Follow Your Sunshine Festive Giveaway with IKEA

Friday, 27 November 2015

Last night was the first time this year that I truly felt as though the festive season is upon us. I think it must have something to do with the cold and stormy weather that we have been experiencing in Qatar over the past few days, but all I wanted to do when I got home from work was to pull on my chunkiest knit, wrap myself in my softest blanket, grab the laptop for some online present buying and crank the festive tunes up to full volume. So this is exactly what I did!

What's really made me happy tonight though, is the thought of flying home to the UK to spend the festive period with our family and closest friends. Rich and I finally got our leave signed off last week, and with flights booked, we're looking forward to another December packed with catch-ups and carols, festivities and food.

Ahh, good food enjoyed with the people you love around you. This is really what this season is all about isn't it? That's why I was particularly excited when IKEA approached me about a fun collaboration with some of my favourite bloggers in the region which is centred on designing the perfect festive meal.

What's more, there is a huge prize at stake at the end of it and one of YOU have the opportunity to win. IKEA are kindly giving away QAR 5,000 worth of vouchers to one lucky reader. All you have to do is to visit and submit an idea for an American style dish under my name. Don't forget to include a photograph of your suggestion!

Let me know when you've submitted an entry by tagging me @polbag on Twitter or Instagram, and don't forget to also tag @ikeaqatar and use the hashtag #FeedYourInspiration !

If you need any extra incentive to join the competition, the winning entry will also make it onto IKEA's festive menu, and will feature on the BBC Good Food ME website.

Keep your eyes on my social media channels for updates over the next few weeks.

Best of luck and happy holidays :-)


A Pool Day at the Ritz Carlton Hotel

Monday, 23 November 2015

You are probably familiar with my obsession with a 'staycation' by now. I think that they are so important for your health and well-being that if time and funds allow it, Mr Sunshine and I like to indulge in at least a couple a year. However, if you are in need of a quick holiday fix, sometimes a 'daycation' can be just as good for the soul.

This weekend, I packed a beach bag, donned my shades and headed to the Ritz Carlton Doha for an afternoon of blissful sunshine beside the hotel's luxurious pool.

Or should I say pools, for I counted five in total, including a couple of plunge pools...

A jacuzzi...

Fun children's pool complete with swirly slide (I resisted having a go, this time)...

And the main affair which is more like a lake than a standard hotel pool, incorporating bridges and an impressive waterfall to create the feeling of being out in the wild.

As well as a swim-up bar, because let's face it, even the most intrepid explorer could do with a mocktail for refreshment every now and again.

The tropical jungle theme runs throughout the entire outside area of the hotel, which is lush and green with palms and shrubs, vibrant flowers and beautiful Frangipani trees.

That's the best thing about the pool at the Ritz Carlton for me; the fact that you're in the middle of West Bay Lagoon in Doha, and yet you could be on a tropical island somewhere very far away from the Arabian Desert.

The staff were friendly and accommodating; I was supplied with endless water all afternoon and handed a menu, from which I chose a delicious and fresh-tasting hot chicken salad. It arrived with a large bread basket, which I was grateful for, because half an hour of catching up with Angie's blog had made me incredibly hungry!

There are other traditional pool-side dishes on the menu too: burgers and chips, sandwiches and freshly caught fish. Something to satisfy every taste, at a fairly reasonable price for a five star hotel. And if you start to feel a little peckish later on in the afternoon, a plate of fresh fruit will be brought round to revive you.

My only niggles were that some of the sun loungers were a little dirty, and that in order to reach the restrooms, you have to traipse through the hotel's indoor pool area...but these are such first world problems that they are hardly worth mentioning.

I sat back for several hours and lapped up the waning Winter sunshine, until the breeze blowing in from the Persian Gulf got the better of me, and I was forced to retreat back home.

It was the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon; a little bit of 'us' time for bump and me, and a chance to completely get away from it all and unwind. Next time I feel like I could do with a daycation, I will be back.

Day passes to use the Ritz Carlton Pool are QAR 350 on weekdays and QAR 250 at weekends. The outdoor area is open from 5.30am until sunset.

I was a guest of the Ritz Carlton Doha this time, but as always, my opinions are my own regardless.

Our Honeymoon: Truffle Heaven at Ad-Hoc, Rome

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Is there an ingredient that you are a little bit obsessed with? A condiment that you can't live without? A special seasoning that drives you a wee bit potty? For Mr Sunshine and I, this ingredient is the trusty truffle.

