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BENGAL BITES ON AN AUTUMN NIGHT

November 2, 2016

Traditional ideas about curry, what it is and what it stands for were butter-nut squashed at Bengal Bites last Friday: the second in a series of innovative pop up supper clubs in East London. Community enthusiast and former school teacher Imad Ahmed challenged a diverse, eclectic crowd of diners to think beyond the Brick Lane confines of an ‘Indian,’ providing an intimate space for authentic Bengali cuisine to be the food of rich conversation and cross-cultural exchange.

Variety was very much the spice of this event, set in a hipster-esque pocket of Clapton, just above the infamous Palm 2. Greeted at the door by friends from Bar Bedoun, preparing a refreshing array of middle eastern mocktails, the aromatic rose and pineapple savours watered our palettes and opened our minds to a cosy, sensory filled evening.

Imad’s sister Shopna Nessa, whose name literally means ‘dream’ in Bengali, was very much the inspiration for the whole thing. She was born in the mountainous, tea-growing lands of North-East Bangladesh. Her skill at cooking became famed in her village and surrounding areas even as a young girl. Having moved to the UK over twenty years ago, she continued to cook and share her passion with others, and naturally assumed the lead as Head Chef for this.

As we took our seats at the long, candle lit dinner tables, Imad spoke of life as a ‘son of immigrants,’ and his desire to invite us into a space that felt like ‘home.’ But not necessarily the home cultural stereotypes might assume for a practising Muslim of Bengali heritage, living in East London. More home in a visceral sense: the home he has created for himself, drawing on the ingredients from the cultural melting pot within his reach.

He described exploration of his identity, growing up in a space very different to that of his parents, who were born in Bangladesh. An East Londoner himself, he displayed enthusiasm for the way the area has evolved over the years, drawing much inspiration for the evening from the diversity of inhabitants he has been exposed to along the way. Hackney has undergone a period of rapid development, expansion and gentrification over the past ten years and with that has evolved a diverse population, visibly evident as you roam the Clapton streets. The elements of the evening focused on fusion, encouraging the mind to break free from cultural classification and area stereotyping. To make use of the collective dining space to dig into things a bit more deeply.

It didn’t take long to recognize the breadth of experiences brought to the space that evening and the enjoyment gained from sharing perspectives alongside refreshing Bengali cuisine. He purposefully chose the Turkish run space to host the evening, on the basis of a shared love for food and community. The live jazz band, who were the soundtrack for the evening, were ex-colleagues from the local school. The floral details and eclectic wooden feel were distinctly hipster and Imad admitted to having drawn upon local inspiration for this. After working in Clapton for some years, he’s made connections with inhabitants and business owners all down Lower Clapton Road and the range of diners sat around the table reflected this.

The concept of ‘Shopna Nessa Supper Clubs’ helps us to think beyond the conventional. To look beyond the superficial definitions of curry culture that we are familiar with and past cultural experiences we might classify as distinctly ‘different’ from our own. It invites us to try out new flavours of thinking. To open our minds and our palettes to blend new definitions of the spaces we share, using food as the fuel to dream up meaning for the shared places in which we live.

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KICK START YOUR CREATIVITY

September 27, 2016

Commitment is the first step of the creative process. It is the kick-starting spark that shows our ideas where to head to, destabilising the barriers that stand in the way of creating. It’s then, and only then, that the creativity inside can truly begin its magic. Sometimes I watch people doodle in meetings. Some just draw a line, others keep going until it starts to sprawl out and unveil something interesting. If we are prepared to stick around doodling for long enough, then our creative sides will definitely appear.

This is normally the point that people who are struggling with commitment say ‘But I’m not creative,’ or ‘I can’t draw,’  or ‘I don’t have time’ and that may well feel genuine. They put the pencil down. But we have to push through that reflex action in order to hack the internal belief system. We have to put the time in if we are truly keen to see anything different. We have to pick back up the pencil. Furthermore, we must trust the direction in which things start to pull these proverbial pencils in. And please do not let your demons start to limit your ideas about creativity. For it goes way beyond the parameters of traditional ‘arts and crafts’ we were taught at school. It comes in many forms that, given a notes tab, a view finder, five minutes in conversation, or a page in your Moleskin – will begin to take shape more intentionally.

There will always be reasons not to create, or stagnate in routine if we want there to be: an invitation from friends, a fun show on telly, an inviting duvet, a busy day at work. Although these elements of life have a time and a place, one must learn to hit pause on them to truly make way for creativity. And the longer we are willing to hit the pause button for, the larger the space is made for our creativity to evolve. The closer to creative fulfillment we will be. A feeling that some of us may not have ever taken time to consider.

