What A Year! Letters to Our Daughter on Her First Birthday

Saturday, 18 March 2017



Dear Sophia,

My dearest, darling girl. It's been quite a year.

With every passing week for the past twelve months it seems, I have exclaimed at how quickly time is slipping away and how much you are changing. It's been bittersweet watching you turn from an adorable and helpless little baby into an equally adorable, bubbly, sociable, smart and courageous little girl. I've been in a constant state of internal conflict as I've mourned each passing phase in your development whilst simultaneously looking at you in awe as you show me yet another skill you've mastered and proclaiming that "this current stage is my favourite yet!".

I can't begin to describe how much joy you have brought to my life little one. Some people have always known that they want to be a parent one day, and I was definitely one of them. As a little girl not much bigger than you are now, I carried dolls around with me wherever I went - I would pretend to feed them and put them to bed, and told my friends that they came alive at night (was this precognition of the fact that you would also come alive at night I wonder?!). I day-dreamed about what you'd be like and look like many, many years before you arrived in our lives but I could never have imagined that you would be quite so wonderful as you are.

While you've been learning new things every day, you have also been teaching me so very much too. You taught me that attachment parenting and everything that comes with it is hard but the only option for me - breast feeding you on demand throughout the day or night actually came naturally despite the sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that ensued. You taught me that life achievements are so much more than doing well at work and reaching new milestones with my blog; there is now something much deeper and more rewarding that lifts my spirits every day. You taught me a brand new way of loving, that is eternal, limitless and unconditional.

It's strange to think that one year ago today, I wasn't really sure whether either of us would make it to see this day. I was losing a lot of blood and I have never seen a doctor look at me with such worry etched in their face. In surgery, hearing you cry out as they lifted you from me was just about the sweetest sound that I had ever heard. That gentle mew was enough to solidify our lifetime bond; I didn't need to see you to know that I already loved you more than anything or anyone I've loved before.

I thanked God over and over that night as I held your little pink body against me in that hospital bed.

It wasn't until that first night of your life that it really started to dawn on me what an enormous responsibility it was to bring a baby into the world. I started to worry about whether I could live up to everything I needed to be to keep you happy, safe and protected at all times. But slowly but surely, with the wisdom I have gained during your first year of life, I have come to realise that it's not my job to wrap you in cotton wool and keep all danger from your door. It's simply my job to help you to understand a few things that will lead to you making better judgements that will make your life easier.

To understand that family is the bedrock of your life; that even though we may drive you insane at times, your daddy and I would do absolutely anything for you. In turn, we will try not to embarrass you too much with our frumpy dancing at parties and to keep our terrible parent puns to a minimum.

To understand that as much as I wish you wouldn't, at certain points in your life you will be subjected to evil and you will experience sadness, but please hold onto the fact that on the whole the world is kind and good. Remember that in every patch of darkness, light can still be found.

To understand that your worth as a person isn't measured in how many kilos you weigh, how many people follow you on social media or how much money you earn. To understand that your worth as a woman is not measured in how many men dote on you, how many strangers ogle at your beauty or how many other women wish that they were you. Your worth is measured in how kind you are, how much you care about the world around you and how much happiness you bring to others.

To understand that this is the most important thing in life; that happiness is the only thing that you should prioritise above all else. If anything is threatening your happiness, challenge it. If anything is obstructing your happiness, break free from it. Life is short and it is not meant to be spent in the shadows.

To understand that you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it. You're intelligent, you're strong, you're a go-getter. Don't believe the nay-sayers, take the plunge, follow your sunshine.

I followed mine, and it led me to you.

I love you so much my little girl.

Happy first birthday.

Love,
Mummy




Soph,

Happy 1st Birthday! I can’t believe we are here already. My little baby is soon to become a little lady! I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. With mummy recovering from the operation, the nurse brought you out to see me in the corridor outside.
As she wheeled you over in your hospital cot, time seemed to stand still.

At last, our eyes met. Now some people don’t believe in love at first sight but for me it’s now happened twice. First with your mummy and then with you. You were beautiful. You were tiny! And you were perfect.

I remember looking down at you, my heart bursting, and telling you how happy I was to meet you and how much I loved you.

In that precise moment, I can tell you that my whole perspective on life completely changed. I suddenly saw the world with new eyes. You were finally here. Our family was complete.

Looking after you, playing with you and loving you has given my life a new sense of purpose. Coming home to your laughs and giggles can turn the worst day into the best one. I love our little chats over breakfast and our bath time splashes in the evening. I love our hugs before work and our kisses at bedtime.

