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.
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….
Up, up and away! I'm so stoked that I managed to get this shot, I couldn't believe my luck that our balloon happened upon this train of camels roaming in the Arabian desert. This may well be my favourite image from my whole Dubai tour. I have never been in a hot air balloon before this, so this has set high expectations for my next trip ( excuse the pun ) @mydubai #mydubai 🐪👌🎈
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
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!
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
- 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
- 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.
- Increase the heat slightly and stir fry the courgettes so they start to colour in places. Repeat with the mushrooms.
- Add the garlic and cook until you smell the aroma, follow with the spices, stirring briefly to cook out the raw taste.
- 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?
…well actually that’s not strictly true. But life’s for living right? And cooking, and travel, eating out, eating in, making food for friends over Eid and popping out for a few gorgeous gourmet events. I’ve jotted down so many notes, half-written posts, my head is churning with ideas – I wish I had some electrodes that I could pin to the side of my head to get it all down in word form by just thinking. But here we are back in my kitchen and what have I got to show you this month? Zero blog posts – oops.
In my kitchen from Hyderabad
I touched down from the UK early September then traveled to Hyderabad at the beginning of the month for a dear friend’s wedding. When I asked KP what he wanted me to bring back he requested a famous Hyderabadi biryani. Thinking this was an impossible whimsy, I tried to silence my lovely driver who was keen to persuade me to buy bracelets and gem stones by telling him that there was only one thing I wanted to take home with me. “That’s easy” he said “when I take you to the airport we phone ahead to the a restaurant near the airport and ask them to ‘pack for flight’. We collect it on the way.” This all worked like a dream and I was able to present KP with this city’s famed dish from my suitcase before running out to Book Club that night. My only regret is that I didn’t bring more.
On my way out to India I put in an order from Le Clos – it feels like you are being given gifts when bags full of wine are handed over just before you get to passport control (well it is duty-free). Couldn’t resist slipping a bottle of Williams Chase in to add to my gin collection. And talking of wine… while this is not new in my kitchen I’ve been sorting through my collection of bottles for the first Georgian wine day. Please do get hold of a bottle and join me in a virtual ‘gaumarjos’ on October 4th.
12 weeks until Christmas
Getting ahead for Christmas is essential and enjoyable (well I think so) and I now have fruit slowly steeping in fruit. I used raisins, currants, prunes, dried cranberries candied peel and brandy this year but the full Christmas cake recipe (with variations) is here; just do it – rewards for patience I promise. And all those cookie cutters can only mean one thing … a festive gingerbread project in the offing.
I was at the Lafayette Gourmet Food Fest this month (lingering by La Cave a Fromage) and somehow with Elie Makhlouf, the most knowledgable man about cheese I have ever met, got into a mutual homage to cheese which saw him unwrapping wheels of the stuff and forcing me to taste, contrast, compare and take home. What I had to endure (ha ha)! The real revelation was how different Comte made of milk from cows grazing during May and June tasted versus the same producer’s cheese from July and August milk. Phenomenal.
Fruit in season
A massive Union Coop supermarket opened round the corner from me during the summer and it’s very good for seasonal, regional fruit. Plums from Lebanon and Tunisia in several colours have dripped juice in my kitchen and not cost an arm and a leg. At the other extreme of retailer (my eyes water every time they tell me the total bill at the till) I picked up some of my favourite Pelagonia stuffed peppers from Waitrose. Sadly they don’t seem to stock the fabulous ajvar (roasted pepper relish) any longer.
I made bread from my sour dough starter at last – hooray! And then had to throw both inedible loaves away – booooo! To boost my confidence I went back to a favourite Dan Lepard recipe, tweaked it a bit (due to a lack of some ingredients including inexpensive red wine) and tucked into it with abandon. Bread making mojo restored.
How wonderful to attend a baby shower where the pregnant mum to be gives you a jar of homemade lemon curd to take home. Good luck guys (birth imminent).
Here are a few more highlights of this month on Instagram*:
My September | The few days in India for a dear friend's wedding made a lasting impact | Dubai teased us with the taste of cooler weather to come over Eid | Seem to have existed on an eggs, curry and cake diet 🍳🍛🍰 #mymonthinpictures #myseptember #hellooctober #helloautumn #happymoments #India #Dubai #eggs #cake #cupoftea #lashingsoftea #teadrinker #igersdubai #mymonthMCP
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. Thanks so much to Celia for sourdough encouragement via Whats app – especially given the time difference. You can look back on past goodies in my kitchen here.
What’s in your kitchen this October?
*Dubai-dwellers alert to an Instameet this Saturday morning. See igersdubai on insta – plus details for Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. See you there?
Unpacking is a tedious chore so it’s essential to have some goodies stashed away to make putting away the rest of the stuff bearable. I’m back in my own kitchen after six wonderful and frantic weeks away. Wonderful food, good company with friends and family; striding up hill and down dale amid green hills, country lanes and patchwork fields; ferrying veggie teen to work experience; helping elder teen into her new flat in Edinburgh; setting my alarm very early every single day to keep on top of my freelance work; no wonder it seemed a vast acreage of time away but was also gone in a flash.
A testament to good packing, the bottles arrived intact in my suitcase. Sippable rewards from visits to Plymouth gin (the Connoisseurs’ Tour was excellent – booking ahead essential), Cotswolds Distillery and Sharpham Vineyard. Warner Edwards packaging is just gorgeous with copper embossing and wire reflecting the still (which is called Curiosity). Spring water from the farm and 11 botanicals go into this smooth, award-winning gin made by two friends. I picked it up on a visit to the lovely Tivoli Wines in Cheltenham along with some Sibling gin that’s made in the town by four brothers and sisters. Thomas Dakin was sent to me to try – and after reading this review it will probably be tonight. Totally intrigued by the inclusion of horseradish.
Mellow Yellow was also sent to me – along with chilli oil and salad dressing which received a warm welcome from elder teen when lack of suitcase space meant they remained in Edinburgh. We were messaging today about Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush (do watch and sign the petition) when she said “that chilli oil….really really nice…made some cauliflower coconut soup and a drizzle of it on the top really lifted it. Very reminiscent of the chilli oil that sits on the tables of every restaurant throughout South East Asia, the obvious quality of the rapeseed oil combines with the chilli flakes for an oil that brings another dimension to a meal when drizzled on top.” The good news is that it has just arrived at Al Maya supermarket in Dubai so I can try for myself. The rapeseed oil is not organic but is LEAF certified. There is a lot of controversy at the moment over rapeseed as the neonicotinoid (the chemical that is killing bees and birds) ban from Brussels has been countermanded by the UK government probably due to pressure from rapeseed farmers who have experienced crop-losses. Watching this one with interest.
A sandstorm has just gathered pace and the wind is howling round the house. These visual snippets from July and August are all the more poignant:
Regular readers will notice that something is missing from my haul. Cheese! Tight on time and unable to park nearby in Edinburgh meant I had to give a visit to I.J. Mellis a miss. Torture. Bereft. In mourning for cheese.
By the way, totally rumbled when KP not only noticed the new vintage scales in the kitchen but picked them up and realised they were made of cast iron. He was aghast as he is verging on a phobia about travelling with more than 10 kilos (yes – I know, it’s impossible).
Thanks for following my travels on Instagram and all your nice comments. Itching to get cracking with inspiration from my new cook books especially Mamushka. It’s interesting to see the parallels and the differences between Polish and Ukrainian cooking. Just a trip to Hyderabad for an Indian wedding to fit in first….
If you are wondering what’s in other kitchens around the globe, visit Celia’s page and follow the links in her side bar for this monthly event. You can also look back on past goodies in my kitchen here.
What’s in your kitchen this September?
My camera was old, a sandstorm cloaked the stones; this lends an ethereal nature to these images of ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. It’s hard to evoke the scale of the place which includes temples, a theatre and an extensive burial site with over fifty tombs. While you can wait in the queue for the Colosseum in Rome for over two hours, we shared this once-prosperous city, strategically placed in the middle of the Syrian desert and a vital part of the Roman Empire, with a few hawkers, a handful of camels and a scant bus load of other tourists.
