Ten years ago my husband and I took a trip to Japan, and it was there that we discovered okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made of shredded cabbage and meat in a flour-egg batter, and often contains additional ingredients for extra flavors and textures. The restaurant we went to was in a tiny little town and was listed as a “hidden gem” in our travel guide, and it definitely spoiled us for all other iterations of okonomiyaki on our trip (because of course, having had it once we were dying to have it again!). The ingredients came in separate bowls that you combined to your own taste, and there were personal grills right at the table to cook the pancakes, which were served with pickled ginger, bonito flakes, and okonomiyaki sauce for garnish.
Oddly, despite searching for similar restaurants here in the States, we never thought of trying to recreate the recipe at home. However, I was in a local Asian market recently when I spied a bottle of okonomiyaki sauce (a tangy, savory sauce that’s kind of like a mixture of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce), and was inspired to try my own version of these!
On our not-so-recent Hawaiian vacation (I still miss the islands!) my daughter spied an ice cream shop selling Pineapple-Coconut ice cream and was instantly drooling at the thought. We bought some, and it was decadently creamy and coconut-y, but there was next to no pineapple, which made it somewhat disappointing given that “pineapple” was the first word in the name. I vowed then and there to make my own version, though as you’ll see below I didn’t technically keep that vow…
The coconut ice cream was simple– while I’ve made custard-based ice creams before, for this recipe I decided to go with an eggless base to ensure that the eggy richness of custard didn’t overpower the coconut flavor. It totally worked– the finished ice cream was creamy and coconut-y, and (unlike many homemade ice creams) scooped smoothly and easily right out of the freezer. I toasted half of the coconut to add an extra dimension of flavor and some texture, and really liked the result. All in all, an excellent ice cream.
So the most important part of this gown is clearly the beetlewings (technically elytra, or wing casings, but “beetlewings” is easier to understand). Luckily for me, elytra from sternocera aequisignata (the species of jewel beetle most commonly used for decoration) are readily available for sale on eBay at very reasonable prices. The original gown is said to have had 1,000 wings on it, but just to be safe I ordered 2,000– it wouldn’t do to run out and have to order more from Thailand, after all! I thought about purchasing them pre-drilled with holes at the top, but decided that if I was going to have to clip them to size and put additional holes in for sewing anyway, I might as well save a little money and get them undrilled.
When I was in elementary school, there was a memorable occasion when the school hosted an exhibit of rare and exotic insects; they were displayed in glass cases in our cafeteria and each class of students got to go in and look at all of the interesting species. Personally, I was fascinated by the shiny/iridescent ones– the blue morpho butterflies and the gorgeously green beetles. I thought it would be so neat to have jewelry or something made out of them, but didn’t think it would actually be possible. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the beetle carapaces, at least, were historically used to decorate clothing!
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a gown decorated with beetle wings (not really the wings, but the wing casings) is the Lady Macbeth costume designed by Alice Comyns Carr and worn by actress Ellen Terry in 1888. It made such a splash that it was immortalized by John Singer Sargent the following year:
The original costume was recently restored by the Zenzie Tinker Conservation with funds donated to the National Trust, which means there are tons of closeup photos of the costume itself. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as it does in the painting, or even as it looked over a hundred years ago, but then what does?
Anyway, the reason for all this background is that I’m going to make my own version of the Lady Macbeth dress for Costume College this year. (a friend of mine has dubbed it “the Scottish Bug Dress” and now I can’t stop thinking of it that way) The event theme is “What’s That Fabric?” and as the original dress was actually crocheted out of sparkling blue and green yarn, then decorated with beetlewings (both rather unconventional choices), I thought it would work perfectly. Add to that the fact that a group of us is getting together to wear dresses inspired by famous paintings, and it was obvious that this dress had to be made!
Edited to add: There’s a great article written by the lead conservator on the restoration process that has some wonderful details, here!
Have you seen those videos floating around about how to make fabulous sushi rolls that form pictures or designs when you cut them? They look amazing, though really time-consuming and extremely difficult to make. That being said, I recently saw one that looked so easy I had to try it– it’s a cucumber and pineapple roll, and since my daughter loves cucumber maki and loves pineapple it seemed like a natural next step to try this one.
Let me tell you, you’ll need two things to make sure this sushi works. A very sharp knife (dipped in water between cuts), and a sushi rolling mat. Both are essential– my knife wasn’t quite sharp enough and it made things a little difficult my first time (photos are of the second time around), and without the mat I’d never have been able to compress things tightly enough to stick together.
All in all, the sushi didn’t turn out badly. A little too much rice, I think, but that just means I need to work on pressing it very, VERY thinly over the nori before filling and rolling. (like, one grain thick and leaving a few spaces in between with no rice at all, since it gets compressed together when you roll). Also I think pineapple isn’t the best thing to put in the center, since it doesn’t compress or shift to fill in empty spots, which leaves the finished slices a little unstable. I’d try salmon, or tempura shrimp, or really anything that you can cut into strips that has some “give” to it and is maybe a tiny bit sticky. Crab stick, maybe?
So I got the chance to wear the entire Bar Suit outfit at CostumeCon 37– I figured that my fellow costumers, if no one else, would immediately get the reference to the original suit and appreciate the joke. And I was right!
Here are some of the fun photos we got of the outfit– I love costumes I can have a good time with!
Okay, so clearly I needed a bit more attitude in my hip position to really mimic the model’s pose, but otherwise I think it’s a pretty decent shot!
Next up was the hat. The original hat (or a least one of the original hats shown in photos– there appear to be a few) was an almost lampshade-shaped straw hat:
Tough to find, particularly in winter, and hats can be expensive in vintage shops. Luckily, I found something very similar in the costume section on Ebay! It’s called a “coolie” hat (which I find kind of racist, for what it’s worth) and the photo was pretty close in terms of shape.
Of course, when it arrived it was a lot flimsier than the original hat looked to be, plus being more conical with a less defined crown. I decided to add some wire around the brim to stiffen it up– I unpicked the stitches holding the straw edge binding, then cut off about 3/4″ all around the edge (it was just a bit too big for my taste) before stitching some thick brass wire around the underside and reattaching the binding with hot glue.