January: Five things I’m lovin’ this month

What a crazy-busy month! It always takes a week or so for January to get rolling, but once it did this year, I was back to back with work. Just the way I like it! Here are a few things that have got me through the busy month.

1. Za’atar from the Palestinian tent, Global Village, Dubai

An old Palestinian lady behind a stall at the back of the Palestinian tent looked up at me smiling as she handed over a fresh piece of pitta, dipped in olive oil, and then covered with her lemony fresh za’atar. She handed me piece after piece, with different za’atars on to try. I selected the ones I want and when I asked for 200 grams she laughed: as most spice sellers do when I ask for my tidily western quantities. This Za’atar is out of this world good. Za’atar blends can be a bit dusty- particularly if they’re too heavy on the thyme. This one is heavy on the sesame seeds and sumac. I asked a Lebanese friend where the best place to buy Za’atar is in Dubai and she agreed with me. Here’s the link for more info about Global Village.

2. Unroll me

Until 2 weeks ago I would wake up to at least 30 newsletters in my inbox every morning. Then I saw a friend tweet about this amazing website. I was very pessimistic. A promise to get rid of all my unwanted subscriptions to newsletters? In 2 minutes? Impossible. I was wrong. Five minutes later, I’d set my email up with them and received a promise that I wouldn’t get any more emails from companies I unsubscribed from. And I didn’t. I’ve spent hours previously unsubscribing one by one, email by email. This service is amazing. And free at the moment!

3. Wingsters

Amelia Johnson Photography

Shameless plug, but nonetheless a very well deserved one, for my friend Ahmed and his amazing Wingsters restaurant in the Marina, Dubai. Ahmed has opened Dubai’s first themed mobster-style Buffalo wings restaurant. As someone who has visited the city of Buffalo wings, where they were invented, over ten times, I feel qualified to tell you that these are the real deal. For the daring amongst you, he’s running an ‘initiation‘ – a challenge only the hardest of chilli lovers should take on to confront his spiciest sauces and come out alive on the other side. Succeed and you’ll earn your photograph on the wall of fame. For those less adventurous the Buffalo wings rock my world. His make-your-own milkshakes are pretty darn good too. Not to mention how good his food photography is…. 😉

4. Frying Pan Adventures

Untitled-1

I met Arva, who runs Frying Pan Adventures in December and as soon as I met her I knew I had to join one of her tours. I went on the ‘Arabian Food Pilgrimage’. I can’t wait for my Mum to visit again so I can take her on this, and then follow it a few days later with the ‘Little India on a Plate’ tour. From start to finish Arva’s energy and enthusiasm for the food and history of the region was infectious. Although we didn’t cover a large distance physically, in food we went from Egypt, to Palestine, to Syria, Iran and back to Egypt. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but our group of 12 tried desserts made from a type of root which can also be used as soap, learnt how to make falafel and ate ice cream with our hands. I’ve lived in the Middle East for five years and learnt more than I ever expected to. Wonderful.

ps. I’ve just noticed they’re number 1 for activities to do in Dubai on Trip Advisor. If that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is!

5. The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage

This is the kind of book you open up and dig straight into. Some books I work my way through, and bookmark with post it notes and scribbles about the type of occasion on which I might make something. not this one. Book propped up, cupboards open, oven on. As I received this for Christmas my husband was bombarded in the first week of the new year with fresh, healthy, home-style Lebanese food. I didn’t hear any complaints. The book is well laid out. The recipes are not complicated, perfect for the beginner. As a Lebanese friend told me the other day- a Lebanese person would never refer to a recipe book, they’d use their mother’s recipes. Well for those of us without Lebanese mothers, this is the book to use. I particularly enjoyed the sumac crusted tuna. Recipes to come on here soon. And on that note, I’m off to my kitchen to cook from it!

A Postcard to myself: from Oslo

This is a rather self-indulgent post, to allow me to remember a wonderful weekend with some of my favourite people in the world. It wasn’t the weekend of partying it might have been just 5 years ago. It was quiet, and peaceful, nourishing, indulgent and slow. I travelled to Oslo, with my best friend Reema, to stay with my second cousin, and close friend, Mary-Ann and her wonderful family. They’ve been living in Oslo for 5 years as expats from Perth. Mary Ann is 8 months pregnant and we were all recovering from a busy year. It wasn’t my first time, and so we spent time bundled up, strolling through the Scandinavian streets and parks, catching up, counselling, encouraging and laughing. We drank too much glühwein, ate elk burgers and meandered through Christmas markets. We had a fantastic Spanish meal, drank an obscene amount of coffee, and played with Xavier and his toys. A wonderful weekend that made me so grateful for my incredible girlfriends.

