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No more leftovers – in my kitchen January 2016

January 5, 2016

Click on a picture and use the arrows to navigate to read more about the things in my kitchen.

December was joyful and manic in my kitchen. Preparations which consisted mainly of shopping, chopping and steeping in alcohol. Family flew in from the UK so breakfasts out, breakfasts in, supper in the garden, barbecues and the like. My Mother-in-law whipped up mince pies, sausage rolls, a Victoria sandwich cake and lashings of custard. Then the main event of Christmas dinner for fourteen people. We have shared this event with the same family for much of the last two decades and we know our traditions and preferences. There are always about five different types of stuffing on the table, red cabbage, peas, pork loin, fine wines and masses of cheese in addition to the turkey, roast potatoes and parsnips, bread sauce, cranberry and sprouts et al.

I found a turkey of good provenance this year courtesy of Spinneys (and Waitrose) who brought in freerange organic bronze turkeys from Crowe Farm in Ireland. It has bothered me for a few years that our celebration centred around a bird that was factory farmed in the most intensive fashion (most turkeys here come from a huge producer in the USA). The Crowe’s Farm turkey was so different in flavour too. I cooked the potatoes in goose fat (plus some in oil for the vegetarians) – divine. We start the meal with avgolemono soup – a Cypriot dish from KP’s grandmother. This gave time for everyone to pull crackers and put on their hats so when the main dishes arrived they were piping hot. Honestly I think it was my best dinner ever in terms of taste and timing (that I’ve cooked) and gave me immense pleasure to share it with people who are dear to me. I nearly set the tablecloth on fire when I lit the pudding but this was put out quickly with fast action napkin dabbing by M.

Leftovers

The leftover turkey went into turkey curry, turkey chilli (thanks Jamie O) and a turkey and ham pie. More ham went into a quiche. Cranberry seems to last and last and is still accompanying the cheese hill (less of a mountain now).  The leftover Christmas pudding made this gratin which is even better than plain pud. Cheese has been grated into everything!  I’m now looking for ideas for my Christmas cake and must remember not to make such a large one this year.

Out of my kitchen

December was a wild one and my resolution to focus is probably born out of the last three months! I can’t complain though. The scales fell from my eyes about Belgian Beer at an excellent tasting led by Lindsay of the Tasting Class in The Hedonista’s garden where I got to chat with some great gals who work for Decanter magazine (one embarking on her Master of Wine – deep awe). The next night we shared some fine wines from Le Clos at a small dinner with rugby player Andrew Sheridan who is taking his WSET Diploma – so more unexpected and pleasant wine nerdy chat at La Cantine de Faubourg. There was a trip to the UK to take veggie teen for university interviews where I had an irresistible taste of Christmas and crisp, sunny Winter days (the only ones by the sound of it!). Had supper at Jamie’s Italian in Cheltenham  and at The Cornish in Tavistock.  I returned to a dinner hosted by Le Clos and Haut Brion for a horizontal tasting of the 2011 vintage and masterclass with Jean-Philippe Delmas at The One and Only The Palm.

Wine is a such a fascinating topic as it encompasses so much from language and culture to geography and agriculture, but I’m surprised at how much more there is to learn about gin. Denzel at the MMI bar academy hosted a supremely interesting showcase of several artisan gins plus a history lesson about gin and gin cocktails. I spent some time behind the bar making them too – a favourite place to be. More about this soon.

Book club was a Scandinavian festive feast in C’s garden – we discussed Stoner by John Williams (not that kind of stoner). I’ve mentioned the BBC Good Food Awards in my last post – a night that ended in tragedy.

The first BBC Good Food Show was over a very busy weekend. Apart from Food E Mag (as food sourcing editor I’m biased) I didn’t think the stalls were up to much. The cake competition entries were jaw dropping, but the main attraction was the mainly UK based chefs/ personalities. I caught the Paul Hollywood session.

A nine course tasting menu of Bengali food with wine matches, conceived and developed by Ishita in tandem with Atul Kochar at Rang Mahal, was the highlight of the month. Bravo to my dear friend for such exceptional food and this amazing achievement.

