It's the Thursday after my Friday brunch at the Al Bustan's Beach Pavillion, and at the risk of putting a godawful song in your head, I've still got sand in my shoes (note to self and Dido: wear flip-flops to sandy venues). I've also still got a big smile on my face. This season - winter, the one that just finally arrived ten days ago - there is a new concept for the Friday brunch. That made me concerned, because I loved the existing concept so much; I wrote about it earlier this year, in deservedly glowing terms. I even called it my favourite food to eat on a Friday. So I went back, to check that everything is still awesome.

It is. Was that paragraph break enough to constitute a dramatic pause? Maybe I should have hit enter again. Because actually, it's not a given that brunch at the Al Bustan will be awesome. Lots of people I've gushed to about the brunch have been surprised to hear it's so fun, informal, and reasonably-priced. They're not surprised the food rocks, but they don't expect such a fancy institution to operate a laid-back and glorious way to fill your Friday. It has 'palace' in its name; it's not necessarily where you'd think of for a sandy, boozy, chilled-out feast for 39 OMR.

Well, by now you'll likely have clicked on the link above, eagerly devoured the post I wrote on this brunch back in March, made notes, and returned here, ready to compare the two experiences. That's very impressive, but I've already done it for you. The essentials are still there: great price, ridiculously fresh and tasty food, unbeatable location, and friendly staff who seem happy to be there and happy you are, too. There are still so many different cuisines that you can easily make this an eight-course affair, without danger of duplication. And the best drink I ever had, the clear Bloody Mary invented by the culinary geniuses at the Al Bustan, is still there in pride of place. The wall of cheese stands tall and you can still have flavour-packed, herb-infused honeys, specially-paired, for each slice or dollop.

Debuts for this season include a ceviche station, manned by Chef Bryce himself. I never heard of a ceviche station but I love ceviche and things I've never heard of. There was hammour, shrimp, and scallop on offer, each with its own marination. Dear god. You must try the hammour ceviche - it's made with charred corn and coconut and it's a revelation. When I tasted it, I sat back in my chair stunned for half a minute. 

What else is new? There's an oyster station, complete with various dressings - just ask the friendly oyster guy for his recommendation - and a tabasco oyster shooter too, which provides the inept with a far easier and less scary way of eating them than glugging down one of the cat-sized oysters also available. I like the thought of something in a shot glass being the classier option. The sushi station has also expanded, and there's a range of cured salmon there (try the beetroot one - sweet and delicious). Fresh local crab, or one flown in from Alaska. Homemade tuna confit. Slices of lobster, of course. More lobster outside in the cosy garden, where you can get some perfectly-cooked steak to turf up your surf. There's lamb out there too on the barbecue, and a biryani station. Through every station, there's an emphasis on freshness, quality, and local produce, and it makes the food sing.

A couple of changes I should point out. The music is more beach loungey house type stuff, very Dubaiesque, but don't expect singalongs like I was treated to in March - I'm guessing they weren't always as harmonious as the one I witnessed and have thus been jettisoned. And this season is missing the little tasters that were brought around randomly on my first visit - I loved this because it allowed me to sit happily on my chair instead of hoisting myself up to peruse the many stations. Possibly the growing awareness of the global obesity problem has caused the Al Bustan staff to re-think this indulgence of the lazy, or maybe a manager saw what was happening and said, what the hell? Let them get up and get their own damn food, it's right there and it's really good. I did notice one waiter carrying a child back to his table, having taken him to look at the balloon animals being made, and asked if this porter service was available for adults too, but he just laughed so I didn't pursue it.

Desserts were gorgeously presented and lovely to eat - rosewater macaroons, lemon meringues in dark chocolate shells - and there's an ice-cream station too. Then to the wall of cheese and freshly-baked breads. This all happens over a four hour period of course - I'm not a beast. It makes for a perfect day and a total mess of your body clock. Forget dinner, write off the Saturday, and go to bed to sleep it off at 7pm, full and happy and a bit drunk. The wine was really lovely - Veuve Cliquot was on offer too but I liked the white they had. And at the end of the meal, we asked if there were any liqueurs. They're not included in the package price, but we wanted something zingy to end with. The waiter listed the options, we ordered, but then instead of the drinks coming over, the barman did. Would sir and madam perhaps prefer some of the Al Bustan's homemade limoncello? Well, I almost swore with joy. Not only that, but when the guy came back with limoncello, he brought some mandarin-cello too! What a brilliant day. You should go and have one too. Stations change up weekly depending on what's good and what amazing ideas the chef has had. Here's the Al Bustan's Facebook page, and you can reserve a table by calling 24799666.




