So of course, we could not honeymoon in Italy, the motherland of the truffle without making a visit to a restaurant with a menu especially tailored to the "diamond of the kitchen". Having scoured the internet for reviews, we alighted on the perfect solution and one hot and steamy Tuesday evening in July, we set off in search of a little restaurant tucked away on beautiful Via di Ripetta in the heart of Rome. We were heading to Ad Hoc.

Our evening actually started around the corner from the main restaurant. The owners had invited us to an intimate truffle tasting in their tiny boutique truffle store of the same name.

A little late, due to getting lost along some of the winding roads close to Piazza del Popolo, we joined two couples downstairs in the dark and atmospheric basement of the store.

Here we spent a blissful half an hour, sampling black and white truffle spreads on little squares of bread, and some rich and earthy truffled olive oil, while knocking back as much free prosecco as we could muster.

With tastebuds tickled (and insides a little pickled), we shuffled around the corner for the main show.

Seated in a prime spot by the window, we glanced at the menu and decided in an instant. The black truffle tasting menu, with assorted wine pairings was the only option for a night like tonight.

Our waitress brought us a dish of black truffles, and allowed us to touch and smell them, while she explained their origins and talked about how they would be used in our upcoming dishes.

By this point, I was starving and beginning to feel the effects of the prosecco, so I took a turn around the room to try to distract myself. 

The restaurant itself is like a gorgeous treasure trove of exciting treats. Famous Italian wines line the walls...

An ancient station clock hangs from one corner, just below an ancient exposed beam...

And display boxes are stacked in every nook and cranny. The result is something that is halfway between an old museum of artefacts, and my granny's house, which I think is a rather homely and charming effect!

In no time at all, our first plate of food arrived; an appetiser of truffled pate and beef carpaccio with truffled balsamic vinegar. I am pretty sure we both almost licked our plates clean.

The tasting Hors D'ouvres came next, which included a buffalo ricotta and truffle roulade, beef fillet tartare and truffle oil, and a toasted truffle brioche with duck liver pate and truffles.

I would so dearly love to tell you about all of the elements of these dishes, but frankly I was so hungry by this point that I scoffed the lot without having time to think much about what I was eating. What I can tell you was that it was all incredibly more-ish, and the flavours were incredible!

I can't tell you too much about the wine either, other than that it was a red, it was delicious, and it was knocked back in a couple of gulps. I'm sure we made for a very attractive picture as we tucked into our food and drink with gusto, barely lifting our heads or acknowledging each other apart from to make an occasional grunt of appreciation!

Shortly afterwards, we quickly polished of these gorgeous Grissini too. I particularly enjoyed the sun dried tomato ones which were crunchy but crumbly, buttery and full of flavour.

Feeling a little more ourselves after some food, we were able to take our time over our pasta course, and really enjoy it.  We had two dishes to sample. The truffled carbonara was housed in a crisp parmesan bowl, and the truffle was a beautiful twist on an Italian classic. The tonnarelli with parmesan, butter and truffle was incredibly rich and perfectly el dente. Both were topped with lashings of grated black truffle.

We both really enjoyed our pasta dishes, but the richness of the truffle running through the sauces meant that we couldn't have managed too much more than the small portions we were given.

However, it was the wine that we had with this course which really stole the show. It was a Montepulicano Abruzzo, one of my favourite wines in the world. This one was particularly smooth, delicate and fruity, and once again slipped down far too easily. I think it was safe to say that we were both feeling a little squiffy by this point, as this photo nicely illustrates.

Our 'tasting meats' were duck breast glazed with black truffle honey and roast beef tenderloin with black truffles. By this point, I am ashamed to say that I was experiencing a little truffle overload, and had to pick some of the truffle shavings off the meat. However, without them, both dishes were perfectly cooked, and the subtle truffle taste that permeated the meat still shone through. 

One of my favourite things about this restaurant was how truffle had been used so innovatively throughout the menu, with a touch of truffled honey here, a dash of truffle oil there, and lots of pure, unadulterated truffle grated straight from the tuber.

However, this was nothing compared to the selection of tasting desserts that came next, which were all well-known classics which had been cleverly laced with the delicate flavour of truffle.

Our very final plate of the evening was the best of all. Knowing that we were celebrating a very special occasion, the staff brought us each a plate of desserts with a special message to wish us luck in our future married life.

I polished mine off, along with a final glass of dessert wine.

