Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The New Dubai: A Guest Post by Travel Writer Simon Woodward

Dubai. It's on my list and I'm sure it's probably on yours as well. There's always been something magical about it, something that seemed unreachable and unattainable. When I hear about indoor ski resorts and underwater hotels, I immediately come to the conclusion that Dubai is a vacation destination for the well-to-do, not for poor backpacking married couples.

But I'm honored to have Simon Woodward here today, who writes for Trailfinders, telling us about his experience in a changing Dubai that's becoming far more accessible to regular folk like you and I. How exciting! Now, If I could only just afford a plane ticket.


As we cruised down a curving slip road from the airport and joined the gleaming flow of traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road, my driver and guide Yeman, a Syrian ex-pat, raised an eyebrow and indicated the road with a sweep of his hand. 

 “Emiraties, they love their cars. Range Rovers, S Class Mercedes – top cars. The more the better.” 

Exceedingly luxurious with expensive daily running costs, it struck me just how similar that felt to my past Holidays in Dubai with Trailfinders .

 You only have to look in the ads of the weekly newspapers to know that Dubai’s luxury hotels are now more affordable than they ever have been. There’s still a common misconception, however, that dining and entertainment are restricted to Dubai’s pricey in-hotel restaurants and even if you did want to explore, it would mean eye watering taxi fares everywhere you go. 

This may have been partly true in the past, but Dubai is changing. The recently completed 1.7km long Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is a good case in point. This palm-lined promenade of over three hundred shops, cafes and restaurants allows you to wander out from any of the Jumeirah Beach hotels and enjoy affordable alfresco dining and great people watching. 

I picked a cafĂ© at random and browsed the menu. 

“Hi sir, my name's Mercedes. I’ll be your server today. Are you ready to order?” 

Mercedes? Are even the waitresses named after cars in Dubai? 

At its southern end, the Walk broadened out and met the beach at Covent Garden Dubai. Against a backdrop of screams and Arabic pop music from the nearby funfair, a collection of little market stalls does a roaring trade selling Arabian crafts, sticky sweets, replica football shirts and inflatable Mickey Mouse hammers. 

In-between the beaches and old Dubai, sits another new development – Downtown Dubai. It isn’t hard to find. Just look for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, a beautiful silver colossus tapering to a vertiginous spire. 

At the tower’s feet sits Dubai Lake, home to spectacular dancing fountains so large and bright they can be seen from space (which I presume is just above the top of the Burj Khalifa!). In the evening, the floodlit fountains sway and leap to stirring piped music and the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of the crowd who stand rapt, camera phones raised to try and catch the magic. Surely the best free show in town. 

Others enjoy fabulous views of the performance from the dining terraces of the Souk Al Bahar or Dubai Mall. A little tip: it’s worth remembering that the superb Dubai Mall food court offers Lebanese meze for about half the price of the lake front restaurants. 

Much as the Walk and Downtown have enhanced Dubai, for a glimpse into the Emirate’s past and to find some real dining bargains, you need to head to the old city, around Dubai Creek. 

I decided to test the new Dubai Metro, a huge public transport project that links the new and old parts of the city. I jumped aboard – you can’t miss the stations, each one looks like a monumental golden seashell – and travelled a handful of stops to Khalid Bin Al Waleed station in Bur Dubai. The trip was quick, uncrowded and it cost just over a pound. 

It was dusk as I wound my way through busy back streets and arrived at the historic Bastakia Quarter. This warren of traditional buildings, dating from the early 20th century, once belonged to pearl merchants, and picturesque wind towers, a form of baroque Arabian airconditioning, rise majestically above their former homes. 

Bastakia led onto the Dubai museum, housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort (entrance a bargain at about 50p). Behind the museum, a muezzin’s call-to-prayer echoed out from the Grand Mosque and a gibbous moon hung atmospherically behind its minaret. Suddenly the sky was filled with swooping swallows hunting insects. Now I felt like I was in a different, older Arabia. 

I wove through the hustle and bustle of the wooden latticed arcades of Bur Dubai Souq and arrived at the Old Souk Abra station. These slender taxi-boats endlessly criss-cross the Creek, guttural engines rising and falling, as they carry out their daily dance in and out of the little jetties. 

Acting on a local tip off I jumped aboard, paid the equivalent of a 20p fee, and crossed to the opposite bank to dine at a Lebanese restaurant, Kanzaman. Here local families had gathered for a weekend meal and the air was filled with the sweet fragrance of shisha pipes, music and children’s laughter. 

I dined until I was fit to burst on humous, grilled halloumi, tabouli, grilled fish, pita and fatoush – a feast for little more than the equivalent of £10 – and then sat back to watch Old Dubai pass by. 

