Archive | October, 2011

What NOT To Do Before A Blind Date

31 Oct

Depending on how well you stalk me, you may or may not know that I have agreed to go on a blind date  on Wednesday. Mentally, there have been some ups and downs since I officially arranged for this to happen. I started out feeling neutral about it (there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, Andrea), then a few nagging doubts started to creep in (you will be fine, Andrea), and within a day or so I found myself completely freaking out (WHAT WERE YOU THINKING AGREEING TO THIS YOU STUPID, STUPID WOMAN?).

So, in order to maintain a relatively stable level of sanity, I decided to implement some ground rules on what NOT to do before a blind date. And it’s worked so far. Well, sort of.

Google your date

‘Blind’ is the operative word here; Googling your blind date not only makes the whole concept of it null and void, but it can also lead to some unpleasant findings, like discovering he has a tattoo of a racist insignia all over his face. Or potentially, it can fill your mind with a load of dangerously fuzzy thoughts, especially if you happen to stumble across a photo of your guy hugging some Romanian orphans.

I am proud to say that despite the fact I have two mutual friends with my date, I have yet to look him up on Facebook. Usually, when I meet a guy I like, I undertake a mission to find out as much as I possibly can without actually talking to him. And thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Twitter, I have the ability to compose an entire background check on pretty much any guy I lay my eyes on (don’t judge me, I’m a journalist; this is what we do).  But this will not be one of those occasions. I am actually looking forward to getting to know a guy completely from scratch, with no preconceptions of what type of person he is. It’s actually pretty damn exciting, if I dare say so. And very 1950s.

Let your mind wander

It all starts innocently enough: you think of your date and the first thought that comes to mind is to have no expectations. After all, you don’t know the guy, so he’s probably not even your type, or he might have bad nasal hair, or the IQ of a toilet brush, or, horrors of horrors, he may wear chinos.

But then, something happens. Your mind decides to have a laugh at your expense, and starts to tell you that maybe, just maybe, he will be a David Gandy lookalike who has a heart like Mother Theresa, style like George Clooney and more swagger than James Bond.

The reality is, however, how many people have actually made it work after a blind date?  Do yourself a favour and keep busy. Do not think too much about it. There’s plenty of time for that after you’ve met him.

Make a list of potential excuses for cancelling

I will have to confess, I have already thought of what I would like to call a few genuine-sounding, harmless excuses as to why I cannot make it on Wednesday. These include “I slipped in the bath and I am bedridden.” “my (nonexistent) dog died,” and “my washing machine has flooded my flat and I am at risk of drowning.”

Those of you who read my first blog entry relating to this challenge will know that I’ve never been on a proper date. I just  get drunk and woo men with my intoxicated charm (please note, this is ironic).   Hence, I know I am at flight risk this Wednesday. The only saving grace is, I love my friend Ashley (who arranged this blind date) to bits, and I would not like to let her down. So, the only advice I can offer for this point is make sure you get one of your closest friends to arrange your blind date, and that they guilt you into going!

Buy a new outfit (and get a facial, manicure, pedicure, new hairstyle, personality transplant)

Invariably, the question of what one should wear during a blind date comes up at some point. Wardrobes are dissected, outfits tried on and vetoed one by one, then you decide that you have nothing  to wear in a big, dramatic panic.

So you decide to buy a new outfit. But then, if you get a new outfit, you need new shoes, right? Oh, and your hair, it’s looking very dry, you definitely need a treatment, and your nails – have you been cleaning gutters for the last few months?! And bit by bit, you dissect every part of your appearance, decide you’re a horror and therefore not fit for a blind date. Instead, you’re going to sit happily on that shelf, pig out on brownies, and look at naked pictures of David Gandy.

I suggest, you take a deep breath, pick out the dress that makes you feel great and that you’re comfortable in, and save the pennies to donate to charity. Much more ethical option.

*Note: Speaking of ethics, I feel like I would be unethical if I were to lie at this point; I admit, I’ve already had a facial. And tomorrow I’m having a mani/pedi. And maybe I’ll shop for a new dress.

Yes, I am a failure of disastrous proportions, and it’s therefore probably better if you completely ignore whatever I say.

So, there’s only one thing for it now – wish me luck!

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The Slimier the Better?

30 Oct

Whoever led people to believe that snails are a delicacy was either sadly mistaken or a damn good liar. Before I continue with my rant, I shall share my first point of reference with you :

Now, is it just me, or does this resemble some form of nuclear waste, rather than a form of food that can be consumed by human beings?  What you see here is something that even the Addams Family wouldn’t eat for dinner. Quite frankly, I think a Petri dish full of fungi looks more appetising.

