does not stick to the counter. (The amount of moisture needed to make bread dough a proper consistency will change based on the particular flour you have and other conditions such as humidity, temperature, and altitude, because of this you may need to either leave a bit of the flour out or add a little more in.) Knead for 10 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball, rub a little olive oil all over it, place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place to raise until double in size, approximately one hour.
‘Knock back’ the dough by giving it a couple quick punches (always fun) to release the some of the built-up carbon dioxide, then turn the dough out on to the counter and knead for a minute. Divide the dough up into pieces about the size of a golf ball, shape into nice little spheres, rub with olive oil and place back into the bowl to raise again. Cover again, let stand 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the filling.
For the filling:
Combine all the filling ingredients and mix well.
In frying pan, over medium heat, gently cook the meat mixture though. Remove from heat and set aside.
Back to the dough & the finishing touches:
Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C) and grease a baking sheet.
Roll each piece of dough into a rectangle about 3mm thick and then pinch the ends to make a boat like structure. Place each little boat on the baking sheet, fill with a couple spoonfulls of the meat mixture, and a top with a sprinkle of crumbled feta cheese.
Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and from the baking tray. Top with a few small dollops of the yogurt, a scattering of pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, a little bit of the coriander (cilantro), and finish with a drizzle of the pomegranate syrup.
It’s such a treat to find a beautifully written and crafted fantasy book. I loved reading fantasy when I was growing up, but have found, as the years have gone by, that it’s become very difficult to find a book in the genre that appeals to the adult me. I tried this one after hearing about it on Twitter and I’m so glad I did – it’s entirely compelling and is written with subtlety and sophistication. So many fantasy books seem to be treated by their authors as a vehicle for conveying their world, this couldn’t be farther from the case here – this is a Story in its truest sense and is filled with complex characters that drew me in from the start (and then never let me go!)
Definitely keeping my eye out for Ilana C. Myer’s next book; if you haven’t tried this one yet, I recommend you do and would go as far as to say you don’t need to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy it
Our first day in Kyoto we decided to head to the Higashiyama district to wander a temple or two and enjoy the historical streets. Our hotel was very close to Kyoto Station, but we took the easy option and jumped in a taxi. We’d heard taxis could be quite expensive in Japan, so were happy to find that in Kyoto this was not really the case, at least not compared to the UK!
We got dropped off at Kodai-ji, a Buddhist temple at the edge of district, tucked up against a forested hillside. We wandered the complex stunned by the serenity and beauty. I’m little ashamed to admit that while I have photos of the gardens, I don’t feel I really captured the true atmosphere of the place at all… Though, in a way I do feel this might be a good thing in that I was shooting less than normal because I was simply enjoying the experience. Perhaps an apt reaction to a Zen Buddhist temple.
After leaving the temple we explored the old streets of Higashiyama. It is a popular tourist area, but somehow that enhances rather than spoils the experience because so many of the tourists are Japanese and are enjoying the day out in traditional clothing. This is such a popular activity in Kyoto that most of the hotels have a ‘hire a yukata’ package where one can rent an outfit to wander around in for a day!
The weather that day was interesting to say the least; it started out bright, but in a short time became blustery and dark. It turned out that a typhoon was approaching far to the south and while we were lucky it didn’t reach Kyoto, its effects were felt. We were very glad to reach our hotel before the rain hit that evening as when it did, it was torrential. The last image in this post was taken in our hotel courtyard bar that evening; you can see the rain.
As a small side note before I get to the images, the hotel we stayed at was fabulous. It was Sakura Terrace The Gallery and while the rooms were smallish, the whole place was stylish and the amenities were fantastic; every evening you could have a free ‘welcome’ drink at the bar, the communal areas also had ‘cafes’ where you could make yourself a tea or coffee, and they also had a laundry room that was free to use – they even provided the detergent! Because of all these things, the place had a friendly community atmosphere about it that we really enjoyed. We stayed at the hotel for our first two nights in Kyoto, then again for five nights once we returned from Koyasan and were super happy it was our Kyoto home.
The second day in Japan was a mix of sightseeing and traveling as we were heading to Kyoto that afternoon. Having made sure our phones were actually on Japan time, we got up at a reasonable hour, checked out of our hotel, and made our way to Harajuku to have a look around.
One of the brilliant things about travelling in Japan is the convenience factor – things like lockers in the stations that are big enough to fit suitcases. We needed to be at Tokyo Station around 2pm and as Harajuku was on the way, it was much easier to take our suitcases with us and store them at the station than have the hotel hold them and have to backtrack. Good work, Japan!
We hadn’t really done our homework, so assumed we’d exit the station and see crazily dressed people; as it was, we exited towards Yoyogi Park and ended up wandering a calm and quiet route through the trees towards the Meiji shrine.