With guests in town a visit to Ravis was de rigueur, breakfast at Baker and Spice and a visit to the Al Fahidi district. There’s a new Make cafe within Heritage House where you can sip tea up on the roof.  We spent Christmas Eve on a picnic blanket listening to a great jazz duo at Al Badia golf club – with an incredible all in spread from barbecues to a smokery (including fantastic crispy pork belly) with huge jugs of cocktails.

I also went to Mr Reza’s shop Sadaf Iranian Sweets in Deira and stocked up Iranian goodies. This was supposed to be a closing down farewell but thankfully he has found new premises. New Year was spent in the shadow of some awesome fireworks at Left Bank, Madinat Jumeirah but not in the shadow of The Address Hotel fire thankfully.

In my kitchen – an accolade

Picture of Celia with Fiona of Tiffin bite sized

Picture of Celia with Fiona of Tiffin bite sized

How often do you hear a story like this? A blogger comes up with an idea which takes off beyond all expectations. People join her event from around the world and it sends masses of visitors to her blog. This is so successful that it takes up a lot of time and she would rather be focussing on her everyday cooking and her family. So she finds a new host for her event and gives it away. This is my interpretation of the ‘In my kitchen’ event conceived by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial which, from this month, is hosted by Maureen of The Orgasmic Chef. In these days of fixation over site stats, traffic and monetisation it’s amazingly refreshing to see someone staying true to exactly why they blog – and the reason behind why dear Celia has become a beloved, virtual friend to so many people across the world including myself. Happy New Year Celia. Please visit her kitchen here and join in with Maureen here (before the 10th of the month).

Had to leave with a shout out for FoodEMag – well worth a read of the new issue.

Phew! What’s was in your kitchen during December and how are you starting the New Year?

Focus on a happy 2016

January 1, 2016

Focus - Happy 2016 on mycustardpie.comWaking up to a beautiful sunny day, a box of fresh, sharp pencils, the clean pages of a new diary planner, a virtuous green smoothie and my head swirling with ideas. I still have house guests here so time is stretched but I’ve sneaked off to my desk to wish you all a very Happy New Year.

We marked the passing of the old year with good friends, good food, nice wine and some extraordinarily beautiful fireworks viewed across the waters of The Madinat, Dubai. Our pleasure and optimism for the start of the year was tinged with sadness at the thought of friends lost in 2016, the worrying state of our world right now and the fact that a few kilometres away a huge fire was raging at one of the largest hotels in Dubai. Thankfully everyone got out safely. I hope you had a pleasant evening wherever you spent it.

The cliche of new year, new start does work for me and I looked back on this time last year when I’d made a resolution that my word of the annum was going to ‘kinder’. I also published a food manifesto which you can read in my sidebar. I think that resolution worked for me in the same way as mindfulness and has resulted more personal tranquility and confidence.

Focus and planning - Happy 2016 on mycustardpie.com

So what of this year? It has to be focus:

  • Writing and creating for this blog is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable things I like doing; why are there so few posts over the last three months? I’m going to focus on the things that are really important to me.
  • Veggie teen is in her last year at school so the first half of the year are precious times for us as a family and she needs me to focus on supporting her.
  • Health and values about food provenance continue to be burning issues for me. I’m going to be vegetarian for January to help support veggie teen and to focus on our family eating habits more rigorously.
  • There are way to many things on my ‘to do’ list, in my calendar (and in my cupboards!). A bit of prioritisation and focus wouldn’t go amiss here.

A few weeks ago I witnessed someone, aged 56, collapse and die of a heart attack right in front of me. It was a wake up call to focus on things that really matter and to stop being distracted by peripheral things.

These are broad brush intentions and require some action planning, diarising and detail to implement but they’ve made me excited about what is possible for the up and coming twelve months. Happy to share more of the details if you are interested, but sharing my intent here is incredibly helpful to just getting things done. It makes it real.

Massive thanks for joining me here in 2015. Happy New Year.

Fireworks in Dubai - Happy 2016 on mycustardpie.com

Fireworks at midnight at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

I’d love to know what you are planning for 2016 and how you make sure you are going to achieve it. Got a word for 2016?

