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. 


Friday, 16 June 2017

Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Salad Boats

I think this recipe might be on repeat all summer, it's so fresh and tasty and takes ten minutes to make. Wing Yip sent me a hamper of Asian ingredients for Healthy Eating Week and I took inspiration from my favourite Vietnamese summer rolls which are full of colour and flavour but are super light. 

Using lettuce boats takes away any fiddly rice-paper rolling (because I do not have the skills for that). This would be perfect for a summer weekend lunch or as a sharing dish at a BBQ. I've made mine vegan but you could add cooked shrimps to the mix or add in some rice noodles to mix up the textures and make it a more substantial dish. Any crunchy vegetables would work - I love pineapple in savoury dishes, I definitely felt like I should have been eating this on a beach rather than in front of a rather gory episode of Orange Is The New Black.


1 head of little gem lettuce
Filling - small handful of bean sprouts, grated carrot, finely chopped cabbage, half a chopped red pepper, small handful of pineapple chunks
Garnish - chopped fresh coriander, unsalted peanuts, chilli and ginger (optional)
Sauce - Mushroom Sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce (optional)


Throw the fillings into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the sauces - make it as hot as you want (the hotter the better IMO). Pour the sauce over the veg and leave for a few minutes. Fill up the lettuce boats and sprinkle the coriander and chopped peanuts over the top before tucking in.

What's your favourite light summer meal?


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baking: Mary Berry's Banana Loaf

Another bake today, putting my stand mixer to work on one of my family's favourite - we've made Mary Berry's banana loaf countless times before but using good old elbow grease (what a weird expression - mine are a bit on the dry side) and a wooden spoon. It's an easy recipe with no strange ingredients - you probably have all of the baking bits in the cupboard and there's always some bananas going brown in the fruit bowl.

This time, the mixer did all the hard work and the resulting loaf came out lighter, fluffier and more evenly baked than when mixed by hand. Do some dancing or go for a walk while it bakes to make up for the energy not expended battling wooden spoon and mixing bowl. Mary's recipe should be followed to the letter, it goes without saying. For a little twist, pop an extra banana on top which will bubble and caramelise as the loaf bakes or throw a small handful of hazelnuts into the mixture.

Serve with a nice cup of tea (we all could do with one right now) and eat as is or spread with butter, nut butter or (as here) some mixed summer berries. The loaf can be frozen (cut into thick slices first) if it isn't all consumed in one day.

What is your go-to baking recipe?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Travel: Five Destinations On My To-Go List

In 2016 I crammed in a personal best for trips abroad. In hindsight, I'm glad I made the most of having a passport that (for now) still has "European Union" emblazoned across it. From travelling the length of Vietnam in a fortnight to hopping across to Denmark for the sole purpose of going to Legoland, I took it as a compliment when friends complained (or delighted) that "you're always away!".

The whole "packing up my life and moving abroad" thing has somewhat scuppered this year's travel plans. I have two "holidays" back in London which I am already beyond excited about - the weather will probably be grim, I will be freezing regardless but I can't wait to catch-up on all things cultural that I definitely miss here and also reacquaint myself with The Pub (maybe it'll be warm enough to sit outside?).

Here's where I want my next passport stamps to be from (please also throw in unlimited Airmiles and unlimited annual leave):

1. Mumbai, India

Image credit: The Incredible India.
 I am actually going to India later this year to do the Golden Triangle but after reading Shantaram and Midnight's Children I decided that I need to go to Mumbai too.

To do: Visit the Gateway of India, visit the Haji Ali island mosque, shop and bar-hop in Colaba, feast on vegetarian food without having the constant "does this have meant in it, though" feeling.

2. Austin, Texas
Image credit: Adriene Louise.
I did promise myself that I wouldn't be visiting the US until after 2021 but Austin, TX really does seem like my dream city. My experience of the US so far is limited to NYC (a few times) and Las Vegas (one time) and, recent politics aside, I would love to see more of this vast and varied country.

To do: Tick off the last festival on my list, SXSW, visit Austin City Limits, take a yoga class with my favourite person on all of the internet, Yoga With Adriene, check out Austin's thriving vegan food scene.

3. Amman and Petra, Jordan
Image credit: globe.travelpix.

Amman and Petra are around four hours apart by road but it makes sense to combine the two into one trip - a contrast between a buzzing capital city and the heritage site at Petra sounds like the perfect holiday to me and a totally different side of the Middle East to the slick new-ness of Dubai.

To do: Visit the citadel and Roman theatre in Amman, eat falafel, take the ultimate #doyoutravel Instagrams in Petra at the Bab Al Siq (it was good enough for Indiana Jones).

