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Spicy sweet potato, tomato and turmeric soup {+ some photo tips}

September 18, 2017

Sweet Potato and turmeric soup

There’s a dash through the gate into the porch through torrential rain by the person from Riverford at 7am. The empty carton is replaced with a new one abundant with brown paper parcels and intriguing sprigs of green. A neighbour drops in a little later with a clutch of freshly laid eggs. The benefits of a few weeks in Devon at my Mother in law’s house is the chance to order local, organic produce from a company who were one of the first pioneers, and they are based in the county.

In line with what’s in season, each week there are intriguing new things to browse on the website. If I lived here I’d order a weekly veg box but as there can only be one person in charge of shopping around here (and it’s not me!) I restrain myself to a few enticing items.

This week’s delivery contained a splendid, crisp Savoy cabbage, some sweetcorn enrobed in their husks, fresh edamame beans still clinging to their stems, purple sweet potatoes, a bag of Padron peppers, a small bunch of sorrel and some knobbly tubers of fresh turmeric. It feels like Christmas.

It’s the first time I’ve cooked with fresh turmeric and it made me wonder why I haven’t bought it in Dubai – it must be available somewhere. However, like ginger, I presume it’s hard to buy organic which puts me off.  Then I looked up how to grow it and discovered that it’s a tropical tuber so I presume something that could be cultivated by the local, organic farmers. Something to mention when the new season starts in November (or maybe have a go myself).

How to prepare fresh turmeric

As a perennial herb related to ginger, it’s simple to treat it in the same way – with one word of caution. The juice from this root stains everything it touches; your fingers, the chopping board, the knife, any light plastic, your clothes.

You can peel the root with a knife, or the back of a spoon but this is not essential – just wash it before use to remove any dirt. Use a fine grater or micro plane, a robust garlic crusher or a pestle and mortar to prepare it. For the recipe below, I knew I was blending the soup after cooking so just chopped it finely as I would garlic.

This soup was the result of the Riverford ingredients and needing to use up a few things in the fridge including some sweet potato. The turmeric added a subtle richness and warmth, much less earthy than the dried variety. It made an excellent lunch with some bread to mop it up with. Vegan teen reheated some to thicken it slightly and used it over pasta for supper. You can garnish with a swirl of yoghurt and some fresh herbs if you have them to hand.

Spicy sweet potato and turmeric soup

Spicy sweet potato, tomato and turmeric soup

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A comforting soup with the warmth of fresh turmeric.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1/2 green birds eye chilli, chopped
  • 5cm long piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 400ml vegetable stock
  • sea salt and black pepper

Method

  • Heat the olive oil, in a large saucepan, over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the celery, stir and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until slightly softened.
  • Add the chilli and turmeric and give a quick stir.
  • Pour in the tinned tomatoes, then add the sweet potatoes.
  • Add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
  • Cook, partially covered, until the sweet potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife; this takes about 30 minutes.
  • Remove the soup from the heat and use a stick blender to whizz to a smooth consistency (or use a power blender and then return to the pan to reheat).
  • Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

What happened to the rest of the Riverford produce? We boiled the corn briefly and gnawed straight from the cob, butter melting over the kernels. The Padron peppers were blistered in a hot pan and devoured with salt as an aperitif. I found out that their Russian roulette reputation is not a myth as one set my mouth on fire; thankfully the rest were their usual mild, moreish sweetness.  I hadn’t tasted fresh edamame before and boiled the pods whole in salted water, refreshed them in cold and podded the lot for picking at as snacks. The purple sweet potatoes were slightly more earthy and less overtly sweet in taste; delicious roasted as olive oil slicked, paprika dusted wedges. Vegan teen informed me that sorrel is poisonous eaten in large quantities, so I’m glad we just had a small bunch to wilt and eat like spinach, tasty though it was!

Putting a call out on Instagram, I had lots of suggestions for uses of fresh turmeric, the top one being in golden milk – my favourite recipe is by Kellie of Food to Glow.

Sweet Potato and turmeric soup

Photography challenges, light, backgrounds and Lightroom presets

My unplanned, longer stay in the UK means I’m camping out at my Mother-in-law’s house. I’ve been watching the light at different times of the day to find the best spot for photography. My challenge is that in some places there is too much light (big windows) and some places not enough (parts of the building are a very old cottage). The garage has a frosted window high up and is where I shot these pics, but I don’t think the temperature of the light is quite right and it’s still too strong (hard shadows).

The backgrounds were ordered from Capture by Lucy  (I seem to be building up a collection). These are printed vinyl that just roll up for storage (or bringing back in my suitcase). Don’t assume they are  restricted to flat lay use only, I found some great ideas from Emma Davies Photography here.   I liked the pictures on my iPhone 7 more than the ones on my Sony A6000; the 16-50 kit lens I have with me isn’t ideal for this kind of food shot (in fact looking to replace it as soon as I’m back in Dubai as the camera is excellent).

