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My eight year blog anniversary, popular posts and what’s next

February 3, 2018

a jug of custard

My blog posts are like buses these days; you wait for ever and then two come at once.  And the thing I hear ALL the time about the key to a successful blog is consistency. To keep turning up.

So I’m going to forgive myself for being a bit haphazard in my posting schedule and pat myself on the back for creating and publishing in this little space for eight whole years today. Eight years I kept turning up (if sometimes a bit erratically).

And to say thank you to you. For turning up too.

How it started

Eight years ago I was at a crossroads, between jobs, reassessing my career, and training for a charity challenge, blogging about it, loving it. On a whim, inspired by other food blogs I was reading, I hurriedly set up another wordpress.com blog and My Custard Pie winged its way into the blogosphere.

Rewind even further, my first venture online was to create a ‘family website’ on the, now defunct, Yahoo Geocities (circa 2003?). There were some the girls’ paintings (I was a proud Mum), some travel stories and a few recipes. I had to learn html in those days and resizing images was a real faff. I posted a gif of a cracking egg thinking I was so cool. When I shared the link with friends and family, one person’s response was “Sally, you need to get a life”!

Little did I know that this would become such a key part of my life and the journey I’ve followed due to my adventures online was something I could never have imagined.

And back then, I entered the world of blogging to share my passions to a few people somewhere out there in the ether. No Facebook pages, no Instagram, no Pinterest, no monetisation, no sponsorship, no distractions! The new bloggers of today have the promise of so much potential it must feel daunting at the same time, it’s a privilege to have started in such simple times.

Surprising things about truffles with Georgio Locatelli. Read more on mycustardpie.com

With Georgio – always a great chat about food provenance

How this blog has changed my life

Community: You! I’ve met some incredible people all over the world both online and off – and the friends I’ve made in Dubai have changed how I view and live in this city irrevocably.

The food and drink I’ve tasted: from a vile worm that lives in bark in the Philippines, sheep’s brains, the finest caviar, a £300 cocktail, raviolo filled with a soft egg yolk, incredible sushi, phenomenal feasts (Georgian supras being the pinnacle) and so much more. My taste buds have been blown and my food knowledge expanded (to the same degree as my waistline).

Exploring the world: I’ve been called an enthusiastic traveller on more than one occasion and this blog has enabled me to be just that.  It started my love affair with Georgia too…

Meeting the famous: while this isn’t something I ever wished for or sought out, I seem to have met (and sometimes cooked with) a rather long list of well-known chefs including Nobu, Jason Atherton, Tom Aikens, Gary Rhodes, Ed Bains, Madhur Jaffrey, Athul Kochar and Thomas Keller to name a few. Diana Henry, the acclaimed food writer and Georgio Locatelli are the ones I value most for their integrity, charm and skill as well as their wonderful food, of course.

Learning from the best: I’ve honed the craft of writing and photography (and I’m still on that journey) with workshops from people at the pinnacle of their game including Dianne Jacob, Ellen Silverman and Matt Armendariz to name just a few.

My career: while I don’t earn an income from this blog or my social media channels, it’s acted as my shop window. It demonstrates that I understand the strategy and implementation of digital in a way that my  marketing communications CV couldn’t achieve alone, giving my clients confidence that I can advise and create content for their platforms. It’s also opened the door to writing for other sites and publications. Keeping updated on the ever-changing online world benefits my blog, my clients and my own personal development.

Boat ride on Lac Leman

The next step for My Custard Pie

So what next? Blogging and all the things that go with it takes a huge commitment in terms of time and energy, especially that hungry monster Instagram. Over the last year, I feel that I’ve not spent enough time here, connecting with you my precious audience.  I’d like to shake things up and share the gazillions of ideas, recipes, stories, images, experiences and learnings that are in my head (and unpublished in my drafts) especially on topics you have particularly requested or responded to.

What would you like?

I’d love to know where to put my energies in the coming year and appreciate your feedback. Would you spare 3 minutes of your time to fill in a survey?

Fill in the mycustardpie blog survey here.

The comments section is also a great place to have a conversation with too if you’d like to raise something.

Mocha stout muffins on mycustardpie.com

A regular serving of custard

I still subscribe to a whole range of newsletters and email updates even though my inbox is a bit (OK a lot) overwhelmed. There’s some wonderful information, writing, tips, stories and inspiration out there and an email makes sure I don’t miss it. I’d love to do the same for you with a regular update in your inbox.

Based on my ideas and your feedback they’ll be some things I only send to my email list that are a bit special which I think you’ll enjoy.

Subscribe here (and unsubscribe at any point).  Sign up for a slice of my custard pie.

