Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Meal deals: Fishy tales


Last night, I resurrected a recipe at Skip's request. It's a dish I used to make years ago (although I used to use a Tetsuya recipe and it was a bit more fiddly than this version), but for some reason I stopped making it. Probably because the ingredients were a little more difficult to come by in Dubai. Anyway, it's so simple and so delicious, that I thought I better share it.

This recipe is one that I got from Jill Dupleix but I changed it slightly. It's a take on Nobu's famous miso black cod and it's super easy and super quick to make. I reckon it's the perfect Monday night meal, light and healthy after a weekend of eating and/or drinking and you can have it on the table quick smart (if you prepare ahead and marinate the fish the night before, or you could eat it on a weekend, just remember to leave time for the fish to marinate). Best of all it's very, very delicious. There may be a couple of ingredients that are not in your pantry, but they're easy to pick up from the Asian aisle of the supermarket and once you buy them, you've got them for next you make it. Believe me, once you make it you'll make it again.

So I dare you to try it.




Miso fish with sesame snow pea salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup of Mirin
  • 1/3 cup Shiro Miso (white miso paste)
  • 500 grams of white fish (I used bream, but you could use any firm white fish)


Udon noodles or rice to serve

For the salad

  • Snow peas thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • Lebanese cucumber, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of miring
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • sesame seeds











Method
  1. Place the soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the miso paste and whisk until combined. Take off the heat and let it cool completely. 
  2. Place the fish in a dish with the marinade and toss to coat. Leave for a least two hours or, even better, overnight in the fridge. 
  3. Heat a hot grill. Line the wire rack with alfoil. Place the fish on the foil and chuck the marinade. Cook for about 10-15 minutes  (if the fish is whole, you can cut the fish into smaller pieces and the cooking time will be less). The original recipe said not to turn, but I quite like to turn and get the golden, burnt caramelisation all over the fish. 
  4. For the salad simply toss all the ingredients together. Serve the fish and salad with some udon noodles (I used ready-to-eat noodles) or some rice. 

My other favourite way to cook simple, delicious salmon is below. This dish is on regular rotation at our place.

Sweet chilli and lime salmon

Ingredients

  • A good slosh of sweet chilli sauce
  • A dash of soy sauce or fish sauce
  • A teaspoon of sugar (optional)
  • Lime or lemon juice (lime works better, but I often use lemon)
  • Finely chopped corriander
  • Salmon fillets (with or without skin, whatever you like)

Method
  1. Put all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and mix together
  2. Place the fillets on individual pieces of foil (enough to fold up and make a small parcel)
  3. Spoon marinade over the fish fillets, then bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch tightly to make little parcels.
  4. Put in a hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve the fillets on rice or noodles with stir-fried veggies or salad.
YUM! 

What's your favourite way to cook fish?




Monday, 23 May 2016

The secret life of BrisVegas



Last Friday, as I was sitting with my legs spread out on the grass of the school oval watching the kids kick around an AFL ball, the sun was starting to dip behind the lush, green mountains. A golden haze spilt across the grounds giving a warm glow and the most perfect light. A balmy breeze blew through the tall gums circling the oval.

I was chatting to some other parents, talking about where I'd come from and what had brought me to Brisbane. Talk moved onto the weather, as it often does. "It's just so glorious, to think winter is just a few weeks away," said one. "You see, this is one of the reasons Brisbane is Australia's best kept secret. I moved here from Canberra and you just can't beat the weather and the lifestyle. If everyone else knew how we lived, they'd all want to move here," said another.

It's true. A lot of people think we're a little strange for moving here. Brisbane equals boring in a lot of people's minds. Suburban. Nothing much to do. Redneck. Boring.

A dear friend quoted Paul Keating when we said we were moving here: "If you're not living in Sydney, then you're just camping out." Well if that's true, then I have to say I quite enjoy camping out.