Looking at ways to streamline my editing and save time as I spend hours fiddling around on Lightroom so thought I’d give A Color Story presets a go. I use the app on my iPhone to give my Instagram pics a degree of consistency. The effects are less gloomy and muted than VSCO and while I love that moody, filmic look, I think ACS is more suited to the light, bright place I live in most of the year.

I’d love to know what you think of the edits – I used variations of the Everyday preset from the Essentials range for most. It certainly halved my editing time.

Autumn is awesome

Cosy-ing down for Autumn here so will be making this soup again – please let me know if you try it. I’ve been taken off guard by how much I’m loving this season despite a week of brief sunshine and very heavy showers. It must be a couple of decades since I watched the leaves start to turn golden, the light change and the nights draw in; the morning mists, billowing clouds and wisps of salmon pink in the sunsets have me transfixed. I’m trying to resist the urge to buy warm jumpers and fur-lined boots, although succumbed to a rather gorgeous blanket from the National Trust. What do you love (or miss) about Autumn?

Wild honey and rye: traditional Polish food for modern cooks

September 5, 2017

The doorbell rang and I dashed to meet the delivery man. He had a parcel containing a book I had been eager to see from the moment I heard of its first draft. Clutching the padded envelope, I took it to a quiet part of the house where the light flooded in through the window, so I could savour in solitude my first glimpse of Wild Honey and Rye.

Full disclosure as I’ve known Ren Behan, the author of it, since my early days of blogging. We met at one of the early Food Blogger Connects and she was one of the first people I spoke to when I nervously entered a room of food blogging strangers. Since then we’ve met up in some exciting places (at Diana Henry’s home for tea, upstairs in the private kitchen at Jamie’s Fifteen) and some less so (a snatched coffee in Hertfordshire with fidgety toddlers and sulky teens springs to mind) but despite living on different continents we’ve built and sustained a friendship based around our shared passion for writing about food and food issues. I’ve always admired Ren’s focus, clarity of thinking and determination too.

The other common ground was our heritage. Ren’s parents were part of the huge community of Poles who were forced to migrate during the Second World War. As Ren writes in her introduction, Polonia means Poland in Latin, but is also a term given to people of Polish origin who have left their homes and live elsewhere. This diaspora is one of the largest in the world. There are many tales to be told about the reasons for this mass emigration, but the war and subsequent power struggles wreaked much hardship, danger and tragedy. My own Father’s family were part of this exodus too.

The Polish community in Britain

The Poles were crucial contributors to the success of the Allied war effort, from being the largest group of non-British personnel in the RAF during the Battle of Britain to vital cryptography skills deciphering the early version of the Enigma machine. At the end of the war when Poland came under a communist government and the Kresy region that had been invaded by Russia remained under Stalin, many Poles made permanent new homes, which included over 160,000 who settled in the UK.

In her book, Ren tells of her upbringing, surrounded by a Polish community who were proud of their heritage and as eager to preserve traditions as they were to make a new life for themselves and their families, and of course food was at the heart of this.  My own experience was a bit different, due to my Mum being English we didn’t learn Polish or go to Polish Saturday school, but we were still part of gatherings such as the blessing of the eggs at Easter, had traditional Polish costumes made by my Aunt and ate Polish food at the houses of relatives.

Remembering through recipes

Leafing through the book brought back so many memories from the recipes contained within its pages. Here are a few:

  • My Mum did all the cooking in our house but about once a year (if that!) my Dad would take over the kitchen and slowly prepare placki – Polish potato pancakes. Of course we made a huge fuss of him and ate every one up as though it was our last dish on the planet, fresh from the pan. My poor Mum, the ingratitude!
  • In fact my Mum did learn to make one Polish dish, stuffed cabbage parcels (golabki), filled with minced meat and rice with a tomato sauce, which were utterly delicious.
  • My Uncle Janek would shout at us the minute we walked through the door of his house. “Sit down, drink something, have something to eat. Enjoy yourself.” It wasn’t a request, it was an order. At their  round dining table we ate Easter (or Russian) salad, my Auntie Eva’s apple cake, tucked into boards of Polish charcuterie with spicy kabanos (common now but only available at a certain shop back then) and drank milky tea. During Autumn they would drive to the Forest of Dean and fill baskets with a variety of funghi, spreading their foraged finds on a small table for us to inspect before frying them in a little butter. I have no clue what we tasted, many were quite strong in flavour with unusual textures, but they must have had some idea about the varieties as I’m still here to tell the tale.
  • I hinted at hardships earlier, and when my Father’s family was torn apart suddenly, his eldest sister was left behind and eventually lived almost the whole of her life under communism (and considerable deprivation) in Poland. We met a few times when she was allowed to travel to the UK and later, as the old order changed and travel became easier, I visited her twice.  On my last trip with my daughters and my sister, we walked with Ciocia Zyta into her town and bought some wild blueberries that had been freshly picked from the forest. Back in her tiny kitchen she made dough and we fashioned them into pierogi, uniting us where there was the lack of a common language (only my sister speaks Polish). She joked that she could tell our characters by the way we made them, and that I was a perfectionist (guilty as charged).
  • After visiting my Aunt we told a white lie and went to stay in an ‘agro-tourism’ place in another part of Poland. We had to fib as she would never have understood why we would pay to stay with strangers rather than with relatives, such is Polish hospitality.  Our hostess was a Mrs Bigos (Mrs Stew!) and as there were not many places to eat out in the area we arranged for a sort of high tea every day. Hard boiled eggs from her hens, charcuterie, cheese, fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and radishes from the garden and good bread with unsalted butter sated our appetites whipped up by lots of walking in the fresh air (including the chapels of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska).
  • People of more than 200 different nationalities make Dubai their home and my children’s junior school decided to hold its first International Day celebration.  As you can imagine, competition was fierce to make each stall the absolute best and everyone was eager to share a bit of what makes their particular nation special. I teamed up with another Mum to organise the Polish stall and we had great fun doing it. Maria’s barszcz (beetroot soup) went down a storm even in 28 C temperatures!

