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Good bye Dubai

December 27, 2012

Burj Al Arab from the beach. Dubai

 

 

As I write this I am sitting at my kitchen counter in Glentana, South Africa. We said goodbye to Dubai on December 3rd and are not only enjoying a beautiful holiday in South Africa but are also en route to Perth, Australia our soon to be new home.

Dubai was our home for almost 9 years. It is the place our boys identify with. It is here where they have spent their elementary school years, made friends and experienced what it means to be a Third Culture Kid and an expat kid. Life has been good to us in Dubai. We have been able to save, travel and experience first hand what it is like to live with other cultures. Living this crazy life where shopping is the national sport and materialism stares you in the face at every turn has been an interesting experience on all fronts.

For me it has been a struggle. Trying to keep my kids and myself  grounded and following the values that are important to us; integrity, honestly, kindness, hard work and not to mention our Christian values, has been a real challenge. Finding meaning and fun in the everyday simple things is quite challenging in the face of all the latest and greatest gadgets and toys that their peers have. We have persisted and I think haven’t done too badly in the face of being called “lame” and “boring”. Suddenly here we are at out house in South Africa and all my kids want to do is go to the beach, draw and play outside with a dose of television thrown in on non beach days. They are happy to stay at home and have not played any electronic games since December 1st. It appears that when they are away from peer pressure they are able to be themselves. As parents our challenge is to help our children be themselves despite peer pressure. To have enough self confidence in who they are as people, not to get sucked into the whole materialistic merry-go-round. I have tried to show them that “stuff” does not make us any happier, but that we experience true happiness when we are being totally selfless.

We do not live on an island anywhere in the world. We will always face these challenges no matter where we live. I just think that in Dubai it is more in your face. Of course I cannot speak for other cities since I do not live there. This has simply been my experience.

Of course Dubai has been a big part of my life. I have met interesting people and made some wonderful friends some who will remain life long friends.  I started my freelance photography business and was even able to meet my goal of shooting a cookbook🙂 I was fortunate enough to meet up with lots of other like minded food bloggers and was able to participate in photography workshops being led by some of the world’s leading photographers at GPP events. I have learned and grown incredibly as a person and a Christian. I have become more in touch with myself and have begun a life long journey staying calm and focused on the present through yoga and meditation. I have learned now more than ever that less is more.

I leave some very special people behind in Dubai, and some that have already left Dubai and moved on. I will miss them. It saddens me to think that I may never see some of these people again. This is the part of expat life that sucks.

As we face a new challenge as immigrants I look forward to the simple things. Seasons, local produce, farmer’s markets and a few other things that are deeply important and personal to me. I don’t want a big fancy house ( when will I have the time to clean it?), or posh cars. I don’t care about designer labels ( although they are nice to have). I only care about being the best person I can be. To be happy with what I have and to lead by example. Everything else will follow. The big plan has been mapped out for us, it is our job to enjoy the ride and help others along the way. Just so you know, I am buying a bicycle when I arrive in Perth. I have plans to cycle everywhere. I hope I can.

 

Say it with flowers.

October 25, 2012

 

 

 

 

I love flowers. We don’t get many flowers flowering naturally in Dubai for obvious reasons, but of course you can buy flowers in florist shops no problem. I hardly ever buy myself flowers so when I receive them it always puts a smile on my face. Back in August I celebrated my birthday.    I was lucky enough to be gifted two separate bunches. One from my close friend who also happens to be my sister-in-law and another from my  friend Liz. Both bunches transported me back in time with memories of my childhood. The blue hydrangeas grew in a shady corner of my grand parents’ home and so did the arum lilies. The arum lilies also reminded me of my sister-in-law’s wedding bouquet.

