Thursday, 30 March 2017

Life: Podcasts I'm Enjoying

I've been very late to the game with podcasts (if my mother is reading its like radio that you listen to on your phone) but a new daily routine here in Dubai has made plenty of time for all things audio. My commute to work is a half-hour walk each way, I've finally rediscovered my love of running as a way to explore my new neighbourhood and my apartment has a shared gym which has all the equipment you could want but lacks the soundtrack of my beloved Boom Cycle (there goes my last remaining connection to new music).

These are the podcasts that have brightened up my walk to work (not literally as its really sunny here), made me laugh or made me learn something new. The current limbo period of ex-pat life where I've furnished a flat and discerned the difference between a 10 and 100 Dirham note, where I don't quite have a settled daily routine and where evenings are not spent going for "one drink" and returning home at 1am mean that some days I feel the novelty of having a bit of free time to fill. Listening to one of these while running, pouring over a book in a coffee shop  - after my London existence it feels quite indulgent to have this time to cram my brain with new information (otherwise I just listen to Conor Oberst's new album on repeat).



1. Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel

This BBC Radio 4 podcast definitely has strains of Serial (the one podcast I had previously listed to). Narrated by Carrie Gracie it tells the story of a British businessman who died in mysterious circumstances in the city of Chongqing. I had to continually remind myself that these events happened in 2011 and not in the 1960s - it's a truly surreal chain of events encompassing politics, power, sex and money and, the surviving protagonists aside, no one will ever really know what happened. The six episode series is served up in 20 minute bites so it's perfect for the commute and the slick production combined with Carrie's experience as the BBC's China Editor makes it a compelling listen.

2. My Dad Wrote A

You've definitely heard of this and don't need me to explain it. I held off downloading this one as I was convinced that I wouldn't find it funny but when a friend mentioned that she was listening, I tentatively downloaded episode one and ended up snorting water out of my nose while on the Stairmaster. Elegant. Serendipitously, Elijah Wood (the subject of my first foray into internet life with a fansite) is a huge fan and has a spin-off "footnotes" episode (there's also a great one with Bake Off's Tamal Ray). I met co-presenter Alice Levine at a food blogging event a couple of years ago - she hosts supper clubs, has an excellent vintage-inspired wardrobe and is hilariously scathing about basic masculinity, I like to kid myself that I'm cool enough that we could be friends.

3. Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History

I read "Outlier's" a few years ago and Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, while covering a totally different subject matter takes a similar approach in turning familiar thinking on its head and looking at events which have been misunderstood or wrongly interpreted. Each episode takes on a free standing event, I started with "Saigon, 1965" after visiting Vietnam last year and trying ever since to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the all too recent history of this country. It feels like everyday at the moment an event is referred to as "historical" but this podcast affirms that history isn't something that just happened but how we are made to perceive and understand past events. Definitely one for making those brain cells work.

4. Sword and Scale

I studied law and I can still remember the first time I read a murder case report. It felt truly awful, like I'd read something I shouldn't have, a detailed account of a complete stranger's last moments - had I really signed up for three years of this? An hour later, a chat with a friend and with half the case list ticked off I felt completely fine. It's hard to describe but true crime feels similar - it's horrifying but we quickly become desensitized to it. This podcast delves deep into the very of humanity but it's sensitively and slickly produced making it as compelling as it is dark and deeply disturbing. Florida-based host, Mike Boudet, is a great presenter,the work that he puts into each show is insane and his very American enthusiasm prevents it all getting a bit too dark. The round-ups of bizarre American news stories are a nice interlude and (aside from a few two-part-ers) each episode is a free standing story.

What else would I enjoy? Do you listen to any of these?


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Monday, 20 March 2017

Food: Recipe - Spring Smoothie Bowl

Long time, no recipes but Florette have recently brought out a range of smoothie mixes to make mornings a little easier. All you need is a blender and some fruit, fruit juice or milk of your choice and five minutes to throw everything together for a nutrient-packed breakfast that you can take with you - much better for you and your wallet than a coffee grabbed on the way into the office.

