I’m sitting reading Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur on the shores of the Kahlid Lagoon in Sharjah. I’m savouring words like, “Our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry”, whilst sipping a coffee after lunch at the stylish Al Rawi restaurant at the Al Majaz Waterfront.
For those who are visiting or living in Dubai there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to satisfy every palate but if you venture just a few kilometers to the neighboring emirate of Sharjah you will find this super designer space, a book shop, and restaurant. Not only does it provide a tasty breakfast and all day menu you get to enjoy the setting with decor and interiors designed by Pallavi Dean. Events and creative workshops are held regularly with cookery demonstrations and talks by esteemed chefs and if you are a fan of cookbooks, there are plenty to flick through and purchase among a vast array of books.
For lunch, I share the Za’atar and pumpkin salad that brings a hint of the flavours from the Middle East to the plate. Many local households keep their Za’atar blends a secret but we know its a mix of oregano, thyme and a hint of sumac. It has been heralded as a health food for centuries, long before the term superfood was coined. It is a rich antioxidant with a tangy taste and instead of the usual bread this time it is scattered over a fresh salad with goats curd. Then, for a taste of Thailand, we tuck into the char sui beef which is lovely and tender and the sweet and salty marinade blends beautifully into the meat on a bed of black rice that gives it a perfect texture. Char sui ( caa siu叉燒) means ‘fork burn’ and refers to the fork-like metal skewer that holds the beef over the heat. It’s a filling dish with lots of interesting flavours accompanied by a refreshing apple and saffron cooler to quench the thirst sitting outside enjoying the waterside view.
Sharjah may not be the obvious choice of Emirate to visit when you have Dubai and all its finery next door, but it’s worth the short drive (it took me less than 30 mins from Dubai Mall) if you fancy a slower pace and a ‘bite’ of culture. There are concerns about traffic delays but I visited on a Saturday and had no issues. Sometimes its good to just go see, who knows what’s out there to whet our appetites and what will lead us to our next story to share. As the title suggests, Al Rawi means, ‘the one who tells stories’, in Arabic, and it is doing just that, reworking the lines that tell a new story within the UAE food scene.
Hot topics were on the table for the F&B industry at the inaugural Gulfood Innovation Summit held in Dubai. These included talks on health, premiumisation, plant-based protein and how AI and blockchain are revolutionizing the food space.
What I found particularly interesting is how eating behaviours and preferences are changing. Youth are hungry for quick and convenient food options where they get more bang for the buck in nutrient-rich easy meals in the shape of shakes and snacks. ‘Dark’ kitchens may be the order of the future so instead of ‘free from’ foods we have ‘free from’ restaurants as we choose to eat in rather than out and order direct from a kitchen for dinner to be served at the door.
Bio-hacking is a buzz term reminding us to eat mindfully and live our best lives weighing against the scales of the digital age where at a click of a button on our technical devices we have access to a wide range of foods and products. People want to experience the world of taste and flavors and the digital space is broadening our experience and how we interact with ingredients. A good example of this was explained by Michael Barsties, Head of Food Waste Heroes Programme at Olio. This app enables us to connect with our neighbours and the wider community to share our surplus food and avoid wastage.
Another stand out moment was hearing Ben Ebrell co-founder and chef of Sortedfood speak about the success of this online food community. He says it is down to the power of friendship between the founders (they met at school) and a shared passion for food and the art of storytelling. Sorted enhances brands in the global marketplace by telling the story behind the food and this way adding value to a marketing strategy through the targeted lines of social media and the internet. He says It needs to be honest, fulfill a craving and offer the chance to interact and share. This may sound like the kind of afternoon tea I would enjoy as a child at my grandma’s house but I agree with him and maybe this is, in essence, what we are seeking to recreate. Businesses can open up to the consumer and bring hearts and minds together through the story behind the brand rather than simply being commercial and transactional. Consumers want to know the story, the traceability and not just feel they are being sold to. Creating the right synergy between the brand, the creative and the consumer is an exciting way forward in marketing your business online.∗
I really enjoyed hosting the event over three days, moderating panel discussions and listening to the keynote speakers. For those in the food business, the Gulfood’s Annual Report for 2019 is available to download for free on their website giving you further insights into industry growth, trends and customer preferences along with the speaker presentations. I look forward to seeing how the ideas develop and take shape and what topics will be on the table next year and up for discussion at Gulfood 2020.
