Author Archives: Nomad Urbanista

About Nomad Urbanista

A nomad urbanista rediscovering this world through the lens. Lives in Dubai, Dil in Mumbai. Mother, movie buff, foodie. documentary photographer

How to make Red Lobster Biscuits – almost

Though I have eaten them just once, the aaah moment of discovering Red Lobster biscuits remain in this foodie memory. Copycat recipes are all over the net. I thought I would try DamnDelicious ‘s recipe (uses sugar in her version and melts the butter – avoid).  But other experts (Natashaneagle) urge you to use really cold butter bits and the crumbing method to get flakier biscuits. As usual, I combined two recipes and then gave it the Nomad Nri touch. Substitute, substitute, substitute with what your larder reveals 🙂

So instead of kosher salt, I used coarse crystal sea salt. Added a spoon of chilli flakes. Finely chopped fresh coriander and mint instead of dried parsley for the topping. Above all, I had leftover garlic paste from an Iftar street foodie raid at the local Al Reef  Bakery. So used that aromatic yumminess (instead of garlic powder in the original recipe) and blended it well into Laban-up (UAE’s  favourite buttermilk)..  Heaven can wait…


Red Lobster biscuits - the dough

Red Lobster biscuits – the dough

So mix well(after preheating oven to 450)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt powdered
1 Tbs chilli flakes

Use two knives and work 1/2 cup of roughly cubed butter into the flour mix till it gets crumbly (bits of cold butter left intact make yummy biscuits – so dont overdo mixing).  Add 1 cup grated cheddar cheese and toss till cheese gets coated with flour. Pour blended 1 cup buttermilk (Laban-Up) and 2 teaspoons garlic paste  (Al Reef Bakery or Union Coop) into the flour and cheese mix and mix only for a minute.  Drop mix on a baking sheet 1 inch apart.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes – by now your kids will emerge from their Friday slumber with the aromatic garlic fragrances wafting through your air-conditioning vents. When the biscuits turn golden brown, take them out and put a generous topping of this blended mix  —
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander and mint leaves
1 large dollop of garlic butter


Red Lobster biscuits - copycat final

Eat the cheesy-garlicky yumminess asap as they taste divine when warm. What would I do different next time? Maybe blend the coriander and mint into the dough and not as topping. Take it out at exactly 20 minutes and then put the topping. My biscuits were mildly crunchy and slightly browned at the base (multi-tasking Mom brushed butter on the foil and took it out at 25 minutes).. Needless to say, my daughter loved them..  Asked if she could take it to a friend’s home… Joyyyyy!!!


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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Recipes


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Sinful Beetroot Chocolate Coffee Ganache Cake with olive oil (butter free)

My daughter loves red velvet cake but I hate food colouring. I discovered this recipe and had beetroots in my kitchen. Hate vegetables but liked the idea of sheep disguised in wolf’s clothing for a change. Note – chop beetroots and mince in food processor. Squeeze out all the juice by hand (drink it asap) so that the beetroot is dry and does not sink to the base of your cake pan.

But as usual, one ingredient was missing – corn oil and the fridge yielded a small lump of butter. Too lazy to call the grocery (a hidden luxury in Dubai) who also delivers very late, I tried the net for a substitute to both.

Beetroot Chocolate cake with chocolate coffee ganache

Beetroot Chocolate cake with chocolate coffee ganache

Voila. The joy of discovering that olive oil is a good substitute and actually enhances the taste of cocoa!!!! Yet scary – what if I had a disaster cake tasting like a Med salad? Decided to take the plunge..

The cake turned out well –dense and dark – around 50 minutes at 180. But check around 40 minutes for doneness since fruit cakes start to burn suddenly.  Very healthy cake.. Now for the sinful part..

Shameless promo – I love my own icings; seconded by anyone lucky enough to eat my cakes whenever I make one in two months…

Then again, I was short of Galaxy dark chocolate – had two bars. So I substituted the other two with three bars of Galaxy smooth milk chocolate and a teaspoon of coffee (Nescafe Gold) beaten into the icing during the whipping stage. Took off the brown sugar since I wanted a pouring type of ganache..

Packed a huge chunk for my friend who dropped in for dinner (warned her not to tell her family of new ingredients for a reality check). She said that her brother (one of my biggest cake fans) asked for more. Likewise with the rest…Now go and eat your beets…..


Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Recipes


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The Flying Feteer show – Street food, Dubai

Despite living in Dubai for so many years, I had yet to experience the melt-in-your-mouth cheese and honey feteer from Al Ammor, Deira. My foodie forays had uncovered many hidden gems in Dubai in the last 19 years, especially, during Ramadan and Iftar time. A true foodie knows that if you want to really understand the real character of a city, then you have to try out its street food or the smaller restaurants and bakeries. Where the reputation is built up by word of mouth. Not exotic ads.

