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Focus on a happy 2016

January 1, 2016

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

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

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

Focus and planning - Happy 2016 on mycustardpie.com

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

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

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

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

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

Fireworks in Dubai - Happy 2016 on mycustardpie.com

Fireworks at midnight at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

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

Cookbooks of 2015

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

General recipe books

Nopi – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

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

Slow Cook Italian – Gennaro Contaldo

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

A lot on her plate – Rosie Birkett

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

Jamie’s Comfort Food – Jamie Oliver

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

Single ingredients and cooking methods

Anna Del Conte on Pasta

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

A Bird in the Hand – Diana Henry

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

Magic Soup

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

The Cook and the Cowboy

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

Different cultures

Mamushka – Olia Hercules

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

Vegan and veggie

A Modern Way to Eat – Anna Jones

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

V is for Vegan – Kirsten Rogers

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

The Homemade Vegan Pantry – Miyoko Schinner

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

But I could never go vegan! – Kirsty Turner

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

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

Bedside reading

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

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

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

Merry Christmas 2015

December 25, 2015

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

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

xxxx

Sally – My Custard Pie

Farmers and festivities – in and out of my kitchen

December 5, 2015

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

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

Out of my kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feast Dubai Eye-mycustardpie

In my glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in your kitchen this December?

Eating the season – organic, local produce from the farmers

November 27, 2015

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

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

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

UPDATE: LOCALVEG on Instagram is a new place to share your passion for local veg. Whether you grow it yourself, pick it from a farm, buy from a local farmer or market….wherever you are in the world tag your beautiful veg pics #localvegstory. Really excited about this new project which I set up as I believe in buying local – and want to connect with you, if you do too. It’s the freshest, vitamin-packed, most sustainable, lowest food miles, short supply chain, way to a tasty, healthy life!

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

Best places for a facial in Dubai

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

Why have a facial?

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

Natural, organic but with surprising results

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

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

Best for a total de-stress

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

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

Hi-tech and long-lasting

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

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

Speedy and effective

When I found out that the Elemis Biotec facial that I was booked for lasted for just 30 minutes I was super dubious and a little disappointed. How on earth would I feel relaxed in just half an hour and surely this wouldn’t have much impact on my skin? However this was long-term favourite spa Sensasia so my whole demeanour changed as soon as I stepped through the door and inhaled their signature scent.  As usual attention to detail is paramount with this place, so after filling in my consultation form I was taken directly into a special room designed for people having this facial (there is no need to go into the changing room). I lay back on the supremely comfortable bed/chair full clothed and swathed in protective layers over my garments and hair before a push-button recline. Feeling relaxed already, a cleanse and massage prepared my skin.  The therapist asked which issues I wanted to concentrate on – firming, wrinkles or skin tone; this was a tough one as I wanted all of these things, but I plumped for firming (pun intended).

A potion of different active ingredients were smoothed onto my face (including circulation stimulating arjuna, gardenia stem cells – plant based – and alaria esculenta seaweed). Then some rounded prongs were slowly pulled over my skin with a very faint tingling sensation of galvanic current. Total relaxation means that I’m a bit hazy about the details of the whole facial – it involved light at one point plus a heavenly massage – but it was really enjoyable. Afterwards I was given the option of chilling in the lounging area with some ginger tea and crunchy crudites; of course I said yes. My skin felt great and definitely looked firmer – pretty miraculous for a 30 minute treatment. The Biotec Line Eraser and Skin Resurfacer both appeal too and there are versions for calming sensitive skin and reducing pigmentation.

While not cheap, the reduced time means that the price for this facial is a lot less than other similar hi-tec facials. I was given some Elemis product samples to take home too. Hands down best quick fix for your skin.

Sensasia Urban Spa, Elemis Biotec facials only available at The Speed Room, Village Mall. Tel: +971 4 340 8850 or book online

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

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

In and out of my kitchen

November 3, 2015

We’re selling some stuff we no longer need on a local online site. KP says to me “Shall we put those pots and pans on Dubizzle?” All the cheek that one. It’s true that my kitchen has seen less of me of late due to various tempting invites and a life-changing weekend away with friends to Oman (posting soon). However…

In my kitchen….

  • … is a white china measuring jug which a friend brought round when she came for supper. It was filled with flowers from her garden and I got a lovely surprise once I had to discard them. I love it.
  • … is a bottle of olive oil which came with a beautiful invite to an evening hosted by Noreen of Noni’s Place called Olives and Vines. It’s tonight; follow my Instagram feed for pics.
  • … not kidding myself that any crisps are healthy and unprocessed, but these beetroot chips from The Change Initiative make great bases for nibbles. The jalapeno version is good too especially topped with guacamole.
  • … my beloved KitchenAid is back from having a long overdue service. I made sour cream ice cream (recipe from Falling Cloudberries) for  thirteen friends who came round for supper. It was super simple to make with the attachment.
  • … lots of fruit from my Fruitful day order, delivered once a week. They target businesses to make sure there are healthy options available in the workplace but the small box they sent me as a sample was perfect for our use at home. KP’s ordered one for his office too. They use recycled materials for their packaging, the fruit is mainly sourced in the region and any excess fruit left over at the end of the week is donated to labourers in DIP.
  • … fresh, crisp, dry white wine with the salty tang of the sea. Grown on volcanic soil in Santorini with the vines trained into basket shapes to protect them from the wind; I try to keep a couple of bottles of Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko in my wine fridge.
  • … a beautiful reissue of a classic book on pasta by the legendary Anna Del Conte. First released in 1976, it’s genuinely timeless. Several recipes in there suitable for vegan teen which have gone down well.
  • local, organic veg is trickling in to the shops. Found stripy round courgettes at the Farmhouse and can’t wait for the farmers’ market which I hope will start again at the end of this month.
  • compostable, biodegradable bags and a funky recyclable stainless steel bottle from BioD – a great local company run by an Emirati entrepreneur dedicated to environmental issue. I bought these from Lamis at the Little Majlis pop up at the Change Initiative.
  • … I cooked for thirteen friends. Cocktail sausages and dips in the kitchen, followed by a huge moussaka with a salad. Pud was chocolate hazelnut torte, pears and sour cream ice cream with some chilli honey hazelnuts (recipe from Honey & Co) which were seriously addictive.  Cheese board finale, some lovely wines… and lovely friends.