They say that family is one of nature’s masterpieces. On the day of your first birthday, I want you to know how much I love you and how I will always be here for you. I am so proud to be your daddy. Just try not to grow up too quickly!

Dada x


Sophia Molly: 11 Month Update

Monday, 6 March 2017

We are less than two weeks away from my baby's first birthday. I've been through various stages of disbelief, denial and refusal to acknowledge this fact, but finally I've settled on reluctant acceptance. At the moment we're busy putting the finishing touches to her party arrangements and ticking off her present list, and I'm regularly scrolling through pictures and videos of her as a newborn and quietly crying into my cup of tea.


Yes, this first year has gone far too quickly, and just like every mummy as they reach this precious milestone, I couldn't feel luckier or prouder to have been blessed with twelve whole months with this little girl in my life.

This month Sophia has liked...


Heading home to visit all of her relatives in England, seeing her Uncle Joe marry the lovely Hannah, and experiencing her very first freezing temperatures!



Accompanying us to the Emir's Sword Festival for her first horse racing experience.


Going for rides on her smarTrike around The Pearl.


Reading, reading and reading some more - especially while dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on World Book Day at Twyla Nursery (she particularly enjoyed dressing up as a rock chick too).


Playing with and talking to her toys, especially her furry animals and her plastic farm animals.


Attending her first birthday parties with her little friends, and meeting her brand new friend Ellie when she was just a few days old.


This month Sophia has disliked...


Having a constant cough and cold which seems to have lingered for weeks, and kept her all of us up at ungodly hours of the night.

Is it still OK for me to say that she actually hasn't liked sleeping in general for the 11th month in a row? Or is this just a part of her personality that I really should have come to accept by now and move on?

This month's firsts...


Sophia can now point to her hair when you ask her where it is, and point to your nose (but misses the mark a bit when you ask her to point to her own nose). She can also do the actions to the first part of head, shoulders, knees and toes!


I forgot to mention last month that Sophia had started blowing air kisses, accompanied by a big "MWAH" noise, especially when greeting or saying goodbye to people that she has particular affection for (making my heart melt and my eyes go a little watery pretty much every time). Well, this month she has started doing it to random strangers on the street too. Particularly men. This I'm not quite so sentimental about.

 
Sophia's favourite words this month are 'yum!', 'gak gak!' for a duck, 'baa baa!' (for every other animal - she seems to have forgotten the 'moo' that she learned last month), 'bah bah' for bye bye and 'baba' for baby. You'll notice that most of these words sound pretty much the same, but my trained mummy ear can tell the difference, honest!

This month I realised how affectionate my little girl is becoming to those that are smaller than herself. She's fascinated by younger babies and can't stop saying 'Ahhh, baba!' when she's around them. She loves her toy animals and I can already see her nurturing instinct coming out, something that is incredibly heartening to watch.


She is now standing for long periods of time without holding anything. She can also walk along just holding onto my little finger and I know that she can do it unaided, but right now crawling is much quicker and easier and therefore the preferred option. It's just a matter of time though!

The biggest development of all this month is the devilishly cheeky sense of humour she's developing. At nursery, she's learned to fling herself backwards off their little green armchair to create a reaction, while giggling uncontrollably. She thinks it's hilarious to hold out a toy or piece of food for you and then fling it away at the last minute, much to your dismay. Holding a towel or item of clothing up to her face and then suddenly pulling it away while shouting a sound a little bit like 'boo!' brings on lots of giggles, especially if you pretend to fall over backwards in shock.


She's a little girl with a big, big personality and almost twelve months on, I am certain that she's going to make a huge impact on the world around her.

Our Honeymoon: Positano's Hidden Gems

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

By the time we arrived at Positano on the Amalfi Coast, we were halfway through our month-long honeymoon and had really started to make the most of la dolce vita. We'd slept off the post-wedding exhaustion, felt full of energy and were ready to explore. Conveniently, the beautiful and iconic settlement of Positano was just the place to do it. Its winding cobbled lanes, stunning pastel houses, interesting shops selling handmade wares and breathtaking views provided plenty to get excited about.


However, despite its breathtaking beauty, like most bustling tourist destinations, Positano abounds with overpriced, average restaurants and mediocre, touristy sights. It took us a couple of days to dig beneath the surface, and we soon discovered the town's true hidden gems.

1. Restaurants


La Sponda


This Michelin-starred gem of a restaurant can be found in Le Sirenuse (review to follow in due course) and boasts one of the most famous and romantic views in the world. We had one of the most memorable restaurant experiences of our lives, as the service, food, wine, atmosphere and live music were all impeccable (and we even lucked out and visited on a night when a full fireworks display was taking place right behind the hotel - result!)


