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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?

Soup for Syria – Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity

October 30, 2015
Soup for Syria - Tomato Basil Soup by Martyna Monaco

Tomato Basil Soup with Bread by Martyna Monaco in Soup for Syria

Do you feel helpless about the terrible situation in Syria? I know that I certainly do. Who knew the depths of the atrocities ahead, including what is happening to Palmyra, when, at the start of the conflict, I wrote about my visit to Damascus and beyond.  Heart-rending though the damage to ancient treasures is, it’s the human cost that is so atrocious; so when I was sent details of a new cook book published with the aim of helping there was no hesitation in getting the word out. It’s called Soup for Syria, published in the UK by Pavilion Books, and most importantly every penny of the purchase price of this will book will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to help fund life-saving efforts to Syrian refugees.

Soup for Syria. Barbara with refugees from the camp

Barbara with refugees from the camp

Acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors from around the world including Yotam Ottolenghi, Claudia Roden and Anthony Bourdain, have contributed soup recipes.  The idea for the Soup for Syria humanitarian project came about last autumn, when Lebanese food writer and photographer Barbara Abdeni Massaad would, on weekends, fill up her car with ingredients and head to the Syrian refugee camp near her home in the Bekaa Valley, to make soup for the refugees. After several trips she thought about self-publishing a soup cookbook and using the proceeds to continue buying ingredients for her camp visits. With the help of  Interlink Publisher Michel Moushabeck, Barbara was able to turn this one person initiative into an international movement to bring food relief and awareness to this campaign.

With fabulous soups, from hearty winter warmers to chilled summer soups, these recipes are a delicious collection made with no-fuss ingredients and easy-to follow instructions. Here’s one of the recipes from the book donated by one of my all-time food heroes Claudia Roden.

Soup for Syria - Borlotti Bean soup by Claudia Roden

Soup for Syria – Borlotti Bean soup by Claudia Roden

Borlotti Bean and Pasta Soup by Claudia Roden

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

“My hope is that this project is a success and the book helps to keep the plight of Syrian refugees in people’s minds and that it will raise funds to alleviate their awful living conditions until their future is settled.”

Ingredients

  • 200g dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
  • 125g bacon, rinds removed and chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 100g uncooked penne or other short tubular pasta
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated Parmesan or Grana Padano, to serve

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the bacon, celery, onion, carrot and garlic until the vegetables have softened, stirring often. Add the tomatoes and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain and add the beans, cover with water and simmer gently for 1–2 hours or until they are tender, topping them up with water every so often. Add salt and pepper once the beans have begun to soften. Remove a ladleful of beans, purée them in a blender and return them to the soup. Add the pasta and cook until it is done a bit more than al dente.

Serve with pepper and a dribble of olive oil on each serving and pass the cheese.

More about the author: Barbara Abdeni Massaad is a food writer, TV host and award-winning cookbook author. She is a founding member of Slow Food Beirut and an active participant in the International Slow Food movement. She lives in Beirut with her husband and three children.

Soup for Syria is published in the UK by Pavilion Books.

Connect with the project on their Soup for Syria Facebook page. It seems that they’ve already sold out in London and are reprinting. Good news.

Why Instameets may change the way you look at the world

October 27, 2015
WWInstameet2015-MyCustardPie

@bare_kiwi demonstrates the art of the GoPro selfie and has (almost) everyone smiling

Confession time. I think I’m addicted to Instagram. However, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. My alarm goes every morning (on my phone) and the first thing I do is switch it off, put on my glasses and check Instagram. I haven’t even switched the light on or taken my head off the pillow. Are you nodding in agreement here? Or are you thinking “not another boring social channel which robs us of meaningful conversation due to everyone staring at their little screens”?

Being a still rather than a moving image kind of person, Instagram has connected with me in a way Snapchat and Periscope have failed to do. It’s a window on an incredibly creative, clever and beautiful world and I use it for pleasure, relaxation, research and inspiration. It’s given me a creative outlet that’s easy to use which has been invaluable over the last couple of months where a ‘fear of failure’ kind of perfectionism crept up, overwhelmed me and prevented me from posting much on this blog.