It might not have been what we’d been expecting of a visit to Harajuku, but it was lovely. The Shrine, with its towering gates and gorgeous trees, was beautiful and we were even lucky enough to cross paths with a traditional Shinto wedding procession.
After the shrine (and a rest with a cold Asahi at the nearby cafe to rest my leg after the unexpectedly long walk!) we made our way to Takeshita Dori, the trendy and strange shopping street across from the station, before making our way to Tokyo Station to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.
We’d purchased green car (first class) JR Rail Passes for the fortnight so we’d have the comfort of extra leg room for our journeys and I can attest to the comfort – after enjoying my first ever ekiben (station bento/lunch), which you buy at the station and eat on the train, I ended up sleeping almost the entire way to Kyoto! Nick, however, documented the trip with some classic from-the-window-shooting so when he starts uploading his photos, we’ll get a chance to see all the lovely countryside I missed!
So, Japan. We had a brilliant time and very easily could have spent much longer (other than, after 16 days, we were exhausted and, of course, missing our Ponzu). I very much expect we will return. It was an unusual trip in many ways, with my being half-Japanese, but never having been to Japan, with my studying the language, but autodidactically so reading and writing much better than speaking or listening. Until recently, I thought it would probably be one of the most alien places on earth that I could visit, but with my endeavour to learn the language, I started watching so much anime and Japanese television that somehow I felt almost pre-acclimated to the culture and that, combined with being able to read a lot of the writing around me, made it seem oddly familiar rather than strange.
We arrived at Narita late on a Saturday night and knowing our hotel, Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, was on the Airport Limousine Bus route, we decided to travel into Tokyo that way rather than via one of the trains. The coach ride was long, but smooth. There was no traffic and at first, driving through the darkness, it almost seemed we were in the middle of nowhere rather than on the outskirts of the world’s most populated metropolitan area. Slowly the buildings started growing in number and then in size. Driving on the rolling and curving flyovers from the elevated perspective of the coach, the roads devoid of other traffic, it almost seemed like we were flying through the buildings rather than driving amongst them. A very quiet, almost magical introduction to what is actually, obviously, a bustling city.
The hotel, when we arrived, was lovely. I managed almost the entire first interaction in Japanese, only failing to understand a sentence about leaving our shoes at the entry of our room so as to keep the tatami mats clean, which was then kindly explained in English (of course we would have done so anyway, as we do not wear our shoes inside, but they weren’t to know).
Our room was beautiful and quite spacious, not nearly as small as we’ve heard most in Tokyo are. In addition to the sleeping area, with an exceptionally comfortable futon on a low bed-frame, it had an elegant small sofa and a cute legless chair in front of the mirror near the TV and fridge area. We were surprised there were no mini bar items in our fridge, but soon found that was because there was a vending machine in an alcove across the hall, filled with a selection of super affordable drinks including water, coffee, green tea, other soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages like beer, whisky and soda, and umeshu! Way better than a mini bar, which we tend not to use anyway. Of course, it would turn out this was only the tip of the Japanese vending machine iceberg.
We settled in and then went in search of food. It was quite late, about 10pm, so we didn’t want to go far and wanted to make sure we got somewhere before last orders. We found a Yakiniku (bbq meat) place just down the street and though it was hidden down a stairwell, we decided to try it. So glad we did; the atmosphere was great and the food was super delicious. It was the kind of Yakiniku restaurant in which you grill your own meat over charcoals in the centre of your table (a great favourite of ours!) – if you’ve never tried it, you should seek one out if you can. BBQ Wagyu on night one – couldn’t have a better start.
The entry to the restaurant:
We’d forgotten to change the time on our phones so woke an hour later than expected and missed breakfast. Oops. Our first mission of the day was to figure out if I could get the Zeiss Batis 2/25. I was a bit too nervous to try Japanese over the phone so we decided to ask the concierge if they wouldn’t mind calling the store to confirm for us before we took the train out to Nakano. The girl we spoke with at the front desk was amazing, she not only called and confirmed, but even told us what exit to take at Nakano Station! I got very, very excited that the lens was still there waiting for me (my Japanese emails had worked!)
Nakano was a cool district, filled with people shopping and eating. Not at all touristy and the locals seemed amused by the two of us walking around with cameras. Now, as most of you know, in the UK and in Singapore there are a lot of photographers, so people are used to seeing them out on the prowl, that day was our first hint that, though it might be counter-intuitive, it might not be entirely the same in Japan.