Modern Polish food

All the food from these memories is in the book, illustrated and explained in an informal but thorough way that encourages you to try them for yourself. The images are lovely – simple but very inviting – the travel ones taken by Ren herself when visiting Poland.  What really tips the balance for me is that they all have a place within a normal family menu without compromising the original recipe. Most remain true to very traditional ways of preparation and simple ingredients. There is an occasional nod to ways Polish cuisine has changed to incorporate new things, such as avocado, but it sits well and feels relevant and not gimmicky (like too many cook books).

Cooking through the book

A neighbour gave us some knobbly cucumbers from his greenhouse. I’ve been dressing them sparingly (and dairy free for vegan teen) with dill, vinegar, a little sweetener (raw honey) and oil – which is the lighter variation given for mizeria or cucumber, soured cream and dill salad.

Also dairy free and utterly delicious is millet porridge with almond milk (or jaglanka z mlekiem migdałowym). This doesn’t sound too appealing does it, but trust me when I say it tastes lighter than oat porridge which makes it perfect for a warming summer breakfast (or all year round in Dubai). My only tweak of the recipe was to stir raw honey in after cooking it to preserve the precious healthy enzymes. I served it with a fruity topping made in the same way as Ren’s quick blueberry compote (kompot z jagód) but with foraged blackberry and apple, again with the raw honey stirred in afterwards. 

I’m making the most of my time with vegan teen before she starts her next term of university and some pierogi-making was perfect Mother/daughter bonding time. I taught her how to knead dough properly and we set up a little pierogi-production line; it was great fun.  Instead of an egg, we used aquafaba (reduced chickpea water) and a little oil in the dough, and she came up with a vegan filling of potato, caramelised onions and peas.  I used Ren’s mushrooms and cream filling for the rest (pierogi z grzybami i śmietaną). Anything stuffed is a bit time-consuming but, again, the simplicity meant it wasn’t too arduous and we were really happy with the light, moreish dumplings.

Bookmarked for when I’m feeding a crowd, is Ren’s Hunter’s stew recipe (bigos mamy). Part of the crowd of 150 food bloggers she fed one summer, I still remember how good it tasted.  While this is one of the heartier dishes, most recipes dispel any notion that Polish food is stodgy, heavy, unhealthy or not suitable for today’s modern lifestyle or dietary requirements.  Wild Honey and Rye will have a permanent place on my kitchen counter and not just because my dear friend is the author (although this adds an extra warmth of feeling when I read it).

Thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me a review copy.

 

Win a copy of your own

If you’re in the UK and would like to win Wild Honey and Rye for yourself I have one to give away over on Instagram. More details here. Full terms and conditions for the competition here.

Wild Honey and Rye is published by Pavilion Books (a great source for beautiful cookbooks) this week. Available on Amazon for pre-order.

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Peace at the end of the line. A trip to Rochers de Naye

August 26, 2017

A train ride to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

A train ride to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

I turned left out of the little station at the end of the line at Rochers de Naye. Totally alone with the breeze, the view, the sound of buzzing insects and the clanging of cow bells from the valley below. It turns out everyone else turned right leaving me alone, at peace with my thoughts, stillness, and heart full of the utter, overwhelming beauty of it all.  Where did you last feel like this?

There are many different trains in Switzerland: some luxurious and state of the art, some pretty standard and some which feel old and comfortable like Grandma’s rocking chair. All are clean and punctual. This train fell firmly into the latter, well-worn, charming category and, as a cog train with special teeth on the track to assist with the steep gradients ahead, had a rhythmic chugging to the steady motion. The friendly conductor ran onto the platform in Montreux to validate my ticket for me in the special machine (I’d forgotten) and then we were off, clattering gently along the edge of Lac Leman, then climbing upwards through verdant pasture, dark tunnels, passing wooden chalets with carved edges to their sloping eaves and neat window boxes of bright geraniums. The journey through the alpine countryside for about an hour was supremely relaxing, it would be worth buying a ticket for this alone.

A visit to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

Upwards and upwards we climbed. I felt I was willing ‘the little train that could’ not to give up as it hauled us to vertiginous heights. Finally we rounded a bend to the small platform at the end of the line and passengers swarmed to the front to disembark, and as mentioned, did a disappearing act.