This was my meal of choice last Monday night. Yes, ladies and gentleman,  I ventured to St. Tropez Bistro,  a small French restaurant in Century Village, Dubai, to eat snails for the first time. As you may have read in my previous blog entry, I have always been traumatised by the thought of eating these slimy creatures. So when my friend Dona mentioned that I should do it for my blog, my first reaction was ‘hell no,’ followed by ‘are you mad?’ However, in the spirit of trying new things (and giving you guys something to laugh at), I decided to step up and give it a go. Who knows, I thought to myself, I may even end up liking them.

I was also sadly mistaken.  Point of reference number two:

This either depicts revulsion in its purest form, or is proof that I deserve an Oscar.

When the dish first arrived at the table, I could only smell butter and garlic – two things I love and that generally work very well together. After all, garlic bread is one of the culinary world’s greatest inventions and features both heavily. So I started to think that perhaps I had been too quick to judge in the past and that I would actually end up enjoying them. And thankfully, I couldn’t really see that what I was about to eat were snails – firstly, it was dark, and secondly, the shells and tentacles were nowhere to be seen.

Then, I took the plunge and bit into one.

My mouth instantly turned into a battlefield of foul-tasting, microscopic soldiers that were setting up camp and drawing up war plans with one aim in mind: to destroy my taste buds. The only thing I can liken it to is eating rubber. Burning, rubber, at that. I chewed for what seemed like an eternity, swallowed, then gulped as much of my red wine as possible.

I still shudder at the thought.

Those of you who think I may have given up too easily can rest assured that I did try again one more time, however, I had been so scarred by the first experience that the second snail barely had the chance to brush against my traumatised taste buds before I swallowed the damn thing with a huge chug of wine.

So, while I am extremely happy that I have managed to cross another challenge off the list, I have to say that I will never try snails again. And if there’s one thing this experience has further confirmed to me, is something we Brits have believed for a very long time: the French, who gave us this delightful dish, are strange.

Sorry Nico, Dan et al.

Two down, 28 to go!

I Am Going On A Blind Date (Cue Cameron From Modern Family-Type Scream)

22 Oct

I have a secret to share with you all; I have never been on a date. Now when I say date, I mean it in the true sense of the word: boy invites you out and does his best to woo you with a gorgeous box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses and a three-course meal at your favourite restaurant.  No, romance has always been nonexistent in my life. In the past, I have always tried to get to know guys over a few pints in a dingy pub, followed by shots in an even dingier bar, concluding with a greasy chicken shish kebab at the end of the night if I’m lucky. Well, that is how we Brits seem to do it anyway.

It is my own fault. I have spent most of my life having way too much fun with my friends to ever take guys too seriously. I love being single and have never really been on the look out for a relationship. And, on the rare occasions that I do like someone, I am a master of  school playground behaviour – I pretend I don’t like the guy, to the point where he actually ends up thinking I hate him. Normal, eh? I am sure that there is some sort of Freudian explanation to all this, but I have decided it is time to stop making excuses for myself and to, shock, horror, try to open myself up to the possibility of an actual real life relationship with a guy. They don’t all smell, after all.

Hence, the reason why I decided to add the go on a blind date challenge to my list. The truth is, the idea of a real date has always freaked me out. Being in the spotlight in that way, where I feel like everything I say or do is being judged, is too much like a job interview.  So the only way I would ever agree to meet with a guy is if I knew that a) it would be as informal as possible and b) that there would be a lot of alcohol involved. What would inevitably follow would be a very drunk Andrea, who would do many stupid things, and then wonder why the guy didn’t call again. I am not an attractive drunk. I am a husband beating, man hating drunk. I need to drill that into my thick, vodka-numbed skull.

Do you want the great news? The blind date has already been arranged by my very own Cilla Black, Ashley. During a very drunkard book club session last Tuesday, I found myself agreeing to being set up with one of her friends. I have to admit, when I added this challenge to my list, I wasn’t sure if I would go through with it. In fact, I dread this one more than skydiving, which pretty much sums up my attitude towards dating. But the whole point of this blog is to make myself do things that scare me in some way, so there’s no turning back.

My expectations? Well, I don’t have any. I hope at the very least I learn that dates aren’t that terrible after all and have a good laugh with a guy who I hear is a lot of fun!

The date is set for next Wednesday. I need to decide what to wear. And how to stop myself from reaching for the tequila bottle out of nervousness. Suggestions? Will a cup of herbal tea help?

Note: For those of you wondering what happened with the snail challenge, bear with me. I will be facing those slimy monsters at some point over the next few days.

