10 Minutes With: Zakia Moulaoui, Founder of Invisible Cities

Ever felt frustrated by the fact that there are twice as many statues of dogs as there are of influential women in Edinburgh? Or wondered about its darker underbelly history of murders and gangs? Or how the “Trainspotting” generation inhabit the city, beyond the pages of Irvine Welsh? Not only do Invisible Cities guides offer tours of Edinburgh with a thematic difference, but these individuals have experienced the capital in ways that many of us cannot even begin to comprehend.
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Biffy, the woman behind ‘The Paths of Inspirational Women’ tour’
I caught up with Zakia Moulaoui, the  entrepreneur and social justice warrior behind Invisible Cities. Invisible Cities is an organisation founded in Edinburgh which helps people affected by homelessness by training them to conduct their own walking tours with a personal twist.
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We don’t believe in stereotypes and know that everyone has skills to offer no matter where they come from.
Rachel: What are the main principles behind Invisible Cities, and what do you represent?
Zakia: Invisible Cities is a social enterprise that trains people who have been affected by homelessness to become  walking tour guides of their own city. We don’t believe in stereotypes and know that everyone has skills to offer no matter where they come from. We offer an opportunity to develop skills and confidence that can be used anywhere. Our alternative tours showcase a more personal and social side of the cities we are in.
R: How did the idea originally come to you?
Z: I used to work at the Homeless World Cup Foundation where I was lucky to travel the world and see what was used/done in various countries to support people who were homeless, in orphanages, prison, etc. I also found out more about the work of street papers like the Big Issue in the UK. During a visit to Greece, the street paper there Shedia offered you walking tours of Athens, which I LOVED. I quickly realised Edinburgh would be a good place to organise the same and approached people such as they Big Issue but I realised no one had time/resources. This is when it became an enterprise in its own right. 
R: Would you describe Invisible Cities as a political organisation?
Z: No – I would say we are a social organisation. Our biggest asset is our guides and we work on creating relationships between people – our travellers and our guides/volunteers. We provide an environment that is 100% positive where you can thrive. 
R: How do you find prospective tour guides?
Z: We do not recruit rough sleepers. I think it is not fair to enrol someone into training and organise tours for people who are struggling day in and day out, wondering where they will sleep and what they will eat. Our door is always opened but we will guide people and follow them through finding a bit more stability and they can join our next training round.We recruit through other organisations who will put people forward. Its either people who they are supporting, or have previously worked with. We organise training for all our guides which is usually split between classroom type work: sessions on public speaking, self confidence, customer service and more practical work with volunteers and professional guides who will help build our guides’ tours, from mapping out the routes to planning their scripts.
R: Invisible tours are thematically based. How does this differentiate your organisation from the masses of walking tours in Edinburgh?
Z: The themes have been chosen by our guides themselves. It focuses on what they want to show or what they think makes a city what it is. It means if you come on three tours with us you will get three different experiences. It makes us different because we focus on the person: what does the guide have to say and what connection will you make with him/her during your tour. 
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Sonny conducting his ‘Uncover Stories of Crime and Punishment’ tour
Whatever our guides come up with – if they are passionate about something, you know it will work out.
R: What thematic tours would you like to run in the future?
Z: We are actually launching two new tours in the coming weeks: Graveyards of Edinburgh, outlining the histories of famous people buried in them, and also how they are unfortunately used as shelter sometimes. We also have another women-of- Edinburgh based tour. Whatever our guides come up with – if they are passionate about something, you know it will work out.

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A quick and easy way for readers to support Invisible Cities is to donate via their crowdfunding page. Otherwise, if you’re visiting Edinburgh as a tourist, or a resident who fancies a unique perspective of the cobbled streets you’ve walked on a thousand times over, book a tour here. Invisible Cities are soon to be expanding to Glasgow and Manchester, as well.

 

Tunnock’s Teacake Brownies

To touch base, here’s a few things: I moved to Glasgow, started a Masters, started two new jobs, became vegan, became anaemic, rediscovered fish and chips, rediscovered happiness. I had these vivid plans for food blogging in Glasgow – the U.K capital for vegan eats and all-things deep-fried (they even deep fry pizza here and call it “pizza crunch”, don’t you know) – and I had envisioned that I’d be eating out twice a week, free of charge of course, like I did during my undergraduate in Exeter.