Note: you will continue to receive every blog post in your inbox if you already do so via WordPress.

Most popular posts

These are consistently the top most visited posts. If I followed a lot of blog advice, I’d niche down and become a ‘guide to Dubai’ blog. However, there’s no chance of that with so many other interesting things in the world!

Where to take visitors to eat in Dubai – on a budget

Buying booze in the UAE

Visiting the Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi

Visiting Dubai? Top tips on what to do before you travel

Food Photography

My most popular recipe is:

Tomato, lentil and spinach lasagne

Thank you

And that’s it really. A diving board back into these uncharted waters that change constantly. A journey of life and the internet; I’m so glad to have you with me.

Here’s to 2018 and beyond.

What is Blogtacular and why you should attend

February 2, 2018

Keyboard, cup of tea, heart and Blogtacular in letters

When I step out of my front door, Hazel on lead, and check the podcast app, my heart gives a little leap of excitement when I see a new Blogtacular episode. I’m not sure how I discovered it but from first listen I was hooked and worked my way through the whole back catalogue. Kat Molesworth is a generous and informed interviewer who keeps a cool head and really drills down into the things I want to know. There’s no fluff or preamble, each interview is absolutely packed with learning and inspiration about this ever-changing new industry that is the blogosphere and digital world.

It was too late to plan for last year’s Blogtacular conference in London, but I followed it vicariously online. This year I literally counted the days until tickets were released and pounced on one immediately.

So why, as blogger of eight year’s standing (longer if you count other online manifestations) do I want to go to another blogging conference? Surely I should be so seasoned by now that this is superfluous?

Not at all and my view is that it’s more important than ever in this fluid sector/industry – call it what you like – to keep evolving, current and informed.

But more than that… it’s always been about community to me. Digital is not outbound, it’s about truly connecting with people whether you have a readership of 100 or 100,000. If you can strike a chord, that’s what brings rewards (however you measure this) and you have to get to know who you are connecting with to have longevity and relevance. I’m sure we can all spot influencers who just broadcast into a void with ‘look at me, look at me’. Many have big followings, often artificially inflated and their Instagram and blog comments sections feel like a wasteland.

When I first tentatively put a few words and pictures onto a page and press publish I couldn’t have predicted the journey ahead. The way it’s changed my life is through the connections I’ve made and a big part of that was meeting people in real life too. Food Blogger Connect played a huge part in this and I made so many wonderful friends there who I still meet up with now (in UK or as they stop over in Dubai).

In the past two years I’ve looked to other accounts, particularly on Instagram, to inspire and stretch my creativity and provide a meaningful focus. I’ve likened it to an online artists’ support group and I’ve reveled in following the evolution and journey of some or just looked up to those who carve out their place in the online world with wisdom and beauty.

So what is Blogtacular?

Blogtacular is a conference in the UK designed for the creative blog community, but anyone who blogs is welcome. There are a range of workshops focussed on delivering the skills and advice needed to develop your blog, whether you blog for business or fun.  It’s also known for being the place to meet innovative companies who want to work with bloggers.

A friend from FBC days attended Blogtacular last year, almost by accident, and shared how impressed she was by the quality of the speakers and the community. The conference pays their speakers so it attracts a really stellar line up and values their content.

The person behind Blogtacular is a wise, informed, intelligent and erudite woman called Kat Molesworth. She combines a high level of professionalism with warmth, generosity and – very importantly – integrity. I can’t wait to meet her there (although I’m sure she’ll be mobbed!).

cup of tea, a heart, some grapes and letters spelling Blogtacular

Fancy joining me at Blogtacular? Here’s the link – and if you book through it I receive a small reward (i.e. it’s an affiliate link). I’d love that to happen but would have shared this anyway. Can you tell that I’m rather excited?!! If you are reading this in the UAE or wider Middle East, it would be great to get together a posse from the region.

If you want to know more, as well as exploring the Blogtacular website, I recommend you listen to the podcast and this latest episode with Supal Desai is a great place to start as I’m guessing it will resonate and inspire many of you (as it did me).

Cup of tea, letters that spell Blogtacular and a love heart

Have you been to a blog conference? Does stepping out from behind your screen terrify you (it did me at first)? If you’re a blogger what does community mean to you? As a non-blogger does this baffle or intrigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Why are 80 million people in the world still going hungry?

January 19, 2018

White plate with World Food Programme message on it

It’s a very unequal world we live in, where 80 million people go hungry everyday while the rest have so much food it costs an enormous sum to throw away what they don’t eat. In fact the money that it costs to dispose of unwanted food, or produce that is not able to get to people in time for them to eat it, is enough to solve the entire problem and ensure there is sufficient for everyone.

