Sunday, 30 July 2017

Travel: London Town In The Summertime

You can go anywhere but, for me, nowhere will beat London in July. Or August. Or whenever the temperature heads above 23 degrees and the city shifts from grayscale to full technicolour.

I've walked and run alongside the Thames so many times - this time a friend and I walked and chatted for a couple of hours in the evening sunshine. 
Five months in Dubai, it seems, does not acclimatise one for the Central Line at 3pm on one of the hottest days of the summer but after a month in the great indoors I can forgive a lack of air-conditioning and, tentatively at first, not pack a pashmina to head out for the day. I can even forgive the hayfever, the tingling in the back of my throat that started a few hours after landing at Heathrow making me appreciate a small mercy of living in a grass-free dessert.

Driving the bus when it's empty in the middle of the day, reacquainting myself with public transport. 
Absence does make the heart grow fonder and not having to go into work makes London considerably more enjoyable (roll on retirement, I say). Every day might have been a holiday for me but I must apologise to any friends who were feeling less than perky at their desks as a result of weeknight boozing and the deceptiveness of it still being light at 10pm. Contrary to what I feared, my gin tolerance has not been affected (too) much by an almost abstinent five months and nor has my ability to only stop talking when I'm asleep.

The best my hair has looked in years thanks to Lisa at Jones & Payne - the speed at which her appointments get booked up is testament to her cutting skills and I've never felt calmer with a pair of scissors in close proximity to my head.
Boarding my flight back to Dubai was less difficult than I imagined and I can only attribute this to the handful of Very Good Conversations I had during my trip with friends old and newer - adult life is hard (I knew that), I am very hard on myself (but I'm trying to be less so) and sometimes you need someone to pull you back from the details and show you that the bigger picture...sort of looks quite good.

Visiting my old neighbourhood for a wander, a coffee in the sunshine by the lake and a visit to the Sci-Fi exhibition, Into The Unknown (make sure to catch the short film - it's amazing).
So, I guess these are my holiday snaps and maybe, just maybe, I will face my fears of finding a decent hairdresser in Dubai, and a dentist, and work out how to make a doctor's appointment and my next trip back will be a little less hectic and my new home will start to feel more like one.

The lake looking green, some graduating students making me feel old (I myself graduated 7 years ago and still have the shoes I bought for the day and only wore once).
The opening night of Walala X Play at Now Gallery in North Greenwich - you'll recognise her art from the Old Street area and the outside of Frame in Shoreditch. Walk through the mirror maze and then head upstairs to watch others taking mirror selfies. 
Where are you heading to this summer?

P.S. I'm back again in August! 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Abu Dhabi: Two Contrasting Cafes To Visit

So we've established that summer in the UAE is pretty hot. With a "feels like" temperature of 48 degrees you need to find some indoor venues to while away the hottest part of the day in. For me, that's a cafe, coffee, a book or a stack of magazines and newspapers to work through. Caffeine and people-watching is the way to go and was the sum total of my plans for my weekend in Abu Dhabi.

My first stop was a little indulgent. Le Cafe at the Emirates Palace is definitely a cut above my favoured Starbucks but we all need a treat, especially when living abroad has curtailed our ASOS and G&T spending pretty significantly. I made a reservation for one (something I am feeling less and less weird about doing) at 11.30am and made myself wear heeled sandals and a floral dress for the occasion.

The cafe has quite a European feel, the decor feeling similar to a London favourite, The Wolseley. I picked a spot by the window on a sofa and settled in. I had to order the 24k gold-flaked Palace Cappuccino (or as I would have called it, the carratccino). There's also a cappuccino made with camel milk if you're feeling adventurous (I went with my usual soy milk). Arriving on a silver tray with a dainty glass of water, a dish of chocolate and a date, I briefly felt like a princess and also slightly perturbed that I'd just paid around £12 for a coffee (when back in London I would barely flinch spending more on a cocktail). The coffee tasted as good as it looked although the gold leaf tasted bizarrely of absolutely nothing. I'm not sure what I was expecting it to taste like. If you like your coffee stronger than I do (child tastebuds) I would recommend getting an extra shot of espresso but for me this was perfect.

The menu is a pretty standard high-end cafe menu - eggs, pastries, cakes and afternoon tea making up the bulk of it. There are several pages of different caviar options at the back to remind you that this is the Middle East after all. I dithered over ordering a breakfast dish but, not feeling very hungry, ordered a scone instead. The "scone" turned out to be a platter of four served warm (two plain, two raisin) with fresh berries and raspberry, orange and passionfruit jams. Maybe the price on the menu should have indicated the size of the offering but no complaints - it was beautifully presented and I was able to take two away with me for later. 