An old man on a bicycle cheeks puffed out and sweat beading his forehead, wobbled along the promenade with a huge bag of tin cans balanced precariously over his back wheel. Almost predictably, as he cycled past I saw that he had a hand-written sign dangling from his seat that read: BMW. It seems that in Dubai, even a bicycle can be a car. 

Simon Woodward – Trailfinders

Simon is Trailfinders’ North America, Caribbean and Indian Ocean Product Manager. Following Dubai, the rest of the year promises an eclectic mix of trips to Orlando, Crete, Vietnam and Kent

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Little Distance Before a BIG MOVE

Big announcement, guys! (Or maybe not so big because I've been talking about this for months on FB and twitter)

I'm leaving gorgeous, warm, sunny southern California to move to Salt Lake City at the end of May.

I am so excited. 

Why are we moving? Work. And school. And the fact that it is so much easier to be young, Mormon and poor in Utah than it is in California. Also all of my best friends from high school now live there with their husbands, so I'm very selfishly looking forward to a little girl time.
It's not a permanent move (with us, moves never are) but we'll be settling down for a while. We're talking about moving abroad again in a few years, doing a little long term traveling, and eventually putting down much deeper roots somewhere on the west coast. 

As we speak my husband is driving around Salt Lake City, house and job hunting. I'm stuck back here in the Golden State (poor me!) chipping away at the school semester which will (THANK GOODNESS) be over with in a couple of weeks.  With any luck we'll both have jobs and a home before I even get there.

The downside to this is that I have to spend several weeks without my husband. I'm naturally a pretty independent person so I didn't think this would be a huge problem, but it's much tougher than I imagined it would be! He's spoiled me for far too long with hugs and backrubs at the end of long, stressful days and now I don't know how to live without it.

Okay, I'm being a bit dramatic. I'll be fine :) 

With Steven and I being apart for this time, it was lovely and a little ironic to photograph engagement photos of this lovely couple:

who were just reunited last week when he returned from an 8 month deployment overseas.  They are so in love! To see the full photo story, click here!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The World's Best Pie Crust - with VODKA!

There's nothing better than pie. Nothing. 

Click here to view more photos of the making of this masterpiece!

I can't bake. No, really, I'm terrible. Lucky for me I have friends who do! Sierra bakes the best pies I've ever had - no exaggeration. The secret to her light, fluffy, incredible, croissant like crust? 



Ingredients - 

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
2 tablespoons sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
12 tablespoons cold butter, unsalted, cut up into small slices 
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces 
1/4 cup vodka, cold 
1/4 cup cold water. 

What to do - 

Step one:  In a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and shortening and process until the dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 15 seconds. There should be no uncoated flour left. Scrape edges of bowl and redistribute dough evenly around processor. Add remaining cup of flower and pulse until it's evenly distributed around the bowl, about 5 quick pulses. Empty into a bowl. 

Step two: Sprinkle vodka and cold water over mixture. Mix dough with hands or a rubber spatula, using a folding motion until the dough is tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two evenly sized balls and flatten each into small disks. 

Step three: Wrap each in plastic wrap and refridgerate at least 45 minutes, or up to two days. 

Step four: Use pie crust to make any flavored pie you'd like (we made a blackberry-strawberry pie but the possibilities are endless!) 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What a Bad Day at Work Looks Like.

Hair/Makeup by Assembly Salon. Want to see more of these photos? Click here!

I love working as a photographer. Really, I love it, but even people with the best jobs in the world have bad days at work.

I had one of those recently. Looking back on it now, it's downright comical. I hope you're sitting comfortably because I'm about to go on a tangent. 

It started off with a drive to Beverly Hills to work with the wonderful and fabulous Assembly Salon. This bad day had nothing to do with them - they are great! I was going to shoot several bridal looks for them to kick off wedding season with. 

A close friend of mine works at the mall in Beverly Hills, so I stopped by there beforehand to say hello. What was supposed to be a quick, five minute trip ended up in a 25 minute headache when I absolutely could. not. find. my. car.  in the underground parking lot. Why is it that no matter how many times I make this mistake, I simply can not remember to pay attention to where I park? Not a huge deal, but irritating nonetheless. 

Eventually I'm on my way to Assembly. I turn left onto Robinson Blvd from a side street and I'm totally surprised when a motorcycle cop puts on his lights to pull me over.  I've never been pulled over before in my life so to be perfectly honest I wasn't even sure of the protocol! He goes on to tell me that I made an illegal U-turn across a double yellow line. BUT I DIDN'T - I simply turned left off of a side street, but he must have somehow missed that first part. I had to argue with him for at least ten minutes but I thankfully drove away from that encounter ticket free.  Again, not the end of the world - just enough to set me off my game a little bit. 

