Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Burgers and beers, the magic cure

“Burgers and beers at Stars and Bars, burgers and beers at Stars and Bars, burgers and beers at Stars and Bars” was the mantra that saw me through the last half of a pretty crappy week a little while ago.

The first time I experienced the delights of Stars and Bars, the new(ish) burger joint located in the rather well-to-do Yas Marina, was with friends before going to see Eric Clapton at Yas Arena (the concert was spectacular – Eric was on great form and it was a real pleasure to see Old Slowhand performing live. I loved his version of Layla, it was slow and yearning as befitting a man of his advancing… experience, rather than being powerful and desperate as I know it from recordings). 

The menu looked great – all Tex-Mex, burgers and delightfully unhealthy fried accompaniments – but when I first caught a glimpse of the food, as I passed another table on the way back from the loo, it looked somewhat insipid and flat.  Considering that the closest contender for the burger crown is probably Fudruckers, with it’s build-your-own-burger and wedges for fries, S&B had a lot to live up to… and in the appearance steaks it failed miserably.  Burgers with a lot of bun and a bit of meat showing (as opposed to the majestic tower that you could create for yourself at Fudruckers) seemed to swim on a big white plate with a handful of chips on the side.  I prepared myself to be distinctly under-whelmed. And because I’m such a kill-joy I prepared my fellow diners too!  Ha!

Our burgers arrived, looking every bit as school-canteen as the ones I’d spotted earlier.  Lifting up the top bun there was a single lettuce leaf and a single slice of tomato – the two rings of raw onion I donated to O who likes them more than I do.  I dolloped on some ketchup and mustard and grimly took a bite.

Oh my good god!  Those burgers are a.may.zing!!!  The bun is proper American burger bun, all milky and a bit sweet but with really good bite – soft and solid and mmmmmgood.  The burger itself was juicy and delicious, charred perfectly on the outside and still flavourfull and not in the least bit dry even though I’d ordered it cooked through.  To be honest, I can’t remember what the fries are like – they’re like fries, neither amazing nor terrible, but they perform their purpose of providing yet more carbohydrate and a change in texture to the meal.

S&B combines super star burgers with quite a fun restaurant. The staff are a little over-friendly, but a lot of them have found that magic place between “enthusiastic” and “annoying”, which is always a good thing. Some of the seats are race car seats, there is a band, thereare arcade games and it is Abu Dhabi’s version of rough and ready – which means that if you hang around long enough, members of the local Harley-Davidson biker gangs will show up… yes really!  Is it any wonder that this is our new favourite burger place?

So as a tough week for both of us drew to a close we needed to go somewhere with good grub, cold beer and where we could linger for a few hours wearing jeans, flip-flops and a t-shirt.  S&B it had to be.  We sat outside in the warm and had awesome stuffed jalapenos, I had the chili cheeseburger on the recommendation of our waiter and will never look back at a measly cheeseburger again.  And lo, the stresses of the week washed away, peace descended, planets aligned, and all was well in the world.  Such is the power of burgers and beers on a Thursday night.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

30 and 1/4

Since turning 30 my life has transformed into a glamorous roller coaster of parties, travel and glamour that has left me no time to keep up with the little things in life like blogs and Facebook and the dishes...

Sadly, this is not actually true (apart from the bit about the dishes, but that's only because we have a dishwasher).  What is true is that work has become a lot more demanding, in both good and bad ways, and there is this thing happening in July - it's just a big party really - which is taking up all my time at home as well.  So when I'm not working at work or at home, I'm trying to find time to skype/email with family and friends, see friends here and keep up with my essential and extensive grooming regime (which is actually really important you guys!).

Not that I'm all "woe is me" (even though that is one of my favourite things to be).  It's been a lot of fun lately!  I've been doing some pretty cool stuff.

In February I had a trip back to London for a couple of reasons, firstly my sister very kindly provided me with my first go at being an Auntie by having the most beautiful little boy I have ever seen, ever (and I am not biased, not biased at. all.), which was most obliging of her and for which I'm very grateful.  I also had a bunch of stuff to organise for this party in July and so was able to sort cakes of the cup variety, speak to some official people and have a few things signed off about that, eat some truly amazing food and feel all smug about it, make a list of some ridiculously expensive forks and plates and buy a very important pair of shoes which I can't actually talk about but which are amazing!

I'm fairly sure there were a few other things that happened but it all got kind of lost in the mists of stuff-that-isn't-nearly-as-important when I held my nephew for the first time *sigh*

Then I came back to Abu Dhabi and some stuff happened here too!