Chef Manal Al Alem reaches women across the globe with her social network and Youtube channel sharing recipes and offering support to women who wish to start their own food-related business.
∗ On how to reach and connect with the consumer, I have written a variety of pieces for the business, Balqees Honey, for their website and newsletter. By sharing the stories behind the honey’s and traveling to the source and interviewing the beekeepers I bring the personal story behind the brand to the forefront aiming to inform, inspire and build a relationship of trust. Here are some examples:
I came across this photo that took me back to my trip to Ethiopia when I went in search of white honey. It was a journey that took me from Dubai to Addis Ababa and then to the northern quite remote part of Ethiopia on the Eritrean border. Around a quarter of Africa’s honey comes from Ethiopia and honey production is the second biggest source of revenue after coffee production. There is the red, yellow and even black honey but I was in search of the white kind which is considered to be special, particularly the kind sourced in the Tigray region. This distinctive white honey is made from a local flower known as Adey Abeba, and it is this that gives it the special white colour. This natural, healthy, beautiful product took me to Mekelle and on a road trip to higher ground or as Ethiopians say, where ‘the mountains gather for a meeting’ and there I met with local beekeepers, supported by NGO’s and Slow Food International, who are making a living and helping the community grow a cottage industry.
Orit Mohammad of Boon Coffee is no stranger to the ways of the land as she trades in Ethiopian speciality coffee. She was my guide and she shared her insights into the culture of honey and the challenges faced when it comes to exporting out of the country. To hear the full story of my journey, the beekeepers I met and the apiaries I visited listen to the podcast here, at Dubai Eye 103.8
Your honey takeaway
Honey is revered all over the world and in Ethiopia, it is considered a symbol of good fortune and is often presented as a gift on special occasions. At weddings, the groom is given a spoon of honey in order to ‘keep him sweet’.
Is there a local dish or ingredient from a country that stands out in your memory? Share your experience, good or bad, I would love to hear about it.
Following a passion in life and work sometimes means going against the grain as I learned from the people behind some of the places I visited in Paris.
Paris is a beautiful destination in the spring or summer but we can enjoy the city in the winter too. It may be chilly and it isn’t the cheapest of cities to be visiting so close after Christmas but I like a city break in the winter, fewer crowds, less queuing, and you can often get better room rates, and the flights are cheaper within Europe too! Plus the shops have sales. The main reason I chose Paris was to meet and spend time with my 21-year-old nephew, Albert. He is a student and has long holidays (I have no excuse) so we thought a couple of days in Paris might be fun to soak up the culture and for him to brush up on the language.
We tested each other on what comes to mind when we think of Paris. Style, fashion, art, gastronomy, romance, baguettes (I once saw a guy riding a bicycle through a busy street in Paris biting into a baguette, I swear he was wearing a beret and a striped shirt!) and smoking. It seems like everyone smokes and even though I’m not an advocator of smoking (though I loved it when I was a smoker some 20 years ago) it is one of the few places left on the planet that makes the act of ‘fumeur’ look cool. I have visited Paris a lot in recent years and it never fails to deliver. Like New York, it feels like walking in a film set and with the beautiful buildings and streets to explore, it makes me think of those who have trodden the cobbles before me and with such a rich history of artists, designers, writers, and actors to shout about there is many a famous footstep to retrace.
3 Steps to take when visiting Paris
1. Shakespeare and Company
Situated on the Left Bank at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, this bookshop is charming and steeped in literary history. If reading books is a diminishing pastime the memo hasn’t reached here and it’s nice to step into a book shop again to explore the shelves and leaf through the pages of modern and classic stories, fiction and non-fiction. It also feels like stepping back in time to the days when writers like Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald sought inspiration in Paris.
