Sustainable Dubai Living?!

If you have been following my blog for a while you have probably noticed that I am interested in the origins of my food, love shopping locally and seasonably and try my best to use up what I’ve got and keep food waste to the minimum. I try my best to shop sustainably and ethically, get cross about pointless packaging and try to dispose of the waste I do make carefully. And now? This self-professed greeny has moved to Dubai! The land of excess. The city in the desert. The city of air conditioning and desalinated water. As you can imagine this is a challenge. How can I live sustainably in this place? Is it even possible? Do the little things that I do make any difference in a land where, if the whole world lived to this excess, we would run out of resources less than a quarter of the way though the year?

Inspired by an article I read recently about trying to be ‘green’ in rural America I have decided to share with you a ‘week in the life of’ me trying to live sustainably in Dubai. Some of the challenges are very different, some surprisingly similar.

This post is a little longer than my usual, but please stick with me and let me know your thoughts.

Sunday

It is the beginning of the week (weekends being Friday and Saturday here) and Steve makes his first packed lunch salad for the week. We buy most of our vegetables from Spinney’s which is just a few minutes walk away (a very hot few minutes unless we go early or late in the day). A little while ago they were selling reusable cloth bags for vegetables, they seem to have stopped selling them but I am still using them. They are also happy for us to take pots back to the deli counter to refill. The vegetables, not surprisingly, come from all over the world. I remain unsure whether it is better to buy local vegetables grown using desalinated water or things brought in from overseas. A positive choice I can make is to avoid pre-packed vegetables.

salad

Steve’s Greek Salad

  • Half a cucumber
  • a small tomato
  • Half a small onion
  • Feta cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Variations

  • Chopped olives
  • Hummus
  • Baked chopped beetroot
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Line caught tinned tuna

We also do some of our shopping at the local organic shop, making use of their fantastic discount days to replenish the store-cupboard and buy some meat for the freezer. It is quite an expensive place to buy meat even when there is a good discount, but as we only eat it about once a week we can afford to be choosy. I also love that they sell some ingredients loose which cuts down on plastic.

Monday

It is hard in summer to entertain a little one here, it is too hot and humid outside. My friends and I take it in turns to host playdates at home, but sometimes we just need a change of scenery. Today I took baby to a soft-play area to meet some of his little friends (they were all awake at the same time for once – a miracle). I choose a decaffeinated ice mocha at the café there, it is served in a glass jar not a disposable plastic cup like many places – good. But… I am too slow in turning down the straw, and I notice that having decaf means that the coffee comes in an individual plastic package to keep it fresh. You win some you lose some I suppose?

I get home and the little one has a nap, worn out from his playing. Do I have a nap myself or do the washing up? The perpetual question of a stay at home mum. I go with the washing up. It takes a while for the water to come through hot enough, so while it heats up I collect it in old milk bottles to water my plants on the balcony. Growing up in the driest part of the UK and then spending time living in Australia has made me rather sensitive about wasting water. While on the subject of washing up – one of the easy small changes I made a while ago was to start using washable cloths rather than sponges, it’s not a hardship to put them in the washing machine so this is an easy way to reduce waste.

Tuesday

For the first time since starting on the large refillable bottles of water we have run out before our Wednesday delivery and have to buy bottled water – bother. We also need to buy a big bucket of yoghurt for baby. I don’t think that there is a good alternative to buying yoghurt in a plastic tub – I could make it myself but I would still need to buy the milk in plastic bottles. At least buying a large volume reduces the packaging and baby is excited to have another bucket to put his toys in, and for playing water at the beach.

Wednesday

Today our big refilled bottles of water are supposed to turn up. I could lie to you and say that everything went to plan… but I’m going to be honest and admit that I forgot to top up the water app with money so the bottles didn’t turn up. So, I had to go shopping for bottled water again. Fail.

