5 Uses for Vita Coco's Coconut Oil

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

I am a huge fan of coconut oil, so when I found out that Vita Coco had produced its own version which is cold-pressed to retain all of the natural goodness of the coconut, I had to give it a try. Armed with a big pot for my kitchen, and a smaller one for my bathroom and handbag, here are some of the ways I tested it out.

1. Beauty and skincare

Vita Coco's Coconut Oil is an all-natural replacement for dozens of beauty products.

It can remove make-up (even waterproof!), be used as an all-over moisturiser, be smothered over damp hair and left for 10 minutes as a deep conditioning mask, be rubbed onto your tummy when pregnant to prevent stretch marks, act as a smooth and moisturising shaving balm, replace your usual lip balm, be used as a delicious-smelling massage oil and can even be rubbed under the armpits as an all-natural deodorant!

2. Babycare

Because Vita Coco's Coconut Oil is organic AND extra virgin (which means no chemicals have been used and it hasn't been altered in any way), it's also safe for delicate baby skin!

I've used it on Sophia's nappy rash, cradle cap and dry skin to great effect. I've also heard it's good for mums to rub into their nipples when their nursing as a natural alternative to lanolin cream.

3. Healthcare

It's undisputed that coconut oil is a far healthier alternative to other processed oils, but did you know that it's been found to reduce body fat accumulation, support weight loss, reduce cholesterol levels and even slow the progression of Alzheimer's Disease?!

The oil can also be used in several healthcare procedures, including 'oil pulling', a traditional oral detox whereby you swish it around in your mouth 20 minutes before rinsing.

4. Cooking and baking

Anything butter can do, coconut oil can do better.

Sauté spinach, roast potatoes, grill chicken, sweeten your cereal, add it to soups and smoothies, stir fry vegetables, bake it in brownies, stir it into risottos, add it to your pie crusts, use it to bake kale into crisps, spread it on toast...the list of culinary uses is limited only by your imagination!

5. Following your sunshine safely!

With summer rapidly approaching, soaring temperatures, stronger sunshine and longer daylight hours can be a worry for mums, especially out here in Qatar.

But coconut oil provides a natural SPF 4 sunscreen AND can be lathered on following sun exposure as a healing and soothing after sun meaning that you can enjoy the sun for longer. Result!

Have you tried Vita Coco's Coconut Oil? What other uses can you recommend?

Product was provided for review purposes

Sophia Molly: Two Month Update

Thursday, 26 May 2016

With two months with a baby under my belt now, I think it's probably time for a dose of realism. Yes, being a mummy continued to be the best thing that had ever happened to me this month, but whilst caring for our little Squeaks has brought me innumerable rewards and a huge amount of happiness every day, the second month of her life was simultaneously the best and one of the most difficult times of my life to date.

Here's a little run-down of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly experiences of being a mummy  this month:

- Sophia gave us her first proper smiles at the beginning of the month - and not just those little cheerful looks that she used to give us in the mornings when she woke up, but full on, open-mouthed beaming grins, usually accompanied by cute gurgles and squeals. Every time this happens, my heart still aches with happiness and love for her!

- She had her second round of vaccinations which she handled admirably (me, not so much!)

- On the same day, the doctor diagnosed her with colic and prescribed colic drops (which seem to do absolutely nothing by the way!). This came after two long weeks of her fussing, screaming and crying well into the night, including several painful nights where Mr Sunshine and I saw the sun rise before we managed to calm her to sleep. It broke my heart to see her so upset for such protracted periods, and when this was combined with frustration that there was very little I could do to help her, constant worrying about what the root cause of her discomfort could be and hardly any sleep, it wasn't a recipe for a very happy mama!

- She didn't seem to want to sleep much during the day either (and if she ever did, it was only clinging to me!), so I could never catch up on the hours of sleep I missed during the night. Most days, she wouldn't even let me put her down, so there was very little that I could do while Rich was at work. By the end of the month, I could count the number of times I'd eaten lunch on one hand, the laundry pile had turned into a mountain, I considered it a luxury if I had time to wash the soap suds out of my hair when I showered and my sleep deprivation was so extreme that I couldn't even remember what day of the week it was!

