Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dickensian life - A tale of two days

That's me! (Courtesy of Antonie Robertson)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Never has a saying been truer than at this current moment in time. Yesterday was literally amazing – I was researching a feature for the magazine on rock climbing so spent a full day out in the open air, perched atop a big pile of rock testing my strength against its will.

The result? Probably about 7:3 to me – the seven because I kicked that mountain’s ass like you wouldn’t believe. The three to the mountain mainly because of the big bruise it left on my ass when I slipped and fell and collided with the rock, butt first. You win some, you lose some (I’m beginning to feel a cliché theme for this entry. How many more proverbs can I get in? Wait and see).

The remaining factor detracting from my 100 percent scorecard is the fact that after blithely climbing up and abseiling down the rockface a few times, I still whined like a baby as we set off the steep and very rocky descent back to terra firma. Surprising what the comfort of a rope will do to your mental state of mind no?

For those of you that think of Dubai solely in terms of a playboy’s fairground, filled with obscenely expensive hotels, restaurants and bars, I suggest you make the effort to get out of the city and head off into the sunset to live happily ever after. It's nice spending a weekend layover in Dubai, but if you spend a bit more time you can really get out of the city and into the desert.

There are things to do that don’t involve drinking or eating (though I’m loathe to count these out completely, this being a food blog n’ all). Scrambling up some mountains for example.

Anyway, as you can imagine, after a day’s worth of baking in the sun, clinging to a rock like a limpet, not forgetting posing for the photographer like a very sweaty and grumpy supermodel and using muscles I never even knew I had (ok ok, but that was a cliché too good to miss), I was fairly famished by the time we got back into the car. The prospect of the hour-long drive back to the city with my stomach growling, murmuring, bubbling and sometimes shouting with hunger was not very appealing, so Tonie and I decided to stop off along the way and pick up some chow.

The chosen place – a little road-side drive-by eatery in Al Madam (I kid you not, that’s the town’s name). Considering that I’ve been turning down invitations to the top restaurants in the city in an effort to stop eating out, I wasn’t overly enthused about the idea of a greasy spoon. Even less so a drive-by one, which is only marginally less offensive than a drive-by shooting, that other reviled practice.

What a mistake. The friendly guy spooning the grease showed me what a snob I’ve been. He greeted us with a welcome that would have put most other restaurants to shame. In less than five minutes after we’d rolled up, he’d whipped up a burger of chicken coated in delicately-spiced breadcrumbs and topped with some kind of spicy mayo and encased in soft, steaming bread. It was like how KFC should be, the KFC of the adverts, juicy chicken, crisp coating and mounds of crunchy lettuce. I’m not a fast food person, but Al Madam burger joint has been jotted down on the list of exceptions.

The burger of magnificence was washed down by a vat of mango juice. It. Tasted. Of. Real. Mango. This is something you don’t take for granted. A juice actually tasting of the fruit is supposedly came from? Revolutionary. It was slightly sweet, thick enough that you’ll keep your facial muscles in good shape sucking it up a straw but not so much so that there were huge chunks of mango in it (this happened to me the other day, I had to throw it away, it reminded me of vomit).

The only failing was the chips, which were crunchy but cold (unforgiveable) and so stiff they’d show rigor mortis a thing or two. I chucked them in the bin and blithely forgot about them while chowing down on my burger.

Over all too soon, we were soon winding our way back to Dubai where I saw Spyro Gyra play as part of the jazz festival. After thirty years, those guys still know how to put on a show and jam the house to its feet.

And then it was today. I woke up and had been bitten all over my face. My taxi didn’t turn up. I missed a John Legend press conference that I’d been looking forward to for months. I’ve got articles to write and no time to write them. Life’s busily trying to restore the equilibrium of yesterday’s high with a new low. But you know what? I’ll always have Al Madam’s greasy spoon. And that’s something.

Monday, February 23, 2009

So veggy-sweet

Following the lines of the squash muffin, courgette cake etc train of thought from the last blog, a good friend of mine suggested that I should have a go at Lady Florence's pumpkin scones. See below for the recipe...