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It’s an Irn-Bru-induced existential crisis

Added into the mix:

The state of my unhygienic postgrad accommodation has largely stunted any attempts to conjure up any new recipes (there’s no opportunity for aesthetically pleasing photographs when your kitchen hobs are that grimey). I have, however, lived with ten fascinating Americans (woops, and one Canadian, sorry Emilie) over the course of the year. They’ve introduced me to the joys of sweet potato casserole (thanks, Keely from Chicago), Jif peanut butter (thanks, Noah from Minnesotta), Cheezits (thanks, Rachel from North Carolina) and poutine (thanks, Emilie from somewhere in Canada). Apparently combining the sugary hells of the American diet shipped over seas and the deep-fried-ness of the Glaswegian lifestyle makes a postgraduate student such as myself rather distracted and disorganised. I left a lot of things behind when I moved 450 miles north, and a lot of things have gone on hold.

I didn’t bring my baking supplies or my succulents here, because I was stubbornly adamant that I wouldn’t settle in Scotland. I expected to move back down to the old smoke as soon as I hit submit on my dissertation.

But here are some confessions: I actually like Irn Bru now, and I buy it of my own accord. And not even the sugar free version. I like, not just the taste, but the lurid orange colour and the way Glaswegians call it “juice” even though there’s no fruit pulp in it and that you can get it as an ice cream flavour and the fact that my pal who works in the NHS archives has access to the original, secret recipe and that recipe apparently is so sought after that it holds this strange, mythical status. I even own an Irn Bru clock.

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I wasn’t joking

Second confession: I still haven’t tried an empire biscuit. God knows why they’re such a big deal…it’s just two pieces of biscuit, a white icing glaze and a jelly tot.

Third confession: I hate shortbread.

So, I ventured down South in a bid to navigate through the fog and retrieve my baking goods. And on the 5 and a half hour train journey up from London to Glasgow I noticed that you can measure the milage by the difference in the passengers’ accents, the increase in their happiness, and the amount of times you’re offered a Red Stripe.

To kick things off, I thought I’d stay true to the unhealthiness of my current adopted diet (an amalgam of American and Glaswegian influences) and produce these bad boys.

Tunnock’s teacake brownies (vegetarian; makes 6 “sharing” brownies)

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 175g unsalted butter (I’m forever loyal to Stork)
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 130g plain flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 Tunnock’s Teacakes (I went for the dark chocolate variety)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Line a rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Using the bain-marie method on the hob, melt the butter and chopped dark chocolate until smooth, stirring consistently.
  3. Remove from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and melted concoction. Sift in the flour and mix until well incorporated. Then, crack in the eggs, mix well.
  4. Pour the mixture into a prepared baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and add the teacakes. (We don’t want these to burn). Bake for a further 20-25 minutes, until the surface begins to crack. Allow to cool before serving.

 

 

Fujiko Nakaya: Sculpting Fogs at Tate Modern

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I hadn’t the foggiest of an idea what was happening when the Tate Modern’s South Terrace was immersed in a cloud. From a distance, I panicked, thought the Tate was enveloped in smoke, but realised on approach that it was induced by the gallery itself. There was no one to ask what the fog was in aid of, or who was behind it, but to me it seemed like a really clever marketing ploy. And inevitably, the first thing I did was take some arty snaps of tourists and excitable children being engulfed by the fog, process them through VSCO cam and then post them on Instagram with the hashtag #tatemodern. I imagine those posts drew a whole range of people to come and witness the strange occurrence for themselves.

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Then I followed the hashtag and found the answer to my ignorance: the artist behind the ‘fog sculpture’ was Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. Strangely I’m not usually one to miss a mainstream art event in London, and perhaps this one had little publicity to contribute to its mystery. Originally planned to only air for 10 days, Nakaya’s fog was due to end on 2nd April 2017, however because of its popularity in the capital the installation has been extended until 18th April.

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As the world’s leading fog artist, Nakaya’s first London fog work is worth a visit. What made it so mesmerising was its interactive quality. The fog immerses all kinds of passersby, from businesswomen wearing suits distracted from their daily commute, giddy children and their equally-excited parents, to Instagram fanatics like myself. Under a clouded roof, a vast array of Londoners had come together. You would think that London would not need any more gloom following the upheaval of the EU referendum last summer, but the fog had produced an atmosphere of hope and welcoming, not fear. Having said that, I can’t strip the feeling that Nakaya’s fog is also spreading a sense of foreboding through the city.

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Work colleagues on a casual lunch break…

 

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…or a romantic date in a cloud?