The packs contain a mix of salad leaves and a sachet of seeds so rather than just adding in a handful of baby spinach you're getting a whole mix of nutrients and no chopping, washing or fuss first thing in the morning. The smoothie mixes are high in Vitamin A and Folic Acid and using just half a pack will have you on your way to however-many-a-day we are meant to be getting and that's before you've added the fruits and toppings. 

On the weekend, making a smoothie bowl is just as easy but ultimately more Instagram-worthy and the toppings are definitely the best bit - I find adding a bit of crunch and different textures makes a smoothie so much more satisfying and its a great way of sneaking in even more nutrients. With spring coming it's maybe time to take a break from avocado on toast and go for a cool, creamy smoothie eaten with a spoon from a cafe au lait bowl.

florette salad smoothie mix recipe
Bowl: West Elm
For my pink smoothie just blend together:

Half a pack of Florette Superfood Smoothie Mix
Half a frozen banana (makes the end smoothie so much creamier)
A handful each of frozen strawberries and raspberries
One cup of non-dairy milk (almond is my favourite for smoothies)

Once blended, swirl in your bowl with some non-dairy yogurt and add your toppings. I added baby figs, a superfood nut and fruit mix and a swirl of chocolate sauce (cacao powder blended with melted coconut oil).

florette salad smoothie mix recipe

What are your favourite smoothie creations?

In need of dinner inspiration? Check out last's month's vegan salad recipes.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Food: 4 Places To Eat Avocado Toast In Dubai

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 

With a new country, a new climate, a new job and a new apartment to settle into now is not the time to change my brunch of choice. Avocado on toast is alive and well in Dubai and my weekends have been spent ordering it in various eateries to be savoured with a coffee and my Kindle which no longer connects to the wifi. A re-read of Bright Lights Big City seems in some way appropriate anyway.

A note on brunch in Dubai - if you hear anyone bragging about the awesome (i.e. they drank three bottles of "sparkling grape" and don't remember that they had the same conversation five times) brunch they had then it's not the avocado and poached egg sort. Brunch here is a pretty much all day affair involving a spend of anything from £20 to £200, multiple courses, tables laden with all manner of food, entire rooms of cheese, whole roasted pigs, live entertainment, chocolate fountains... there are "night brunches" (AKA dinner) too, but Dubai brunching is for another day because it doesn't involve avocado or coffee and those are my current requirements. 

1. The Healthy One

avocado on toast dubai

Le Pain Quotidien means "the daily bread" in French and you really could consume bread here on a daily basis and nothing bad would happen. Because it would be delicious, obviously. LPQ's avocado on toast is called a "tartine" because they are French. The portion size is not too big or not too small, the bread is delicious as you would expect and the sprinkling of seeds adds to this being the healthiest looking avocado toast I've ever seen. LPQ's menu is vegan and veggie friendly and their coffee is great too - they do both soy and almond milk and it comes in a bowl (despite almond milk being more fashionable for me coffee will always better with soy milk). Despite there being LPQs in London I felt very much not in London while eating this as the girl on the next table struck up conversation with me about how great this looked. FYI, I'm reading my favourite chapter from American Psycho which goes great with avocado on toast. 

Locations here 

2. The One With The View

avocado on toast dubai

It is frustratingly hard to find restaurant websites in Dubai but finding Social House is easy as it is opposite the Dubai Fountain on the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Social House's avocado toast is piled high with feta and is served with roasted tomatoes, beetroot and a hard boiled egg (which I ate before taking the picture). Grab an outside table to enjoy the half hourly Dubai Fountain displays and feel smug about all the people standing as close as possible to take photos who will inevitably get wet. The brunch menu is served all day at weekends so there's no need to get up early to enjoy avocado toast and this feels more like a lunchtime avocado toast anyway due to the salad-y accompaniments. The coffee here is also good and comes with a tiny biscuit which made me think of the "pink" episode of Black Mirror. I am still (re-)reading American Psycho. 