0E1A2010

 0E1A2030 copy

0E1A2084

0E1A2085

0E1A2108

0E1A2160

0E1A2164

0E1A2148

0E1A2037

0E1A2179

Banana, Honey and Walnut Teabread

Amelia Johnson Photography banana honey and walnut teabreadI would love to be one of those homes where people don’t call before they drop by for a cup of tea and a slice of cake and a two-hour catch up. Where we threw big barbeques that start with a family or two and end up with friends of friends joining and kids running through sprinklers and people not leaving til 2 in the morning. Alas, our lives aren’t at that stage right now: we live an urban lifestyle on the 14th floor in a 2-bedroom apartment, and, more to the point, we’re rarely home! Anyway, if I did regularly have friends dropping by, this is one of many cakes I would have to hand. It has a fantastic texture, slightly crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and has a great depth of flavour thanks to the honey and cinnamon.

Banana, Honey and Walnut Teabread

115g unsaturated margarine

115g light soft brown sugar

115g honey

2 eggs

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 large bananas

50g walnuts

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a loaf tin.

Beat together the margarine, sugar and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs.

Fold in the flour and cinnamon.

Mash the bananas in a separate bowl and then gently fold them into the mixture with the walnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the tin.

Bake in the oven for about an hour, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. The top should be golden and firm to the touch.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Eat sliced, hot or cold.

December: 5 Things I’m Lovin’ this Month

Listening to an English radio station through my new Nude speakers whilst editing at home, I wanted to share my excitement over my new purchase. Being home alone, I didn’t have anyone to tell. And then I thought of you! So please, indulge me. I’ve had guests for 7 weeks and now they’ve all left.

So without further ado, five things I have wanted to shout out about this week!

1. NudeAudio Move M Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker – Grey/Mint

nude2

So I think I might be a bit slow to the party, but these are awesome! They wirelessly hook up to my iPhone and the sound is bang-ing! I have an ‘Amelia-Proof’ case around my phone and so it won’t fit into a dock without  me going through the hassle of removing the cover. With these the phone can be up to 10 metres (in reality more like 5 around corners) away from the speaker. I’m so chuffed with these. I have music blaring from my phone at least 4 hours a day and now the sound is decent and LOUD (sorry lovely neighbours). Hooray!

2. Stratejoy’s Holiday Council

HC2014_Badge_400x400_Final

For the next 21 days I’ll be reviewing and evaluating. Figuring out what rocked about this year and what sucked. Working out how I want next year to look. I’m SUPER excited about it. It’s not just about goal setting, but about figuring how you want to feel by the end of 2014 and how you can get there. Through a mixture of recorded interviews, phone calls, a  workbook and online questions, we’ll figure this stuff out as an online group. I’ve been feeling a little lacking in direction recently, and this is just what I need to get me on track. Registration has closed now but Molly has courses running through the year and is well worth a look.

3. Woodwick Candle Cinnamon Chai Medium Jar

candle

Our lovely aforementioned neighbours bought this for us when we dog-sat for them. There was really no need as we loved every minute of having Zura, a gorgeous, Bichon Frisé staying with us, but this candle is wonderful. It smells gorgeous and it CRACKLES like a wood fire! With the soothing sound of crackling, and the gorgeous cinnamon scent I feel like I’m back home in England with a pot of mulled wine on the stove…. which leads me nicely to….

4. Daughter of Fortune: A Novel

image

This gorgeous novel is always my first recommendation when guests browse my bookshelf for books to read by their pool. It’s paints the most vivid picture of its characters, their homes and the colours that surround them. I was hooked from the first page. I always enjoy books where I feel that I’m learning whilst unable to put the book down. This taught me more about the San Franciscan gold rush than I thought I needed to know. A Dubai 7 stars to Allende!!

5. Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Unknown

I’ve already referred to this AMAZING cookbook by Ottolenghi a couple of times on the blog (here, here and here!) but it is THAT good that it’s worth mentioning again. This would be a super Christmas present for any budding chef (or to yourself?) with an interest in Middle Eastern food. It’s extended my sights beyond Lebanese takeaway and for that I will be forever grateful. Thanks to Ottolenghi tahini has become as much of a staple in my fridge as tomato ketchup. Amen.