The book shop was opened in 1951 by American George Whitman under the name Le Mistral, in a building that was originally a monastery dating back the 17th century. Whitman renamed the shop “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 as a tribute to the admired Sylvia Beach and her bookshop, the original Shakespeare and Company (1919 – 1941) and to mark Shakespeares 400th anniversary of his birth.
George Whitman left the states to pursue his passion for travel ending up In Paris in 1946. He enrolled at the Sorbonne and with a love for reading and books he traded his G.I. rations for other veterans’ book allowances and went onto accumulate a large number of books. The story goes that he left his apartment door unlocked, so anyone could go and read the books whether he was home or not and this lead to him eventually opening the book store.
I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations. —George Whitman
Shakespeare and Company has been a meeting place for English speaking writers and readers ever since, a place to buy books but also find refuge and people like Alan Sillitoe, Ethan Hawke, and Geoffrey Rush have been among the thousands to have discovered the shop and its supportive community, some even sleeping there among the books. Whitman named the guests, Tumbleweeds and likening them to ‘rolling thistles that drift in and out with the winds of chance’.
It was Albert who led me there and it was refreshing to be surrounded by people young and old and different nationalities, people who love a good book or a mooch around. No computer can make up for the touch and feel and smell of a bookshop, but more importantly the way it makes us feel. Calm. Looking, reading, thinking, moving around others, lost in thought and time. Wonderful, and all the more so after learning about Whitman’s legacy. He died in 2011 at the age of 98 and the shop is run now by his daughter Silvia Whitman and partner, David Delannet. and it continues to grow and flourish.
My purchase: The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.
2. Theatre DeJazet
I love a bit of comedy theatre and I thought to watch a play in French might be a nice way to immerse ourselves in the lingo so I was delighted to find a show close to where we were staying at Theatre DeJazet. On enquiring to the gentleman at the theatre reception what was currently playing we came to learn the play was Le Faiseur De Theatre with Thomas Bernhard, the theatre itself one of the oldest in Paris dating back to the 1700s with Marie Antoinette herself passing through the theatre doors. On further inquiry I came to know the gentleman on reception to be Jean Bouquin, owner of the theatre and who back in the 1960s was fashion designer and stylist to Brigitte Bardot. Interestingly both Bouquin and Bardot retired from their professions before they turned 40 at the height of their success to pursue other passions, Bouquin in purchasing and renovating Theatre Dejazet to its former glory and Bardot as an animal rights campaigner.
Albert and I sat through the play that evening, understanding very little of what was being said but I enjoyed it anyway. I felt like we experienced a little slice of French culture away from the commercial hot spots. To imagine the building was founded in 1770 by Comte d’Artois who was later crowned Charles X and the building survived the French revolution. Situated in the Boulevard du Temple (it was once known as the ‘Boulevard du crime’, but not anymore), I would highly recommend the area around Le Place De La Republique to stay or visit.
3. Onion Soup
The provenance of food is a nice way to gain insight into a country and in tasting and focussing on ingredients we are often retracing the culture of a place or country. On our first night, I felt for something warming so it had to be the classic, soupe a l’oignon. We found Bistrot Pop a charming corner side cafe bar on 3 Avenue de la République. Onion soup is an ancient dish popularised in Paris (though the Lyonnaise claim it as theirs) during the 1800s and it makes for a super starter or dish on its own. Renowned chef and businessman, Michel Roux, when writing about onion soup, said it is all about the subtleties, from the bouquet garni to the cooking of the onions that give the soup its richness and flavor. I really enjoyed Bistrot’s serving with lumps of grilled bread (croutons are also acceptable) and lashings of melted cheese (a Comte or Gruyere is recommended) all beautifully baked together. And as Roux points out in an article in Saveur, this is a soup to savor and savor it I did. Perfect on a cold January night in Paris, vivre la belle vie!
Tips for transport:
Taxis are in abundance outside the airport or pre-book a car via, Get Transfer or Viator, prices around 40 Euros.