However, Nakaya denies that there is a political purpose for the fog. It’s especially surprising that it was not created to spread awareness of the impending doom of climate change to instigate activism. In an interview she stated that she was “trying to change the bad image of London fog, or smog, as it was named after the Industrial Revolution…Now I am trying to create the third generation of the London fog, an ‘ecological fog,’ for people to enjoy.”

What I find fascinating is that London Fog is both a sculpture and an interactive installation. It operates by 300 intricately designed nozzles which pump out water vapour in micro-particles of varying density and at varying intervals, according to the air currents and architectural surroundings.

What it feels like: a disorientating dance with a cloud. Not ideal for those with glasses or who have recently had their hair done. Also dampens clothes slightly.

Let there be cake: Art Afternoon Tea at Rosewood, London

I had always wanted to experience afternoon tea in London, but was always put off by the stuffiness event. At the Ritz, for example, the dress code is put under ‘terms and conditions’; as a “client responsibility” guests are not permitted to wear jeans for afternoon tea. Apparently cake tastes better when you’re in a tux. This is just not true. Cake is best in loose clothes. Preferably in bed, with Orange is the New Black in the background. So when I realised I was going for afternoon tea for my 21st birthday, and that the dress code was ‘smart casual,’ my mum sewed up the holes in my ripped jeans and we pretended to be posh for the day. 

What differentiates Rosewood from its competition in the capital is that the cakes are treated as individual artworks. Rosewood’s executive pastry chef, Mark Perkins, has curated a selection of art-inspired cakes to accompany finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and loose tea. His creations are inspired by five of the most globally iconic artists currently exhibited in London including Yayoi Kusuma, Alexander Calder, Banksy, Damien Hurst and Mark Rothko. This novel idea works well on so many levels, because by using the artists’ work as a basis of inspiration, the cake itself becomes an artwork, but in edible form. Rosewood have nailed it – I can’t imagine another theme that would work as effectively embodied in pastry. Politicians, countries, famous figures etc. could all get a little controversial, and cake should never offend. Art afternoon tea seems to have struck gold, because it is about adapting the style into a new miniature version, one that can be recognised, adored and consumed by art fanatics. I’m going to rank and review the cakes, comparing them to their original masterpieces.

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  1. YAYOI KUSUMA

Renowned for her psychedelic colours, patterns and repetition, Japanese artist Kusuma has taken over the international art world one polka dot at a time. For this cake, Perkins drew inspiration from her installation ‘All the Eternal Love I have for Pumpkins’. Rather than merely copying a pumpkin from the work, the cake shows the chef’s original take. I have ranked it the highest because of how visually striking it is, and to me it just screams ‘Kusuma’. Moreover, it tasted as quirky as it looked. It was made from milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set on chocolate biscuit. Perkins thought that her predilection for yellow and black was best translated into passionfruit and chocolate.

2. ALEXANDER CALDER

This was a structural masterpiece. Fitting for the American sculptor who invented the mobile, the moving sculpture made with suspended shapes that move in response to touch or the air, typically found above a baby’s cot. Disguised as a modernist mobile, this cake was surprisingly incredibly heavy because the inside was densely packed with pistachio bavarois, cherry jelly, pistachio sponge “sprayed” with red chocolate. As I have a predilection for pistachios, this my favourite flavour-wise. I was also astonished by the interior engineering work, as I cut through every cake in half to share, this one did not collapse. The exterior embellishments were a little fragile however, made only coloured chocolate, they fell off when I picked the cake up.

3. BANKSY

The nation’s favourite and a worldwide phenomenon, it would be a difficult task to create a cake that was not identifiable to this mainstream street artist. I think this let down the overall challenge to create something with an innovative spin on an existing artist. It was almost inevitable that the cake would be a brick or building with one of Banky’s iconic stencils on. They had chosen Banky’s 2002 piece ‘Balloon Girl’, which was originally a mural on an East London, but was removed and sold for £500,000 in 2014. Depicting a young girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon (only that the opaque red icing was not not heart-shaped) the impressive element of this cake was its unusually brick-like texture. It was the richest of the five, and incredibly indulgent. A chocolate cube filled with vanilla cream choux, chocolate creme resting on a salted caramel liquid, I imagine this would take a few miles to burn off. Too much sugar compacted into a 2inch x 2inch box for my liking.