A good dish is nothing without a little history - here's a bit that will entertain your dining coterie as you serve them their lovely fresh and moist (shudder - disgusting word) scones.

"Pumpkin scones are a Queensland icon. Lady Flo was married to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was one of the better known Queensland premiers. He died about five years ago. He was well-known for manipulating the media – he called it “feeding the chooks”.

Lady Flo was almost as much of a society figure as he was."

So says Amanda, she of Queensland origin and our local Lady Flo expert in Dubaaaai. Give them a try and let me know what you think - Lady Flo: senile scone creator or gastronomic genius. I'm reserving judgement - I say eat then evaluate. I plan on doing just that.

Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen's Famous Pumpkin Scones

Chef: Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen

This recipe is courtesy of the website

Degree of difficulty: Low

You need:
1 Tblsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed pumpkin (cold)
2 cups Self raising flour

Beat together butter, sugar and salt with electric mixer.
Add egg, then pumpkin and stir in the flour.
Turn on to floured board and cut.
Place in tray on top shelf of very hot oven 225-250c for 15-20 minutes.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Great Expectations

On Friday, goaded along by the presence of the blog and the general need for some therapeutic food-making, I turned into a cooking monster. It was like Frankenstein – I started out with good intentions, namely to make a few nibbles for friends coming over later in the day, but these quickly passed as I got caught up in a frenzy of whisking, boiling, bubbling...And with the same ambivalent results. (OK, maybe Frankenstein was a murderer, that’s pretty clear cut. The ambivalence refers solely to my cooking).

By the time my friends turned up to watch the Oscar-nominee films, they were confronted by an unholy mess – me up to my elbows in Blackberry cake batter, pulping some squash for muffins, basting a lamb and roasting some vegetables, all at the same time. I’d have kept on going, but there’s only so much space in the oven, plus the look of worry on Kate’s face suggested that I had gone far enough already.
Tearing myself away from the kitchen, we put on the first film of the day – The Changeling. It was good – very different from what I was expecting and a little bit off the mark towards the end, but well worth watching. A bit like the blackberry cake that came out of the oven halfway through the movie.

I’d taken a sponge cake recipe and given it a twist – by adding blackberries and vanilla. I’m still not sure if I’d say it was a success. The cake tasted delicious, especially once it was iced, but it was a little too heavy – more like a pudding than a cake. It’ll be fantastic heated and served with a dollop of cream, but as a teatime break, it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

Next up was Vicky, Cristy, Barcelona with the utterly delectable Javier Bardem (he of No Country for Old Men fame). As with all Woody Allen films, there’s a lot of talk about emotions, complicated relationships and meaningful moments in which people’s lives are changed. You never quite know how it’s going to turn out, and with this film, I thought the combination worked.

Now the squash muffins probably aren’t going to change your life but I definitely didn’t know how they were going to turn out and the combination worked. Think carrot cake but a little sweeter and moister.

Kate cheekily commented it would be a good way to get children to eat vegetables – we could start a production line in sneaky vegetable treats – courgette cake (Nigella has an excellent recipe for this), swede cupcakes, turnip muffins. Am not sure about the last one, but it might be worth a try. Anyone who does, give me feedback and let me know.

But for now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the squash muffins – I’m going to work on that blackberry cake and when it finally graces these pages it will be light, fluffy and fit for high tea with the queen.

Squash muffins
300g soft brown sugar
½ medium butternut squash, skin removed and grated
4 large eggs
300g plain flour
100g chopped walnuts
150ml sunflower oil
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Mix the sugar, squash, eggs and oil together.
Sift the flour and baking powder onto the liquid mixture, add the chopped walnuts and fold until just mixed (do not overmix).
Place the muffin mixture in muffin cases and put into oven for 20 minutes. Makes 12.

You can ice these with the Philadelphia/icing sugar combo used for carrot cake, I think they taste great without though.