It's Oman's 45th National Day! Everyone's celebrating, and this morning a quick trip to the bank made me regret actually having had breakfast on the 18th of November - what am I, just off the boat? Of course there will be food everywhere. Here's what I found at my favourite branch of National Bank of Abu Dhabi, where one of the managers (pictured) is a also a baker, and everyone is kind - I was given three badges and a special National Day scarf, had my picture taken with the whole team, downed four Omani coffees, and activated my credit card. I love Oman. Have a great National Day!








There's sometimes a bit of a negative attitude towards Omani brands. Yes, I know we are honouring National Day this week and everything is lit up and festive and we're all happy and patriotic, but I've seen it in retail and food for years - it's a feeling that something from Somewhere Else is by its nature better than something from Here. You could buy a tip-top Rolex in Muscat, but you'd probably prefer to get the same one from Dubai, or London. Why is that? There's a cache attached to being able to afford things from shinier malls, I suppose, and a slight suspicion that if it's in Oman, it might be fake or last season. And there's the perceived added value of being able to say, oh this? I picked it up in Dubai. When first-time customers came into my shop and asked, as they very frequently did, where is this brand from, I used to proudly say, TOTEM is an Omani brand. And then 90% of those new faces would fall slightly, until I would add, and we source all our labels from the US, the UK, France...faces back into the accepted position that says alright, shop-lady, I am willing to browse your rails now. But we have loads of awesome home-grown brands here - some of them now sold in my shop, in fact - and I haven't seen many of them celebrated to the extent they should be, with the exception of Ali Al Habsi. (Sadly, Ali Al Habsi is not sold in my shop.)

Well, that is a rant I've been wheeling out for the 12 years I've been in Oman, and given that I have these feelings, and being such an old hand and a food blogger of sorts, there is really no excuse for never having tried the food of The Dried Lemon. This is a husband and wife team who really are celebrated here - I've never heard a bad word about any of their dishes. I got to try their cooking at Shahrazad in the Shangri-La, where Chef Salim is guesting for the week. I was expecting a fusion of sorts - I know Chef Salim is passionate about bringing Omani cuisine to the world, and the team recently returned from a successful stint in Milan doing just that. But it wasn't so much fusion as a neat and well-executed update of tradition local food and ingredients. (I was glad; fusion scares me a bit, and I'm glad it seems to be dying a death. Whenever I've had it, it all feels a bit Emperor's New Clothes - well this combination of foods is revolting, but does that opinion make me horribly old-fashioned? Or maybe racist! I'll just pretend I really like this Yorkshire pudding sashimi.)

We started with a super-tasty clear lamb broth, flavoured with their signature dried lemon, and also lots of other spices that I couldn't identify, nor persuade Chef Salim to name. There was a little more merging of cuisines in the main course - marinated local kingfish on a bed of risotto - but in my opinion, Italian cooking can and should be introduced to all other types, because it makes everything better. This dish was also a delight, and thank goodness it was a press launch and I didn't have to impress anyone, because I practically scraped the glaze off the plate trying to mop up every last grain of rice. Dessert was a deconstructed lemon cheesecake, the tumbling presentation inspired by the mountains of Oman, and the flavours were astounding. Deconstructed is one of the words on a menu that is guaranteed to set off a subtle endorphin rush in my brain, along with 'hand-reared' and 'wild-crafted', unless I just made that last one up. Also, I love it when deconstructing something makes it better and prettier, and isn't used to apologise for not being the proper shape, as when I make deconstructed omelettes at home. Anyway, this was also a freaking triumph, a mind-blowing version of an established favourite. This is a good week to start celebrating Omani fine-dining, if you haven't already. Chef Salim is at the Shangri-La until the 19th for lunch and dinner, and you can book by calling 24776565, or email fbreservation.slmu@shangri-la.com.