Challenge 2 – Eat Snails – The Why

17 Oct

I have spent the last few days trying to decide what my next challenge should be. On Friday night, I came very close to spontaneously doing karaoke sober. However, I would be a liar if I were to say that I wasn’t mildly inebriated by the time I took to the stage and sang Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight,’ complete with chopsticks for the obligatory spot of air drumming. Yes, there was alcohol involved. And lots of it.

Therefore, I had to think of what I could complete over the next couple of weeks that wouldn’t cost too much money, seeing as I wasted the last of this month’s pay cheque on a dress I could not afford.  Following some deliberation, I have reluctantly decided that it is time to strike ‘eat snails’ off the list.

This challenge was suggested to me by my friend Dona; clearly she doesn’t like me a lot, as I am completely freaked out by the idea of eating those slimy things that crawl all over the walls and make a disturbing crunching sound when you accidentally step on them. ‘Why eat something you really don’t want to?,’ I hear you all cry. Well, for one, this blog was  meant to push me to try new things, no matter how much they may freak me out.  And secondly, with the collapse of capitalism imminent, I feel it is important that we all start getting used to living off the land and eating things that make our stomachs churn. Nando’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen sadly won’t exist in the post-capitalism world. Frogs, snails and wild boars, however, will.

Back to the subject at hand. I have always been troubled by people who like eating snails. In Cyprus, they are something of a delicacy, and in my village everyone heads out to the fields the minute it rains to collect them for dinner. I still have vivid memories of the putrid smell of boiling snails emanating from the various of my aunts’ kitchens, and the disturbing sound people would make when they sucked the flesh out of the shells. I also remember staring at them in disbelief as they licked their fingers and exclaimed how delicious this slimy dish was.

I mean, seriously now, how does anyone find THIS appetising:

Gross. This picture is definitely proving one thing to me, and that’s that my gag reflex is still alive and well.

This weekend I shall therefore be heading to this restaurant in Garhoud to attempt to eat snails without gagging. Thankfully it is strategically located near to the Irish Village, meaning once I have a finished I can run across and down a couple of pints of ice cold beer to get over the trauma.

I am definitely not looking forward to this one.

Thai-ing The Red Curry Challenge

9 Oct

Dubai expats are a lazy bunch. We are lucky to have a wide range of restaurants delivering food at any given time of day, from fast food joints like Nando’s and KFC (yes, both deliver), to classier joints like Wagamama’s and Gazebo, meaning that the majority of us rarely use our kitchens. Most outlets offer a delivery service, meaning that your taste buds can have whatever they desire within 45  minutes to an hour (ma’am/sir). With such a variety of cuisines  available at relatively cheap prices, why bother cooking?

I found myself asking this very question on Saturday morning when I was lost in the maze that is Karama, looking for Thai long beans. Yes, my quest to master the art of cooking the perfect red curry took me to some very unfamiliar streets in search of a teeny tiny supermarket that stocks sweet basil and kaffir lime leaves. It definitely would have been easier to just order a take-out from Thai Wok.

Following a google search of ‘Sunflower Supermarket, Dubai,’ all I could find were some very vague directions, which read along the lines of: ‘Street 12D, near Day to Day Supermarket, Karama.’ This would have been all well and good if I actually knew where on earth Day to Day Supermarket was, or street 12D for that matter.

Much like most men that I know, I convinced myself I would be able to find the place without a map, or decent directions. So off to Karama I headed in the mid-morning heat, with a crumpled piece of paper that had the words Day to Day and Street 12D scribbled on it as my only reference point.

Suffice to say, I didn’t find the supermarket easily. After driving around the streets for half an hour looking for the landmarks mentioned on the internet, I gave up and decided to do another thing that does not come easy to us Dubaians; I decided to get out of my car and walk.

This is what the area looked like:

While on foot, I asked two people where I could find the supermarket, and both of them sent me on a wild goose chase in the wrong direction. I have yet to decide whether they thought they were being funny or if they genuinely couldn’t understand what I was asking them.

After walking around the block a few times, I am glad to say that I managed to locate Sunflower, although I have to admit to feeling a slight amount of rage when I realised that the place was very close to where I had originally parked my car. 0/10 for observational skills, it seems.

It was definitely worth the effort, though. Sunflower stocks all the Thai goodies you can’t find in the main supermarkets, including everything that I needed to cook the curry.  I felt like a proper cooking connoisseur, out there sourcing the EXACT ingredients listed in the recipe, as opposed to substituting them for the next best thing like I usually do (a white onion for a shallot, for example. They’re pretty much the same thing, aren’t they?!).

