Food from the heart

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Pomegranate Kitchen’s Maria Bizri with her daughters in Hong Kong

Maria Bizri of Hong Kong’s Pomegranate Kitchen restaurant has collaborated with Baking For Syria, a charity recipe book published this month to support Syrian children through Syria Crisis Appeal. She spoke to Carolynne Dear.

I grew up in the Middle East, although I was born in Southampton in the UK. My parents had been living there for a while but moved to Lebanon when I was quite young. When the Lebanese civil war started in 1975 we moved to Syria – I stayed here until I was in my late teens. Then I moved to Montreal, Canada, where I went to university. I have been travelling around Europe and Asia ever since I graduated.

My family lived to eat. Food was always an integral part of our family life. My grandparents showed me love through feeding me and my numerous friends and cousins, and so did my mother and aunts. I don’t think I ever entertained the thought that life and love could be separated from eating and feeding.

I landed in Hong Kong in August 2010 and felt instantly at home. Pomegranate Kitchen was conceived on the balcony of my Southside home. After many long lunches and being asked to cater for ‘a few friends’, the business was born and started growing. I cooked out of my apartment (and those of my lovely neighbours) for the first year-and-a-half, and then my husband – who found he never got to eat any of the food being prepared – sourced the industrial location in Wong Chuk Hang where Pomegranate lives today.

Being Middle Eastern, I grew up with lots of fresh vegetables and lots of lamb. So I guess it’s no surprise that Pomegranate is well-known for both these things. Think big, hearty plates of salad, vegetarian dishes, and lots of lentils, chickpeas and lamb – chops, shoulder, leg, you name it.

It’s tough witnessing what’s happening in Syria today. To see a great country, so rich in culture, being smashed to rubble and its people become refugees is just heartbreaking. My mother has been doing a lot of work with refugee children in Lebanon (where there are over 1.2 million refugees already) and I have tried to support her schools through a few fundraisers. I’m also working closely with the Cook For Syria initiative, you can check it out on Instagram, both through @pomegranatekitchenhk and @cookforsyria. It’s a fantastic initiative. Syria has an incredible food culture and history which is being celebrated around the world by chefs and cooks through supper clubs raising funds for Unicef, which operates inside Syria. Cook For Syria has published two books so far and we are extremely proud to be part of their second publication, Bake For Syria.

Bake For Syria curated by Lily Vanilli is available from this month at amazon.co.uk with delivery to Hong Kong. Contact Maria at Pomegranate Kitchen at pomegranate.com.hk

 

Lip service

US-based artist Alexis Fraser – otherwise known as Lipstick Lex – will be gracing Harbour City this summer with an exhibition of her unique lip-based artwork. Hailing from Florida in the US, Lex was in Hong Kong this week to launch the event…

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Artist Alexis Fraser uses both kisses and lipstick applied with a paintbrush to create her canvases

Your artwork looks amazing. What initiated the idea for lipstick kisses to create pieces of art?

Thank you so much! The idea came to me in 2012 when I was challenged by a client to create a portrait of Marilyn Monroe in non-traditional way that would correlate with Marilyn. After a ton of brainstorming, the idea of creating the Hollywood bombshell with liptstick and kiss prints came to mind. It felt like a Eureka moment and this is where the seed for Lipstick Lex was sewn.

Have you always been involved with art?

I have been an artist at heart from the first time I could pick up a crayon. In high school, art class was everything to me. I went on to study fine art in college and decided I would do all I could to make art my full-time career. My art business today, Lipstick Lex, is both my full-time job and my passion.

What’s your preferred brand of lipstick when you’re creating a piece of work?

I love so many brands for so many reasons, but I tend to gravitate most often towards MAC, NYX and Klean lipsticks as they all have an amazing colour palette, are an easy price-point and are animal cruelty-free.

Ten thousands kisses for your latest canvas, Victoria Harbour at sunset, is a lot of kissing. How do you keep your lips lovely?

