Fantastic Fungi

As a child I was always fascinated by mysterious old Chinese medicine shops with all their weird and wonderful bits of dried and shrivelled Nature. Most interesting of all were the different dried mushrooms that, depending on type, could be used for correcting health problems, or added to an unusual and healthy-giving dish in the kitchen. I still love the look of fungi today in both their living and dried forms. (Or more accurately, as my husband tells me, the fruiting bodies of fungi.)

Lingzhi - The mushroom of immortality!

Lingzhi – The mushroom of immortality!

The last time I visited Hong Kong I photographed some fungi in a health shop which stirred up even more childhood associations. These were the mushroom known as “Lingzhi” which featured in many of the books I read in my youth. This rare fungus (Ganoderma lucidum) has been used in Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and many accounts attributed it with life extending powers. In more recent times it has found a regular place in literature as a fabled elixir of life, and featured in many of the Martial Arts novels I read in my teens. Seeing them lying in a shop, piled in an old cardboard box, rather spoiled the myth!

Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum) Legend of my youth

Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum) Legend of my youth

Another type of dried fungus

Another type of dried fungus

I also love fungi growing in nature, where they can suddenly appear like exotic aliens overnight. I have now tried to start photographing any new types I see, though our voracious Cornish slugs seem to attack and disfigure many before I get there.

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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

1960’s Hong Kong

Last month, my daughter Isla spent a few days scanning old photographs so that we could store them on computer. These included pictures from an old album that came from Hong Kong, with black and white pictures that were taken in the 1960s.

A teenage version of me, posing under a bamboo

A teenage version of me, posing under a bamboo

Most of these old photographs were taken using a little box camera and are not very good but I love them for their nostalgic air of a bygone age.

Looking towards Hong Kong harbour, mid-1960s

Looking towards Hong Kong harbour, mid-1960s

While I probably took some of the landscape photographs, I do not know the origin, or the subjects of many of the others.

Portrait of an old man

Portrait of an old man

My favourite picture of all is an old wedding shot showing the bride surrounded by her female relatives and friends, where everyone is aiming for 1960’s high fashion, Hong Kong style! My mother is seated on the far right of the photo.

I love the hairstyles and the big handbags!

I love the hairstyles and the big handbags!

Deserted Village Homes

The last time I visited my family in Hong Kong we went on a ferry trip to visit Tung Ping Chau Island. This tiny island, situated in the far north-east corner of the Hong Kong territory, is famed for its unusual geology and is part of a UNESCO Global Geopark. The island itself is nearly all Country Park and is situated in the Tung Ping Chau Marine Park.

The park’s many paths, overgrown with orchids and the spectacularly eroded rocks are incredibly beautiful. However, I found that the most striking feature of the island was the deserted houses of the former villagers, which are gradually being swallowed up by the undergrowth.

Tung Ping Chau is famed for its unusual sedimetary rocks

Tung Ping Chau is famed for its unusual sedimetary rocks

The island once had a thriving fishing and farming community of over 3,000 people, but now it has no permanent residents, as everyone has left for a better life in Hong Kong’s urban jungle. The only well-maintained buildings to be seen are connected with the tourist trade.

Everyone has left for Hong Kong a few miles away

Everyone has left for Hong Kong a few miles away

I found the sight of the slowly decaying homes to be a little melancholy yet strangely beautiful.

Hong Kong: skyscrapers and surrealism

With paper sculptures and giant apples on the inside, along with his ‘n hers coloured glass and warped reflections on the outside, here are a few photos of my favourite buildings in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: City Lights

The slow shutter speed on my old camera had a few benefits, including the way it turned Hong Kong’s glaring city lights into electric abstract images. Here’re a few of my favourites.