Archive for March 2012
You might not hear as much from me over the next couple of weeks as you usually do. This is not because there’s a south-westerly breeze, nor because I’ve run out of gin, but because a) my children are on school holidays and b) my mother is in town.
And, apropos of my Lakeland blog post, which seemed to strike a chord with many, I thought I’d share with you what she brought me as a gift from England.
I hate air-conditioning. I hate that DS and DD, both born in the spring, breathed nothing but a/c air for the first eight months of their lives; I hate that we’re dependent on fake air for so much of the year. It can’t be healthy.
Still, as anyone whose a/c has broken down in summer will tell you, in the UAE it’s a necessary evil. I keep it off for as much of the year as possible and I do what I can to maintain our air quality by getting the system cleaned and serviced every three to four months.
But I’ve known for a couple of years that, when it comes to a/c services, there’s cleaning – and then there’s cleaning. Some time ago I gave up calling in the lame lizards who spat on a toothbrush and a tissue to “clean” the vents, and I started using a company that actually got the hose out for something (not sure what) and did at least leave the house smelling of disinfectant.
But this week, I learned that there’s a whole new level: CLEANING.
CLEANING of the a/c system involves eight men spending nine hours taking out every component of the system, vacuuming, cleaning and disinfecting it, then putting it all back together again, before “misting” the entire house with something magic to ensure that any mould spores don’t get back into the clean a/c.
It’s the type of cleaning done in hospitals and ambulances, apparently, and it’s very, very good. They even take “before” and “after” photos to show you what they’ve done. Would you like to see my before and after pix?
Remember, this is an a/c system that was professionally “cleaned” (for about Dhs 2,000) every four months:
This type of deep-clean needs to be done only every two years. It cost Dhs 500 per “living area” ie room or corridor. It can then be maintained with a small clean every 3-4 months. I wasn’t paid to write this but, in the interest of your health, the company is SaniService: 04-3415592.
I gave up dancing a long time ago. I can almost remember the night in question: I was 32-ish, and throwing some shapes in Carter’s bar at Wafi when I looked around and realised that, not only was everyone a good 10 years younger than me, but their thighs were a good 10cms thinner.
And, having never truly been the sort to go clubbing anyway, that was effectively the signal to me to stop dancing and start staying in with a nice dinner and a bit of telly instead. No-one wants to look like an old lady on the dance floor.
So it was with some surprise that I found myself once more on a dance floor at the weekend. DH and I had gone to the Help For Heroes event at the British Embassy. And what a lovely night it was, too: Twinkly lights, great people, moving speeches, lots of fund-raising, a slap-up supper, and more drinks than I could shake an empty glass at.
But, after the speeches, the auction and the dinner, suddenly there was a DJ and a dance floor under the trees on the Embassy’s lawn. And, even more suddenly, I was on it. Dancing!
I don’t know who was more surprised, me, DH, or our friends who have (for good reason) never seen me shake a tail feather. They played “Moves Like Jagger”, “I’m Sexy And I Know It”, “Mr Saxo-Beat” and countless other songs that had me leaping about like a 7-year-old.
And then on came Abba’s “Dancing Queen” – and what 40-something Housewife on a rare night out doesn’t like that song? Arms in the air, hips creaking, panting a little, singing along, I was off.
“Friday night and the lights are low… Looking out for a place to go….”
It was all going well until I got to the chorus. “You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen” I sang to DH. He shook his head in mock sadness.
“Not seventeen, darling,” he mouthed. “Not by a long shot.”
I’ve only been 41 for a month and, finally, my age has caught up with me.
Not in the way of appearance, of course – I’ve been getting “Mummy! You’ve got bags under your eyes!” for yonks now – but in outlook.
Walking through Mirdiff City Centre the other week, with a surprise hour to spare, I realised that I was finding the usual clothes shops very boring. I mean, clothes-shmothes – once you’ve got some, who needs more?
Instead, I found myself drawn to Lakeland – the shop about which I used to tease my mother when, every time I went home, she’d present me with yet another oblique kitchen gadget – you know, things like milk-frothers and mango-splitters for which a childless person who eats out five nights a week and even orders in her cappuccino has absolutely no use.