Cookbooks of 2015

December 31, 2015
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Review of Cookbooks 2015 on mycustardpieWith my shelves groaning under the weight of at least 100 cookbooks, I’m getting a lot fussier about what I add to my collection. Food writer Diana Henry who has a legendary cookbook collection commented as much over on Instagram the other day. Is this down to the sheer volume of releases, cookbook overload, or perhaps the quality and depth of some titles is not as it was in the past? Nevertheless there was enough to tempt me to give more than a handful a permanent home. Some would make great gifts (ever slipped one for yourself under the tree? ). Here’s what crept onto my shelves in 2015:

General recipe books

Nopi – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

This recent kind gift meant that I have all the Ottolenghi books which I refer to often. It’s the usual exciting combinations of flavours but a little more refined and time-consuming. So much I want to cook and eat in here. The first book to contain pork too – and the pork belly looks like a labour of love and totally stunning. Meticulous instructions, beautiful photography and an alluring cocktail chapter. This is definitely a book to peruse when friends are coming over; gurnard baked in banana leaf with pineapple and chilli sambal, baked blue cheese cake with pickled beetroot and honey, poached quince with raspberry and quince jelly and mascarpone sabayon all bookmarked. The hardback copy is a thing of beauty too with gold-rimmed pages. What’s not to love? Thanks Ishita, Debbie and BookMunch.

Slow Cook Italian – Gennaro Contaldo

Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo - mycustardpie.comThis is probably the most thumbed and cooked from during 2015. The recipes are wholesome, comforting, simple and completely moreish with vivid flavours of the ‘lick-the-plate-clean’ variety. I bought other slow cooker recipes this year but none are a patch on this one. A full review of Slow Cook Italian and other slow cooking cookbooks here.

A lot on her plate – Rosie Birkett

To be honest, I bought this for the cover, the layout and the overall design of the book. It’s inspiration for my own food photography and a direction I’d like to take with the look of my blog. I also thought I’d cook from it … but I haven’t. There just isn’t enough in here to please the whole family.  Octopus carpaccio with smoked paprika mayo and cod’s roe and sweetcorn fritters would not go down well with KP and it’s nigh on impossible to get pig’s cheek here. There’s a fair bit of repetition of classic recipes which seem to appear in everybody’s books these days too. Kale smoothie or baba ganoush anyone? However, it’s staying put for the Marmite gougères, keema pau and for losing myself in its beautiful pages.

Jamie’s Comfort Food – Jamie Oliver

This was released in 2014 but I think I bought it in 2015. Despite being prolific, Jamie’s books are still a great resource of ideas and he always delivers big flavours. He draws from many cultures in this book including bun cha bowls and shawarma (I would not veer from Ottolenghi’s version in Jerusalem for the latter). It’s his chillies, curries, pasta dishes and classics such as smoked haddock which I turn to often. Many involve a lot of time – this is not about putting food on the table in 15 minutes – but they are not complicated and bubble away for ages. I’m not sure I would add a base layer of mashed potato for Shepherd’s pie as he suggests but the multi-layered kicks of chilli you get from his arrabbiata means this will be my go to recipe forever.

Single ingredients and cooking methods

Anna Del Conte on Pasta

An understated beauty which has lived by my bedside as much as in my kitchen. There are no photographs, just finely wrought illustrations of ingredients and techniques. The introduction to the history of pasta is a riveting read and even contains quotes and pasta plus myths and legends. Authentic and accessible, Anna Del Conte takes you by the hand and gently leads you through classic Italian pasta dishes, from the very simple tomato sauce to more elaborate timballo of anoli stuffed with braised beef. A must for any collection.