* contains alcohol

The lack of an alcohol license is no barrier to a kitchen putting out delicious food, but there are some cuisines that are better with booze, both in the preparation and as an accompaniment and complement to the meal. French food without white wine? Ah bah, what is this? Steak served without red? I'll have that to go, thanks. To go back to my sofa where my wine is. I can count on one finger the number of pizza places here where you can have a) good pizza and b) a beer with it. 

Plenty of restaurants here operate dry and do very well, no doubt, and I wish them all the best, but oh lord, I am SO HAPPY to hear that the only decent Latin American restaurant in town, Rumba Lattina, is now serving frosty cervezas with your empanadas, or a bottle of lovely Chilean wine. Oh I'm happy.

There are also some awesome packages on offer: these guys have spent a year just itching to get going with the booze, and they want to share the joy. Sunday to Thursday, there's a happy hour from 12 noon to 3, with 30% off all beverages. I'm all for that. Daytime drinking, during the week! That's Latin living. (I don't have a problem, I just love authenticity.) Happy hour continues in the evening, 6 to 8. Ladies: from Sunday to Wednesday, after 8, you get three free house drinks. And there's a brunch every Friday and Saturday; that's a brilliant deal, you get a killer four-course meal with unlimited bubbly for OMR 20++. The license also means that Rumba can finally become the cool Latino lounge we've been meant to while away nights in.

Johnny, Rumba Lattina's award-winning bartender, mixologist, and flair artist, must be overjoyed to finally be able to twizzle bottles of tequila as well as homemade blackberry puree - the restaurant has been waiting over a year for this license to come through, and we long-time fans of the food have too (it's really good; regional, authentic and made from truly Latin ingredients. Here, read about it). And I really thought that I loved Rumba's tres leche dessert before, but trying it tonight with the staple ingredient, coconut liqueur, taking its rightful place centre plate, made me wish I knew how to say something in Spanish along the lines of 'what the hell? That's the best thing I ever tasted!', which would have been a good way to wrap up a Latin-themed blog post. But I don't speak Spanish so I can't. Ay ay ay.








When we turned up at Eat Street today, on its first lunch shift since soft-opening last week, it was packed, and we were hard-pressed to find a table, and so slid into one of the booths that hadn't yet been cleaned after the last occupants left. Must have been kids here, I thought, when I saw the proliferation of dirty napkins on the seat. I was wrong. Grown-ups will get messy here, too, which, with street food, is a good thing, the proof in the pudding. Next time I go, I will ask for a kilo of tissue on arrival. And I will go again. Eat Street is awesome.

Usually, in Oman, 'international cuisine' either means a boring-ass buffet, or a roadside restaurant covering all its bases but not doing anything particularly well. Eat Street's underpinning street food concept lifts it above the dull, and the desperate. The menu is exciting and it makes sense - plus, it is a genius idea in that they will never want for new dishes. They have every street in every country from which to source inspiration. Their current lunch menu, we were told, is limited compared to the evening one. And already they've dipped into a whole load of disparate cultures and made it work. 

So what did we have? I refer to my notes, photos, and the stains on my face: the Chang-Mai coconut chicken burger, the Bondi burger, the Canadian poutine, the Ukrainian langos, the Spanish churros and the Parisian crepes. There are also a dozen or so 'pizzas' on offer - the inverted commas are for the Italian purists reading this - which boast toppings such as gnocchi, Caribbean salsa, and hummus. I don't know. Who can really say what is a pizza, and what is bread with things on top of it? I'm too full at the moment to proffer an opinion. I will say though, also for the purists, that the Canadian I lunched with proclaimed the poutine to be very tasty, but decidedly NOT poutine. It's a curd issue, apparently.

