Dubai Daytripping

Dubai Daytripping
The gates of Ibn Battuta
The gates of Ibn Battuta mall

Despite living only 45 minutes to the south of Dubai, I don’t get up to the big city much. So when an odd lunch invitation is extended up there, I accept it willingly.

I agreed to meet a friend who I have not seen in a bit to catch up over lunch. While we could eat anywhere, we opt for easy. Ibn Battuta Mall is the southern most mall in Dubai, it’s easy in and out and thus the perfect place for people from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to meet up.

I parked in the China Court where we were told the restaurants were. There were a bunch of venues to choose from, but we were craving seafood and Urban Seafood beckoned us in with its minimal décor and simple menu.

Urban Seafood's seating
A sleek, simple storefront

The service was fast and friendly. I could see this being an excellent place for an express lunch, but it was equally suitable for friends who want to linger over a long lunch.

My friend and I like similar things so, as we peruse the menu, it seems we gravitated towards the same items: spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with seafood, the mussels 5 ways (served with 5 sauces) and the steamed buckets of your choice of two: blue crabs, prawns or mussels. The buckets come with a choice of five sauces; we opted for the Thai curry in keeping with our hot & spicy themed lunch.

The server asked us how spicy we’d like the soup, which we made clear we hoped to split between two bowls. We both nodded that we like it quite spicy. Normally, servers smile, nod back and disbelieve that you can actually take the spice level you just ordered—at least, that has always been my experience ordering spicy food. Thankfully, this was not the case at Urban Seafood.

Spicy Tom Yum soup
Spicy Tom Yum soup
Mussels 5 ways at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Mussels 5 ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The starters arrived swiftly. The presentation was quite elegant for mall dining. The spicy soup was laden with tender calamari rings, large, succulent prawns, mussels and fish along with an array of vegetables to round it out. And, oh boy, was it spicy–just what we ordered and more!

The Mussels 5 ways was fabulous. Each mussel was served with the following array of sauces: Singaporean red chili, black pepper chives, Thai curry, creamy lemon butter and dukkah, a delicious Middle Eastern blend of nuts, seeds and spices.

Each baked mussel brimmed with flavor, some spicy, some creamy, some simply too decadent to describe. They were just perfect.

At this point, we are kind of full. Ordering starters at lunch proved a tactical error for our long lunch. Fortunately, our server was on the ball. She could see we needed some time, and she delayed our seafood bucket accordingly.

As we chatted, she non-invasively checked in from time to time to see if we were ready for our shared main, and finally we were.

She darted into the kitchen and returns with a steaming basket of freshly cooked blue crab and prawns. It was gorgeous, a work-of-art, but we both just stared into the eyes of the 4 big crabs and thought “how on earth are we going to eat you without making total pigs of ourselves?”

Seafood bucket at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Meet just one of my little friends who have been steamed to perfection! 
My apologies, vegetarians. I swear I am more with you than against you.

Our server must have read our minds, asking “Would you like me to clean them for you?” “Yes,” we nodded in unison.

IMG_6818 She disappeared again and returned with a set of tools and–with a surgeon’s skill–she took to our crabs and made light work of the shells, adeptly prying out every small piece of tender crabmeat she could, and she made haste. We carried on chatting, but it was very hard to not watch her at work. She split the piles of sweet meat evenly between two plates, ladling a bit of Thai curry sauce atop the generous piles of crab meat.IMG_6821 IMG_6826She asked if we’d also like her to do that with the prawns while we ate the crab. Another collective “yes,” was nodded. She performed the same skillful extraction with the prawns and served it on another two plates.

I should mention that along with the bucket came a heaping portion of steamed vegetables. We had the choice of French fries, cole slaw or rice, and we opted for the veggies. They were crisp and fresh, and the perfect side for all that light and flavorful seafood.

Now, I am not really a dessert person but, once the buckets and dishes were all cleared away, I had a peek. Servers always try to convince you that you need dessert, and most of the time, I absolutely do not need it. Eating professionally has it consequences, and its greatest consequence is felt at the waistline, so I just say no to dessert.

Get your cuppa and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!
Get your espresso and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!

I made an exception on this day when I saw the cappuccino torte as it seemed the best of two worlds: my post-meal espresso mixed with ice cream, salted caramel and nuts–these were worth the extra hour in the gym, trust me. My friend had the Lotus Choco bites, because Lotus. Enough said.

Lotus biscoff Choco Bites at Urban Seafood Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai
This is heaven, if heaven were Lotus Biscoff. Isn’t it?

The desserts were enormous, messy, sweet and gut busting, but sometimes over a long and natter-laden lunch, a girl needs to appeal to her sweet tooth for that bit of energy to carry and ultimately make that long drive back to the Dhabs.