So, drinking water. An interesting dilemma here in Dubai. Arguably we could do better than the refilled bottles and have a filter tap installed in the sink… arguably we don’t even need to do that. Dubai water is, I’ve been told, drinking water standard at source however people still don’t trust it; possibly rightly because in some buildings there can be issues with corrosion of pipes. What I would really like to do is to send a sample of our tap water off to a lab so we can find out whether we can drink it or not. I expect that this isn’t an option so for the moment I’ll stick to my big bottles and do a little more research into filter taps.

Thursday

We have got back into the habit of using Steve’s bread maker again, which cuts down on packaging and means that there are no preservatives. The flour is packaged in paper and is an organic British brand, there doesn’t seem to be a more local alternative for Bread Flour. The oil and sugar are in plastic but bulk bought, yeast is in a tin but has a plastic lid to keep fresh.  We still buy local Arabic bread which is incredibly cheap, fresh and great with salad and for dipping in hummus – it is packaged in plastic, but at least the bags are the perfect size for our bathroom bin.

Friday

It’s the weekend!

I have decided that I want a bikini. I have to say that I am not a confident bikini wearer, I much prefer the support of a full cossie when swimming; but it is too hot and humid to comfortably walk across the road to the pool with a swimming costume under my clothes (first world problem?!). Which brings me to clothes. A bikini is the second thing I have bought since we arrived here in March, I also got a light long sleeved cardigan which I can wear with almost everything – which is great because I dislike baring my arms which are two dress sizes bigger than the rest of me (and at times it is inappropriate to have bare arms here, so it’s very useful garment).

I don’t like buying new clothes too often. I worry about the sweat shop it was probably made in. I worry about the resources used to make it – oil for manmade fibres, the huge amount of water for growing cotton. I love inheriting preloved clothes from friends and finding lovely things in charity shops. I am not sure whether charity shops exist here, but I think that I will put some time into organising a clothes swap – I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday

It is still the weekend, but the chores continue. Washing clothes seems never ending. Recently I have been reading about how we should wash clothes less in order to save water and lessen the micro-plastics getting into the water. This is difficult in such a hot climate and with a baby. Wearing more natural fibres would help (but I don’t want to buy new clothes, and growing cotton uses a lot of water so is not necessarily a good environmental option – difficult). Hopefully when it cools down in the autumn I can wash the grown-up clothes less. I could also be more consistent in separating out washing which just needs a quick ‘de-stink’ from clothes which baby has covered in food and… other nastier things. Having said all that, I don’t think that the onus should just be on consumers for reducing microfibres – this is an interesting article which discusses things which the industry could do before clothes even reach the shelves.

When we moved to Dubai I started using washable nappies. I would have liked to have done this from day one but I didn’t feel up to the task with a newborn, and then when I had things more ‘together’ the thought of having to dry them in a damp British winter was a bit much. Now I have finally have time, energy and a warm climate to dry things in – hurrah! Having said that I only use them when I am near home, I don’t like the idea of carrying a poo-filled nappy around with me all day.

Some final thoughts…

One of the points made in the article about being ‘green’ in rural America which really resonated with me was ‘some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control – and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control‘. Personally, I know that I am the kind of person who can easily start feeling guilty about things which I don’t do. Sometimes this is good and can lead to action, other times it just adds to the fatigue which often plagues me. When my little one was born I made a conscious decision not to use washable nappies and managed not to feel bad about it – I knew my limits and knew that I would probably surpass them with a newborn. Some environmentally conscious friends tried hard to tell me how easy it is to wash nappies, others supported the fact that I recognised my limits and was looking out for my mental health (thanks Kate!).

If you have got to the end of this post, thank-you  –  I hope that it hasn’t been too long and rambling! I would be interested in your thoughts – especially if you live here in Dubai and have any tips. I know that some of you will be of the opinion that I am over thinking things and that I should chill out a bit, and that others will think that I am not doing enough. There are lots of things that I haven’t discussed, such as all the flying you do when living internationally. Is there any point in the (arguably) little things I do day to day when I fly back to the UK a couple of times a year?! I think that is a discussion for another day!