I had been way ahead of schedule before, so thankfully after all of these setbacks I was just a few minutes late to my job with Assembly. We get the brides ready and start shooting - all is well. 

Until I realize that while I was taking pictures, I forgot to run back to feed the parking meter. 

In Beverly Hills. 

I SPRINT to the car to see a big, fat, $70 parking ticket sitting right there on the windshield, mocking me.  In one day I'd been pulled over by a cop and received a parking ticket: two firsts! 

At this point I'm feeling a bit frazzled, but I really try not to let it get to me. I'm on the job and I need to be professional.  I go back to behind the salon where we're shooting a very edgy looking bride on a fire escape. In order to get the right angle, I'm standing up on the dumpster across from her. 

MY PHONE SLIPS OUT OF MY BACK POCKET and over the fence, into the yard next door. 

Okay, not a big deal, I'll just go and get it.....

OH WAIT. That yard is a CONSTRUCTION SITE and my uninsured iPhone just dropped underneath a giant pile of rubble. RUBBLE! I don't even know what to do at this point - should I go dig through the rubble? Should I keep photographing? I'm on the job here. But it's getting dark...am I going to be digging through a pile of rocks by myself in the middle of the night with no way of calling anyone to tell them where I am? 

So I'm standing up on that dumpster, trying to stay professional and take pictures of a beautiful bride in a beautiful dress, but I'm just so overwhelmed at this point that the tears start to flow. 

Everything worked out in the end:  Construction workers came into the yard next door and after some begging, they dug through the pile of rocks for 20+ minutes in search of my phone while I kept taking pictures of the brides. They found it and it wasn't broken.  

Nearly everything that happened to me that day could have been prevented if I'd just put a little extra thought into what I was doing. I was and am mortified that all of this happened while I was supposed to be working - straight up bawling on the job is not exactly the way to impress clients and secure future work. The salon owners and stylists were very kind and supportive, though, which I'm totally grateful for! 

This was a learning experience for me. Things will not always be perfect. Things will go wrong - what's important is to not let it get to you or your work. This is way harder than it sounds, but I'm actually glad things happened the way they did; it was a little taste of the real world and I'll take it. 

Things did end up coming together alright and we got some good shots. If you'd like to see one of the four looks I shot that day, click here! 

Have you ever had a really terrible day at work? Please, come join me in my misery and embarrassment. It's fun over here! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beauty Resolutions

This post may make me seem incredibly superficial because it's all about beauty routines. But do you know what? People need beauty routines and so do I, so I think it deserves a blog post.

Do you ever see those girls who just look irritatingly lovely? Put together, but not overdone. It's effortless, natural. They look like they've stepped from the pages of a magazine. Frustrating, right? Every time I see a girl like that I feel the urge to immediately grab her by the shoulders, shake her and ask HOW DO YOU DO IT?  

Just me? Oops.

As far as self-care goes, I'm okay but far from perfect. I tend to get wrapped up in whatever I'm doing and just forget about myself. Little things, like letting my nail polish chip and going a bit too long in between plucking my eyebrows. In times of intense stress things get a whole lot worse.

These are my beauty resolutions. I'm going to try and stick to all of these, but we'll see.

  • Change nail polish at least once a week, touching it up mid week. 
  • Keep eyebrows under control. This should be extended to keeping all body hair under control. Yes. 
  • Coconut oil hair mask every Saturday. 
  • Use a clarifying shampoo once every two weeks. 
  • Leave in conditioner. I don't know why I always forget to put this in after I shower, but I do. Without fail, every time. 
  • Wear a moisturizer with SPF every day. 
  • Remember to thoroughly clean my makeup brushes once a week. (Is anyone else terrible at this? Still just me? Oops, again.) 
  • Exfoliate face and body twice a week. 
  • Start using a gradual tanning lotion for summer. 
  • Take vitamins every day for optimum skin and hair. 

This should be simple, right? Don't normal people do all of this without even having to think about it? Or are you with me?

What are your beauty resolutions? 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Green Power Salad with Quinoa and a Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I have been eating like crap lately. Mind you, marathon training has me hungry all of the time and I'm not gaining any weight because the daily exercise is counteracting the junk. Regardless, as someone who has spent the last several years maintaining a pretty moderate healthy diet I am feeling disappointed in myself.

I wasn't surprised, then, when I started craving something green. But not just green: Something really filling that's jam packed with nutrients and fiber.

Thus, this amazing powerhouse of a salad was born.

