Thursday, 17 August 2017

Food: Where To Eat Vegan In Dubai

Dubai hasn't quite embraced vegan, or even vegetarian, eating like London has. When I first moved here I was a little disappointed in the lack of options for the sort of foods I favour - I eat vegan at home and as much as I can when out unless I really fancy poached eggs... I know, I know. London seems to have got its act together for catering for all dietary whims (although New York does it better still) whereas Dubai is definitely a little too keen on eat-as-much-as-you-can buffet style arrangements which is fine if you're here for a long weekend but y'know, I live here now. 

best vegan cafes dubai

I would happily move in to this "concept store" on Jumeirah Beach Road. The self-described healthy cafe is not all vegan but there are a lot of options and everything is so delicious. I love the avocado crostini and the almond milk matcha tea and the outdoor area is just so nice for a chilled afternoon in the shade (the beach is a five minute walk away if you're that way inclined but I'm still this pale for a reason...). Yes, it's a little over-priced but, hey, welcome to Dubai! 

best vegan cafes dubai

A more "hippie" rather than hipster take on vegan eating, Life N One feels like one of those village garden centre cafes I'd get taken to as a child only with a more "yoga" decor scheme. The menu is mostly raw vegan but they do sweet potato fries (#balance). I love the vegan sushi and the raw matcha donut is so amazing (if you love matcha - I do and it seems hard to find here). The bathroom wall says "you just have to trust that what you want is coming, and watch how fast it comes" which I like a lot.

best vegan cafes dubai

One of my favourite spots for brunch and somewhere that you will be dragged to if you visit because its a ten minute walk from mine. Again, not a vegan place but the avocado on toast here is possibly my favourite and the salads are amazing too. The white crockery is very Instagram friendly. Oh, and they do the best bread in all of Dubai (most bread here is somewhat thankfully Very Disappointing) and have bottles of balsamic vinegar on the tables which is something I don't realise I miss until I get to drown my food in it. 

4. Tom and Serg

best vegan cafes dubai

Tom and Serg were (maybe) the first ever hipsters in Dubai and they've now got a small empire of cafes around the city. The original Tom and Serg in Al Quoz is my favourite - my slightly difficult to please daddy loved it too despite it being down a alleyway behind a hardware store and the interior looking like the decorators gave up halfway through. The vegan veggie bowl is really good and the coffee here is the absolute best. Oh, and the staff are super cool and always compliment my outfits, maybe they do that to everyone but it makes my day regardless. 

Located in the Galleries Lafayettes food hall, I was so happy to remember the existence of this raw vegan counter when I was last in Dubai Mall. The menu reminds me a lot of Tanya's Cafe (a West London favourite) - definitely a good thing. The food is really creative - the vegan sushi I ordered didn't contain fish (well, yes) or rice but still had that authentic sushi taste. There are some very beautiful raw vegan desserts which I managed to resist on my first visit but seeing as I tot up 10,000 steps every time I go to Dubai Mall, I can have one next time.

More to come once it gets a little tiny bit cooler outdoors...


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Life: Apps To Help You Survive The Dubai Summer

Don't let the niche title put you off. My recent app discoveries aren't all Dubai (or summer) specific but in the context of "feels like" 50 Celsius temperatures, these apps have been making my life a little easier, maybe even enjoyable during what is our "stay indoors" season. While I've made watching all seven seasons of Mad Men a personal goal during this season, I've had to set a daily one episode limit and force myself to maintain some sort of productivity and not merge into my sofa come September so these apps can take all the credit...

Kate Spade case (similar) and my new Samsung S8 Edge - still unscratched and in one piece 

The Dubai equivalent of ClassPass, GuavaPass lets you book workout classes anywhere in Dubai / Abu Dhabi in just a few clicks. Filter it by area, time of day and activity to find something you want to book and get all the information on whether the studio has showers, provides towels and whether you need to bring along those grippy toe socks (or risk being charged £10 for another pair you do not need). The 4 classes per month package works out as good value compared to booking classes individually and I've discovered new studios that I wasn't aware of before that are only a five minute taxi ride from my apartment.   

Android here, iOS here.

Uber / UberEATS

Something you all know about anyway but if you are in Dubai I definitely recommend using Uber to get around in a slightly more comfortable manner than regular taxis and they have GPS so will be able to find that yoga studio and deliver you straight to the door with minimum fuss (and sweat). UberEATS get a mention for delivering my lunch from Circle Cafe on a daily basis and the occasional afternoon iced soy latte because a walk to Starbucks (basic caffeine tolerance over here) may be the end of me in these temperatures but a girl still needs iced coffee.