4. Salalah, Oman 
Image credit: Anantara Salalah.
With a flight time of less than two hours from Dubai, Salalah in Oman looks like a universe away from the high rises and glitz of Dubai. I'm planning on heading here for a weekend of doing...not much at all.

To do: Watch the sunset over the Arabian sea, read a book, have a cocktail. Repeat.

5. Tokyo, Japan
Image credit: Hansyhobs.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as I have already been to Tokyo but it was ten (!) years ago and I was on a somewhat smaller budget and only had 24 hours in the city which I don't even need to say is Not Long Enough.

To do: have a drink (vodka tonic) at the New York bar in the Park Hyatt, see the sakura blossoms, re-purchase all my now-depleted Japanese beauty products, visit the cup noodle museum in nearby Yokohama.

What destinations are on your wishlist? 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Life: A Few Of My Favourite Links

I've read a lot of articles lately that I've immediately sent to a friend, to my mother or saved on in my bookmarks. The internet is full of passionate, talented and hilarious female writers right now so today I'm sharing my favourite reads of late - my virtual scrap book of pages to read, re-read and share:

I made avocado on toast at home for the first time and it was a revelation. 

1. Millennials and Property

You don't have to search far for articles on millennials and the property ladder. Buying a home is out of the reach of a lot of young people and the factors are more complex than our penchant for avocado on toast and flat whites. I know I am very much one of the "lucky" ones but seeing more years on the mortgage statement than you have so far been alive is a sure way to turn your dreams of becoming a yoga instructor or taking six months out to travel the world become just that. Unless you're a cash buyer (hahahaha) then your home isn't "yours" anyway - it only will be one day if you're able and willing to keep earning the salary that got you your mortgage approval in the first place. This article totally hit the mark - home ownership might seem like the end game but don't forget to live along the way (and, spoiler alert, it may not make you a better person or make it easier to get out of bed in the morning anyway).

2. The Joy of Being Unhealthy

I ran 3.5km at the gym this morning and can tell you that my lunch contained 311 calories. Have you died of boredom yet or do would you rather finish me off first? As a teen my idols were Kate Moss and Brody Dalle - they sure looked like they were having a good time, I doubt they were eating much kale or sleeping for eight hours a night. Teens today have the clean eating brigade and tee-total YouTubers to glean inspiration from. This may not be a bad thing as vodka and Marlborough Lights are y'know, bad for you, but when I think of my own show reel of favourite memories? They were not fuelled by coconut water and Deliciously Ella energy balls (which, full disclosure, I enjoy making but eat them with an "unclean" coffee or chemical-filled Diet Coke). My friendships have been cemented and strengthened by sharing a bottle of gin, getting locked out of a house party while smoking Vogue Menthols on the doorstep and by baking and eating entire trays of "slutty" brownies. Being healthy is great but we sometimes need to remember how fun being unhealthy is.

3. Man Repeller - Hayley Nahman's Writing

I love everything about Man Repeller but Hayley's writing draws me to the site more than the fashion pieces (neither budget nor occasion for, sadly). Hayley is one of those writers who makes every word count, who writes like she is sending me (just me!) an email, who can make me feel goosebumps with her words or make me laugh into my hands at my desk. Her writing makes mine feel like magnetic letters on the side of a fridge but I love her regardless. Her post on body acceptance is raw, real and will make you feel better after an unflattering dress gets stuck on your head in a store changing room with a broken air-conditioner (pro tip: slide your bra off while praying that you don't rip the dress and have to pay for it). Her post on moving to New York is one I read again and again because it's actual poetry. 

I have made no secret that I love Refinery 29's money diaries. There's something immensely gratifying about getting a snapshot into a stranger's life and nothing will reveal more about a person than how they chose to spend their cash. I've been inspired to write my own and to keep a better eye on my own spending but also to come to terms with the fact that I'll never spend Sunday evening preparing lunches for the week ahead, that spending the equivalent of a mini-break on coffee annually kind of sort of does spark some sort of fleeting happiness and that I fall firmly on the "spend" side of the spend/save divide. A new diary popping up on the home page is a joyous occasion, to be slowly devoured before going back to whatever I was meant to be doing. Reading these is also an interesting insight into American life and the comments sections are enlightening, too. 

As a (not quite reformed but slightly improved) shopaholic, I fully support the benefits of retail therapy. Tired? Stuck in the office late? Hungover? Sad? Feeling existential dread? There's an online purchase for that. Post Marie Kondo and minimalism we are supposed to believe that material goods do not bring happiness... I think that actually just means that you haven't quite found the right item, or combination of items. This article may help to find it and will at least give you major US shopping envy. I mostly just want a Sweetgreen and an Anthropologie to open up in Dubai, pretty please.

