Sunday, June 26, 2011

Red, Red, Red, Wine...

When I first moved to Dubai the novelties were endless.  From camel crossing signs, to bad English translations, local fashions and weird foods, the fun was never ending!  I'll admit that over time however, we became pretty used to all the cultural oddities in Dubai.  When we have visitors they remind me of all the things that have become 'normal' to me that stand out as very different to them.

Well it turns out I can still be surprised, even by the small stuff.  Last week Matt and I were grocery shopping in order to prepare for a dinner party we were hosting for our friends Malcolm and Meredith and one of the recipes called for red wine vinegar.  We have a pantry full of balsamic vinegar but no red wine vinegar to be found so this is the first time I've had to purchase this in Dubai.

I asked a shop employee where I could find the vinegar and he replied 'at the aisle with the bunnies in the front.'  Of course, I thought this sounded extremely odd.  I figured something was lost in translation and commenced my own search for the vinegar.  I finally found the aisle and as I approached I noted something very odd about the labels.  Red grape vinegar?  Hmm.  It appears that due to cultural sensitivities surrounding alcohol, all red wine vinegar (however devoid of actual wine) is now known to us as red grape vinegar.  Weird!

Weirder still - as I exited the aisle from the opposite direction I encountered a huge display.  What was it?  A stand for the new Playboy Bunny fragrance...seriously.  So yes, the aisle with the 'bunnies' in the front indeed.  As usual I'm bewildered as ever as to where the line is drawn in this culture - the word 'wine' can't be printed on labels but promoting the Playboy brand is ok?  You have now entered the twilight zone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Farewell Flo Flo! A Goodbye Brunch at Saffron.

In the transient town of Dubai we tend to say hello and goodbye a lot.  People move here, others move away, jobs changes, babies are born, opportunities crop up here and elsewhere so generally everyone is either coming or going.  It's pretty hard to sit still here!

That said, because none of us can sit still in the first place, we like to make sure we mark every occasion.  In Dubai there is a reason to celebrate everyday, we just have to figure out what it is!  First day of Summer, Vietnamese New Year, a sale at Dubai Mall, humidity less than 40% are all very good reasons to have a party.  This past week, our friend Florian - the resident German - gave us a good reason to fete him.  With just a few weeks left before he leaves Dubai in search of a new spiritual path - when asked of his plans he responds that he is off to write the male version of Eat, Pray, Love - we held a Florianfest at the Saffron brunch in the Atlantis Hotel.

A great group of friends came together to reminisce about the good times with Florian and nail down specifics on where in the world we would see him next.  My guess is giving an interview on the Today Show about his adventures in lederhosen.  Stay tuned!  
 Since Bon Voyage cakes aren't the norm, we just pretended it was his birthday.  Always room for cake!

There are two things I've see at this brunch that I've never see before.  The first was two rather unpleasant food fights - yeah you heard me - that shocked most patrons.  I regret that I don't have pictures of the girl who was in the ladies room running her head under the sink as half her face had been pushed into the chocolate fountain.  This was topped off by the table next to us engaging in full scale cake smashing on each others backs.  Come on Atlantis, get it together!

The second was the delightful chance to see how naan bread is made.  If I had a last meal, it might be garlic naan.  This Indian flat bread is both chewy and doughy, yet crispy and flavorful.  I love it.  Even in a modern hotel brunch, they were preserving the traditional way of making this bread.

If you are nerds like Matt and I, feel free to educate yourself on the finer points of making naan with these two expertly shot videos:

I'm smiling because I just found the soft pretzel station!
The ladies love Florian...
Gl├╝ck Florian!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Iron Chef Dubai: Round Two!

There are a number of ways you can be competitive with food. You can guess how many jelly beans are in a jar. You can see who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth, or stack the highest french fry tower. Heck, I've even had lobsters race across my kitchen. But my favorite competitive food has to be found at Nineteen Restaurant's Iron Chef Night. Tucked away in the Montgomerie Golf Club, this little gem has never disappointed us since we discovered it 3 years ago.

After attending the Iron Chef throw down in March we were anxious to get back through the doors and last week we got the chance to sit center stage at the head table with our friends Tom and Veronica and Ben and Elizabeth. The anticipation was high this time around as the participating chefs were a rematch from the March line up we attended.
David Attwater from the UK, Chef de Cuisine at the Address Montgomerie Dubai, was the Challenger and Specialty Sous Chef Chinthana Pathirana from Sri Lanka, from the Dubai Marina Yatch Club was the defending champ after taking the prize in March, April and May!