So one day, the famed Arva Ahmed of the Frying Pan Food Adventures (food tour guide par excellence) asked us to come to Deira. The bakers entranced me with the way they swirled and stretched the feteer, filled, folded and threw the bread into a 24/7 ready oven. A year later, after a short intensive course in filmmaking, I decided to capture the essence of the feteer process as my first short. I went back and spent some days with my Canon 60D…

The taste? Layers of flaky hot bread and melting cheese melding with the honey in your mouth. The dusting sugar leaves a sticky, powdery trail on your shirt and jeans. Who cares? Despite a choice of fillings, the cheese and honey remains my favourite..

Every story has to start with a once upon a time. Here goes. An ex-lightman with the RTA television channel in Egypt, Zayed Shouki came to Dubai to seek his fortune many years ago and started as a humble baker making feteer at the then famed Al Fanoos Khaimah near World Trade Centre. His salary? Dh 1,200 per month. It was his dream to start his own business. Circa 2001, he finally saved up money and started the first Al Ammor in Hor Al Anz (Deira). It nestles outside the left facade of a mosque. “He is a very humble person who dresses like his staff, might still clean tables and will take orders. His staff adores him because he lets them eat anything they want at work. He is also known to distribute free food to staff from neighbouring shops while Dubai Municipality sweepers can take free water or soft drinks from his bakeries,” said Mr Najja, who runs the Al Ammour in Karama. Today there are seven outlets in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman. Goodness pays.

Any secret recipe? “The dough is the usual mix of flour and water. But before I start kneading, I mix some salt and sugar in the water (but never use yeast). The dough is left to rise for 15 to 20 minutes,” said Fathy Afeefi, one of the bakers in Karama. “I learned the basics from my older brother in Egypt. But I perfected the art of making feteer after coming to Dubai and working with Mr Shouki.” He has been in the profession for 14 years.

Prices? A mouthwatering cheese and honey feteer costs around Dh 15 and can be eaten by up to three people. The meshaltet, an Egyptian family favourite is either Dh 25 or Dh 50 depending on the size. In ancient Egypt, it was known as Feteer Maltoot and offered to the gods. Can see why.


Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Foodie reviews


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Mumbai Police film review – daringly different

Amnesia has been a great way to start a movie. Mumbai Police, the taut Malayalam thriller written by Bobby-Sanjay and directed by Rosshan Andrrews takes this subject and delivers one of the finest movies, not just in Malayalam, but Indian cinema. The entire movie is seamlessly stitched together in a way that a viewer would forget to eat her caramel popcorn or his nachos.
From the moment ACP Antony Moses aka Rascal Moses (Prithviraj) wakes up with amnesia after an accident, he leads us into a labyrinth of unexpected and unfortunate incidents within his life that unravel like a thousand-petalled lotus. Except that the awakening is never pleasant but leads into a further chakravyuh. For the accident happens just before he could name a murderer. Therein, lies ensconced the heart of the mystery that rivets you to the screen.
Through Prithvi’s eyes, the viewer realizes that his senior, the Police Commissioner Farhan Aman, played brilliantly by the once-upon-a-time chocolate hero Rahman, is his brother-in-law. For reasons unknown to us, the enigmatic Farhan forces Moses, despite his amnesia, to single-handedly figure out the name of the murderer who shot their mutual friend Assistant Commissioner Aaryan; a role ably played by the talented Jayasurya. Both, Rehman and Jayasurya, play well-rounded characters that leave an indelible mark  on the viewer.

Prithvi rules
But it is Prithvi who steals the thunder yet again – scene by scene. His confusion, his fear and anger, his shock start becoming part of your psyche as you watch the plot unfold. Being an unabashed fan, my favourite list of his movies includes Chocolate, City of God, Anwar, Urumi, Arjunan Sakshi and Kerala Café and I have always admired his choice of eclectic roles over the years; even his dreamum wakeuppam wakda dance in Aiyya. But it is in Mumbai Police, that Prithvi breaks the barrier of convention and attempts a role that has never ever been attempted by a Malayalam hero. The best parts of the movie are whenever Moses figures out that the Moses before the amnesia was not a very likeable person. And each time, when he brushes away a part of his past with a good deed, a new and ugly truth starts to unravel its ugly head.
Like a compass that has gone haywire, the twists in the tale turn the needle of suspicion towards one direction and then another. The cinematography by G. Diwakaran is brilliant and well-supported by the tight editing. Produced by Nisad Haneefa and co-produced by Nivas Haneefa and Niyas Haneefa, the background score is composed by Gopi Sunder. The tension in the plot could thankfully develop in leaps and bounds due to the marked absence of any songs – item numbers or otherwise. One must also commend Kunjan and Aparna Nair for their excellent character roles. The tale of three friends finally culminates into an unexpected turn that will leave the auditorium shocked; but no spoilers here.