As we paid up, feeling a little wobbly and discussing how we didn't want to see another drop of alcohol again for at least a few more hours, a paper bag with a special present from the staff was brought to our table 'for our nightcap'. Catching each other's eyes, we laughed and accepted it warmly, thanking our waitress. We knew that as soon as we got back to our hotel room, we would definitely oblige. 

It would have been very rude to refuse a very thoughtful wedding gift, would it not?!

Pregnancy Update: Weeks 19-20

Saturday, 14 November 2015


Bump definitely became more pronounced and rounder this fortnight. The little one is now the length of a banana and 320 grams, which is frankly huge in my book!

I am 20 weeks and 5 days today, which meant that we have just reached some very important pregnancy milestones. Last weekend was not only the halfway point in my pregnancy, but we also had our 20 week anomaly scan to check for any abnormalities and see if we could see our baby's gender. More on this in a minute!!


I've had a few headaches this week. I don't know whether it's because I haven't been drinking enough water or if it's down to hormones, but waking up with a pounding head is becoming more and more common. I am continuing to keep a litre bottle of water on my bedside table so that I can pour myself a glass whenever I wake up in the night in bid to ward them off.

I've also been experiencing a bit of round ligament pain in my abdomen, which is perfectly normal as the baby grows, but can be quite an annoyance when trying to find a comfortable position at night. I am definitely investing in a pregnancy pillow to prop me up and keep me comfortable as soon as I can.

A much nicer symptom has been feeling the baby's kicks get firmer and more noticeable. Mr Sunshine and I watched Jurassic World last weekend, and true to form, I was absolutely terrified the whole way through. As the film reached its climax, the baby started reacting to every scary scene with kicks and flips and punches. They obviously hate frightening films as much as their mummy does!

What I've been eating

I've been quite naughty this week, with chips, crisps and cake making up far too much of my diet, and as a result I have vowed to eat a lot more healthily from this point onwards.

These snacks by Melissa's are a healthy alternative to a donut or chocolate bar, and just as satisfying.

Melissa's Pumpkin Seed Clean Snax with Chia and Flaxseed, available in Doha from Spinneys

How I've been feeling

I think this is an appropriate time in the post to tell you all how super excited, ecstatic and over the moon we are to announce that we will shortly be having a little baby GIRL!!!

When we went for our 20 week scan, I cried on my OB's table for what felt like the umpteenth time. The scan had revealed that our baby was growing well and showing all of the signs of being healthy. Then, when she told us that we were expecting a girl, I cried all over again, not because I was desperate to have a girl over a boy, but because we finally knew who our little daughter really was. It was a very emotional day for Mr Sunshine and me, filled with phone calls to family, planning for the future, and of course some inevitable baby girl dress shopping!

I'm not sure how we managed to do it, but we kept our news a secret from everyone else until last night, when Mr S and I held a party for our Doha friends, and revealed the gender in an epic game of pass the parcel (head over to my Instagram if you would like to see a video of the very moment the gender was revealed!).

Last night served to reaffirm to me how lucky we are to have such a strong support network of amazing friends who are sharing in our exciting journey out here. It makes giving birth away from home feel a lot less daunting!

What I've been wearing

This fortnight, I've been making an effort to squeeze into my most forgiving non-pregnancy dresses a few more times before I am no longer able to wear them. It will be a sad day when even the stretchy cotton and jersey ones are moved to the back of the cupboard to make way for pregnancy waistbands!

Products I've been using / baby bits

We received some gorgeous gifts at our party last night, and Mr Sunshine and I have also been on a bit of a baby shopping rampage. Some of my favourite items are shown below.

Chocolates by Elit and Lindt, and card by Hallmark from our friends Ash and Ryan; baby memories book by Hallmark from our friend Senay;  The Tummy Rub Butter by Mama Mio from our friends Ruth, Sheila and Talar; selection of dresses, baby grows and bibs by Mamas and Papas, bought by Mr Sunshine!

Link of the week

I have been going back through Hannah Michelak's pregnancy vlogs over the past few weeks, and I love her honesty about some of the battles she experienced during her pregnancy. It's really comforting to know that there is someone else out there who didn't have an entirely smooth ride. You can follow her journey, and keep up to date with the Michelak's family life post-baby here.

Final words

Thanks to everyone who made our gender reveal party so much fun last night and a huge congratulations to one of my favourite bloggers, Taylor Hearts Travel on the birth of her baby boy this week!