We arranged some music, got some invitations made and sent them out (waiting for RSVPs is ridiculously nerve racking, why on earth do we do things this way around?!) and organised a fun thing or two for the party.

In between all that was work.  Which is ok - sometimes better, sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing and want to beg O to let me give up work and be a lady of leisure... until I remember how mind-numbingly boring it actually is being a lady of leisure and scrap that plan.  Work has allowed me to do a few very fun things that I probably wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.

One of the fun things was a photography course (with these guys) which was awesome!  It was a two day course over a weekend that takes you from absolute beginner to knowing how to semi-manually operate a camera and really think about the kind of picture that you are taking.  It stops a digital SLR being an extra heavy and extra expensive point-and-shoot and means that you have way more control over how the final image looks.  I am so so so glad I did it and would recommend it to anyone.    I'd been wanting to do it for ages, but I didn't have a DSLR and wasn't planning on getting one in the near future either.  Then while I was in London in February my mum told me she had upgraded her DSLR for a newer, more expensive, betterer one and so was donating her old one to me!  She insisted she didn't want to sell it because it had too many nice memories, but equally didn't want it sitting around not being used so gave it to a worthy cause.  And so as soon as I got back I emailed Gulf Photo Plus and got myself signed up!  The main things we learned about were aperture and shutter speed and how to control those for effect.  We also learned about the evils of the F-word and the A-word (flash and auto, respectively).
Here are some of the better pictures that I took as a result of the course:

So that was fun and now I want to take my slightly more cumbersome camera with me everywhere!  Which I unfortunately can't do but I really must get out there before it gets too hot.  I think after the party in July I am going to take the second level so that I can learn even more!

There has been some eating out (and discovering the joy of chicken livers done Arabic styleee), much homesickness and feeling guilty for not being around while young ones are growing up and much excitement and anticipation about parties in July.  There has also been some heartache which was carried over with some horribly sad news from home - some kinds of bad/sad news have ways of making you feel very old and yet very young at exactly the same time.

And that pretty much sums up life since turning 30. 
I will try to be better at updating more regularly, I will I will I will I will I will I.....

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Plague stops play

As I mentioned before, on Sunday (9th) I turned 30.  The festivities for this momentous occasion were due to take place on the preceding Friday, but – as the title of this post may have given away – an outbreak of plague interfered with our fun and games over the weekend.

O and I both have stinky colds.  That’s right… have!  We’re both still suffering.  Woe is us.

O spent last week stoicly pretending that he was alright really, while steadily getting worse and worse.  I started to feel the onset of my cold on Wednesday but thought it would be the usual case of the sniffles and that by the weekend I’d be fine.

Friday morning saw us both feeling terribly sorry for ourselves and I was able to convince O that we should reschedule the birthday festivities for the next weekend.  After a couple of hours of protesting on his behalf, he gave in and rang the restaurant.  Ten minutes later we were both gently suffering on the sofa watching episodes of the US version of The Office and he told me how relieved he was that we’d cancelled.  By 7pm (the time that we would have been sitting down to dinner had we not cancelled) we were quietly dying, each in our own personal circle of hell, and the relief that we had cancelled was immeasurable.

Sunday rolled around and I had to go to work… boo!  Though I wasn’t feeling too much better I thoroughly enjoyed the special birthday breakfast (with a toast tasting experience – half marmite and the other half cut in two again with black-current jam on one bit and a praline spread on the other – tea, juice and a little dish with vitamins and a decongestant) and beautiful gift, both provided by O.

Work was work and not over quickly enough.  On Sunday evening we went to one of our favourite restaurants, Rodeo Grill at the Beach Rotana hotel, for dinner with our friends D and R.  The food was lovely as ever and the company was superb, but unfortunately I was still feeling pretty rough and couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

These last couple of days have seen O get better and then worse again and me just get worse.  We are keeping our fingers tightly crossed that we both feel human again by this Friday coming for the Celebrate/Commiserate Foreigner Turning 30 – Attempt #2 because if we cancel again then I don’t think there will be an Attempt #3.

On a slightly more fun note, last Thursday I was invited (along with my deputy editor) to the launch of a Korean food night at a hotel not too far from work.  It was great!  I got to meet the Korean Ambassador, ate some delicious food and got a teensy bit tipsy on Soju – a Korean drink that kind of like Sake, only much sweeter.  If anyone in Abu Dhabi is reading, I thoroughly recommend heading to the Holiday Inn on a Thursday night for some delicious food!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

O and I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Abu Dhabi this year.