I’d been looking for the spot I’d seen on Instagram and scaled a quite precarious mound, glad that no one was there to witness my scrambling. The only downside was not having a friendly passer-by to ask to take a pic so I abandoned all thoughts of this and threw myself into enjoying the moment.

There were some rather randomly placed yurts nearby – apparently you can stay in them. I traced the narrow path signposted to the alpine garden, reached the wooden gate and picked my way through this little rockery paradise in the shadow of the mountains. Planted in 1896 with alpine flowers, including the Swiss emblem Eidelweiss, the garden is named after the poet Eugène Rambert who was an avid nature lover. I could see the cows below on their immaculate pasture, the bells competing with the hum of bees and the tiniest breath of wind under the beating sun. This little piece of heaven was mine alone.

I picked up pace on the way back and marched through the station, past netted enclosures housing marmots (all hiding from the sun) to reach an alternative view-point at 2,042m over Lake Leman and the Vaud region, again totally alone with my thoughts and the extraordinary scene. There is a restaurant that can be reached through a long tunnel at the end of the platform where you can enjoy these views with refreshments – I guess that’s where everyone else went.

A train ride to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

A train ride to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

In Winter this is a place for skiers and has a hut to visit Father Christmas, but I was more than content to explore this tranquil setting under the summer sun. Even thinking about it now makes my shoulders sink, my mind a little calmer. The train journey back down the mountain along wooded and grassy swathes and the shimmering blue water, followed by the paddle steamer over the lake from Montreux to Vevey, was the perfect ending.

Here’s a little video of the journey up and down and what was at the top… Would love to know what you think.

 

Thank you to Vaud Tourism for helping me discover this lovely place.

More information about Rochers de Naye here.

A visit to Rochers de Naye, Vaud, Switzerland

Where do you go to clear your head and lift your spirits?

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Food waste and Instagram pics. Can it ever be justified?

July 24, 2017
Lake Geneva in Lausanne

My restrained small bowl of hummus and an Aperol spritz on the edge of Lac Leman

That bountiful food flatlay we see on Instagram, scores of plates of all shapes and sizes cheek by jowl, crammed onto the table haphazardly, or lined up in symmetrical form, enticing our eyes, beautifully photographed overhead with hands reaching in to take, dip, or spoon from the abundant, eye popping, mouth watering feast. It’s a magnet for the double click.

Or the freak shake filled to its foamy brim, stripy straw standing tall, stacked with two or three sprinkle coated doughnuts. Another Instagram craze that our feeds are awash with, that attract adoring comments. “Yum”. “Delish”. “Want”.

But talking of feeds, who eats this food? I do wonder and in fact I have seen people at events pose with a photogenic milkshake or overflowing and alluring plate and then leave it after one spoonful.

Round tables 👌🏻 @koentadyy

A post shared by Flatlays (@flatlays) on

I was thinking of this while dining alone by the edge of Lake Geneva.  It was a hot day, I’d had a reasonable lunch mid-day, so I wasn’t that hungry. Therefore I ordered hummus and a drink. A voucher I’d been given for my meal (as I was invited as media) meant I could have ordered a whole lot more for the camera, but didn’t.

Is this wrong? We know and accept that food photography for advertisements is rarely eaten. It can’t be. The food has been tweaked, handled, poked, prodded and even sprayed with things that are inedible. Food photography can be as valid an art form as any other… and there lies the rub.

Isn’t this the same with Instagram feeds? I presume the lake side cafe in Lausanne would prefer me to take a shot that goes viral or at least garners maximum likes. They get publicity, I eat free and up my Instagram engagement. We all win – except for the left overs.

But something within me just can’t.  I’m the one who takes home anything edible, half empty jars, ends of loaves etc,  from photo shoots so it’s not wasted.  If I prepare food at home for a shoot, I eat it – all of it.

There’s enough food on our planet to feed everyone easily and yet people go hungry. The rich adding food to landfill in unprecedented quantities is wrong. Food producers have tended the land, or raised and slaughtered animals for our sustenance, I can’t morally order or cook food to throw it away. A recent study concluded that Instagram could be fuelling a food waste mountain in the UK (although we mustn’t forget the influencers who give ideas about using left overs and frugal food).

And then there’s the lie peddled alongside the giant pretzel, the stacked burger with strings of melted cheese, the huge box of multi-coloured doughnuts, the ice cream cone piled high with tottering scoops. It’s always a pencil thin wrist holding it, a svelte bikini-clad form tucking into the impossibly huge chocolate chip cookie, slender ankles and tiny feet poking out from under the Nutella laden waffle stack. A recent article I read hypothesises that this promotes an idea if you get your aesthetic just right, if you’re cool enough, if you’re worthy enough, none of that science stuff about food and physiology will apply. I have two daughters. I have witnessed the impact of this continual pressure to conform to a impossible ideal throughout their growing up. There is no way I could add to it (this is also hypothetical given my age and uncoolness!).
So, whether you are behind the camera or in front of it, am I alone in wrestling with this dilemma?
I’d really like to hear your views and opinions on this tricky topic.