We ate as much as we could, which was less than half—they were that big! We toddled out of Urban Seafood thinking that this was no ordinary mall meal. It was reasonably priced, for the most part quite light, and the service was excellent. This will probably be our meeting spot for our catch up lunches for the foreseeable future—as long as she is in Dubai and I am in Abu Dhabi.

Not too bad for a humungous lunch.
Not too bad for a humungous lunch.

Urban Seafood, China Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, (800 7527)

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Sign-spiration

Sign-spiration
Watch out! A plant is moving nearby!
Watch out! Moving plants!

Funny signs in the UAE

If I were waiting for a sign to return to blogging, this was it.

I was driving south on the E-10 in light traffic, which those of us who live in the UAE know is a rarity. I pass this crazy sign every trip home from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, but I am always driving too fast or in too much traffic to take its picture.

Today, I was the only one on the road, so I pulled over. Back home, no one ever pulls over on an interstate unless they have a true emergency, a blow out or breakdown. Here, people do it as a matter of course; i.e. the phone rings or they pull over to engage in a casual roadside conversation with cars whipping at breakneck speed around them.

Though it’s indeed standard practice here, I try not to do it. It’s one of those things that you don’t so because it’s either wrong or dangerous, like talking in a movie theatre, butting in line or tailgating.

Funny signs in the UAE
Beware, be very aware of things that go bump in the road.

This sign reduces me to a sidesplitting laughter every time I see it. I grab my camera or demand that some non-driving person in my vehicle do so, and we aim and try to focus in, as I drive by it way too fast past it every time, because A) you have to speed to avoid dying on these roads and B) I am speeder, and I am powerless over my leaden foot. Just ask my husband and the guy we rent our car from.

Seriously, ask anyone who has taken this trip with me. I don’t really know why I like it so much. There are lots of examples of poorly written English, or Jinglish as some refer to it, signs in this land–far too many for one post. Many are quite funny, but this one is superior.

I am not sure why it is so funny to me? I imagine someone jumping out from behind a palm tree and saying “boo” or something really stupid, rather than the probably very real hazard it forewarns, such as a car stopped in the middle of the highway taking a phone call or someone reversing when they miss their turn or, better yet, a camel crossing the road. Yes, I have seen all three. 

What do you think constitutes a “road surprise”?

Here are some others that might make you laugh–if you have the sense of humor of a 10 year old. If you don’t, move on. Nothing funny here. I suspect there will be a part two post as I risk life and limb in the service of bringing these roadside pics to you. I also welcome contributions, so please send me your funny signs from all over. 

 

 

 

 

Comeback kid

Comeback kid
Lizzy of Arabia rides again
Can a girl get a comeback?

I interrupt this blog hiatus to make a comeback.

I’m back from my long blog “hiatus,” which better resembled a blog death–albeit one never officially pronounced was dead, which leads me to wonder: if a blog dies in this vast Internet forest and no one hears it, is it truly dead? 

I am not the only one to ambitiously start a blog, throw all my creative energy into it and then abandon it for a spell. The question is can it be resurrected? Here’s hoping. 

I think I rang that death knell for any blog when I wrote an ever-so-ambitiously titled post, “Heard y’all missed me, well I’m back,” heralding tales from my adventurous trip to Chennai, India, resolutely declaring my return.

And then I never returned…

Some of you may remember this, but more of you may not really care that much about where I went at all. I’ll tell you all what happened anyway.

Postcards from Mahabalipuram
Postcards from Mahabalipuram

It wasn’t that I didn’t make it to India, I did, and it was an amazing adventure. It’s just that I had this full time writing job sucking the life out of me and, each evening, when I got back from work, there simply wasn’t a word left in me.

Most writers aren’t hard-pressed for words, but I was indeed wrung out them daily. At the close of each day, I had little energy, but to elicit a low groan, redolent of writing on the daily about “tucking into” the most expensive hamburger in the world and pirouetting around words not fit to print in the most abstract way.

World's most expensive hamburger, credit GROUPON
Behold the world’s most expensive hamburger. Photo Credit: Groupon

It wasn’t easy, but I am aware that there are much harder jobs in the world than eating and writing about where one may sample the most expensive hamburger in the world — make mine a veggie burger, please — and drinking too many and then having to write ambiguously about elixirs we all know and love but cannot mention by name. It was a pretty good gig indeed, until it wasn’t any longer.

But that’s a story for another post. Sometime in the distant future when I am able to expound upon how the other half drinks and dines in this adult Disneyland, better known as the UAE.

So, this brings me to the future. Back when I started Lizzy of Arabia, it was a blog chronicling my journey acquainting myself with the city of Abu Dhabi. Said job, for all its shortcomings, gave me an introduction like no other to this land; I know it, and I know it well.