Hacking the internal belief system that stops us from connecting with our creativity means overriding the feelings of fear: of picking up a pencil to draw from our ten year old selves, of singing whether it’s screechily off key, of accepting we are not yet the ‘professionals,’ nor at this point are we intending to be. And with that level of acceptance, the kind hands of nurturing can get to work. The pangs of discontentment will begin to subside, replaced by the sensation of encouragement.

Small + Small = Bigger

We have a simple answer to help you on your creative journey. We want as many people as possible to join in deeply connecting with their creativity. We want to ask you to dedicate seven special days to it. We want you to be surprised by the outcomes of a small investment and see how given time, things begin to unfold.

Sign Up

How? Every day for seven days, a creative challenge is sent to subscribers by text message. You can spend as little or as long as you want to on it and you’ll be trusted to carry it out independently. You then have the option of sharing what you have produced if you sign up to the Whatsapp group or within your social network, or storing it somewhere privately. You will engage with your ideas and observations and be asked to capture your findings appropriately. The brief is open, the remit is yours.

Why participate? In past years, it’s proved to be heaps of fun, accessible, doable, a great chance to connect with others and a real challenge for those who want it to be. Plus, it’s completely FREE!

ARE YOU READY? SIGN UP NOW TO RECEIVE YOUR FIRST CHALLENGE:

***Your details are safe with us***

OK, Kick Start!

1. BOOK A SLOT

You’ll be sent a creative challenge early each morning for seven days. Find a slot in your day that is feasible and a time frame that you know you could be free. Stick to it. Yep, even if you’re tempted by distractions. Keep to it and the results will be rewarding!

2. RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

Whether you’re new to this way of thinking, or it’s something you want to develop further, RISE ABOVE the voice that is stopping you from participating. You are creative – everyone inherently is, we absolutely promise you will surprise yourself. You can be inspired, you can find interesting things, you can find ways to express this, you can finish what you started. This is the muscle work in getting things moving and flowing outwards and upwards.

3. SELF-NURTURE

Appreciate even the tiniest thing and celebrate the smallest steps forward. Look for opportunities throughout your day to spread your creative vibes and share what you have done or found with people you know will be encouraging. Every next step you take is progress and asking for feedback will help you. Negative Emotions? Remember everyone is at different stages of their creative journey. Treat negative feedback as an echo from a past, less creative self that has showed up just to test you. Then push through and pick back up the pencil!

4. TAKE RISKS

Similarly to creating a nurturing space, allow yourself the same space to be able to try out things that are new to you. It’s easy to be very creative, yet stagnate in the safety of what’s familiar to you. Venture into unknown places, explore what you are not very used to. Do that thing you are worried about and find a way to make it work for you.

Are you ready to get moving with your creative work? Join us in the 7 Day Creative Challenge to get inspired and throw yourself into creative action! 

#the7daycreativechallenge

By Maxine Clay, Co-Founder of Creative Retreats UK

SUNDAY PAPERS LIVE

July 31, 2016

Sunday Funday or Sunday Blues, it’s safe to say Sunday is the day of the week we’re less busy, or at least more inclined to take on ‘leisurely’ activities. This might be the time of the week to fold out the broadsheet, follow your nose through a cook book, begin an inventory of the back garden flower beds, or set a meeting point for friends at the park to go and soak up the sun. With such little time and so many possibilities, it’s natural to feel a bit like you’re missing out, or at least missing something: You want to relax in the garden, but you’ve been feeling a bit cut off recently. You want to enjoy yourself alongside friends, but you’ve also been meaning to dedicate a bit of solo time to catch up on things independently.

This is where Sunday Papers Live (SPL) comes in. Fresh out of a recently successful SPL Special at Citadel Festival, this novel idea doesn’t deliver the newspaper to your door. It doesn’t fit through the letterbox, neither is it brought to you by a panting dog, (although I’m sure they are on that one!)

John Hudson at Sunday Papers Live, Citadel Special

What’s the idea?

At Sunday Papers Live, each section of the Sunday Papers is presented by an expert speaker, performer or group. As part of the audience, you sit back without the need to turn a page, manage reader’s cramps, or suffer the inconvenience of inky handed lethargy. In this format, you kick back, relax and listen carefully as the paper is brought to life right in front of you. Normally the concept takes place in an over sized living room in central London, but at Citadel in Victoria Park, it was housed in a tent laden with sofas and intimacy. Sheltered from the sun, the performances of each section of the paper took place on a stage plonked right in the middle. Belting out the perfect balance of silly and serious, the experience is a positive one and you can’t help but feel connected to the fellow audience members who populate the vicinity.