Honestly, I do end up with muscle fatigue! The process can be exhausting and I do feel tender if I work consistently for too many hours. Since my work requires both kissing and painting with lipstick on a paintbrush, I tend to bounce between the two techniques to give my lips a break. It’s a laborious process, but worth it to stay original in a sea of art.

What’s been your most challenging piece to date?

My last two murals hands down (including Victoria Harbour at Sunset). The larger the work, the more laborious the process. Plus working so close-up and needing to step back to make sure what I’m doing makes sense can be a challenge.

What’s your favourite piece?

There are so many pieces that I adore. I’m not sure I can pick just one. However, my tropical series, which is also featured at Harbour City, is my favourite collection to date. The pieces are vibrant, cheerful and positive. It’s feel-good art to feed the soul.

My next series will be placing an emphasis on spreading love and promoting self-love – watch out for it as what I have planned will be both beautiful and make a positive impact.

How do you get the lipstick to stick permanently to the canvas?

I coat each piece with an epoxy resin to prevent any smudging or  fading. On pieces that I can’t epoxy – like my murals – I spray them with a UV protective finishing spray to protect and lock-in the pigments.

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“Personally, I stick to lip balm when I’m off the job,” Fraser admits

Have you visited Hong Kong before?

This is my first visit and a very exciting opportunity. Seeing the iconic Victoria Harbour has been such a treat. I also enjoy wandering off the beaten path a bit to see the authentic bits of a city so I’m looking forward to some casual exploration to get a nice sample of what Hong Kong has to offer. Food is also high on my to do list, I don’t think you can truly grasp a new culture without indulging in its cuisine.

And what’s your favourite after-work lipstick?

To be honest I often stick to lip balms while I’m off the job! But I do appreciate how lipstick can add a bit of vibrancy to your appearance, so I like Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms.

Any exhibition plans post-Hong Kong?

It’s still tentative, but it looks like my next stop will either be Miami, US, or Paris, France. Watch this space…

 

Sun Kissed Summer runs until July 22, 10am-10pm, Atrium II, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City.

Kiss Print Canvas Lipstick Art Workshop led by Lipstick Lex will run on June 29 at 6 & 7pm; June 30 at 2, 3 & 4pm; and July 1 at 2, 3 & 4pm; $100 per workshop.

The exhibition will also be complemented by a Lipstick Tasting Bar with 34 brands and over 200 shades for trial, www.harbourcity.com.hk

Twenty-five storey hospital proposed in Hong Kong’s ‘heritage heartland’

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The Sheng Kung Hui hospital development plan on Lower Albert Road

It has been revealed that plans are in motion for a 25-storey private hospital on historic Bishop’s Hill, Central.

The building would straddle Bishop’s Hill between Lower and Upper Albert Roads, closely wedged between low-rise historic buildings and covering the site’s grassy areas. It would include car parking facilities with an entrance and exit on already congested Lower Albert Road.

Bishop’s Hill boasts one of the highest concentrations of graded heritage buildings in one dedicated area, including three grade one historic buildings – Bishop’s House which dates from 1843, St Paul’s Church and the Church Guest House – as well as open, grassy areas. A long land lease for the site was granted to the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (SKH or Anglican Church) in the first year of British rule in Hong Kong and allows the SKH to operate a theological college, school, St Paul’s Church and a hospital – the former seven-storey Hong Kong Central Hospital – with staff accommodation.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC), which is located opposite to the proposed entrance to the new hospital, is now urging the public to submit objections to the proposal, on the basis that the building will be out-of-proportion to the low-rise heritage buildings in the area.  According to the FCC, the development will have a ‘detrimental visual impact on a unique heritage corridor’, which starts at the FCC building and ends at St John’s Cathedral and the former Court of Appeal – of which the latter two both have Monument status. The FCC was founded in 1943 in Japanese-occupied China and relocated to Hong Kong in 1949. It moved to its current location in a nineteenth century ice house at 2 Lower Albert Road in 1982.  Bishop’s House is located at 1 Lower Albert Road.