 

4. DAMIEN HIRST

When I think of Hirst I think of sharks or cows preserved in tanks and diamond encrusted skulls. Far less so, I think of his inoffensive and boring dot work. Truth be told, I dislike Hirst. His public response to the retaliation of his unimaginative artwork is pretty tongue and cheek; when people say “anyone could do that” he barks back “but you didn’t, did you?” And he’s made an obscene amount from doing what we could not be bothered to do. It took some time for me to recognise that the cake was based on Hirst’s art, and like his career itself, the cake’s design was a bit boring. The redemptive factor was that it tasted really pleasant, and it offsets the heftiness of the Banksy cake. A white chocolate tart made from cassis jelly, yuzu curd and decorated with dots, it was delightful but didn’t have the shock factor I was expecting – I would have preferred a replica of ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (aka the shark in a tank). That would have been fun.

5. MARK ROTHKO

This was the artist I knew least about. He was a famous abstract expressionist, but all I knew was that he had a thing about painting bold block colours on canvas. I imagine that his was the easiest to translate into cake form, because his work is the least adventurous. The most inventive creative decision would therefore have to be the flavour combination, and this was subtle, light and delicate. This was made from layered coconut sponge, raspberry, coconut mouse and decorated with thin pink and red raspberry chocolate. I thought this was not the one to rave about – it’s structure was not experimental, nor was its embellishments.

I also couldn’t help but notice that this had been done before by many amateur home bakers…markyboy

Located in central London, High Holborn, Rosewood Hotel is anything but an eyesore. Admittedly, while trying to act collected, and not break anything in the process, I did take three trips to the ladies bathroom over the space of two hours to take Snapchats…

The cake art pieces were just one feature of the overall sophisticated experience. The tea, sandwiches, and scones were additionally exquisite. I did not have a big enough stomach capacity to eat it all, and our wonderful waiters kept offering us top ups of our favourites. They were so hospitable, and elaborated on the artists’ stories behind each individual cake. I ended up taking home the scones and a spare Banksy cake. Word of warning: come on a very empty stomach, and wear loose smart casual clothing. This is the first season of art afternoon tea at Rosewood, if you would like to experience these specific varieties for yourself, you must come soon, as new replacement designs are due to replace them. Standard afternoon tea per person is £50 and can be booked online here.

Thoughts about which artists I’d like to see in art form at the Rosewood in future: Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin, Max Ernst…

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Train ride home

Painting home comforts

The Open Eye Gallery, an independent and commercial gallery in the heart of Edinburgh, exhibits and sells walls worth of postcard-sized artworks by artists from all corners of Scotland. The delicate and tiny artworks range in subject and style, but when arranged all together they collude to form something beautiful and grand-scale. Though not explicitly intended to be in juxtaposition, somehow it seems that the paintings always intended to be in conversation; when an individual piece is sold, something new will take its place. The experience of cross-examining all these individual pieces is immersive, but I had a certain predilection for the simple still-life artworks which depicted objects from the kitchen, like lemons, pots and pans, and chopping boards.

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From the sight of my food posts and the inside of my kitchen cupboard, it is safe to say that I have a slight obsession with amalgamating pretty and unusual pieces of crockery – thankfully Exeter’s charity shops never fail to intrigue. Since my trip to the Open Eye Gallery, I’ve invested in a heap of 5×7 inch canvas boards, and am busy painting quaint kitchen scenes with acrylic. Using mostly earthy colours, and uneven block shapes, the painting style is not what I’m accustomed too.

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Fish on plate, acrylic paint

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Prawns in pan with lemon, acrylic paint

Suspicions about: The BMW Art Car

I’m not only suspicious about BMW commissioning artist Esther Mahlangu to design and paint the 12th Art Car, I’m also suspicious about its place in the British Museum. I may be 26 years late to the debate, but after seeing the BMW 12th Art Car on its (stationary as it isn’t to be driven, only exhibited) tour around the globe, I thought the topic deserved a rant.