So, your thoughts?

Aubergine and Preserved Pepper Bake

This is the first recipe from my new kitchen… in Dubai! Yes, the ‘quiet year’ we had planned after the craziness of last year all went to pot when we moved half way around the world. Our possessions from the UK arrive today, hurrah! We have been rattling around in a rather empty apartment until now. As I have shared with you previously a kitchen with limited resources makes for some creative cooking… as does a  frequently breaking fridge-freezer it turns out. grrr. I am never buying a second hand fridge-freezer again!

There is nothing quite like a broken fridge-freezer to inspire a new use-it-up recipe. Sometimes these dishes are a bit ‘interesting’, however this one I will definitely make again. Past successes have included ‘disaster jam’ (can’t waste frozen fruit). I wasn’t sure what to call this one, ‘disaster vegetable moussaka bread and butter pudding’ – doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

aubergine

Ingredients

  • Dry bread, buttered
  • Two aubergine (Eggplant), sliced
  • One red pepper
  • Four tomatoes
  • Stuffed peppers preserved in oil
  • Salt, pepper and chilli flakes

Method

Pre-heat the oven to about 180oC.

Fry the pepper and tomatoes in some oil from the preserved peppers (the deliciously flavoured oil is too good to waste).

Place the bread butter-side down in an oven dish.

When the pepper and tomatoes have started to cook down add half to the dish as a layer over the bread. Add some of the preserved peppers, focusing on putting them in any gaps between the bread.

Add a layer of aubergine followed by the rest of the pepper and tomato mixture and the remaining preserved peppers.

Top with the last of the aubergine. Add a spoon of the flavoured oil onto each aubergine slice and season generously with salt pepper and a spice mix of your choice – I used BBQ chilli flakes.

Bake in the oven for approximately half an hour.

Enjoy!

Lamb with nectarines

lamb and nectarines

This recipe has been sitting in draft since January – so we haven’t ‘recently’ returned from Australia. In fact, we are now in a different part of the world altogether (we have a very well travelled baby, more on that another time). Although this post lacks the ‘immediacy’ of my usual writing, which means that I am not completely happy with it, I have decided to share it with you anyway – both because the meal was delicious, and because it was made in one of my favourite places. If  you ever find yourself travelling in the Australian State of Victoria make sure that you spend some time staying at Lochinver Farm; it is idyllic, and Alison will be able to point you in the direction of some fabulous places which serve local food and wine. 

Lochinver Farm

We have recently returned from spending nearly a month in Australia. Are we mad to fly around the world with a 6 month old baby? Maybe, but actually the most difficult part is now -dealing with a jet-lagged baby who wants to go to bed at 3.00 in the afternoon and wake up at 3.00 in the morning.

We spent our first week in Australia with our good friends the Williamsons who run a farm in country Victoria – the beautiful Lochinver Homestead. At Lochinver they raise sheep for both merino wool and meat, as well as offering accomodation in the old homestead and workmen’s cottages (well, ‘old’ by Australian standards at least!). On New Year’s Eve Mark cooked us roast lamb from the farm, and the following evening I took it upon myself to create something with the leftovers. What we ended up with was a middle eastern inspired dish, which also used up some fresh fruit and bits I found in the wonderful old-fashioned larder in the farmhouse kitchen.

Ingredients

  • Three handfuls of cooked lamb
  • A handful of raisins
  • A couple of teaspoons of Zaatar
  • Two nectarines
  • Half a tin of chickpeas
  • A handful of flaked almonds

Method

Chop the lamb into bite-sized pieces and put in a microwave-proof bowl with the raisins, zaatar and a splash of water. Microwave for about 3 minutes. Chop the nectarines into small pieces and fry them  in olive oil, together with the lamb hot from the microwave, the almonds and the chickpeas. Fry for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

I served this with salad, couscous and an impromptu ‘tzatziki’, which I made by stirring mint sauce and chopped cucumber into Greek yogurt- when in a strange kitchen you have to improvise!