I couldn't end this post without saying something about the atrocities that have occured over the past 24 hours in France, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as ongoing unrest in Syria, the earthquake in Japan and the hurricane in Mexico. As a mother-to-be, I am horrified when I pick up a paper these days and all I can think about is how we can all make this world a safer and happier place to bring our children up in. I'd love to hear your views on this.

Dining With A View: La Veranda at The Sheraton, Doha

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Do you have a favourite restaurant with a view? For me, there's something quite special about eating great food on a restaurant's open air terrace, with a breeze in your hair and a spectacular view spread out in front of you. 

Now that the cooler Winter evenings are closing in on Doha, Mr Sunshine and I have been in search of the perfect outdoor spot from which to enjoy our food with a great view of the city, and we think we might have found it.

La Veranda at The Sheraton is an unassuming little restaurant, tucked away in a small building to the side of the hotel's iconic pyramid structure. 
Having never visited La Veranda before, we were a little taken aback that we weren't dining closer to the main building, which is legendary in Qatar for being one of the first hotels to open its doors to Doha, and remains one of the more interesting and recognisable buildings on the skyline.

Instead, we were led down a corridor which took us past the hotel gym, where a shorts-clad group was just leaving, hot and sweaty from a workout and we wondered if we had come a little over-dressed. We had both assumed that the restaurant would deliver the typical Doha high end dining experience, but we were about to be surprised, for La Veranda is a-typical in a number of ways.

Firstly, because of this view from the veranda of the restaurant. After two years in Doha, I was yet to find a restaurant which combined proximity to the sky scrapers of the city centre, and an al fresco dining spot which allows you to fully enjoy the beauty of your location.

Secondly, because the restaurant is not trying to be something that it is not. Yes, it has a few touches of excellence which wouldn't seem out of place on the high-end dining scene in Doha. The gorgeously soft, doughy focaccia for instance, which is among the best I have tried in Doha.

But most of the food is unfussy, simple Italian cooking. 

I started with a fresh juice, Mr S with a beer and we tucked into that perfect bread basket.

The third reason why La Veranda is special is that it is the only restaurant in Doha (to my knowledge) where the sea comes right up to where you are seated, which creates a really relaxing ambience.

(It's also a great excuse to gorge on even more bread...all that fresh, sea air just serves to make you even hungrier while you wait for your food to arrive).

After we (I) had polished off the bread, we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to sample a selection of the restaurant's most popular dishes.

The Bruschetta La Veranda:  cured tomatoes, smoked Provola and porcini mushroom on bruschetta, which were fresh and light, if a little lacking in seasoning.

A tasty traditional Caprese Salad, drizzled with tart olive oil. 

A beef carpaccio with rocket and parmesan for Mr Sunshine, which I know he loved because as it arrived I left the table momentarily to take a couple of photos, and by the time I had returned, the plate had already been wiped clean.

While we waited for our main dishes, we watched the Dhow boats floating in and out of the harbour and chatted. After a couple of busy weeks at work, I realised that I hadn't felt that relaxed in a long time.

Our main courses were all warming and comforting, but lacked the excitement and interest that some of our other favourite Italians in Doha provide.

Mr S thought the Filetto alla Griglia (beef tenderloin) was tender but not as tasty as he would have liked.

We both agreed that the hammour fillet was a little dry and the seafood basque, although full of flavour, wasn't entirely to our liking.

The real star of the show, however, was the four cheese gnocchi. Plump little parcels were smothered in a creamy and delicious sauce, and the chef hadn't skimped on the grated truffle. Once again, Mr Sunshine practically licked this plate clean!

I had also asked for a plate of Spaghetti al Pomodoro, which was perfectly el dente. The tomatoes were delicious, but I was desperate for a little more seasoning!

After all of that pasta, we were too full for dessert, and instead took a little turn around the outside area, and enjoyed the gorgeous view one last time before we departed.

It had been a mixed experience. The space, situation and ambience of the outdoor terrace is unparalleled. The food was good, but not excellent. Would we return? Most definitely. With a group of friends on a cool winter's night, I can't think of anywhere better to enjoy a few relaxed drinks and a bowl of simple pasta.

We returned home feeling very full, and happy that we had discovered another hidden spot in Doha, just when we thought we had exhausted every dining option out there.
What other hidden gems is Doha hiding? I'd love to hear about some of your exciting finds!

We were guests of The Sheraton this time, but as always all views are my own regardless.