My goodies looked a little like this:

Yes, I went all the way to Karama to buy some leaves.

Once I got home, I couldn’t wait to put my chef’s apron on and start rustling up some Thai magic in my severely underused kitchen. Firstly, I prepared all the ingredients I needed before I started cooking; the distinctive smell of the kaffir lime leaves exploded as I tore them into tiny pieces and I shamelessly found myself also having a good sniff of the sweet basil. It’s during moments like these that I realise how much I love cooking.

As I began to follow the recipe, I realised that some of the instructions were rather vague, so I had to rely on my goldfish memory to try and remember how exactly the chef had done it all a week earlier. Luckily, for once in my life my memory served me well (or perhaps I was guided by my overactive sense of smell – there’s nothing like the whiff of a potential curry to get my memory going)  and less than an hour later I had made a delicious dish that didn’t taste too differently from the chef’s.

I proudly took this photo as proof:

YUM!

So, I have proven to myself that I can recreate at least one of the recipes I acquired from last week’s cooking class. I have to say, it was a refreshing change doing something different on a Saturday morning, even if that meant getting lost and sweaty in Karama. I am also happy to have located the supermarket and look forward to cooking more Thai dishes in the near future. I also hope to host some friends one evening to REALLY prove to everyone that, shock, horror, the girl can cook! And, most importantly, this exercise has reawaken my love of cooking.

I guess I can officially say, challenge one is DONE! Only 29 to go…

Note: I will be posting the recipe in a separate post for anyone who is interested in trying to match the above culinary masterpiece.

Challenge 1 – The Thai Cooking Class

3 Oct

On the morning of Saturday, October 1st, a few small miracles occurred in Downtown Dubai: a) I woke up at 7.30am b) I wasn’t hungover and c) I found myself trading my warm, comfy duvet covers for an apron and a chef’s hat. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I successfully made it to the Thai cooking class!

I am very pleased to inform you all that no one was harmed during the course of the session.  However, that could be down to the fact that I didn’t even get to touch a frigging vegetable, let alone a knife or anything else that can cause considerable damage when handled by juveniles like me.

Unfortunately, the Blue Elephant cooking class at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel involves sitting your ass on a chair, eating croissants and drinking coffee, while a very friendly Thai Executive Chef by the name of Chairat Youngsuk explains to you the difference between lemon basil and sweet basil  in broken English. So there’s very little cooking involved for those attending, a hell of a lot of eating, and they even throw in a glass of wine for your efforts. How very Dubai, don’t you think?

At first I was a little bit disappointed by this arrangement, as when I attended a cooking class a few years ago it was very much a hands-on experience (and was led by a very hot French chef.  I digress…). I was therefore looking forward to making a fool of myself while attempting to chop at supersonic speeds and taking my frustrations out on a pestle and mortar. Despite this minor setback, I decided to make the best of the situation, pay attention, and stuff my face with warm pastries instead.

Fellow Nigella Lawson wannabe, Nico, was with me, looking very chef-like:

And I clearly looked like I belonged at a cooking class, with my Pat Butcher earrings and salon-styled hair:

(For the non-Brits among you who do not know who Pat Butcher is, click here.)

The chef made his way through three classic Thai dishes: Thai Fishcakes (YUM),  Steamed Sea Bass With Lime, (DOUBLE YUM)  and Thai Red Curry (my version of heaven on a plate). He offered loads of insider tips on the art of Thai cooking along the way, and I have to say, his curry was worth exchanging your favourite pair of shoes for.

Despite the fact I didn’t get to cook, I definitely learned a few things, including the fact that there is a supermarket in Karama which sells all the Thai produce you can’t get anywhere else in the city! I have been meaning to buy a Thai cookbook since I arrived back from Bangkok last month, but was put off by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to source the right ingredients.  So, in light of this new information, I have now decided I will be investing in a copy of Thai Street Food by David Thompson.

At the end of the ‘class’, we were served lunch, which consisted of the dishes the chef had shown us how to prepare. Once we had finished eating, we were presented with cooking certificates. Yes, we clearly needed to be rewarded for being exceptional listeners and outstanding gluttons.

Now, seeing as we didn’t get to flex our culinary muscles on Saturday, Nico and I have decided that we are going to attempt to replicate the three dishes at home and invite a few friends around to sample our efforts. Only then can I really say I have completed this challenge. So, over the next week or so, you may be one of the lucky ones  who gets to see me attempt to recreate these Thai masterpieces. Let me know if you would be interested in coming along!

Note: Those of you who have already made jokes about bringing take-away menus “just in case” can consider yourselves unwelcome.