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.








One of my favourite meals, lunch. Such a blank page, so few rules. As it's almost the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, there won't be any mid-day restaurant trips for a while. That means we'll have no Cafe Malaysia; no chicken kabsa from Taza at MGM's food court. Other lunch mainstays Begum's and Kiwi Cafe can be shifted to dinner, I suppose, but mostly we'll be eating at home. I like that; it's where my sofa is. But we're making one last effort today, visiting new Indian restaurant Jashn. Jashn's tagline is A Celebration Called India - that's setting the bar pretty high for our final lunch outing of the season.

Jashn could have been designed especially for me. I'm not a megalomaniac and realise it wasn't, but Jashn ticks my boxes, baby. First off, it's a homegrown concept - no chain! No franchise! Someone's actual idea, here! Any independent restaurant automatically gets itself 4 out of 10 before I even sit down. Next, the decor. Now, I know this street (the slip road behind the Great Kebab Factory) very well. It's just next to the alley where my tailor is, and once I picked up a poisoned cat there. Another time, collecting jeans from alteration, we saw a dozen plain-clothes officers - I think they were officers - bundling some guy into an unmarked car. It's not a glamorous road. But you go inside Jashn and it's just lovely. Not overdone, not gaudy, but attractively and uniquely decorated. Nice simple seating plan and just enough colour and graphics to make you feel welcome and relaxed without under- or overwhelming you.

And you can tell that the thought behind the decor is informing the food. This is progressive Indian cuisine, beautifully presented. Ah wait, first the menu itself. My knowledge of Indian food is pitiful. Regular meals from Mumtaz in the old days, and lately Begum's, and the odd takeout from other places around town. I have my favourites, don't deviate much, and know even less. In any new place, I'll just ask for whatever's good, or order the butter chicken. Of course I feel a flush of shame every time I do this. It's so English. I'm flushing just writing it. But if you're either wary of menus full of items you don't recognise, or you've found your comfort dish and stick to it, you should go to Jashn. You'll open the menu and run your eye down the list, and then you'll say, woh! Pomelo...parmesan...beetroot...walnuts...guacamole shot! Then you'll say wha?! Because you'll remember this is an Indian restaurant. Clearly there's something interesting going on here.

Just as you're processing this highly surprising menu, your waiter (ours was Anthony Raj, and he was attentive, polite, friendly and can-I-adopt-you adorable) will bring over pani-puri-without-the-puri. This will confuse you more if you don't know what pani puri, pani, or puri are. (I do know that they are the favourite street food of the fictional Indian PI Vish Puri. I'm so cultured.) In Jashn, it's a little amuse bouche in which a ridiculously delicate casing holds a powerful punchy collection of pickles and chutney. It's gone in one bite and does the job of waking up your palate perfectly. That was when the appreciative murmurs started around the table.

We got more on the same theme in the form of a set of six shot glasses, each with a different filling - orange, tamarind, yoghurt, watermelon were some . You fill the pani (see, I'm learning) up with the shot of flavour beneath it, then down in one. I do like food with a bit of theatre, as long as the taste holds up, and this did. Same with the daal shorba: silky smooth and poured at the table onto pickled ginger chips in the bowl. Gorgeous flavour too. I had to try the smoked butter chicken - yes a safe choice, but the smokiness adds a twist so I felt justified, and it's peppery and moreish, definitely the best I've had. And that, I've had a lot of, and so can speak with authority. The pomelo and coconut salad sounded super refreshing and was, but it lacked something...still trying to think what. Maybe a bit of bitterness? And the basil, walnut and olive pulao came to life with the addition of the raita our waiter recommended. 

Dessert! I don't normally have this in Indian restaurants (cringing again). The house rule is apparently that you are not allowed to leave without trying one, though, and I'm a law-abiding type, so we went for the gulab jamun (because I had heard of it), and the manager sent over a selection of halwa too. The gulab jamun were tiny balls of exploding sweetness and reminded me - listen, I am English, and I can't keep apologising for it, even though that is also a very English thing to do - of my mother's syrupy puddings that I loved as a child. They sat on a perfect pastry base with a slick of cream inside it that kept the flavours coming. And the halwa was another revelation. Beetroot, carrot and bitter gourd varieties - I rarely have root vegetables for dessert but these were perfectly balanced and delicious. We ended our lunch with the complimentary paan-flavoured cotton candy - I couldn't place the flavours but Google tells me they would have been fennel seed and rose petal, which sounds about right. Try eating cotton candy as a adult and leaving a place not feeling happy. It's impossible. If I had a bad restaurant, I'd just hand this stuff out at the end and not bother with any further effort. Luckily Jashn makes you happy from start to finish. 

This is one of my favourite new places in Oman, and it's woken me up to modern Indian food. I'm reading about it now. I'm excited. There was so much on the menu I'd be back for. I feel a bit like I did after first eating at Semsom - oh look, there's a whole new and clever and tasty way this cuisine can be interpreted and enjoyed! I just wish I'd discovered the place a bit earlier, but come late July I'll be doing lunch again at Jashn.












Cawston Press' Rhubarb and Apple is my new favourite summer drink. You can get it from Carrefour for 450 baisas or so. It is lovely and tasty and refreshing, and an ideal replacement for any of these drinks:

Water. I'm so sick of water. We're all supposed to drink more of it during these months, but I've been drinking it for YEARS, with no obvious effects. Enough. Cawston's is hydrating and bubbly and contains water as well as having an actual (nice) taste.

Diet Pepsi, my soft drink of choice, an instant ice-cold pick-me-up. This Cawston's stuff is not from concentrate, is sweetened naturally, and has actual fruit juices in it - you know, real ingredients. I dread to think what Pepsi is made of. Outlawed heavy metals and caffeine and stem cells, probably, but we'll find that out at the autopsy. Problem is, you can't get Cawston's at every Al Maha and I need a can of something for road trips.

Red wine. I love red wine. But I tend to finish a glass in less than a minute as I have very little self-restraint. (Which can be seen from the high percentage of posts about chips on this blog. Something like 18% of them mention fries somewhere.) And you know, you really can't just drink unlimited quantities of red wine every night, especially during the shrivelling heat of summer. What am I supposed to have though? A cup of tea with my lasagna? You could even get away with drinking Cawston's with your dinner, because tastes like rhubarb and apple and raspberry, that are tart and acid, hit your palette with a vinoesque punch. If you pour Cawston's into a wine glass, it's easier to fool yourself. Actually, I got the idea to find the perfect wine-replacement beverage from a website for pregnant alcoholics - I think it's called babycentre.co.uk - where I found a thread of women swapping ways to get that alcy kick from non-harmful drinks.


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