*Please note: I am not pointing a finger to individual accounts with the Instagram images shown here – I do not know what happened to the food in each picture after it was taken. They are examples of a particular kind of shot.

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Trying to beat Imposter syndrome

July 8, 2017

Beating Imposter Syndrome on mycustardpie.comThe foremost advice given about writing a blog is to post consistently.

Well, you might have noticed, I’ve been pretty consistent recently in not posting. I feel I owe it to you, as many have joined me on this blogging journey of seven plus years, to explain why. It’s taken me a while to figure it out too.

I’ve made excuses about being busy – and it’s true that working in digital communications that the demand for more and better quality content just keeps getting greater – but that’s not the whole picture.

On Instagram yesterday, I finally admitted to a large dose of Imposter syndrome (psychologists call it neurotic imposture) and a sort of crazy perfectionism which has left me staring at the draft posts section of my blog like a rabbit caught in the headlights, unable to press publish. Many said they had not heard of the term ‘Imposter syndrome’ and it sounds pretty pathetic when you put it into writing, but I’ll try to explain…

When people compliment your work or say how talented you are at something you should feel good, right?  In fact the feeling that comes over you is the exact opposite. You believe they have the wool pulled over their eyes and you are not deserving of their praise. It’s the continual feeling of not being as good as a) everyone thinks you are and b) most other people in your field. This sounds like false humility and that’s why it’s really difficult to admit to, and super hard to rationalise and escape from.

This paragraph from a report in the Harvard Business Review – The Dangers of Feeling a Failure enlightens further (throughout the article there are many things about my background and expectations that I identify with):

“…neurotic impostors feel more fraudulent and alone than other people do. Because they view themselves as charlatans, their success is worse than meaningless: It is a burden. In their heart of hearts, these self-doubters believe that others are much smarter and more capable than they are, so any praise impostors earn makes no sense to them. “Bluffing” their way through life (as they see it), they are haunted by the constant fear of exposure. With every success, they think, “I was lucky this time, fooling everyone, but will my luck hold? When will people discover that I’m not up to the job?”

When my blog was in its infancy I was happy to do the best I could and just publish for the pleasure of sharing a variety of topics. Now there are so many blogs of incredibly high standards to compare my output with, paired with recognition as an ‘influencer’; it’s gradually caused my self-confidence about blogging to plummet and to doubt everything I set out to do.

Women are particularly prone to feeling like a fraud and apparently most people suffer from this at one time or another. I must admit to having it bad right now though and again, I’m trying to work out why this might be so I can combat it.

Much has been made of a version of the lives we portray online, the artificial perfect worlds, especially on Instagram. It seeps into our consciousness and even if our heads know that no one can really live like that and that nobody is perfect, envy, comparison and those feelings of inadequacy steal into our hearts.  The wealth of advice out there is a double-edged sword too. I read a lot and listen to masses of podcasts. It’s easy to fall prey to certain aspects of received wisdom about things you should be doing and are not. The list is too long, too overwhelming; achieving it feels utterly impossible, and those that do it all seem blessed with the abilities of super humans. Related to this is my resistance to chunks of the advice, for instance the current wisdom that the only way your blog will be successful is by finding as small a niche as possible. This is good advice but not for me – you and I would all be bored very quickly if this was my approach. There are too many things of interest out there in the world to dig into, probe, examine.Beating Imposter Syndrome on mycustardpie.com

Confessing to feeling a fraud

So why am I sharing all this in my most personal post ever (and completely outside the usual topics of my blog)?

  1. It’s a way to try to get over it. By sharing all I have nowhere to hide so have to get on with publishing posts more often – as I’m now accountable to you my readers in a different, more honest, and little bit scary way.
  2. The time taken to write and publish my blog posts has got longer and longer over the years and more daunting as the standards I’ve aimed for are higher (often feeling unattainable hence the delay in going live).   These words were written quite hastily in a bid to prove to myself that the world will not implode if they appear online in fact…
  3. …this might help someone by showing they are not alone. I know I’ve found solace by realising I’m not alone. Does this strike a chord with you?
  4. I value everyone who has taken the time to connect with me here or on other channels and I felt an explanation was needed for my blogging drought.
  5. This actually took time away from publishing a post I’m afraid to finish – procrastinating once more about making it live. Classic imposter syndrome but at least I’m admitting it!Beating Imposter Syndrome on mycustardpie.com

How I’m trying to beat imposter syndrome

This is what I’m turning to, and having it in a list form will help to remind and encourage me.  As I’m no expert in this field, I’ve resisted writing the ‘top ten tips to help YOU etc.’ Sharing my approach and progress is the best I can do.  I hope it helps others and I would love to have your thoughts about other things I might try.