New age Malayalam cinema
I must add that Mumbai Police together with Trivandrum Lodge, Kerala Café and Chappa Kurishu are harbingers of a new age in Malayalam cinema that does away with tharwad tales, sobbing mothers and overaged actors dancing with young arm candy. This new list of movies catapults Kerala into its new reality. Where the Onam sadya is now ordered as a parcel andwhere the tharwad home has been demolished and sold for the wood; now reinstated as a wing of  a heritage hotel. While the NRI abroad buys banana leaves and sambhar podi and clings to nostalgia of a past that ceased to exist eons ago.

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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Movies


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Top five ‘to do’ list – Singapore travel guide

Traveling to Singapore? My top five ‘to do’ list covers stay, food, shopping and sight-seeing. If you have the budget, chose from the hotels around the Marina Bay. I booked the Ritz Carlton Millenia through Tripadvisor. My daughter and I were spoiled silly by their gracious hospitality and stunning room views.

The stunning night views - Ritz Carlton Millenia

The stunning night views – Ritz Carlton Millenia

Next – eat. Start with an ice kachang at the Makansutra Gluttons Bay, next to the famed Esplanade Theatre.  Three – explore. Visit the unusual Gardens by Bay in the vicinity. Four – check out Bugis Junction and Little India for budget shopping. Throw in Haji Street for a whiff of the unusual. Five – go for a drink and dinner at the hip Ang Siang Hill (close to China Town) as an alternate to a night at Clarke Quay.

You could do more. But hey, take it easy. Stop to savor the sunsets or the occasional rain that drenches you without warning.


How to get there

While Emirates does a direct flight, a friend told me that if I could handle a Colombo stopover, then Sri Lankan Airlines was the best alternate. A business class ticket costs Dh 2900+ from and to Dubai. Getting a visa to Singapore was a breeze.

History was in the making when I left. The televisions at the airport showed Argentinan Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepping onto the balcony as the new pope and waving to the masses at St Peter’s Square in Italy. Sri Lankan Airlines employs some of the warmest flying and ground staff I have met in eons. The menu is excellent (try the curry bread), the hostesses are genuinely warm and I slept well.

Time flew at Colombo airport – I was determined to finish an article and email it before reaching Singapore. But on my way back, I realized that business class passengers get a free 15 minute Ayurvedic massage session using Siddhalepa products at the tiny spa room (hidden in a corner). I enjoyed a free neck massage but paid for the relaxing thirty minutes foot massage.  A must after all that walking around Singapore.

What to eat

The elusive fruity aroma wafted around my nostrils and would linger in my soul for the next few days of leaving Singapore. My first exposure to durian was in the form of a scoop of the yellow fruit sitting atop an ice kachang (a Malay dessert made of coloured and flavoured ice shavings, chendol, kidney beans and such). My foodie daughter who studies in Singapore said that I simply could not leave the country without trying an ice kachang; a great way to beat the heat and humidity in the country and akin to the Indian gola, which has less frills.

Ice kachang - durian atop

Needless to say, I fell in love with the durian and wanted more. My daughter also pointedly added that it was this very ‘enigmatic’ smell that made it a banned item on the MRT; like fresh fish on the Dubai Metro. We picked up the kachang and a chicken murtabak (a panfried stuffed pancake) from Makansutra by the Bay, which is a bustling foodie street outside the famed Esplanade Theatre. The place was packed to the gills with people wolfing down food as fast as they were served.

Singapore is foodie haven and I suspect that eating out is one of the national pastimes. During my stay, I ate a mind-blowing peanutty Sichuan style pork wanton noodle soup at the Crystal Jade restaurant in Bugis, a mean prawn Laksa with quail eggs whipped up for me by the chef at the Ritz Carlton, a deliciously chilled thai lod chong (green chendol in cold coconut milk and crushed ice with water chestnuts) at the Thai Express branch in the olde worlde Siglap residential area and a melt-in-the mouth moist paella at Los Primos, a tapas bar at Ang Siang.