In my comfortable world of excess I thought I knew the scale of this problem. When the World Food Programme asked me to support them by posting an image of plate illustrated by a calligraphy artist on my Instagram account I didn’t hesitate – it’s a tiny gesture. But once they started to send me the information it made me realise that this is a huge issue that I know very little about.

How are they tackling this?

I’ll admit I might have been a tiny bit sceptical beforehand too. Large organisations can be very political, and the GM lobby has (inaccurately) hijacked many parts of the ‘Feed the World’ message (in other words ‘feed the bottom line’).  However, once I delved deeper I realised that the World Food Programme is tackling the causes of this inequality and malnutrition on many levels with 17 Global Goals for sustainable development to improve people’s lives by 2030.  Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, and is the priority of the World Food Programme.

Global Goals WFP officer raising a flag in Nepal

WFP officer Nimdoma Sherpa, raised a flag to represent Goal 2, Zero Hunger, in a remote mountain village in North-West Nepal. Credit: WFP/Samir Jung…

That’s my summing up but here are the words of the World Food Programme which have really hit home:

Five steps to Zero Hunger

Step 1 – Put the furthest behind first – The SDGs recognize that our world is only as strong as its weakest member and commit to leave no one behind. WFP works each and every day to save the lives of those furthest behind. Raising the purchasing power and resilience of the poorest two billion people through social protection schemes will create new demand and new jobs, and jump start local economies – thus changing those lives.

Step 2- Pave the road from farm to market – Access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone is vital. A plate of bean stew can cost a woman in South Sudan 155 percent of her daily income – the equivalent of paying hundreds of dollars in New York. By innovating and investing in supply chains, while supporting durable market development, we can make food systems work for the poorest of the poor.

Step 3 – Reduce food waste – Of the 4 billion metric tons of food we produce each year, one-third is wasted costing the global economy US$750 billion annually. In developed countries, food is wasted on the plate, while in developing countries it is wasted before it reaches the plate, when crops go unused or unprocessed because of poor storage or because farmers can’t get their produce to market.

Step 4 – Encourage a sustainable variety of crops – Today over 60 percent of all kilocalories consumed are from four staples: wheat, maize, rice and potatoes – overlooking the vast majority of the world’s quarter of a million or more edible plants. Dependence on these four crops not only puts great pressure on the planet’s resources but also dominates local markets and the nutritional value of our diets. We must support farmers in the cultivation of these crops and build the necessary consumer markets by educating communities about the importance of eating a wide range of foods.

Step 5 – Make nutrition a priority – starting with the first 1,000 days. To prevent stunting and to promote healthy development we must ensure children, pregnant women and nursing mothers have access to the foods that will enable them to eat a balanced diet, with the nutrients required to help children grow to their full potential.

Global goals grid

The Global Goals

The United Nations World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Every year, they provide food assistance to 80 million people in around 80 countries.

WFP’s efforts focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. Two-thirds of their work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict.

Their work is 100% voluntarily funded, and 93% of every contribution gets to people in need.

Ending hunger by 2030

Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 815 million people across the globe still go to bed hungry every night. To eradicate hunger by 2030 means we have to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food.

How can we help?

I’m now looking at ways to do more to help including by doing my own small bit to spread the word and cut down on food waste.

Find out what you can to on the World Food Programme website.

Please also support the awareness campaign by liking, commenting and sharing on social. Go and check out the different plates on other Instagrammer’s feeds.

Follow @WFP_MENA (on Instagram) and these hashtags #WorldFoodProgramme #WFP

Were you as shocked as I was in reading this?

Slow cooked onion tart

January 13, 2018
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The problem with all the cookery shows on TV (and yes I’ll admit to being glued to every season of Masterchef) is the constant striving for reinvention and novelty. In the last series of the aforementioned cookery competition, one chef who had cooked really inviting food that you would be very happy to eat as a customer in his restaurant, was often criticised for not being adventurous or inventive enough. And don’t even get me started on Great British Bake Off (who wants to eat those things?).

What’s wrong with cooking really simple things well? When you have really good ingredients often you hardly need to do much with them anyway.

Rant over and onto the start of the year and comforting food. Even in the desert where our winters aren’t really all that cold (it was 25 C today) there’s a feeling of hunkering down and getting cosy – even if it’s after you’ve just come home from the beach. KP and I have chosen to be vegetarian during January. Actually I chose and as I do most of the cooking, that’s what we’re eating!

This onion tart is all about the simple – in cooking and in taste. Putting a few things that go well together inside a case of buttery pastry.

You’ll note that the onions take a long, long, long time to cook but they don’t need much supervising. I wrote this recipe before I read this rant about onion cooking time by the way!