Sydney is my hometown. It's where I was born. It's where I spent the majority of my life. It's where most of my family and friends live. It's a place that will always be "home". The problem is the few times I've been back over the past few years, I've found that it started to annoy me and stress me. I'd get in the car thinking I had plenty of time to get where I was going to find it actually took me three times longer. To buy a home we would have to settle for something nowhere near what we wanted, miles away from friends and family, and have a long commute for work and just about anywhere else. Then there's the parking, the rush and everything else. Sydney was beginning to lose its shine for me.

I've found Brisbane to be anything but boring. We can afford to have a lovely house just a couple of kilometres from the centre of town, in a nice neighbourhood. I've driven into the CBD at peak hour on a Friday evening and back again in a matter of minutes. We can jump in the car and be in the bush, the real actual bush in under 30 minutes. We have a funky bar, as cool as anything I've seen in Sydney a three minute walk from our house. Yet, there is space and parks and trees. There are plenty of good coffee shops and places to eat. There are Farmer's Markets and boutiques and bookshops. And best of all it's relaxed. It feels like life is made to lived here, not just to exist. It's easy and simple. Life just feels good here.

For an easy day trip you can venture north to the Sunshine Coast, south to Byron Bay or west to the dividing range. Places I'd dream of going for a holiday are now in easy reach each and every weekend.

So, if people think that Brisbane is this boring uninteresting place, where not a lot happens that's a-ok with me. I'm happy to keep it secret.



Friday, 20 May 2016

Lazy bones

This morning as I drove past the servo I noticed that petrol had dropped 10c a litre, as I was driving on fumes I pulled in. I spent a minute or two trying to remember where the button was to release the petrol cap, then another minute trying to remember if this was the car that needed premium petrol or was E10 ok? Finally, I was filled and ready to go, I open the back door and told Darbs to come with me and go inside to pay.

"What do you mean, go inside and pay?" he asked. Pulling him along, I explained that's what we did here. He shrugged his shoulders and followed me inside. After pointing out the bowser (I'd forgotten to note which number), questions about shopper docket discounts and then an argument with Darbs about how he couldn't have a Fanta slurpie at 9am, I was really, finally ready to go.

We then headed up to laundry to pick up Skip's shirts. Yes, I'm lazy and he's lazy and I hate starching and ironing and all that waste-of-time stuff.

Home again, I noticed that the car was really filthy, I pulled into the driveway, got the hose, bucket, sponge and chamois ready.

"You're washing the car again?" Darbs asked.

"Well, it was the other car I washed last week and this car is really dirty. Do you want to help?" I asked.

"Nah," he said as he went off to ride his scooter. The novelty of car washing has well and truly worn off.

You see, Dubai has made me really quite lazy and all these normal chores are strange to poor Darbs.

I do miss being able to pull into the servo and the man filling my tank and taking my money without getting out into the searing heat. By the end I didn't even have to tell him how much I wanted or what type of petrol I needed, he'd automatically start filling my car as soon as I'd pulled up. He knew not to ask if I needed Salik, fuel cleaner or a 15-box value of tissues.

I do miss being able to get my car washed and vacuumed weekly by a team of guys for under $10. As I looked at the streaky mess I made of my car, my admiration for those guys went up a million. They were true masters.

But I have a shameful confession to make. The most lazy part of my life in Dubai wasn't the live-in maid we had for a few months and it wasn't having people come and clean my home and change my sheets each week. The most lazy part of my life was the man who sat at the boom gate at my local mall, he'd sit there and collect tickets and put them into the machine so the boom would go up. All so we shoppers didn't have to stretch too far or put our arms out into the heat.

The first few times I used to think "How ridiculous! Surely it's not too much to reach out and put the ticket in the machine myself?" Then there was the day when he wasn't there, he was taking a well-deserved break. That day I actually had to wind down the window, of course I hadn't pulled in close enough so I had to take my seatbelt off. Then I dropped the ticket and it fluttered under the car. So I actually had to get out of the car and find the ticket on the greasy, dirty ground, while the cars piling up behind me beeped their horns. The ticket finally in my grasp, I threw my hand up in apology and mouthed "The man's not here!" and the drivers nodded in understanding. Oh the humanity of it all.

