Parkruns: Tim, Jim and Colin

I’ve met Tim Page a couple of times before – he’s working his way round all the Norn Irn parkruns raising awareness and funds for leukemia and lymphoma.  He was due to run at Colin Glen this week, and was feeling a bit nervous of its reputation as a tough one.  I’d managed to be first lady the  last time  I was here, and it holds a special place in my heart as it completed the NI set for me last year.  But Minnie had managed to hurt her paw, so there was no barkrun for her, and no way I could better my previous time without her assistance on the hills.  So I volunteered to keep Tim company on his run.

I arrived in good time and parked up, just before Tim himself appeared, and in between his stretches I got him to pose for the traditional “Cracker Says” moment.

IMG_0307A few other people recognised Tim, and we were also joined by parkrun Jim.

He famously came home from holiday in Spain in order to continue his parkruns, and was the first man in Ireland to complete 250. He’s recently added a second tattoo on his other calf to celebrate this achievement.

There was a good turnout, as a recent Steps to Health group were making their graduation run, and the spread of post run goodies looked very tasty indeed.

It’s a beautiful course,

winding its way through sun dappled trees,

across bridges,

and past some Gruffalo statues.

IMG_0311 It’s a gradual climb up to the lake, which you run round twice,

before a great downhill stretch all the way home.

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Tim had been worried about various niggles, including an achilles problem, so we agreed we would roughly run for 4 minutes, walk for 1. I acted as photographer and now and then I’d sprint ahead or stay behind to get a good picture.  Even if it was just of Jim’s tatts!

We smiled and laughed our way around the course, sharing stories about previous runs, jobs, and writing.

There was great cheering as we crossed the finish line, and I know Tim was relieved to have that one ticked off.

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Thank you to the super volunteers for their sterling work today, and well done all the first timers!

 

 

 

 

 

Dance with your soul

…is the title of a biography of Miss Milligan, who along with Mrs Stewart were the founders of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Miss Milligan used to distinguish between “dancers” and “performers”, and believed that there was more than just technical perfection to aim for, that the spirit and essence of the dance was more than good footwork.A1EslVHZntL.

After a bit of soul-searching myself (Did I REALLY want to devote substantial time money and energy into this?  For what great purpose? Would I be making the world a better place?) I’ve started my journey towards becoming a qualified Scottish Dance teacher. This consists of five separate modules.  Unit 1 is a written theory and history test, Unit 2 examines your own dancing skills, Unit 3 is a test of teaching prowess, Unit 4 is a portfolio of practical teaching experience, and Unit 5 is a final practical examination.  This year, I went to St Andrews Summer School for 2 weeks to sit Units 2 and 3.

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis!” is the refrain in Juno and the Paycock, and that was my feeling as well as I set off to hide in a dancing bubble for a fortnight, hoping to ignore the worrying world events and concentrate on something that I could do well, and that brought me joy.

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I’ve attended Summer School a few times before, but had never been there for opening week. It was noticeably quieter, there were no queues for the dining room, and there was space to dance in the common room and Younger Hall. After a welcome drinks reception on the Sunday evening, we Unit 2 candidates met up in the TV room to introduce each other, and meet Rebecca, our tutor, and Kathleen, our pianist. There were 10 of us for the first week, including two people re-sitting, and we came from all parts of the world. We would be spending most of our time in the Common Room, mornings and afternoons, and would have homework to do in the evenings. We were all housed on the same floor, which helped us to gel as a bunch.

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We’d already done some preparatory work before arriving, including analyses of the 12 dances we were expected to know very well for Unit 2.  There were four each of jigs, reels and strathspeys, and the exam on Friday would require us to dance one of each as first couple, as well as acting as supporting couples for the others. We would also be expected to do a recap before our dance.  As well as knowing the steps, this necessitated using your big-room voice, with appropriate hand gestures.  I found doing the recaps a little nerve-wracking to begin, and during one of them it was pointed out to me that I was standing with my hands on my hips, obviously focusing deeply on remembering the words!  Thankfully this was only during class, rather than the exam.  And before each recap the whole team got to “huddle” where we could remind each other of the main points.