You can add your own twist – the bitter, melancholy flavours of rosemary or thyme go beautifully with the sweetness of the onions, whereas bright fresh herbs add a different vibe.  Stir, into the uncooked filling, a handful of grated cheddar or a softer milder cheese. Fragments of crisp bacon or spicy chorizo are other head-turners. But honestly, I take a purist line here of savouring the humble onion cooked slowly into sweet, melting submission then married with the best dairy in a crumbly case that reminds you of childhood.

A crisp, green salad is the perfect partner.

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

A simple, comforting tart made with store cupboard ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 50g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 100g plain flour
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon water (ice cold)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 large onions, peeled
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 300ml double cream
  • sea salt and black pepper

Directions

  1. Make the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and whizz to the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks (I actually used 3  yolks as my eggs were very small if you have a very large egg you may only need one) and pulse the processor until the pastry starts to come together. Add the iced water through the tube while it is pulsing and process lightly until the dough starts to come together. Stop the processor and form the pastry into a ball. Wrap (in cling or cover in a bowl) and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes for the gluten to expand.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the onions finely and sauté very gently in a cast iron (or non stick) frying pan. Start them off on a higher heat and use a spatula to fold them into the oil so they are all coated and start to lose their firmness. Then turn to the lowest heat possible, stirring occasionally and until the onions are transparent and very soft. Do not let them turn darker than a very pale fawn in colour. This can take up to an hour (I often do this ahead of time in two batches).
  3. Grease a deep 20-21cm flan tin. Roll out the pastry very thinly and line the tin, gently folding it into the edge without stretching it. Prick the base with a fork and bake blind in an oven preheated to 180C for 15 minutes (or until lightly cooked through).
  4. Remove from the oven and when the tart shell has cooled a little, spread the cooked onions over the base.
  5. Measure the cream into a jug, add the eggs and beat together with a generous pinch of sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Pour the cream mixture over the onions, moving them a little with a fork to enable the liquid to sink right to the bottom.
  6. Cook in the oven for 30-40 minute, protecting the exposed edges of pastry with some strips of silver foil if they start to get too brown. Remove when the filling is lightly set and the top is starting to turn golden brown. Leave to cool a little before slicing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Onion tart and some onions

Caramelised onion tart

What simple comfort food to you turn to during the Winter?

 

How a photography challenge could improve your Instagram

January 1, 2018

Gingerbread biscuits as part of an Instagram Photography Challenge

Happy New Year. Do your resolutions include ‘improving your photography’ or ‘growing your Instagram’? In fact, the two are linked. Read on for some practical advice that’s helped me this year.

I lived in Saudi Arabia for almost five years. It was a huge change in my life – newly married, quitting a high-powered job in UK, having my first baby, leaving all my friends to be behind the walls of a compound in a place where I couldn’t drive or even eat out with my husband’s colleagues if they were not with their wives and we sat in the ‘family section’.  It wasn’t all bad but I did struggle a bit until I joined a drawing group led by an inspirational teacher. It eventually became an artist’s support group where we would be given a topic or a theme one week and then critique each other’s work at the following session. The focus in knowing someone else would be looking at your work, marvelling everyone else’s very different interpretation, the spur to explore more, stretch yourself, attain greater things creatively was hugely motivating. Just writing this brings back how excited I was each week at the beginning and the end of each session. A couple of the paintings I produced during that time are framed on my wall even now.

Finding creative inspiration

Staring at a blank canvas without purpose is hard. And this can apply across all creative media including when taking photographs. It can be especially tricky for Instagram. The pressures of getting your grid looking right, attracting likes and engagement can leave you like a rabbit in the headlights sometimes.

Sometimes, I’ll be on a roll and then, out of the blue, the feeling that nothing is good enough hits. It doesn’t have a point. It’s just a pretty picture.

This is where joining some sort of group or challenge comes in.  Like the artists support group, it gives you a focus, a germ of idea, interaction with like-minded people who stretch your ideas of what’s possible, encourage you to stretch yourself and, hopefully, appreciate what you do.

Here are a few that have worked for me with suggestions how you can find something that works for you:

Instagram Photography Challenge by A Little Plantation

What is it?

This is a seasonal challenge run by Kimberly of A Little Plantation blog and all the images you see in this post are taken when I took part this Autumn.

How to join

You sign up on Kimberly’s blog and she will email you at the start of each week with a theme and three topics. She gives examples of some of the directions you might think of (both food and non-food).  There are three dates to post on and a hashtag so you can see what everyone else creates. You also need to tag Kimberly on the image to make sure she sees it.

