Chinese-style Stuffed Peppers

This summer was a bit of a disaster for our vegetable garden including for our crop of peppers. Alex usually grows a selection of different types but only the chillies did well this year, with the the others barely providing a couple of meals. Still, we had enough from our “Hungarian Wax” variety to be worth making a batch of our favourite Chinese-style stuffed peppers, even though they were all very small.

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Stuffing Ingredients

200gms minced pork or chicken
3 pieces cloud ear fungus (bought dried from a Chinese supermarket)
4 spring onions (finely chopped)
Small piece of chopped preserved vegetable (mustard green or Mu choi) – optional
Small bunch of  chopped watercress (save sprig for garnish) – optional
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sherry
2 tsp sesame oil
0.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornflour
white pepper for seasoning

The dried cloud-ear fungus must be soaked overnight

The dried cloud-ear fungus must be soaked overnight

Soaked cloud-ear with watercress

Soaked cloud-ear with watercress

Cloud-ear and cress after chopping

Cloud-ear and cress after chopping

The stuffing ingredients with an unchopped piece of preserved vegetable

The stuffing ingredients including an unchopped piece of preserved vegetable

Chop the soaked cloud-ear and preserved vegetable, then mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
At this point it is a good idea to cook a teaspoon of the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and check the flavour. Adjust if necessary.

The prepared stuffing and the (very small) peppers I am using

The prepared stuffing and the (very small) peppers I am using

Deseed the peppers as shown in the photographs. If you have large peppers, e.g. bell peppers, then these are best cut in half.

Deseeding a pepper

Deseeding a pepper

The peppers ready for stuffing

The peppers ready for stuffing

With very small peppers such as those shown, stuffing can be a fiddly business. I use a blunt ended wooden chopstick to push the filling in but I am sure you could come up with many other suitable alternatives.

Using a chopstick to help fill the pepper

Using a chopstick to help fill the pepper

The filled peppers ready for frying

The filled peppers ready for frying

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or wok with a lid. Fry the peppers on a medium heat for around 10 minutes, keeping them covered with a lid except when stirring. If you are unsure about the cooking time then you can cut one pepper open to check that the meat is cooked through.

Frying the peppers

Frying the peppers in a wok

Finally make a sauce to serve with the peppers by frying 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves and 2 or 3 finely chopped chillies in a little oil. Add to this:
0.5 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
2 tbs sherry
and thicken with a little cornflour mixed with water. Pour sauce over the peppers and serve.

Frying garlic and chillies to make the sauce

Frying garlic and chillies to make the sauce

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Chinese-style stuffed peppers. The finished dish

Big New Bag

My daughter Isla said she needed a new large-sized bag to hold all her things when she went to work. When I hear something like this of course, I think about creating something, rather than a trip to the shops.

Big strong and secure - a functional tote bag

Big strong and secure – a functional tote bag

I had a large piece of artificial snake-skin leather material that was looking for a role in life, so I set to work and produced this big chunky item with lots of inside pockets and a strong zip to keep everything secure.

I put a lot of effort into the interior, with discrete pockets and nice finish

I put a lot of effort into the interior, with discrete pockets and nice finish

I am not sure if this style is in line with current fashions but Isla will have a good practical bag with a unique design. The size of the body is approximately 30mm X 46mm (12″ X 18″).

I could not resist adding a few signature touches of decoration!

I could not resist adding a few signature touches of decoration!

That is one more enjoyable project completed using only materials I had at home. Though it meant a day or so without getting any jewellery work done, I think it was well worth the time spent and its at least part of a birthday present problem sorted out!

One-off items are such fun to make!

One-off items are such fun to make!

Related Post: Some Textile Work as a Break from Making Textiles!

Gateway to China

Six hundred years ago the Chinese built a great fortress to mark the edge of their Empire and to prevent attacks by foreign invaders. This was Jiayuguan, the  “First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven” (天下第一雄关).

The inner fortress at Jiayuguan seen from the east

The inner fortress at Jiayuguan seen from the east

In 1368 the Han Chinese drove out their Mongol overlords and founded the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). They immediately set about arranging the defences of the empire so that they would not be threatened by foreign invaders again*. In 1372 the first Ming Emperor, Hongwu, ordered the building of a new fortress and rebuilding of a section of the Great Wall in order to block the main way into China from the North West.