Not the restaurant's own website here.

3. The Indulgent One

avocado on toast dubai

Tub of Butter is located just off of Sheikh Zayed Road, somewhere between Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall (my two main landmarks here for figuring out where everything is). I went for the Barack Obama topped coffee and stayed for the avocado toast. This had to be the biggest avocado toast portion I've ever seen - definitely no scrimping on the (chia seed and chilli-topped) avocado here as it spills out from a brioche bun. This was so filling that I didn't even order a second coffee despite wanting one with the Sheikh's face in honour of my new home. The cafe lacks a view but more than makes up for this with it's free wifi, huge magazine shelf and a great selection of products to take home. I happily sat here for a couple of hours people watching locals and ex-pats (the French toast and brunch burger both looked incredible) and reaoding all the magazines, never feeling rushed to give up my table.


4. The Hipster One 


avocado on toast dubai

Tom & Serg are friends and business partners by way of Melbourne and Madrid who have built up a small empire of lovely cafes in Dubai, serving Aussie-approved coffee and fresh, delicious food.  I'd already visited two of their cafes, Common Grounds and Wild & The Moon, for coffee so I had high hopes for their eponymous original offering located in Al Quoz near to Alsekeral Avenue. The menu is so amazing that I almost didn't order avocado toast but I did for the sake of this blog post and my need to feel like I'm reporting on my own life. I'll go back for the rest of the menu another time, it's ok. Tom & Serg's avocado on toast is a very different take, featuring cottage cheese, spring onion, chilli and cucumber ribbons. I loved this as it wasn't all about the avocado but it was so tasty and the servers and cafe itself are lovely. 

Website (yay!) here.

I might eat something else next weekend... 

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Dubai: Art at Alserkal Avenue

Dubai may be best known for its seven-star hotels, skyscrapers and giant shopping malls but to those who claim that my new city has no culture - not so fast. It's there, you just need to know where to look. And by "where to look" I mean use Uber and direct your driver to Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz.  
In an industrial area of the city, a network of streets have seen independent galleries and cafes which could be more than at home in Hackney pop up and nestle themselves in amongst mechanics and wholesalers. The area reminded me, in a way, of the 798 District in Beijing - the perfect spot for a solo wander, a rare moment of quiet away from the bright lights of the big city and somewhere I can't wait to take visitors to to show them another side to this city.

Art


Leila Heller gallery is one of the larger galleries in the area. With a New York sister gallery boosting its credentials, this gallery is sure to become a favourite with its frequently changing exhibitions.


The Third Line showcases work from Middle Eastern artists and the current exhibition by Sophia Al Maria titled Everything Must Go draws on the region's love of consumerism and the conflict of growing up between eastern and western cultures.



The surroundings are as Instagrammable and intriguing as the exhibitions inside the galleries. Look in every door way you walk past.

Eat



There are a few cafes within Alserkal Avenue but Wild & The Moon was on my to-eat list in its own right after some frantic Googling for vegan cafes in Dubai. The cafe is an absolute delight - a high-ceiling, bright space with the type of menu that I thought I wouldn't find out here (meat is very much the flavour of the month). The staff are super friendly and there's free wifi (essential when you still have a UK phone). I spent a happy hour sipping an almond milk cold brew out of a mason jar and feeling very much at home.

 Shop and Do


Mirzam Chocolate Factory is a small-scale factory producing bean-to-bar chocolate in Dubai. The packaging is beautiful and the chocolate has a Middle Eastern twist - white chocolate with saffron is a must try, as is dark chocolate with fig. There's a small cafe and staff on hand to explain the chocolate-making process and bars of all sizes to purchase as (self) gifts.


The chilled A4 Space boasts a cafe, a shop, a cinema screening room and a community library. There's a co-working space upstairs and free wifi - whether you need to catch-up on work, Instagram your surroundings or flick through a book. The atmosphere hits that sweet spot between a coffee shop and a library, so basically my ideal place to spend time in.