How it inspires

You create nine images over three weeks so that you give real consideration to how your Instagram grid looks as a cohesive whole.  Once a week, Kimberly does a live Instagram session and chooses a favourite image for each prompt. She explains in detail why she thinks the image worked so well and what she liked about it. There is definitely an element of trying hard to impress your favourite teacher here! I gave a lot more thought to the planning when taking the images and considered different elements which I might not have before. I always resolved to watch the replay (as my time zone is ahead of UK) but ended up watching live several times as I just couldn’t wait to see which ones were selected. Sadly I didn’t make the hallowed few but will definitely be joining in again this January.

There is no reason why you couldn’t use the prompts if you are not on Instagram, just for general photography although you won’t get the feedback.

Things to consider

This is a free challenge with a really engaged community around it. There are a few spaces to pay for an upgrade for a one to one feedback from Kimberly (I didn’t). I found some beautiful new accounts and Instagram friends who I’ve kept in touch with. Inevitably, as Kimberly has a very definite look, it attracts a certain style of photographer, but not exclusively – and she featured some images which were totally different. You won’t see much architecture or whimsy here, but will see flatlays, dark images and whole and healthy foods.   Find out more on The Little Plantation

Weekend Hashtag Project on Instagram

What is it?

A theme issued every weekend by Instagram using the #WHP hashtag.

How to join

Visit the Instagram account from Friday evening when the new Weekend Hashtag Project theme is announced. Take a photo or video over the weekend linked to the theme and add the particular WHP hashtag. As I’m writing this it is #WHPstripes . Instagram asks that people only tag photos and videos taken over that weekend to keep it original and timely and only submit your own visuals to the project. Any tagged photo or video taken over the weekend is eligible to be featured next week. If this happens you are in for a huge rush of Instagram traffic and new followers.

How it inspires

Having the discipline of coming up with a really original, striking or evocative image each week is a great place to spark new ideas and exercise your brain. Even if I don’t participate every week, I love seeing the other interpretations from people I follow (such as allthatisshe and sarah_louise_ferg) plus those around the world. It’s very interesting to see who Instagram features too as some of the images make you gasp with wonder or tug the heart-strings.

Things to consider

Like all these challenges  it’s important to use the theme as a conduit for your own creativity and not be sucked into a comparison trap. The theme of this challenge gives a framework without limitations and is as much about telling a story as taking a picture.

Alphabet Challenge by Rosie Hardy

What is it?

A challenge that Rosie Hardy –  sets herself by exploring a theme from each letter of the alphabet. Her whimsical images push into the realms of imagination and fantasy.

How to join?

Follow @GeorgiaRoseHardy on Instagram for her latest theme and use #rosiehardychallenge tag to join in.

How it inspires

The images are highly edited using the free software Gimp to manipulate reality. A for Adventure showed her sticking enormous map pins in a larger than life-sized wall map while her cat looked on; B for butterflies was set on a window sill with them flying over her head and perched on her hand.

If you want to learn these techniques yourself she publishes a before and after pic on her website with a detailed tutorial (15 GBP to download) for each image.

Things to consider

It’s not essential to use editing software to join in the challenge but the spirit of the themes is to stretch the imagination.  I became aware of this challenge via @sarah_louise_ferg who used the things she learned from the tutorial to make her own original image to submit to WHP

Bloom and Grow (and Gloom and Glow) by Sara Tasker

What is it?

Bloom and Grow is a paid for Instagram course which lasts for four weeks with a focus on flowers but is a whole lot more. Run by Sara Tasker of meandorla.com who brings her forensic examination of why things work to the appeal of blooms and nature.  She sets projects and homework through the course, and feedback within the walls of a dedicated Facebook community.  She has also launched  a new course called Gloom and Glow to inspire people through the gloomy, light-starved months of winter (not something I wrestle with here in Dubai).

How to join

Information and sign up on Sara’s website. It’s only open at certain times of the year (so that everyone starts the course at the same time).

How it inspires

If the course is good, I always find my commitment is unwavering if I’ve forked out some cash. Sara has a real gift for explaining how an image connects, giving you the tools through detailed information, then setting the spark for you to create your own.  I found I was thinking on a different level while doing this course – and it’s something that has stayed with me.  I’ve witnessed the transformative effect it had on several people’s accounts too.

Things to consider

This is a course with challenges. Don’t assume it’s a clichéd and formulaic prescriptive about flatlays and peonies; instead it’s a catalyst to harness the magic appeal of flowers and nature. As Sara says “whether you’re all-white and minimal, moody and journalistic, entirely travel-based or anything else, we’ll look at ways to weave a little floral magic into your photographs.”  However, you will inevitably find some people on the course who do fall into the flowery flatlay camp. There is plenty of room for additional inspiration though.