Share your favourite links below, please! 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Life: May Round-Up

Another month over. Time to make my usual comment about time flying by but this month has felt extra-speedy. My parents came to visit and then returned to cooler climes and events at home (both happy and heartbreakingly bloody awful) made me feel, for the first time since moving to Dubai, far away from life as I used to know it. 

The weather here has turned from summery to "sweat profusely while sitting in the shade next to a fan" and it's not even our "summer" yet. I am already looking forward to dusting off my winter coat for my "London holiday' in July. 

1. A little slice of hippie paradise at Life n'One in Jumeriah. This chilled out spot is right up my street in a city which sometimes feels a little too slick to be real. This is an acai bowl, the first time I have had one - I felt very #wellness eating it but think I prefer avocado toast.

2. The scrawl-covered Boxpark sign has been painted over and looks a little stark.

3. I visited the Jumeriah Mosque which is the only one in Dubai that tourists can take a look inside of. It's only ~£4 to visit which includes breakfast, a chance to dress in traditional Arabic clothing and a brief introduction to Islam (which I mostly knew as a dual-culture kiddo but still glad I visited).

4. Work socials are an unavoidable awkwardness of being an adult but it turns out that when they are held at Nikki Beach they are actually more enjoyable then when held at All Bar One.

5. On the roof at Raffles - I took my parents to the aperitivo at Solo Bar, two cocktails and unlimited Italian antipasti for ~£25 each makes it good value in any city. The courgette fritto was delicious and our waiter super friendly. 

6. Back at our favourite, Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort. Felt pretty special that some of the staff remembered us from holidays past.  

7. Taking Conor Oberst to the pool. I'm seeing him for the 7th (or maybe 8th) time in August in London and am as excited as when I was 17. 

8. Befriending the cats at Le Royal Meridian. I carry Dreamies in my handbag for these occasions. There are few things that I look at in such an adoring manner. 

9. Taking an Insta-ponce sunset on the beach photo, soaking up the last of the day's heat and my "staycation" of sorts. 

June will be a little quieter, Ramadan started on Saturday (Ramadan Mubarak!) and has quite a big effect on day to day life here e.g. no eating or drinking in public during daylight hours but fasting is just one aspect of the holy month. I'm looking forward to learning a bit more about my new country's culture and attending my first Iftar meal. I also offered to host my bookclub's next meeting so I'd better stop looking at cats do adopt and do some reading... 

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 by 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?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Book Report: India Reading List

I'm visiting India for the first time later this year - its somewhere that has been on my travel list since I was a child but despite clocking up a few air miles, having a gap yah and a half and moving to the same continent I've still not visited. My parents and I will be doing the Golden Triangle in November, visiting Dehli, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur with an add-on to Amritsar near the Pakistan border. I'm already planning more trips as such a vast and varied country can't be distilled into a ten-day trip nor captured in a novel but my reading choices are currently focused on India and this is my non-exhaustive India reading list (so far!):

1. Shantaram - Gregory David Robers

This is a huge novel, coming in at around 900 pages but it's a fast, relatively easy read and I devoured it in less than two weeks. Ignoring the "is it based on real events or not" speculation and some less favourable reviews that I unfortunately read before delving in (lesson learned to not skimread Goodreads until I've finished a book and formed my own view), I loved Shantaram. In short, the book is written in the first person by "Lin" - an Australian escaped convict who finds his way to Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1980s, setting up a medical clinic in a slum and being inducted into the Bombay underworld along the way. The love affair between Lin and Bombay unfolds throughout the book and his love of the city shines through some slightly unrealistic dialogue and a few clunky metaphors. I was less convinced by Lin's love for Karla - a woman who is a Gone Girl "cool girl" if ever there was one. Shantaram would make a great holiday read where it can be consumed in uninterrupted chunks, preferably with a drink in hand and a large pinch of salt as to whether the events in the novel are based on truth or not (I'm pretty sure JK Rowling did not actually attend Hogwarts). We sometimes need a book that entertains, that gives us (mostly) easily likeable characters and that immerses us in another place and for me, Shantaram did just that while imparting a love for an Indian city and Indian culture through the eyes of an outsider. 

2. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh

A finalist for the 2008 Man Booker prize, Sea of Poppies was the chosen book for my first Dubai book club meet and so, obviously, I immediately worried that I wouldn't grasp or enjoy it but I really needn't have (it was a great one to discuss!). Set in 1838, we are transported to Calcutta under British rule and the scene is set for the start of the opium wars. This being a period of history which I didn't have much previous knowledge of I felt like I learned a lot about colonialism, the opium trade and the Indian caste system but in a way that didn't feel like Ghosh was trying to lecture me or have his critique of colonialism eclipse his narrative. I'm not usually a historical fiction fan but this story isn't weighed down by the time period and although the first few chapters were heavy with "sailor-speak" dialect it soon became immensely readable. The cast of characters provide a microcosm of society during this period, with a ship, the Ibis, serving as the means of allowing their separate narratives to intertwine. This book is the first in a trilogy and the rather sudden ending had me immediately downloading the next two books, River of Smoke and Flood of Fire to find out where the story (and the ship) take the characters.

3. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

A book that had been on my reading list for too long. It's hard to approach anything by Rushdie without the man himself eclipsing his work (I am half-Iranian and can vividly remember not understanding much of an adult conversation about Mr Rushdie's issues in the early 1990s) but the forword reminded me that he wrote Midnight's Children while still in his twenties - something I can now never achieve - and that it won the Booker Prize of the year of its publication and The Best of The Booker twice. It's a long book that demands your time and commitment, save it for when you can give it both. Some paragraphs are a single sentence, the prose is dense and it sometimes feels like a test of your intellect and memory as the narrative jumps around you and while the main character (Saleem, born on the stroke of midnight as on the day India became an independent nation) recounts his tale in the present day and re-visits his past, addressing the reader directly and going off on lengthy tangents at will. Mostly set in Mumbai, it visits some of the landmarks of Shantaram albeit at an earlier stage of history. It took me a few frustrating hours to get into this book but I'm glad I persevered as it turned out to be an immensely enjoyable read (although I'm glad Murakami had already introduced me to magical realism) and a scathing look at Indian politics and cultural life that still feels relevant in 2017.

4. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize and the only female author in my round-up, The God of Small Things is set in Kerala - the tropical climate and "immodest greenery" providing a backdrop for an intense tale of lost childhood innocence. Like my favourite novel, The Secret History, The God of Small Things reveals its hand early, the non-sequential narrative starting with the funeral of a child and forewarning us that the unfolding story will not be a happy one and that no one will come out of it unharmed. The third-person narrative is seen through the eyes of a child, seven year-old Rahel and her fraternal twin brother Estha who in 1969 are growing up amid the growth of communism in southern India, the still rigorous caste system and a dysfunctional family. The novel isn't always an easy read (parts are sad, parts uncomfortable) and I sometimes had to pause as single sentences conveyed so much meaning but that is the charm and the genius of Roy's writing, not a single word feels misplaced or unnecessary. A hard book to review or describe (there's nothing to easily compare it to) but one that will stay with me and remind me that "anything can happen to anyone" and "it is best to be prepared".

Have you read any of these? 


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Fashion: Insta-Outfits - Workwear

Long, long time no outfit post. I used to share a lot of mirror outfit snaps on Instagram before it became all thematic and editorial. I guess I lost my nerve in sharing something as #basic as what I'm wearing and my love of clothes somewhere along the way. 

I went on a huge shopping trip for new work wear back in London and since moving here I've, for the first time in years, managed to dodge cakes, biscuits and chocolate with (almost) complete ease which has meant that a few dresses which had mercifully buried themselves in the back of my wardrobe have re-gained their place at the front. Also the light in my new bedroom is A+ and I bought this Ikea mirror even though there's an almost full length mirror in my bathroom.

It was a choice between getting my feet and head in these shots and I chose my shoes because my face (and hair) looks the same every day. My office style has not changed a lot since I started work but I'm starting to gravitate away from florals and bright colours and opting for a palette of blues and greys and cleaner lines - banishing bow details, skater dresses and accessories.

ASOS Wiggle Dress (similar) that I bought ages ago and then saw Kate Garaway wearing it on Good Morning Britain (that's unfair, seeing Piers Morgan ruined my morning far more). Shoes from Karen Millan which I wore to my undergrad graduation and then never again.

Dress from Joanie (now £20), shoes from Antoine and Lili - the cutest shop on the Canal St Martin in Paris and wearing these makes me want to do some kind of tap dance. Being in a hotter climate doesn't change my office attire much other than not even being able to think about black opaque tights and being able to wear shoes which would be ruined in 5 minutes in London.
My actual favourite dress but the worst to photograph (typical) - from the Oasis Prince's Trust line (similar) and shoes by Rupert Sanderson (a bargain in the Selfridges sale but with fragile leather soles). 

We have a sort of casual Thursday (our Friday) but I'm wary of wearing something too girly or vintage-y to a corporate office (lessons have been learned). Swing dress is from Phase 8 (similar) and Duo sandals.
Another Oasis dress (similar) and my low-heeled Louboutins (do not mention Theresa May). Oasis are one of my favourites for work wear - just on the right side of smart. 
Has your work styled changed? I'm still insanely jealous of all of you who work in more creative / relaxed environments and don't have to worry about weather something is "work appropriate" although I couldn't put it better than my own work dress code: If you are worried as to the appropriateness of attire it is probably not appropriate. 
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