Mediterranean Apricot and Date Chutney

I love to can.  Yes…as in mason jars, pressure cookers, and hot water baths.  Every weekend during the summer and fall, we venture to the local farmers market to gather nearly a bushel of fresh produce. The rest of the day is spent in the kitchen canning. Storing the items for the winter months.

This weekend I tried a new recipe based solely on its name and the memories it invoked.  When we lived in Abu Dhabi, we often enjoyed various dried fruits and cheeses.  This recipe, filled with apricots, dates, raisins, mustard seeds, ginger, and coriander is perfect paired with cheese and crackers or dolloped on next to a slice of lamb and couscous. Sweet and tart, with a subtle flavor profile.

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Holiday Time…Paddle Boarding and Santa

One of the biggest adjustments to living in Abu Dhabi has been that the leaves don’t change; a visual reminder that the holidays are approaching.  The temperature has dropped from the 110+F to a more comfortable low 90s, but it is mid November and all the vegetation is still green.  For me, November is time for Thanksgiving (yes, I’m American) and the site of holiday decorations in the stores. But in Abu Dhabi this is the time to go outside and enjoy the pleasant weather.  Restaurants have set out their outdoor seating and the beaches are crowed.  I’m not complaining…I spent last weekend on a paddle board exploring the Eastern Mangrove region. (That’s me in the pink top.)

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But not to fear…the holiday season, complete with Christmas blend Starbucks coffee and mall decorations, is fully present in Abu Dhabi.

IMG_1863My husband and I stopped in the local Ace Hardware store last week and I immediately turned into a giggly 5-year old girl upon seeing the huge Christmas trees and rows and rows of holidays decorations.  Everything one could possibly want to add holiday cheer to the home.  It was all there…lights, wreaths, life size Santas, tree toppers.  I couldn’t resist and added a small tree and this lovely book to our cart.

IMG_1865All the malls add traditional holiday decorations to their stores, but the ones nearest the expat areas really show their holiday spirit.  The Abu Dhabi Mall, shown below, features a three story Christmas tree and Winter Village, complete with a jolly old British Santa.  Photos with Santa are free and come with candy! I love watching families of all faiths and nationalities que (line up) to have a moment with Santa.

10431509_10205280715325764_7369298768998747978_nThis year, we are staying in the area for the holidays.  We have made reservations at the JW Marriot Marquis in Dubai and will spend a few days there to ring in the new year.  We have reservations at the “Vault” on the 72nd floor for New Years Eve.  Our table looks onto the Burj Khalifa which will be the site for a huge fireworks display at midnight.

Marriot signSo although the leaves don’t change and layers of clothing are not required, the holiday season is certainly present in Abu Dhabi!

Anniversary Dinner

Last night Kevin and I celebrated eight years of marriage by enjoying a wonderful dinner at Stratos. It was perfect in every way. The service was attentive; the food was cooked to perfection; the views amazing, even though a sandstorm was moving in on the horizon. I enjoyed oysters on the half shell, rock lobster, and several vodka martinis. Kevin loved his  steak, medium rare, Caesar salad, and German Riesling wine. At the end of the meal we were present with a lovely sticky toffee pudding in butterscotch sauce with vanilla ice cream and port wine, compliments of the house. This is a great venue.

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Driving in Abu Dhabi: Playing Chicken in the Rain

I’m American. I LOVE to drive and have driven since I was 15. I’ve driven across the US three times, by myself; I’ve driven in Atlanta, Dallas, LA, and numerous other major cities. But nothing prepared me for driving in Abu Dhabi….and NOTHING prepared me for during in Abu Dhabi in the RAIN!

First, let’s think about who is driving here. Remember that 85% of this country is composed of expats from around the globe…many of which drive on the “wrong side of the road.” Also, understand that the Emirate (locals) cannot even learn to drive until age 18, so once they do pass their driving exams…watch out! Did I mention that many of the locals have really fast sport cars. This odd mix makes for some interesting driving experiences and “customs.”

Being American, getting my license was easy.  Pay a small fee, have a photo taken and done.  The entire process took less than 30 minutes.  No road sign test, no eye exam, no actual driving test.  The fact I had a valid US license was sufficient.  That in it self should tell you something about driving here.  Many countries have nearly “automatic” approval.

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Now driving is an experience.  The website below gives you a taste, but understand it is five years old and the traffic is much worse.

http://wn.com/abu_dhabi_driving

Driving is like playing “chicken” at 60 kph. First one to blink, loses. Therefore, here are my rules of road:

Rule #1 Don’t look in the rear view mirror. It will only make you nervous and there is nothing you can do what’s back there anyway.

Rule #2 Be slightly aggressive. Meaning don’t give way (except for city buses). The big cars and trucks like to “bully” themselves into your lane.  If there is the slightness bit of space, they will turn in.

Rule #3 No hand gestures.  This is a tough one for me to remember, but showing someone, especially a local, how a “bird flies” can get you arrested and deported.  There are cameras everywhere.

Rule #4 Remember there are cameras everywhere, so if you run a red light you will get a ticket. But the country makes this issue hassle free…there is an app in which you can log in with your tag number and check for fines. You even pay online.  Rarely will you see police pull someone over; if there do, it is usually for erratic behavior, etc.  Minor offenses, speeding, illegal turns, lights, etc., are all handled electronically.