Kale-Spinach-Quinoa Salad With a Pomegranate Vinaigrette 

Note: I have a bad habit of never measuring anything when I cook. I start getting creative and just adding/subtracting however I see fit. So don't feel the need to follow this recipe exactly...get creative and experiment!

For the Salad - 

3 cups chopped kale
1 cup baby spinach
2/3rds cup cooked quinoa
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 large handful pecans or walnuts, crushed
5 "cutie" oranges or tangerines
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

For the Dressing - 

1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons agave

Step 1: Make your vinaigrette by mixing together listed ingredients. Shake well and set aside in the refrigerator while you make the salad.

Step 2:  To make the salad, place kale and spinach in a large bowl (it'll take up more room than you think!) and top with quinoa, avocado, pomegranate seeds, tangerine slices, dried cranberries, nuts and goat cheese. Combine and serve immediately.

As you know, Kale is pretty crunchy which makes it super filling. It's also the most nutrient dense leafy green, even more so when you eat it raw! I think the combination of the kale with the baby spinach adds an even more interesting texture. There's plenty of protein and fiber in the quinoa, but this would be fabulous with some grilled chicken breast as well! We also can't forget the antioxidants and vitamins we get from the pomegranate seeds, cranberries and tangerines.  The goat cheese ties it all together, making this by far my favorite green salad I've ever made.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Black / White / Red

| Dress: Asos (but how cute is this one?)  | Belt: Ann Taylor | Shoes: H&M (old) | Bag: Asos (old, but I've got my eye on this one from Celcius.) | Bracelets: Oia Jules

This maxi dress shall go down in history as the most comfortable thing to have ever come into existence. And that's all I have to say about that.

Dear Abbey Leigh // Dress for the day you want 
Ray Gun Ramblings // What We Wore, Read, and Made Link Party
Because Shanna Said So // Random Wednesday
Kiwi Womens Style // Wardrobe Wednesday 
The Pleated Poppy // What I Wore Wednesday
My Girlish Whims // Your Whims Wednesday  
Transatlantic Blonde // What I Wore Wednesday
Style Elixir // Style Sessions
All Things Alisa// Diaries of a barganista

Glow Kouture // Fresh Fashionista Style

Monday, April 15, 2013

Los Angeles: Downtown Culver City

Isn't this stationary shop adorable? I wish it was open when I walked by!

For some reason I had never associated anything good with Culver City, an area in Los Angeles near Santa Monica and Marina del Rey. I'm not quite sure why, but in all my years near LA I'd never given the area much thought and didn't think it was a neighborhood worth visiting.

I was wrong, and obviously way late to the party. 

A good friend of mine just moved into an adorable studio in an art deco building right in downtown Culver. Not only is her apartment super bright and charming with historical details and hardwood floors, it's within short walking distance to a huge number of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and movie theaters. Can you tell I'm jealous? When I arrived on Friday night it was packed with people out to enjoy the start of the weekend.  Sierra and I ate at Tender Greens, a chain restaurant that served possibly the most delicious salad I've ever eaten. If you're planning to spend any time in Downtown Culver, checkout the Culver City Dining Page which lists tons of different restaurant options! There are plenty of bars, gastro-pubs, unique little cafes and even chain restaurants to choose from. While normally I don’t look to eat at franchise places, the selection of chains is really good here. I wish I had a Tender Greens closer to me!

On Saturday we wandered around the neighborhood on foot and I loved what I saw! 

Traveling to LA soon? Check out this list for other things to do in Los Angeles if you'd like more ideas for activities and neighborhoods. 

Have you been to Culver City? What are your favorite places and spaces there? 


One of the may photos I shot while I was away. Check out the full photo story.

I'm alive!

I know this break wasn't ideal. As expected, lack of posts resulted in a huge drop in traffic and communication from readers. I love hearing from you, so I was feeling extra lonely the past few weeks despite being so busy I could burst. Sometimes, however, the less than ideal ends up being what's necessary. I want this blog to be a place to share what I love and what inspires me, not an obligation. So by taking the obligation out of the picture - not posting for a few weeks - I've essentially given myself a fresh start.

And I'll take it.

So what have I been up to?

  • Taking pictures like nobody's business. I'm up to my eyeballs in edits.
  • Cooking lots of glorious food. I got creative and began inventing my own recipes.  More on that in the coming weeks.
  • School work. Boring, I know. But 18 units aren't going to complete themselves, and I am chasing after that 4.0.
  • Training for my October half marathon. I'm terrified at the idea of 13.1 miles, but I will cross that finish line if it kills me!
  • Reading. Who would have thought a goal of 24 books in a year would be so difficult? Well, at least I'm making some progress. Currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an amazing work of nonfiction. I would definitely recommend it. 

Did you miss me? What have you been up to while I was gone? 


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