This blog will now be dedicated to further discovery of the city: things new and things old, things silly and things serious and good eats and even better drinks.

I will share them in the style that some of you came to know and hopefully like in the past. Let me know what you want me to write about. I am an open to suggestions. After one months’ break from F/T writing, I am ready, and my words are replenished. 

Heard Y’all Missed Me?! Well, I’m Back!

Heard Y’all Missed Me?! Well, I’m Back!

Hi there people! I am back to blogging. I was compelled to take some time off to experience earning money for writing = REVELATION! Lol.

Some of you know that I took a full time position in September as a writer for a weekly publication here in Abu Dhabi. This is my dream job – well, close. Let’s say that if it involved some travel writing, then it would be my hands down dream job.

Churning out the many articles that I do every week left me creatively sapped. There just was nothing left to blog about.

I also started to put too much emphasis on trying to monetize my blog. I vow to return to my roots in 2015 and just write for fun.

Lately, I feel a little different, as though I have something to share.

Perhaps it’s because I have two weeks off. Wahoo!!

Perhaps it’s the New Year? Putting some energy into Lizzy of Arabia is a resolution.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we are finally doing some traveling. You may remember we moved here to be closer to more places to which we dreamed of traveling. I waited patiently – which is NOT my forte – while the puzzles pieces of our expat lives here began to fit together.

In several days, we leave on a short, weeklong holiday to Chennai, India.

Chennai MapWhy Chennai? The answer is idk. Neither of us has been there. The flight is direct. It’s off the beaten track. It’s real.

My nomad feet have been itchy. I am excited to get back out in the big, wide world around us. I am so tired of 5 star everything. I long to be in a part of the world where one experiences life more viscerally. The life of an expat in Abu Dhabi is a bubble. I want to see real people in all kinds of states of existence, and India is full of exotic juxtapositions and wonders – it is one of my favorite countries in the world for the latter reason.

It should be an interesting week. We have planned nothing. We just want to explore and be surprised by the city. India is full of so many surprises: good and bad. We will be spending a sliver of Christmas night in Chennai; most of it will be in flight and transit.

So, Merry Christmas to anyone out there who observes. Peaceful wishes to all that don’t.

In the meantime, fill me in on what I missed in your lives. Some comments might inspire me to keep writing!

 

 

 

 

 

The Spidermen of Abu Dhabi

The Spidermen of Abu Dhabi
brunch in abu dhabi
Someone here is always brunching somewhere while others work
The unsung heroes of abu dhabi spiderman
Behold, the amazing spiderman!

While expats brunch on lobster tails, steak, wash it down with the finest bubbly and marvel at how any humans could get a window so sparkling, their 24K gold Ferrari ever-so-shiny, or a garden in the desert so verdant, laborers from all over the world toil away to make certain this capital city is as clean, shiny, green and new as we all have become accustomed. They are the unsung heroes of Abu Dhabi and deserve a shout out. I will try to give each a shout out from week-to-week. I’ll start with the spidermen of Abu Dhabi. 

Most workers labor outdoors in the oven-like heat of summer. I blogged about these men in a post entitled “A tale of two Abu Dhabis,” which I wrote some time ago. You see them everywhere from the cold comfort of your window. They are usually hot and sweaty as you might expect but, in my experience, quick to smile if you greet them first, unaccustomed as they are. Some don’t love their pictures taken, but who does when you are not photo-ready?!

Working together at great riches
Working together at great heights

Today, I want to shout out the acrobats of Abu Dhabi: the Spider men. Some may call them window-washers, but I think they are daring, good-spirited and circus-like dudes. Lately, we have been receiving warnings about whence they might appear in a window near you, but that wasn’t always the case. I recall being very new to our high rise and walking into my bedroom, fully clothed–thank some higher being–only to find a man dangling by my window holding his squeegee as one might a white flag. Gasp, and What the expletive! He then raised his hand to me in an “I come in peace” style, and I smiled back laughing. He laughed back through the window. This must happen to the danglin’ dude 20 times every day! The Spider men of Abu Dhabi regularly dangle from great heights on thin ropes precariously ensuring our high-rise windows are perfectly sparkling.

The Unsung Heroes of Abu Dhabi- Spidermen
There’s F1 in the background!

What I want to know is are these guys trained to do any kind of work at such great heights, or are they just naturally agile with reflexes so feline they are comfortable working at any height. Alternately, do they just arrive here from whence they came given an assignment and expected to do it? I have heard this is the case. I cannot imagine what it might be like if heights were NOT your thing and this position was assigned to you. 