This was a delicious and very simple dish, made even better by the satisfaction of using up leftovers and of eating lamb at the farm where it had been raised. Please let me know if you give this recipe a go -I would love to know how you get on!

lochinver farm sheep

lamb with nectarines
lamb with nectarines

 

Vegan Chestnut Stuffing Sausage Rolls

I love a guest blog post – this isn’t because I’m lazy (much), but because I love discovering and sharing other people’s recipes and writing styles. This recipe comes from the fabulously creative Kate.

Kate is, amongst other things, a Laughter Yoga teacher, a creative writer and seriously skilled at making cakes. Embracing the vegan lifestyle has, if anything, made her more creative in the kitchen and I always enjoying sampling the tasty treats she makes.

So without further ado, and in her own words (and with the help of playdough), here is Kate’s recipe for Vegan Sausage Rolls.

vegan sausage roll

So… near the start of the month I had a vegan sausage roll from Greggs (pleasant warming snack).

But then I got obsessed with sausage rolls!

I wrapped a Linda McCartney vegan sausage in pastry… also good.

Then I made my own stuffing with bagels, chestnuts, pecans, sage, dried cherries and spices and made it into this super fancy braided sausage roll based on some random video that appeared on my newsfeed. And it is the best yet!

I wrote it into my titchy recipes notebook (started in 2002!) but here it is slightly more legibly.

Day one: make the stuffing and eat some of it with some roast potatoes and veg

Day two: turn the rest into sausage rolls.

Special skills needed: adding just the right amount of water to things.

Ingredients:

(Stuffing fills a 15cm diameter, 7cm deep round oven dish)

STUFFING

  • 2x bagels
  • 200g ready to eat chestnuts
  • small handful pecans
  • 8 dried cherries (I like the Urban Fruit ones as they aren’t sweetened)
  • 6 sage leaves
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • sprinkle of mixed pepper
  • sprinkle of mixed herbs
  • water
  • dessert spoon of vegan margarine

PASTRY

(to make three sausage rolls)

  • 180g plain flour
  • 90g vegan margarine
  • pinch of salt
  • cold water to mix

Method:

Day one:

Blend bagels, chestnuts and pecans on a low speed until they are in crumbs/small pieces. Tip into a mixing bowl.

Boil the kettle.

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Snip cherries into thirds, add to bowl (It is possible that using a different amount of cherries cut into different fractions will also work!).

Skip idyllically into your garden to harvest some sage leaves, wash them, then rip them up and add to the bowl.

Add the spices and smush around with your fingers.

Pour a splurge of boiling water on until the texture looks like stuffing. Add the margarine on top and stir to melt it in.

Cook in an ovenproof dish for 25 minutes.

Day two:

Preheat the oven to 200oC

Make the pastry. Rub margarine into flour and salt. Tip a little cold water in until you get a dough, then roll it out and cut it into thirds. Top tip: don’t go back and forth over your pastry like a steamroller, just push it one way at a time then it won’t go tough.

Place a chunk of stuffing in the middle of each rectangle.

I didn’t have the opportunity to make another batch of pastry to demonstrate the braiding technique… but I did have some play dough and giant chalks (see below images for a step by step guide. ed).

Please do not consume chalk or play dough in a moment of confusion.

Cut the pastry in diagonal lines, wet the edges, braid it and do something rustic with the ends (or find a slightly more detailed tutorial if you aren’t a fan of super chunky pastry!).

Cook for 25 minutes.

Enjoy the wodge-tastic January comfort food goodness! Smile and then you can ingest your chestnuts in jest. Sausage ROTFL. Ha!

