Our guest post today is from a friend who had the good fortune to spend several weeks in Morocco last fall including a visit to MarocBaba’s mom’s house for a home-cooked Moroccan meal! Shelley Gable is an instructional designer who dabbles in freelance writing, including travel writing. She arranged the desert excursion through Journey Beyond Travel. You can find additional articles she has written about Morocco in the company’s Morocco Travel Guide.
Trekking among the Sahara’s Dunes
The idea of camping in the Sahara Desert conjured up exotic yet vague images of nylon zip-up tents with toasty sleeping bags, a glowing fire, bowls of couscous, and a guide telling stories in the middle of an open desert. For some reason, I took memories of camping in the woods of Wisconsin and plopped them against the backdrop of a generic desert scene, probably inspired by episodes of the Road Runner.
My husband and I spent three weeks in Morocco as a belated honeymoon over our first wedding anniversary. Though we explored much of the country independently, we treated ourselves to a private desert excursion for five days of our visit, which included one night under the stars among the Erg Chebbi sand dunes.
When we arrived at the desert’s edge by car, the guide who accompanied us for much of the excursion introduced us to our desert guide for that evening, Mohammad. They supervised as we eagerly mounted our single-humped camels. After securing our few overnight supplies, Mohammad grasped the cord connected to the lead camel’s nose and began walking our rope-linked caravan – my camel, my husband’s camel, and a supply-carrying camel – toward the dunes.
The airbrushed sand dunes against the evening sun and the desert’s enormity created an almost hypnotic effect. That is, until the camel broke the trance with a few jarring clomps down the first slope of the journey. Which corrected another of my misconceptions: riding a camel is not like riding a horse.
Riding a camel down a dune feels a little like the unexpected jolt of accidentally squeezing the front break on a bike…repeatedly. Even on level ground, a camel’s unsteady gait causes constant swaying. Despite that, the novelty of sitting perched atop a tall hump while easing into the Sahara makes the discomfort easy to ignore.
We reached our destination after 30 minutes of riding, and Mohammad immediately shooed us away to explore so that he could prepare the site and start dinner.
The cinnamon-and-sugar grains crunched under our shoes as we headed toward a nearby dune. If you’ve ever meandered across a beach, you know that the sand makes you work harder for each step. A sand dune taunts similarly, pushing the struggling climber’s foot a partial step back with each upward stride.
Fortunately, the panoramic views from the dune’s plateau made the ascent worthwhile. My husband and I gazed in all directions, admiring the expansiveness of our surroundings. Our campsite below, protected by two towering dunes, formed a U-shape with Bedouin-style tents. Like the nomadic tribe, we would sleep under the shelter of heavy wool fabric propped up by eight-foot beams.
The encroaching darkness eventually lured us down to the candlelit table in the middle of the campsite. Dinner turned out to be much more than the imagined bowl of couscous. Mohammad served a distinctly traditional spread of salad and tajine, followed by whole fruits for dessert. Overhead, the stars sparkled across the sky like a spilled crate of glitter. The moon rose much later, after it became sufficiently dark for a dramatic entrance.
The night was chilly and still. Though Mohammad told us that the desert hosts several camps every evening, some with nearly 100 travelers, we didn’t hear anyone else. Not even the pattering of a distant road runner.
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If there is anyone that knows Moroccan food it’s Paula Wolfert. She truly is the queen, the Julia Child’s of Moroccan food in America. I adore her cookbooks and she is truly such a very kind and wonderful person. I hope that I have the honor of meeting her very soon. This is her recipe for hand rolled couscous – a project that I think would be incredibly fun to give a shot. Paula has assured me that in her new cookbook coming out this fall (inshallah) there will be an updated version of this recipe. I have two of her cookbooks; [amazon_link id=”0060913967″ target=”_blank” ]Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”076457633X” target=”_blank” ]Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share[/amazon_link]and both are fabulous. The new cookbook is all about Moroccan food and having seen a few bits and pieces, trust me you are going to want it as soon as it’s published! If you’re looking for a couscous steamer and don’t want to get a couscousierre, check out these beautiful steamers that double as strainers from Clay Coyote.