Flowers, like smells and colours, always transport me to somewhere else and these beauties certainly not only made my house more cheerful they also brought back long lost memories. I am looking forward to returning back to our home in South Africa where I will be surrounded by the indigenous flowers and plants of South Africa. The Pin Cushions and Safari Sunsets (types of protea) are going wild at the moment as are the agapanthus and fynbos. I can’t wait for that salty- grassy smell to fill my nostrils and the colour and texture explosions in my garden to lift my spirits and fill my heart with happiness. I love my garden and spend hours on end lost in my own botanical world thinking my own thoughts and generally at peace with the world and myself.

What makes you happy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting Shiny Objects

October 16, 2012

This past week has been super amazing in that I got to work with the ultra talented food stylist MaryKei from Cameras and Cucumbers fame. She is just a whizz when it comes to making food look gorgeous. I swear it’s those Japanese genes of hers. She works with meticulous detail and patience that would make you weep. It was also the most stressful shoot I have ever done. Have you ever shot super shiny objects where you have to get the reflections in all the right places? Where you need to show the fine detailed engraving on the most beautiful Christofle silver trays you would ever have the good fortune of being served canapés on? You should try it sometime, especially if you want to go prematurely grey.

This is how it should not look.

This is more like it.

Shooting mirrors basically is not easy let me tell you. You get your family of angles just right, so that the tray is evenly lit only to have to move the camera a fraction to get a different angle on the food and the whole thing goes to hell! By the time it was all over, eight hours, yes you read correctly, EIGHT hours later I was ready to collapse in a heap. The Italian even had to step in and make dinner.

Apart from the challenge ( bring on shiny objects any day I say ) it was great fun too. Of course when the client is standing over you and looking at the image you have just taken on your computer screen and the whole thing is blown white with no detail, you do start to sweat a little. Then you take a deep breath and remember you are a professional and that you have practised this and that you do actually know how to light and you slowly go through the steps that need to be taken in your head and gently press the shutter and……aaahhhh beautiful. At that moment you silently send a little prayer heavenward and are thankful that it all came together and that you still have a job and perhaps even another assignment after this one:)

Sorry, I can’t show you the pictures with MaryKei’s beautiful food on the trays since the pictures have not been released yet. So keep coming back for more and you may get a sneak peek here. Instead here is a little look at MaryKei in action and then at the end of a very long day.

Then, just today I heard from a fellow blogger and soon to be working partner for another client shoot next week that all the photographers she knows absolutely refuse to shoot food on anything shiny. Well, I can understand why you want to avoid the stress and the frustration, but when a client like Christofle comes calling you best know what you are doing.

I thought I should just mention that fellow Dubai blogger Farwin of Love and Other Spices also came along to check out the action on the day and get some shooting tips. Farwin has an amazing blog where she focuses many of her recipes on her native SriLankan dishes and takes lovely photographs to illustrate them. You should really check it out. I will definitely be making some of her curries.

I thought I would share something Farwin said to me a few days later when she called me to chat about photography. She said she was surprised that I am the way I am since she would never have imagined me to be warm and friendly and the caring and sharing type. She based this observation on how I portray myself on my blog since she had never met me in person before. What does she mean? I don’t open myself up and show myself warts and all to the world? No, I guess I don’t. Where would be the intrigue and the mystery then if everyone knew me exactly as I am. If you all must know I am a complicated beast. I find exposing myself difficult to strangers. Yes, most of you are strangers. Who are we kidding? I don’t know most of  you from Adam. Then there’s the posting every two days lark. Where do you find the time people? I have to say I find David Lebovitz so perfectly irritating…in a good way. Where does the man get time to work and blog and do the whole social media thing and be famous and the whole nine yards? He is just too perfect for my liking. You know what? He doesn’t have kids. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

So what’s your story? Shoot any shiny objects lately? Or perhaps you bared your soul lately? Is that called “finding your voice”? I best get cracking finding out who I actually am first…

Kiwi Fruit Ice Lollies

September 30, 2012

 

When Zespri asked me to post a recipe for using their kiwi fruit I was positively stumped for a while. You see, Kiwi fruit just does not like me. It leaves a strange metalic taste in my mouth for some odd reason. Even though I know how wonderfully good they are for you, I simply cannot manage them. My boys however love them. They often get cut up kiwi in their school lunch boxes which they must polish off with relish because there is never any left in those lunch boxes when they get home.