  1. Form a blogging habit again. I’ve actually got a regular Instagram routine which I stick to that works well. It could be that this takes away from my time to blog so I’m going to put a strict time limit on it. In an interview for Janet Murray’s Soulful PR podcast, Jeff Goins talks about dedicating an hour a day to writing when he was starting out. This makes sense to get back into the practise of regular writing for my blog again. It also taps into the ‘do it until you believe it’ advice.
  2. Try to overcome perfectionism. This post is the first step. I’m going to diarise time once a week for batch editing my images which I never feel are good enough making this is a hugely time-consuming job. If I’m not making headway with this, I might even outsource some editing accepting that no one can be good at everything.
  3. Just doing the best I can. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”. C.S. Lewis. Getting stuff done and out there must be my priority (rather than 250 unpublished half-finished draft posts – no joke). From now on I’ll aim for ‘good enough’.
  4. Only seeking out things that inspire, buoy me up and give me strength.  Keeping away from content that makes me feel inferior or evokes envious or uncomfortable feelings for a while. Focusing on doing my own personal best.
  5. Identifying bad habits and working hard to break them. Who else here identifies with everything on this list of the five diets All women should be on by Sas Petherick?
  6. Being alert to the critical voice – and answering it. Acknowledging that my thought patterns are holding me back and setting a strategy to overcome it, however impossible this might seem.
  7. Valuing genuine, positive and kind people around me and trusting what they say. In response to my little reveal on Instagram I received some very touching messages of support for which I am truly grateful. Pooh-poohing their sentiments is tantamount to calling them disingenuous.
  8. Taking more risks, putting myself out there, doing the things that I’m afraid of.  To quote Margie Warrell on Working Mother : Letting fears sit at the helm in life is a surefire recipe for lackluster mediocrity—or as Thoreau put it, “a life of quiet desperation.” I WILL refuse to let my inner gremlin dictate my choices.Beating Imposter Syndrome on mycustardpie.com

My approach to blogging

I’ve also decided not to beat myself up about not having a narrow niche. The example of the lovely Sarah Von Bargen on the Yes and Yes blog really inspires me. She says:

When people ask me about my blog I tell them “It’s a lifestyle blog for smart, funny people.” And then I might point at them and wink and say “So you’re allowed to read it.”

My unique perspective on food, drink and travel will continue to be my blog niche which I hope will appeal to you if you like to dig a little deeper and ask the odd awkward question about things.

I’m designing a quick survey to help broaden my topics rather than “niche-ing down”. Send me an email if you’d like to receive it, or just tell me what you’d like to read more of (Instagram and blogging tips for instance).

Thanks for reading this far and for lending me your ears.  Be prepared for a deluge of posts to follow – this will mean I’ve succeeded in conquering some demons. This thing goes so deep that I’m actually feeling like being a fraud at confessing to a syndrome!  Feeling scared, vulnerable, and still daunted now I’ve written this – but also on the cusp of a new chapter.

Beating Imposter Syndrome on mycustardpie.com

Your thoughts, via comments, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or email would be highly appreciated. Are there any resources that have helped? If this resonates with you too, would you like to join me on the journey? Could we keep each other accountable and provide support for blogging, social, small business, life….? Let me know 🙂

 

Dubai – how to experience an alternative Iftar

May 26, 2017

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

As a non-Muslim, it can be difficult to understand the true significance of Ramadan and what it really means to those observing a day-time fast for 30 days. Sure, it’s easy to see that the city of Dubai steps down a notch from its usual frenetic pace. White tents start to go up next to mosques to host communal Iftar for those who are less well off. There’s a mad dash on the roads just before sunset then all is quiet, the stillness punctuated only by the call from hundreds of minarets.

It’s a joyful time and one where families get together, sometimes at one of the many lavish Iftar buffets held across Dubai in 5-star hotels. These offer an extensive array of traditional dishes, a chance to try celebratory foods such as slow cooked whole lamb or ouzi, an endless variety of mezze and salad, plus – of course – a dizzying display of desserts. I have visited several and enjoyed my evenings, leaving satiated with food but without any real insight into this month that’s so special for local and expat Muslims. The amount of food waste from all these buffets is also a concern.

Iftar with Frying Pan Food Adventures and Gulf Photo Plus

It took a very different experience in old Dubai to change that. Sitting on the pavement with an orange and some water before me, the urge to peel the fruit was strong and I hadn’t been fasting. In parallel rows on either side of my strip of carpet were hundreds of labourers, sitting cross-legged, shoulder to shoulder in perfect peace. There was no chatter or commotion, just patient contemplation of the imminent breaking of the fast. The air shimmered in the heat of dusk, the warmth of the sun-baked concrete slabs seeped through the thin covering; even among friends this closeness seemed intimate and extremely humbling.  As the sun started to dip and the prayer rang out we all gratefully tucked into our little pile of food including water – this is the first sip of drink these men will have had since about 4 in the morning – laban (a kind of drinking yoghurt), milk, some dhal, samosas and the orange.

After the men had finished eating, they helped to clear the leftover packaging and then left to go to pray and to start an evening’s work.