As for the rest, it was well-presented - in supercool surroundings and a buzzy atmosphere - and really, really tasty. My chicken burger was perfect - succulent, bursting with flavour and texture, and it left a fragrant crust around my mouth. The star of the day, though, and the biggest surprise, was the Ukrainian langos. For those of you unfamiliar with Ukrainian cuisine, I am now able to condescend to you by sharing that this is a dish usually served with the national salad, on New Year's Eve; deep-fried bread, made from a special dough, and stuffed with sour cream, cheddar, and mozzarella. Just a tiny crunch on the outside, delightfully light and gooey within. It's the cheapest dish on the menu, too, and definitely my favourite. And the churros were lovely too - there's clearly someone in the Eat Street kitchen who knows their way around a deep-fryer. I could have done with a little more sauce, and some saltiness in the caramel dip, but I'm nit-picking. Speaking of which, the bill comes to your table tucked inside a copy of the Lonely Planet. It's a nice touch; it celebrates the global nature of the food, but I only worked that out after the change came back in a Tanzania edition...we'd been handed the tab in Syria, from 1999, which was a bit confusing and kind of depressing to flick through. Tanzania was much more cheery. It's got a picture of a giraffe on it.

Eat Street is in MQ, next to Crafty Kitchen, and it's open for lunch 12pm to 3pm, and dinner 6pm to 11pm. They only just opened so remember to go in with a little patience and before the worst of your hunger hits - the staff, although admirably friendly, helpful and informative, were pretty stretched today at 1.30. And take some wipes and a mirrored compact for after.















I usually write about things I've already eaten, but I'm making an exception for this, firstly because it's a bit more useful to you that way when it comes to events, in that you need to know before they happen in order to attend, and secondly because I went to this last year and loved it. It's a box-ticker: the food, the music, the atmosphere, the setting. And the moon, ah the moon. It's a ridiculously romantic night. At least one new couple who attended the first of these events is now happily married - coincidence? So, now, read about how much I enjoyed the first Shangri-La's Full Moon Beach Dinner, then call 24776514 and book your seats for the next one, which is on October 27th.


Quick, make this before summer is over. It's delicious and light and so easy.

Peel the outer leaves off a nice big raw fennel bulb, and discard those ones. Keep the green feathery bits on the top of the fennel, and chop them finely. Then slice the rest of the fennel up, from the top down to keep the shape. Peel an orange, and slice that up too. Put the orange and the fennel (including those feathery bits) in a bowl with some black olives, and add salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Leave it marinate for a few minutes. Eat.

Because this is quite an unusual dish, can be made in advance, and has a fancy Italian name, it's good to serve as a dinner party starter. If you want to enjoy it to the full, though, I suggest eating it alone, so you can slurp the juice at the end without fear of judgement.


In my life, which has clearly included far too much free time, I've come up with a number of spectacular ideas. Nasty, scheming people later thought of and had the foresight to patent some of them. The Bum Bra, conjured up on a particularly humiliating cross-country run past the local boys' school (I was a chubby youth), was later brought to market in America under another name and made its inventor millions. That was my biggest miss. It was also me who thought up the idea of putting express salons at airports. I'm a genius. Other ideas are still in tact - disposable sieve inners, that's one I might just put into production. I hate cleaning sieves and would far rather throw away the clogged metal basin than spend precious minutes stabbing ineffectively at bits of dried pasta with a too-thick fork tine.

One idea that nobody, including me, has dared to put into practice yet, is my world-changing weight-loss concept: Imaginarianism. I think there are still Fruitarians around (although they are probably dying out quite fast, but quietly), and you remember the Breatharians? They claimed to exist only on air and positive thoughts. Well, Imaginarianism takes that idea, does away with the positive thinking aspect - it's just not practical if you're trying to lose weight - and replaces it with a package (which would be purchased online, from me, at a totally exorbitant reasonable price) including DVDs, books, posters, and of course an app.

This is a GUARANTEED weight-loss programme. Anyone strong enough to type a letter of complaint at the end of it is welcome to their money back. It works on strong scientific principles that I made up. The core of it is this: the hard thing about cutting back on the foods you love is the loss of the pleasure you would otherwise get from them. And yet we know, from some article I must have read somewhere, that the mere THOUGHT of food can not only set the metabolism racing (witness the explosion on social media of Food Porn) but can lead to a feeling of fullness, happiness, and satisfaction, the smell being close behind imagination as the most powerful sense. Couple these unquestionable facts together and you have Imaginarianism, where you lose weight by not eating, and IMAGINING that you are. 