I know! Just the thought of making your own couscous gives you a headache, but in fact it’s easier than making your own pasta or bread and delivers the same satisfaction: superior taste and a sense of wonder at the magic of it all.
I don’t know why it took me so long to start teaching homemade couscous. Once I did, putting on a show costumed in my printed blue and white pantaloons and sitting on the floor the way North African women do, I remembered how much fun it was and how astonishing the results. Now, spurred on by terrific feedback from my students, I demonstrate couscous making whenever I get the chance. I’ve taught the staff at chez Panisse and at the Napa Valley Culinary Institute of America. I like to think that there are chefs across the country who are ‘rolling their own’—couscous, that is.
When making couscous you’ll need two horsehair, wire, or plastic sieves of different calibers through which to shake the rolled beads of semolina. You’ll also need a couscous cooker or deep kettle with a colander that will sit snugly on top. And, of course, you’ll need some fresh coarse semolina and fine semolina flour purchased by mail-order or from a good Middle Eastern store. With these items in hand, you’ll be able to make enough fine-grain couscous to serve eight in literally 1 hour.
When making your own couscous, you must use coarse semolina, not couscous, as the “magnet” for fine semolina flour.
This recipe can be halved to serve 4.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 cup coarse semolina
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1/3 cup cold water (approximately)
- 1 cup fine semolina flour
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup cold water (approximately) for “raking” the couscous
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 cup strained broth
1. Spread the coarse semolina on a large, preferably round tray.Sprinkle a few tablespoons of salted cold water over the coarse semolina and, at the same time rotate the palm and fingers of one hand in wide circles (in one direction only) to create tiny spheres.
2. After two or three rotations, begin to sprinkle the semolina.flour and about 1/4 cup cold water alternately on the spheres while continuing to rotate. As the spheres absorb the flour and water they will turn into tiny couscous “beads” more or less the same size. You may need another 1 to 2 tablespoons water.
3. Shake or lightly press the couscous “beads” through an everyday wire or plastic 12-mesh strainer in order to standardize their size. Place in a finer sieve to shake and remove excess flour. Makes about 4 cups uncooked fine couscous. (You may discard or use the flour, as North Africans do, to start the next batch.)
4. Bring plenty of water to a boil in the bottom of a deep kettle or couscous cooker. Pile the freshly rolled couscous into a lightly oiled colander or top container. Fit the top onto the bottom, checking for a tight seal. Partially cover and steam 15 minutes.
5. Dump couscous onto a tray and break up lumps with a large fork or whisk. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup salted water and rake the grains to keep them separate. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gradually add another 1/2 cup water while raking the couscous. When the couscous has absorbed all the water repeat the steaming for 15 minutes.
6. Dump couscous onto a tray, gradually work in another cup cold water, and rake the grains to keep them separate. Allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff up the couscous and loosely cover with a damp towel. Up to this point the couscous can be prepared a few hours in advance.
7. Thirty minutes before serving, bring water back to a boil. Return the couscous to the colander or top container and steam, uncovered, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Couscous lightens in color when fully cooked.
8. Dump couscous onto a wide shallow serving dish and toss with oil or butter and moisten with 1 cup strained broth. Let stand,covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Gently fluff the couscous, pile ina mound, and decorate with meat or fish and vegetables.
© Paula Wolfert, 1998, 2005
To connect with Paula find her online;
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Today’s guest post comes from a good friend of mine, aptly also named Amanda. Amanda lived in Rabat with her husband for two years and has recently returned to the US. During her time in Morocco she wrote a blog but has since taken it down. I’ve asked her to share one of her posts with all of you because frankly she’s an amazing writer and was always very honest about her experiences while living in Morocco. Amanda has agreed to share this post and in a few weeks will be sharing a fresh off the presses new post!