What to see  

Start or end with the Gardens by Bay. If possible by night – though I did it by day. Apparently weekends are sheer madness in terms of visitors.  The project features conservatories but it is the Supertrees that take your breath away. “We knew that they had to be large, from the opening of the project, to counterbalance the impact of the conservatories and also to register in the local urban setting dominated by 200m high towers,” said Andrew Grant at Grant Associates, a UK-based landscape architecture consultancy when I interviewed him last year. “We could never achieve this using transplanted tree material and decided to develop an abstracted, artificial tree of a scale that would dominate the heart of the gardens.” It does. I was a bit awed, especially, when I went up the lift to the Supertree walkway (not recommended for those who do not have a head for heights).

Supertrees - Gardens By Bay

Supertrees – Gardens By Bay

If you are an art lover, it might stun you to know that the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has one of the finest corporate modern art collections in Singapore and Southeast Asia, comprising  4,200 pieces. Valued at about S$5 million, 90 percent of the works were specially commissioned for the hotel including approximately 350 major, “museum quality” pieces. The collection includes David Hockney, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol and Sam Francis as well as artists such as Dale Chihuly. The lazy ones can take a self-guided podcast art tour. Ask the concierge.

I did not go up the Singapore Flyer; also in the Marina Bay area. But it is worthwhile to explore the restaurants around the entrance. Or pre-book and join a foodie tour, which was in full swing as we walked around the area.  I preferred the impromptu version of a city tour led by my daughter over the guided ones.

We visited the LASALLE College of Art, near Bugis Junction, which was hosting an interesting exhibition – ‘Linking cities, designing experiences.’ I enjoyed the brilliant work, which was the outcome of a collaborative project between LASALLE and South Korea’s Sangmyung University; the aim was to offer an insight to unique visual narratives of the cityscapes of Singapore and Seoul.

An exhibition at LASALLE College of Art

An exhibition at LASALLE College of Art

Shop till you drop

Shopaholics will go crazy at Bugis Junction, the largest covered street shopping location in Singapore. Bags, shoes, clothes, vintage styled new t-shirts (read Audrey Hepburn themed) are packed cheek to jowl for the budget conscious shopper. Bargain to one-thirds of the price but do check zips and insides of bags. I brought a beautiful bag for SD20 but the decorative studs popped off in a day.

Shopping galore at Bugis Street

Shopping galore at Bugis Street

For the unusual, walk down Haji Street, which is a ten minutes walk from Bugis. You would find the same clothes at Bugis for less. But the unusual interiors of every store are worth a dekko – each one tries to outdo the other. Only suggested if you are fit to climb wooden stairs. Arab Street is so so.

Haji Street

Haji Street

Little India

Little India

If you have time and love unusual stationery, go to 313 Somerset Mall on Orchard Road and visit Typo on Level 1 – the mix includes retro Paris-themed items that can double up as show pieces. I bought an abstract metal tree with two birds on different branches. An empty cage hangs on a lower branch. Go figure.

Little India is a great place to pick up some unusual souvenirs for friends. I found some miniature chilli wall hangings. Get a quick henna tattoo for five dollars or less at Jayaram’s Creations. While we got our hands done, the skies started to pour. The weather in Singapore is very unpredictable. It can go from broody sky to bright sunshine to balmy breeze to hot and sticky within hours.

A gaggle of Chinese kids on a school trip suddenly materialized into the arcade. The teacher with a megaphone and the guide tried to channel them into some semblance of order. They finally gave up and allowed them ten minutes off to get a henna tattoo.

Henna cuts borders

Henna cuts borders

Talking of which, if you have to get your hair done, do visit the Team Salon at Siglap. Jean Tong, the gracious Creative Director is a truly enlightened soul who patiently guides you through the aromatherapy treatments based on your personality and connects from the heart with every client. The hair washes are transformative experiences where your scalp is massaged so gently that you may fall asleep. A rarity.

Where’s the party

The whole world talks about Clarke Quay. An old college friend asked us to take a cab and come over instead to Ang Siang in Chinatown for dinner. I was meeting him after 20 odd years. The Sikh cab driver who was third generation Singaporean said that Jaggis Parathas was the place to try some authentic dhaba kind food.

My friend walked us around the buzzing streets, which were akin to my memories of a walk down Mayfair street in London (many years ago). Office-goers, still in their formals, sipping sundowners and spilling out into the sidewalks. Bursts of relaxed laughter and chatter that preludes the joy of a weekend ahead. Once called Qing Shan Ting, today, Ang Siang features elegantly restored shophouses. Hunger pangs stopped the forays.

We chose to eat at Los Primos. Both the food and service are excellent. Despite the calamari and other starters, we shamelessly scraped the bottom of the paella dish for the last of the delicious rice laden with succulent prawns, calamari and mussels.