Walnut Bread

TheGratefulPhotographerWalnutBread3

I made a big mistake the first summer I lived in Dubai. I booked our summer holiday for the end of June. Ramadan was at the end of August. For those of you who are not familiar with summers in the Middle East, the temperatures go off the scale. The hottest temperature our thermometer has recorded in five years is 53 degrees Centigrade, and it hangs in the shade. Ermm… that’s hot enough to fry an egg outside, cause me to faint (numerous times), and HEAT PLATES.  That meant I had 3 stinking hot months ahead of me, with little happening and most people fleeing the heat for cooler climes. The kitchen was my refuge.

TheGratefulPhotographerDubaiDesert

 One of the best things about the heat is that I can use the balcony like an English airing cupboard, for my bread to rise. (In England the warmest part of any house is the cupboard with the water boiler in it, and it’s where we leave our dough to prove). For some reason I find this entertaining even five years on. In the summer when the sun only serves to scorch, I’ve found a use for it. On my balcony pretzel dough doubles, sourdough forms bubbles and doughnut dough rises.

So, here’s a recipe I discovered this summer. This bread is absolutely stuffed full of walnuts, and is divine served with goats cheese and figs. It’s easy to make- I’ve made 4 loaves and they’ve all turned out great. It just requires a bit of time. I normally get started with it on a Saturday morning when I wake up and by the time I’ve finished getting ready for the day, doing a bit of tidying and cleaning, with some low-energy kneading in between the loaf is ready for the oven.

TheGratefulPhotographerWalnutBread2

Adapted from Short & Sweet by the fabulous Dan Lepard who has taught me nearly as much about baking as my Mum.

Ingredients

300g strong white flour, plus extra for shaping

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons fast action yeast

125ml red wine

75ml water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

150g coarsely chopped walnuts

oil for kneading

Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Using a liquidizer, blend the wine, water, oil, honey and 50g of the walnuts until smooth. Pour this over the flour and add the remaining walnuts. Stir to make a sticky dough. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Knead the dough on a lightly oiled word surface, 8 to 10 times only. Oil the bowl slightly and return the dough to the bowl. Leave for 10 minutes. Repeat the kneading process and place back in the bowl. Leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until increased in size by 50%.

Line a tray with baking paper, lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough to roughly 15cm x 20cm. Roll the shorter side up to form a tight sausage and place this seam side down on the tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave outside again for an hour. Heat the oven to 200 deg C/180 deg C fan/390 deg F/gas 6. Lightly dust flour over the dough with a small fine sieve or tea-strainer and make rapid criss-cross cuts with a sharp knife. Bake for 40 minutes and then leave to cool on a rack.

 

 

Why I love… American Pancakes

Amelia Johnson Photography Food Photographer Dubai United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Best Professional Freelance drink portrait food stylist restaurant advertising commerical good excellent dessert fast food03

 

I don’t think you’re supposed to admit, as a 30-year old woman, that American pancakes is one of your favourite meals right? It’s not sophisticated and it’s not clever… but oh boy… they taste so good. My favourite recipe follows below, but first I must explain myself.

My husband and I live very busy lives. I work long hours and plenty of weekends, play lots of sport and have every hobby going. He works long hours, works long hours, works long hours. But when we’re on holiday together, we’re not doing anything other than being on holiday together. Phones and computers get switched off. Alarms have no place on our holidays, and all thoughts of chores and errands and laundry are put to the back of our minds. It’s just me and him, and our journey. We have spent a lot of time on holiday in the States over the last few years, and one of my favourite things to do is have a long American brunch before heading out for a day of sightseeing, driving, hiking or playing. Thanks to huge portion sizes, we rarely need to stop for lunch and so can keep going all day. When we’re at brunch together I get my husband’s full attention, over pancakes and maple syrup and bacon, planning and laughing and dreaming and sharing.

Occasionally I’ll make this recipe for dinner usually when one of us has had a bad day, to cheer us up. This really isn’t an everyday dinner dish. Otherwise, it comes out on my birthday, or when we have friends round for brunch.

Ingredients

180ml milk

30ml white vinegar

125g plain flour

25g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3g salt

1 egg

10g melted butter

spray oil

Method:

Combine the milk with vinegar and leave for 5 minutes.

Combine all the dry ingredients.

Whisk the egg and butter into the soured milk.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Whisk until all the lumps are gone.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and spray with oil.