Out of my kitchen

Eating out events keeping me out of my kitchen this month:

  • Can you have fondue without alcohol? The Melting Pot at Box Park is quite good fun with a crowd and they use non-boozey wine in it.
  • I love the new look terrace at Bussola complete with olive trees and storm lamps. The Italian Chef Marco makes great pasta and the wood-fired pizza oven means it’s still great for a mixed age group.
  • How brave of Qantas to invite us to a 5 star hotel and feed us economy meals in plastic trays. Love their ethos.
  • Meeta was back for another successful Foto Dubai with Dima and Russell from Lafayette Gourmet wowed all at the closing dinner…
  • …after which I crept off to a new night time beach club in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab called Beach Lounge. Ishita and I felt trendy and swanky; great place to take visitors to watch the sun go down.
  • I’m not a fan of huge brunch buffets so loved the option of a limited menu at Zuma where I drank the best cocktail I have ever had… in my life.
  • The monthly wine tasting dinner at Boca is a little gem. The theme was Languedoc-Roussillon (South of France) and the tapas style food and friendly atmosphere under expert guidance of Sophia the sommelier make this one to return to.
  • I joined the melee for the Bread Street Kitchen party at Atlantis and caught a glimpse of Gordon R who was mobbed. Hard to get a handle on the food but the fish and chips and Bloody Marys stood out.
  • Chef Stefan Karlsson is a charming man as well as running a Michelin starred restaurant in Sweden. As he hops over to Jebel Ali Resort once a year to take over the White Orchid kitchen, we were able to taste a delicious seven course Asian-Sweden fusion menu (trust me – it works).

Fave day time haunts at the moment are the new Jumeirah branch of Baker & Spice (I could move in) and the Surf Cafe. Tested out eggs Benedict at the charming Marimekko after the Dubai Instameet and at tranquil Frioul – more to follow about that. I also tried Common Grounds – the new Tom and Serg place – where I like the food but not the Mall lighting. Coffee at the Brew Cafe (small and perfectly formed in all senses), A 4 Space at Al Serkal and at the Change Initiative for the new Little Majlis market. Veggie teen is vegan for three months so we tried the new Jones the Grocer vegan menu – only one flaw… all their bread has butter in it so she couldn’t have any with her soup.

I grabbed a juice and a breaded chicken fillet sandwich from the Baker & Spice  stall at the Marina Souk and did a big part of my Christmas shopping from the lovely stalls. Seriously worth visiting – the next one is on 11th November (at the fisherman’s village in Umm Suqeim 1 near DOSC).

P.S. If you read BBC Good Food Magazine ME take a glance at the editorial panel and you’ll find me giving tips on eating out, with Darren Velvick, Tomas Reger and Kate Fisher. Plus this issue of Food E Mag is about which foods from home expats bring back in their suitcase.

And drink-centric events…

  • I had to celebrate the first ever Georgian wine day on 4th October – after all they have been making wine continuously for over 8000 years!
  • Getting to know the better wines of De Bortoli with winemaker Steve Webber at the lovely Taj Tower Hotel was fun if steamy and I will seek out the Dixons Creek Pinot Noir on menus in future.
  • Hakkasan know that matching wine with their Cantonese style menu can be tricky. In fact some food can make good wines taste awful. They do a taste test every single week to ensure new wines and new vintages go well with all their menu. I was lucky to be part of this panel for the second time with the lovely Christine Parkinson, the Group Head of Wine and Olivier Gasselin, Head of Wine ME and Asia.
  • The Juniper garden opened at The Croft – a euphemism as we are not allowed to say gin in print here! – and it was like a gin cocktail-making marathon for the bartenders. Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge from Plymouth gin was there and guided me in the art of making the perfect bone dry martini…
  • … then next week Clare Smith-Warner from Belvedere showed us how to make a range of vodka martinis at Catch (beautiful interiors, great food, excellent staff). Great fun.
  • The jewel in the crown of tasting this month was with Michel Chapoutier himself who led a tasting of wines at the Burj Al Arab. Chapoutier has more 100 Parker point wines than any other winery and we tasted the five 100 pointers from the 2010 vintage and others. Le Clos are selling a unique collection of 2010 six magnums of the 2010 vintage in silent auction.

I feel exhausted looking back on this month! For more… yes there’s more… join me on Instagram… you know my obsession…

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

What’s in your kitchen this November?