On Tuesday evening, I managed to “sneak out” to the dance held by the local St Andrews branch in the lovely town hall.  While I was there, the chassis-ridden outside world crashed into my bubble, as my husband phoned me to tell me that Max had had to be rushed to the vets with bloat, a twisted stomach which I knew was a very serious condition.  He had had an emergency operation, but the next few days would be crucial. My fellow dancers were very supportive, one of them was a vet and was able to answer my questions, whilst others provided gin and hugs.

On Wednesday evening, things got even worse, when I received a phone call from my husband’s best friend, to tell me he’d been rushed to A&E suffering from severe dizziness and balance problems.  Thankfully he was released a few hours later, but I found myself seriously wondering if I should just go home. And that 2016 could just feck right off!

By mid-week, Rebecca had matched each of us with partners.  Being only 5’2, and knowing that there were a couple of tall guys in the group, I had expected to be dancing as a “woman”, but I was partnered as a “man” with Claire, and I think we made a great team.  It did mean I needed to work hard at some of the formations such as the Tournee, which I had practised on the assumption that I’d probably be a “woman”!

My husband visited Max every day, and kept me updated on his progress.  The poor wee thing looked miserable in photos, and I wished there was something more than facetime where I could stroke his silky ears or give him a chuckle under the chin.

Thursday Nights at Summer School are a big Younger Hall night.  I’ve given off in the past about the nonsense about having to buy a separate ticket for these, and last year I’d forgotten to get one!  So this year I’d bought my Thursday tickets in good time.  However, it was our exam on Friday, and the rest of the group wanted to have a final run through all the dances, doing as much “cleaning” and fine tuning as we could.  So my Thursday ticket lay sadly unused on my desk.

On Friday Claire and I checked that our chosen outfits didn’t class, and we had a final run through in the morning, before the exam in the afternoon. I wore a new dress in silver grey, with yellow polka dots, and it moved nicely when I danced. I’d met one of the examiners, Marilyn Watson, before.  She’d been my examiner at last year’s Dance Achievement Award, and had also recently visited Belfast to take a children’s day school.  With five couples doing the exam, only four were needed on the floor for each dance, so there was a welcome break at intervals.  The dances Claire and I were allotted were General Stuart’s Reel, Miss Hadden’s Reel (which is a jig….) and Miss Gibson’s Strathspey. There were a lot of Misses and Mrses in the names of the dances, as well as a General and a Duke, and a Reel which was a strathspey….

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We rattled through them all in good time, and celebrated with a glass of champagne at the garden party, before relaxing at the traditional Friday ceilidh.

No rest for the wicked, though, and on Saturday morning we were back in the Common Room making a start on Unit 3.  We were looking forward to dancing for fun in the Younger Hall on the Saturday night, and wanted to take some group photos. But at the interval I looked at my mobile phone to see four missed calls from my husband, and I knew what he was going to tell me.  Max had contracted an infection after the operation, and had slipped away that evening.  He hadn’t been in pain, and there had been someone with him.  Saturday nights usually finish with a “dregs” party, where everyone brings along their remaining stash of booze and nibbles, but I wasn’t in the mood to party and went to bed.

Sunday was a rare day off.  Having been stuck inside all week while the sun blazed in the sky, of course it was mizzly and grey.  I found my way to the beach and had a long walk, smiling at all the lovely doggies frolicking on the sand and in the surf.  Some Edinburgh friends came and took me out for lunch, which we had in the delightful fishing village of Craill, where I really enjoyed some dressed crab in a dinky little cafe overlooking the sea.

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Monday was back to studies, and our first chance at teaching to a group of volunteers, rather than just amongst ourselves.  Working with a real live musician was a new skill for all of us, and I was rather proud of my commanding “Ready…AND”s.  The structure we were learning was quite prescriptive – teach a step in certain incremental way, then do a skills exercise, leading to a formation, and for the exam there would be an additional 8 bars to dance to make up a 16 bar phrase.  We learned so much from watching each other do practise lessons, and we co-operated on writing our nightly lesson plans.  I only had my iPad with me, and I found that downloading Word for iPad, combined with the Office 365 package that I’d recently taken out, were a godsend.

We were allocated numbers at random, which would be the order we would do our test on Friday.  I was Lucky 7 – “the luck of the Irish!” said Rebecca.

In any spare time we had, we were working on an item for the Friday ceilidh.  George had come up with some new words to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, and we tweaked and fine tuned these, and grabbed the odd 5 minutes with Kathleen to practise.