So a few weeks ago, early on a very hot Saturday morning, you could find me in Box Park, Dubai, at my first Instameet. This was a Dubai meeting of Instagrammers but similar events were happening on this day all round the world. Welcomed, given our hashtags #wwim12_mydubai (the vital glue in Instagram that helps you find things) and the task of summing up the event through image, we all wandered off in groups. It was quite convivial but not as friendly as Tweet ups I’ve been to in the past (although Twitter isn’t such a friendly place to be now either).

I met some Emirati ladies in beautiful abayas who were happy for me to photograph them. I met Amy from Instagram who was easy to chat with and probably has one of the best jobs in the world (if you are an addict like me). A bus drew up and disgorged an interesting-looking  group carrying big cameras and Gopros. These were Instagrammers with large followings who had been flown in from Australia by the MyDubai team. A few chatted, a few were more aloof; the distinctive appearance of Jarrad Seng saw him starring in quite a few photos. After a while they hopped back on the bus to get to the Sharjah Instameet.

After a big group pic in the now extremely hot, frazzling sun, I wandered off with a couple of friends to the cool (in both senses) Marimekko cafe. Apparently my abaya picture was chosen for a prize but they redrew as I’d already left. Good to know though.

Part of the fun of the event was looking at everyone else’s interpretation of the day via #wwim12_mydubai Through my chats and with a bit of research I followed all the Australian mega-instagrammers to see the rest of their journey.

MyDubai certainly put on an amazing schedule for them and over the next few days I was dazzled by extraordinary images from the mountains, in the sea, from beaches and even sunrise through fog from the Burj Khalifa. The thought that kept running through my head was “I live here”. It was a wake-up call on many levels to see the Emirate where I have lived for over fifteen years through many fresh pairs of eyes.

wwinstameet2015-mycustardpie

Bad selfie with @minnahe @orangekitchens and @stuindubai

I shoot my Instagram pictures on my iphone. I’m pretty sure all of these instagrammers used some sort of DSLR or GoPro and they edit the images carefully. While I love the spontaneity of my mobile camera I applaud people who use the creative tools at their disposal to the max and this bunch certainly did that. But this was not what got me thinking. It was the interpretation of the things on my own doorstep. When was the last time I went to Hatta to watch the sunrise? How many times do I really stop to look at the sunset? When did I swim in the dark and watch the lights of the Burj Al Arab reflecting on the waves?

This has been a kick in the butt. To make time away from work, the house, commitments and daily life to go and seek out more of the special things on my doorstep. A few weeks later I was standing on a cliff edge looking at one of the most incredible canyons I have ever seen, with distant purple mountains peeping through the clouds. But that’s another story….

To find out about other Instameets and happenings here in Dubai follow @igersdubai There are similar accounts and hashtags throughout the world so search a bit if you want to find one near you.

And here’s a list of the visitors who inspired me if you want to check them out (scroll down through their feeds to see the Dubai images): @amy @haileybe @Laurenepbath @melissafindley @robmulally @taramilktea @jarradseng @lichipan @matjoez @jemmacraig @youngadventuress  @bare_kiwi (he was really nice).
Check out @heraldherrera who lives here and shows off another side of Dubai in his Instagram feed and @shackette who is also a Dubai dweller giving a beautiful perspective. And see what everyone else posted (and check out some new follows) via #wwim12_mydubai