How to join

Sign up on Sara’s website. If you want a taste of her style of teaching, you can sign up for her 7 day free course before you commit. Read my review of her ‘tell-all’ course The Insta Retreat

Hashtag challenges and themes

Instagram is awash with these, from a new theme every day to ongoing tags to unite like-minded people. The trick is to find ones that work for you, where you find something to truly inspire among a tribe of people who will root for you. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. itsmyweek A new theme every week and a stunning collection of little scenes from everyday life. This is a new find for me and I love what they are doing here. Four accounts are featured at the end of each week on @itsmyweek
  2. #adoremycupofcoffee Elegantly inspiring for coffee devotees. Simple, restrained and Scandinavian in tone via Britt from @remainsoftheday_ who  features her favourites now and again.
  3. #mybeautifulsimplicity This hashtag is about beautifully simple images which are full of space – it’s not about the subject matter but a certain style. They should feel calm and be free from clutter and detail according to @zoepower who features her favourites every few weeks on her feed and round ups on her blog, Beautiful Simplicity, too.

Gingerbread biscuits in a leaf shape for an Instagram photography challenge

I hope these may have given you a starting point for the year if you are feeling a bit lacking in direction. Of course there are hundreds of others out there. In fact if you find something you think me and other readers might enjoy please drop me a line by email or in the comments section. Is there anything that you’ve resolved to do in 2018 to take the next step with your photography and Instagram?

What’s in season in the UAE? October guide

November 7, 2017
Whats in season in the UAE in October

My market haul from 13th October 2017 – the first day of the new season

I do most of my weekly shop during the growing season by buying my organic vegetables direct from local farmers. Browsing each stall to see who has what, choosing the best, trying to buy a little from as many farmers as possible, striking up a conversation with the growers and other shoppers, makes the whole process a joy. Then there’s the scent of the vegetables (it’s mainly veg – just a tiny bit of local fruit), buying roots with leaves rather than a trimmed down anonymous looking balls, it’s knowing that everything was picked just a few hours earlier.

Cooking is different too – it’s helped me to be more intuitive, adaptable and adventurous in the kitchen. Cook books are there for inspiration not prescription.

The Farmers’ Market, here in Dubai, started a good six weeks earlier this year. It’s down to an increase in the number of farms growing organic produce, even though the range is a little more limited, the volume was enough to set up stalls (the temperatures were a little steamy to say the least!).

So I’ve put together a monthly guide to what’s available. It will become a memory jogger in the fallow months about what’s up coming and when. Plus I can collect together recipe suggestions to help us all when inspiration gets a little thin – including LOTS of courgette recipes!

Whats in season in the UAE in October

Restrained market shopping due to travel. My basket from 27th October 2017

During the early days of my blog (in 2010 can you believe?) I used to look longingly at people who were doing seasonal round-ups in their part of the world. I never imagined that it would be possible here in the United Arab Emirates.

My research for this guide has been based on the organic, local produce available at The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace in 2017 (and into 2018).  You may also find some additional or different things at Greenheart as they collect seed to grow their own varieties of vegetables. For a preview, you can see what I bought for a whole season during 2014 to 2015 on this post.

Farming in the desert has immense challenges and seasonal often means protecting things from nature as well as working in harmony. Being able to buy organic produce that has been picked a few hours before is a huge privilege. If you are reading this from another part of the world you might be surprised at what is grown and pick up some ideas for your own local produce too.

Vegetables and fruit in season in the UAE during October

Click on an image to enlarge and browse the gallery. All taken during October 2017.