The secret ingredients for the starters, main, and dessert were: cauliflower, prawns and milk, respectively. The evening started with pretty even marks for the starters, as both were delicious and beautifully presented. I was taken by surprise, however, as I was chewing my tempura oyster from the Black Team's menu. There was a piece of grit in my oyster that I crunched as I was chewing. Assuming it was a bit of sand I powered through only to bite down on this solid piece again - it felt like it could have chipped a tooth!
As artfully as possible, I decided to remove the offending object under the cover of a napkin - and thats when I pulled a pearl from my mouth! It was size of a large salt granule, nothing to set and mount, but it was unmistakable - extraordinary! The table couldn't be sure that this wasn't the Black Team's attempt at bribing me!
After enjoying treats from both teams our minds were made up - it was a clear landslide with our table averaging 27 points for Team Red and 42 points for Team Black. Black had taken the day with their taste and their presentation. The moment came for the big reveal and Chef David Attwater's team had won back their title! Previously ceded to Chef Pathirana in March they had come back to win this time around.  In the end, the big winners are us - the adoring fans that get to eat two meals!
 The challengers dessert: a berry ravioli with flan.
A sweet send off from the new champion!  I'm a sucker for a pink macaroon!
Chef Attwater the new champ!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Total (Lunar) Eclipse of the Heart

Last night, we witnessed a particularly awesome sight.  A relatively rare central, total lunar eclipse - which means that the center of the earths shadow passes directly across the moon.  It was pretty wild, but SO UNBELIEVABLY SLOW.  The moon disappeared for 1 hour 40 minutes and 52 seconds.  Since my attention span for this event was approximately 14 minutes, it made getting these shots particularly difficult.  Setup, shoot, wait, get bored, run back to camera when I remembered there was an eclipse and I left the camera sitting out, and so on.  But as you can see, it was pretty cool.  When the moon was "gone", it was still visible in the faint red light coming from around the Earth. I managed to snap all of the shots above, but a better photographer here at the National managed to get this with a fancy-schmancy telescope camera:
Telescope: 2000 dhs.   Camera: 5000 dhs.  Shoving it in your friends face when you get this lucky picture after buying a telescope in a city where you can't see more than 10 feet through the haze?  Priceless.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Toilets and Blackberries Don't Mix

This is reason #4,126 to put your Blackberry down every once in a while.  See, I like to destroy phones - every six months or so (none in the past 15 years have ever lasted longer than nine months), I find an excuse to end the miserable phone's existence.  Broken in my tech bag, dropped on the tile floor at an airport - I've even thrown a particularly annoying Nokia into the Arabian Gulf (editor's note - take out the SIM before you exact your revenge).

In all this time, however, I've never, ever, lost a phone to the toilet.  Yet, here I am, standing over this pile of parts with a hair dryer, wondering how I'm ever going to argue that this is covered by the warranty:

Monday, June 6, 2011

How Can We Sleep When Our Beds Are, Broken?

Remember those movers that I was so pleased with a few weeks back?  Consider my endorsement removed.  As it turns out, they cut a few corners that didn't manifest themselves until we least expected.  Ever wonder what happens when you balance the bed on it supports, instead of screwing them in?
Well, now we know - and know is the half the battle.  Unfortunately, the other half of the battle is going to Ace Hardware, buying lumber and heavy-duty brackets, and performing orthopedic surgery on our poor bed.
Fortunately, I have a sterile OR prepped for just these types of jobs.  Notice the dining room table that I'm working around.  In the end, I was pretty proud of my handiwork. 
To all of you moving out there, be warned: if your movers end up with extra parts, get your money back!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Knot Standard Whiskey Tasting

We just held a very special tasting at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai.  Co-branded between Knot Standard and Chivas Regal 18, we invited a number of suit, cigar, and scotch aficionados for a night of whiskey education. 
Fortunately, we left that last bit to the experts: Antoin from Pernot Ricard walked us through the single malts from Scotland that make up the special Chivas Regal 18 blend (in case you're wondering, each must be at least 18 years old).  While the whiskey actually contains about 40 different whiskeys in varying amounts, there are several main ones that dominate. 

Though not on sale by themselves in the market, we were taken through each whiskey ingredient in conjunction with different food pairings - chocolate, peated barley, almonds, and other flavors.

It was an eye-opening experience, highlighting all of the work that actually goes into these blends to keep them constant year after year - not the easiest of feats!  In addition to wonderful Scotch whiskey, our guests got an education in men's fashion and cigars.
Once the evening's education was complete, we were joined by Katie, who promptly put together a repeat tasting for ladies who had arrived towards the end of the evening.  Not your typical whiskey fan but always up for learning something from the experts she spent the final hour of evening debating the finer points of peat.  Her verdict?  In a blind test she selected the most expensive whiskey as her favorite.  Typical.  She has always, literally and figuratively, had great taste.