On Thursday morning, we gathered nervously outside the Common Room to receive our assignments in sealed envelopes handed out by Mervyn Short.  After this, we wouldn’t be able to speak to Rebecca, though we could use any of the other tutors for advice.  We agreed we would all open our envelopes together.  My step was strathspey travelling step, my formation was turn corner and partner, ending own sides, and the final 8 bars were advance and retire, and 1s turn 1 1/2 times to end opposite sides.  I double checked a few aspects of this: so the 1s were starting in the middle of the set facing their first corners? And finishing in 2nd place opposite sides?  The whole 16 bars was very like part of a dance, Strathglass House, and I was worried that the more experienced dancers in my group of volunteers would be disconcerted by the not-quite-ness.  And neither beginning nor ending a 16 bar phrase on own sides just felt a little awkward.

I did a quick lesson plan, ran my concerns past Mervyn, and decided to get some much needed fresh air.  In one shop of pretty things, I was just finishing my purchases when Rebecca entered – she put her had across her face and joked “I can’t see you!” I also decided to get a haircut, just so’s I’d be neat and tidy.

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We worked together during the day, timing each other, looking at YouTube videos of the various formations we had, reminding each other of the teaching points, and rehearsing our patter.  I felt sufficiently on top of things to get to Younger Hall this Thursday, though I spent some of it on the balcony trying to hone my observation skills.

As Lucky 7, I wouldn’t be on till the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get into my chosen outfit too soon, in case I spilled anything on it.  At breakfast time, someone expressed concern that my skirt was too long for the exam, and I explained that I would be changing later into a plain navy flippy skirt, with a navy top and my lucky star turquoise necklace. I spent Friday morning rehearsing and getting my timings down, and although I was nervous, I tucked into the traditional fish and chips lunch with gusto.

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Soon it was my turn.  I calmed my nerves with some Rescue Remedy, entered the room with a bright smile and handed my neatly printed lesson plans to the two examiners and Rebecca, and checked the music with Kathleen.  I was happy with how the lesson went, I tried my best to be engaging and bubbly, and to keep coaching in my biggest voice above the music.  I even managed to throw in a Eurovision quote before the final dance through – Nicky Byrne in this year’s Irish entry “Sunlight” sings “dance like you mean it.”

I was happy that I’d had no brain meltdown moments, and that I’d done my best.  But I was still anxious about the results – there are about 24 different attributes that the examiners are awarding a score of A,B,C or D to, and in some of them you MUST get a B or above.  And no more than two Ds in total.  So it could be one wee thing that means a fail.

Meanwhile, there was champagne to be quaffed at the garden party, and a final 5 minute rehearsal of our ceilidh item. It went well, and a number of people commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed it. Please forgive the blatant over-acting.

Those words in full:

Reach close reach, spring beat beat and
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
We’re Unit 3s from far away
We’re here to learn, and every day
While you went out dancing we were in this room, going
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
Our aching feet would love to be
In Younger Hall or in the sea
But we must do homework, need a lesson plan, hop step close
We show you how to pose, how to point your toes
Now your posture and grace
Will help each set you’re in begin
To dance like you know how it goes
We’ll teach you how to dance strathspey
And pas de basque with a jete
And if there’s a figure called a tournee
Yo’ll never ever go the wrong way
Rebecca’s looking sacred, I feel so unprepared
I’m facing volunteers
I’d like to introduce Kathleen
Who’ll come in whenever she hears (with the music)
My teaching points I must explain
The hands and arms and covering
Remember your posture, close your feet in 3rd once again
We never see the sun, Jim Stott says have some fun
And here’s a camera crew so get it right.
It rained on our day off – enough!
I’m sneaking out dancing tonight.
Exams are done, it’s party time
And Claire will say “all back to mine”
Can someone bring chocolate gin and lots of wine….
Reach close reach (etc)

Another Saturday morning and I STILL hadn’t been able to revisit the lovely local parkrun! We had a bit of a reminder of “what next” – I still need to do my written Unit 1, and then see if I can use some of the 7 weekly classes we have in Belfast Branch  to build up my Unit 4 portfolio. I realised just how Lucky I am, with the support and encouragement of a great lively branch, blessed with many very experienced and generous teachers.  We managed a quick rattle through some of the new Book 50 dances, and I spent the afternoon having a welcome potter around St Andrews’ charity shops.