Obviously you can't just go ahead and do this on your own. Oh no. Much like Scientology, you must master the art through a series of stages. So, within my Imaginarianism package, you would receive stimulating, sensuous essays on gourmet meals; scratch cards with some of the most delicious scents - freshly-baked bread, cookie dough, a juicy steak on the grill; breathtaking photos of Michelin-starred food that I will steal from Pinterest  source from celebrity chefs. The app would direct you to nearby eateries with well-placed, discreet windows against which to press your nose. Also, recipes you can make yourself in order to savour the scent of the cooking, solely for consumption by non-initiates of course, if you choose to stay in contact with any of these weak, flabby, inferior people after you've completed a couple of stages of Imaginarianism and are empowered and beautifully emaciated.

Well I can't say any more, copyright and all that, and the details won't be completely worked out until I get the money from Kickstarter. Meanwhile I will continue working on taglines. 'You Are What You Think You Eat'. Too long? 'Don't Fill Your Plate: Contemplate!' Or maybe just '(contem)plate'. In the right font, some sort of scientific/hipster type, that could look great, and would make a nice Instagram handle too. Although 'Imagine You Look Good' is my favourite so far. 

(Patent pending.)


When you get a dog, you want to give him or her the very best of everything, including awesome, species-appropriate, natural and nourishing food. This was our feeling when Carmen came to live with us a few months ago. (Not sure why we never thought about doing it for the cats, but there you go. They're indifferent, we're indifferent. I don't hear them complaining. And if I did, I could just shut the door.)

Carmen gets a mix of raw and homemade food. Our main aim is her health and well-being, but the homemade food has an extra benefit, which is the the house is frequently scented with the broth we prepare for her. It's way nicer than wet dog smell. The broth is made with beef bones, primarily. Incidentally, it is not always easy to find these. Al Fair bring everything in boneless, la-di-da. And unscrupulous customers whose dog-ownership pre-dates ours have already got the Carrefour guys sewn up...but we beg them like orphaned strays to toss us a femur every now and then. Lulu is the best, as they sell pre-packaged bones right there with their steaks and ribs, although they're not always very meaty.

So. You slow-cook the bones in water, stirring every so often to make sure to get all the bones under the water where they can seep their goodness fully, for four or five hours. Near the end, add the herbs and spices. Use a combination of pretty much any of them; we usually include cinnamon, turmeric, and fresh parsley and coriander. (Sometimes we go a bit Mediterranean and use rosemary, thyme, sage.) Throw some fennel seeds in there too. These all make it taste good, smell good, and each ingredient purportedly boosts dog-health in various ways: digestion, joint strength, even breath-freshening. If in doubt, go and check www.canigivemydog.com. Just ignore the bits they sometimes put in the articles along the lines of "yes you can, but why would you want to when your dog could be eating this delicious Purina?"

Once it smells really good, you strain it off. Remove the bones, scrape all the meaty bits off them, and add those back into the broth. Throw the cooked bones away, properly! Do not throw them NEAR the bin in the road, where my dog might eat them and DIE! Poorly-discarded cooked bones are the bane of our neighbourhood walks, and it's very unfair, given that I go to such nauseating lengths to leave the streets as I found them. There really should be special sealed bone-bins. Anyway. Skim the fat from the top if you want, or leave it if you're trying to get your dog pudgier; it's full of good stuff. While it cools, you can steam your vegetables, or toss them in some olive oil; when they're cooked lightly, blend them up and throw them in your stew pot with the broth. If the bones weren't super-meaty, you can add some chicken thighs in there.

That's it! We make a couple of batches a week and serve it for dinner every night after her walk. Also, if you're feeling a bit smug from taking such good care of your dog by producing this amazing high-performance mega-broth, you can reward yourself by siphoning off a bit for yourself before you've added the vegetables, seasoning, and using it as a stock for risotto and so forth. It tastes fantastic and you will develop a lovely thick and shiny coat.

(Now, the broth, while nutritious and tasty, is not that attractive, especially when it's in a dog bowl, so instead please find below a picture of our beautiful dog, as proof of its efficacy.)









"Oh, I'm sorry, I can't talk now! I'm in the middle of baking a cake!"