This tour is not just dedicated to experiencing Iftar, it’s an in-depth guide to this bit of Deira through food with the highly knowledgeable guides of Frying Pan Food Tours plus experts from Gulf Photo Plus on hand to give tips about taking good street photos.  The photography tuition is excellent but having a ‘proper camera’ not necessary at all. A few people on the tour just used their phone camera and one no camera at all, just drinking in the atmosphere and experience without having to record it.  After Iftar the area went back to its usual bustling self, we sampled karak chai, freshly baked bread, other street snacks and ended with a shared meal once again on the floor but this time in comfort (and with air conditioning).

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

On our first part of the evening strolling around before dusk, we were guided observers in an alien environment; once down on the pavement we became part of the place.

For more information and to book visit Frying Pan Adventures or the Unseen Trails microsite.

Browse the gallery by clicking on an image and using the arrows left and right:

Here are some other ways to experience an alternative Ramadan within the community:

Filling the Blues

Filling the BluesThis is a Ramadan charity initiative started 10 years ago by Dubai-based restaurateur Tahir Shah the founder and owner of Moti Roti. What started as a small way to give back personally, gathered momentum and now sees restaurants from around Dubai involved and giving back. Every evening during Ramadan, a different restaurant prepares food which volunteers distribute to construction workers who are working the evening shift during Ramadan.

“We have a chance to give back to the workers who have built our restaurants, offices, apartments etc. – there is no illusion that we can fix everything for these guys, but all we can show is a gesture saying: Hey, we know you’re there and we appreciate it!” says Tahir. On a recent podcast interview he also mentioned that it’s not just the food that the workers appreciate.  They value the variety of human contact as though they are welcoming new visitors every night; it makes them feel part of the community.

This year in line with Moti Roti opening its first restaurant in JLT, FillingTheBlues will be serving Iftar for workers on a site in cluster L Al Barsha each night of Ramadan.
To take part (organise queues, set up tables, hand out food etc) visit the Moti Roti website or email fillingtheblues@motiroti.me

Ramadan Sharing Fridges

The Ramadan Sharing Fridge began as an initiative to help less fortunate community workers and labourers to have access to free food and drink during the month of Ramadan.
Under the umbrella of the Red Crescent and in association with Open Arms UAE, that brings together different members of the Dubai community to share a moment together, and to show appreciation and respect for each other. It’s about demonstrating that a small act of kindness can have a positive effect on other people’s’ lives both during and beyond the holy month of Ramadan.

To participate, join the Facebook group here. There’s a map to find your local fridge and advice on how and what to donate to the fridge. Each fridge is emptied and filled up to 20 times a day and are open 24/7 so you can donate anytime. Community workers are around between 8am until 6pm which is when the need is greatest.

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

My daughter caught me in action on the Iftar tour

World Food Programme for Yemen

Just over the border in neighbouring Yemen, the continued conflict is having a devastating impact on much of the population with children bearing the brunt through lack of food.

As the Holy Month of Ramadan is a time for giving, the World Food Programme invite you to feed a child in Yemen who needs urgent food assistance. The ShareTheMeal app from the WFP lets you share a meal with just a tap on your smart phone. Download and share here

Where to experience an alternative Iftar in Dubai on mycustardpie.com

Ramadan Mubarak to all who are observing this Holy Month. If you have any special family traditions or foods you like to share I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Have you ever had a memorable Ramadan experience (whether you participate or not)? And please do let me know if there are any other ways to connect with the community for Iftar during Ramadan here in the UAE (or elsewhere).

P.S. Photo credit shared with my daughter – it was such a joy to do this tour with her and to see her interpretation through the lens in some of these pics.

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Dubai – Where to have afternoon tea with a Burj Khalifa view

May 14, 2017

With scores of palatial hotels in Dubai, there are luxurious eating opportunities aplenty but the perfect afternoon tea can be strangely elusive, so I’ve done my best to track down the best.

Endless steaming pots of loose leaf tea poured into bone china cups, jugs of cold milk, cucumber sandwiches, plain scones, homemade jam and clotted cream are top of my list of non-negotiable elements. It’s an occasion not to be rushed.  The company of good friends to while away several hours and slowly divest the cake stands of their bounty should be available on prescription for the ultimate stress relief.

There’s a tendency in Dubai for too much, which is both strength and a weakness. I shy away from afternoon teas which bring out so many diverse courses that it feels like a late lunch or early dinner. On the other hand, the soaring spire of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, never fails to impress both in gleaming audacity and exuberant ambition.

Here are three places to find a most excellent tea within the shadow of this vertiginous structure.

Tea with an extra bonus

Hushed tones, a polished look and supremely comfortable understated luxury is what you’d expect from The Four Seasons. The one in DIFC has just enough reflective surfaces to catch a glimpse of your own polished high heels (definitely a place to wear your Louboutins) or a glimpse of a glamorous couple strolling through the lobby.