Don't miss: ordering the tasting menu so that you can maximise your time spent overlooking that view (as well as your enjoyment of the food!). Arrive early and watch the sun set over the cliffs, then enjoy the romance of the view by candlelight.


Restaurants that are accessible via boat


These include the quaint little restaurant, Il Pirata, partially-built into the cliffside in the little cove of Marina di Praia (find out more here), and the shabby-chic Da Adolfo on Laurito Beach. Both of these restaurants serve up fresh fish and authentic Amalfi dishes in relaxed and romantic settings, and are a 10-minute boat ride from Positano.


Don't miss: a sunny, post-lunch slumber on a lettino, or sunbed next to Da Adolfo (which will be needed after one too many shots of Limoncello too early in the day), or a breezy walk around the winding cliff path by Il Pirata, from Praiano to Saracen Tower.


Chez Black


Positano's most notorious family-run restaurant which sits right on the beach front at the Spiaggia Grande and boasts an interesting history, laced with rumours of illicit affairs and its use as a meeting-place for interesting characters, serves up some the freshest and most delicious fresh salads and seafood that we enjoyed on our honeymoon.


Don't miss: bagging yourself a water-front table for a prime people-watching position.


2. Shops and sights


Boutique shops


From the hand crafted, fully customisable sandals at Don Ciccillo, 6-8 Viale Pasitea to the locally-made pottery at Umberto Caro on Via Pasitea, there are quaint little boutique shops down every steep alleyway and around every winding corner.


Don't miss: a little snoop around Franco Senesi Fine Art, showcasing talented local painters and sculptors.


Beaches


From the VIP scene at Spiagga Grande to the quieter and more laid-back Fornillo Beach, a ten-minute walk from Positano towards the little village of Fornillo, Positano's beaches have something for everyone.


Don't miss: seeing and being seen as you strut your stuff along the seafront, and get an iconic photo looking back up at the pastel houses of Positano.



The Church of Santa Maria Assunta


This pretty pastel yellow Church with its colourful majolica tiled dome dates back to 18th Century and is one of Positano's most recognisable (and most photographed) symbols. It's definitely worth a quick view inside, just so long as you are modestly covered.


Don't miss: keeping an eye out for wedding shoots as couples travel from all over the world to have their photograph taken in front of this iconic building.



3. Bars


A lunchtime drink in the pretty courtyard of Ristaurante Al Palazzo


Take in the stunning architecture of the surrounding buildings and marvel and this little haven of peace just a hop, step and a jump away from the bustling, tourist-filled lanes just outside.


Don't miss: a little nosey around the historic Hotel Palazzo Murat while you're there.

An afternoon sip on the terrace at Hotel Poseidon


This hotel is perched on the hill above the town, and offers a completely different view of the pastel houses from an elevated perspective.


 Don't miss: ordering the best Gin & Tonic I have ever had in my life, laced with fresh juniper berries.

An evening tipple on the terrace at Il San Pietro Hotel


The views over Positano and the Mediterranean Sea from Il San Pietro are utterly sublime, and the romance of the setting is captivating. Block out a few hours to listen to the live guitar players and singers who will serenade you into the night.


Don't miss: the mind-blowing Espresso Martinis.

4. A visit to Praiano


The tiny hamlet of Praiano is a small but pretty fishing village which lies five minutes down the road from Positano, and is often overlooked in favour of its bigger, more tourist-friendly cousin. Yet it would be a shame to bypass this little settlement if you are staying nearby. Its many winding walkways, steep steps cut into the cliffs and authentic Italian 'vibe' make it a sight to behold.


Don't miss: watching the sun set from Praiano. Due to it's western-facing vantage point and sweeping views over Positano and Capri, locals say that this is the best place on the Amalfi Coast from which to watch the sun go down. My favourite place to do this is from the rooftop of the boutique hotel, Casa Angelina.


Once all of these hidden gems had been explored, I couldn't help but re-read the 1953 quote by John Steinbeck that I'd devoured while planning our honeymoon:

‘Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’.

There's a reason why this town has embedded itself in the hearts of so many.


For more in my Italian honeymoon series, head here.


A Rare Baby-Free Night at New York Steakhouse, Marriott Marquis

Sunday, 26 February 2017

I had lipstick on. I'd curled my eyelashes, filled in my eyebrows and even had a chance to brush style my hair. This wasn't going to be any old weekday night spent slowly falling asleep in front of the TV. Oh no, this was going to be one of only a handful of baby free nights out I'd had in almost a year. I was practically bursting with excitement.