Now as I exit Westfield, I think wistfully of my ticket-collecting man and his smiling face at the boom gate of the Mall of the Emirates and my old Dubai life.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Dumb and Dumber

Someone said to me the other day, "It must be strange to feel that your 'home country' now feels foreign". And it's true. Coming back to Australia, a lot of things feel the same but a lot of things feel different. Some of the things have changed, but some just feel different after some distance.

The most obvious thing I noticed when I came back to Australia was the smell. The scent of eucalyptus was almost overpowering, yet, of course, I never noticed it when I lived here. Every day, I really notice the birds and their sing-song, especially the kookaburras, and it's just magic.

Then there were the things that had changed, the NSW RTA had become the DMS. You could no longer just buy Tim Tams or Vita-Weets, they had to be Pina Colada-flavoured Tim Tams or Soy & Linseed Vita-Weets. Everything had to be done online. And after any interaction with any type of customer service, I'm asked "Please rate us".

Like every normal person you always become a bit nostalgic and wistful for what you have left behind. Suddenly I really needed to eat labneh and hommous and not having to give a score out of 10 for the person who delivered your new couch.

There are some things about coming home that I haven't enjoyed. One thing I have noticed, that I never noticed before, was the fact the men seem to talk over the top of women all the bloody time. On TV, on the radio, at the pub, at a friend's house. A woman will be talking and then all of sudden, without thought or seemingly care, a man will just start waffling about his take or thoughts. It's completely maddening. Or a woman will be talking and you can see the man's eyes wandering off somewhere else. It's so rude!

People have said to me, "Oh you must be glad to be back where you can have a bit more value as a woman and not be sexually discriminated against." The thing is that the men I met in Dubai didn't talk over the top of women. They listened politely. They were interested in what I had to say. They thought about what I said and responded accordingly. Arab men, South Asian men, European men. My words and my contribution to a conversation had value. They weren't dismissed before they were even out of my mouth.

The other thing I'm finding maddening is the dumbing down that gets done in this country. I turn on the radio and there are these loud people yelling at me, always yelling, there's no subtlety. There's this awful blokey humour, 'oh don't go there', nudge-nudge stuff. Even the women sound blokey (maybe in attempt not to be spoken over), not like any women I know. The jokes are all a dumb variation of the same thing. It's this whole 'Keeping it Real' vibe, where intellect is dismissed as 'up yourself' and quick wit is to be distrusted.

You turn on the TV and it's all Seven Year Switch, Marriage at First Sight, home bloody renovation shows and talent quests. I don't know, I really believe we're all a bit better than this. We're all a lot smarter than what we're being fed. I'm not suggesting that Four Corners be put on continuous loop, I'm all for a big of escapist entertainment, but does all of it have to be of the lowest common denominator.

 Wouldn't it be good to see some real Australian stories? Australian dramas. Australian comedies. Australian docos. Not people willing to sell their soul for their 15 minutes.

The news is all gasps and outrage and people being called on by other people to apologise. If you're not outraged, then your not relevant. All while the important stuff, the stuff that actually matters gets swamped by "the ugly truth of Thermomix", a politician being asked to explain, someone being un-Australian and football players changing jobs.

I just think it would be nice to be spoken to by the media like I have half a brain. I think most Australians have a lot more than half a brain.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

You old hag


As I was doing Goosey's hair this morning, she was looking wistfully at a picture of herself as a toddler and said: "I wish I was three again, I don't like getting old, Mum."

Stifling a chuckle, I replied: "Well, it's not that bad and you can't change it, Darbs just wants to be old like you, remember."

I'm rapidly approaching the big 4-0 in a couple of months and while it feels weird to be almost 40, I have to say I don't mind at all. It's much better than the alternative and not turning 40! I'm healthy, my family are healthy and that makes me luckier than a lot of people in the world. Last year, when I was diagnosed with my tumour, I was forced to think about the possibility of life being cut short about not growing old, so bring on old age I say!