😋

braided sausage roll

vegan sausage roll

 

Vegetable and bacon pie… and a yummy use of leftover pastry

Little boy is four and a half months old (now 5 months) (… now 6 months!) and I’m going to attempt to finish my first blog post since he arrived. I did draft one a couple of months ago, but it turned into a rant about how people judge other people’s parenting skills. A shame really; what had started as a good day where I had managed to cook myself a delicious lunch from scratch (and even eat it while it was reasonably warm) turned into the day where I decided that the collective noun for mothers is ‘a judgement’. A parliament of owls, a murder of crows, a judgement of mothers… sounds about right. Today I am somewhat more positive, so here goes.

Not only is this the first post since baby arrived, it is also the first in my new kitchen. We took delivery of a new oven this week to replace the rather scary ancient gas contraption, so of course I celebrated by making pie!

This recipe was invented using inspiration from the reduced section of the supermarket and what needed using up in the fridge. I have rarely bought ready chopped vegetables in the past thinking it a bit lazy, which I suppose it is when you have time and energy. Now that I have a baby who will only let me put him down for limited periods of time I see the point of them! The chopped carrot and swede was reduced in the supermarket, as was the pastry. The spinach was in the fridge and wanted using, I wouldn’t have thought to buy it for this purpose but it worked.

Ingredients

  • Chopped carrot and swede
  • Half a pack of bacon, chopped
  • Half an onion
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • Teaspoon dried herbs – I used thyme and tarragon
  • A couple of handfuls of spinach
  • A splash of cream
  • A handful of grated cheddar cheese
  • Pastry – I used ready rolled

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Finely chop the onion, garlic and bacon and fry together in a saucepan which has a lid – you will need very little oil because the fat will come out of the bacon. Add the chopped carrot and swede, herbs and black pepper. Do not add salt or stock at this stage – you will probably find that the bacon makes it salty enough. Add about half a pint of water hot from the kettle and simmer until you can put a fork in the vegetables. Stir in the spinach so that it wilts, then drain most of the liquid off (you can use this later as stock for soup). Stir in cream and grated cheese, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Put the pie filling in an oven proof dish and let it cool before adding the pastry lid – pastry put on a hot filling often shrinks. Brush the pastry with egg and bake in the centre of the oven for half an hour to 45 minutes.

… and finally, I don’t like to waste things so I made some delicious little tarts with the leftover pastry and egg. I rolled the pastry thinly and used a biscuit cutter to make rounds which I pressed into a small muffin tin. These I filled with finely chopped mushrooms which I had stirred into the remaining beaten egg along with some dried herbs and salt and black pepper. These were baked below the pie for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Kitty’s Cereal Bar Recipe

I am notoriously bad at eating breakfast, but one of these with a cup of tea in the morning gets me going. Not the healthiest of breakfasts, but at least there are slow-release sugars to keep me going for a while as well as the sugar and syrup. The proportions are based upon my favourite flapjack / oat slice recipe but with half the amount of sugar.

cereal bar

Ingredients

  • 4oz / 110g Dark Soft Brown Sugar
  • 8 oz / 220g Butter
  • 2 rounded dessertspoon Golden Syrup
  • 8 oz / 220g Oats
  • 2 oz / 55g Bran Flakes
  • 2 oz / 55g Rice Crispies
  • heaped teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • generous handful of Dates
  • generous handful of Chopped Nuts, I used brazil nuts. Pecans or walnuts would also be good.

Note, you can substitute in different types of cereal depending on what you have in the cupboard – as long as the total dry ingredients adds up to 12 oz / 350g. If you want to add flaked almonds I would advise including them as a proportion of the dry ingredients rather than substituting them for other nuts, otherwise they will dry out the mixture.

Method

Line a square tin (8 inches approx) with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 150oC.

In a large pan, gently melt the butter, syrup and sugar. When melted add the ginger, fruit and nuts followed by the dry ingredients. Mix well and then put in the prepared tin, flattening it with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes. When it is cooked, let it cool in the tin before turning it onto a board and chopping it into squares.

cereal bar

Basic Kitchen Project – debrief

basic kitchen

As promised in my previous post, here are some notes to close-out the Basic Kitchen project.