A Bird in the Hand – Diana Henry

This book makes me really hungry. I avoid chicken unless its guaranteed good provenance as the price for cheap (and bland) chicken is via intensively reared birds in tiny cages or crammed into barns. This means a chicken in our house is a special event and any of these tantalising recipes would be appropriate for celebrating the taste of this free range and considerably more expensive bird. It ranges from chicken messina (in the salad chapter entitled ‘chooks, shoots and leaves’) to Roopa’s lemongrass and turmeric chicken with potato salad and date and tamarind chutney. It’s like Diana is a friend who has invited you into her kitchen and encourages you to stick your nose in the pan. Her knowledge of culinary culture means she may borrow influences from a couple of different sources and combine, but they are always relevant.  There is joy in leftover chicken as well as thrift hence a dedicated chapter which includes sumptuous ideas like a fennel layered creamy gratin. My cookbook resolution for 2016 is to expand my collection of Diana Henry books.

Magic Soup

I was lucky enough to win this book from the super talented food photographer and friend Regula Yswin who has filled the pages with irresistibly delicious and beautiful images. It’s soup with a difference and there are many innovative twists on classic recipes. The hearty soups include a beguiling pea and mountain ham, and a corn, cod and chorizo recipe. An egg based soup which is featured on the cover is a restrained marriage of yoghurt and herbs with a burst of golden yolk. Whether they push the boundaries too far will depend on the reader and I have to take issue with their version of Avogolemono soup. We make KP’s Cypriot grandmother’s version of the this and she would shudder at the liberties taken with it – including a fried egg and rice krispies on top.   In summary, feast on the whole with your eyes and choose your recipe to cook from with care. Unless the idea of crunchy rice in egg and lemon soup appeals to you of course!

The Cook and the Cowboy

Not the most sophisticated book and I haven’t cooked from it. This was a gift – from a cowboy. Actually THE cowboy who, with his wife Erika, captured my heart through their dedication to raising meat in a sustainable and humane way. There is so much we ignore about cattle which are mostly lined up in sheds for milk, many never seeing the light of day. Even with the land mass of Canada, intensive production is the norm so Christoph and Erika are forging the way with their premium range-reared beef from cattle which have lived well.  Spirit View Ranch meat is available in Lafayette Gourmet in Dubai and they supply Baker & Spice ME with all their beef. You can read a virtual version of the book here.

Different cultures

Mamushka – Olia Hercules

This is a window on a different culture even if you don’t cook from it – but there will be something in here you can’t resist trying. Olia Hercules grew up in rural Ukraine, where she absorbed varied influences from her diverse family background and the produce that was cultivated in the fields around her. I expected similarities to Polish cuisine which I know, but there is so much more, recipes with roots across the Caucasus and beyond. They are interspersed with engaging “rather eccentric family stories” – which anyone with an Eastern European relative will think is perfectly normal! There are a few recipes which may confirm your prejudices about saturated fat content such as the gherkin, beef and barley broth, but there are many to knock them out of the water completely such as Armenian cold yoghurt and sorrel soup. The inclusion of several Georgian recipes makes me happy. All in all as vivid and exciting to cook from as it is to look at – immerse yourself in Olia Hercules’ world asap.

Vegan and veggie

A Modern Way to Eat – Anna Jones

While I bought many of the titles below with veggie teen in mind (she spent six months as a vegan this year), this one was for me. Anna Jones has trained and worked with the best as a chef and food stylist, from Jamie Oliver to Yotam Ottolenghi and I’m already coveting her other title A Modern Way to Cook. This is un-gimmicky, fresh, bright wholesome food and while the odd chia seed creeps in it’s got more than enough within it’s pages to make it timeless. There are some formulas to recipes so you can make up your own, for example ‘one soup: 1000 variations’ which goes through creating a base layer on flavours, adding herbs to the finishing touches. There is a guide to making a ‘killer roast dinner’ – must be a first for a vegetarian book. I just want to eat everything in here and it’s perfect for farmers’ market haul inspiration (honey roasted radishes are the bomb). Veggie teen gave the mac and greens a big thumbs up, as did I.