My second cafe visit was one I spotted on Instagram, obviously. No. 57 Boutique Cafe is located on the Al Batten Harbour - a bright, airy, insta-chic spot which, during Eid was serving breakfast all day. While the activated charcoal pancakes looked like a 'grammers dream, I had to have the avocado on toast. I'm trying to discourage my sweet tooth, says the girl who accidentally ordered a platter of scones the day before. 

I started with an iced coffee. No 57 loses hipster credentials for not having soy or almond milk on offer but this was really good. I should just be a grown-up and learn to like black coffee anyway. The nutella espresso was also tempting but given that I'd pretty much spent all weekend drinking various forms of coffee I made myself stop at one.

The interior is chic and light, service was fast and friendly and despite making a reservation for 1pm it wasn't particularly busy when I visited, possibly due to the aforementioned 40+ degree temperatures and the fact that half of the UAE seem to leave the country for Eid. The menu at No. 57 contains your usual breakfast options and a few interesting ones, like the black pancakes and a black bagel. The cafe also sells its own range of chocolates to take away which look perfect for gifts if you're the type of person who could trust yourself not to eat them first.

My avocado on toast was the first I'd had for a while - Ramadan meant that my usual weekend cafe habit was put on hold for a month so I feel like I enjoyed this even more. Served on a piece of toasted ciabatta, the avocado portion was super generous. It comes with optional poached eggs but I'm glad I didn't opt for them this time as the portion was pretty big anyway, and it meant I could use the "vegan" hashtag on Instagram.

What's the best coffee you've tried?


Monday, 24 July 2017

Recipe: Zaatar Manakish Brunch Pizzas

zaatar manakish brunch pizza

Brunch and pizza in the same post title? You're in the right place. I wanted to expand my baking repertoire beyond loaf cakes (here and here if you're looking for inspiration) and luckily stand mixers are more than up to the task of mixing a bread dough with minimal mess and fuss using the bread hook attachment rather than the whisk.

For my first foray into bread-making, I used this Jamie Oliver recipe. With only three ingredients and no proving time it couldn't have been easier, even for a novice bread maker (use a lot of flour on your work surface and rolling pin, especially if its a super hot July day).

These would be perfect served warm with dips. The unevenness just adds to their charm! I had other plans for mine though, using them as the base in this recipe. Zaatar is a new discovery for me since living in the Middle East - a very basic description would be to say it's like an Arabic pesto but the flavours are predominately thyme and sesame. It's purchased as a powder and you can mix it with olive oil (or water) to create a paste which can be spread on flatbreads or used in any Middle Eastern inspired dish. 

After baking in the oven, the flatbreads crisped up nicely - I used feta cheese which didn't melt but complemented the zaatar perfectly. Topped with a fried egg and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and you have the perfect savoury brunch - definitely a change from my beloved avocado on toast.

Are you a sweet or savoury kinda brunch person?


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Travel: A Weekend In Abu Dhabi At The Hyatt Capital Gate

hyatt capital gate abu dhabi

Abu Dhabi is Dubai's sister city - just a ninety minute drive down the Sheikh Zayed Road (on a good day). Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE but it's smaller and on the surface less lavish, the Washington D.C. to Dubai's NYC. It's also the purported setting to the train wreck that was Sex And The City 2. If you can go to Abu Dhabi and not have a particular Samantha Jones quote in your head at all times then we can't be friends.

Abu Dhabi city is a network of interconnected islands, strips of sandy beaches with blue water between them, green mangroves and the feeling of a slightly slower pace of life. Summer in the UAE is pretty hot. There are few tourists braving the 40+ degree heat, the beaches are empty, sun-loungers packed away waiting for cooler climes and cafes are quiet. Total bliss if you're an indoor girl at heart.

I stayed at the Hyatt Capital Gate, a building which curves at an 18 degree angle meaning that on the upper floors you feel like you're suspended thirty stories above the city. The hotel's reception is on the 18th floor, the pool deck on the 19th giving it impressive views. There were some good deals on for the summer season, I visited during Ramadan but the hotel was pretty much offering its usual service, aside from no alcohol being served by the pool (I think even I would pass on a G&T when its 40 degrees).

This weekend trip was mostly for chilling out, I've visited Abu Dhabi before for a day in 2011and did a whistle-stop tour of all the main sites. This time, I just wanted to read books, listen to podcasts and have long bubblebaths in the free standing bath. I find it hard to rest and relax but being in a hotel definitely helps (#firstworldproblems). I didn't turn on the TV and actually did read two of the five books I downloaded for the trip (Gillian "Gone Girl" Flynn's Dark Places and Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman). The room was spacious, the bed super comfortable and the light switches were labeled so I didn't accidentally turn on every single light right before drifting off to sleep.