Vegetables in bold link to recipes

  • Amaranth – used throughout Asia and parts of Africa, good for stir frying
  • Aubergine – or eggplant. Not abundant during this month and only purple available.
  • Basil – strongly scented variety with thick stalks
  • Beetroot – the first beetroot of the month has tough skin, not abundant
  • Broccoli – very little broccoli available and fairly dry in texture (wait until November)
  • Butternut squash – beautiful butternut squash with very fragrant, sweet flesh available
  • Chillies – from small, round and green to a few long and red. Chillies are abundant and fiery
  • Chinese red spinach – you may spot this variety of spinach with attractive red splashes on the leaves
  • Coriander – fresh coriander is abundant by the end of the month
  • Courgette – available in small green, long yellow, dark green (probably a variety of summer squash rather than a true courgette) and round yellow and green which are great for stuffing. Also called kousa
  • Cucumber – two different types available, one with a speckled thick peel and juicy pale flesh
  • Dates – dried dates from the farms are on many stalls
  • Dill – bunches of leafy dill are there from the beginning. Good for pickling seasoning
  • Fenugreek – such pretty leaves, good in curries (also known as methi)
  • Kale – starts to become more abundant by the end of the month
  • Limes – small limes are more like lemons in taste. Not overly juicy but very fresh tasting
  • Melon – orange and white fleshed melons available. Not extremely sweet but refreshing. Good with a touch of raw honey (from the Balqees stall)
  • Mint – vigorous and fragrant from the first market. Stems can be tough at this time of year
  • Moringa – leafy branches on some stalls, fresh and green (used in curries)
  • Molokhia – very seasonal, it disappears by November. Used a bit like spinach and adored by many for its slimy quality when cooked.
  • Okra – green okra available
  • Oranges – a few local ones on the stalls, green peel mainly
  • Parsley – local flat leafed variety fairly abundant
  • Peppers – a few green and the odd red one. Not peak season
  • Pumpkin – one or two stalls had green skinned, sizeable pumpkins
  • Radish – good crunchy peppery bunches on several stalls
  • Rocket/ Roka (salad or garden rocket, arugula, rucola, gerger) – the flat-leaved, salad-type is abundant
  • Spinach – very similar in look to the rocket. Make sure you ask the farmer or look for pointy leaves
  • Spring onions – a couple of stalls have nice, fresh crunchy bunches
  • Sweetcorn – a few make an appearance in the last week in October
  • Sweet potato – a few early ones both pink and white on one or two stalls
  • Tarragon – a few stalls have beautiful bunches throughout the month
  • Tomatoes – a scant few with little flavour in October
  • Watermelon – not particularly sweet but refreshing
  • Wild rocket – one or two stalls have this but it’s a bit wiry at this time of year

My Arabian Almanakh

Another thing I brought home from the market was a beautiful gardening resource and planner, My Arabian Almanakh. It acts as a guide to the unique growing conditions in this country and wider region,  and has a wealth of tips and information to help people work with nature to grow a whole range of edible plants. There are spaces for notes and planting records for every month plus a guide to each season. There are delightful illustrations throughout. Whether you have a window box or a large patch this is a resource to treasure and will act as a record for years. The people behind it are Laura Allais Maré who founded Slow Food Dubai, Cherida Fernandez who illustrated the book, Leilani Coughlan and Prachiti Talathi Gandhi. Their ethos is to work with nature, not against it, and they published the book to teach and share knowledge about regenerative gardening.

Available at the market – more info on My Arabian Almanakh Facebook page

Whats In Season in UAE in October

Delighted to be quoted in The National in their article about markets in Dubai.

Do let me know if you found this useful. If you shopped locally this month, what were the highlights and what did you cook with it?

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Courgette, pistachio and yoghurt loaf with a lemon honey glaze

October 19, 2017

Courgette pistachio and yoghurt loaf with lemon and honey glazeLadles of goodness, with a nod to a lemon drizzle, this green pistachio-flecked, spelt and yoghurt loaf is light, moist, moreish and perfect with a cup of tea. And it’s another idea for using courgettes (enough said).  I’m as susceptible as the next woman for something that’s called bread and stuffed full of vegetables, so you could legitimately eat it for breakfast even though it tastes rather like cake.

Leafing through recipes (aka Googling on my phone) reveals that there are a mind-boggling amount of ‘healthy’ courgette bread ideas out there, from plain spiced to those darkly moist with cocoa and chocolate chips. My beef is the sugar content in a lot of these which seems at odds with the low-fat or dairy-free milk, raw nuts and wholewheat or gluten-free flour that is specified (I also have a beef with ‘free-from’ ingredients being automatically labelled ‘healthy’, but that’s another conversation!).

Reducing your free sugar intake

Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter whether the sweetener is white caster, agave syrup, maple syrup, dark brown unrefined, jaggery, date molasses or coconut blossom lovingly hand-extracted by men in loin cloths from the palm bud stem in remote tropical groves, it’s all added or free sugar (rather than naturally occurring). This is where most of us should cut down – whether combined with hidden veg or not.

I’ve used raw honey in this recipe as it gives a gentle warmth rather than a sugary hit. We’ve all got used to sweeter tastes as sugar is added to savoury foods, and even fruit varieties e.g. Pink Lady apples are bred to appeal to our demand from our sweet-tooths. Dialing it down gradually retrains our palettes – I’m going to try reducing it even further next time I make this recipe or even substituting some of the honey with ripe banana.