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Me being suspicious in the British Museum

Firstly, BMW have been running an “art project” in which they commission internationally renowned artists to paint the exterior of their latest, greatest and fastest model. Thus far the company have commissioned 19 artists, and unsurprisingly of the impenetrable art world, only two of which are female. The cars have previously been designed by the likes of Andy Warhol and David Hockney, but in 1991, to mark the end of apartheid regime in South Africa, BMW appointed Mahlangu to design the 12th. There are a few issues with marketing this project as “art” as such, because the cars tastefully obscure what is a very clever commercial ploy. The designs inscribed on cars epitomise the failings of aesthetic value in capitalist modernity, because the main signifier of the ‘artwork’ is the BMW, not the work of the artist. For the BMW Art Project, the artist’s relationship to the artwork can be articulated in Marxist terms: the artist becomes a worker employed to do a task, estranged from the products of her/his labour. This is not to suggest BMW omits all artistic freedom, although the company does project an ideal end product onto the artist and the BMW, implicating that the artist does not have free-reign of the “canvas” that is the car’s surface. This is not to suggest that Mahlangu was a mere victim of BMW’s exploitation – before the project she was successful as an artist and continues to be today. In some ways, the car marks progress in the art sector as it draws attention to artists that may be unrecognised or categorised as “non-Western” in the art world.

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Mahlangu signing her work

In a world increasingly defined by aspirational consumption, the BMW has powerful purchase in the socialised and globalised imaginary. To own a BMW is an indication of power, wealth and status which represents physical, social and economic freedom available only to a minority. With speeds of up to 225 km/h, the BMW Art Car propels past the standard BMW. Thus the BMW “art project” exemplifies the privilege of car owning. The 12th of the series is unlike anything BMW have encountered nor exhibited before. Dubbed the first “African Art Car”, Mahlangu was employed to paint the car according to traditional Ndebele painting. The bold, geometrical and colourful patterns of the BMW Art Car originate from the Ndebele people in the 19th century, who encountered a defeat against the Boer-settlers. Forced into a life oppression, the Ndebele people began using expressive symbols to communicate on the walls of their home; the designs became an expression of cultural resistance and identity. Once imprinted onto the BMW, the art of this traditional culture is blended with capitalist exploitation, in a way that both obscures and celebrates South Africa’s colonial past. When the Ndebele paintings are appropriated by an affluent company like BMW, the art itself becomes a commercial advertisement, and its original harrowing meaning is belittled. This is not dissimilar to how Coca Cola conveys an image of global unity which actually serves as a marketing ploy for consumer countries.

I travelled specifically to the British Museum, London, to see the Ndebele BMW Art Car in person; this accentuates how effective BMW have been in their artistic subterfuge. The car is currently being exhibited under the curated collection “South Africa: the art of a nation” in the capital city. Whilst Ndebele art originally employed the exterior walls of houses as an artistic resource, allowing inhabitants and Ndebele passersby to contribute to its meaning, the Ndebele BMW is an extravagant art project to be overseen by a privileged few – currently by those who live near or can afford to travel to London. For significance to be drawn from Ndebele art, it should not be on a BMW, nor be placed in an exhibition, a private collection, or in a gallery. The displacement of the Ndebele house paintings onto the exhibited BMW, raises problems for justifications of the museum that appeal to the purported uniqueness and power of the work it contains. Ndebele house paintings was traditionally determined by its cheapness to create and freeness to experience. By contrast, museums contain art that is extremely expensive (to make and own), costly to experience, and to be overseen and critiqued by an elite. The disconnection of the Ndebele pattern from cultural house painting and the Ndebele people, onto the branded BMW, and into the gallery, impedes on its original meaning.

The 12th Art Car’s place in the British Museum relates to Benedict Anderson’s theory that the museum shapes the way the British colonial state “imagines its dominion” and legitimises its ancestry, as demonstrated by the artefacts Britain owns and museumifies. The national collections essentializes a multitude of cultures’ history, including Britain’s own Imperial past which implicated South Africa.

Plans for 2017: food and art history (!) blogging

I completely failed to blog the festive hype; I was exhausted in the lead up to Christmas and by the time I felt recovered I was celebrating at my family home – and my parents have an oven that can only be set to one temperature (180°C) and one operating hob that actually ignites out of six – if you’re reading this mum and dad, this is a plea to invest in a new cooker. I’ll cook you nice things in thanks.

My exhaustion was probably a remnant of the utter shambles 2016 has been – politically, not personally – on a global widespread scale. We’ve lost many heroes: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few. We’ve been defeated by a scare-mongering racist campaign dubbed “Brexit” enacted by the Tories and UKIP. And a clueless bigot named Donald Trump has gained the title of the most powerful man in the world, though with no appropriate credentials apart his privileges as a white male and the luck that he was born into excessive wealth. To ease us into 2017, to cushion us from the triggering of Article 50 and when Trump takes over presidential office, comfort cooking is surely the way forward.