We found フジヤカメラ店 (Fujiya Camera Store), which actually turned out to be two stores, one small vintage camera store on one side of the street and a big new retail camera shop on the other. I explained who I was and they went to the back to retrieve the lens! Five minutes later it was purchased and on my camera.
One of the test shots:
Afterwards, we wandered for awhile before finding a place to eat. We decided on a small place that smelled good from the street, was busy inside, and looked to be more a meat restaurant than a seafood one (I’m allergic to shellfish). Once inside we were a bit bemused to find out it was mostly a chicken restaurant that was famous for its chicken tataki (seared on the outside, raw in the middle)… I’d read that chicken could be (and was) eaten this way in Japan even though as a Westerner, at the thought of it, all you can hear is the voice in your head screaming ‘salmonella!’ …So, when in Rome and all that: we ordered the tataki. A friendly guy at the bar, right across from our table, leaned over and recommended another dish, chicken hearts; we’re not normally offal fans, but again, we were explorers on our first day in a foreign land, so we ordered it. The chicken tataki was very… chewy. Lol. The flavour was nice because it had been cooked over charcoal, but texture-wise I wasn’t entirely convinced. The meat inside was surprisingly dark, not like the pale chicken we are used to seeing at home. I expect it may have been a special kind, maybe the famous Nagoya Cochin? The chicken hearts were ok, but not something I’d go out of my way for again. Luckily, Nick enjoyed both dishes very much! I liked the sauces that came with them – there was a fabulous yuzu paste which I need to try to find at our Japanese grocery store.
On one hand, visiting Japan in the summer means the weather is hot and unpredictable (when you’ve been living in Singapore, that doesn’t really signify), on the other hand, it means matsuri (festivals)! If we were going to visit in the summer, I desperately wanted to go to a matsuri. Having watched a fair amount of anime, I knew that it was quite usual for some people to attend in traditional clothing, light summer kimonos called yukata, and that there would be lanterns and stalls selling food and hand-crafted goods. Everyone would wander the streets, eating, drinking, shopping, carousing, just generally being merry. Sounds good, right? So, pre-travel, I looked up what Matsuri were scheduled for so late in the summer and soon found we had but one opportunity to attend one and it was in Azabu Juban, a trendy neighbourhood in central Tokyo, on the evening of our first day. Done. So from Nakano we went back to our hotel for a rest (well, I rested, Nick went back out with the camera for awhile) and a clean up before heading to Azabu Juban.
When we boarded the train from Shinjuku (handily located right next to our hotel) we knew we were headed in the right direction because there was a girl in a yukata beside us. By the time we reached Azabu Juban Station, there were many more and a few young Japanese men in yukata as well. Awesome. There was a mass exodus from the train and, once above ground, we realised the scale of the event. The streets were packed with people! Elbow to elbow, modern fashion and yukata, young and old, drunk and not quite as drunk. In the very centre of the madness of this throng, a man stood on an elevated surface with a megaphone and a sign asking people to stay to the left. Even in what appeared chaos, the Japanese instilled order and, because of this, the ocean of people flowed.
We made our way to a crossroads where we got could get enough space to take a few shots and, having done so, Nick went off in search of drinks for us, primed with the sentence ‘2 beers please’ in Japanese. While he was gone, a couple of eccentric characters appeared to my right and greeted one another exuberantly. I couldn’t help but smile and when they noticed, they struck up a conversation. When they realised I was foreign, they got very excited and were so welcoming. I practiced my Japanese and they their English and we had a lively conversation before they had to run off and meet another friend. Brilliant.
Some images from that evening:
All in all, a very successful first day as far as we were concerned!
When we decided to go to Japan in late August and the new Zeiss Batis 2/25 was still impossible to obtain in Singapore, I decided to try my out my Japanese writing on camera stores in Tokyo to see if I could get one to hold the lens for me until my arrival. After many attempts, (to no fault of the camera stores – they were all very polite, they just didn’t have the stock), I finally received a positive response from the brilliant フジヤカメラ店 (Fujiya Camera Store) in Nakano who thought they’d be getting a shipment before we arrived! A few days later, they emailed me to confirm and, so, on our first day in Japan, we took the train from where we were staying near Shinjuku Station, a couple stops out to Nakano to find their shop and, sure enough, they had the lens there waiting for me! As you can guess, I was ecstatic!
When I first decided I wanted the lens, I suspected that living in Singapore, I would be able to get it earlier than I would have if we were back in the UK and probably for a bit cheaper, but by going to Japan at just the right time, I got it much earlier and much cheaper, and, even more importantly, I had it in time for our travels in Japan!
I plan to share some images from the trip in chronological order, but before I get into those posts, I thought I’d dedicate this one to the Batis 2/25 itself. I love this lens. A few random samples from its first days in use: