Friday, 26 May 2017

Recipe: Tricolore Tomato And Halloumi Salad

Summer is almost here, along with (not guaranteed in the UK but let's try to be optimistic) brighter days, sunny skies and long evenings.

This month's Florette challenge is to create a bright, colourful salad to celebrate the importance of sunshine in growing their salad leaves. Remember school science lessons and photosynthesis? It's ok if you don't because in adulthood it's more important to know the optimal amount of coffee to consume to ensure you stay awake at your desk but can still fall asleep before 2am. They should teach that in schools along with "how to file your taxes". I guess that's a fair summary of my week.

Today's recipe is perfect for summer dining - whether as a main course or a veggie side dish at a BBQ. It could be veganised by using fried tofu rather than halloumi. Remember to provide non-meat options at BBQs this summer or you'll be wondering why your non-carnivorous guests are drunk before 4pm (it could be because they have had five G&Ts and a handful of crisps).

Multi-coloured tomatoes make salads look beautiful and have subtly different flavours. I've also used sun-dried tomatoes to shake up the textures and a pesto dressing as a nod to a traditional tricolore salad (pick up your pesto in the "free from" aisle to make sure it's suitable for veggies). Tomatoes contain lycopene which helps protect our skin from the sun, although you should still use suncream even if you're venturing no further than your back garden or balcony.

Tricolore Tomato and Halloumi Salad

1 pack of Florette "leafy rocket"
Half a block of hallomi, cut into thick slices
Half a jar of sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon pesto
Half a jar of cherry peppers
Tomatoes - all varieties / colours you can find

It's a salad so there's no need to be too precise with quantities. Arrange your salad leaves on a large plate, slice the tomatoes and scatter over the cherry peppers and sun-dried tomatoes.

Grill or BBQ the halloumi and add to the salad. Make your pesto dressing by thinning out the pesto with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serve, eat.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Fashion: The Instagram Hat

I have secretly wanted an "Instagram hat" for a while but a trip to Forever 21 (while clinging on to being 29) only yielded hats proclaiming "beach sleep repeat" and "hello boys" - relatable and / or appropriate? Not really.

The next day an email from Joanie popped into my inbox, a brand that so far has never delivered me a dud or unflattering item, and I snapped up the appropriately-named Sonny sunhat. The hat is the perfect floppy sunhat that I pretty much need to wear on a daily basis in Dubai to keep my pale and interesting skin tone, the words are actually sewn into the hat rather than being "written" on and the slogan is hard to object to, really.

Paired with this Oasis dress and a Marc Jacobs clutch I premiered here. The hat may say "catch some rays" but I'm definitely seeking the shade until the temperature starts to drop (so...October?).

In case you were wondering, this isn't sponsored by Joanie - I bought the hat and my mother hand carried it on the plane from London so that it wouldn't get squashed in a suitcase. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Food: Four Brunches That Aren't Avocado On Toast

There's more to life than avocado on toast. Sometimes it isn't even on a menu. Here are four branching-out type brunches but if you want to see avocado on toast then look here, here or here.

1. Clinton Street Baking Company

I think I visited the original Clinton Street Baking Company in NYC long, long ago but pictorial evidence of this visit cannot be found so maybe it did not happen. The Dubai branch is at the bottom of a residential apartment block but inside looks spookily similar to the original, minus some rustic charm. I visited CSBC after a barre class at FlyBarre, the 8.15am Friday morning class (our weekend) is where its at when friends and gin are a seven hour flight away. The avocado on toast looked to be quite rocket-heavy and it was too early for anything bitter and leafy so I opted for the granola which turned out to be a ginormous American-sized portion for a Dubai-inflated price of just north of £10. I rarely have sweet breakfasts these days as I'm trying to make my sweet tooth become a savory tooth (or just not be dissolved by sugar and acidic diet soft drinks) but this was so good and the granola was really nutty and not overly sweet. I've started to occasionally eat eggs and dairy again due to lack of options here and what I think is an above average amount of hair blocking my shower plug hole.

2. Friends Avenue

A cute spot in JLT, I visited Friends Avenue on a day of bucketing rain and found it a great place to take shelter and dry off before getting thoroughly soaked again. It appears that all Dubai cafes have obtained their (tiny) coffee cups from the same supplier but being in a more residential area prices at Friends Avenue are reasonable compared with Downtown and the more touristy parts of town. I ordered the "tri color eggs benedict"which did contain avocado puree for my avocado fix (as well as sauteed kale, asparagus, spinach, red pepper hummus, dukkah and hollandaise). Sourdough might have been better taste-wise (although less indulgent looking) than the brioche bread which was a bit at-odds with the other flavours. Top marks for the red pepper hummus though and a bright, colourful plate on a (rare) grey day.

Google reliably informs me that there is not, in fact, a Leopold's in London but in this world of alternative facts and fake news I'm not too upset about this deception. Leopold's is located on The Beach near Jumeirah Beach Residences - the upstairs balcony is the best spot for a sea view. Pro-tip: if you sign up for The Breakfast Club here there is 20% off between 8am and 12pm - it'll also be much easier to get an outside table before midday. I had the "healthy breakfast" which may just be one of my favourite brunches dishes here so far - roasted tomato and chickpeas with grilled halloumi on sourdough toast. If I was slightly more skilled in the cooking department I would definitely try to re-create this at home. The coffee here is really good and there are some interesting specialty coffees as well as a coffee lab and in-house roastery.  

Another NYC institution, Sarabeth's is know for its breakfast offerings and old school New York upscale charm. The branch in City Walk was busy when I visited but service was swift and friendly, it's a cut above my usual brunch picks - not so much in price but the very chic, mostly local, crowd made me feel glad that I'd not turned up in my yoga kit. The servers wear the cutest outfits and I felt like the NYC influence was noticeable in the bright, airy dining space. I opted for the "Goldie Lox" - scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and cream cheese which was delicious. There are also egg white omlettes, scrambled eggs and beautiful granola bowls on the menu and coffees made with soy or coconut milks. While I was finishing the last few pages of Midnight's Children, the waiter surprised me with a chocolate and peanut butter cookie which was such a sweet gesture. Having not had much in the way of sweet food for weeks it tasted amazing and I didn't feel rushed to give back my table while lingering over the end of my book. 

More brunches soon as one, I like brunch and two, these mini reviews are my favourite thing to write.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Life: The Roaring Twenties

There are only four more months of my twenties left. Sometimes I feel un-fussed, even disinterested about my upcoming birthday and then I find myself idly browsing in Forever 21 and the realisation as I flick though a rail of denim mini-skirts: am I too old to be shopping in Forever 21? 

Hi. Here's an unrelated selfie to break up this essay. 
As I put the skirt down it the hits that I'm never going to be an Olympic athlete, never going to go into space and it doesn't matter that I've never wanted to do either because surely the first sign of old age is realising that not everything is possible. As a teenager, a medium told me that I would get "what I want but not when I want it", as a woman I am told that I "can't have it all" and these are the filters that I look at my twenties through.

I've written this blog for most of the past decade, longer than I have done anything else. The friends and the opportunities it has brought me have been some of the biggest joys. After not finding a girl gang in my teens and early twenties, the internet granted me a group of girls who, as well as being brunch buddies who didn't roll their eyes as I photographed my food, taught me about female friendship and since 2012 have been there to literally and figuratively cheer me on. Crossing Tower Bridge at mile 13 of the London Marathon and being greeted with a wall of screams and banners is something I'll never forget - both for the fact that my friends gave me their precious weekends and that I conquered my own over-achieving personality in the process: enjoying something I am not particularly "good" at.

Having a show-reel of highlights preserved online means that I can re-read an old post and remember exactly how I felt as I typed the words. The excitement before starting my first job (the corporate world just waiting to chew up and spit out my shy smile and pink dresses), an outlet for a love of fashion that felt misplaced in the "real world", a project that I started in secret and that now my real-life friends read (hi, there). I'm happy to remember just the good parts.

I have been to 25 countries in my twenties, the "travel bug" it seems cannot be cured by one gap yah trip to Japan.  I will never stop feeling incredibly grateful to be able to explore this world with my parents, my friends and by myself. I've visited places I probably couldn't have shown you on a map at 20, that I didn't know I wanted to go to until I went. I now live in one of them, miles from the small town I grew up in but a place where due to the aforementioned girl gang are only a Whatsapp away and my dual-culture upbringing already feels like home.

I spent the first four years of my twenties in bubble of full-time education, every day still I mourn the fact that I cannot go to Selfridges at 11am on a Tuesday and that staying up talking about everything under the sun until 4am happens maybe once a year these days and not (at least) once a week. The friends I was lucky to cross paths with (at twenty two conversations in a bar was enough for me to declare myself friends with people who now have held that dubious honour for almost a decade) taught me as much, if not more, than my law degree. Factually, that Bombay Sapphire gin does not come out of the bottle blue and that Merrill Lynch is not a business woman. Intangibly, so much more.

At times my confidence has failed me and I've felt self-doubt and something which I discovered through a Glamour magazine article is called "imposter syndrome" as well as a sometimes unshakeable feeling that I am yet to really find my place. There's been plenty of fun along the way though - I've watched the sun rise over Glastonbury, over New York City and from my east-facing balcony in London, wrapped in blankets and companionable silence. Christmas last year saw me receive a few too many links to gin-themed gifts. As bad as certain moments felt at the time, they are not the ones I remember or dwell on.

I became a homeowner and a tax payer and a qualified lawyer along the way but the intangible signs of adulthood have always felt more like "you are here" markers then the tick boxes that are set out for us or that we make of our own volition. Graduation, starting work and buying property are not the memories that flick up on my internal monitor when I'm daydreaming. Being asked for advice by a younger friend, being the first person to be told good or bad news, returning faulty items and (politely) complaining in restaurants make me feel like an adult far more.

My twenties have been packed with all the things. Things I didn't plan for, ask for or always even know that I wanted. But there have been some things that didn't come my way, things I thought would magically materialise with this decade - falling in love, meeting the parents, walking hand-in-hand, being introduced as "my girlfriend". The lack of what I used to think I wanted, what I used to think I needed to feel ok about myself doesn't really bother me now. I sometimes download a dating app only to delete it after five minutes. I'll get what I want but not when I want it. Or I can't "have it all" and I already have so much that I cannot reasonably complain about my lot. Until last June I somewhat smugly thought that I had never had my heart broken but how I felt after the 23rd of the month felt close to the all-consuming awfulness that friends had warned me about. My Brexit-grief confirming that I am still "young at heart" but thinking about the future that might have been already feels less painful.

Where to, now? I hope I still get ID-ed for a shopping basket of vodka, apples and magazines that I'm old enough to know will not enrich my life in any way. More seriously, I hope I keep my young heart but with an older mind, that I stay curious, that I can acknowledge the difference between "good luck" and "hard work" and that I start to believe that everything I want is (slowly, slowly) coming my way.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Food: Another Four Plates of Avocado On Toast

Did you know that a London restaurant has banned avocado from the menu? I'm going to let this news story shock and sadden me because the actual news is just too dire to think about these days. Anyway, back to brunch - four more plates of avocado on toast for your viewing pleasure and brunch inspiration:

1. The Coffee Club

the coffee club dubai

The Coffee Club is an Aussie chain - I actually remember going to one in Darwin, Australia and being scandalized that a coffee and panini was the equivalent of £10 and that was long before The Dramatic Decline Of The Pound.

There's a branch opposite City Walk and I shakily walked here after a barre class at Physique 57 on a very hot afternoon in need of air-conditioning and coffee. The Coffee Club is an upgrade from Starbucks type establishments as there's table service and a proper food menu but the interior does feel a little chain-y. The avocado on toast is actually poached eggs with avocado - avocado is not the star of the dish but it's there under the ciabatta toast. These poached eggs were actually perfect with bright runny yolks. I go through phases where I like eggs and phases where I think they are creepy but I'm eating them occasionally these days as a girl cannot only eat tabbouleh and hummus.

2. Common Grounds

common grounds dubai

Sister restaurant to Tom & Serg (aka OG Dubai Hipster Cafe), Common Grounds is located in the Mall of the Emirates but it really does its best to not feel like a restaurant-in-a-mall. Avocado on toast is on the all-day menu so there's no need to get up early to enjoy it. The poached eggs are an add-on and I'm glad I got them as it would be been quite a small meal otherwise - portions in Dubai are very variable, some are on the small side and then you order a wrap which turns out to be bigger than your forearm... Common Grounds is always busy but has a welcoming stay-as-long-as-you-like sort of atmosphere which I love.

In a city with so many dining options I'd rather find welcoming places to return to than always going somewhere new as it definitely helps with feeling settled. They also do matcha lattes which are hard(ish) to find here.

3. BookMunch Cafe

bookmunch cafe dubai

My book club appropriately meets here and it's the cutest spot. Located in a more residential area the prices are really reasonable (by Dubai standards) and it's the sort of place where you can happily order a full meal or just a coffee and feel welcome. Even though my book club meets at dinnertime, I still ordered the avocado on toast. A welcome two slices of rye toast topped with feta and basil leaves were a tasty accompaniment to a couple of hours of literary chat and it's definitely a spot I'll be back to between book club meetings as the breakfast menu looks great.

I'm currently refusing to buy a coffee maker for my apartment as the lack of caffeine at home means I can't stay indoors at the weekend and it's far more enjoyable to read in a cafe than at home with the distractions of wifi and wondering whether I should clean the kitchen.

4. Roseleaf Cafe, Dubai Garden Centre

roseleaf cafe dubai garden centre

I don't have a garden but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a garden centre. Dubai Garden Centre feels like a piece of my native Hertfordshire just off of the Sheikh Zayed Road. I actually came here for a cat adoption event but that's a story for another day (short version: commitment issues). The Roseleaf Cafe is like the cafes that my mother used to take me to as a child when I'd have a milkshake or a cookie but now I'm the grown-up and sugar is evil so I order a soy cappuccino and avocado on toast and sit in the sunny conservatory trying not to think about the kitties upstairs. The avocado on toast here tasted as good as it looked and the coffee, as you would expect from an Antipodean-inspired cafe, was strong but smooth and sipping it out of a vintage cup in a garden centre made me feel sort of ok about this being a grown up / making decisions lark.

I'll definitely be back for the coffee, and possibly for a kittie but that, my friends, is for another day.

What are you brunching on? And what item would you ban from your menu? 

For me it would be spring onions / red onions / any sort of raw onion.


Friday, 5 May 2017

Baking: Blueberry Yoghurt Loaf with Kenwood

kenwood stand mixer

Home baking is a lot of fun but there are always excuses not to roll up your sleeves and get baking - the washing up, the time and the fact that you really need more arm strength then I possess to whip up a decent cake mix. Not anymore! Kenwood got in touch with the chance to try out one of their stand mixers and baking is now an absolute dream - the mixer not only looks the part in a vintage-inspired kitchen but it effortlessly mixes up ingredients and it's can be put to work making cakes, breads and batters.  It's also quick and easy to clean it after use which means that it won't lurk in the back of the cupboard like some other gadgets (shout out to the juicer that took ten times as long to clean as it did to drink a green juice). I'm already pestering my baking queen friends for more recipe this space. 

kenwood stand mixer

Starting with a simple but not run-of-the-mill bake, Ruby Tandoh's blueberry yoghurt loaf cake is a different take on a classic loaf - using yoghurt results in a moist cake with a slight tangy flavour and the almond oil is another surprise element, elevating this far above a humble sponge but it's just as easy to make. 

kenwood stand mixer

The mixer makes light work of mixing the "wet" ingredients followed by the "dry" ingredients into a smooth batter - stop mixing once the ingredients are combined to prevent a tough batter forming. 

kenwood stand mixer

After just under an hour in the oven, the tell-take crack along the top of the cake means it's done. 

kenwood stand mixer

Resist the urge to tuck in right away, the cake needs to cool fully on a wire rack before it can be sliced thickly (be suspicious of anyone who slices cake thinly).

kenwood stand mixer

Serve with a few extra blueberries and a steaming mug of coffee.

What are your favourite bakes?

Monday, 1 May 2017

Life: April Round-Up

A third of the way through 2017 already? Sometimes I want time to slow down just a little, to have more time, for certain memories and experiences to not now be five, six, ten years ago. The rest of the time? I'm waiting to tick things off my list, waiting for the weekend, waiting for future diary dates to be tomorrow, willing time forward, tutting in traffic jams and running across roads, too impatient to wait for the "green man". 

After listening to S-Town while walking along dusty roadsides, at the gym and as an inducement to finally fold away some laundry the mottos from the sundials stuck in my head: "life passes like this shadow", "use the hours, don't count them" and "it's later than you think". If you haven't already, go listen - it definitely gave me a lot to think about. Time for a look back at April...

1. Sunset on the beach at Talise Spa after beach yoga. Some days I feel insufferably smug (although no more so than today when I ordered Uber Eats while walking home and it arrived at my door at the same time I did).

2. Peacocks at Dubai Zoo. 

3. Madinat Jumeriah is one of my favourite spots here. I got very lost and ended up hopping on a boat to get to beach yoga on time. Casual. 

4. A beach day at The Kempinski on The Palm. I'm not much of a beach person but wanted to "treat myself" (ick) in a way that didn't involve buying material possessions or eating my entire day's sugar allowance.  (I must be slowly assimilating to Dubai life as I only half-blinked at the note on the website that you are permitted to bring one nanny with you, gratis). 

5. The views from La Ville Hotel's LookUp bar. There are not a shortage of rooftop bars here but in a city where I'm still trying to find bar-hopping buddies I very much enjoyed these views with a vodka-lime cocktail in hand.

6. Breakfast at Cereal Killer Cafe in Dubai Mall because I miss East London a little bit. Good coffee and a childish morning sugar rush for one, please.  Sweetened cardboard is a venerable treat as a grown-up.

7. One of my favourite chill-out spots, Comptoir 102. I'm much more of a "sit on a shady sofa with a coffee" kinda girl than a beach lover, which is fortunate as I'm very pale (still).

8. The Green Planet is an indoor rainforest in a glass tube. Take the lift to the top and walk down through the forest. I mostly went for the sloth but it was (unsurprisingly) having a post-breakfast snooze on the forest floor and the many competing captions for my Instragram picture that I wrote in my head went to waste.

9. A typical Dubai day. These photographs of miniature art at City Walk provide (cute) social commentary on Dubai life.

Happy 1st May and Bank Holiday in the UK, you lucky lot. It's getting hotter by the day here but that means that we are getting closer to my parents' visit (maybe they can show me how the dishwasher works?) and my "summer holiday" to London. 

How was your April?
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