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The Saturday dance in Younger Hall was full of emotion. I was trying to get a dance with each of my fellow students, but there just wasn’t enough time.  We took some photos and headed back to the dregs party, and I squished and squeezed everything into my suitcase.

My journey home was uneventful, though I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, and was never so glad to have my husband’s arms around me.

The house is eerily quiet without Max, he was such a big presence in many ways.  Minnie is missing her companion, though she was overjoyed to see me. I got the hoped for email a few days later, telling me that I had successfully passed Units 2 and 3.

And I’ll leave you with Max, a soul who liked to go his own way.

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Maxim Von Thunder 2007 – 2016

 

 

Home Alone Cooking: store cupboard salmon

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I’m heading off in a few days so I didn’t want to go shopping, instead I wanted to use the foods I had in my store cupboard.

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I love frozen salmon fillets – these can be cooked from frozen either in the oven or the microwave.  I flavoured mine with lime, honey ginger and tamari.

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I served it on a bed of rice noodles, which I pepped up with spring onion, bean sprouts and mushrooms from a jar.

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To add a bit of crunch, a toasted some pumpkin seeds and sprinkled these on top.

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Don’t Forget Your Barko! #dfyb

The hashtag #dfyb is used by parkrunners around the world.  It is shorthand for “Don’t Forget Your Barcode”, the little scrap of paper which is scanned after you run, which the magical parkrun computer elves then match up with your time, and create a myriad of statistics. Serious parkrunners have extra barcodes stashed in their car or handbag, or have them laminated.  I forked out for a keyring barcode, but found it got worn away next to my keys, and nowadays have a black plastic wristband, which always scans, is waterproof, and is unobtrusive to wear.

I did jokingly sport a fake barcode tattoo when doing my own 100th parkrun!

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Now to Minnie, my faithful running mate.  She’s accompanied me to parkruns in Wallace, Citypark, Armagh, Antrim, Ecos, Larne, Comber, Valley, Colin Glen, Falls, Ormeau, Victoria, Waterworks, Queens, and Bangor….where she memorably jumped in the water, obviously thinking it was a triathlon.

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She can be a little bit barky and apprehensive of people, and particularly dislikes being reached down to for a pat. If you do ever meet us, the best plan is to ignore her – she’ll come for a sniff and say hello when she’s satisfied that you’re OK.

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Where shall we go?

I knew we were approaching her 100th parkrun…sorry…barkrun…and thought that this momentous milestone should not go uncelebrated.

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I’d encountered Murphy’s Barkery a few times at Waggy Races, and they had always been so lovely and friendly, as well as making some delicious doggy treats.  They were delighted to make a special giant cookie, complete with the parkrun symbol.

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Min isn’t too bad at dressing up: she has a Christmas jumper, a skeleton costume (which glows in the dark), an Adidog running vest and of course a Dog Lisburn vest. Simple outfits are best – the red bandana she wore as Muttley was easy peasy, but trying to get a 3rd eye on her head to be a 3 eyed raven was a disaster.

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So of course I had to make her a milestone 100 Tshirt! I bought a small plain black Tee from M&S (size 8 gives her plenty of room for manoeuvre), and a fabric paint pen from Craftworld. If I’d had more time and patience, I’d have stenciled it, but as it was, hand written had to do – it wasn’t going to get a lot of up-close scrutiny, and it was only for lolz, after all.

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minnies 100th 005We arrived in good time, as usual, to be met by the Cummings family who presented her with a special chewy bone. Thank you!

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The T shirt attracted attention from other runners making their way to the briefing point, where we met up with the lovely Andrea and her running pooch, who gave us a bag of dog treats. Thank you too!

We got a special mention in the Run Director’s brief, very ably delivered by Brenda Harris.

The weather was OK – not too warm, and a hint of drizzle, but no actual rain, and no wind.  But my running form hasn’t been good lately – I have a niggly IT band, am carrying too much weight, and not doing enough training.  On top of that, my Garmin’s battery died after the first km! So as there wasn’t realistically a chance of grabbing a new PB, we just relaxed and enjoyed our run.  The marshalls and other volunteers were brilliant as usual, and gave us lots of support! And we did call out “Dare to Dream!” at a dog walker whose pooch was wearing a GAWA vest.