Now, back to the rain issue.  It rained on my way home today.  To you, that probably isn’t news, or blog, worthy, but here in Abu Dhabi any small about of rain is a major event.  The rain was enough that I had to use my wipers (blades for you British folk). It wet the road, but barely. So I’m talking about a very, very small about of the wet stuff. But this is enough to make everyone crazy.  You would think they would slow down….you would be mistaken. Just the opposite.  They speed up so as to get out of the rain faster!  That makes for even shorter braking distances, faster lane changing (forget about using blinkers…that just doesn’t happen), and lots of horn honking.  After several near misses, I managed to get home without a scratch on the car, but I know there are a few more gray hairs on my head.

Very glad it only rains a couple of days a year. 🙂

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Earlier this month, Kevin and I visited the Grand Mosque.  This is an iconic structure and can been seen for miles; we can it see from Reem Island, where we live.

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We arrived at the mosque be local bus (we still don’t drive here). After a 10 minute walk to the entrance, we entered the grounds, which are richly landscaped. The building is constructed out of white marble.  It was a bit cloudy the day we visited, so some of my photos don’t show the purity of the marble, but believe me, it is white.

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We timed our visit so that we could take part in the free guided tour.  Our guide was well versed in the culture and history of the mosque.  She did not speak much about religion, expect when pointing out significant parts of the structure.  She emphasized that the mosque was built not only as a religious building, but with the intent to unite the world.  This was shown, in part, by the use of artisans and materials from around the world, not just the Middle East.

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The building has 82 onion shaped domes of seven different sizes. It is hard to show the size of this immense house of worship, but is is large enough to hold over 40,000 people for prayer. The majority of the building is made of marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.

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The arcade was one of my favorite spots for photos.  The columns are inlaid with mother of pearl and colored marble.  Each flower is unique.  Below are close ups of some of their detail.

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But the highlight if the tour are the chandeliers.  The mosque has seven chandeliers, made of millions of Swarovski crystals. All of them are massive, the largest is 33 ft is diameter and 49 ft in height! Their light was like that of a kaleidoscope.DSC00788  DSC00791

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Even the doors to the main pray arrive were of stained glass with floral images.  I couldn’t resist snapping a few pics as the tour group moved on into the main prayer room.

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The main prayer room is massive.  The carpet is considered to be the world’s largest carpet and weighs over 35 tons and contains over 2,268,000,000 knots!  It took two years to complete.  The columns in the main hall also have the floral designs.

DSC00826  DSC00811We spent about three hours at the mosque and there was something new to see every minute.  The grandeur of it is overwhelming.  We will return again, only this time at night.  The lighting changes based on the lunar cycle and the “clouds” that are projected on the domes move toward Mecca. During full moon, the lighting is white.  During new moon, the lighting is bluish.  I must get pics of this.  I have only seen it at night from a distance.

Mina Port Fish Market in Abu Dhabi

What an experience! This huge building has everything a fish lover could dream of.  First…the selection.  Fresh off the boats; every possible type of fish and sea creature.  Shark, squid, sea bass, tuna, blue crabs, and prawns the size of small lobsters.  Oh yeah, they also had lobster.  Second, the cleaning stations.  After you make your purchase, you take your catch to one of the cleaning stalls where for 2 Dhs (.58 USD) for them to clean the fish to your specifications.  Third…and this is the best part, you take your cleaned fish, or in our case blue crabs and prawns, to one of the many grilling stalls.  Here your catch will be grilled, fried, or baked to perfection in about 30 minutes for a cost of 10 Dhs per kilo.  The result…beautifully charcoal grilled crabs and prawns.

As soon as our food was ready, we hailed a taxi and hurried home to enjoy our feast.  What a treat!  Yes, the market smells like fish.  Yes, it is noisy.  Yes, they speak little English.  But the food and experience is so worth it.  If you are in Abu Dhabi, you must make the trek to the Mina Fish Market. Bus 54 takes you to the front entrance.

Bon Appetit.

DSC00872                                                              Grilled blue crabs.

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Grill king sized prawns.

Accepting a job overseas involves….

PAPERWORK!

As with any new job, there comes paperwork, but then you accept a job overseas, the paperwork can be measured by the pound (or kilo). First, after accepting my new position in Abu Dhabi in March, I was informed not to resign my current position until my security background check was approved. That involved naming parents, professional references, passport number, and ALL countries visited. After about three weeks, I was approved. Then came the process for gaining entry into the country. That has involved (to date) having my marriage license and University of Kansas transcript attested. This process required notarization and attachment by state agencies, the US State Department, and the UAE Embassy in the US. The result of this process is a stack of very official documents containing official seals and stamps.

downloadI have been told these documents are necessary to gain my residency visa. In the meantime, I have been granted a work visa.

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All very official. The paperwork does not end there….I have also had to copy three months of bank statements in order to open an account in the UAE and have made over 20 passport photos which I have been told will be needed for all the IDs and official forms that must be completed once I arrive in two weeks. Once I arrive, I will undergo a health screening and more paperwork before receiving my residence visa. Did I mention that I cannot open a bank account, sign a contract for an apartment or for cell phone service until I have my residence visa and a letter from my employer stating my salary?

Now some of you may say given all the bureaucracy (and who knows what lies ahead) why didn’t I look for a position in the US? Well…I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in an extremely diverse environment and work with faculty from around the world.

The adventure is just beginning and I will keep you posted as this adventure unfolds.

Disclaimer: Individual experiences may vary.

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