x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Food fright?

With their wives having escaped to cooler climes, the country's summer bachelors are left to fend for themselves at mealtimes.

AD200910707289972AR
AD200910707289972AR

With their wives having escaped to cooler climes, the country's summer bachelors are left to fend for themselves at mealtimes. James Brennan asks five seasonal singles how they are faring It happens every summer. When the schools break up and the weather gets unbearably hot, mothers and children flee the oppressive conditions and general lethargy of the season and head for cooler climes - leaving their husbands behind to live at home alone.

These poor men are known as summer bachelors, and not only do they have to deal with the strain of being parted from their spouses and children for weeks on end while holding down a job, but they also have to come to terms with another challenge - looking after themselves. Aside from washing and ironing, keeping the house in order and feeding the cat, there's another all-important task that must be addressed: they have to feed themselves.

Of course, in this age of the new man, most everyday chaps should feel perfectly at home in the kitchen. They'll be a dab hand with a food blender and not altogether uncomfortable wearing an apron. Gone are those dark days when hapless blokes would blow the kitchen up trying to hard boil eggs in the microwave. And in these enlightened times of healthy eating, low-fat diets and energetic lifestyles, the chances of those same wives returning home to find their husbands watching the football in their underpants, surrounded by pizza boxes and KFC buckets are surely a million to one. Aren't they?

Determined to gain an insight into this seasonal phenomenon, I tracked down five summer bachelors and asked them to reveal the truth about their home-alone eating habits. I wanted to know if their absent partners had left any strict instructions to ensure their well-being - and if they were sticking to them. Would they flex their culinary muscle in a show of skill and health consciousness? Or would they succumb to a lonely life of takeaways and TV?

Age 40, British, commercial manager. Wife: Liante; children: Joshua and Finley. How long are they away for? They left on June 30; they're back Sept 2. Has your wife left you any specific instructions? She left strict instructions regarding the dog, half a tin in the morning, half a tin in the evening and make sure I keep his biscuit and water bowl well topped up. Oh, and not water from the tap. My instructions were: "Just try and keep the place tidy, and don't forget Sketchley (on our compound) washes and irons shirts." She phones regularly to check on the dog.

Can you cook? Blinding cook. Do you cook for yourself? Three times a week max. My speciality dish is a full-on roast dinner on a Saturday, with roast chicken, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, onions and butternut squash with peas, carrots and lashings of gravy. What kitchen gadgets couldn't you live without? The frying pan - especially on Friday mornings. Do you eat takeaways? Hardly ever, as the food is horrendous and I've seen the hygiene in some of the takeaway places. I'd rather eat a bowl of Pedigree lamb chunks in gravy. The wife wouldn't be too happy, though. That's the dog's food.

How often do you eat out at restaurants? I'm eating out about two or three times a week. Where we go depends on the mood and how many of us there are. So it ranges from brunch at the One to One, to Ushna or the 3rd Avenue at the Sheraton. Do you miss your wife's cooking? I miss her Italian dishes. Oh, and her ice cream surprises for afters, especially nowadays. What guilty pleasures do you indulge in? Homemade deep-fried chips with sausage, egg and beans.

Age 40, Sri Lankan, accountant. Wife: Sharzana; children: Zahra, Amira. How long are they away for? They were away for the last month, but I will be leaving shortly and they will be back with me. Has your wife left you any specific instructions? Not exactly, but every weekend I clean up the flat and take care of it. Can you cook? I am useless in the kitchen. Do you cook for yourself? I don't cook at all. I only know to make a cup of tea using tea bags.

What kitchen gadgets could you not live without? A plate, a mug and the microwave. Do you eat takeaways? Except for the first week, where my wife had made some food to keep before she left, I have been eating out every day, except on the weekend where I will be invited by my friends for a home-cooked meal. My takeaways are usually rice in the afternoons from Oasis Chinese Restaurant or the food court in Al Wahda Mall; and for dinner something from the Sri Lankan restaurant or from Al Quods bakery.

How often do you eat out at restaurants? I don't eat out at restaurants alone. Do you miss your wife's cooking? I miss her Sri Lankan pol roti (coconut flatbread) and chicken curry and all the delicious food she makes. What guilty pleasures do you indulge in? I don't have any food weaknesses, but I am a very picky eater. I don't like to try out new food varieties.

Age 36, Syrian, chief executive of a new media company. Wife: Lina; child: Suey. How long are they away for? They left me to fend for myself in the concrete jungle back in June, and they'll be holding position until the end of September while occasionally calling in to check that I haven't starved to death or imploded. Has your wife left you any specific instructions? There's the obvious stuff like watering the garden and plants, paying service personnel, giving the cat routine shots, doing laundry, changing bedsheets, showering once a day, etc...