Pour in a ladle of batter and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. At this point, flip the pancake. Cook for another minute and then slide onto a plate.

Where to start with serving recommendations? I have to say, Americans have it right, with very crispy bacon and maple syrup. Don’t write it off before you’ve tried it! Blueberries, raspberries, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, cream…. all delicious.

 

Recent Work: Atom/ Milano Coffee House

Untitled-1

There’s a new brand in town, and there are plans for it to be BIG. Milano opened their first branch in Abu Dhabi’s Bawabat Al Sharq mall at the beginning of October, and they asked me to come in and shoot their new menus and collateral.

Atom are a super agency to work with. They knew exactly what they wanted and gave me a really clear brief. Even better they did a super job of briefing our fantastic Chef, Mohamed, who pulled out all the stops to give us luxurious, colourful, playful food.

Be sure to check them out next time you’re in Abu Dhbai.

Cali SandwichAmelia Johnson Photography

Milano Asian Prawn Salad Amelia Johnson Photography Food Photographer Dubai United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Best Professional Freelance drink portrait food stylist restaurant advertising commerical good excellent dessert fast food04

Orange and Almond Biscotti

Orange and Almond Biscotti Amelia Johnson

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to share this biscotti recipe with you. It doesn’t contain ANY fat!  Zero, ziltch, added fat.  Well, apart from the fat in the almonds, which doesn’t count, it’s good fat!

Traditional biscotti isn’t made with fat, simply flour, eggs and sugar. And we’re not talking your average starbucks biscotti here with a trilion ingredients. These are simple, delicious and taste luxurious. They’re a little hard, mind, but that’s part of the fun.

When I have a baking itch- these are often what I’ll turn to to help me resist the temptation of chocolate brownies.  Then I’ll stash the batch away in a tin in my kitchen, knowing that they’re pretty much guilt-free, and they’ll last a few weeks too.

Ingredients

170g plain flour

100g caster sugar

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

1 egg white

100g chopped almonds (chop whole ones yourself for added texture)

2 tbsp orange zest (approx 1 orange)

Method

Preheat oven to 180deg centigrade and grease a baking sheet.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Beat in the egg and then mix in the almonds and orange zest. The mixture will be quite dry. Knead the dough by hand until a small ball forms.

Roll the dough into a log approx 10″ long and place it on the baking sheet. Press it down until approx 6″ wide.

Bake for 25 mins. Cool on a rack. When cool enough to handle cut into 1″ slices or as thin as you can.

Place the slices back on the sheet and return to the oven for 20 mins.

Cool on a rack.

Enjoy with coffee at the end of a meal instead of dessert or as an afternoon treat

Winter’s on the way

photoSeptember could be in the running for my favourite month of the year in Dubai. We’ve just survived another stinking hot summer in the desert- some summers by shivering inside in the aircon, watching endless box sets and plotting how to get things done without stepping a foot outside. Others by escaping the heat abroad for as long as our friends and relatives will have us to stay. I took 7 blissful weeks off in the States and the UK.

There is such energy in the air. At least in my home. And such pregnant expectations for the seasons ahead. Soon we’ll be able to picnic on the beach, my brother will be coming and we’ll go to the water park, I can run outside again and start swimming in the sea in the mornings before work. Work will be relentless through the next few months- just the way I like it. New restaurants and hotels will be opening and with them exciting opportunities for food photography.

I love looking forward to things, nearly as much as the thing itself. The potential of what might, could or will be is so charged.
I’m preparing my portfolio and having meetings about creative new projects, I’m setting myself goals for the last 4 months of the year. Plans are underfoot for a mastermind group between creatives and entrepreneurs. Lists get crossed off and added to and edited and added to again.

Most exciting of all? Camera in hand I’m back to work.

Wandering in Istanbul

During the Eid holiday in November this year, we flew North to Istanbul to spend a brisk and crisp weekend in Istanbul. Whilst the others slept and rested, I spent an afternoon wandering the windy streets of Istanbul, getting lost and exploring with just my camera and enough money for a cab ride home.

Such a large population in such a small area requires feeding and consequently there is food at every turn. Fresh bread, juices and seafood abounds.

Roasted Chestnuts

Roasted Chestnuts

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (8 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (5 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (2 of 9)

IMG_9371

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (9 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (5 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (3 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (6 of 9)

Amelia Johnson professional food photographer dubai uae  (7 of 9)