Archive | May, 2015

It’s a Jungle Out There

30 May

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I do like pottering around in the garden. Living in the sky in Abu Dhabi gives me very little chance, however. The only living bit of green that enters the apartment is a pot of supermarket basil and that only survives a few days in the air-conditioning. So my return to the UK does give me chance to get my hands dirty. And feet wet, as it turned out.

Our garden, though minuscule, was once beautifully designed but has long since been taken back to basics and is desperately in need of lots of love and attention. It never gets it. Although I was able to spend some time on it last year, doing something constructive for a change, it was largely about slowing down the inevitable advancement of nature. That is, I dug up a lot of weeds, chucked a lot of bark chippings around and planted a few cheap plants in the hope of “ground cover”. I also tried to nurse the patch of unrestrained dandelions into something like a lawn.

I don’t know if you would have called it a lawn a week ago. Sure, it was green and oh so lush with remarkably few blow-ball seedheads waving at me. But at some 18 inches high the definition of “lawn” is probably pushing it. The bark had been more successful although the pernicious, sticky goosegrass had started to take a hold again. Prominent in all this, however, in every crevice and gap, flourishing copiously on the patio, was rosebay willowherb. Initially such a pretty weed with its pinky stems and profusion of small magenta flowers, it soon spouts long seedheads that manage to take hold in the most inhospitable of places. Just where you don’t want them.

In the midst of all this lurks a tiny little pond. Where once, to my shame, goldfish swam, in recent years it has become the home to a family of frogs, their wriggling offspring preventing me from clearing out all the dead leaves that accumulated over winter. Not this year. Now a stagnant and foul-smelling stew of slimy mould, no self respecting amphibians would come anywhere near.

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Alright, I like a bit of a challenge. First the patio to cull the willowherb before it produced seeds. These are pretty shallow rooted so not too onerous. Then the goosegrass, again before it produces its velcro seed balls. Easy to pull up but you know the roots are lurking beneath the soil ready to spring out again when your back is turned.
The grass had to wait for a day sunny enough to dry it out but eventually I just had to go for it. The poor old mower had a struggle, quickly becoming clogged, its bucket filling every 30 seconds or so. And muggins here was the one emptying it. Oh my aching back.

It wasn’t the pain and effort that nearly made me give up, though. It was that skulking, malodorous pond, hiding away, its sides slippery and indistinct. Yes, you’ve guessed it. I was soon thigh deep in foul stuff and in a mood to match. Yuk!

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Fizz

16 May

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It may have come to your attention that I like a bit of fizz. Certainly if you’ve read any of the brunch reviews you’ll know that whether or not they serve the sparkling stuff with the package rates a mention. However, I’ve hesitated about writing this blog because, let’s face it, I really don’t know very much about the whole subject. My palate is far from sophisticated and I’ve always rather liked the attitude that what makes a good wine is whether you like it or not.
I am also strongly of the opinion that life is too short to drink bad wine. It has been the desire to avoid some, frankly, undrinkable (and expensive out here) stuff that has led me to read up a bit on the subject. I’ve been trying to put together what I’ve found out and this is the result. So, as our main weekend activity of late is to sample as much as we can of what this fine city has to offer in the way of dining experiences, I thought I’d share. OK, pretentious post time.
One always has to start with Champagne, of course. To be honest, my experience of the French fizz has been mostly limited to what’s served up for the toast at weddings and it hasn’t been particularly favourable. However, we recently shared a bottle or two provided by a friend who, although Norwegian, lives in Paris so she probably knows what to pick. This I happily quaffed. But, well, I still don’t get what all the fuss is about. A bit of research has probably revealed why.
You see, one of the grape varieties used to make it is Chardonnay and I don’t like Chardonnay. To me it always tastes of grapefruit and I loath grapefruit. I’m told Champagne has flavours of citrus, peach, white cherry, toast and almond but, up until recently, all I’ve got is the bitter, citrus punch of grapefruit. So, maybe, when I finally sampled one that I quite liked it was because that particular blend had down-played the Chardonnay. Well, it makes sense to me. If this is your thing, however, drink it with shellfish, pickled vegetables and crispy fried appetizers. Oh and crisps apparently.
On to Cava. We both love this and drank an awful lot of it during our time in Spain, taking a crate of the stuff home with us when we left. I’ve never understood why I could rave about what is usually seen as the poor relation of French fizz but not the original. Now I think I know. Produced in pretty much the same way as Champagne, but not allowed to say so on the bottle, it uses different grapes. Light bulb moment! You can get it in a range from very dry to sweet but we have always stuck to the dry “Brut”. You see Cava described as fruity dry apples, earthy mushrooms and having “floral notes”. Now doesn’t that sound nicer than grapefruit? Give Cava a go with ham, fried fish, sushi, tapas, of course, but also, surprisingly, barbecue.
When passing through Italy on the boat we both enjoyed Prosecco but it has taken a stay in the Middle East to really appreciate it, being the most readily available of the popular fizzes here. This is made by a different, more modern, method than the other two and it does show in the character. Slightly off dry, it now outsells Champagne world wide and I can definitely understand why. Some may be a bit snooty about it but it really is a matter of personal taste.
The use of a single grape variety and the less complicated production method makes it lighter, somehow, fresh and frothy. There’s more fruit aromas (green apple, honeydew melon and pear) as well as cream, hazelnut and vanilla apparently. And don’t forget the honeysuckle. Is that making your mouth water? Any liveaboards still reading this would be wise to fill every nook and crany of available space at the Italian supermarkets.

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It’s supposed to be an ideal match with cured meats and fruit-driven appetizers like prosciutto-wrapped melon and middle-weight Asian dishes such as Thai noodles and sushi. Frankly, I’m happy to drink it throughout a brunch with maybe the odd glass of red for a nice piece of rare beef. Oh, and a cocktail to finish. What a life.

Phew!

12 May

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OK, I’m declaring it. It is now officially hot. Sometimes it’s like a pressure cooker, other times an oven. It’s still just about possible for me to do my morning walk as long as I leave it no later than 7am and keep to the shade of the tower blocks. Otherwise, venturing out means moving slowly. These conditions mean the pollution also builds up visibly and coughs now seem common. So it’s not exactly healthy exercise.
Fortunately, I’m in the privileged position of being able to stay mostly indoors with the option of returning to the UK for the summer months. My flight is booked. Neil will follow for a holiday shortly after. Well, somebody has to do the work.
In the meantime we’re fitting in as many as we can manage of the brunches and other dining experiences this wonderful city has to offer. As you might expect, my weight is going up but I don’t care. Time enough to shift it in the doubtless rainy months in the UK. What do you bet that it won’t be long before I’m wishing I was back?