V is for Vegan – Kirsten Rogers

At a food blogger conference a few years ago, Kirsten aka Ms Marmite Lover touched on the subject of sponsored posts on blogs. “It’s like working for the man isn’t it?” was her battle cry. This cover of this book would look at home among Sex Pistol’s singles summing up the radical stance that is still given to veganism. But while she may have a punk attitude to convention, don’t expect anything less than meticulous research, planning writing and photography from the founder of the supper club movement in the UK. There is a healthy dose of humour and irreverence too; a refreshing change from the wide-eyed, earnest or preachy tone of other vegan books.  Thumbs up from veggie/vegan teen who deemed it the book she’d most like to eat from. As always MML pushes the boat out and while it may start with some fairly conventional staples like guacamole and roasted chickpeas, there are some challenging recipes in terms of time, commitment and sheer interest and appetite appeal. Even if you don’t feel up to cooking artichoke, potato, spinach and tofu b’stilla with poppy seeds and rose petals after a hard day at the office, it puts out a challenge to preconceptions of how to cook for vegans. For me as the cook for a vegan it provides inspiration when most needed e.g. 13 things on toast. Although it contains energy balls, it’s the least trend-led book of recent vegan releases and takes inspiration from cultures who have had veganism at their heart for centuries rather than diet or ingredient led fads.

The Homemade Vegan Pantry – Miyoko Schinner

Jumping the gun as I refer below to the new world of alternative ingredients when contemplating a vegan diet. However this is a cookbook about condiments, sauces and staples of cooking made at home which happen to be vegan. It’s another step on from the book below but much more in line with my way of cooking and I don’t have to buy too many unusual or ingredients apart from flaxseed (which is used to replace eggs). From no-anchovy Worcestershire sauce, to pasta, dough, pancake mix and even butter-less butter, the pages are filled with a good foundation of basics. The not-tella chocolate hazelnut spread is bookmarked as I refuse to have the branded stuff in my house due to the use of rain-forest destroying palm oil.  The design of the book is both elegant and homely too; it feels like an old friend already. This book compliments the ‘Vegan Toolkit’ chapter in Kirsten’s book (above). Note: My copy uses American measures.

But I could never go vegan! – Kirsty Turner

One of the first books that made it into my kitchen when veggie teen made her resolution to spend half of 2015 eating vegan. This takes the path of replacing meals that people think they could never give up with vegan alternatives and goes to some lengths to do so. My mind boggled with some of the new ingredients, nutritional yeast, liquid smoke and miso, a few of which have now found a permanent place in our store cupboard. The recipes are quite involved and many of them have long ingredients lists and multiple, fairly elaborate processes. I’ve found it useful to take elements of the dishes to use elsewhere, the macademia nut parmesan and the tempeh bacon for instance. It’s an interesting window on a certain world and got me thinking in a different way about vegan recipes.

More about this book and others, and what makes a good vegan cookbook here.

Bedside reading

I couldn’t resist these two beauties when I saw them in the Barnstaple market…

So quite a restrained 2015 for cookery book acquisition all in all – and it’s a fairly good snapshot of how we now eat (trying to eat healthily, catering to veggie teen and then digging into big bowls of comfort food now and again).

Do you still buy cookbooks or find all your recipes online? Which were your favourites of 2015?

Merry Christmas 2015

December 25, 2015

We’ll be waking up early with our family from near and far. This year our Christmas breakfast will be at The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace and some bunches of fresh herbs for the table decorations will be added to the weekly shop for organic, local veg. The teens will still be chomping at the bit to open the presents. There’s a little box for Hazel our Border Terrier too who will tolerate a Christmas outfit for about five minutes. A stroll on the beach complete with mini tree for a family photo is another ritual of Christmas morning. Neighbours will pop in for a drink. A group of friends and family will sit down for a feast with many traditions, including flaming Christmas pudding, charades and late night cold cuts. For us it’s about family, friends and celebrating togetherness with people we love – and thinking of those who we’d like to see round the table too.

Wishing you all the best today – whether or not you celebrate – hope it’s a happy one.

xxxx

Sally – My Custard Pie

Farmers and festivities – in and out of my kitchen

December 5, 2015

After last month’s madness there is now a huge incentive to be in my kitchen much more.