Can you cook? Much to my wife's chagrin, like her, I'm an awesome cook. You see, we're very competitive about it. But she wins on experience because she cooks regularly, while for me it's becoming increasingly occasional. I never have an agenda in the kitchen - for me it's about crafting a unique experience based on a combination of unexpected tastes and ingredients. How often do you cook for yourself? I'm a social cook, which means that if I have nobody to cook for, I don't bother. With my family out of town, and half of my regular friends, that basically means I go in to the kitchen for essentials, like water, coffee and olive oil.

What kitchen gadgets could you not live without? Espresso maker and milk steamer, which is now broken. So I've defaulted to an Arabic coffee pot for more tactile java. Knives are also essential. They double up as forks if you just stab at the item (kids, don't try this at home). Spatulas are the unsung heroes of the kitchen and I am a big fan of the rubbery edge. In terms of more whizz-bangy, post-industrialist gadgets, I'd have to list an ice-cream maker.

How often do you eat takeaways? I prefer to visit restaurants than to bring food home. My selection is pretty diverse, and is a by-product of what I find on my way home from work. Luckily my route involves most of Al Sufouh, Jumeira Beach Road, Sheikh Zayed Road and Satwa, which means that it can be a Dh400 meal, or a Dh10 one - from Nobu and Nina to Automatic and Karachi Darbar. How often do you eat out at restaurants? These days, it's a daily event. I'll go anywhere on my route based on what I see out the car window. With one big "but" - I will avoid anything that is a Friday's, Chili's, or any fast-food, megacorp, or over-franchised establishment. There is no appeal in franchise restaurants to me, as I find the food and experience sub-par.

Do you miss your wife's cooking? Pretty much all of it. Much of what we eat at home is hearty, top-notch ingredients and comfort food. My wife's cooking is very good, and she gets better at it each day as she's an active and learning enthusiast. If I had to single out a meal or two, I would cite molokhia with lamb, and couscous with seafood stew. But I would kill for any decent home-cooked meal right now. What guilty pleasures do you indulge in? I'm really conventional here, and fortunately I have nothing to hide from my wife. Chocolate. Dark. Preferably the baking kind.

Age 35, British, development manager. Wife: Tanya; children: Toby, Aurelia. How long are they away for? From the beginning of July to Sept 5. Has your wife left you any specific instructions? Don't overfeed the cat; don't forget to feed the cat; don't party too hard or enjoy yourself too much.

Can you cook? I'm a good cook. She is not, so it's the best way of ensuring some decent food is made. How often do you cook for yourself? Maybe twice a week to clear out the freezer of whatever has been lurking there for the past six months. Otherwise, it's fresh pasta and salad. What kitchen gadgets could you not live without? The maid. How often do you eat takeaways? Haven't tried any yet.

How often do you eat out at restaurants? I tend to eat out in restaurants with the boys twice a week (places like One to One and the Souk at the Shangri-La) or at the club after the gym (I'm training for the Lausanne Triathlon at the end of August) while watching sport on the TV. Do you miss your wife's cooking? I wish I could say yes, but I cannot lie - so no. Well, maybe her tortillas... What guilty pleasures do you indulge in? None. I'm trying to eat healthily as I'm training six days a week.

Age 35, British, art dealer. Wife: Solange; child: Isadora. How long are they away for? The whole summer. Has your wife left you any specific instructions? No, it's all in my hands. Can you cook? I'd modestly say I am a reasonable cook. How often do you cook for yourself? Every once in a while - poached hammour, rocket salad. Something easy and quick like angel hair pasta with truffles and Parmesan. Delicious. Salad, fresh fruit, lychees. I love grapes, and mulberries when in season - most of what I have at home is fresh fruit.

What kitchen gadgets could you not live without? Gadgets? I never really go in for them - maybe a smoothie maker for breakfast. How often do you eat takeaways? Because I get home so late from the office - 10 or 11pm usually - I am too tired to cook. And since there's no one to cook for me, I get a takeaway. I order when I leave the office so that it's delivered when I get home - that has become an art form. 800 Pizza and Arz Lebanon work wonders. Our local, Iskandaron, shut down nine months ago, but used to do the best grilled chicken and fattoush in town - how we miss them. I order predominately the same thing: bresaola rucola pizza from 800 Pizza, and lamb chops and fattoush from Arz - or maybe chicken livers and fattoush.

How often do you eat out at restaurants? Once in a while. I'll eat out for lunch and meetings. Places I adore - Istanbul Flower, Grand Grill at the Habtoor Grand, Smiling BKK, Karam Beirut at Kempinski and Segreto at Madinat Souk. They're all near home. I used to love Traiteur at the Park Hyatt, but it's just too far from home and work. Now I go for something chilled and easy that tastes good - nothing too poncy. I hate stuffy places. I like to relax and enjoy.

Do you miss your wife's cooking? Breakfast. They're the best ever. And in the UK I miss her kippers, and Greek yogurt with English strawberries and acacia honey. What guilty pleasures do you indulge in? Johnny Rockets. Gentlemen's Relish - she hates it. And Ben & Jerry's ice cream - Pistachio Pistachio, Vanilla and Chunky Monkey.