Kiwi is of course full of health benefits. They contain more vitamin C than oranges and as much potassium as bananas. They have a high fibre content and list many health benefits since they are an excellent source of anti-oxidants which protect our bodies against free radical damage.

For more interesting information and kiwi fruit recipes visit this kiwi fruit website.

As you may very well know it is still hot in Dubai. Since we have dairy allergy in our house we substitute with sorbets and fruit ice lollies. These kiwi fruit ice lollies are just the ticket to get all those valuable vitamins and minerals into your kids in a really cool way. They are so easy to make you don’t even need a recipe. In fact they would be great to make with your kids.

I don’t have plastic ice lolly moulds since I stay away from freezing liquids in plastic, instead I used disposable mini espresso coffee cups. They are made from paper. They also fit very neatly into my mini muffin trays so they can be popped into the freezer without fear of toppling over. They work for me.

This is how I made my Kiwi Fruit Ice Lollies. I placed 4 pealed kiwi fruits into my blender. I added about 4 tablespoons of honey and a splash of water (probably less than a quarter cup) and 5 mint leaves. Blended all this together until the mixture was smooth. I then filled my little espresso cups about 3/4 full and placed them into the mini muffin trays. I popped them into the freezer for about 25 minutes. At this point I inserted the popsicle sticks and left the lollies in the freezer  until we were ready to eat them.

As you can see, the minute you blend the kiwifruit it does not remain bright green, but a sort of hazel colour. I think the colour is also influenced by the honey. The colour in no way effects the taste. You remove the frozen lollies by simply running a little warm water over the outside of the mould. The lolly then slips out beautifully. The smell is really fresh and zesty with the mint really being dominant. The taste is lovely and refreshing….even for me. So go ahead and give these a try. They’re so much better than those junk filled lollies you buy in the shops.

Home Made Gut Friendly Goat’s Cheese

September 11, 2012

 

Inspired By Sarah Wilson, I decided to make my own gut friendly cream cheese. Since both kid 1 and I are sensitive to dairy, I decided to make it with goat’s cheese. The usual cream cheeses you buy in the supermarket are full of additives and really I suspect not that much goodness. Since we have been on a mission to replace friendly bacteria in our guts ( since tests some time ago revealed that candida had almost completely wiped out all our gut friendly bugs) live cream cheese seemed like a tasty way to do it. So in addition to taking copious cocktails of gut friendly probiotics, this cream cheese is far more pleasurable!

I bought two tubs of organic Goat’s Yoghurt that contained pro-biotics and nothing more. Make sure you buy good quality yoghurt that contains pro-biotics. It should not contain any added ingredients, otherwise what would be the point of making it yourself?  The thicker the yoghurt the less whey you will have. The thicker the better, but the cheese above was made from a fairly runny yoghurt. So it really doesn’t matter that much. To make the cheese you will need:

Natural Goat (or Cow) yoghurt.

A sieve

A bowl and/or deep jug

A large square of clean cheese cloth

A wooden spoon to tie the cloth onto

An elastic band to attach the yoghurt containing cloth to the spoon

 

Step 1: Place your sieve over a bowl. Line the sieve with the cheese cloth. I find that it is better to have two layers of cheese cloth. So double up the cloth by folding it if it is large or use two together to make a double layer. Pour the yoghurt into the cheesecloth.