I pre-booked an airport shuttle from Orly to my hotel in the centre of Paris, that can take up to 90mins depending on the other passengers and scheduled drop-offs. In this case, there weren’t any other passengers so it took less than an hour during rush hour from Orly to Republique. Total ticket price 18 Eur.
On my return, from Republique to Orly Airport I took the Paris Metro to Gare du Nord and changed onto the Paris RER to Denfert-Rochereau where I took the bus (directly outside the station) to Orly. All tickets can be purchased at the Metro station at the beginning of the journey, the connections were smooth in morning rush hour with a duration time of 70mins. Total ticket price 10.20 Eur.
For more on Paris (and patisseries) listen to my podcasts French Butter
Rain and green pastures make for nutritious grass that provides food for cows and brings us the quality ingredients Ireland is known for. Irish grass-fed beef, creamy butter and a wide range of potatoes are just some of the products this small island can be proud of. Those and Guinness! The people are warm and welcoming and they love to chat and have a ‘craic’. That’s what I found when I went on assignment for Dubai Eye 103.8 and took a tour of the country with the Irish Food Board, Bord Bia, meeting the people behind some of the family-run food businesses, entrepreneurs and producers supplying to the UAE with their sustainable practices and the Origin Green stamp of approval.
Here is a selection of some of the radio features that aired recently with personal accounts, recipe ideas, and an insight into running a food business :
Tom Keogh of Keogh’s crisps talks about Maris Pipers, family and what to do with a spud!
Ann Rudden, Master Chocolatier, shares her love of fine chocolate and how she built her business to be the award-winning success it is today.
Flahavans mill has been around since 1785 so I headed to County Waterford to speak with father and son John and James Flahavan to find out about the legacy and what makes their oats so special.
Siobhan Lawless is the inspiration behind Foods of Athenry when she took her love of baking from the kitchen in County Galway and turned it into a successful business whilst raising five children. Siobhan shares the trials and tribulations and how she and her husband with a little help from the kids developed a clean label range with gluten-free and vegan products.
Do you have a story to share? Get in touch with me and share the love of good food.
Out with the old and in with the new, 2018 has been a year of transition settling into a new home and country, a new way of working as a freelance writer, broadcaster and trainer whilst continuing to enjoy international travel (this year I racked up seven countries) and producing food features for radio. All in all, there is so much to reflect on and feel thankful for but one of the things I enjoy the most, the simplest of things, is walking and here in the Serra de Monchique, I can walk the hills and valleys daily. Walking, sometimes walking and talking has allowed ideas to flow, new friendships to be forged and most importantly the exercise has allowed my body and mind to breathe.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
5 Reasons I love walking
Walking and breathing in the air clears my mind
I find walking is a simple way to de-stress, so instead of staying in my chair glued to the computer screen searching for answers to problems or somehow thinking that the longer I sit, the more efficient I will become. Instead, I step out and start walking and very quickly everything feels better and I when I return to the screen I am usually more productive.
Walking awakens my senses and puts colour in the cheeks!
I’m building stamina both physically and mentally walking up hills and sometimes mountains!
Sleep is easier and more satisfying after a good walk.
2018 seen through my walks around Monchique.
Why not include walking every day in your goals for 2019? No matter where you are if its 10 minutes or two hours open your senses, breathe deep and explore the environment around you. I recently took up swimming so I will be adding that to my list of healthy pastimes for 2019 so watch this space for updates, no pictures 😊.
Whatever your choices in 2019, I hope they bring health and happiness and that you enjoy the journey along the way.
Today marks the 5th anniversary winning the Sharjah Government Communication Award for Best Radio Talk Show for the show I produced and presented on the side effects of prescription drugs. I felt honoured as a western woman to be acknowledged in my field in the Arab world with a sensitive subject addressing mental health issues, overprescribing and the possible side effects of meds. I sat down with a psychologist, psychiatrist and heard from people who shared their stories and concerns living with anxiety and depression and we addressed the treatment options available. The show not only gave an insight into what life is like for people living with mental health issues but it also helped raise awareness bringing mental health to the forefront of conversation so people realise they are not alone and they do not have to suffer in silence.