The Great Wall here was built 600 hundred years ago and is showing its age

The Great Wall here was built 600 hundred years ago and is showing its age

The Hexi Corridor runs through the Gobi desert in Western Gansu Province and is the only easily travelable route between high mountain ranges. All the traffic along the Silk Roads and all invading armies passed along this way. The new fortress was built at the narrowest point of the Hexi Corridor, at its Western-most end. The fortress became known as Jiayu Pass or Jiayuguan. (To Chinese the word pass in this context refers both to the pass between the mountains and to the gateway that people had to “pass” through.)

The Western entrance from the desert. Literally the "Gateway into China"!

The Western entrance from the desert. Literally the “Gateway into China”

After the fort was built, all traffic along the Silk Route for hundreds of years had to pass through Jiayuguan and it marked the absolute edge of China. Even when the later Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912) extended its control into what is now Xinjiang to the West, Jiayuguan still marked the edge of China proper, being the limit of civil administration, with everything beyond being controlled by a military governor.

The fort's interior buildings have largely been rebuilt

The fort’s interior buildings have largely been rebuilt

The fortress today is the most complete existing example of a large-scale Ming fortification, though it has been subject to considerable restoration.

View of the fort in 1875 by the Russian photographer Adolf Erazmovich Boiarskii

View of the fort in 1875 by the Russian photographer Adolf Erazmovich Boiarskii

*In 1644, another group of foreigners would invade, this time from the North-East and would set up the Manchu Qing dynasty.

 

Boiarskii image courtesy of the World Digital Library

Objects in the Forbidden City

Apart from being the greatest example of late Chinese dynastic architecture, the Forbidden City is also a very fine museum. Or rather; there are a whole series of museums devoted to different types of objects, scattered over the vast site; some being permanent displays and others being for temporary exhibitions.

Large vase with fish decoration - Qing dynasty

Large vase with fish decoration – Qing dynasty

One of the best displays is the Palace Ceramics Collection, which is situated in a building well off to the side of the main tourist route and therefore very quiet. The building is very dark with only the ceramic objects themselves being strongly lit. While this should produce ideal viewing conditions it fails because the objects are displayed behind glass which catches lots of distracting reflections and rather spoils the experience.

Tang dynasty horse sculpture - note the reflections from the display opposite

Tang dynasty horse sculpture – note the reflections from the display opposite

The ceramics display features work from all periods of Chinese history but the bulk of the pottery is from the Qing dynasty (not surprising in a Qing dynasty palace.) Although the Manchu dynasty is not the greatest period in Chinese ceramic history, the display has many fine examples.

Qing dynasty pot in the form of a gourd

Qing dynasty pot in the form of a gourd

Much bigger crowds are encountered at the Imperial Jewellery Collection where a degree of pushing and elbowing can be required to get a good view. Most of the visitors are Chinese, however, and they are mostly preoccupied with “oohing” and “aaahing” at the biggest precious stones and the biggest lumps of gold, leaving lots of pieces of interesting design relatively ignored. In fact much of the jewellery is fairly uninspiring, design-wise, consisting of many (large) precious stones formed into naturalistic arrangements of flower or fruit shapes. Some of the most unusual and interesting items are not the grand jewellery pieces but the accessories such as decorated belts.

Silk belt decorated with pearls

Silk belt decorated with pearls and precious stones

Torque necklace in silver with gilding and coral inlay

Torque necklace in silver with gilding and coral inlay

The Forbidden City has many other displays, such as one with European clocks and scientific instruments from the Imperial collections and another with objects connected to the day to day life and rituals of the Qing Imperial household. These included some nice textile objects, though it is impossible to say whether these were originals or reproductions.

Phoenix embroidery on a large long-handled fan

Phoenix embroidery on a large long-handled fan

Ceremonial parasol

Ceremonial parasol

Apart from the buildings converted into modern exhibition spaces, beautiful objects can be seen in many other parts of the Palace. My favourite is a “connoisseur’s wall” which displays many beautiful ceramic treasures.

Wall display of ceramics (photographed against the sun!)

Wall display of ceramics (photographed against the sun!)

Finally, there is beautiful design to be found in many out of the way corners. While the main facades dazzle with their clashing gold and polychromatic extravaganza, other parts of the buildings have much more subtle decoration, including some fine window grill designs.

Window grill design

Window grill design

Related post: The Forbidden City, Beijing

Another Creative Kennedy

Here are some “steampunk” earrings produced by my son, Gregor.

Gregor's first attempt at making "steampunk" earrings

Gregor’s first attempt at making “steampunk” earrings

Over the last few weeks I have introduced you to my daughter Isla’s photography, so now I thought I should show you my son Gregor’s creative work. Both Isla and Greg chose to follow an academic, rather than an artistic education but the creative impulse still seems to have rubbed off on them.