We were here last New Year’s Eve as well (everyone remember how well that turned out?) but this was the first Christmas that we spent away from our families… ever!

I won’t lie, the lead-up to Christmas day was a little on the traumatic side: Facebook, emails and Skype calls back home were filled with tales of the snow and cold. While this was a monumental pain in the arse for everyone in the UK, for me it merely served as a reminder of just how UN-festive things are out here. I missed the cold, and my family, and Christmas lights and incessant Christmas music in the shops.

I found myself getting a little weepy from time to time as the weeks went by and I forced the Christmas spirit by playing Christmas music non-stop at work, in the car and at home, and putting our 4-foot plastic Christmas tree up about 3 weeks early (poor O couldn’t say anything for fear of sending me into a spiral of gloom and despair that would, no doubt, have resulted in Jacob Marley-esque wailing, chain rattling and howls of protest at his trying to steal Christmas from me like the Scrooge that his is!).

The day itself rolled around and I was worried that I would be a blubbering mess the whole day, but in fact it was ok. For the first time in years O and would be spending the day together – usually he is with his family and I am with mine. We got up not too early, exchanged presents over tea and coffee (Santa – who is also a master of deception – brought me a Kindle, yay!, which was exactly what I wanted and what all of my not so very subtle hints pointed towards) and then we made the Foreigner traditional Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, toast and copious amounts of tea. We then played with our presents for a few hours before getting ready and heading a few short blocks away to our dear friends D and R’s flat for Christmas dinner, along with a couple of other strays who wouldn’t/couldn’t make it home.

Now, do you remember me talking before about how you can get pretty much anything delivered. Well guess what… That includes your Christmas dinner as well! Almost all of the hotels and a few other eateries besides offer to make and deliver your turkey plus trimmings, taking every single little bit of hassle out of feeding people on the day. We had a ginormous turkey with chestnut stuffing, chicken sausages (they were to be “pigs” in blankets but beef/veal bacon is happily accepted amongst most sane persons as being beyond foul so they asked for ‘no blankets please’), rice, mixed vegetables, spuds, gravy, cranberry sauce and a chocolate-orange mouse cake for dessert. On request from certain (ahem *blush*) demanding friends of theirs, they also provided additional sage and onion stuffing and R made a delicious soup for starters. She also decorated the dining table in a luxurious layer of glitter, that shimmered like freshly fallen snow. We are still finding glitter all over our flat and that's just the stuff we brought home on our clothes, hair and (in O's case) in our boxer shorts. D and R have cats, so I dread to think where they're finding glitter.

There were, of course, mince pies and I heard a rumour about a Christmas pudding, but by the time the 6 of us had destroyed almost half the turkey and all the rest of the gubbins that came with it I don’t think any of us could have fit even a smidge more pud, no matter how much custard there was to wash it down with.

It probably goes with out saying that the wine and beer flowed freely, and I’m sorry to say that your faithful Foreigner ended up well and truly bladdered. The next day was nearly the end of the same faithful Foreigner but I was saved from the brink of death by O and his numerous miracle cures. I wish I could claim that Boxing Day wasn’t a complete wash-out, but I’d be lying through my teeth.

I took a few glorious days off work over Christmas, but all too soon I was back in the very quiet office (just three of us were in) until New Year’s Eve rolled around last weekend.

Oh what fun and joy was had…! Mostly. One thing is for certain, it was no where near the disaster that last year was.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to find out about most of the goings on in Abu Dhabi. Being the ‘Events Gal’ means that I get a lot of emails that tell me a lot about all the fun things that are taking place, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. I extracted what I considered to be the highlights, the best options out of those on offer and presented my findings to the panel. After a few days of back-and-forth debating (no one was seriously hurt I should add) we were decided! One of the hotels walking distance from our apartment *insert smug laugh here* was offering a four-course meal including drinks and entrance to their roof-top bar all for one price. It wasn’t a small price (but then it never is on New Year’s Eve) but by no means was it one of the higher ones in the city and they were able to accommodate all 17 of us which is something of a miracle considering we booked a mere three days before the main event.

Sadly, the food was terrible. But the company was fantastic and that’s the most important thing. We saw in the new year in a lift on the way up to the roof bar, but that was amusing rather than disappointing because we were all crammed into a couple of lifts together and did the traditional hugs and kisses when we all disembarked. We danced (some of us more than others) into the wee small hours and staggered home some time around three.

This Friday will see the end of the three-weekend extravaganza of celebrations. I will be gathering together all of my nearest and dearest, in the region, to celebrate and commiserate something of a landmark birthday.