You have it on your phone already, right? Use my code lilys279 for money off your UberEATS order wherever you are.

Office Lens

A slightly geeky favourite of mine but Office Lens is such a useful app - whether you need to email someone a document or want to go paper free and have everything on your Google Drive (so no need to tear your apartment apart when you need to provide your National Insurance number or ask your mother to trawl through your home bedroom looking for your old P45). This app effectively makes your phone a tiny scanner and lets you crop and adjust documents and email them to whoever needs them or electronically file them away. A 50 degree weekend is a great time to scan some adult-y looking documents and expense receipts and then satisfactorily bin them all (of course after checking they've been successfully uploaded or emailed away). Ex-pat life has practically turned me into Marie Kondo or maybe I do just need to get out more? 

Android here, iOS here


I sort of wish I had had this in London but, then, I'm not sure if there was really any need given that I lived opposite a Waitrose. InstaShop lets you pick groceries from an Instagram-esque interface that are delivered from your nearest supermarket in around 45 minutes. You can order as much or as little as you like (subject to a minimum spend), paying by card or cash on delivery but I mostly use this app for emergency ordering the Diet Coke that I claim not to drink anymore. Unfortunately it does not deliver gin although if it did then I may never leave the house again.

Android here, iOS here.

Physique 57 On Demand

Not an app as such but another workout savior this summer. I love a barre class but they are super pricey over here (and pretty much everywhere actually) and, as previously addressed, involve going outside. I do one or two weekend classes in a studio but keep myself en pointe during the working week with P57's online workouts. P57's barre classes are super tough and the at-home workouts are no different, minus an instructor being there to "helpfully" move your leg to the correct but far more painful position. The workouts are handily split by target area and duration so I (rarely) have an excuse not to do nine minutes of arms and feel in awe of the superstar instructors before work or telling myself that I've earned a second hour with Don Draper... 

Available here, the first month is free (and you can cancel and not pay anything).

Any others I should add?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Life: Friendship Bracelets

Twenty years ago my friend E and I weaved brightly coloured threads together in that gap between school and sitting down to a meal which definitely would have included oven chips. We never gave one another these "friendship" bracelets, oddly, but made them together often while pondering much the same things we do today (namely food and whatever will we do when we are grown-up).

I'm not sure how I still remember to make these, especially as I've forgotten a lot of what I once spent hours learning since: EU Law (now outdated anyway), how to drive (never really mastered it) and Hangul characters (but I can still recognise "bibimbap" so all is not lost).

It's been over 40 degrees in Dubai for over a month now so indoor activities are on the agenda. It's not so bad in a country designed for hot temperatures - anything can be delivered to your door in under an hour and most activities have wound down for the summer so there's no guilt in devouring all seven seasons of Mad Men with a cold Diet Coke (we may have Waitrose but it doesn't sell gin) in hand until outside becomes a little more pleasant.

Making these these bracelets is also an ideal way to prevent online shopping (harder to resist when you have a trip home approaching and can avoid shipping charges), mindless snacking and booking flights to cooler places, as well as being a nostalgic reminder of a much simpler time.

If you want to give them a go and need a refresher then these links should help (1), (2) and (3).

Until next time, #netflixandweave.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Food: London Eats

Being reunited with London's food scene was such a joy on my trip back home. As much as you can have "anything" in Dubai the city is slightly behind the curve on vegan and even vegetarian food (I ate a lot of hummus when I first arrived) and finding decent, affordable sushi is an ongoing process / struggle. Thanks to the "clean eating" movement and the rise in fashionable food allergies, London is now a haven for vegans and almond milk iced latte drinkers, and also for those of us who had a bridesmaid dress to fit into right at the end of a two week trip and a constant nagging fear of it not zipping up (spoiler alert: it did)...

Kaia The Ned

The Ned was obviously top of my list after seeing it on a few friends' Instagram feeds and genuinely feeling green with envy. I visited solo and felt simultaneously very classy perched at the counter at Kaia but also a bit like a scruffy student in my scuffed plimsoles and plaited hair amongst grey-suited city types. The venue itself is so, so beautiful and exactly the sort of place I'd imagined I'd spend time in as an adult until I realised that adulthood is no different to what came before it other than having to pay bills and make pension contributions. I obviously had the rainbow poke bowl along with a side of edamame and a ginger kombucha mocktail (#detox). The food was good, not mindblowingly so but the ambience and scope for people watching (the man sitting next to me ordered two old fashioneds "with an extra shot" at lunchtime, no judgement) are second to none.