I had planned the evening with precision, right down to the minute detail, from what time I served Sophia her supper, to how long I rocked her to sleep for, in order to maximise my chances of being able to slope out of the front door while she was still in blissful slumbers. I decided that the restaurant we were going to had to be befitting of the occasion, and luckily my date of choice, a friend as stylish and sophisticated as she is discerning, approved of my choice. 

I had opted for New York Steakhouse in the Marriott Marquis, an oldie but a goodie on the Doha dining scene. I was craving a classical setting and style of service, somewhere we could have a good chat without being drowned out by background music, and a really decent steak, plus I'd heard they had a truffle promotion running, and was interested to find out which decadent delicacies Chef David Dahlhouse would be serving up.

Based on his reputation for attention to detail, I had a sneaking suspicion that whatever it was, it was going to be good.

 
The special truffle menus, which are running from the 12-28 February in both New York Steakhouse and Cucina around the corner are simple yet interesting, drawing inspiration from classic truffle dishes, with special twists from the restaurants' innovative chefs. 

After the wine was poured, our meal began with a crispy organic egg. 


The egg nestled within a deep fried nest, on top of truffle potato cream and a rich slither of Wagyu Bresaola. The Périgueux Black Truffles in this dish gave it a rich and interesting flavour, and the satisfying array of different texture combinations made it a satisfying dish to eat.

Next up, came a stunning plate of Rangers Valley Beef Tartare. 



With a perfectly cooked confit egg yolk on top, and a little jug of Bloody Mary, some truffle shavings and all of the traditional garnish as accompaniments, this was probably the best beef tartare I have ever eaten.

Before our main course came out, our waiter popped over to our table to see how we were getting on, and to ask whether we might want to sample one of the dishes from the Cucina menu. Never ones to turn down the offer of extra food, we nodded emphatically, and five minutes later, a risotto arrived at our table.


Drizzled with truffle oil, with large shavings of black truffle, this rissotto was creamy and nutty, glutinous, comforting and moreish, and even though I knew we still had two courses to go, I couldn't help but wolf it down in a matter of minutes. It made me wonder what other delights Chef Marco was serving up across in Cucina, and made a mental note to head back before the promotion ended to find out.

The main act of the evening was the Slow Cooked US Beef Short Rib.


While I would never usually opt for ribs on a menu, this one was meaty and tender, paired beautifully with the fermented truffle jus, and was complemented by the cassoulet of haricot beans and root vegetables, and the crispy kale.

Finally, earlier in the night, as is customary at New York Steakhouse, our waiter had brought over the box of steaks and described each choice cut to us in detail, from the beautifully marbled Kangers Valley Australian Wagyu, through to the Autralian Black Onyx, a very special steak which can't be found anywhere else in Doha.


He had asked whether we would be interested in sampling any of them, and even though we'd already decided that we would be ordering the entire truffle menu, so as not to appear rude (ahem!), we agreed to go for a Trio of Tenderloin to complete our meal: the US Omaha Natural (grass-fed beef), Mulwarra Australian and that intriguing Australian Black Onyx. 

When the three of them arrived at our table, we didn't think we would be able to eat another morsel, but after one delicious mouthful, we somehow made space!


A good cut of beef is only good if it's cooked correctly, and all three of these steaks were as soft as butter, juicy and delicious. Take it from me, New York Steakhouse isn't widely considered to be the best steakhouse in Doha for nothing!

It had been a wonderful evening; just long enough for me to start missing Sophia, but not so short that I didn't have time to savour every course that had been brought to our table. The company had been top notch, the wine free-flowing, and the service and ambience immaculate.


I couldn't think of a better or a more relaxing way to spend a night away from my baby. Do you think my husband will let me make this a regular thing?

Where's your favourite place for steak in Doha?

The Details:

The Truffle Extravaganza is running from 12 - 28 February in Cucina and New York Steakhouse. Book soon to avoid missing out! 
Marriott Marquis City Centre Doha, Omar Al Muktar Street, Doha, Qatar 
(+947) 4419 5000

I was a guest of the Marriott Marquis City Center Doha this time, but as always all views are my own.


6 Reasons To Try The Caramel High Tea at City Centre Rotana, Doha

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

I love High Tea, or 'Afternoon Tea' as we call it in England. I grew up on a staple of clotted cream and jam on scones still warm from the oven; pretty china tea pots of steaming English Breakfast (with milk of course!) and delicately assembled sandwiches with their crusts removed. Naturally, I was delighted when I discovered the array of options available in Doha, and I set myself the challenge of finding the best on the market. Now, three years (and countless High Teas later) and I think I've found it...and it's probably not what you would expect.