Heritage and conservancy groups have come together under the umbrella of the Government Hill Concern Group and have filed a pre-emptive planning application with the Town Planning Board requesting that any redeveloped hospital be of the current hospital’s seven-storey height and footprint and the entire Bishop’s Hill site and its  heritage buildings are preserved ‘and treated with respect’.

Following years of demolition of historical buildings and sites, in 2009 the government’s Development Bureau launched a Conserving Central policy ‘to preserve many of the important cultural, historical or architectural features in Central’. Bishop’s Hill is not listed as a protected site under this scheme.

The full application can be read here. Objections to the proposal ‘Change of Anglican Church lease on Bishop Hill’ need to be made by Friday June 29 here.  An objection template letter has been drawn up by the FCC, please view it here.

 

 

 

Fun for all on Sentosa

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The Shangri-La Rasa Resort – fit for a president, or even a family of six

Singapore is a favourite destination with our family and not least because of Sentosa Island, recently re-branded by the Singapore government as ‘The State of Fun’ and this week host to no less than Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

Although these days it’s billed as Singapore’s top holiday resort and home to monster chunks of family entertainment, Sentosa has not always been synonymous with family fun.

Formerly known as ‘Pulau Belakang Mati’, or ‘island of death from behind’, it was once a pirate hang-out and later became a brutal prisoner of war (POW) camp for Australian and British POWs during World War II, following the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942.

In the 1970s Sentosa was renamed, rebranded and polished up for the tourist market. It is now home to 17 hotels, two golf courses, and a plethora of major attractions.

While Kim and Don will be enjoying the luxurious five-star Capella Hotel for their meeting, our firm family favourite is the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort, where we have spent many a happy holiday. There’s a great outdoor pool, mini kids waterpark, active kids club and a beautiful terrace breakfast restaurant (a popular conference hotel, it’s just so luxurious being able to watch the ‘suits’ plod off to a day’s meetings while we linger over a second stack of pancakes and another coffee – we can only guess how Kim and Don will be feeling about their own buffet breakfasts this morning, Mr Kim at the St Regis and Donald at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, both near to major Singapore shopping hub Orchard Road).

The Rasa also offers a regular shuttle service over the bridge to the ever-popular Vivo City shopping mall on the mainland. Family restaurants of note here include Jamie’s Italian and the Queen and Mangosteen – think British pub grub with lashings of classic English puds. The shopping is good with a handful of British stores that have not yet made it to Hong Kong.

Back on Sentosa, there is an incredibly handy free shuttle bus service that picks up from the Rasa and continually loops around the island. The island is also great cycling territory as the roads are quiet, wide and flat and there are plenty of hire bikes available, including ofo and Mobike (just download the app and you’re good to go).

Over the years we have enjoyed the MegaZip (terrifying), Skyline Luge Sentosa, the Singapore Cable Car to Faber Peak in Singapore (it goes through a high rise building at one point which is quite exciting), the FlowRider at Wave House Sentosa, Tanjong Beach Club, the South East Asia Aquarium, Adventure Cove Waterpark and had masses of fun at Universal Studios.

There are heaps more activities I don’t have the space to cover here, plus tons of casual beachside dining options – Hong Kong could certainly learn a thing or two.

It barely leaves you time to chill out by your hotel pool. Plus the Rasa kids club was so good we have even managed a handful of sneaky ‘adult-only’ afternoons in Singapore over the years.

So if the talks don’t work out, or they’re wrapped up ahead of schedule, there’s a whole island of fun out there for the boys.  

 

There’s a T Rex in town

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IFC’s summer guest – a two-tonne Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil from the US

A 67-million-year-old dinosaur was unveiled in Hong Kong today – in the incongruous confines of one of the city’s glitzier shopping malls.

But whether you love or loathe the location for the ‘Meet The T REX’ exhibition, IFC Mall’s Oval Atrium offers plenty of soaring space, not to mention a huge footfall of people each day.

Hued in a rosy glow from surrounding lighting, the 12-metre long Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil has been brought to Hong Kong from Germany for its first ever ‘tour’. The remains were originally discovered in Northwestern Dakota in the US and were excavated and assembled between 2010 and 2014.