  • The Farmers’ Market is back! As one of the first shoppers there at its new location, it was as though I was seeing, touching, tasting and smelling veg for the first time. I bought far too much so have had a concerted effort to use it all up including green smoothies for breakfast.
  • The last time I saw sprouts on the stalk was in our garden when I was a child. Couldn’t resist snapping one up in Spinneys as they looked so fresh. Recipe coming soon for a veg show stopper that sprout lovers will adore.
  • With Christmas around the corner I am smug delighted to have my Christmas cake and Christmas puddings mellowing away ready for the big day.
  • Long story but Jones the Grocer sent me a hamper which was very generous of them. It included vegan cheese which made veggie teen very happy. Thankfully she’s on her vegetarian month in December though. I’m intrigued by these from South Africa as I’ve never heard of a baobab.
  • Good olive oil made with olives that are pressed within 24 hours of harvest (and soon to be listed in a Michelin starred restaurant in Italy). Spice rubs which impart deep, aromatic, authentic tastes of Arabia. Fresh zaatar which is simply divine when you dip your ka’ak into some oil and then into it. All good products in themselves made even better as the proceeds go to help single parent Palestinian families in refugee camps in Jordan. Find them on Dima’s stall at the Farmers’ Market.
  • Another charity initiative I love is the annual stollen event at Mall of the Emirates put together by The Kempinski. So sad that I’ll miss it this year as in the UK for a quick trip. You can buy a slice or a whole stollen from 700 metres long of the stuff and the proceeds go to Dubai Centre for Special Needs. The hotel kindly sent me a stollen ahead of time (and I may have had some for breakfast and lunch). It’s on Saturday 5th December from 3pm – don’t miss it if you are in Dubai.
  • You may be a aware of my obsession enthusiasm for gin so delighted to get my hands on a bottle of Tarquin’s. I first tasted this and met Tarquin himself at the Plymouth Food Festival a couple of years ago. Every bottle of this small batch gin is signed by hand by Tarquin; find out why in this video (sadly Facetime is not allowed here in Dubai).
  • Send you a gingerbread house? Yeah sure I’ve got masses of time to ice a gingerbread house. Not. It was fun though. It comes flat packed with a bag of icing and decorations from Freedom pizza. I made extra icing and got completely carried away….
  • …and a glass of mulled wine in hand makes it feel even more festive. I couldn’t resist these little snowflake mugs in Crate and Barrel.

Out of my kitchen

November was jam packed full of good things with food, drink and travel on my own doorstep.

I adore Georgio Locatelli’s food and his whole philosophy. The truffle season menu at Ronda Locatelli is centred around simple dishes, executed to perfection, which bring out the very best of the truffle. He shaved copious amounts of this muskily, aromatic fungi onto my raviolo filled with an egg yolk himself and then joined us for a good old natter at the table.

One crazy day I did two food tours and went out for dinner. It all started at the crack of dawn at the fish market with an Emirati sea captain, haggling for crabs and fish which he then cooked for us. Another Frying Pan Adventure which opened my eyes to another side of our city. Then I cycled round Umm Suqeim on one of those blue bikes with  Tastecape seeing a different side of my own neighbourhood. Highly recommended. Thanks for my friend Lyn and her talented chef son of Born’s kitchen for a wonderful balsamic vinegar themed dinner in her lovely garden.

The Burj Khalifa now opens on weekends for sunrise viewings. I booked for the very first slot at 5.30am and watched the sky turn pink with Ishita, from the tallest building in the world. Truly magical.

With over 40% of the population of Dubai hailing from India, Diwali – the festival of light – is a special event in the calendar. Walking round Deira and Bur Dubai for six hours gave me a window into a different world – we gazed at the lights, met families who were celebrating, dodged crazy fireworks (illegal), attended a religious ceremony, stopped to watch dancing and drumming in the street, and ate street food. Thanks Gulf Photo Plus and Frying Pan Food Adventures once again.

Suzanne Radford invited me to join her on radio at the Sheraton Grand Dubai in their private kitchen and dining room at Feast Restaurant. She actually asked me about what was in my kitchen! We munched our way through an amazing menu by Sheraton’s Chef de Cuisine Raymond Wong and celebrity chef Suzanne Husseini cooked live. You can listen here for some delicious, festive inspiration. Earlier in the month I’d sampled the Olives and Vines menu at a gorgeous event hosted by Noreen from Noni’s place (I want my Christmas table to look like that).