I had my phone with me in the kitchen and was dying for someone to call so I could say that. (Nobody did.) I don't bake very often. I had been on the sofa finishing up a task, closed my laptop and looked around for something to do. "Go and bake a cake", said Maurizio. Well. That's the first time in our years together that he's ever suggested I go to the kitchen - mostly if I suggest it, he pales and shudders - so I thought I had best act on it.

I stood in the kitchen for a while. A long while, looking at the cupboards. Then I saw a photo of me on the wall, taken years ago in our old apartment - I've got a smudge of flour on my forehead and one on my cheek, and a mixing bowl in my hands. I think this is the last time I baked. It was 2008. (I remember putting the flour on my face so I looked more housewifely.) I opened the cupboards. They were full of stuff. There is a whole baking cupboard, in my kitchen! Bicarbonate of soda is one of those things I buy every month with a view to baking something, and this is where it all goes, apparently. Seven tins of that - alright, good start. Four of baking soda, which I think is the same thing. "All-purpose" flour, which always makes me raise a disbelieving eyebrow. Cocoa - I use that for my cocoa, which has rum in it. And I knew we would have eggs, butter, sugar, and milk, because those things are used to make other foods. Golden syrup we have, because it's only been six months since Pancake Day. We stick to the Old Ways here.

We also have a recipe drawer. I knew that, because I'm in charge of finding recipes. My mother's easiest chocolate cake recipe was in there - on fax paper. Lord. The shame. By this point I was quite fired up by guilt and feelings of inadequacy. A cake must be baked now. My one fear-slash-hope was that we wouldn't have the right cake tin. We did; my mother gave me that, too. Well then.

Stage one, lock the kitchen door. You don't want someone who knows what they're doing interrupting you, and just the thought of their imminent appearance might stop you making the baking attempt. Stage two, get your mother's recipe. Or you can use my mother's. Stage three, check on the availability of at least two baking friends or relatives, who will be your phone-a-friend. Once you reach stage four, which is to lovingly lay out all the ingredients on the countertop, you will get your confidence back. It starts to feel like a cooking show. It's at this stage you can take photos and post them, and you can murmur asides to the camera if you want, or if you're more contemporary, to the producer just out of shot. But then you must make all these ingredients into a cake.

Now, my mother loves me VERY MUCH and she is aware of all my strengths and weakness, so this recipe is probably quite different from any she would give for the same cake to any of my siblings. It's written specifically for an incompetent, feckless, short-cutting person who needs to let seven years of bake-less shame accumulate before pulling this recipe out of its drawer, and furthermore must be bought a cake tin, which is physically placed in her suitcase before she flies back to Oman one summer.

If the same applies to you, I can tell you that even you can make this cake, because I did, and it turned out like it is supposed to, and tasted nice. And even if you can bake, but you have run out of gas, you make this cake in the microwave, and it takes 9 minutes in there! Of course the cake tin is actually plastic - that plastic you can cook, what do you call it? - and is lined with kitchen roll. You'll notice my mother has included a small but accurate diagram of how to cut and arrange it, based on standard sized sheets.

And a couple of points of explanation. My mother recommends using the 750 setting on the microwave. On mine, it's a choice between one, two, or three wavy lines, and I used the middle one, and it worked.  When she says "allow to stand", that means taking it out of the tin and putting it on one of those gridded trays. This is crucial - I think it lets out the radiation or something. Obviously, butter "a little softened" here means butter taken from the fridge and walked at normal speed over to your preparation space. You'll also see that the amount of milk varies on the size of the eggs; that means, more milk for bigger eggs. The usual cartoon-looking eggs you get here take the stated amount of milk, though. Also, use an electric beater that differentiates properly between the button to make it go faster, and the button that releases the whisks from their holes, or one that for safety and hygienic reasons does not allow whisk-release mid-beating. Apologies for the hardened batter on the recipe.















*contains alcohol

I just discovered beer. Maybe you already know about it - if so, and you still want to learn something new from this blog, I suggest you click here to read my only post with a Latin word in the title.

If you're not familiar with beer, I can now tell you it's really a great thing to drink. It barely has any alcohol in it, for a start. If your usual choice is red wine, this is a revelation. You can drink as much as you want and feel nothing but a slight happy fuzz in your head. Used to be, I only drank beer when the night looked like it was going to be long...if you start early, don't start on red wine. And because I didn't actually like the taste of beer, it took me an hour and a half to finish a bottle. Perfect for, say, the Canadian Stampede, which is outside, starts at 7, and where I need a clear head for line-dancing and a possible late-night trip to the shot bar.