Casablanca, Fes, Marrakesh, Tangier, Rabat…these are the cities one associates easily with Morocco. But, Morocco’s best kept secret is El Jadida. It’s a small town on the Atlantic Coast two hours south of Rabat. Many Moroccan’s spend their summer vacations there, but you won’t find many foreign traveler’s along the long stretches of beaches. I know about El Jadida because my husband’s family lives in a beautiful house. We spent two great and relaxing days there with my parents. The one thing I never thought I’d get to witness when it came to our marriage was our parents meeting. My mother-in-law pulled out all the stops to welcome us with gorgeous sweets, dried fruits, her famous gamila and harira recipes and couscous.
My father loved hanging out on the small balcony watching all the sellers coming down the neighborhood streets selling vegetables, fish, and chandeliers (yes as in crystal light fixtures). He even got to hear the call of my favorite seller who sounds, from far away, like he’s yelling for watermelons, but as he gets closer you see his cart full of sardines.
We visited the famed Sidi Bouzid beach for an afternoon of sun (under the umbrella), surf, and ice cream. The beach is always crowded with people of all ages. The beach stretches really far and a long walk in the cold water is a great way to cool off. You’ll find young men roaming up and down the beach with ice cream, candies, coffee, and soft drinks. The beach is guarded by life-guards who can’t be missed in their beyond neon yellow and red uniforms. Parking along the beach’s boardwalk is easy, and there are usually plenty of spots available. You’ll pay 5 DH to the attendant who helps you get in and out of the parallel spaces.
At night, Sidi Bouzid remains one of the places to be with a stroll along the boardwalk. You’ll find many people walking along the well lit sidewalk. The bright lights also shine on the beach where you’re likely to see camels and donkeys dressed up for photo opportunities. Sidi Bouzid isn’t the only night spot, as the medina also offers a lively atmosphere. Though the stores along the main strip are closed, plenty of places are open and La Plage, the downtown beach is also another nice walk. That’s where we spent our evening. In the summer, there’s bound to be a small carnival with a few games and rides, and I saw a bunch of tents we never quite made it too that were probably a summer souk set up for the tourists. I made the mistake of riding with my sister-in-law on an innocent looking ride that I ended up screaming on the whole time. I felt like it was going to throw me off at every dip and dive. Poor girl, I know I embarrassed her to death as I kept yelling “I want to get off this ride!!!” every time we passed my parents and husband. The Ibis Hotel* faces this particular beach, so it’s a great place to stay if you’re going to visit overnight. Overall, downtown has a great mix of modern life with small town charm than some of the other cities.
El Jadida has a rich history that I’ve read about, but if you don’t mind I don’t really feel like citations today, so I won’t get into the details. I’m not much of a history buff anyway. It has the best year-round weather in the whole country (as far as I’ve experienced at least). The summer’s can get hot, but the cool ocean breeze can be felt far into the neighborhoods. The winters are cool, but not as cold as I felt in Rabat. I was very happy to travel there twice this past winter where I knew a break from the cold would be found. It is what I would call an up and coming city as a lot of the homes and apartment buildings that have been recently built or in the process, and its spreading rapidly. Its home to one of the large phosphate companies of Morocco and therefore, people living in El Jadida enjoy a more middle-class lifestyle for the most part. There are plenty of grocery stores including Acima and Label Vie, as well as a host of restaurants and good shopping. There are still a few souks for the more traditional shoppers, but you’ll find them more for the locals with fresh produce, fish and meats. If you travel there in mid-August, a big “circus” downtown makes a great evening with concerts, rides and games, and a huge souk with tons of things to buy.
The drawback to El Jadida is that it’s not as public transportation friendly as many of the other cities. There are a few buses running mainly in the medina area, and taxis are available. There is a train station, so getting there is easy, but it’s located on the very outskirts of the town. Getting a taxi from the train station to anywhere is a good test in patience and endurance. The best trick is to walk down the road a bit to call a taxi before it can get to the crowds waiting near the station. The only taxis that come are petit taxis, so if you’re traveling with more than 3 people, you’ll need additional taxis.