The Hyatt Capital Gate is near the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre but unless you're attending an event there it's not really near anything else. Not that that was a problem. I'm slowly learning that no one walks anywhere here anyway (hence my hot date with the cross-trainer above) and taxis are cheap and air-conditioned. The hotel staff were really friendly and helpful, although service in the UAE is, I find, pretty good all round. Breakfast wasn't included in my room rate but I skipped it in favour of lie-ins, coffee and a later brunch reservation in the city.

On the way to the hotel, my taxi drove past the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - this photo really doesn't do it justice but - Instagram v reality moment - I asked my taxi driver to pull over so I could dash out of the car in the 2pm heat to take a few snaps. As it was Friday, the mosque didn't open for tours until 4.30pm - one of the few in this region that opens its doors to non-Muslims. I visited with my family in 2011 and can confirm it's well worth a visit. It's a beautiful building but don't forget to look at the carpet under your feet.

Hotel-hopping is a worthwhile past time in this part of the world. The Emirates Palace is the most famous hotel in Abu Dhabi - the most expensive hotel construction at the time it was built. It's pretty special, quite understated for this region and has a peaceful vibe despite being a vast hotel. Again, I ran down the steps to take this picture, it came out better than expected given that I couldn't see my phone screen and was trying not to break a sweat before my brunch reservation.

I also visited the Marina Mall for some shopping (I left with a yellow Forever 21 sack and no regrets) and Yas Island because I wouldn't be doing twelve year-old me justice if I didn't catch a glimpse of the Yas Marina Circuit. If you're feeling more adventurous in Abu Dhabi there are theme parks, souks, beaches and a heritage village too (Time Out can sort you out).

Back next time for all things food, including the famous 24 carat gold cappuccino...

Have you visited Abu Dhabi?


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Beauty: Current Skincare Favourites

Skincare has eclipsed my love of make-up. Hours spent reading posts about different shades of red lipstick and new Mac collections have long ago been replaced with hours of reading Beautypedia, this Reddit and the entirety of Caroline Hirons. I keep my make-up pretty simple these days, obsessing more about clear, glowing skin and concentrations of active ingredients than green glitter eyeliner or a matte red lip.

Moving to Dubai has meant stepping up my skincare - both to deal with the sun, pollution and oiliness that a change in climate has brought about and because skincare (/all forms of vanity) is serious business here. Every mall trip now seems me weighing up tiny, precious bottles of claims and promises rather than swooning over shoes and bags. In an attempt to cut down my possessions and simplify my life a tiny glass vial can somehow justify its presence more easily than a new pair of shoes. Said tiny vial may be the same price but I subscribe to both the Caroline Hirons routine and mentality that we should be willing to spend as much as we do on a bag on our faces (the photo above is equivalent to purchasing this pouch to store them in).

This post isn't a complete breakdown of my routine as I'm not quite there with finding one where I'm 100% happy with each component but these are my current favourites / recent purchases that have improved my skin.

Serums - SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is a product that had been on my "want" list since it was recommended at Silver Mirror Facial Bar in NYC last summer. This product is not cheap and I purchased it slightly guiltily but if I had to pick one product from the above photo this would be it. In short, C E Feurlic is an antioxidant / pollution blocker which works with SPF to protect skin from a city environment and environmental aggressors which contribute to ageing and dull skin. I use three drops of this every morning, on clean skin before moisturiser and SPF. The product looks and feels pretty unremarkable - it's a yellow-tinged liquid with no discernible smell and doesn't have a particularly luxurious feel on application. I was a bit non-plussed after my first few applications of a product I'd wanted for so long but a week or so later, my skin just looked better - more even toned, a hint of a glow despite more time spent at my desk, quicker healing of blemishes and no breakouts or reactions from my sensitive skin.

iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum - a purchase made at Silver Mirror, this serum has a similar texture to C E Ferulic and also contains vitamin C for its antioxidative properties. This was recommended to me for redness (literally anything and everything makes my skin go red) and for healing the occasional cystic acne I get on my jaw line. I use this when my skin feels a little irritated which is common in a climate that varies between intense humidity and aggressive air-conditioning. I recently had micro-needling (that's another post for another day, my friends) and used this in the week after to keep my skin calm and happy.

SPF Eye Creams - I poured over this post by Ruth Crilly / A Model Recommends before moving to Dubai as I found it strange that there were so few eye creams containing SPF on the market and that most facial SPFs specifically state to avoid the eye area. Hmm. Clinque's Superdefense SPF 20 was purchased after reading Ruth's post and it's a great daily eye cream with a light texture and light reflecting particles which brighten the eye area even without make-up. One warning - wash your hands before touching your eyes / waterline after application as it has irritated my eyes if it gets in them or too close to them.  SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense is, you guessed it, more expensive (technically its the same price but compare sizes in the photo above) but it's a definite step above the Clinque formula as it just doesn't have that "SPF" feel to it. At first the tint appeared way too dark for my pale skin but it blends seamlessly, is a perfectly matte formula, blurs out fine lines (eek) and means I can go concealer-free at weekends while knowing my skin is protected.