Also, beer goes with everything! And everywhere. Again, a winner compared with wine. You can drink beer with pizza. A burger. A sandwich! Even at my most faux-Mediterranean I couldn't justify a glass of wine with a lunchtime panino. You can drink beer with a curry; in fact you should. Beer is also the correct choice for barbeques, for pool parties, on boats. For summer weekends at home, it's a natural accessory for playing video games or watching a film. It goes with popcorn! Try carrying a beer with you when you do the gardening! You look far more normal hosing the trees with a beer in your other hand than you do with a glass of cab sauv, it turns out. And, where there is booze, you can always get a beer. You can't always get a decent glass of wine.

Beer is also very refreshing - when you drink the first gulp, you are justified in making that guttural 'ahhhh' sound, unacceptable with any other beverage. Even in my pre-beer days, and even before I drank any alcohol at all, I used to think about a nice cold beer when the weather got hot, because stuck in my head was a very clever advert, decades-old now, that was comprised solely of a lingering, close-up shot of a cold-beaded bottle of some beer or other, the camera travelling slowly from the bottom to the top, at which point the cap popped off - that's another thing, that satisfying 'tchuk' noise, just as good as the 'plomp' of uncorking wine. On the ad, you could see the fizz inside and occasionally the camera's gaze would catch a drop of condensation as it detached and made its way sensuously down the glass. Yes, sensuously. It's 44 degrees in the shade: Voltaren Cool Packs are looking pretty sexy these days.



(contains pork)

Hello again, Lunch! Welcome back, Diet Pepsi In The Car! And Coffee At Work - it's been too long, how lovely to see you.

As usual, it will take me a couple of days to repress the imposed connection between drinking water and shame. But we made an effort to have some good indulgent food yesterday - no shuwa unfortunately, as most of our kind donors are out of town. By the way, where are the goats this year? Has there been a blanket ban on keeping them at home? Some kind of caprine epidemic? For years, I've been woken by their bleats days before Eid, which sets off the inevitable rush of sympathy followed by self-loathing at my hypocrisy. It's quite the tradition now. And this year, because of the twice-daily dog walks, I have an unparalleled knowledge of what animals are where in our neighbourhood - we have to avoid mother cats, hapless chickens, etc. Not a goat in sight.oLD 

To the first post-Ramadan lunch. Annoyingly, my favourite recipe resource, bbcgoodfood.com, is currently full of suggestions on just what to do with that marvellous glut of blackberries from the garden. I'm sure it's because berries here are so massively expensive and our garden is made of sand that I find this slightly nauseating and smug. But ploughing resentfully through these recipes did put me in the mood for fruit, and we had the best lunch: peaches, mozzarella, prosciutto and mint, with an olive oil and lemon dressing. To offset the price of the prosciutto, go get some own-brand Carrefour mozzarella - it's on special offer now, so there are nine in our fridge. And use those weirdly squished-looking Tunisian peaches, that look like they've been genetically modified to stack better in crates; they're cheaper, fresher, and sweeter than the European ones. This dish is the only one I can think of that is just a load of ingredients on a plate, no preparation needed except taking things out of their packaging and ripping them up a bit, but that is also different and delicious enough to serve to guests.

And dinner was also fruit-inspired and brilliant. (If I'm sounding nauseating and smug myself, please note that my breakfast was toast, and some yoghurt that I shared with the dog.) Maple-glazed grilled salmon with pineapple salsa. The photo is terrible - two yellowish foodstuffs on a yellow plate under the yellow lamp on my side of the sofa - but the flavours are fantastic together. Here's the recipe. Use a bit less maple syrup and a lot of good mustard, it's what brings it all together and saves it from over-sweetness.






Here's a Ramadan story. 

We took our dog on a spur-of-the-moment evening walk in Ghubra Beach Park. It was 44 degrees. There's a limited extent to which you can cool down by immersing your steaming ankles in tepid surf, but this is Carmen's favourite park so we were there for over an hour. Being a dog, she was able to drink the ice cold water we had brought for her; being humans, and therefore subject to the social and cultural norms of our adopted country, we couldn't hydrate ourselves. So by the time we were back in the car, we were sweaty and knackered and parched. No, not as parched as people who had been fasting all day, but pretty much at our own personal limit. 