The Lighterman at Kings Cross is a good alternative to Grain Store and Caravan - I'm still so pleasantly surprised every time I visit Granary Square it's such a contrast to the rather grim Kings Cross area I remember as a child. Make a reservation (a newfound joy after years of thinking them unnecessary) for the upstairs restaurant which is more spacious and airy than the ground floor and has amazing views over Regent's Canal. The meal I had here was pretty much my ideal dinner - a seasonal G&T with a slice of grapefruit, a superfood salad (dressing on the side) and an order of sweet potato fries dipped in ketchup. A friend and I caught up on the last few months without being rushed out and service was fast and friendly. The weekend brunch is a must for my next visit.

Itsu! I never tired of having Itsu for lunch in London and during a quiet period at work spent an hour a day with a green tea, the Greens, Grains & Glory rice pot and one of the Games of Thrones novels immersing myself in Westeros without leaving the City. Itsu has loads of new menu items, many of which are vegan as well as all the usual sushi (avocado baby maki mmm) - I had the vegan "miso happy" soup, tofu zero noodles and the raw chocolate pie while petitioning Itsu on Twitter to please open a branch in Dubai.

Coppa Club is another new city opening doing the rounds on Instagram. I actually visited twice during my trip back as its a super easy spot to meet up with former colleagues and city-working friends. Unfortunately on my first visit, our waiter accidentally spilt a drink on my friend but was very apologetic and the drinks were taken off of our bill. Service was much better (and much speedier) on the second visit, I guess its still early days. The salads are served in huge portions (because no one wants a small salad) and come on their own or topped with feta or chicken. On my second visit a friend and I shared the courgette fries which were better than Byron's (and I had previously always held Byron as the gold standard of courgette fries).

I loved Veggie Pret when it opened in Soho last year and now one of my regular Prets (Great Eastern Street) is a Veggie Pret, too! I wanted to order one of everything but limited myself to the cauli & tumeric super-veg salad, a dairy-free mango chia pot and a coconut matcha latte. I've clearly been away from London too long to be this excited about Pret but it's great to see so many options and for veggie foods to finally be more exciting and varied than a falafal wrap or a sad salad.

Where should I try next time?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Life: July Round-Up

July is always a favourite month of mine. Main highlight this year: a trip back to UK for two weddings (of the same friend), baking in my parents' kitchen to the chirps of our little canary bird (he's seven years old can you believe it) and a fair few G&Ts enjoyed under still-light-at-9pm skies. 

1. Blue skies after arriving at Heathrow at 7am. I had inexplicably booked a waxing appointment for noon.

2. The food at my friend's Indian wedding - for once not being the awkward fussy vegetarian.

3. Summer night skies at Sophie's house - she hosted a BBQ which was my first of the season.

4. My bridesmaid hair, I went to Academy in Welwyn where Rachel coaxed my super long but super fine hair into a braided bun.

5. Back in Dubai and amusing myself with Paperself temporary tattoos and avocado art.

6. Baking with mother - we made a chocolate and hazelnut loaf cake (this recipe) which smelled and tasted amazing.

7. The beautiful venue for my friend's civil ceremony, Mickelfield Hall. Would recommend if you're looking for wedding venues in the Hertfordshire / North London area.

8. Visiting my old neighborhood, just to check that everything's still ok.

9. I didn't get many pictures of my first foray into bridemaid-ing as the day went by in a flash so here's a selfie (Benetint on lips and cheeks) and a little glimpse of my bridesmaid dress (ASOS).

How was your July?

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?

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dubai: Catch-up / FAQ

I've been meaning to write this for a while as I never really talked about moving to Dubai on my blog before I moved and then I got here and wanted to wait awhile before I did. I've had a few questions as I never did a "moving away" type blog post or announcement. I didn't even tell most non-internet friends until about two months before I moved.

Hopefully this answers some questions or is just interesting! If there's anything else then just ask in the comments or send me a tweet and I'll do my best to answer.

Why move to Dubai?