The fossil stands at four metres tall, dominating the surrounding coffee and cosmetics outlets, and weighs a staggering two tonnes.

According to Dr Michael Pittman, who leads the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory at the University of Hong Kong (HKU)’s Department of Earth Sciences, and was officiating at the event launch, Tyrannosaurus Rex was a formidable carnivore.

“It’s jaws were the most powerful ever known, more powerful than a Great White shark or a lion, and its teeth were the largest of any carnivorous dinosaur. It could demolish its prey with ease; even digested bones have been found in coprolite (fossilised faeces) samples.” And contrary to how the T Rex is popularly portrayed in movies, it would have been covered in bird-like feathers rather than scales.

While IFC’s guest visitor would have lived on the north American continent, dinosaur discoveries have also been made in parts of China. However, in Hong Kong findings are so far confined to fossilised fish, some of which date back to the Late Jurassic period, around 147 million years ago.

The Pok Fu Lam-based Department of Earth Sciences at HKU has a small museum of fossilised remains, but as yet there is no dedicated permanent exhibition space in Hong Kong for paleontological exhibits. “The Science Museum recently hosted a temporary exhibition (‘Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs’, which closed in April) and the public is welcome to visit our little display at HKU on weekdays, but yes, obviously a permanent exhibition space is something we would love to see here,” said Dr Pittman.

Highlights of ‘Meet The T Rex’ include a 65 million-year-old thigh bone which the public is free to touch as well as interactive exhibits spread throughout the mall.

Meet The T Rex runs until June 27, 10am-9pm daily, Oval Atrium, IFC Mall, Central, ifc.com.hk/MeetTheTREX

 

 

Discover your inner creative in the Greek islands

 

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Calming blues and bobbing boats on Lemnos

Escaping the kids and the rat-race, former Hong Kong interiors consultant Elisha Rickward joined a Creative Immersion Retreat to the Greek island of Lemnos last year.

“It’s hard to put into words the magic that was Lemnos – although I did take away a heap of photos as it was an absolute visual feast,” says Rickward of the trip, which was part of a curated tour organised by Australian-based travel company, Mediterranean Wanderer.

“An amazing group of women came together from all over the world and over five days, we were treated to a smorgasbord of wonderful activities and workshops.”

The tour was led by Mediterranean Wanderer founder, Paula Hagiefremidis, who is in the throes of putting together a ‘Food, Writing and Creative Escape’ back to Greece and the island of Serifos in the western Cyclades this autumn.

Relaxing, restorative and highly enjoyable, the tours were first put together when Hagiefremidis hit a low point emotionally a few years ago. “I had got to a point where I wasn’t doing what truly made me happy,” she says. “I was running a very successful Japanese restaurant which myself and my husband had started from scratch. It was doing enormously well but I wasn’t content.”

So she decided to ease herself out of her comfort zone and follow her heart – “which was daunting, I was terrified” – and set up a series of writing retreats to Greece.

“There are two significant reasons for picking Greece. Firstly, although I was born in Australia I have Greek heritage and spent countless childhood summers in Greece. I speak, read and write Greek, as my parents insisted I attend Greek school after my normal school hours. This was agonising as a child but now I can’t thank my parents enough – I couldn’t imagine visiting Greece today and not being able to immerse myself as a local. Secondly, I wanted to give participants a unique experience, taking them right away from everyday life. The purpose of the retreats is for participants to feel restored, nurtured and inspired and the environment was always going to play a huge part in this,” she says.

The islands are carefully selected to suit the style of course being offered, Hagiefremidis explaining that each one has its own charm. “It’s important people get to experience the authentic side of Greece, to meet the artisan producers, to sample the produce and to experience the warmth of Greek hospitality,” enthuses Hagiefremidis.

Groups are purposefully kept small – no more than 10 people for the retreat this coming September – to allow participants to form stronger connections with each other. She stresses that although the tour has a writing component, no prior skills are needed, it is merely the vehicle for people to enhance their creativity.