Plus, I think life gets more interesting as I get older. I think I get more interesting as I get older. So, if that's the case, who wouldn't want to get older?! God, it would be so boring to stay 25 or 30 forever. The other thing, being a mum, I'm always brought back to earth. When I was talking about my birthday and maybe having a party, Lil-lil said to me: "Why? It's not a big deal or anything. It's not like turning 10." Of course not, what can be more important than turning 10?

The only downside of turning 40 is the fact that it's all starting to go by so fast. There's so much I want to do and all those lazy days you feel you could waste when you're young start to feel a bit more precious. A minute ago I was picking out a cot and a pram, these days we're picking out high schools. Before long it will be formal dresses, universities and schoolies (perish the thought).

With that though comes more time to explore for myself. Now the kids are not so reliant on me every minute of every day, I can start to read more books, write more, squeeze more time to follow my pursuits. Maybe even a sneaky adults-only trip away.

So you see, I'm really looking forward to turning 40. For a brief moment, I thought about doing one of those bucket list 'before I turn 40' things that a lot of people do. Then I didn't really see the point, for me  40 is a new, exciting chapter and I think it's going to be a great time in my life, I really and truly do. So,  I'm going to start a list of things to do after I'm 40. I feel wiser and more prepared for it than any other stage of my life. I can look back at what I've done and what I've achieved and know that what ever gets thrown my way I can get through, I can go forth not feeling fearful.

I almost feel like I'm turning 18 and that life, real grown up life, my life, might start now. And I might actually have a little bit of control over it, although as I've learnt we have no control over life. Just like babies, life is predictable in its unpredictability.

Image courtesy of Bulldogza at DigitalFreePhotos.net

Friday, 13 May 2016

My secret guide to eating out in Dubai - Indian, Pakistani, Arabic & Persian food

The original Bu Qtair Restaurant, before they got fancy and moved across the road. 

I've said this is a secret guide to eating out in Dubai, but there are some old classics on this list that will appear in most eating out guide to Dubai. Despite that there are some places that I'm only sharing now that I've left the city and I don't need to worry about getting a table on a Friday anymore.


When people move to Dubai it's quite common to hear that they've gained the Dubai Stone, this is the weight you put on from all the eating and no moving that tends to happen in the city.

As most people know Dubai is known as a city of glitz, glamour and excess and this is true of its restaurants. With more 5-star hotels than you can imagine where a lot of expats spend their dirhams and hours on the weekend, there are restaurants to match. Of course, you can choose to dine with Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar, Nobu, Richard Sandoval, Giorgia Locatelli, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Antonio Carluccio, Jason Atherton and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fit out of these restaurants being totally mind-blowing.

For me, though, this isn't what eating out in Dubai is about. There are so many places where you can get the meal of your life without damaging your wallet. There's a little secret to discovering the best food and that's to take a look at the people around you. The nationalities of the highest numbers in Dubai are Indian, Pakistani and Arab, so these that are the cuisines to head for and you won't be disappointed.

Here are some of the places that we ate at time and time again:

Ravi's
It would be impossible to write an eating guide to Dubai without mentioning Ravi's. It's an institution. It's a place where Pakistani taxi drivers and British investment bankers alike dine at rickety tables eating curries, roti and kebabs washed down with cold bottles of water. We once feed a group of 10 people for under AUD$100 and had leftovers for lunch the next day, so it won't break the bank. If you've never tried Pakistani food before, then Ravi's is a must. I recommend the mutton Jalfrezi and the ginger chicken, palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and the dhal. Order up big, have a chai while you're waiting and then sit back and people watch. This is about as Dubai as you can get. If you'd like to visit this restaurant jump in a cab and say you want to go to Ravi's in Satwa, the driver will know exactly what you mean.

Gazebo
This North Indian restaurant was a slow burner for me. I'd heard people talk about it, but didn't venture there for some time, what a mistake that was. It's a chain of restaurants so you can find them throughout the Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman. The quality of their food is consistent and I was never disappointed. I've never had a bad meal from Gazebo, but the Murgh Kastoori Kabab and the ladies fingers (I could never find this on the menu, but if you just ask for ladies fingers they'll know what you mean) are truly outstanding. I might be crying a little as I type this as I can't believe I won't be eating either of these any time soon. To find one of their restaurants visit their website.