I had too many summer clothes that I wasn't wearing enough for my liking...? My main motivation for moving here was work - I was feeling pretty uninspired with my job in London and all the things I loved about London life (parties, pub on a school night, 2am, an early twenties social life) were gradually fizzling away. I first visited Dubai in 2008, when the implications of the financial crisis had not quite sunk in and when it felt like a city filled with crazy optimism and where literally anything was possible (the air conditioned beach never did get built - sad!). My twenty-one year-old self, in the way that you can at that age thought "cool, maybe I'll live here one day!" because when you're 21 it feels like life milestones will just happen and you'll wake-up at 25 with a house and a husband and ooh, maybe you'll live abroad? Anyway, once Brexit happened and my 30th birthday started looming large without marriage/babies/joining Guardian Soulmates sounding appealing I started looking for jobs and updating my CV and doing some research etc. and then the planets aligned and I had a job offer a few months later.

What do you do?

I work as a corporate lawyer for a British law firm's Dubai office. I've never really talked about what I "do" do on this blog but maybe I will another day.

But, are women allowed to work in the Middle East?

Oh, wait, sorry, I've actually been on holiday for the last few months while my imaginary husband brings home the (turkey) bacon... The UAE (of which Dubai is a part of) kindly allows women to work, drive cars and fly fighter jets... Working for a British firm out here my day-to-day working experience is not affected at all by being a woman at all. I mean, no more than it was in London - there's obviously still a way to go before certain careers become gender-equal but, again, maybe one for another day.

What is the working culture like?

General working hours here are 9am - 6pm so the working day is slightly longer than in London although working as a lawyer generally entails leaving the office later than 6pm the world over. The working week is Sunday - Thursday with Friday and Saturday as the weekend, it takes some getting used to. Most of my colleagues are ex-pats, it helps to break the ice as everyone has had the same trials of settling in to new country. Lawyers are generally introverts and senior male colleagues don't care about my love of shoe shopping but we can all joke about the crazy weather or complain about the traffic. It's definitely been an easier ride bonding with junior colleagues here than if I'd moved to an American or European city in which others had grown-up in - I'm actually yet to meet anyone who is Dubai born and bred.

Where do you live?

I live in "Downtown Dubai" as I wanted a short commute to work (a thirty minute walk or 5-10 minute taxi ride compared with my five-minute walk in London). Ex-pats don't live in gated communities here or anything like that - there are a few popular neighborhoods but it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle, if you're happy to buy a car then you have a lot more choice as to where to live but you'll have to contend with traffic, road tolls and a slightly different driving style to the UK. Dubai isn't a cheap city to live in but, IMO, you get a nicer apartment for your money then I could have dreamed of in London.

What did you do to prepare?

I'd already visited Dubai on holiday four of five times so I had a good idea of what the city was like. My father grew up in Iran so while I've only ever lived in the UK I do feel like that having the cultural understanding was a huge benefit, both in making my decision and settling in to life here. That said, a lot of people move here without ever visiting and having no connection to the region. I would recommend that you visit somewhere at least once before uprooting your life. I read blogs like Laura's while worrying about where on earth I would get my haircut and Expat Woman is more useful than the girly pink site design suggests.

In terms of practical preparation, the visa process was dealt with my employer (I think this is usually the case) and I was able to ship some possessions over. Most of the practical things have to wait until you arrive - until your visa and Emirates ID card are issued you can't open a bank account or rent an apartment. My employer provided me with temporary accommodation for the first month and that gave me plenty of time to find somewhere to live.

Do you have to dress in a certain way?

Not really. Five days a week I'm in the office so my usual dress, cardi (for the aircon) and heels uniform works just as well as it did in London. If you are visiting a court here (in a professional capacity only I would hope) then there is a stricter dress code, as there is for courts in the UK (cue a panic-stricken trip to New Look for a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved blouse). If you're visiting as a tourist you can wear what you like in hotels and on beaches but hot pants and cropped tops are not appropriate for a trip to the mall (that doesn't mean that I don't frequently see these eye-roll inducing outfits - ultimately Dubai is a conservative country so just exercise some common sense and you'll be fine).

Can you drink alcohol?

Yes! No this wasn't my most-asked question and I'm not reading into it in any way.

Is there any culture? Isn't it all just huge shopping malls?

Shopping is quite a big activity here but no complaints from me there. There are miles of beaches, a huge dessert, an old town and a fledgling gallery district. Cafe culture is huge and I enjoy eating avocado on toast in places that would fit right in in East London but here there's me with my bashed Kindle and on the next table its traditionally dressed locals Instastorying their avo toast with a gold-plated iPhone. People stay up late with or without alcohol, the warm evenings are lush and the best thing about living here as everything is open late. My list of things to do is still huge (theme parks, museums, hotels hidden in the dessert dunes - done!). Sometimes I feel like I could be anywhere in the world but Dubai definitely has it's own culture and personality. The city is clean and safe and I never have to tip-toe around puke or pretend I can't hear drunken men shouting at me.