You might remember how much I enjoyed the Afternoon Tea at La Mer and how much I felt at home at Tea Garden in The Torch, but my top pick of places to enjoy this very British past-time, is City Centre Rotana for their Caramel High Tea which takes place every Thursday.


Here are six reasons why it's not to be missed:

1. You can sample the array of Dilmah tea on offer before you choose your tipple


On entering Caramel Lobby Lounge, guided by your waiter, your first stop will be the extensive tea station.


I feel an affiliation to Dilmah, a family-run brand renowned for its passion and commitment to quality and authenticity in tea. The range of teas on offer at Caramel Lobby Lounge's tea station is impressive, and I love the fact that you are allowed to have a little taste of as many as you like before you make the important and taxing decision about which one to commit to.


2. The sandwiches, scones and cakes are faultless



Executive Chef Matias Ayala has poured passion and precision into the main feature of the evening and created something very special. Imagine warm, buttery, slightly crumbly scones smothered in cream and home made strawberry jam...

Close your eyes and conjour up an image of the perfect sandwich, with soft bread and a tasty filling with a twist: Coronation Chicken with green apple ever-so-slightly curried mayo; foie gras mousse with smoked duck and cranberry jam; truffled egg; cucumber textured mint cream cheese; roast beef with baby spinach, celery and onion jam...


Finally, pick some of the world's best-loved sweets and assemble them on a plate: from Florentines to Fig Tart, Vanilla Profiteroles to Dark Chocolate Truffles. The options and execution of this High Tea are unparalleled elsewhere in the city.


3. You get to enjoy several courses, spread out over several hours


I was surprised to discover that the Caramel High Tea is far more than your usual sandwich-scone-cake combo. A selection of homemade and deliciously nutty and sweet Arabic treats such as Ma'amoul and Baclava accompany the traditional cakes and scones.


At some point in the evening a carving trolley will be wheeled out by the chefs to your table, where pink and tender slow-cooked Beef Wellington will be served to you straight from the oven, with a spoon of mushroom duxelle, a scoop of potato purée and dash of rosemary jus.


 
And if that's not enough,  a warm ratatouille tart with goats cheese covered with puff pastry will swiftly follow.

 Set aside a good two to three hours for this one, you're going to need it!

4. There are a few surprises thrown into the mix 


Getting the opportunity to watch the chefs carving their creations directly at our table was a spectacle in itself, but when they wheeled up an interesting looking contraption in between courses, which they proceeded to add liquid nitrogen to, and concocted a three-minute sorbet, along with all the drama of liquid nitrogen 'smoke' pouring out over the table, we couldn't help but stare on in open-mouthed wonder.


Aside from its theatrical beginnings, this sorbet is something special: apple pie flavoured, with Dilmah tea-infused meringue and passion fruit sauce. I was in heaven!

5. The staff are the friendliest I've encountered


From the moment we arrived, they made us feel warm and welcome. I was meeting a friend, with our two eleven month olds in tow, and the waiting staff went out of their way to ensure that they were well-catered for by bringing some baby-friendly vegetables and extra sandwiches for them to munch on.

 
What's more, they didn't bat an eyelid at the mess that ensued, and smiled on as they escaped our clutches following the meal and burned off their excess sandwich-fuelled energy by crawling all over the restaurant wreaking havoc before we could reach them.


In fact, rather than being irritated, I do believe the waiting staff were actually rather taken with them...


Any place that carries off an air of class, yet still manages to be welcoming and friendly to children and babies is a winner in my book.

6. It feels like a real celebration... at a very reasonable cost


The lilting, live piano music, the plush marble interiors, the high quality food and all of the theatre described above combine to create an event which I can only describe as pretty fabulous.
 

This is not the afternoon tea to rock up to in jeans, for a casual munch. Instead, it's befitting for a special occasion such as a hen party or birthday celebration, a long-overdue catch-up with a good friend, or simply a celebration to mark the end of the week.


Astonishingly, despite the impressive creativity and thought that's been put into every element of the High Tea, it remains one of the most competitively priced out there at only QAR 125 per person.

Now, do you think I can justify heading over there for the second Thursday in a row? I would do it for those scones alone.


The Details

Caramel High Tea, every Thursday from 3-7pm
Caramel Lobby Lounge, City Centre Rotana, Doha, PO Box 25522 | (+974) 4445 8888


I was a guest of City Centre Rotana Doha this time, but as always all views are my own.


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