“The retreats are as much for aspiring creatives who want to further their passion as they are for those who are feeling stuck and in need of direction and inspiration. Last year this was achieved through photography and styling, but the majority of women who attended were neither one nor the other. This year it will be all about using writing and our daily travels across the island to enhance, reflect and connect with what’s important to you. It’s also a chance to connect with an inspiring group of likeminded women.”

Along with the workshops, there will also be the chance to swim the aquamarine seas, share delicious meals, with a little bit of ‘Zorba dancing’ thrown in.

This autumn, participants will be staying in two private Cycladic-style seaside villas. Guests can opt for a private room or shared accommodation and each bedroom has its own bathroom. There will be day trips around the island, both by road and by boat, as well as meet-ups with local artisans and freshly cooked local-style meals. “The schedule is all about allowing a balance of activities to both restore and inspire, as well as developing creative and personal pursuits. A full schedule is available on the company website.

“Paula’s love of Greece was very apparent,” commented Rickward at the end of her retreat. “Her enthusiasm was infectious. We climbed mountains (literally and figuratively), set up a styling shoot in a local town, picked wildflowers, danced with the locals under the stars and swam in the beautiful Aegean Sea. My time on Lemnos with a bunch of inspiring women was a true life highlight and one I’m hoping to repeat someday.”

For further information about this September’s retreat, ‘A Food, Writing & Creative Escape’, see mediterraneanwanderer.com Or contact founder and host Paula Hagiefremidis directly at paula@mediterraneanwanderer.com

 

Singapore zing

Is this the next Crazy Rich Asians?! Expat mum-of-two Stephanie Suga Chen is the author brand new book, Travails of a Trailing Spouse. She tells Carolynne Dear what prompted her to put pen to paper

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Author Stephanie Suga Chen and her new release

So what’s it all about?

The story begins with Sarah, a lawyer in the US, quitting her job and moving to Singapore with her husband and children. They become part of a close-knit group of expatriates, enjoying alcohol-fuelled evenings together. But when cracks appear in this seemingly perfect world, Sarah and her friends discover how complicated life can be.

How long did it take you to write?

The answer usually shocks people! It took me about five weeks – I wrote a chapter a night. I think I just had it all pent up inside me, ready to flow out. Editing, well, that’s a whole other story – I think that took five months.

Have you always been a writer, or is this a shift from a previous career?

It was a complete shift; I left my career in finance when we decided to move to Singapore in 2012. Although one of my goals had been to possibly find a new career for myself, I admit it took longer than I had expected. I spent about four years floundering quite a bit – lots of yoga, lunches and volunteering until I discovered writing.

How was the writing process?

I wrote everywhere – at home, on the MRT, at school waiting for the kids. And I used many different media – laptop, phone, scribbles on a scrap of paper.

How much of the story is autobiographical?

This is everyone’s favourite question. It did start as a memoir, but I found it a lot more fun to fictionalize it. So if you’re wondering, the juicier bits are probably made up. Although I’ve heard many readers say “I know that exact person!”

Why do you think expats often struggle despite their comfortable lifestyles?

Although the novel centres around expat life, the problems that the characters face are not necessarily unique to trailing spouses. I think the journey of self-discovery applies to anyone at a crossroads in life; it just happens to have a more exotic setting – similar to Eat, Pray, Love.

What would you say are the best and the worst bits of being an expat?

For me, I would say the best is having my children experience diversity on a daily basis. The worst is definitely being away from family and friends, although that can sometimes be a good thing, too – being shielded from the stressful, Christmas holiday period is one example that springs to mind.

Any downsides to life in Singapore?

The unyielding heat takes quite a bit of getting used to.

What would be your advice to expats moving to Singapore?

Three things: 1) The fight against mold is real, 2) Enjoy every moment, 3) Read my book!

Do you have any plans for a follow-up novel?

I have several projects in the pipeline, and I’ve already collected dozens of stories for a possible sequel. If you’ve got any of those ‘too crazy to be true’ expat stories, please do send them my way!

Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen is published by Straits Times Press and is available internationally from stpressbooks.com.sg.