The first thing to say is that it was certainly hard work – I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I didn’t work part time, and if I didn’t enjoy cooking.

What I was really rubbish at was keeping a good record of what I spent, which isn’t very helpful for a roundup of how the project went! We were pretty close to £10 each week though. What I will share with you are some shopping tips and things which I consider to be the ‘best buys’, and the favourite things we ate.
Shopping

The first week we really missed green vegetables and colourful food – not that we ate badly, it’s just that the cheapest vegetables tend to be carrots which can get rather dull. In subsequent weeks we managed to do some good market shopping for vegetables. The best bargains came when we went to the market not long before it shut.

I would highly recommend finding out the best time to visit your local market.

Most of the meat and fish we bought came from the reduced section of the supermarket, with the exception of the wonderful ‘cooks bacon’ (the cheap offcuts). This meant that I had to think on my feet a little bit when shopping.

A good buy was the pack of beef sausages which I got in the first week. I used some straight away and then froze the rest in batches of three. Really yummy in casseroles.

Another bargain was some reduced beef mince. I decided at that point to reintroduce a big frying pan with a lid so that I could bulk cook traditional Bolognese. This fed us for a number of meals and cost just a few pounds. I will write up a Bolognese recipe for you at some point.

A good way to get protein and good flavour into budget food is to buy ‘cooks bacon’ from your local butcher or supermarket. These are the ‘scrag ends’ or offcuts – exactly the same meat as rashers of bacon but not a uniform size. If you’re going to chop it up for cooking anyway then why buy anything else?

I started the project with stock cubes, mixed herbs, chilli flakes and salt and pepper, in the hope that over the weeks I would be able to add to my spice cupboard within my budget. This was not possible. This is a bit of a disappointing discovery but hardly a surprise – £10 a week may be sufficient to eat healthily (if you have the time and energy to shop and cook carefully) but it doesn’t allow for very exciting ingredients. When I did my £5 challenge at the start of this blog in 2016 I allowed myself the use of what was already in my store cupboard, including spices; I found it significantly more difficult to cook creatively without this.
What I Cooked

One of the things I really enjoy about restricting my budget is that it forces me to be creative with what I have. Despite being somewhat limited this time – with having only chilli, mixed herbs, salt and pepper, I still found that I made some good discoveries.

  • One Pot Pasta! This is a one pot wonder. It is so simple to make, and easily varied depending on the ingredients to hand, that I wrote up two different versions of it (and made it many more times than I wrote about). It also makes for less washing up – bonus. One Pot Pasta has definitely entered my repertoire for good – just this week I made a delicious creamy version with bacon, onion, homemade stock from the freezer, crème fraiche and cheese. Yum.
  • Mackerel stuffed with haggis – I appreciate that this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this was a truly magnificent and decadent meal – which cost only £2.30 to feed three people. It goes to show that, with making good use of the reduced section of the supermarket and some imagination, you can still make a rather impressive dinner party meal on a tight budget.
  • Breakfast Muffins – these were very yummy and cheap to make, and even such a reluctant breakfast eater as myself enjoyed them.

I found that I cooked a lot of tomato based dishes, because tinned tomatoes work well with chilli and with dried herbs. I managed to vary things a little by using fresh herbs from the garden; flat leaved parsley and sage were in season and I was very glad of them. I have to say though, that after a while I got somewhat bored of Italian inspired dishes and simple chilli dishes and really craved curry! Curry can be a fabulously cheap to make if you already have the basic spices, especially when you use a lentil base.

Anyway, that’s that. I hope that you found some inspiration from my little £10 a week project. I would love know what your favourite frugal recipes are. If you fancy writing up a favourite recipe as a guest blog post that would be fabulous – do get in touch.

‘over and out

Kitty x