Honey is a big part of the culture in the Serra De Monchique region with around 1,500 beekeepers. Many are hobbyists and keep bees and produce honey for their own use and for some it is a business. The natural fauna is ideal for the pollinators to forage on with wild lavender, heather, arbutus and pine and eucalyptus trees aplenty. Throughout the year and changing seasons, I have taken great pleasure in walking the hills and valleys seeing beehives dotted around my natural landscape and all the more so as a regular contributor to the Honey Explorer blog and website of Balqees Honey. My work has taken me all over the world meeting beekeepers and learning about the production of honey and sharing their stories so all the sweeter when I moved to the hills of the Algarve. Yet also distressing when during my first summer here I came close to the wildfires that tore through the area and I realised people’s loss. I met with a local beekeeper, Joao Dimas and wrote an article about his experience, read it here: After The Fire.
Check out the full story on how the fires affected beekeeper, Joao Dumas on Honey Explorer blog.
I wait and see how the fires affect pollination and the environment and wonder what can be done to prevent such devastation from happening again. As local beekeepers slowly recover a lot depends on the weather conditions over the coming months to see the true effects on yield, meanwhile green shoots are appearing and the land is regenerating but it will take a long time if ever, to fully recover and forget the fires of 2018.
Thanks to Bruno Costa for the use of images of fire and burnt hives.
It was one of those weeks, you know the ones when nothing seems to be going right? Work wise, I had a couple of frustrating situations with financial ramifications then my car got a puncture so I had to buy two new tyres and to top it off maintenance work needed doing on my flat in London (kerching). So with a niggling mind, I was driving home from the garage when this happened. A huge bird of prey swooped down and flew alongside the car, it was so close, with the window open I could reach out and touch it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The bird with its huge wingspan dipped and then flew up in front of the car into the trees. It happened so fast but long enough for me to know it was special. Putting aside any plans, I pulled over and parked. Looking up to where the bird was perched I saw a way of climbing over some rocks to get a closer look, so that’s what I did, but I was careful not to get too close so as to scare or disturb him.
I came to know, after the event, that this was a Griffon Vulture probably a juvenile by the look of his down like feathers around his neck and the fact juveniles often go AWOL on their maiden flight migrating to Africa. If you are lucky you can see hundreds of them in the sky in the Western part of the Algarve around October, November time. For me that day, I only had eyes for one.
I sat looking at him, looking at me and watching him dosing in the winter sun as it peaked from behind a cloud, and as I sat there, amongst the greenery a sense of peace washed over me. I felt calm and somehow reassured that regardless of the challenges that come with working as a freelancer and living on a mountain it feels like the right place for me, nestled in beauty. As I mentally bid him farewell on his journey I felt sure he would find his way. He may be lost now but he is resilient and nature has a way of looking after itself. Life rarely takes you down a straight road, but usually, in the end, you get to where you need to be.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
People find solace in nature and it is proven to be a healthy way to de-stress. It’s important to have a ‘go-to’ place either in your mind or physically to help you unwind. Maybe you have a poem or mantra, a choice of words that help when you are having a bad day? In the words of Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and we all need somewhere to retreat, just like my Griffon vulture.
Do you find air travel fun or has it become a chore? We might be excited about the destination but with all the best-laid plans – delays, long queues and navigating the different rules and terminals as per the country you are entering it can make the whole journey stressful.
Earlier this year I travelled to Sydney on a work trip writing and gathering content on Australia’s Manuka honey for Balqees honey. My departure airport was Faro, Southern Portugal, via Lisbon with a 36-hour layover in Dubai planned to break the journey and catch up with friends. It’s a long way to go and I tripped on the first leg!
What hats to wear on a long-haul flight
Travel agent – I travel a lot and mostly on Emirates so I have come to understand the value of the multiticket option which allows you to book all your connecting flights in one go and works out better, I believe, on the pocket. When I travelled to New Delhi from Faro via Dubai it worked really well. This time my client booked the travel through an agent and although I advised booking via the multiticket option, it didn’t happen and all the flights were booked separately. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this.