A (hopefully) delicious meal followed by yet more drinks and even more dancing will probably see me suffering from exhaustion for the next few weekends, because on Sunday your humble Foreigner turns 30.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Arrivals and Departures

Sunday was an interesting day for me this week – I had a bit of a cultural crash course in some social traditions that I hadn’t had experience of before.

After a full day at work I went first to a Mubaraka. One of Os cousins has recently had a beautiful baby girl – when I say recently, she isn’t even a month old and is a perfect bundle of pinkness and sleep – and she was welcomed to the world with a party in her honour. It was much like a baby shower, only we got to coo over the baby herself and there were a lot of women there – of all different ages and with different relationships to the mother of the baby.

It was a great time, with lots of gossip as people came and went, new people to meet and old faces to catch up with. There was a lot of food and waitresses constantly circulating with drinks. Some people were only able to stay for a short time, while others were there all night, the important thing was to go and kiss the mother and see the baby (who was also circulated at intervals between feeding and sleeping). As each person left they were given a gift and as many special baby-themed chocolates as they could carry.

It was a joyous occasion, and I’m enjoying these events more and more as I’m getting to know more people in Abu Dhabi and learning the proper dress-codes and etiquettes. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as long as I might have wished, because I had to leave this lovely Welcome to go to a Farewell.

O and I are incredibly lucky with our neighbours, there are just two apartments on a floor so it’s just us and them. We live opposite a couple who have three children that are around our age. One daughter still lives at home and we are quite friendly with her. They are lovely people, incredibly generous and friendly and warm. They had us over for iftar during Ramadan and treated us as one of the family.

Very sadly, we found out that our neighbour’s father passed away on Saturday morning after a protracted illness that had left him in intensive care for a long time. She went every day to visit him, most days twice a day. It was very sad news for both me and O.

When someone passes, there is an 3aza, a period of mourning during which the family of the deceased opens their house to receive visitors. In some cases the men and women are in different rooms (and in rare cases they will be in different buildings). People dress modestly and in black, and sit for enough time to drink a cup of coffee and then go. If you are close to the family you might stay longer, but the important thing is to go and share in the grief of the family, even if it’s just for a short time. The 3aza might last for two or three days, for three or four hours each day, and during this time there is a constant stream of tea and coffee being made, glasses of water being passed around and prayers from the Quran being read out or played in the visiting rooms.

So after the mubaraka I headed home, did a quick change into some black clothes, took my jewellery off and went across the hall to sit for a while. There were a lot of women there but I was able to pay my respects and I sat with the daughter and her friends for a while.

So it was an emotionally charged evening, starting with an extremely happy welcoming and then a very sad farewell.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Updates updates updates...

So many updates to make!

Ok, well, the dress I bought turned out to be a major disappointment (it was practically see-through) so it was sent back – no huge surprise there really, how much can you really tell from an online picture? However the good news is that the people at Net-a-Porter are beyond helpful and really quite lovely, and I was able to get the vast majority of my money back – so no harm done.

I finished my Arabic Level 1 and passed with 96%, which is – I think you’ll agree – awesome! I want to start level 2 but it’s a bit tricky right now what with timings and making sure I get the same teacher as for Level 1, but I’m hoping to start again soon.

Lots of progress has been made on The Grand Affair. We have a venue for the deed and for the party afterwards, both of which are rather swish and rather gorgeous – even if I do say so myself. Venue for the party will cover food and drinks (fab!) and I’ve pretty much sorted the transportation. I’ve picked a dress and will have the first proper fitting for that in May, but I still need to find shoes and accessories. The most pressing issue right now is the entertainment… But that’s quite enough of all that stuff.

The other fun news is that I have a new job! It’s not really all that new I suppose, since I’ve been here nearly two months, but I always consider myself new until I’ve passed my three month probation period. Anyway… I have finally found my way into publishing!

I now work for a weekly Abu Dhabi magazine. It’s a lot of fun – hands down the best job I’ve had so far – but is a lot of hard work too. On the days the magazine is sent to the printers we are often at the office quite late, for various reasons, which can be tiring and frustrating. But it is ultimately very rewarding when the issue comes in to the office and we can get a proper look at how the finished article turned out.

Central to my job are the different events that are taking place all over the city, which means that I now know what is going on all over the city! Unfortunately, O and I are either so busy at work or so tired from work that we don’t get the chance to do much of it!