Maybe the best paella in town? Los Primos, Ang Siang

After dinner, we walked down to look at the rest of Chinatown. Closed for business! But I stumbled upon the Chinese Opera Teahouse and decided to save that visit, among other to-do-lists, for the next trip. What lah!

The Chinese Opera Tea House, Singapore

The Chinese Opera Tea House, Singapore

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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Art, Foodie reviews, Travel


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The telecommuters’ top six smarts to stop procrastinating

Till we get into the zone, most telecommuters procrastinate. By reading ‘how to’ articles like this one (caught you). Transcribing and then whipping up a financier cake with salted caramel icing (guilty). Researching and playing phone shrink to a friend who will turn awkward if you land up unexpectedly at his/her office/home. After all this and more, you can change rapidly to fourth gear and ‘make it to deadline.’ Yes, you do make it to deadline. But totally drained afterwards.

We give such behavior tag lines like ‘creative freedom’ and ‘method to my madness’ and pride on being monks who have sold their Ferrari. But it is those people who value their time and space, say “not now; later,” and prefer to single task that get their day freed up to meet friends, see a movie and get their kids into a good college.

I can see a smirk on the faces of those who work in an office. From personal observations in the corporate world, let me say that holding endless meetings, smoking breaks, gossip in the pantry, calling your spouse or girl/boy friend from the washroom and minimizing Farmville screens and cricket scores are official forms of procrastinating.

So here are my top six smarts for telecommuters to start earning and stop procrastinating.

  •  Best time. Know your body clock. This is why you are telecommuting, remember? The reason you left the corporate world, endless strategy meetings and swiping your entry card. Or vice versa with your belongings in a box. Work with your personality and body slumps. You will see a dramatic rise in the quality of your work. For instance, I am overcome by an irresistible food-induced stupor after lunch wherein my brain fails to recognize any pattern, sound or object known to man. Unless I am at a conference (and even then). Nothing works. My editors and clients know that I am not ‘mentally available’ between two and four pm. However, I write very well at night and can stay up to 2 or 3 am without tiring. I prefer meetings first thing in the morning or after 5 pm. I also need my elevenses. Understanding your body clock makes the difference between forcing yourself to work and easily slipping “into the zone” because you are ready. This makes a happier telecommuter who has real time for friends and family. And bills getting paid on time.
  • Three top priorities. Now plan three top work priorities for the day. No more. No less. Write them out and place them next to your laptop. Slot them around your best times. The difficult part for any telecommuting procrastinator is to ‘Get into the zone.” But once they do, they are far more productive and work longer than most people who are ‘physically’ in an office.
  • Noon replies. Do you start the day replying to almost all your mails? Instead start with a good breakfast, sit at your work space and leave mails for lunch time. This saves vast tracts of time, especially, when you charge by the hour or day. Facebook is allowed when you take your elevenses break. Or after lunch. Or between your fav soap.
  • Phone calls. Yes, you have a kind heart and your friends love you. But if you are on deadline, sms and let your friend/ex-colleague know. Request them to ‘sms back if urgent.’ Keep your ‘zone times’ as sacred. If this seems cruel, try calling the same person with your own problems during work hours. Or call your homemaker friends when they have guests in town. Enjoy the rude satori, which will teach you how much other people respect their time. Even your best friends.
  • Zone alert. Find three places at home. Places next to television, the fridge and the bed are ruled out. For obvious reasons. If cramped for space, just reorient your desk where you see a window or blank wall. Or go to a coffee shop where you find your work output is maximum; where time flies and you look up to see that people are now ordering lunch..
  • No OCD. Above all, stop pretending that you now love housework or tidying your work desk. Good escape route but we all know what happens when you start to clean out that closet and discover something you forgot. Or your writing desk. The rule is “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.’  If you get the urge to escape, start by invoicing your clients. Or make a call to an old business contact just to say hi. People do appreciate it when you call without an agenda.

 Of course, there are many more ways. But if you are a typical telecommuting procrastinator – a seventh rule will make you exhausted and leave this page. Instead, reward yourself with a walk around the home and block. Telecommuting can get a bit lonely at times. So take time to smell the flowers and hear the birds. That is why you sold the Ferrari, you clever soul.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Entrepreneurs - How to


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A photo-poetic journey of Sikka Art Fair, Bastakiya, Dubai 2013

When the Nomad Urbanista decided to take a walk … for the rest of the photo poem

Street art reaches out to the soul - the beautiful Bastakiya area, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE

Street art reaches out to the soul – the beautiful Bastakiya area, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE

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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Art, Travel


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