- And then suddenly, in the space of 24 hours, it all stopped. There was no more crying into the night; she suddenly seemed to want to sleep when we put her down; she even started to nap during the day -  she's doing so right now as I type (in fact, this is the first blog post I've written with two hands free since she was born)! I am not holding up any victory banners just yet because I know that with a baby every day is changeable, but I have a very strong suspicion that much like many other babies around the 5-8 week mark, she was just going through a huge developmental leap and it was all a bit much for her to cope with.

- Unfortunately the nighttime crying has been replaced by nighttime puking. Lots of it. But I'll take baby sick in the hair over no sleep any day!

- With the extra sleep she's now getting, she seems a lot more alert and interested in the world around her. You can almost see her little brain working away as she takes it all in. I love showing her new things and watching her reaction and sometimes I even get rewarded with a little coo of delight! She is also far more contented to be put down on her play mat or to be left to play with daddy for a bit while I do my own thing. I even managed to go out without her to celebrate my friend Donna's for an hour or so the other night (although I missed her lots and wanted to come home straight away!).

So yes, being a parent this month was hard, but every time I look at her I know it was worth it.

Please note that some of the photos in this post are courtesy of Karolina Bak.

Top 6 Fine Dining Restaurants in Doha: #1 Nobu

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Last year I enjoyed writing a series of posts which gave a run-down of my favourite fine dining spots in Doha. At number 6 I chose La Mer at the Ritz Carlton for its innovative food and killer views. Number 5 was Gordon Ramsay at the St Regis due to its refined food and the perfect presentation of its plates. I decided that number 4 should be a double Marsa Malaz whammy, choosing Toro Toro and Antica Pesa as joint runners up for being relative Doha newcomers that were already making waves. In at number 3 came Idam due to a location and menu which take fine dining to a whole new level. Number 2 was Hakkasan because it is my favourite date spot in Doha for all the right reasons.

And then, my series came to a rather abrupt halt before I reached number 1 for reasons I won't go into here (one for another time!). It's been playing on my mind ever since, and for that reason I'm really pleased that this month's Qatar link-up has given me a great excuse to finally get around to writing this post!

For anyone reading that is familiar with the Doha restaurant scene, it is probably unsurprising that I've chosen the iconic Nobu at the Four Seasons Hotel as the winner of my absolute favourite fine dining restaurant in Doha. But what makes this restaurant so special? Let's break it down.

Stunning architecture and interiors

From the modern tri-level shell-like building, to the contemporary interiors which utilise materials, depth and texture in clever ways, this building is as aesthetically pleasing inside as it is out.

Location location location

On its own private piece of land which branches out from the grounds of the luxurious Four Seasons Doha, the restaurant is the perfect vantage point from which to take in the panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf in one direction and the bright lights of West Bay in the other.

Food that's a little bit special

It's difficult to stand out in a city of world class restaurants, but stand out Nobu certainly does. Some favourite dishes of ours include the world renowned black cod, steeped in the most deliciously sweet and heady miso, the crisp Rock Shrimp Tempura with the creamiest Ponzu sauce, the succulent wagyu gyoza, the delicious (but disappointingly tiny) lobster wasabi tacos and the Chilean Seabass with Dashi Ponzu. But let's face it, every single dish on that menu is perfectly crafted and delicious.

NB. I am referring to the old menu. Since my last visit, Nobu has released a brand new menu. Please refer to their website for details.

Night life and romance 

Of course, Nobu is much more than just a restaurant. On the top floor is the mother of all rooftop bars; the perfect place for an apéritif before a romantic date, or a cheap option for happy hour with friends - both of which can be enjoyed while taking in that killer view.

Celebrity prowess which is taking the world by storm

Spear-headed by the famous Chef Nobuyaku ('Nobu') Matsuhisa and co-owned by none other than Hollywood's Robert De Niro, Nobu is taking over the culinary world. From London to Malibu; Hong Kong to the Bahamas, the restaurant is popping up in every city to see and be seen.

The details:

Four Seasons Hotel, 
The Corniche, P.O. Box 24665 
Doha, Qatar 

+974 4494 8500 

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Casual Dining at Shakespeare & Co, Doha

Friday, 13 May 2016

A hop, step and a jump away from our apartment is one of those restaurants which, since its opening last year, has got people talking. 