@IgersDubai, @MyDubai & @BOXPARKDubai united to bring you the best Dubai instameet ever at #WWIM12_MYDUBAI! A massive thanks to everyone that participated and to the people in the Dubai Instagram Community that helped in making the event a huge success! @3lawi_3li, @ahmad_abi, @alattarz, @ali7alhawai, @aljvd, @amy, @ayangcempaka, @bakmehta, @bistek, @boyintsik, @callmedivi, @charu_kumar, @conelvanzyl, @cuddlesncrumbs, @danishwani, @daryllbborja, @dexdexdex, @dirkmania, @dubistcom, @elitehamano, @farihaosmani, @furkanzafar, @giasonejaurigue, @gibsterg, @grapher_technique, @haileybe, @harold.evangelista, @hatim_jawad, @heraldherrera, @hiten.kumar, @hudabinr, @iamjaydalida, @iamjhoysi, @ikeng, @indiofilipino, @iradonteovel, @ismailnoor, @jaiarumugam, @jarradseng, @jemmacraig, @jeromerafael, @jetupinthesky, @joseivan, @jvn214, @kanchanb, @kennethsurat, @kiethwalter, @kyobad, @laurenepbath, @lichipan, @line.vanzyl, @luckylaksmi, @lynnarey, @mactuscraig, @mariamtahers, @marikabeindorff, @marjanne.ph, @markwilson, @matjoez, @mc_doubleu, @melissafindley, @michaelacaptures, @minnahe, @minuchawla, @moebakheet, @mohdabk, @muneerarts, @mustafa_abbas, @mycustardpie, @najeebmusallam, @nencee, @ohitsjean @orangekitchens, @ozzgurl, @pierricklebourdiec, @pixelville, @pjozkan, @pooj_u, @poulyak, @pretaposephotography, @pyongsss, @ramimansourr, @richard.salamat, @sagarchablani, @salehalbraik, @shabszo, @shaikhmeraj, @shikhar_taneja, @sreyavempatti, @stuindubai, @sumayaalattar, @sunshinemaylove, @talesandwaves, @taramilktea, @thatguynamedpatrick, @the.amran, @thefoodsisters3, @therealmcahmed, @thezestdxb, @umairmir66, @unicornindubai, @webbytechy, @xx_ghadeer_xx, @youngadventures

A post shared by Instagrammers | Dubai 🇦🇪 (@igersdubai) on

So if you weren’t interested in Instagram before have I tempted you? Come and join me @mycustardpie Would you like to know who I follow for the most appetising food inspiration? How about tips for making food look great on Instagram (and what not to do)? Let me know if any of this floats your boat and I’ll add to my ever-increasing ‘to blog about’ list!

Spiced courgettes. Why I cook

October 25, 2015

It’s Saturday night. The last day of the weekend here in the U.A.E.  I’ve spent the previous day in the kitchen cooking for fifteen. We’ve stayed up late. Tempted by some beautiful wines, perhaps I had a glass too many and now feel jaded. Up early this morning, I’ve driven to Abu Dhabi and back. The supermarket shop has been done, I’ve chauffeured veggie teen to clarinet. By suppertime I’m spent; sunken into an armchair; unable to move. KP comes back from golf. “What are we having for supper?” This enquiry washes over me. “I’ll just sort myself out.” he says.

I heave myself up from the armchair, find a board, a knife and an onion; soon I’m cooking again. I’m not motivated by my love of cooking.  It’s my love of eating and I want simple, tasty, comforting food.

Within half an hour last night’s left over moussaka is reheated. There is a dish of pasta, some steaming new potatoes, a bowl of fresh tomatoes, some mushrooms fried in butter and a big bowl of new season, organic local courgettes. Sliced, softened, spiced, stewed with tomatoes and mushrooms. This is why I cook. Houseguest, KP and veggie (vegan) teen dig in. Every forkful is worth it.

This is loosely based on something my friend W makes. Her courgettes are absolutely divine. This is not an exact recipe, more an idea of a tasty supper dish so tweak to your own tastes.

Turmeric courgettes with mushrooms and tomatoes

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 30mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 4-5 small courgettes, sliced
  • 100g mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  •  400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • sea salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Warm the oil over a medium heat in a saucepan or casserole with a lid (I use a Le Creuset enamelled one). Saute the onions until they are soft but not brown.
  2. Increase the heat slightly and stir fry the courgettes so they start to colour in places. Repeat with the mushrooms.
  3. Add the garlic and cook until you smell the aroma, follow with the spices, stirring briefly to cook out the raw taste.
  4. Finally pour in the chopped tomatoes, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the courgettes are tender and the tomato sauce slightly reduced (around 20 minutes). Season to taste.

What motivates you to cook? And what’s your go-to dish when you’ve run out of energy?