I read and often write posts about the grandeur that is the UAE all the time. From 24K gold everything to lobster tails to upscale shopping, this land is wont for no sort of luxury imaginable. You may have gathered already that I this really is an amazing place to live for many. But, for others, this country offers a harder, hotter and more onerous existence; one in which fellow human beings don’t always recognize you as the “same” or seemingly as some kind of “other” from somewhere else. Alternatively, I see these hard-working professionals as daredevils, risk-takers, acrobats, and sometimes even entertainers. They known it’s unusual to be hanging 80 floors up on an Etihad Tower and when people want to take their photo, they mug. Wouldn’t you?

Unsung heroes of abu dhabi spidermen
How you can help the needy of Abu Dhabi.

If you are interested in helping the hard-working laborers of Abu Dhabi, grab a box! In September and October, you can pick up a box at many area Abu Dhabi locations and fill it with the provided shopping list, then return it to the same collection spot. The Box Appeal will then collect and disperse the boxes to the laborers with the help of the help of the Red Crescent. This may seem like a small gesture, but it makes a big difference to these hard-working individuals who send most of the income home to their families and are left with very little for themselves to live on. While some expats do very much live here to brunch, others want to make a difference, and I will you a few more ways in posts to come.

 Thank you, Emma Easter, Lynn Berry Leinecka and Pam Bowe for graciously donating their photos of these acrobats. 

New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

 

Que? How did I get here? New to Abu Dhabi?
Ever Wonder How You Got Here?

Are you new to Abu Dhabi? Just flew in? Lizzy of Arabia would like to extend a great big Welcome out to all the “newbs” here in Abu Dhabi…er…I mean August newcomers. You have come to the right place to get the 411. If you are wondering if it’s painfully obvious how “new” you look, wonder no more, you look dazed, sweaty and confused–like a gazelle in the headlights. It’s true! Your new friends won’t tell you, but I will, because I was you this time last year. And yes, I still look sweaty and a bit disheveled but that’s just my look, you got a problem with that?! Anyway, New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411 here!

Last year, we moved here and there was no one, I repeat no one, to help us. There was a little help at the hotel. There was no one at my husband’s work. There was no one at my kids’ school, which I least expected. I anticipated a welcome wagon of international moms or a guidebook or something, but there was NOTHING!—no welcoming moms, no parent handbook, no “Welcome to Abu Dhabi” guidebook. Nada, nothing! It was a genuine lost opportunity that I hope to help rectify at my kids’ school this year. Seriously, how everyone has missed this golden sales’ opportunity here baffles me, but that a whole other story of 24K golden missed opportunities in Abu Dhabi.

So, I have finally finished my Interactive map of Al Raha Beach and Khalifa City A (KCA) to help you find your way around.  In case you are unacquainted with American speak, “411” refers to “information/help.” To my knowledge, there is no other map like it. This one is rife with personal experiences and opinions, but if you learn only one new thing on this map, it will be worth your while. I am also happy to help with any questions you may have regarding doctors, dentists, cobblers, caterers, framers, masseurs, to bakeries and local photographers. I will also help you find a neighborhood to live in or that long, lost ingredient-I love to cook. If the practitioner/item/store you require is not here, e-mail me and I will help you to find it! If you are New to Abu Dhabi, click on the map to get the 411.

AD411 Map_New to Abu Dhabi?
New in town? Get the 411 here! Click the Map Above.

How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries

How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries
Awkward European Kisses_Lizzy of Arabia
Greeting people can be just SO awkward

For all my friends, family and readers who have been the victims or the unwitting aggressors (I think I have been both) of the awkward foreign-kiss-kiss-on-the-cheek-thing with new friends from other places, the link below is for you. Even if you have just wondered at times if you are doing it right or horribly wrong, read on about how to non-awkwardly greet people from different countries. I offer this for a few reasons:

  1. It can be SO awkward when you get it wrong. I cannot tell you how many times someone has gone in for that extra one as I was centering to pull away and, well, you-know-what happens.
  2. It is so distinctly un-american to greet each other like this. We are just inherently not touchy-feely people. 
  3. Speaking here as an American, I suggest that we need our own style of kiss. All right, it can be “theirs.” We don’t really have to think of our own. It has never stopped us before. Just take it! We can just co-opt their style, call it something else and say it’s “American.” After all we take everybody’s everything else, change the name, make it SO MUCH BETTER (in our eyes) and then proclaim ourselves the very best at it, right?! That’s just what we do. You needn’t look any further than the realm of sports to find the most blatant examples of this: Baseball (World Series against ourselves?), Football and Basketball–games no one else in the world plays or cares about. Let’s do it with the embrace! What should be our unique, best-in-the-world American style of embrace? 