Negotiator – When you go to check in at the beginning of your journey and are told you cant check your bag through to Dubai or Sydney! If I have to collect my bag in Lisbon I will miss my connecting flight to Dubai. I was flying with TAP Air Portugal on the Faro-Lisbon leg and TAP have a relationship with Emirates so you can book a multiticket. I hoped if I kept the TAP rep talking they would eventually be able to resolve my predicament, I always think there is a solution to any problem and I have learned from past experiences it’s not worth showing your frustration or anger. I held my reserve with a smile and attempted to appeal to their human side. Unfortunately, It didn’t work on this occasion, I couldn’t even get an indicator of how long it would take for me to collect my bag in Lisbon and get to the Emirates desk to check-in. I was passed over to another member of staff at the TAP information desk.
Psychologist – Feeling the stress rising to work against the clock to sort this out before the gate closes the nice lady on the TAP information desk lets me use her phone to call Emirates (my phone is out of credit!). Emirates keep me calm and are really helpful but I’m told that I won’t make the connecting flight and the only option is to reschedule and get the flight the following day, so I pay the fee and make my way to check-in once again. Better to make a decision, cut my losses and move on.
Time manager – Whilst queuing to board the flight I access the airport wifi on my phone and book a hotel close to Lisbon airport. I then let my client know the situation and cancel meetings with friends and colleagues in Dubai, as it turns out the Faro flight was delayed anyway and I would have missed my connection regardless. With my new schedule, I will land in Dubai airport around 1am I will have to stay there until my flight to Sydney departs at 10.30am. Until then I check into my hotel in Lisbon and use the time to work and get some rest.
Endurance athlete – Spending eight hours through the night in an airport is not for the faint-hearted especially when you land in the middle of the night after an eight-hour flight on your second day of travelling. If you are travelling to Dubai International airport for the first time, note, it is huge and made up of two terminals (1 & 3). When I land its too early to find out which terminal I will be departing from and so not sure where to base myself. So I wandered around for a while like a lost soul and was sent to one terminal and back again by airport staff who didn’t seem equipped to advise appropriately so I eventually worked it out for myself.
Tips on spending the night in Dubai International Airport
If you are a Silver (or above) Skywards member you have access to the Emirates Business Class lounges.
If you want to pay to access the Emirates Business class lounges you can do so for around $100 with access only in four-hour blocks.
You can pay to access the Marhaba lounges with the showers and refreshments and if you have a UAE HSBC credit card you can access for a reduced rate (the option I took after exploring many others first).
There are showers available to everyone in the concourse of Terminal 3 but there aren’t any towels so think ahead and pack a towel in your hand luggage. If you don’t have a towel…well here is a retail opportunity. I couldn’t find a towel to purchase. The closest I could find was a fleece travel blanket!
I discovered only after my night in DIA there is a Health Club with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room, and gym you can pay for on an hourly basis.
There are sleep pods available (although they weren’t when I needed them). I have tried similar ones at Gatwick airport and they are really good to book for an hour or more to relax, sleep or catch up on work.
If you have the budget, there is a hotel.
Lessons I learned about long-haul travel
Book the flights yourself.
Allow an extra day if you can to recover and to allow for any delays.
Keep your phone topped up or consider a remote package so you can make calls in different countries.
Keep hydrated and take deep breaths and stretch when you can, sleep when you can.
Wear comfy shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
Take a pashmina or jumper, it might be hot outside but it’s often cold inside planes and airports.
After 72 hours from leaving my house in Portugal, I reach Sydney International airport.
A friend asked if its worth it, after all the hours of travelling, and you know even after the delays and the jetlag I still get a twinge of excitement when I pass through an airport and enter a new country (or return to a country visited before) there is still a flutter in the stomach as I anticipate what is to come, places I will see, people I’m going to meet and what I am to experience. The same was true for this trip…
And what about my return journey? Well, I did the whole trip in one go without a hitch. Sydney-Dubai-Lisbon-Faro picked up a car and drove 1.15 hours to my house making the whole journey in around 25 hours.
Do you have an epic journey to share? Let me know…