But things, they’re different now. Now I’m a 41-year-old Housewife with two children, I see the value of a yellow plastic banana protector and of a baking paper that’s greaseproof on one side and foiled on the other (genius!).
I could have spent hours in Lakeland. Every item I picked up was the answer to a question I’ve asked or an irritation I’ve felt at some point in my life as a Housewife.
Baking beads; wooden lolly sticks; tubs in which to store the unused half of the apple, tomato or onion (what will I do with the empty margarine tubs?); bread bags; storage solutions; shelving maximisers; cupcake papers in every conceivable size; sandwich toasting bags; silicone cake moulds; bake ware beyond belief; and my personal favourite: Non-slip, leopard-print clothes hangers – just think, no more silk tops lying crumpled on my shoes (yes please!).
I was too overwhelmed to buy anything on that first, wide-eyed visit, but I’ve got to admit: I’ve since reinvestigated the dusty mango-splitter and my opinion’s changed: If you like mangoes, it’s brillsville.
The room swam with the heady scent of perfume. The outfits were stunning: Cocktail dresses, peplums and maxi-dresses in sherbet-coloured silks and satins. There were hats and fascinators, Jimmy Choos and Louboutins. There were sky-high hairdos, blow-drys and enough makeup to stock the Harvey Nicholls beauty hall.
There were fuchsia lipsticks, daring eye-shadows and laser-whitened teeth. Honeyed highlights. The perfectly plucked eyebrow. French Jellish by the bucket. Diamonds, pearls and platinum. Boob jobs, Botox, fillers and implants – neither a hair nor a molecule was out of place.
Tea was sipped, coffee drunk. Smoked salmon nibbled, scrambled eggs tasted. Mushrooms artfully speared, toast pushed about. Scones, cream and jam consumed with guilty looks. Surgically tight smiles. Tinkling laughs.
But where were we? Paris Fashion Week? The Cartier Polo? Ascot?
Heck, no. Just another coffee morning in Dubai.
I know that, in the UK’s litigious climate, companies like to warn the unsuspecting public about potential pitfalls of their products (we’ve all seen the McDonalds Apple Pie label that says “Warning: Contents may be hot” and the peanut packet that “may contain peanuts”) but this one I found today on my new pair of British-branded shoes took me by surprise.
I’d have thought that “Warning, these shoes have stiletto heels and those wearing them will suffer unbearable pain in the balls of their feet due to the large amount of weight on such a small surface area. Tears should be expected” would be far more appropriate.
It’s a question to which I’m applying way too much thought at present.
I’m talking, of course, about my struggle to find a suitable villa to rent in Spain this summer. The ideal villa would be “a short stroll” from the beach, shops, cafes and restaurants. For me, that would be anything up to about 300 metres (500 at a push) but, add in a pushchair, a 7-year-old, a baby in a pram and a mother-in-law whose fastest walking speed is “shuffle”, and you can halve that.
But owners of Spanish holiday villas are super-competent speed-walkers, it seems, for they have different ideas to me of what comprises a “short stroll”.
And I know this, not because they admit how far it is to the beach from their €1,000-a-night piles, but because I have on my side a secret weapon: DH, Super-Sleuth.
While I spend my days poring over the internet, printing out possible villas, DH, after I’ve gone to bed, calls up Google Maps and double-checks the locations, identifying the villas by things as random as the shape of the pool and the positions of the palm trees. He even goes into “street view”, identifies the villa in real view and “virtually” walks the route to the beach.
And you’d be surprised how many times the owners “accidentally” place the map pin locating their villas a kilometre closer to the beach than it really is. Or on the “better” side of the highway.
You’d be surprised how “a short stroll” can actually mean a kilometre of hard slog with no pavements, followed by crossing a four-lane highway with concrete central reservations. And even then to get to a stony beach with no facilities. You’d be surprised how “2 mins to the nearest shop” actually translates as “2 mins to the petrol station”.
“A short stroll”? My word, if you’re renting any villa this summer, please check out Google Maps first.
If you like property porn, you can view my ideal Spanish villa here.
On the happy occasion of Mothering Sunday, I received – as is good and proper – not designer handbags nor expensive jewels, but a bunch of lilies and a raft of homemade cards and gifts from the children.