It was a relief to wander undisturbed as we’d been a bit overwhelmed by the eager friendliness of everyone we’d met during our visit, especially in the town adjacent to the ruins. “Where are you from?” was the common refrain and we were thanked profusely for visiting Syria. I wonder where they are now?
Invaders have marched into Palmyra before. Taxes and revenues from the caravans which passed through fuelled its growth and magnificent projects abounded. Let’s not forget that these riches were built by slaves and their masters’ splendid vision was crafted in toil, blood and death. Success was also its downfall when the powerful rulers of the city, including Queen Zenobia, flexed their muscles against Rome. The city was raised to the ground by Emperor Aurelian in 273 AD. Luckily he didn’t possess hi-tech explosives.
Countless people have been inspired by the remains of the city: Lady Jane Digby’s grave in Damascus has a piece of its limestone as a tombstone; David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here; Lady Hester Stanhope was a visitor after it was ‘rediscovered’ in the late 17th Century, and many country houses of that time have ‘Palmyra ceilings’ based on the zodiac ceiling in the Temple of Bel. Sadly the name that is foremost in our minds is Khaled al-Asaad who dedicated his life to the preservation and restoration of the site, resulting ultimately in his torture and death at the hands of those who exceed the brutality of the past in their actions.
“It’s a sandwich cake. A sponge cake is made in a totally different way.” That’s the sound of my Mother in law getting cross at the telly when yet another cookery programme calls this British classic a ‘Victoria sponge’.
“Oh looks so good.” “I need this in my life.” “Wow! And yum! Any chance you can get the recipe or is it a closely guarded secret?” That’s the sound of comments on a quickly Instagrammed picture of aforementioned cake, freshly baked by my Mother in law, sandwiched together with a layer of strawberry conserve and homemade buttercream.
There is a secret ingredient to this cake that’s probably used more by bakers of a certain age. Margarine. A highly processed, manufactured ingredient that was marketed successfully as healthier for you (on scant evidence now proved to be suspect), which happened to be much more profitable for the food industry. You can use butter in the recipe but you’ll never get the magnificent rise. If you do go down the margarine route choose your brand carefully and read the label (although if you’ve read ‘Swallow This’ by Joanna Blythman you’ll know that a multitude of sins can be hidden by creative alternative descriptions). Palm oil – demand for and extensive use as a cheap non-dairy alternative has been the catalyst for vast deforestation of the planet putting many species in danger of extinction including orangutans – is often labelled as vegetable oil. Nutella contains palm oil by the way (which is part of the reason you will never find it in my cupboard). Read this ethical shoppers guide to margarine and spreads.
One thing is for sure, whether you use butter or margarine, this is a great tasting cake. Simple, light, not too sweet and a beautiful centrepiece for afternoon tea. My Mother-in-law is a very good cook, and really excels at baking (she was a domestic science teacher). Her pastry is as light as a feather and the first thing I ask her to do at Christmas is make the mince pies. This recipe has been road-tested within her own kitchen, our family and friends and throughout South Devon by hundreds of her past pupils.
This gallery should help you step by step. Click on any image to enlarge and use the arrows to navigate.
Anita's Victoria Sandwich cake
- 3 eggs
- Self-raising flour
- Baking powder
- Margarine or softened butter
- Caster sugar
Ingredients – Butter cream
- 60g (2oz) butter, softened
- 120g (4oz) icing sugar, sieved
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Jam (for serving)
- Grease and base line 2 x 20 cm (8 inch) diameter, deep Victoria sandwich tins.
- Weigh the eggs in their shells. Weigh out the same measurement of self-raising flour, margarine or butter, and caster sugar. So if your eggs are 210g (7 1/4 oz) you will need 210g self-raising flour, 210g margarine or butter, 210g caster sugar. Baking powder should be about 1/2 teaspoon per 70g (2 oz), so in this case would be 1 1/2 teaspoons.
- Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
- Weigh the other cake ingredients. Put the flour into a large bowl and stir in the baking powder. Add the margarine, caster sugar and beaten eggs.