Before I go trying to change the landscape of the embrace as we know it, let’s try to get down what other countries do first, all right? So, read on… How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries.

The Moon-Sighting Committee Doth Decree

The Moon-Sighting Committee Doth Decree

 

the moon-sighting committee doth decree_ppl
The Moon Sighting Committee looks a lot like I would think a moon-sighting committee might look.

Eid Mubarak, friends! Our homecoming happily coincided with the end of Ramadan and a short holiday for my husband. Last night in Saudi Arabia, the Moon-sighting committee doth decree that yesterday was the end of Ramadan, and today marks the first day of Eid Al Fitr. A “moon-sighting committee,” doesn’t that sound far out?! This breaking news reminded me of last summer. My husband landed here in Abu Dhabi this time last year, almost to the day. Our new home seemed so exotic and strange from the great distance we were apart. I was still in the states finalizing the move out of the house we sold, crashing in friend’s homes and saying our goodbyes. Meanwhile each night, I was hearing 1,001 tales of Abu Dhabi and, man, were they strange! My husband got here at the tail end of Ramadan, which we are in right now. Even before I arrived, our family was beginning to learn a lesson that will benefit each of us greatly throughout the rest of our lives. There are some things in this world we may never be able to fully understand or control. It might be the simplest lesson of all, but one of the hardest to learn.

My husband had just begun his new job, and I remember him recounting an enigmatic incident that occurred as he was leaving the office his first or second day of work. This story has stuck with me for 365 days. I am still trying to understand it. As he was walking out the door, a lady at the front desk called after him,

“Mr. Robert, Mr. Robert! Wait!” No one knew him yet and very little actual work occurs during Ramadan, so he was taken aback and turned to her with a bewildered “What Me?” sort of expression on his face.

“Mr. Robert,” she continued with an excited  smile, “we may not work tomorrow.” He returned her smile and responded,

“That’s nice. Why? And, when you say ‘may’ what does that mean?” She said,

“Tomorrow may be the Eid al Fitr: the end of Ramadan. We will know only tonight when the moon comes out.”

If I know my husband, his engineer mind could not possibly comprehend the numinous quality of this statement. Nor could he accept the idea that he may or may not work tomorrow with relation to any aspect of the moon. I can only attempt to recollect the dialogue thereafter.

“Well, no. That’s ok. My family is not here, and I don’t really know anyone yet. I am happy to work. I think I may come in tomorrow no matter what happens with the moon. Is that all right?” Aghast, the young lady replied,

“No, sir. You cannot work. No one will work, if it’s the end of Ramadan. We will celebrate a joyous day tomorrow, Insha’Allah.” She replied passionately. “If only the moon is just right, there is no work, only food and party.”

I can imagine my husband’s head cocked just so trying to process this information presented, not to offend her or Islam, but still make it fundamentally clear that this made no sense to him. In the end, I bet he just rolled with it—he can do that sometimes—jet lag helps a lot. The prospect of a day lying in couldn’t have sounded bad to him just then either, and he replied,

“Okay, so how will I know?” His acceptance of this good fortune must have relieved her. After all, who doesn’t want a day off? She beamed,

“I will call you when the moon comes out, okay, Mr. Robert? I will tell you.”

the moon-sighting committee doth decree__moon
What the moon did tell last night.

She clasped her hands together at her fait accompli (getting an engineer to grasp a matter that both requires a leap of faith and is antithetical to reason) and darted off. I guess she was responsible for making certain that the newbie didn’t show up the next morning to locked office doors because no one had bothered to tell him about exactly how the moon came out–sucker. Last summer, I thought she was probably the pious sort who actually believed in the whole “moon thing,” but, having been here a year, I know that, more likely, she waited until the announcement of the moon’s orientation to first call my husband and then to go out and party. Who can blame her? An impromptu week off is worthy of a celebration, right?!

One year in, I can honestly say I still don’t understand this aspect of Islam. I am still quietly wondering to myself why they don’t understand that for hundreds of years we have been able to predict the moon’s orientation. I wonder what they do if the night happens to be cloudy. Exactly who makes up this moon-sighting committee, and how does one qualify to be in it? All I know is that this aspect of Islam is steeped in tradition. It doesn’t really add up if you examine it logically. If you scratched its surface you could find a lot of flaws, but the same would be true for its counterparts: Judaism and Christianity—all three are riddled with inconsistencies if you attempt to regard them as a scientist, fact-checker or historian. It’s better to assume the role of a tourist with regard to a religion that is not your own. You will never fully get it; It’s not yours to critique. It is yours to marvel at its beauty: poetically and spiritually, but ignore its deficiencies. I am no closer to having a greater depth of understanding about the traditional culture at large here, but I can grasp the bigger picture. The UAE is a country careening towards the future at a breakneck pace, while simultaneously trying to hit the breaks and retain traditions; a challenging balance, if not an impossible one to strike. I was not here for much of Ramadan, but it was thought provoking to catch the end of it. I cannot even fathom the act of fasting for even one day, let alone 30! I cannot imagine the amount of piety it must take to perform this ritual. The moon-sighting committee will serve as a reminder to me about the virtue of tolerance. There are things numinous and things spiritual that will not make absolute sense to us as we walk through life, especially if we take the opportunity to travel. We must accept these aspects of different cultures because they are dear to our neighbors, because we are all human, and because we are all better for attempting to understand what makes each other tick rather than assume postures of superiority, difference or of conflict. We must learn about and honor what is important to our fellow world-dwellers because it creates a culture of peace. 