The view from the Penrose Lounge over the business district and the Burj Khalifa adds a Sex in the City vibe. Light-filled, stylish, geometric and resembling one of those coordinated Instagram accounts of the perfect life, it’s a very grown up place for a girl’s afternoon tea get together, which is just what we did. Warm scones wrapped in white linen napkins each had the hint of a flavour – orange, Cheddar, and walnut. This is a luxurious tea so expect dainty bites like foie mousse and salmon caviar, mere sandwiches are too commonplace.  The cake stands are laden with sugary fripperies such as raspberry financiers and pineapple passion verrine, well deserving the phrase ‘naughty but nice’. Staff are ultra discreet and keep teapots brimming and your Champagne flute topped up.

The extra bonus is you have the chance to admire a second view of the Burj Khalifa. Once we’d said our farewells, jaws aching from all the nattering, The Hedonista and I took the lift up to the Luna Sky Bar (a regular haunt) for an excellent cocktail while the sky turned rosy and the sun slid behind the tallest building in the world. Do book ahead if you want to secure a table (or just plead pitifully like we did).

More info: Penrose Afternoon Tea, Four Seasons, DIFC, Dubai

Luna Sky Bar, Four Seasons

Middle Eastern promise

A first-rate supply of people-watching is to be had from the raised Al Bayt lounge next to reception at The Palace, Downtown Dubai.   Peer through the palm fronds to see guests relax instantly as they drift into the cool, scented lobby, greeted by white turbaned men bearing hand towels to refresh them by the rose petal-strewn fountain.

While the panoramic view of the stately grounds, towering palm trees, Burj Khalifa and fountains is best from the outside terrace at Al Bayt, I prefer to sink into the plush sofas under the parlour palms and whirring fans overhead, lulled by the violinist.

Envelop yourself further in the charms of Middle East by choosing an Arabian-themed tea, where the fare is laced with spices, studded with dates and accompanied by cooling sherbets, or stick to the more traditional version; both are good. If your idea of heaven is a never-ending supply of tea-time treats, book for the buffet where serried rows of dainty delights are constantly refilled on the large round table.

Keep an eye out for special events too; last time I visited was for a limited edition Bulgari tea outside on the lawns. Designer-clad ladies sipping Laurent Perrier Champagne, perched on white ladder-backed chairs weighted with smart handbags in pastel shades, gossiped under the shade of large umbrellas. At this designer-themed tea, there was a Hendrick’s tea trolley, a harpist and a range of Bulgari fragrances, notes of which inspired the flavours from citrus to bergamot. I hope they repeat it next year – but until then take refuge from the summer steamy temperatures indoors under the lazy whirr of the overhead fans.

More info and to book: The Palace Downtown, Dubai Buffet teas are served on Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays, with table service and cake stands on all other days.

Classic tea with a classic view

The idea of afternoon tea as we now know it is credited to Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, UK in the 1840s. Her solution to hunger pangs between lunch and dinner in the late afternoon was to ask her maid to brew tea in her rooms, to sip with a few slices of bread and butter. She started to invite friends and it soon became a focus for female socialising as well as sustenance. It quickly took off and Victorian society embraced afternoon tea with gusto.

Founded in 1707, Fortnum and Mason really made its name during the Victoria era, supplying fine food to royalty, winning a prize at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 and even inventing the scotch egg (not Scottish at all).  At a famous horse-racing event, the Epsom Derby, Charles Dickens noted “Look where I will…. I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!”

Dubai is the only place where you can enjoy afternoon tea at Fortnums outside the UK. The modern three storey building is like a slice of cake wedged in between Dubai Mall and The Address Hotel, with the pointy end revealing an unrivalled view of the Burj Khalifa through picture windows (or out on the terrace). It’s blissfully quiet, sound muffled by soft, upholstered banquets and luxuriant carpet; an instant balm for a frazzled soul. The linen is starched, aqua bone china delicate and the tea itself classically well executed. Service is impeccable (a huge turn around from when it first opened).

Work your way through the smaller items on the cake stand then liberate a slice or two from larger classics such as Victoria Sandwich, lemon meringue and Battenberg, which nestle under huge glass cloches . If judging on the food alone, this is my favorite tea as it has more sandwiches (including divine Coronation chicken), savoury things and plain scones – blame my lack of a sweet tooth – although the mini chocolate eclairs did go down very well too.

At twilight, ask the waiter to pour another cup of Royal Blend tea, look over to the small bridge of jostling tourists straining to look upwards as the Burj Khalifa towers above them, and watch the sunset in utter contentment, without a single neck twinge.

More info: Fortnum & Mason Tea Salon, Dubai  (no afternoon tea menu listed online but it’s very similar to the London one) Unlike the other venues, this is unlicensed.

Best Afternoon tea in Dubai with a Burj Khalifa view

A cream tea and an afternoon tea are slightly different – read about my search for the perfect scone.

I was invited to all three of these teas but not under any obligation to write about them – I’ve tried other places in Dubai which definitely didn’t cut the mustard and would genuinely recommend all three. All views remain my own as always.

What do you like best about afternoon tea? Are you a traditionalist like me or do you like the more modern variations? What’s on your non-negotiable list? And if you could overlook anywhere in the world while sipping tea and eating cake, where would it be?

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