But one of DD’s many homemade cards gave me a real insight into how a six-year-old views her stay-at-home mum. According to DD, I am:
- “As precious as a shiny diamond in the sky.”
- “Utterly, totally beautiful and totally nice to me.” (Phew)
- “Marvellous, splendid and beautiful.”
- “Merry.” (Hmm.)
- “You make me delicious cookies.” (This is true.)
- “You are as clever as a palaeontologist.” (Showing off her spellings, I should think.)
But the one that stuck out most was “You are like a mummy machine.”
Nice one, DD. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
This dish evolved over time but is utterly more-ish. It may even be DH’s favourite thing that I cook.
I’ll add a picture next time I cook it.
Wholewheat pasta shapes (I use pipe rigate) to fill a large baking dish
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 packet of mushrooms, chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and sliced
3 bunches of fresh spinach, destalked and chopped
1 large pot of crème fraîche
Mozzarella cheese, grated (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1. Preheat the oven to about 200C.
- 2. Put the pasta on to cook.
- 3. Lightly sauté the onions until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
- 4. Add the mushrooms and sauté till just before the juices start to run. Remove from heat.
- 5. Char-grill or sauté the red pepper. (I chuck mine on the George Foreman grill.)
- 6. Wilt the spinach in a saucepan using just the water that clings to it after washing. While it’s in a colander, chop it up with kitchen scissors and squeeze out any excess fluid.
- 7. Add the grilled red pepper and wilted spinach to the mushrooms, onions and garlic.
- 8. Stir in the crème fraîche. If you want it runnier and slightly lower in fat, thin it out with a bit of skimmed milk. If you want it richer and gooier, add in some grated mozzarella cheese.
- 9. Season with black pepper, salt if you like.
- 10. Drain the pasta, put it in the baking dish and mix with the vegetable sauce.
- 11. Top with a little grated Parmesan cheese and bake for about 20 minutes till bubbling and slightly browned.
Enjoy with a large glass of red wine.
It seems you like my Wednesday memes, so today I have a new one for you. But first let’s get the old ones out of the way:
WIWW: Daywear: Loose white linen trousers, sleeveless, navy-blue silk tank and tan flip flops. Beige Coach clutch. Eveningwear: Black silk dress, sky-high heels, black Dune clutch.
WIAW: This is very dull as I believe it was identical to last week up until dinner time, when I scoffed a very small bowl of my favourite basked pasta dish (see below).
So, this week we’ll do “What I Did Wednesday”. I couldn’t write it last night as I was still out “doing” it.
Early doors: 6am to 9.30am
Make breakfasts, make packed lunches, pack school bags, get children dressed, ready and out of the house. Drive DS to nursery. Eat breakfast, go for 5km bike ride, shower, dress.
Morning: 9.30am to 12.45pm
Work. Try not to Tweet. Try not to search Spanish holiday villas. Try to ignore the call of the in-box. Eat lunch at my desk while finishing work due to being distracted too much by Twitter.
Early afternoon: 1pm to 2.30pm
Pick up DS. Cook delicious baked pasta dish. Slam it in the oven, research Spanish holiday villas, make a cup of tea and forget to drink it.
Mid-afternoon: 2.30pm to 4.30pm
Drive to school early to give DS time to sleep in the car. Doze in the school car park. Watch DD’s end-of-term dance show. Cheer, clap, stamp feet, whoop inappropriately. Drive home.
Witching hour: 4.30pm to 7.15pm
Research Spanish holiday villas. Serve the children’s dinner. Print out shortlist of holiday villas. Bathe the children. Apply evening make-up. Try to decide what to wear for evening out. Call taxi. Decide on the third outfit and put it on. Eat small bowl of pasta very fast. Put children to bed. Get in taxi (the last four occurred in a 10-minute time slot).
Evening: 7.30pm to 10pm
Attend work event. Meet lots of people. Smile a lot. Giggle coquettishly. Try not to talk about children or Spanish holiday villas. Drink two glasses of wine. Get taxi home.
Bedtime: 10pm to 11pm
Discuss Spanish holiday villas with DH while drinking hot chocolate. Wonder why I wasn’t offered any canapés at the event. Read “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyles in bed. Sleep.
I’ll post the recipe for the past dish this weekend. Honestly, it’s divine, and it’s not Annabel Karmel.