I buy SkinCeuticals products online here in Dubai.

Acid Toner -"acid toning" has to be the biggest skin lesson learned from Caroline Hirons. I hadn't previously used a toner since my teens when cleanse-tone-moisturise seemed like the key to being an actual grownup (I had a mini Clinque 3-step kit in a clear plastic make-up bag which I treated like a prize possession). In the UK I'd had a few dalliances with Pixi Glow Tonic and Skyn Iceland Nordic Skin Peel but nether made it into my suitcase for the move. Since moving to Dubai my skin has been back to its oily teenage best and I'd been lamenting my pore size on far too frequent basis for someone who has More Important Things To Worry About. My dermatologist recommended Image Clear Cell salicylic acid toner and despite the rather strong smell and my fear that it would dissolve my skin it's been amazing for both de-greasing my t-zone, sweeping away drier skin from my cheeks and helping to fade scarring from breakouts past.

The Curiosity Purchase - LiLash seemed to sweep the Internet a few years ago. I was unconvinced until I saw Elodie's results (I've seen those lashes in real life) and decided to give it a go. Back in the UK I thought I had pretty decent lashes until I moved to the Middle East and frequently see girls with glossy Bambi-like lashes (semi-permanent extensions may be due the credit here...). I looked into lash extensions but memories of hay fever and my eyes getting irritated by air-con (again...) put me off getting anything glued to my own lashes. I've only been using LiLash for three weeks but already when curling my lashes and applying mascara they appear fuller, stronger and fewer lashes seem to be dropping out when removing eye make-up. I'll report back as to whether I get more noticeable results in the next couple of months. Obviously this isn't really an essential purchase but my curiosity is always peaked by things like this.

Phew, this turned out pretty long. I could actually talk about skincare all day. I guess this blog is back to fulfilling its original function of letting me ramble about things that the Real World around me ins't interested in.

What are your favourite new products? 


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Life: June Round-Up

We're at the halfway point of the year, this one feeling like the fastest yet - maybe because every day is a variant of "hot, sunny", maybe because it's been six years since life stopped being cut up into terms and breaks, maybe because I'm living somewhere where I'm yet to put down roots, yet to scrawl a friend's birthday drinks or a long-planned catch-up into my diary (I still tote around a Filofax like I'm worried I'll forget to go to work tomorrow if I don't). This time last year was marked by the literal heart-wrench of Brexit, a crystalised moment at 3am when the sky outside was already getting light. This time this year every week feels a little like the one before it and I wonder if the monotonous hum of adulthood has finally settled on me or if this is just a blip, brought on by forty-degree plus heat and a belated realisation that I've left behind everything and everyone I know for a still unknown quantity.

Next week I am travelling back to London for a fortnight and I can't wait to trade blue, sunny skies for familiar grey ones (my Instagram grid may suffer, I'm ok with that), to go places I've been countless times and to see people who have known a variety of past versions of me. And to drink a decently mixed cocktail because my limited experience with Dubai's bars has me believe that no one here knows how to make a Negroni...  

For now, this was June:

1. Ramadan started at the end of May, finishing this weekend just gone. The inability to drink coffee in the mall was counterbalanced by a quiet peacefulness and a chance to think about giving to those less fortunate (a suggestion). 

2. This is Dubai so, shopping. I've actually been pretty restrained. Non-permanence still pervades all my decision making so I mostly buy skincare on the basis that it is small and gets used up. Also accessories, also small. 

3. Sunset in Burj Park waiting for the firing of the Ramadan Cannon. Sometimes in Dubai you can feel like you are "anywhere". Anywhere being a mix of Riyadh and Las Vegas, or a mix of Wall Street and Singapore but during Ramadan I've really felt like I'm here, and that's been nice.

4. More skincare purchasing - living in a country with Sephora is a blessing and a curse because you will find yourself thinking that a spatula to apply face masks with is "essential"and realising as you type this that it's still in its packaging.

5. The biennial (?) M&M general election poll which always seems to tell some truths. 

6 and 7. Ramadan has meant attempting my own brunches at home. I only sacrificed the tip of the nail on my left index finger in preparing the avocado. Peak millennial moment. 

8. A weekend in the desert at Bab Al Shams which I wrote about here. Would 100% recommend if you live in Dubai or if you've visited before and want a difference experience.

9. My new notebook makes me feel less cynical and I had a revelation that making coffee at home costs about 20p. There ended my daily pre-work coffee shop dash for a £4.50 takeaway soy cappuccino.

How was your June?
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