All date stamped photos are courtesy of the fabulous photographer also known as my dad!
pssst.. don’t forget to enter this week’s giveaway! Very very cute eco-friendly Totebag from Blue Sky Collection
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Today’s post is for Frosting for the Cause, a very cool blog comprised of 100% guest posts. The About information from the site states; “Beginning January 1, 2011 a total of 365 sugar cookie & cupcake bakers/decorators and bloggers from across Canada and the United States will take turns doing a guest post here at Frosting for the Cause. Once a day, every day for a year you will be treated to a new and talented blogger who will showcase their home-made, hand-decorated cookies or cupcakes together with their recipes. Almost everyone, everywhere, has been touched by cancer in one form or another. The guest bakers will also share in a very personal manner with readers of Frosting for the Cause, about a woman in their life who had to face this terrible disease head-on.”
I decided to sign up to do this in honor of my grandmother who is going through a battle with breast cancer. I have never been one to let my emotions show very much. It’s always been hard for me to cry in front of other people, to let on to my weaknesses. So when my mom called me one day to tell me that my grandma had been to the doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer I think I was kind of dumb founded. I’m sure I wasn’t very sensitive to my mom. I didn’t know what to say. Growing up my sister and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, I would often go for a week at a time, even though my mom and dad were only 5 minutes away. I also always have felt like I have a special connection with this grandma. She had battled alcoholism throughout adulthood. When my mom found out she was pregnant with me she told grandma that unless she went to rehab and stopped drinking she wouldn’t be allowed to be part of my life. Grandma went into treatment. I was born almost 3 weeks late, just in time for grandma to be out of the hospital and at my birth. She hasn’t had a drink since. (almost 27 years) So when we heard that the next battle was cancer, I know that I wasn’t sure what that meant.
After having a masectomy there were several complications that landed grandma into the hospital and then the nursing home. This was a tough pill to swallow for someone who was normally more than capable of taking care of herself. But she did it, and ended up at home doing well. What the future holds is up in the air, but I know we’re all praying that things stay in remission.
The one desert/salad I always remember my grandma making is called deadman’s delight and ironically enough it was the standard “funeral” lunch dish. Maybe this is a Midwest phenomenon but here after a funeral friends of the family bring dishes to have a lunch following the funeral service usually in a church basement. Grandma always brought this dish made from jello, cottage cheese, pineapple, cherries, mandarin oranges and whipped cream. I tried to make a cupcake using these…they flopped – big time. I’m not much of a baker! Instead I opted for a cupcake recipe I could handle.
I have a cookbook called Crazy About Cupcakes, and from it I decided to make Golden Cupcakes with a little twist.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2c granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs separated
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3c AP flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1c organic skim milk
- Maraschino cherries cut in half
Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat well to combine. In a separate large bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients alternating the flour mixture with the cup of milk. Mix until smooth.
Using clean beaters and another bowl beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. With a spatula, fold in the egg whites with the batter.
Line a cupcake pan with liners and fill each 3/4 full. Place 1-2 maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. Bake for appx 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes.
I made a really simple frosting to go with this. I simply used 1 tub of Cool Whip and mixed in 1/4 sachet of orange jello. I then piped it onto the top of the cupcakes. It keeps the recipe light and adds a little bit of tartness to the cupcakes.
Part of participating in Frosting for the Cause is that each baker donates $25 to either the American or Canadian Cancer Society. Also the sweets are then donated to a local cancer hospice or hospital. Sadly my local hospitals do not allow home baked goods to be brought in. Instead I’ll be giving part of them to my grandmas this weekend, and the others I brought to work to share with others who have been touched by cancer. If you’d like to know more about Frosting for the Cause or read other guest posts come visit. If you’re so moved you can make a donation to fight cancer with the American Cancer Society too.
Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for an eco-friendly Dragonfly Tote from Blue Sky Collection!