It was time for Iftar when we drove home, silently, panting like the dog in the back would have been had she not been well-watered. We hit red at traffic lights, and cursed them. There was a gentleman on the road leaning into the window of the car in front. (I don't know how, after eleven years in Oman, but my first thought was that we were witnessing a car-jacking. Maybe by one of the South Central Bausher Crips? Of course it wasn't that at all.) The man came up to our car, we wound down the window to see what he wanted, and gave us each a cold carton of water! He had dates and laban too. He progressed up the queue behind us and distributed his gifts to the occupants of each vehicle. 

Not being a Muslim, I feel a bit disconnected from all the good stuff about Ramadan - not just the religious side, but the families coming together, the celebration, the spirit of the whole month. This gesture made me so happy. I was beaming all evening. What a thoughtful and kind thing to do. Apparently, this is an Omani initiative called Feed The Fasting, aimed at all those people still on the road when it's time to break the fast. It's compassionate and practical too - fasting that long, and in this heat, you wouldn't want to miss a moment before taking that first sip of water or nibble of a date, so it's natural for people to rush to their homes or the mosque and that means the roads seem much less safe at sundown. The ROP also hand out Iftar packs, for the same reason. I really loved the fact that the young man taking his time to do this didn't ask whether we were Muslims, or fasting - we were just included. And very grateful.





You can't learn from me, I am very bad at it. I am a FANTASTIC recipe-finder though. Every household needs one of those, and one cook. I can't do everything myself.

One reason I put a stop to my half-hearted efforts to contribute to the cooking is that, because I lack the flair and basic knowledge that allows a home cook to tweak and perfect a recipe, no matter if you're missing chipotle paste, I have to rely on the recipe entirely. I can't make anything unless I have each component carefully weighed and lined up in front of me and the exact timings counted out backwards. And don't rush me! Don't check up on me. And don't try and help me either. Cooking makes me tenser than approaching a roundabout. As you can imagine, this leads to a wonderfully fraught and emotional dinnertime atmosphere.

So my role is the traditional gathering one. We have recipe books from all the usual celebrity chefs, and a couple (signed!) from Chef Alfredo Russo, who gave me my first taste of Michelin star cookery. Online, I either search by ingredient on my phone in the supermarket - I'm a bit of a Mystery Box shopper - which generally brings up some spectacular blogs from around the world - and on Instagram I follow some inspiring cooks like Belly Rumbles and Journey Kitchen (they inspire me to print their recipes, but you might be inspired to make their dishes).

My go-to online recipe resource is bbcgoodfood.com because the recipes are divided up just as you might want them, that is, every possible way: by cuisine, by meal, dish, event, personal taste, even whether the food can be cooked in one pot to save on washing up. How to use leftovers; what to conjure up for afternoon tea; dairy free. What to make for an Oscar Party when all the guests are gluten-free offal-aficionados and you only have a fiver. It's brilliant, but the one thing no recipe resource can offer us in Muscat is a category called A Dish You Can Actually Get All The Ingredients For. 

Sour cream, mace, JUST ONE RIPE AVOCADO, white wine vinegar. Macadamia nuts, dry sherry. Pecorino, mascarpone. Wild rice. I could create haunting haikus out of the ingredients whose elusiveness in local supermarkets have ruined potentially delicious home-made meals. 

But I might have found a new supplier of recipe ideas. There's a new food blogger in Muscat who's putting Jamie Oliver's Ministry Of Food challenge into practice; each week, there'll be a different recipe up on soiwannacook.com, with the author not only cooking it but spreading the love of food (often but not exclusively expressed by the preparation of it) by teaching it to two other people, a la Oliver's ideals. Maurizio and I were privileged to be the debut students and had a masterclass in chicken fajitas. It's hard to learn anything when seated next to an enormous pile of freshly-grated mature cheddar, but I think I got the idea. There are two more good-looking recipes already up on Carla's blog - all Yes You Can Get All The Ingredients certified.








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