Greg working at my husband's jewellery bench

Greg working at my husband’s jewellery bench

Greg manages to combine his very rational, mathematician’s mindset with a belief that he can make anything he puts his mind to. Over the past year he has been working with silver and combining it with recycled watch parts to make some striking jewellery. He made his first pair of these “steampunk” earrings last winter when he came home to visit and made use of his dad’s jewellery bench and tools. I took some photographs of his progress during that first effort.

Working out how watch parts could be added to the cut-out silver blanks

Working out how watch parts could be added to the cut-out silver blanks

Greg is a very methodical person and worked through a lot sketches to refine his ideas.

Greg worked out his ideas in sketches

Greg worked out his ideas in sketches

Close-up of the finished earrings

Close-up of the finished earrings

I also have a few shots of some of his other pieces, though some are just of works-in-progress, rather than the finished items.

A later, similar earring under construction

A later, similar earring under construction

A cat pendant

A cat pendant

Unfinished leaf-shaped earring

Unfinished leaf-shaped earring

Pendant with two elephants

Pendant with two giraffes

You can see my daughter Isla’s photographs in “Orkney Skies” and “Orkney in detail”

New-style Necklace

I finished a new necklace a couple of nights ago that is a little bit different from any I have done before. Instead of one main textile form, this one has repeated elements going most of the way round the choker wire.

Here I am wearing my latest creation

Here I am wearing my latest creation

The individual textile elements are based on an earring design. The size of the fabric pieces gets smaller towards the back though this is hardly noticeable looking at the finished item. At first I just planned to use beads between the textile shapes but then I thought that a little bit of variation was needed, so I added some elements embroidered on soluble fabric just like my experiments at the Sue Rangeley workshop I attended.

The complete necklace

The complete necklace

This was just a simple idea that I decided was worth trying but it has already got me thinking about how I could develop it further – watch this space!

A detail view showing the strands made using soluble fabric

A detail view showing the strands made using soluble fabric

A view of the reverse side of the neckpiece

A view of the reverse side of the neckpiece

This necklace has just been added to my Etsy shop

If you have any thoughts on this new piece I would love to hear them.

The Forbidden City, Beijing

A vast Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City in Beijing can be described as one of those “places to see before you die” destinations.

 Tiananmen, or Gate of Heavenly Peace is the main entrance to the Forbidden City

Tiananmen, or Gate of Heavenly Peace is the main entrance to the Forbidden City

It is a vast place with a distinctive and coherent architectural style, and while it has been subject to a fair bit of restoration, this seems to have been done fairly accurately, if perhaps a little too enthusiastically. At least it has not been subjected to the “theme park” treatment visited on so many of China’s major sights (though a McDonalds franchise has found its way inside the hallowed walls.) The Forbidden City certainly draws the crowds, in fact the masses of people and long queues for tickets are major downsides of the experience.

The Forbidden City has many ranges of golden-roofed palaces

The Forbidden City has many ranges of golden-roofed palaces

While the word “City” may exaggerate the scale slightly, it is too big to get to know in one visit and many of the more interesting parts are off the main visitor trail. While the guided tours do march you through the grandest and most historically significant buildings, these are also (obviously) the most crowded parts. The central trail can also feel a bit repetitive, with one enormous open courtyard leading to a range of golden-roofed pavilions, which in turn leads on to yet another courtyard and another range of similar buildings.

The vast paved courtyards are broken up by very attractive canals

The vast paved courtyards are broken up by very attractive canals

Giant steel planters are the only decoration in some of the courtyards

Giant steel planters are the only decoration in some of the courtyards

Away from the central route through the complex it is much quieter, with peaceful gardens and minor palaces that have been transformed into exhibition galleries.

Away from the main tourist trail can be found beautiful gardens

Away from the main tourist trail can be found beautiful gardens

Many of the main buildings have been immaculately repainted, which leaves them looking very garish and without any feeling of age. Those palaces which have not had the “like brand new” treatment will probably look much more attractive to western eyes.

The newly renovated paintwork looks very garish

The newly renovated paintwork looks very garish

Areas with faded decoration are much more subtle and pleasant

Areas with faded decoration are much more subtle and pleasant

Only in a few places can you see old walls marked by history. These are the areas where you can feel that people lived here over hundreds of years.

An old wall, marked by time

An old wall, marked by time

Some courtyard areas feature potted pomegranate trees, which are heavy with fruit in late summer.

Pomegranate tree in the Forbidden City

Pomegranate tree in the Forbidden City

A bridge over one of the canals

A bridge over one of the canals

In a future post I will feature some of the beautiful objects on show in the Forbidden City.