Here is a brief explanation of this tradition for anyone interested. I did learn that moon-sighting has something to do with camels, which, of course, makes it endlessly fascinating to me. The Shawwāl (شوّال) is the tenth month of the lunar Islamic calendarShawwāl means to ‘lift or carry’; so named because she-camels normally would be carrying a fetus at this time of year. Moon-Sighting at Ramadan (acc. to Wikipedia):

There is a debate among the Muslim community on just how to calculate the beginning of the month of Ramadan (or indeed any month, but Ramadan takes on special importance). The traditional method, mentioned in the Qur’an and followed by the Prophet Muhammad, is to look to the sky and visibly sight the slight crescent moon (hilal) that marks the beginning of the month. If one sees the hilal at night, the next day is the first day of Ramadan and thus the first day of fasting.  At the end of the month, when the community sights the hilal again, the Festival of Fast-Breaking (‘Eid al-Fitr) begins.

 

 

Reverse First Impressions

Reverse First Impressions

Memory lane reverse first impressionsFor any of you that follow this blog, I thought it may be of interest to “some” (that’s code for my mother) to explore my reverse first impressions; i.e. my thoughts on being back in the US after 11 months in Abu Dhabi. To preface this post, this is not the first time, nor the longest, I have been away from my home country, but this time it feels a little bit different. All the other times I returned from being abroad, I was returning to the US “for good” (a.k.a. until my feet got itchy again). This time is brief: 25 days to be exact. I cannot stay longer for tax purposes; I am not sure I want to stay longer; I am conflicted. A mere two weeks into moving to Abu Dhabi, I pondered my First Impressions; it seems apropos of everything to follow up with reverse first impressions.

lush trees reverse first impressionsSo, I am first and most profoundly struck by the obvious: it is so lush and verdant here. It’s invigorating to not be in a desert…in summertime, duh! The UAE has made life in their naturally inhospitable country so darn hospitable, I almost forgot about such lovely, quotidian things as trees, dew, birdsong, grass, thunderstorms, fresh air and drizzle. You laugh, friends from home, but I promise you the aforementioned things are gifts (some might say from a god; I have no opinion from whence they come, but I can say they are nothing to take for granted). Please take a renewed listen to the birdsong for me. Deeply inhale the dewy morning air of summer. Roll in the grass and take good care of your trees. There could come a day that you are creating all these things out of whole-cloth in a vain attempt to resemble other nations, like some countries I know, wink wink. There are a few things modern technology can do bigger and better, but I still think that re-creating the natural world might be still off-limits for man, try as you might; I know you-know-who will keep trying.

reverse-first-impressions-white-picket-fence-my-ideal-homeIt’s not as dangerous here as I remember thinking it was, that is, if you remember to turn off the news. Of course, the town my mother stays in is a quintessential “Pleasantville.” I hail from a neighboring town, so I am quite familiar with the lay of the land. Very little happens here, good or bad, which is so nice. You turn on the news and, well, no one is talking about this town. It’s Victorian charm is not so newsworthy. I guess I have gone from one bubble into another; call me a bubble surfer. Maybe no town I have ever lived in is all that dangerous? Perhaps the 24-hour news’ cycle somehow managed to terrorize even me: one without TV proper (our family has not had a cable TV account since maybe 2004 or so). I hate, hate, hate the US media—there are no words for my abhorrence, and I hate so few things. I think it’s tragic. My dear mother, with whom I am fortunate enough to have this short-term abode, is simply fastened to the TV about both the Oscar Pistorius trial and the baby-who-died/was-allegedly-murdered in the hot car in Georgia. I wonder why the US media barely mentions the uprisings in Iraq, the ever-pressing Typhoon about to hit fragile Japan or the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but can find 8 hours straight to discuss some dumbass idiot who allegedly left his toddler to die in a car for $27K insurance money? (I know, I know far too much about the #hotcardeath and, yes, there’s a hashtag for that. Go America! I suppose it’s better than the reverse-first-impressions-News-Media-Logos #24hournews #usmedia#hotmugshotguy, but anyway. Methinks I watch too much news.) Well, I don’t really wonder why the American media is not discussing global news; I guess “wonder” is the wrong word. I already know; it’s very selective news sourcing. It is surprisingly similar to the controlled/restricted news we receive in Abu Dhabi, which really begs the question what is the fine line between “republic” and “autocracy” when it comes to freedom of speech and information? For all the gazillion channels, media outlets and perceived “freedoms” of information we think we have in the US, do we honestly have any more truthful news reporting than other cripplingly controlled nation states? I think not. Our news sourcing is as manipulated, but everyone here believes they are free. I’d take an honest autocracy any day over a republic, which makes its citizens hostages to debt, healthcare, perceived freedoms, et al. But, I digress. Let’s get back to food & shopping—everyone likes food & shopping, right?