Notes:

- check opening times before visiting, galleries are closed on Friday and possibly on public holidays
- there's an ATM next to A4 Space but gallery entry is free and cafes take cards
- you'll probably need to call an Uber to pick you up unless you can hop in a taxi that has just dropped someone off (or walk the 15 minutes to Noor Bank metro stop as I did)
- leave your sandals for the beach as the area is still a functioning industrial estate


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Thursday, 2 March 2017

Life: February Round-Up

A month of two halves, if ever there was one. The first half spent reminding myself why I love London - and how much easier it is to when you don't have to go into work. Throw in the best of friends, favourite haunts and ticking off a list of new openings and you have the perfect combination for not wanting to be anywhere else. 

The second half of the month? Add twenty celsius to the thermometer and the start of life in a city that's only ever been a holiday destination. Dubai is now home and where I need to find my favourite spots for coffee, G&Ts, yoga classes etc. to really make it feel like one. Add in the start of a new job, the ever-present internal reminder that "first impressions count" and the slightly annoying way that the Monopoly money of my last visit has now become cold hard cash that disappears all too quickly... Oh, and the need to maybe make some friends as what is city life without a squad to take it with and maybe it could be overwhelming but we all know I'm at my happiest when I have five-thousand-and-one things on my to do list. One of which is writing a proper post on my move but for today, this was February...


1. Eliza and I attended our second Morning Gloryville and it was a total joy. If you're ever feeling jaded of London life then, really, a morning rave with restore your faith in the city and the coffee is great.

2. The opening day of Do Ho Suh at Victoria Miro, an exhibition that is as thought-provoking as it is meticulously crafted. Closes 18 March. 

3.  Seeing my favourite musician, Conor Oberst, play at the Palladium. Seventh time's a charm and his on-stage banter was as on point as the songs from his latest album.

4. Working my cat lady librarian look in Fitzrovia outside of someone's charming green door.

5. Visiting Honey and Co. for brunch with the best blogging girls.

6. The new(ish) Design Museum in Holland Park - it's new home is perfectly fitting for the exhibits inside. 

7. Sir John Soanes Museum in Lincoln's Inn. It's only taken me nine years to pop in to this complete treasure trove of a house and it was worth the wait. If you haven't been, you are in for a treat. 

8. Trying out an aerial class at Flying Fantastic as a reminder that my upper body strength is pitiful. I've crossed out 'running away to join the circus' as a life option.

9. Where The Pancakes Are in Flatiron Square - I rarely pick sweet brunches but these vegan berry pancakes were perfection. 


1. Dipping my feet in the pool at the Dusit Thani - Dubai is not short of hotels and this one is perfectly located if (like me) you're more keen on city than beach life.

2. The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, still doesn't quite seem real despite seeing it every single day (it's hard not to).

3. A familiar sight in a new town - Boxpark Dubai comes with a backdrop of the Burj.

4. Snails by Cracking Art in Burj Plaza, an evening of finding Dubai-based Instagrams to follow led me to discover these despite the internet seemingly having no information on them.

5. I'm still new so I'm always looking up as I walk home from work (no one else walks here so there's no danger of me bumping in to anyone). The architecture here seems to mix that from every city I've ever visited, and some that I have yet to.

6. Our friend the Burj again while talking a weekend walk around Downtown Dubai while its cool enough for me to get in my 10,000 steps outside of a shopping mall.

7. Yes, there is culture here. A full post on the Al Quoz gallery district is to come soon, it's on my list.

8. The Dusit Thani from the outside while musing that window cleaners must never be short of work in this city.

9. Time Out Dubai is my weekly go-to for adding destinations to my starred Google map of the city. Tub of Butter's coffees dusted with faces of the great and the good could not wait, a full write up of their brunch is, you guessed it, on my list but for now a coffee dusted with Obama's face can't not be shared.

So...how was your month? 


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