How to bake with raw honey

Raw honey is the stuff that is taken straight from the hive – and if you thought all honey was like this you are in for a shock. Most commercial honey is heat-treated, flash-pasteurized and micro-filtered which removes the pollen. This is nothing to do with safety or taste but about appearance and shelf-life. These processes transform it from a substance which is packed with over 200 enzymes and nutrients which are beneficial to our health to little more than a honey-flavoured syrup. Most or all of the goodness is destroyed. Some even have sugar syrups added to bulk them out.  I was aghast when I first heard this a couple of years ago as, like most people, I though that all honey was ‘natural’.

The process of cooking applies heat so will also reduce the amount of healthy goodness in your raw honey, generally removing about two-thirds of the antioxidants for instance. General advice when baking with honey is:

  • Use at least half the amount of honey to replace sugar in your recipe.
  • Reduce the liquid in a recipe, this can be a bit of trial and error so perhaps start with recipes that use an alternative liquid sweetener (e.g. sub honey for maple syrup).
  • Reduce cooking temp by 10-20 C as honey will make your baked goods brown more easily.
  • Add a little extra baking powder (about 1/4 of a teaspoon).

So why have I used raw honey in this recipe? As raw honey is naturally a bit sweeter than sugar it cuts the amount of sugar in half. Also to get some health benefits (rather than none at all) from my sweetener and for the more complex, nuanced, delicious taste.  The glaze at the end adds a little more oomph and real raw honey goodness too.

What to do with all those courgettes?

With the start of Farmers’ Market , courgettes are going to be a constant in my kitchen throughout the season – if you want a bit more inspiration right now, find all my courgette recipes here. I have many more to share over the coming months.

The delicious raw honey I use is available from Balqees at the market, some of the farmers also sell local (quite strong-tasting) raw Sidr honey too.

This recipe looks long but it couldn’t be simpler.

Courgette, pistachio and yoghurt spelt loaf with a lemon, raw honey glaze

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A healthy loaf that's moist from the hidden courgettes with a tang from the lemon and yoghurt. Great for breakfast or a snack at any time with a cup of tea

Ingredients

  • 1 large free range egg
  • 80ml coconut oil*
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
  • 120ml full-fat Greek-style yoghurt
  • 100ml raw honey*
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g spelt flour*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 small courgettes, washed and grated coarsely (about 160g)
  • zest of 1 lemon, grated finely
  • 100g pistachios, chopped coarsely

For the glaze

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey

Directions

  • Bring all the ingredients to room temperature. Slightly warm the coconut oil if it is not already liquid. Lightly grease a 23 x 13 cm loaf tin (9 x 5 inches) and line with baking parchment.
  • In a large measuring jug (or similar) beat the egg lightly and add the coconut oil, vanilla extract, yoghurt and honey, stirring to combine.
  • Put the remaining dry ingredients (flours, baking powders, salt, grated courgette, lemon zest and nuts) into a mixing bowl. Pour in the liquid ingredients and fold in with a spatula until just combined; do not overmix.
  • Scoop the mixture into the loaf tin and put in the centre of an oven preheated to 170C. Check if it’s cooked after 40 minutes by inserting a skewer into the centre, the loaf is done if it comes out clean or with a crumb clinging to the surface. If it needs further baking, return to the oven for up to 10 minutes more, covering the top with baking paper or tin foil if the top is starting to get too dark.
  • When done, remove from the oven. While still warm prepare and apply the glaze (as below).
  • For the glaze: stir the lemon juice and raw honey together in a small bowl to make a runny glaze. If your honey is very thick you can put the bowl in the microwave or over a pan of hot water for a few seconds to change the consistency but do not warm it (to preserve the goodness of the raw honey). Make a few holes in the top of the loaf with a fine skewer or toothpick and use a pastry brush to apply the glaze evenly over the entire upper surface.
  • Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing. Store in an air-tight tin.

*Alternative ingredients and suggestions. Use melted butter or a different oil instead of the coconut oil (but I like the flavour) – I used a vanilla scented coconut oil from Earth’s Finest. Swap raw honey for another liquid sweetener such a maple syrup (although the taste will be different). Don’t use sugar-free liquid sweeteners though (for taste and dietary reasons). You can use all plain flour instead of part spelt. Goat’s curd can be used instead of yoghurt.

Courgette pistachio and yoghurt loaf with lemon and honey glaze

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If you heard Dubai Eye you’ll know this is great slathered with goats cheese and topped with a bit more raw honey. Trust me. Listen to that Dubai Today episode here.

If you’re interested healthy cakes and desserts which contain veg you might like a new cookbook by UK blogger Katherine Hackworthy of Veggie Desserts. I haven’t got my hands on a copy just yet but it sounds very appealing.

Veg in cakes – all wrong or your favourite thing? And honey – did you know that it’s the fourth most adulterated foodstuff in the world? Shocking eh? Let me know what you think.Save

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