I blame the political turmoil of 2016 for why I didn’t cook AT ALL over the Christmas period. With special thanks to my lovely mum for buying me the M&S butternut squash and pecan nut roast for Christmas dinner to compensate. The cat Christmas crackers from Paperchase were also amazing.

I did, however, manage to squeeze in a little creativity over the holidays. For presents I made loved ones personalised baubles for their trees, featuring my favourite photos of them, with added jewels and sparkles.

I also went on festive film photography trips at Knole Park, a National Trust deer park, which is luckily only two miles from my house.

So this blog post is more concerned with post-christmas blues, my apprehensions and intense excitement for the New Year. Thus far, I’ve had to throw away my chilli plant, and I’ve managed to buy a calendar (in the sale, it pays to be disorganised) and I’ve made it back to my kitchen in Exeter in one piece.

A few things I would like to achieve this year:

  • Write short fiction
  • Write blog posts with greater sentimental value
  • Pick up the paint brush again

More pressing concerns:

  • Graduate
  • Obtain a graduate job
  • Pay off that hefty student loan

In terms of this blog, I intend to combine my burgeoning predilection for art history alongside food journalism. So watch this space…

 

The Nostalgic Porridge Pot and its miraculous healing powers

Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here.  A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.

Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.

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The infamous Mega Kebab cheesy chips

Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.

That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.

Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.

So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:

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Lilac porridge: lavender infused, lemon curd, blueberry and poppy seeds vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 20g raisins
  • 50g frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 tsp dried lavender
  • 1 tbsp lemon curd
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
  2. Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.

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Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibs vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 1 fig, quartered
  • 1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
  2. Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.

Berlin reflections

pretzels, bagels, bratwurst, currywurst…and erm, more currywurst

To make my flight €100 cheaper, I stopped off in Berlin for a few days before heading back to London. I found that Berlin had few concrete, fundamental dishes and ingredients that sets it aside from the rest of Europe. The capital certainly has the rest of Germany’s predilection for meat, particularly sausages. But, I was disappointed I couldn’t try the dish most ranted and raved about – that is bratwurst sausage with curry toppings, or ‘currywurst’ – because of dietary requirements. There’s even a museum dedicated to the phenomenon that is ‘currywurst’.

I fell in love with the city; it lives to reflect and learn from its controversial past, with the effect that it now exists as a liberal and lively hub. In the process, it has accumulated a vast array of multicultural cuisines. I ate in authentic Turkish, Italian and Asian restaurants (and many modern vegan eateries that are dispersed throughout the city).

The German bakeries are the city’s redemption. Think pretzels galore. Here’s a ‘streuseltaler’ – a fine yeast dough pastry with a refined butter crumble. It’s essentially an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.

berlin3.jpg

 

In East Side Berlin, there was a substantial selection of vegan eateries, to match the cool and hip ambience of this side of the city. Just past the East Side gallery, I came across a building hosting Veganz (a supermarket), Goodies (a vegan café dedicated to great coffee), The Bowl (a clean eating restaurant for the best, beautiful bowls of goodness), and a vegan shoe shop.

the bowl aesthetic .jpeg

The Bowl boasts a 100% plant-based kitchen, producing gluten and sugar free bowls for a little over €10. I tried went for the ‘California’ bowl from the menu; this was lemon quinoa, deep fried sweet potato sticks, sesame tamari leaf spinach, raw apple carrot salad, avocado slices, tomato coriander salsa and teriyaki hibiscus sauce. (But I also pinched a spoonful of the ‘Buddha’ bowl too from my travel buddy). The ingredients are simple, but the sauces and dressings bring the ingredients to life.

This restaurant refreshed me from a 3 hour urban art walking tour of the East Side gallery and beyond. And it has given me inspiration for new healthy, filling and vegan recipes.

 

 

Carob and fig ice cream

Carob and fig ice cream serves 4; vegetarian 

making use of the carob powder and syrup I brought home from Cyprus, I thought I’d try combining some awesome Cypriot flavours into this indulgent dessert. These ingredients are easily found in all well-stocked Turkish food shops. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large free range eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 figs, peel removed
  • 1 heaped tsp carob powder
  • 1 tsp carob syrup

Method:

  1. figggg.jpegWhisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
  2. Slowly whisk in the caster sugar, continuing until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  3. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed – be sure to not whisk too much otherwise it’ll curdle.
  4. Fold in the cream, egg yolks, the inside flesh of 2 figs, carob powder and syrup into the mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve with more fresh fig, and carob syrup, according to taste.