x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

At home over the cooker

For a Dubizzled group of disparate flatmates, the only common ground was a sheet of homemade biscuits.

Living in shared accommodation with a mixed bag of strangers plucked off Dubizzle may be normal for many expats, but it certainly isn't homey. Locking bedroom doors, tag-team efforts in the bathroom every morning, daubing initials on food in kitchen cupboards? It's not the stuff of which domestic bliss is made. But recently, I walked into the apartment I share with five others and the sweet aroma of baking greeted me. I was instantly transported to my childhood home.

It's what so many memories are made of: yanking an apron over your head, scrambling for a stool in the kitchen and helping Mum bake cookies and cakes. The mixing, scraping, baking and, most importantly, the licking of the bowl are all part of the homely process. And how my brother and I fought over this latter delicacy. No matter how many cookies we'd scoff later or how many sneaked fingers full of cookie dough we'd already devoured, licking the bowl was lauded over all else. Of course we could have shared, but where's the fun in that?

So as I rounded the corner into the kitchen to see my flatmate, complete with chocolate-smeared apron, scraping the last spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the baking tray, I knew my timing was perfect. The bowl winked at me as I sidled over to a bar stool, and after tentatively asking if my flatmate would humour the child in me, there I was - once again a 6-year-old with sticky fingers, a mucky face and a heart swelling with chocolate-coated happiness. I was home. The best bit? I didn't even have to draw blood to get my booty.

A few of my flatmates gathered at the heart of our home to hover over the cooker, awaiting the ping that signalled the arrival of the much-anticipated cookie. There we were: a random selection of strangers chatting, teasing, laughing and swapping childhood stories. All it took to bring us together was the wholesomeness of a biscuit. And there it was. Ping! The oven gloves went on, the baking tray was carefully removed, hungry hands hovered and of course someone burst out "ouch" as too-greedy fingers lurched forward to plunder the prize from a scalding tray.

The simple art of baking seemed to transcend generations, social boundaries and cultural differences. Here we were, a hodgepodge "family" from England, South Africa, Russia, New Zealand, Iran and Uzbekistan, merrily bonding. If there's no place like home, Dorothy can keep her ruby slippers. I'll take a home-baked cookie any day.