 

Step 2: Bring up the four corners of the cheesecloth so you are making a bag that contains the yoghurt. All the liquid dripping out is the whey. You need to hang the cloth and yogurt high enough so that the bottom does not touch the liquid/whey. My bowl was to shallow so I hung it into a jug. This worked well. Tie the cloth onto a wooden spoon by turning it around the handle of the spoon and secure it with elastic bands. There are some wonderful healthful things you can do with the whey. Since we have the milk sensitivity I was not sure that would be a good thing, so down the drain it went!  I poured off the whey that collected at the bottom so that it would not touch the cheese. This remained at room temperature for two days. Whilst it is hanging there, the friendly bugs are multiplying happily, making digestion easier for us humans. This hanging also appears to soften the flavour of the Goat’s Cheese. The result is delicate and creamy. Not at all sour and sharp like the yoghurt.

 

Step 3: After two days, remove the bag and place it into a bowl. Using a knife, scrape the resulting cheese into a bowl.

 

Step 4: There it is, beautiful creamy goat’s cheese. It is really lovely and not at all strong or overpowering. I suspect you could add delicate herbs such as thyme, which would make it more interesting. We simply enjoyed it on gluten-free rice cakes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and a grinding of black pepper.  There you have it. Home made, gut friendly, cream cheese. Go ahead and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!

 

Lamb chops and stir fried vegetables for lunch.

August 31, 2012

 

We have had almost 10 weeks of school holidays now (I cannot wait for Monday…), it’s insane I know! With two growing boys and food intolerance to consider I feel as though I have done nothing but cook and clean lately. I am always in the kitchen. Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much, but with our new diet regime to try to knock the candida on the head and stop all my son’s tummy issues, we have been going without carbs. This has of course meant no more baking. No gluten-free pizza, no gluten/dairy/egg-free muffins, no gluten-free bread rolls and no gluten/grain free granola. It’s been tough I can tell you. What we have had instead are LOADS of vegetables and fruit and meat, fish and chicken. My friends that read this will know that I have never been a big fan of meat. Veg, yes. Meat, no. I realised many years ago after being a vegetarian for a while that I do better with a little meat. Lately however, it’s been some kind of animal protein every day. Wish we could eat eggs, but we can’t so it is meat instead.

I am not a nutritionist nor an expert on health. I don’t follow any particular diet trend  like vegan or paleo. I do believe that one should listen to one’s own body and see what you need as an individual. What makes you feel good? What makes you feel heavy and bloated? What is good for one person is not necessarily good for another. I do however think that everything in moderation is a good thing. Too much of one thing simply cannot be good for anyone. Thousands of people are finding out each day that their health problems are as a result of too much gluten or dairy or refined sugar. These foods are causing so many problems for so many people, so I think it best to go slow on them even if you are not intolerant to them.

The whole meat thing for these past couple of weeks has certainly made me feel sluggish and given me a horrible taste in my mouth. Even my tongue has been covered in a white film. I felt I couldn’t go on this way. So although we are still eating loads of vegetables and have increased our fruit intake and even brought starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes into the mix, meat I am afraid is going back to once a week feature on our menu. We have been following this for the past two weeks and we are feeling so much better. My son and I have also been placed on a new food regime to try to eliminate some of our symptoms by a  nutritional and gut expert here in Dubai, so we are hoping for a big improvement really soon. Watch this space.

Our lunches can never be a grab of a quick sandwich or wrap. Our lunches have mostly got to be prepared from scratch. Sometimes it will be leftovers from the night before (although this is becoming more rare, since I don’t seem to be able to cook enough for these boys at the moment) or a salad. On this particular day I was in the supermarket in the morning and spotted these “Indian Lamb Chops”. They were thinner and paler than the Australian variety (above) that I normally buy. With a quick sprinkle of my own home dried rosemary, some sea salt and a splash of olive oil they were done in no time under the grill. Whilst they were grilling  away, a threw some vegetables in a wok with coconut oil and stir fried them lightly. Within 30 minutes we sat down to this lovely light lunch. I say light, because it was. There is nothing light about eating meat EVERT DAY though.

 

So that’s my quick lunch. Who says cooking has to be complicated? What’s your idea of a quick lunch? I would love to know if you have any gluten free/grain free options up your sleeve. Now, I’ve got to start thinking about those lunch boxes I will have to make next week…

Edwina

A new cook book, With a Pinch of Spice featuring my photography.