- Beat (with a hand-mixer or in a stand mixer) on a low-speed to incorporate. Turn your mixer up to full speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. The mixture should be light and airy.
- Divide the mixture into the lined tins evenly. It’s a good idea to weigh them for accuracy. Level with a palette knife.
- Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven at 190 C (170 C fan) for 20- 25 minutes. The cakes should be golden brown and spring back when touched lightly.
- Turn out and leave to cool on a rack.
- To make the buttercream: Place the softened butter into a bowl (I prefer unsalted). Gradually beat in the icing sugar and vanilla essence until smooth. Spread the buttercream onto the base of one of the cakes with a palette knife. Add thin layer of jam and place the other cake on top (base downwards). Sprinkle with a small amount of caster sugar.
Here’s the picture that started it all over on Instagram:
This second cake was baked as a massive thanks to the staff at Walter C. Parsons in Plympton for their kindness to veggie teen. Top choice if you need funeral services (don’t worry we didn’t).
Do you have a family cake recipe that goes down a storm? Or a relative that’s a legendary cake baker?
Having a group of friends over for a gathering or dinner, one thing is always on our list – ‘buy ice’. Dubai temperatures mean that a large cool box (in Australian an ‘esky’, in New Zealand a ‘chilly bin’) is filled with chipped ice and a load of beers and soft drinks. Drinkable ice is needed in copious measures for long drinks, cocktails and cooling things down. You can buy a bag or two at the supermarket or visit the ice factory which is my favoured option.
It feels like a mini-adventure driving up to the Modern Ice Factory (which looks far from it). Round the corner from the Oasis Centre Mall and gleaming BMW dealership this is a little bit of ‘old Dubai’ operating in the same way for decades. On a Friday morning there is often someone in a 4 wheel drive ahead of you in the queue. When it’s your turn you reverse up the steep concrete ramp and place an order in pidgin English. There is ‘machine ice’ or ‘block ice’ which comes in an enormous block or crushed for cooling purposes only and ‘drinking ice’ or ‘tube ice’ which is suitable for consumption in cubes housed in smaller packets. It’s the same type that you buy in the supermarket but cheaper when you go direct.
Machine ice comes along a chute, out of a hole in the wall onto an elevated platform and one man puts it through a crusher which whines loudly like a chain saw into a sack below (old rice sacks). The sacks are dropped down to from the platform. An older man always loads it into your car and does the deal. Last time I was there I had a bit of a chat (fragmented words and sign language) and found out that his name is Nixamiti (excuse the spelling) from Jaipur in India. He has six children and has been in the same job for 25 years. Do say hello if you visit.
What to do with ice
- Fill your cool box or ice bucket with crushed ice or ice cubes to keep drinks cool. If you want to cool things down quickly, a combination of half ice and half water will do it quicker than all ice. If you are doing this with wine, make sure you take it out when it’s reached the right temperature. A quick guide to wine serving temperatures here.
- Put into a long tall cocktail or shake one over ice. Here are two simple gin cocktail ideas to get you started.
- If you don’t have a pool that’s chilled in the summer (you have to live in the Middle East to understand this), buy some of the huge ice blocks of machine ice. Float them into the pool for evening swimming parties (they will disappear too rapidly if you do this in the day – although can be fun for a children’s party).
- I’m tempted to say ‘make an ice sculpture’ – but only if you have thermal gloves and a chain saw or chisel and a lot of patience! These are incredibly popular in Dubai and often the centrepiece of a display or entrance – which is quite bizarre given our summer temperatures. Apparently you can order one of these from Modern Ice too (they deliver).
- Have a power blender (such as a Vitamix)? Make instant sorbet by adding juice, a sweetener and ice cubes and giving a quick whizz.
I’m one of those people who ask for room temperature water and hate masses of ice in drinks (bars make drinks look bigger by filling them with crazy amounts). I’ll make an exception for ice in cocktails – who wants a warm G & T? Not me. Are you an ice-fiend or a chilly mortal like me. Any cool ice ideas (sorry)? Please let me know in the comments….