As I stroll past this quirky restaurant's terrace with our pram on our regular walks around the marina, I've noticed it is the only place in the vicinity which is always busy regardless of the time of day. Families, business meetings, romantic dates...the clientele it attracts is many and varied, and because of this it's one of my favourite spots on The Pearl for a spot of people watching.

So what is bringing people here in their droves? My little family and I headed over for lunch this week to find out for ourselves.

Unfortunately Sophia had been suffering with reflux that morning, leading to bouts of crying, spitting up and inevitable outfit changes. As a result we were considerably late for our reservation - almost an hour in fact, something that I really dislike and try to avoid as much as possible. It was relief that we opened the door to be greeted with warm smiles from our waitress, told that they were waiting for us and taken to a table which they had kept waiting. I was reminded that the relaxed, friendly and attentive service which we'd also experienced on previous visits really gives this place the edge.

The unconventional decor of the Victorian-era themed interior makes it stand out amongst some of the more traditional restaurants on the island. The colourful interiors, adorned with ornate oil paintings, empty gilt frames and old fashioned light fixtures make it one of the most Instagram-able spaces on The Pearl.

The eclectic menu is also a big draw. It's a page turner which takes you from all-day breakfast items to salads to classic main courses, and a large array of naughty puddings thrown in to boot. You don't have to be the most discerning of diners to eat here; there truly is something for everyone.

We started with warm, gooey and satisfying Mozzarella sticks.

And the restaurant's famous Piri Piri Prawns which had a sharp tang of spice, and were served with crispy potato croquettes that take the edge off the heat. I was happy to discover that this dish was every bit as moreish as I'd heard it was.

My breakfast-obsessed husband opted for Eggs Benedict for his main course, while I fancied going for something a little healthier, and chose the Quinoa Salad with grilled chicken. We knew the Benny was a good one, as we had trotted down here for breakfast on numerous occasions previously.

Look at that perfect yolk!

However, the quinoa salad was a new one to me, and I was rather taken aback when this mammoth plate of food was placed on the table in front of me!

Tasty, perfectly-cooked quinoa spilled out of a flakey pastry bowl, accompanied by chickpeas, pomegranate seeds and other more traditional salad items in a delicious dressing. The grilled chicken was juicy and cooked to perfection. The only downside was that there was enough on the plate to feed a family of five and I was only able to manage about half it!

By the time the dessert menu was brought out, we were both stuffed, but agreed to order the strawberry cheesecake to share.

Definitely one of the creamiest and tastiest cheesecakes I've had in Doha so far!

We had had a lovely meal, we had warded off any FOMO by ordering several different styles of cuisine from the extensive menu, and most importantly, we were full to the brim.

In fact, we had had such a good time that we returned the very next day for a drink on the terrace.

If you are looking for a relaxed, friendly and informal place to eat, and if you are one of those people who dislikes the confines of small, a la carte menus and prefers to be spoilt for choice when it comes to their food, then this is the restaurant for you.

We were guests of Shakespeare & Co. on this occasion, but as always all views are my own.

Our Honeymoon: Monastero Santa Rosa, Amalfi Coast

Monday, 9 May 2016

Pre-baby, one of my main motivations in life was travel. Mr Sunshine and I regularly spent our weekends and evenings plotting our next escape to foreign lands. In brief periods of downtime from my desk at work I would dream of far-flung locations, dramatic coastlines, exciting cultures and exotic food in a place where the sun always shines. And at the centre of these daydreams was always a picture-perfect hotel.

Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel and Spa, a 17th Century Monastery perched precariously high on the cliffs above the little fishing village of Conca dei Marini is one of those hotels that dreams are made of. With just 20 rooms and suites available, we were so lucky to secure a room here slap bang in the middle of our tour along the Amalfi Coast, and spending just one night in this historic building placed a big tick against one of my must-do 'once in a lifetime' experiences.

From the moment we arrived, the service was impeccable. Drinks were poured on a little balcony overlooking the most breathtaking of views over the hotel's extensive grounds, the cliffs and the sea below, while we 'checked in' (ie. someone whisked Mr Sunshine's credit card and our passports away for a moment and took our bags to our room while we enjoyed basking in the sun).