reverse-first-impressions-US-flagI pledge my allegiance to shopping in America. I have no allegiance to my ersatz government. If shopping were a religion (and for many it is), Dubai would be shopping’s holiest city, but America is its birthplace. Shopping is honestly something we do better than any nation on earth. There are no better deals anywhere else. Customer service is AWESOME! You can return anything—words cannot possibly express how much I miss this power! Like dew, birdsong and rain, you people don’t appreciate the ability to return something you do not like, circus mirrors conned you into buying or “what-was-I-on when I bought this” kind of purchases, until it’s gone. Returns are just made, item returned, money back–no questions asked. Why, oh why, can the rest of the world not get with this? It should be in our bill of rights because it is so well abided by all merchants. I think we need a new bill of rights in America, which basically ensures our right to spend frivolously WITHOUT regret. You can say, I don’t really like this item I just bought and return it. We cannot seem to do this with our lifer “elected” representatives, can we? We cannot so easily return a president or obese governor (sorry Jersey, he’s garbage) when we realize it’s not a great fit, can we? Why not? I digress again. It always seems to circle back to politics with me, doesn’t it?

reverse-first-impressions-mini-meAnyway, I have some long-lost friends to catch up with in the time that I have left here: college and high school. It’s wonderful to see people that I have known—some since I was 2–all grown up with successful, gorgeous families. It’s even more amazing to see the cycle of life. I see my friends in their kids in ways only an outsider can perhaps see. They see their children all the time, but some of these kids I have not seen since they were babies or ever, so I can see their moms and/or dads distinctly in their faces, mannerisms and style. We have this whole new generation of mini-mes that I believe are all destined for greatness, and we all know this world could use a hefty dose of gravitas and greatness in this moment and time in history. My reverse first impressions are evolving daily. You can maybe expect a part ٢, but I’m not promising it.  

 

 

 

Get A Room Already

Get A Room Already

My unremitting blogging about Saadiyat Island may lead some to wonder “Why Don’t You Get A Room Already” out there? I really should, I know–I love the place. Saadiyat Island is already home to a museum, beaches, wildlife and great restaurants and will soon to be home to the Guggenheim and the Louvre. I would say it’s almost urban (being only about 5 minutes away from the heart of the city), but it also feels like a SoCal beach town on a sleepy Sunday morning. In short, it’s perfect. So, why don’t I live here? Well, I cannot afford it—it’s pricey. It’s far from everything in our life and, honestly, I LOVE Al Raha Beach. So, this girl will have to be content visiting, which is what I did the other night. I teased this yummy night out here a week or so ago in veni, vidi, vici locustam marina. Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabiWe called in an overdue date night. I reserved a table at a restaurant, named Caramel, that I had heard great things about, and we made the exquisite, pre-sunset drive out to Saadiyat Island. It was a lovely night there, but it always is. We caught the tail end of yet another sun descending into the turquoise sea like a watercolor painting. Ahhh, are you with me people? I digress; let’s get back to food. I was starving. It was almost 8pm and, well, I work, and I am a mom, and I usually eat around 6pm. Can you hear my stomach growling?! We walked through “The Collection,” which is simply an assemblage (kind of a labyrinth) of upscale shops and restaurants, to find Caramel. Do not be deterred by how tucked away it is. I’ll give you Caramel is a wee bit hard to find if you are a man, and you refuse to ask for directions, but don’t be! There are friendly security guards all over the place. Just ask. They will happily guide you to Caramel—it is, after all, where you need to eat if you are as hungry as I was. All the restaurants in the Collection are upscale, inspired and amazing. I chose Caramel because it’s friendly and easygoing with a L.A.-meets-Ibiza kind of vibe. Several fabulously attractive, tall, must-be-model kind of gals greeted us at the door. I had to forcibly elbow my dear husband’s tongue back in his mouth once or twice that evening. Fortunately for us—and by “us” you know I mean “me”–a wonderful young waiter, named Chamith—a dude—waited on our table. He couldn’t have been any better at his job, unless he had been a 5’10 bleached blonde model wearing such a short skirt—get off of here, husband! Seriously, Chamith was perfect. I cannot easily think of anything he could do to improve—I never say this about anything/one. The same was true for the Floor Manager, Surranga Kank. He floated cordially from table-to-table, saying hello to every diner so naturally, as passionate about his every customer as he was his ingredient sourcing/derivation/preparation and, of course, his cricket—yes, husband had to go there. :/ Let us not talk about cricket though; it’s my blog and I’d rather talk about food. Let’s get back to the menu.

Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Wednesday, wine night!

It was a Wednesday night, so the wine bottle was out. We both had to work early the next day. Nevertheless, one glass can’t hurt, right? Caramel’s wine selection is representative of every major wine-producing region. It was hard to select just the right glass, so we went with our waiter’s recommendations. He knew a lot about wine, and his choices did not disappoint us. The menu at Caramel is inspired. It was so hard to choose a starter. We were looking for something different, unlike dishes we usually order, so we went with Crispy Eggplant and TNT Shrimp and scallops. We also ordered our mains because, again, it was Wednesday—not exactly a big night out. My husband ordered the pan-seared lamb loin (southern hemisphere thing), and I went with the 1.5 Kg Maine Lobster (western hemisphere thing) and OMG! What a lobster it was! Enough about the lobster though, let’s talk about the starters. Was it fair to call these lavish indulgences “starters”? The Eggplant was crispy and succulent with the yummiest hoisin sauce. The TNT shrimp and scallops were firm and flavorful with a piquant topping that could be described as something like Srichaha meets sweet chili and then meets creamy and makes perfection. I don’t know exactly what the sauce was, but it was good, and we were both full after polishing those off. Thankfully, the wait staff gave us a bit of time to digest before they brought out our mains. 

Caramel's crispy eggplant starter Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Crispy Eggplant 
Caramel's TNT Shrimp & Scallops Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
TNT Shrimp & Scallops 

There wasn’t rest time enough in the world to be ready for the enormous delicacy that was set before me about 30 minutes after the starters. Behold, my dining challenge. Say “Hello” (and goodbye) to my little friend! What presentation! It was elegant and enormous. I wanted to take its picture more than I wanted to eat it, because I was still so full. 

1.5KG Stuffed Maine Lobster Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
My marine foe–All 1.5Kg of it.
Pan-seared lamb loin Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Pan-seared Lamb Loin 

I took a few photos of my feast, while my husband dug into his gorgeous lamb loin. I am not a fan of lamb, but it did look great. So you know, I am not usually one to take food photos. Not only is the practice bad restaurant etiquette, but it is disruptive to your night out–seems narcissistic and self involved (imo). Nevertheless, that night I made an exception. There were few other diners, and those that were there were very cordial as was the management, so I snapped away. I finally took a deep breath and dug into my titanic Maine lobster, and, well I ate the whole thing—all 1.5kg worth of it; it was heavenly. I had not had a Maine lobster in a long time—as in a longbefore-we-moved-to-Abu-Dhabi kind of long time. I don’t usually pig out like that but the freshness, preparation and presentation offered the “perfect meal trifecta,” and it just happened. I could see the wait staff was pleased—they didn’t think I could do it, and I did it. I really do like to surprise people.

Creme Brule Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Crème brûlée

I was lobster-deprived; it was a fact. Surranga, the manager, made certain that we left Caramel sated and having had a full appreciation of the menu. He would not allow us to leave without sampling the dessert, and sample we did (despite being ready to burst at our seams). I tried the Crème brûlée meets bananas Foster because why not? It was rich and divine; I took two bites and that was that. Let’s call it a wrap. You can now officially roll me out the door. Please stop me now from eating another bite at Caramel! I am pleading with youWe settled up. Surranga kindly offered to give us a brief tour, and we obliged happily. A DJ was just about to spin, and the night was only beginning for all the night owls spilling in from wherever they came, but we early birds had to mosey along, stuffed and happy. Someday I may be fortunate enough to get a room already on Saadiyat but, until then I can visit and dine there. Caramel is a restaurant that truly knows its stuff. The food and wine menu is as diverse and inspired as the ambience and staff were flawless. I will happily return to Caramel Abu Dhabi the next time I feel the need to visit a happening restaurant that somehow manages to integrate the aura of home: a place that will not let you leave feeling unappreciated, unacknowledged or hungry. Give Caramel a try; I doubt you will be disappointed. Follow Caramel on twitterinstagram and Facebook.