Raju Omlet
Oh my. This place is really the goods. If you don't like eggs, then you can forget about it as that's all they serve - breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is an Indian franchise that serves curried eggs (don't think about Aunty Beryl's curried egg sanga cause they are nothing like this), rolled omelettes with chilli and marsala. The curries are served with pav (which are a Bombay-style bread roll) and roti. Their chai is also the best around, lovingly made, my favourites were the ginger chai and the mint chai.
There is a tiny outlet in Karama near the Park Regis Hotel and since I've left they opened another on Sheikh Zayed Rd in Al Quoz. They don't have a website, but you can check out their Facebook page.
In researching this, I've discovered there's a Raju Omlet in Melbourne, so I'm off to check out some cheap flights….

Calicut Paragon
If you like seafood and you like Indian food, then this is the place for you. Another franchise (they love a franchise in Dubai), they serve up seafood curries you wouldn't believe. I had the best prawns I've ever eaten in my life here, unfortunately they were ordered by someone else and I sadly I never worked out which ones they were. They also do a mean Appam here (a pancake made from ferment rice batter and coconut) which go perfectly with their dishes. The crabs and prawns are fantastic and they also do a mean dhal. They have two restaurants in Dubai (and a couple in India), so check out their website. We used to visit the Karama one and then you can go and visit the famous Karama Handbag market, to pick up a few genuine imitation handbags. Here's their website.

Bu Qtair Fish Cafteria
This is another Dubai institution and has been around for many years! While we were living in Dubai it was housed in a small portable shack near the beach with one of the best views of the Burj Al Arab around. People would begin queuing in the sand before they opened to get the best pick of the prawns and fish, then sit at tiny plastic tables to gobble it down. They serve two things - fish and prawns both served in the same marinade, you can pick your fish out of their large bucket and order the prawns by the kilo. You can order rice and roti and they come with a spicy coconut gravy which I could drink by the barrel. Just before we left Dubai, it moved across the road to the Fishing Harbour and is now served up in a more sterile environment and they now open for lunch. This makes me a little sad as Bu Qtair was the best most unpretentious place you could come across. If their prawns still taste the same then it's still worth a visit because they're unbelievable. Get their early to avoid the queues! They're located at the Fishing Harbour in Umm Suqueim, turn at the Chalet restaurant on the Beach Rd towards the beach and follow the road around.

Al Safadi
Within a couple of days of landing in Dubai we discovered this gem and kept returning time and time and time again over the three-and-a-half years we were there. Their Lebanese food was some of the best I had in Dubai and that's saying something because the Lebanese food in Dubai is plain awesome. Their baba ganouj, hommous, falafel, grilled chicked, kafta, fattoush is out of this world. Fresh, tasty and delicious. They are located on Sheikh Zayed Road, not far from the DIFC. This is a pretty local restaurant, so you won't find any other tourists there, but you will leave with a happily full belly. Check out their website (where I also just noticed that they have another restaurant in Dubai in Al Rigga and another restaurant in Erbil in Kurdistan!)

Burj Al Hamam
Another reliably good Lebanese restaurant. They are also a chain (are you getting the gist about chain restaurants in Dubai yet?) with outlets around Dubai and the whole Middle East, so you can get a good feed whether you're in Dubai, Kuwait, Amman or Riyadh. The outlets in Dubai Marina Mall (lovely to sit outside when the weather is good, also has shisha) and the Mall of the Emirates (this outlet is seriously plush and full of bling). All the dishes are good here, but the calamari and the whole grilled chicken are standouts. Darbs says they have the best french fries around.

The Iranian Club
This is a fantastic place to come if you've never tried Persian food before and you want to get a taste of Iran. They offer a buffet every Thursday, Friday & Saturday lunch for around 75 dirhams a person (AUD$27) you can eat as much as you like and they serve unlimited soft drinks and black sweet tea. There's a plethora of fresh salads, Persian kabobs and saffron rice. Note: to enter the club everyone must be modestly dressed - no shorts or singlets for men; arms, legs and heads covered for women. This place is well worth a visit, check out their website.