OBE Organic were in town and we met at Book Munch to talk about their organic, free range beef sold as a cooperative of small farmers. Really inspiring. Available at Carrefour.

Gary Rhodes talked us through his new afternoon tea at Vox Cinemas which is actually available all day. I know where I’ll be taking the weight off my feet for a break from shopping at the Mall of the Emirates. Reasonable price and you don’t have to watch a movie.

Other eating out included new very French restaurant Bistro des Artes, the new Intersect by Lexus space headed up by Chef Tomas Reger (really interesting), Euzone at Royal Mirage overlooking the sea, and old favourite Flooka for Lebanese seafood (although building has impaired the view).

I previewed Spinney’s Christmas foods and am thrilled that they will be stocking organic, free range turkeys from Crowe’s Farm in Ireland (order now) as well as a range of different homemade Christmas items to make cooking a bit easier.

Feast Dubai Eye-mycustardpie

In my glass

The brand ambassador of Krug was in town – my account to follow but you can read Foodiva’s here.

MMI invited me to join sommeliers in a tasting of new wines to their portfolio at Fume. It’s interesting to see trends emerging. Could Chenin Blanc be on the rise? Grenache-based wines were also much in evidence. And Whispering Angel maker Château D’Esclan continues capture rosé drinkers’ imaginations with Rock Angel.

A handsome French ex-rugby player making stunning biodynamic wines is a seductive combination. Adored the reds from Clos D’Ora, a beautiful white from Domaine de Cigalus and a rivesaultes which was almost older than me, presented by Gerard Bertrand at a fabulous lunch at Jean-Georges at the Four Seasons.

Add in a girl’s night at my house, book club, school concerts and two concerts (Florence & the Machine and Blur) in Abu Dhabi on consecutive school nights and you can see why my blog posts haven’t been quite as regular as normal!

Now on a countdown to Christmas and will be sharing a little gingerbread love every day over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (and sometimes on Snapchat).

If you are wondering what is in other kitchens around the globe, visit Celia’s page and follow the links in her side bar for this monthly event.  You can look back on past goodies in my kitchen here.

What’s in your kitchen this December?

Eating the season – organic, local produce from the farmers

November 27, 2015

My hessian bags are stacked by the door. My alarm is set early even though it’s Friday tomorrow; the Dubai weekend. I’ve waxed lyrical before about the thrill of doing my veg shopping from the people who grow it. For the next six months I’ll take home produce so fresh it scents the kitchen with vibrant aromas and lasts for a week. It’s organic but doesn’t cost the earth in both senses. I’ve got to know the people who grow it and I’m so glad that the Farmers’ Market is back for the new season.

The pictures above show my shopping every single week of the last season from November to May. It reflects our tastes as a family, my instincts as a cook, and what’s available each week. It shows the amazing quality of the organic produce grown in the United Arab Emirates by a bunch of farmers who are utterly convinced that chemical-free agriculture is the way forward.

From tomorrow, I’ll be sharing my weekly haul once again, over on Instagram. I’d love you to join me by using the hashtag #MCPvegstories

The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace, Bay Avenue, Business Bay, Dubai. Fridays 8am – 1pm

Best places for a facial in Dubai

November 25, 2015
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Has she gone mad? Where’s the food? Let me explain…. When I started this blog I didn’t think anyone would want to hear about what went on in Dubai. With over two decades of living in the Middle East the odd post slipped in, based on things people kept asking me about my current dwelling place. These have turned out to be some of the most visited and popular on my whole blog including where to get a massage. So if you are visiting Dubai and want a recommendation for a place to go for a facial, or if you just wonder why anyone would ever want to have this kind of treatment, here’s the low-down.

Why have a facial?