August 13, 2012

 

They say one should be careful what you wish for because it might come true. Well in my case it did come true. My dream to shoot a cookbook finally came to fruition back in January and February this year when I was contacted by the author Mrs. Laila Al Khaja  who asked if  I would be interested in the job of shooting her book which was to be published by Motivate Publishing here in Dubai. Well, when opportunity knocks one should open the door wide.

In early January the planning started in earnest with me sourcing cloths and props for the shoot. Mrs. Al Khaja, Laila, already owns one of the largest collections of white crockery I have ever seen. We were not short of white plates, dishes and bowls in every shape and size imaginable. It was amazing. I also needed a stylist to help me with the food styling. I was so lucky to have my friend and fellow food blogger Anja Schwerin of Anja’s Food 4 Thought, step into the role with gusto.

Anja doing her thing.

Since this was to be my very first time actually having my work published I had to make sure I was ready and that everything worked like clockwork. Apart from the actual shooting of the dishes there was a huge amount of preparation that went into planning the shoot. I set up a shooting schedule to make shopping for the ingredients and herbs we would need, easy to plan for. We shot between 4 and 6 dishes a day. Some days more. Each dish had to be described to me before hand so that I could more or less plan how I would shoot it. On the day of the shoot the dish would sometimes be different to how we envisioned it. This meant being flexible and open minded and adjusting the set-up and our props for colour or texture to compliment the dish.

The best part was that each and every dish was freshly prepared just before shooting. After shooting was over for the day, we always stayed and ate whatever Laila prepared that day for the shoot. The photographs in the book are all of real food. There was no cheating and no enhancing. What you see is what we ate! And what we ate was delicious. The recipes are a wonderful fusion of middle eastern and far eastern flavours and spices. Each dish flavoured and spiced to perfection. Even for those that don’t like their food too spicy this would be just perfect.

Me doing my thing

As you would expect the shooting was hard work. Some days were more challenging than others. Shooting for a book is not the same as shooting for your blog. For my blog for example I shoot mostly in natural light with only the odd bit of artificial lighting. For this book all the food was shot using artificial lights. The lighting for every dish had to be pre worked out in my head. I needed to know exactly  which lighting set up I would need to make the food look good. The set up was slightly different for each shot. The size, shape and direction of the lighting I used was determined by the texture and shape of the food and the refection off the surface the food was placed on. Texture and colour are really important components to consider when shooting with artificial lights. You cannot have blown highlights all over the place and you want the food to look as though it has been shot in natural light. For bringing out the texture I used small reflectors or placed honeycomb grids onto my lights.

When shooting food you can’t mess around too much since food only looks good for a very short time before it starts to oxidise or leaves start to wilt. With artificial lights this process needs to be even quicker, since the lights are hot when they flash so you cannot  be taking your time once the dish is in place.

This, my very first cookbook shoot has been a huge learning experience, and I am sure it was for Anja too. One is far more meticulous when you are working for someone else that shooting for your own blog ( well I am anyway). Shooting a cookbook is not just about taking beautiful pictures it is also about organisation and planning not to mention all the post production work once the shooting is over. About 10 images had to be re-shot either because the image did not fit on the page of the book properly or simply because I was just not happy with the quality. I also learned that the image you take and see on your colour calibrated monitor is not the image that eventually appears in print. The image is moved about to fit the page and the files are changes to suit the printing process so it can be a bit of a surprise when you see the images in print and they don’t look exactly as they did when you made them.

The experience of working with Anja and Laila has been one that I am enormously proud of. I think we did a great job of capturing Laila’s food and showing Dubai that a local cook and a Dubai based food photographer can work magic right here in our very own back yard.

Now I need to go off and set a new intention: ” I will shoot five cookbooks, including one for a celebrity every year”. How’s that for an intention? oh and by the way, I would love to hear what you think.

With a Pinch of Spice retails for AED195 

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