Barbecue Delights
The only bad thing about this North Indian, Pakastani, Afghani place is that I didn't get to go there enough. I encourage you to go there and delight for yourself. Order the Barbecue Delights Special Platter (don't bother with anything else) and prepare to roll out of the restaurant. They, of course, have a few outlets in Dubai including Lamcy Plaza, JBR and Downtown. Visit their website.

Bamyam Afghan Restaurant
We discovered this gem when we were invited to eat by the cousins of the owners, it was my first taste of Afghan cuisine and it didn't disappoint. The Aushak (kind of like Afghan ravioli) and the bolani gardana are delish. Located in Business Bay, when the weather isn't scalding you can sit outside and the kids can play all in the shadow of the world's tallest building. Visit their Facebook page.

German Doner Kebab
Before I went to Dubai I was not much of a kebab person, greasy unknown meat wrapped in soggy bread did nothing for me. Then I discovered kebabs in Dubai. There's the famous shwarma (chicken, pickle and french fries with garlic sauce wrapped in bread, OMG, so good. You can get these anywhere, even at IKEA. My favourite kebab though used to come from German Doner Kebab. A mix of chicken and veal, with sauce and fresh red cabbage and salad wrapped in a cripsy waffle-style wrap. So, so, so good. German Doner Kebab shops are all over the city and make a perfect quick lunch or late-night belly filler. Visit their site here. PS you can find them throughout the Middle East and Europe.


Phew! That's a lot of eating. There are still a few gems that I want to share with you including cafes and the famous Dubai brunch, so I'll post again this time next week!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Itchy feet



Let me start this post by saying I'm not a big fan of travel writing (and once upon a time, many years ago I was a travel writer) and I probably dislike travel blogs just a little bit more. Over the past few years, my family and I have travelled a lot. We tried to make the most of being in the centre of the globe, in an aviation hub and see what we could of the world. So that begs the question, do I become a hypocrite and write some travel posts? Or ignore the fact that travel has been a big part of our life the past few years.

So I thought, what is it I don't like about travel blogs? Well most of them use titles like "Our complete guide to…" when in reality it's not a complete guide and, simply, I just hate being told "You have to do…" or "You can visit without seeing…" because, of course you can! For me travel is such an individual experience. It's like me telling you, when you go to the beach you must swim, then make a sandcastle and then walk on the rocks, if you don't do that then you haven't really been to the beach.

There's also a smugness about travel blogs too, even when most of the time the smugness is unintentional (let's be honest, it's probably more my jealousy than their smugness). 

I'm not one of those people who say "I'm traveller, not a tourist, I really want to get to understand a country" because if you're not actually living in a country you won't understand what it's like to live in a country. Full stop. So we're all tourists to some extent, and that is a-ok. For some people travelling is about ticking off landmarks or seeing all those famous spots they've seen on their screens. For others is about walking and eating and soaking in the vibe. For some it's meeting new people. For others it's about broadening their horizons and understanding of the world. For a lot of people it's about simply about shopping and having a holiday! All perfectly good reasons to hop aboard a big AirBus or Boeing, in my opinion.

Anyway, I decided that over the next few weeks/months I'm going to share some of my travel tales. And that's what they will be - tales. You may get some inspiration or ideas to make your travel more fun or less stressful, but I won't guarantee that. For me, they will be a diary of our adventures, that our kids might read one day and it might spark some memories (and be worth the many dollars we spent!). 

Now for my next post, I'm going to do exact the opposite of what I just said I wouldn't do, and I'm going to write a post about where and what Dubai locals recommend you do and see in the city. Places that you may or may not find in the guides, places that I discovered by stumbling upon them or friends recommending them. With so many Aussies now stopping-over in the Emirates, I thought it might be nice. So please let me know if there's something special you'd like to know about! 


Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at DigitalFreePhotos.net

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