From Olympian turned Comedian Eddie ‘The Eagle,’ that had the audience in stitches going over his experiences in both industries, to the UK Military’s very own Survival Instructor John Hudson heading up the Travel news, there were some fantastic opportunities to engage and be entertained concurrently. By far the best bit for us was the novel, section designed to give a voice to audience views, namely Talkaoke.

HIGHLIGHT – TALKAOKE

Talkaoke is a polo shaped pop-up talk-show that gets conversations going quickly and inspires open, candid expression to take place with ease and energy. Providing an answer to the comments section of the SPL newspaper, ‘Talkaoke’ facilitates freestyle chatter and creates a safe space for contributors to disclose uncertainty. At Citadel, festival goers were invited to take a seat around the table and encouraged by the host to speak their mind on chosen topics quite openly. We tuned into the edition just as they were on the subject of hair – a perfectly universal theme allowing contributors to get involved almost immediately. And quite magical were the results. A contributor with little hair is left empathetic to the challenges of the life full of dreadlocks experienced by the guy seated opposite. In a short space of time people are finding common ground and developing empathy in the parts of discussion where they may think differently.

Talkaoke hosting the Comments section of SPL at Citadel Festival 2016

Sunday Papers Live puts the love into Sundays, not just for its ability to present you with the norm unconventionally, but for the freshness of the concept to inspire you to engage in the news experientially. You’re no longer the passive reader of the newspaper after this experience, but warmly welcomed to contribute and develop with it enthusiastically and collectively.

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EDIBLE LANDSCAPES

May 12, 2016

Wood came before concrete, yet somehow we have evolved to navigate better through the streets than the woodlands: through Tesco Metro supermarket aisles better than our own back gardens. We know how important our survival is to us and how much we love to be outdoors on the rare occasions the British weather allows, but the current priorities of city living mean that if it wasn’t for the conveyor belt food culture that provides for us, we’d be left, quite frankly, starving – without a clue of what to do. Why is it that our ability to self sustain has dwindled? How is it, that if one day we ventured down to the Sainsburys Local and the shelves were empty, we’d be left with an empty stomach and not even a morsel of knowledge as to how to engage with our natural surroundings to fill it?

To be creative with what surrounds us is to look more carefully at the land we live in, make it our friend and understand how best to work with it…

In a house of five in Dalston, we struggle to keep the lawn mowed, let alone cultivate our own vegetables. Self sufficiency is selecting a recipe from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals and finding the supermarket which sells its ingredients. It’s knowing where to get good food stuffs over knowing how to. So, bar the staple herbs out the back that pretty much look after themselves, or the token chilly plant on the kitchen window sill – the garden is a leisurely space made for sun lounging, booze and barbecues. But, even if we don’t have time to consider how we can put our hands and lands to use in this way, when we venture away from our doorsteps and into the wild, we generally have little idea of where to begin. Anything that’s not grass in a patch of land discarded as ‘weeds,’ an unfamiliar berry regarded ‘inedible.’ And this is symptomatic of the way we have learnt to see. With little time on our hands to observe our surroundings more closely, us city dwellers and townsfolk grow estranged to the lands in which we live. Commuters in the walk down by the river, laid out in the back garden simply for sun, irritated by the overgrowth of weeds. But, to what extent can we connect with our surroundings and be creative with what nature provides us?

WHAT’S FORAGING?

It was only a few steps into the Foraging walk as part of Edible Landscapes last week and we’d already been pulled to a halt by Joan Yeardon, the local Permaculturist and expert on anything wild and edible. She was pointing to a pot full of Calendula from afar, explaining how over the years it has been used medicinally. Although this one’s not edible, we’re amazed by its brightness and versatility. To ‘forage’ is to obtain food or provisions by searching, and everyone on this walk is keen to make this more of a possibility. As we head towards the River Lea, we’re quickly fascinated by what we’re encouraged to see. We’re handed a bunch of Mahonia, a deep purple berry formerly considered to be ‘poisonous,’ so it’s a bit odd as we’re passed it to eat. It’s bitter, with a light green pulp and nowhere near as sweet as it looks, but it’s ‘perfect for jams and slows’ explains Joan enthusiastically.

COW PARSLEY

We’re only on your average Homerton roadside and already we’ve got in a pickle with the Cleavers (a.k.a Sticky Willies). But we’re soon soothed by the soft scent of Lemon Balm – identified, crushed with the fingers and tickling our noses. A trip on a foraging walk like this encourages us to get searching – as if one were stepping out of the realms of the ordinary and into a Secret Garden that those who are interested in can see. Just a minute’s walk into the park, we’re halted by what appears to be a harmless bush, yet on inspection it’s much more than it appears to be. ‘Look with your eyes not your hands’ Joan says, as we’re familiarized with the instrument of Aristotle’s assassination – namely Hemlock, an unusual suspect that blends in with the rest of the green, but is actually incredibly noxious. Joan picks it up, glove clad and places it within safe distance. It’s chemical smelling and has light black ink splats along the stalk which helps us identify. We listen from afar as she explains to us this is something we ‘definitely shouldn’t attempt to eat.’