Any tips?

Not Dubai specific but for moving anyway I'd say don't stress too much about packing - one suitcase was all I had for my first 6 weeks but 8-10 work outfits, 3-4 weekend outfits and workout clothes is more than enough. Once all my other stuff turned up I felt a bit blah about it. Take each day as it comes as you'll go crazy thinking about all the things you need to do and buy and sort out at once. Ask lots of questions but don't take everyone's answers as gospel - figure things out for yourself too and don't mix up someone's opinion with fact (someone told me that you couldn't buy tampons here and, er, you can so use your suitcase space for something else). They'll be ups and downs and times when you question your decision but highs and lows and "what ifs" featured in my London life, too.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad about wanting to make your own adventure - we don't get another chance to do this all again. I used to feel envious of friends who were living abroad until I realised that there was nothing stopping me besides my own feelings of "I can't do that". You can.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Travel: A Weekend At Bab Al Shams

Bab Al Shams means "gateway to the sun" in Arabic. Nestled in the Arabian dessert, the hotel is only an hour's drive from Dubai city but it feels like another world. As my taxi left the skyscrapers and malls behind, the buildings became smaller until they dropped away to reveal an expanse of sand. The city has been a relatively recent imposition here - the dessert likes to occasionally make its claim back by spilling sand onto the tarmac in yellow waves. The road stretches ahead, so hot that it appears to shimmer and gleam like after recent rain, the mirage shrinking and disappearing before you can ever reach it.

The hotel is designed like a traditional Arabic fort with courtyards, hidden walkways and water features - it has the huge advantage over city hotels in having a lot of space to play with. The hotel is low-rise and you can get nicely lost wandering through the maze-like courtyards, finding hidden seating nooks as you go. It's quiet and peaceful, although strange at first to realise that the ambient noise of traffic ever-present in the city has been replaced by chirping birds.

It's pretty hot at this time of year in Dubai so a weekend of doing not much at all was definitely on the agenda. When it's 40+ degrees, even lying by the pool in the shade is tiring work. I couldn't imagine 40+ heat before I moved to Dubai - in reality its not as bad as it sounds but as someone who spends most of the week indoors, a couple of hours by the pool was all I could manage before air-con and a cold Diet Coke started loudly beckoning me inside. I visited during Ramadan and the hotel was business-as-usual, with one restaurant closed for the month. Summer is a quieter season for tourism in Dubai so there are often good deals to be had, I booked this one.

My room was on the ground floor, over looking a courtyard. The rooms are decently sized with giant comfortable beds and corner baths. The entire hotel complex has free wifi and free bottled water is provided. The promotion I booked under didn't include breakfast which is a little cheeky given that there's nowhere else to go - just desert in every direction. I skipped the breakfast buffet in favour of teaching myself to use the in-room Nespresso machine. There's also a kettle for tea-making, I am turning into my mother and now appreciate such touches.

The pool is the standout feature, looking straight out at the flat, endless dessert. It's a huge pool with different sections for sunbathing, seeking shade and swimming. There's a swim-up pool bar and you an order food and drink straight to your sun lounger if the heat is all too much. At sunset, I ventured onto the rooftop bar to watch the sands turn golden. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a line of gazelle ran through the dunes and if I hadn't been clutching my phone I would have felt liked I'd ventured back in time, or at least more than an hour away from the bright lights, crazy traffic and work demands of the city.

Everyday at 5pm the hotel offers free camel rides and the chance to befriend a falcon. The camels arrived on cue from the dessert, I'm still fascinated by them and relish any chance to use the camel emoji.  I passed on a ride as I've sat astraddle of a camel a couple of times before, it's about as uncomfortable as it sounds does not make for flattering photos. I opted to befriend the falcon instead, he was very heavy and his claws looked pretty terrifying but I think I look pretty calm holding him, all that yoga must be making me more zen than I sometimes feel. 

The offer I booked under included a daily voucher to use at the hotel - I used mine in the spa for a dreamy Thai massage which added to the "relax and get away from it all vibe". I read an entire book from start to finish and, the weekend after the UK elections, kept the TV in my room firmly turned off. Heading back into the city, I felt like I'd been away for more than 24 hours - proof that you don't need to jump on a plane to have a complete change of scene for the weekend. 

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