We were then taken along a long, cool passageway adorned with lavish Italian antiques to our room - a compact apartment which still bears exactly the same dimensions as when it was inhabited by nuns all of those centuries ago. We admired the sympathetic conversion, with luxurious touches such as the deep marble baths and huge, thick wooden window shutters. I also loved the fact that each room was named after a herb that was once grown by the nuns to make medicines in the Monastery's gardens.

We took the Prosecco that was awaiting us out onto the beautiful sunset terrace which was just outside our room, and breathed in the sight of the miniature houses dotting the coastline before us; marvelled at the way the azure skies seemed to melt into the sea; and admired the hotel's famous terraced grounds and infinity pool from above. I was itching for a swim.

Having polished off the bottle with record-breaking speed, we headed downstairs, and strolled down through the stunning landscaped terraced gardens to the water's edge.

The Monastero Santa Rosa pool features in many a top 10 list of the world's best infinity pools, and up close I could see why. Scalloped into the cliff, the pool is made from natural materials, and feels more like a naturally-occuring plunge pool than a manmade structure. Continuing as we had started, we wasted no time in perusing the extensive poolside menu, ordering a couple of our favourite cocktails and a bite to eat, and plunging right in.


 Even this discerning seagull had decided that this was a pretty good place for him to spend the day.

There I sat (in the spot which I was now convinced was my favourite place in the whole world) for hours. Nothing could tear me away.

Nothing that is, apart from the lure of the hotel's spa.

Much like the main building of the hotel, the spa retains all of the original features of the monastery. We were lucky enough to receive our couple's massage in the entirely unique Spa Suite: an 80m vaulted space complete with private dressing room and treatment areas. Being pampered in a space steeped in history, with a monastic and highly religious heritage was an experience that I will never forget.

Not for the first time that day, as we emerged once more into the bright sunshine of the gardens feeling light as a feather, I had to pinch myself to make sure that this wasn't a dream.

We were staying in such a beautiful building, full of cultural artifacts, shrouded in the mysteries of its past, and located in the most jaw-dropping of locations, but by this point I was quite convinced that what makes this hotel really stand out amongst its competitors on the Amalfi Coast, and indeed the rest of the world is the service afforded to visitors by the wonderful staff.

After our massage, the General Manager, Flavio took it upon himself to personally welcome us to the hotel by taking us on a guided tour, which culminated in a visit to the hotel's roof just as the sun was beginning to set.

If there is one moment from our entire honeymoon that I will remember forever, it was this. There was a soft evening breeze lilting over the monastery as we looked over the pink-tinged view, and I don't think I've ever seen anything so magical.

We had been so spoiled that by the time that dinner rolled around, I think I would have been quite content with a bacon sarnie and a nightcap, but of course that wasn't to be.

Much like the rest of the hotel, Ristorante Il Refettorio prides itself on attention to detail, luxury and quality of service, and we were completely blown away.

We met the charismatic Executive Chef, Christoph Bob and his team, all of whom exuded a passion for locally-sourced, good quality ingredients and wholesome food. Feeling relaxed after our day in the sun and spa, we allowed them to pick out our menu for us, and we weren't disappointed.

Stand-outs included the shrimp with creamed eggplant and crispy black rice, the Tortello del 'Maccaronaio' (seabass and cherry tomato tortello) and the seared grouper.

All of which was beautifully complemented by the local olive oil and a Costa D'Amalfi red hand-selected by our waiter from the hotel's extensive wine cellar.

However, it was breakfast which was the really memorable meal of our stay. Several different types of eggs, fruit, juices and pastries were brought out to us on the pergola-shaded dining terrace on silver trays, until our table was almost heaving under the weight of all the food!

Breakfasts like this are only complete with the addition of a glass of Prosecco.

And a traditional Sfogliatelle: shell-shaped filled pastries that were baked by the original sisters of the monastery which have become famous throughout Italy, and synonymous with the luxury of the Amalfi Coast.

With only a few hours left to kill before check-out, we took ourselves back down to the gardens and pool to soak up a few more rays and to try to imprint that view on our memories.

Before we left, we took some time to fill in our confession before heading off to our next destination along the coast.

Staying at Monastero Santa Rosa was a dream come true which managed to exceed even my high expectations, as I hope this short video testifies.

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Please visit the hotel's website for details of room rates and bookings. 

We were not guests of Monastero Santa Rosa, but certain parts of our stay were given to us for free. As always, my views are all my own.