HEMLOCK

As we stroll down paths at an extremely slow speed, covering just a small patch of land, Joan points out the forest of resources available to us. Nettles for which to make gruel or pesto; Dead Nettles which can be used in the same way as Spinach; Elderflower from which to make cordial, champagne or vinegar; a handful of different strains of garlic that smell truly wonderful and are warming and flavoursome when we let ourselves go enough to tuck in to the treat. A flowering pear tree; Dandelion petals, that when mixed with Elderflower are a cure for hayfever; the glowing blush of Hawthorn amongst the leaves to flavour jellies, jams and syrups. We’re completely astounded by the abundance and plenitude of what populates the area and we start to collect up bunches of what we realize we can use for feed.

NETTLES

ALL AROUND EXPERT, JOAN YEARDON, GUIDE AT EDIBLE LANDSCAPES

WILD GARLIC

ELDERFLOWER

DANDELION AND GARLIC

UNKNOWN

THREE CORNERED LEEK

In conversation with the founder of Edible Landscapes, Jo Homan, whose aim is to get Londoners more engaged with their surroundings and begin to grow their own food, it becomes clear that foraging is still more of a sport than a way of life in the UK (unlike Italy and Greece, where permaculture and foraging are more of a necessity.) Working alongside places such as The Kabin at Hackney Marshes and enthusiasts like Joan, the aim is to create a community of people interested in reviving our bonds with nature and pulling up the magnifying glass on our green patches, so we can understand them better and use them in our lives more creatively.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Get out there beyond your Tesco Metro and walk further – near your house or around the park. Find the wild spots and try to look carefully to identify what exactly it is you can see. It might feel like a hobby to begin with and definitely more of a challenge than calling upon the Supermarket Attendant to locate your ingredients, but starting to engage more deeply with nature and understand what it is we are surrounded by, is probably one of the most sensible and responsible things we can do.

Helpful tools:

-Try this great free Pocket Urban Food Guide from the Wild Food School to get you started.

-Like that Garden app for smart phones can be downloaded to take pictures of flowers and plants and identify what it is that you can see. Download here.

-Podcast on foraging and permaculture Listen to the Founder of Edible Landscapes, Jo Homan on Shoreditch Radio

-The Scented Kitchen – Cooking with flowers recipes and how to bookMore info here.

Join the next Foraging Walk to have a go yourself and learn more about how to identify, collect and even prepare your own food.

By Maxine Clay

CREATIVE SUNDAYS – THE CANDID CAFE

April 28, 2016

SUNDAY BLUES?

Sundays can be funny days. When we’re young they’re often the day of rest – typically assigned to family roasts or trashy TV. But as we get older, they develop different meanings. The ‘extra work day’ for the workaholics; the ‘DIY day’ for the grafters; the ‘day of recovery’ for the Epicureans; the ‘blue day’ for the disorganized; the ‘me day’ for the dedicated.

WHAT’S A CREATIVE SUNDAY?

Creative Sundays compliment any of the above definitions of a Sunday. The aim is to provide the opportunity for those with the will to add more colour to their Sundays to join like-minded friends and get stuck into thinking, talking and doing something creative. A Creative Sunday encourages you to hit the pause button on anything that feels like a chore in life and surrender to your inner creative for an afternoon.

WHAT HAPPENS?

You show up with a project you’re working on, something you love doing but haven’t had time for, or empty handed but open minded. You grab yourself a seat, a coffee or whatever you need to relax. You start to mingle, be curious, get talking, catch up, get going. They say you pick up on your creativity wherever it was in life you left off. Be it twenty years ago that you last put pencil to paper, or just last week that you wrote that article.

‘At first when you restart the creative engine it can feel a little bit like the battery is flat, or even like your young self is in the driving seat and making a bit of a mess of things. That’s a totally natural feeling to experience, alongside the potential of feeling lost, not quite knowing what you are doing, or a bit rusty. But you have to start somewhere and as soon as you do – if you keep going – it starts to feel more exciting…’

The Candid Cafe in Angel was the perfect space for ‘starting somewhere’ last Sunday 24th April. It was really inspiring to see past Creative Retreaters sink into activities such as writing, drawing, colouring in, origami, collage and montage. There was also the opportunity to share the progress of creative work/ideas and welcome newcomers into those conversations.

We were so pleased to meet some newcomers including Gemma Thomas! Read some of her poems here.

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