Today’s guest post is from Serene of The Mom Food Project. I was so excited when she offered to share her story of visiting Morocco as a 10 year old! (I might be even more amazed that she remembers that trip!) So what is The Mom Food Project? Serene says this about the project mission; “I will cook my Mom Food and show it to you. That is, both the food of my mother and the food I make when I’m being a mom. I will cook your Mom Food if you will let me know what it is. And I will do some research and share with you the Mom Food of other communities and cultures” Stop by and visit Serene or find her on Twitter @momfood
When the lovely Maroc Mama put out a call for guest posts, I was instantly transported back to an unforgettable trip I took when I was ten.
We lived in Rota, Spain, on the US Navy base where my father worked. Not far away from Rota is northern Africa.
My mother’s friend (a woman whose name we don’t remember, but mom says she raised Dobermans) bought tickets to take a trip with my mother to visit Morocco for a week. What she didn’t take into account is that my mother doesn’t travel. She just doesn’t. She may move from town to town when it’s necessary, but she doesn’t do the touristy thing, and never has.
If you’ve ever tried to convince my mother to do something she didn’t want to do, you’ll know the barrier that the friend had erected for herself.
Mom wouldn’t go.
So she sent me instead!
In this screenshot of a Google map, you can see Rota, where we lived. It’s the green “A”. The green “B” is Tanger, Morocco, which we at the time called “Tangiers”. That’s where we went. It was my first trip without my family, and my first and only trip to Africa.
My memories of my childhood are, in general, kind of fuzzy, and they have great big gaps in places, so I don’t have a detailed travelogue to share with you. Morocco is, in my memory, a series of sensory images, full of color and flavor, and only four specific pictures emerge when I try to reconstruct that week on the road. The first one is really gross, so let’s get that one out of the way, because honestly, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this beautiful place.
1) The roaches. We stayed in small, adjoining hotel rooms. In between the adjoining doors were dozens of roaches. I have often described it as having a family of cockroaches living in the door. It was really, really creepy, but somehow, we took it in stride and enjoyed our stay anyway.
2) The markets. These were the most glorious, colorful, aromatic, noisy places! People sold everything from jars of olives to platform shoes, from kaftans to live goats. People pushed and jostled each other in a way that wasn’t okay in my New England upbringing, but that felt perfectly right in the context. Vendors and customers hollered in Arabic, Spanish, French, English. People dickered over prices and laughed at each other’s stories. People talked with their hands, the way my Italian relatives do. People smiled a LOT.
3) The dress. Oh, that dress. I spent almost all of my spending money for the trip on that dress. I think it was thirty dollars American, but I can’t be sure any more. I called it my Princess Dress. I spent an hour on Google trying to find one just like it, but I failed. The closest I could come was this one, but it doesn’t quite capture the glory of the Princess Dress.
I wore that thing until I wore it out. Every chance I got, I dressed in that dress, and to this day, I wear my fancy clothes all the time, not just at parties, at least in part because I remember the joy I got from being dressed in something so pretty, even if I was just going to school. Yes, I was an outcast freak, but hey, it made me happy. And it was the ’70s, when outcast freaks were kind of the norm.
4) The tea. Were you wondering when I would get around to talking about food? Of all the comestibles I must have inhaled in Morocco—I was a big eater even then—the thing I remember most was the tea. VERY hot, served in either metal glasses or glass ones with metal holders, and heavily flavored with hydrolized sugar, though at the time I assumed it was honey. This tea became a constant love in my life. There’s a recipe for it on Wikipedia, (MarocMama note: you can find a recipe here on my site too!) which I’ve made and approve of, but it also works for me to make any strong tea, add mint leaves and plenty of honey or sugar, and serve it very hot.
Like the Mom Foods I talk about on my blog, this is a case of a specific food invoking a specific memory. I can’t drink this tea without feeling a sense of adventure, and remembering the sights, smells, and sounds of the marvelous markets in Tanger. It’s woven into me now, the way food will weave itself into the fabric of your memories and your life, and I’m so grateful to Maroc Mama for reminding me to sit with these memories today.
I would love to hear some of your memories of Morocco. What has stuck with you?