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Photocall afterwards, and Brenda asked if I could pose looking as if I was shaking her paw saying Well Done.  Luckily, Minnie’s repertoire of  commands includes Sit! and Paw! so we were happy to oblige.

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What can I say.  It’s an absolute delight to have her running with me, she gets me up Heartbreak Hill, and more importantly keeps the momentum going once we get to the top. She’s always game to run, and indulges my dress-up proclivities.  She helps me prove that – you don’t have to be mad to be a runner, but it helps!

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Home Alone 10: Fried Rice

OK, so 10 days later, and lots of the veg is starting to show its age.

I have 4 large mushrooms – I prefer chestnut mushrooms as I think they have more flavour, keep better, and don’t shrink as much in cooking.

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I have a rather skinny pak choi

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Some wizened beans, and some mini peppers.

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In a large fry pan, I sauteed the pak choi and peppers in a drizzle of local rapeseed oil and some garlic.

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Colourful!

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I added a dash of tamari sauce, and some lemon juice.

I use a splash cover, which I find gives enough cover to create a steaming environment.

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I added my sliced mushrooms – they were so large that I only added 2 of them.  And a dash of mushroom ketchup.

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When they were all nicely softened, I stirred through my leftover rice, ensuring it was well mixed.

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I cracked an egg into a bowl and added some tamari.

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I whisked those together, and then stirred everything through the rice and veg until the egg was cooked.

I’d been toying with adding some seafood, but honestly, there was so much there already I had no room!

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Home Alone Goking 9: Laksa

Slight change of schedule today – I’m running a 10k this evening, so I need something carby and proteiny for lunch.  I dug out some treasures from my freezer, and made Gok’s Laksa.

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It’s very handy having individually wrapped salmon fillets in the freezer, and they can be microwaved or oven baked straight from frozen.

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King prawns are another freezer must-have in my kitchen, as I love them! The recipe to serve 2 called for 8 prawns: I added 10.

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I had most of the called-for spices in jars of puree, including galangal, ginger, chilli and garlic.  For chillies especially, I find this the easiest way to regulate and control the heat. I even had curry powder and kafir lime leaves!

What I didn’t have was tomatoes, but I substituted broccoli spears and mushroom.

The quantities of rice vermicelli in the recipe were 200g for 2, ie 100g each.  I find that one nest, at 45g is plenty.  But you make the soup, and then pour over the soaked noodles, so it’s pretty easy to have more or fewer noodles as desired.

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This was really easy and quick to make.  Gok says 700 calories, but I did halve my noodle portion.  The chilli hit was just right, a little ticklish on the back of the throat, and a bit nose-runny, but that’s the way (uh-huh uh-huh) I like it. The only tricky thing is how to eat it – you need both a spoon and a fork, and a wide splash zone free from anything valuable.

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Home Alone Cooking Day 8: Roasted Aubergine

This was a way of using up the aubergine and remainder of the can of black beans from earlier in the week.

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There was nothing complicated in the prep, but it did take a bit of time.

First stage was to oven bake some thin aubergine slices.  Recipe says “thin slices, a couple of millimeters” and the picture seems to suggest lengthwise cuts. And I could have used a mandolin. But I quite enjoyed the meditation like state produced by slicing my rounds by hand, taking my time.

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These (there were a lot of them) were put on an olive oil slicked tray, with more oil drizzled on top (how to do this? I don’t know! Should I have spritzed?  I felt some slices got lots more oil than others)

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The recipe called for sauteed spinach with garlic.  I had no spinach, but I did have pak choi.

The recipe also called for brown rice cooked from scratch for 40 mins.  I had none of that either, but I did have a ready cook rice sachet or brown basmati and quinoa.

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In the recipe, the final stage was to dry roast off “a good handful” of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  I did this stage first, before adding any of the softer ingredients, and also to stop the rest getting cold while i did my dry roasting.

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So, to assembly – rice stuff stirred with tahini and tamari.  Pak choi and bean garlic stir fry. Sort of roasted aubergine slices. And a sprinkle of roasted seeds.

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Honestly? It felt a bit knit-your-own-lentil worthy and heavy. I love aubergine, but I’m not sure this used them to their best advantage.

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