My office is no longer walking distance from the flat – sadly. This means that I am currently taking two taxi trips a day, each one taking between half an hour and 40mins. It is time for me to get a car. I was perfectly happy without one when I only had to take cabs occasionally – but I have now reached saturation point. It’s not so much that they are difficult to get hold of, in fact it is now easier than ever to get a cab, it is the constantly having to have enough cash to cover the journey (plus tip), having the same conversations over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, feeling obliged to talk when I’m fed up/tired and being stuck in traffic when I can’t just blast out a bit of Lady Gaga to help me through. Don’t judge me!

So I need to get a car, and I imagine that this will open up a whole world of fun and frolics hitherto undiscovered out in the land of sand. I shall endeavour to keep you posted, as much as I am able and I will most certainly try to be a much better blogger.

Monday, 31 May 2010


So there I was, merrily writing up my Thailand holiday (in MARCH! God I'm a terrible blogger) to post and trying to decide just how boring it was to make it into two blog posts, when certain wheels were set in motion.

Well, actually, the wheels were set in motion the month before when 008 handed in his resignation. I was surprised and a bit concerned about my job - his assurances that my job was not in any danger rang somewhat hollow since he wasn't actually going to be there to ensure his assurances. Still, I went on my lovely Thailand holiday and he worked his month's notice, leaving the day before I got back.

I can't say I was exactly devastated because we hadn't exactly gotten to know each other that well, but it was weird and I didn't have all that much to do.

I'd say about a month went by, before the day came that I was writing up my Thailand trip and one of Senior Leadership Team I'd been supporting called me into the conference room in the presence of my friend from HR to tell me I was being made redundant.

Ho hum. Such is the way of the world, and I was planning on looking for another job once I'd seen out a year there.

But the timing sucked to say the least!

O had gone on a business trip to London the week before, and the world being the glorious place that it is, his return was delayed by that lovely little ash cloud that was hanging around. I had also been hoping to have the security of an income while looking for another job which was now out of the window. I had only just 6 months with this company and so wasn't entitled to any settlements, but they were rather fab in allowing me to not work in the office during my months notice period - so that I could get a head start on the job hunt.

Since I didn't actually DO all that much, I didn't have a lot that I needed to hand over. I made a few phone calls to my friend in Dubai (who tells me she reads this now, she must be bored - Hi P!) who was going to have to bear the brunt of what I wasn't doing any more and told the SLT what they needed to know. I packed up my desk (forgetting a few things, of course) into a couple of bags and trudged my sorry self home.

When I got home there was a delightful surprise waiting for me. The electricity in the flat had been turned off. It turns out someone forgot to pay the bill. The thing about no electricity out here is that it means no air-con. This is bad. So after a few frantic and teary phone calls to the UK and to long-suffering friends in AD, I found I could call the electricity people and I begged and sobbed for them to turn me back on - which they did within the hour! The now heavenly whumph-hmmmmmmmmm of the fans starting up awakening me from the nap I decided to take.

So there we go. I am now unemployed yet again!

However, that is not the only change in this little Foreigner's world this year - oh no! We have good changes as well!

After O made his way back to the UAE (no doubt swimming through shark infested waters, hitching lifts with militia and then crossing the desert by camel) he asked me a question and I answered "yes". So there's that.

I started Arabic classes. So there's that too.

Both are fun, although the first is taking up far more time than it really should since the grand affair isn't actually taking place until next year (but I already have the ceremony booked and have bought a dress - eek! Fingers crossed it looks good - I'll explain another time), but it's so much fun looking at food and hairstyles and shoes and flowers and food and venues and dresses and jewellery and bands and did I mention the food?

The second one is going surprisingly well. I fully and wholeheartedly recommend Berlitz for all your language learning needs! They use the immersion technique (where the language of instruction is also the goal language the majority of the time, this helps to think in the goal language instead of trying to translate words and sentences from your mother tongue).
It's not easy, but I never expected it to be. What I am very surprised about is how quickly I'm picking up the reading and writing of Arabic - I was always terrible at orthography and couldn't figure out new alphabets at all. But this is fun and we are learning it slowly enough that it can remain fun. Plus, practicing writing means I don't have to study conjugation.

Lots of ch-ch-ch-changes in the land of sand - and I'm also foolishly considering starting a restaurant review blog linked to this one! Considering how bad I am at maintaining this lovely space it probably is an exercise in futility. But I do love writing about food, and the only other proper review site I've found is this one, which is alright - but the reviews are generally a little basic. I think I could do better.

Thinking about it. Now where are those pictures of horse-drawn carriages I was looking at...?