Recently, when I’ve seen pictures of myself, I don’t really recognise the person there. Age is a weird thing and I don’t feel any different inside to a score of years ago or longer. My achey shoulders means a massage is a fairly regular occurrence, and living in sandals for most of the time makes demands on your feet so a pedicure is more of a necessity. I hadn’t had a facial for years though thinking it would be an expensive waste of time as the treatment was only skin deep.  I also get a bit bored with someone fussing around my mug and can’t wait to get off the couch. When the opportunity to try some out arose I accepted as I’m not immune to the lure of recapturing some of the bloom of my former youth however transient. And here’s what happened…

Natural, organic but with surprising results

If I had realised that Dr Hauschka Treatment Rooms were actually inside the Organic Foods and Cafe supermarket I might not have come. But once inside the door, the contrast of light, bright airy rooms and tranquility was quite astounding and while I was having my treatment there was a gently hum of distant sounds from the shop which was not at all intrusive. My treatment was a signature facial and lasted for a whole two hours. Gasp! Again I was worried that my inability to switch off (or be separated from my iPhone) would leave me begging for mercy, but the gentle strokings and pattings combined with the calming aromas from the organic Dr Hauschka products made me drift off very pleasantly. My feet, legs, hands and neck were also massaged which was a relaxing bonus. It was all so gentle that at the end when my therapist said “Your skin looks amazing” I was pretty dubious. She was right though – my face looked smooth and my jaw-line taught. There was no hint of redness or puffiness and when I went out later that evening, my make-up glided on and looked fantastic. Veggie teen commented on how good my skin looked. It seemed to last quite well too – the firmness for few days or more. I tried out the cleanser and toner from Dr Hauschka too and will definitely start changing to this regime. They are mainly organic and biodynamic, fairtrade products which smell amazing – a joy to use.

Dr Hauschka Treatment Room, Organic Foods & Café, The Greens, Dubai. Tel: 056 499 2856 or email info@drhauschka.ae

Best for a total de-stress

The InterContinental Dubai Marina has the feel of a contemporary art gallery and the spa is all clean lines, subtle lighting, hushed Zen and seductive shadows. After the usual meet and greet with a hibiscus drink I had a tour of the jacuzzi, sauna and steam areas which you can use when you come for a treatment. The room itself was a calming oasis of comfort. There was a foot washing ritual to unwind then I slipped onto the bed which was covered in a smooth sheet and had a bed warmer. This is perfect as the room can remain cool but you stay comfortable. The hour-long facial using Espa products included cleansing, steaming, massage and a mask. The expertise and dedicated attention of the therapist really set this apart from the standard treatment and a scalp massage while the mask was on total heaven. At the end she joked ‘another hour?’ and I could have easily acquiesced. My skin looked bright and nourished at the end, if slightly pink. I had the option to leave the residual oil on which I did, drove home and collapsed for the evening in a totally relaxed and blissful state.

The spa, InterContinental Dubai Marina, Bay Central, Al Sufouh road, Dubai. Tel: +9714 466 6643

Hi-tech and long-lasting

Ahasees means feelings and sensation in Arabic and the eponymous spa is as grand as its situation inside the Grand Hyatt. As well as a steam and jacuzzi area you can use the very attractive pool when you book a treatment. I chose from a range of teas for after my treatment and could even select the background music. There is a changing room and bathroom adjacent to the treatment room for absolute privacy and after a foot bathing ritual I hopped onto the bed next to a brightly lit machine for the Hydrafacial MD. Lymphatic draining – a gentle hoovering – came after a cleanse. Then a quite alarming feeling of hoovering and scraping while something was pumped onto my skin was applied with many stages. I was completely worried that my skin would have big red stripes all over it and at one point asked for the pressure to be reduced slightly. It was the least pleasant experience of all the facials and I concentrated on the light jazz soundtrack I had chosen. There was no facial massage but one on the scalp at the end. I was led to the relaxation area and peered gingerly into the mirror. The results were amazing – my skin super clean, toned and smooth with not a hint of redness. It felt like there was a layer of something silky on my skin which latest for a couple of days. The smoothness, and cleanliness of my pores continued for weeks; well worth a slight discomfort.

Ahasees Spa and Club, Grand Hyatt Dubai. Tel: +971 4 317 2333 or email spa.grandhyattdubai@hyatt.com

With so many spas in this city this is just the tip of the ice-burg. Where is your favourite?

I was invited to review these venues; opinions my own.

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