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Posts tagged ‘stories’

a trip to Morocco

For years Morocco has held a fascination for me. Some of that – no doubt – is because of how outside of my own experience nearly every aspect of Moroccan life is. Visually, completely captivating! (I imagine a long-lasting dent in my face where my camera goes.) Food, richly colored, and complexly perfumed and flavored with “exotic” spices. Aromas that nearly intoxicate, emanating from food purveyors’ carts. The chords of music played with instruments unlike those in the west and following an entirely different set of “rules” than our own. The sounds of words spoken in a tongue with a non-Romance language root. The intricately painted pottery! The profusion of vividly patterned textiles, for sale in stalls and flowing like brilliantly colored silk streams through the crowded streets! Morocco fascinates me.

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Like most couples, my husband and I have our disagreements. If he could have less than zero interest in visiting Morocco, then he does. That doesn’t make him contrary – exactly. Different things captivate his interest. And I suspect that the total package of Morocco…the whole of it that I find so intriguing…contains just a little too much unfamiliarity for his liking. So when we dream of where we might one day go, on this one (supremely fascinating) destination, we agree to disagree.

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So I regret that the closest I may ever come to Morocco is their sumptuous food – which, for the moment, puts me smack dab in the middle of my own kitchen – and brings me to the subject of my next post – and tonight’s dinner – Roasted Chicken Moroccan. I’ll pair it with a simple couscous to sop up some of the flavored juices, and a refreshing delicious salad of oranges, red onions and black olives. (See Moroccan Orange Salad.)  And because I have them, I’ll roast some beets and perhaps come up with some way to Moroccan-ize them! There, take that, my (not-exactly-contrary) husband!

I go into this knowing that most of you will be uninterested in a recipe calling for so many different spices. I get that. If I had to go out and buy them all at once, I wouldn’t be willing to take out a loan to do so. (OK, I exaggerate.) But believe it or not, I happen to have every one of these spices in my spice drawer already, because, as you know, I really love food that tastes like something!

Only one ingredient is called for that I don’t have, and that’s actually a spice blend called ras el hanout, fairly common in Moroccan cooking. Because it’s a blend (much like a curry) it has many versions, some containing as many as 100 different spices! Ras el Hanout means “top of the shop,” which I imagine to mean (perhaps mistakenly) the very best offering the proprietor has to sell. (I wonder if they keep it in exquisitely painted ceramic apothecary jars high up on the top shelf, out of reach of wide-swinging elbows?) You can buy it already prepared, or make up your own with the spices you may already have on hand. I liked the sounds of the following version, so this is where I begin tonight’s dinner. My next post will be on the dinner itself. (Just so you can either breathlessly anticipate – or completely ignore – the upcoming post, I’ll give a list of the ingredients required at the bottom of this page.)

Ras El Hanout– a Moroccan Spice Blend

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons tumeric
  • 2 ateaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamom
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Simply mix them all together and store as you would any spices, in an airtight container away from direct light. (And on the top shelf, if that idea appeals to you.) Read more

Yaya and Grapefruit

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never really considered grapefruit rinds as anything but garbage…or, more recently, compost material. I’ve lumped them right in there with coffee grounds and egg shells. But recently I learned something that set my whole grapefruit world-view on its head. Oh, they’ll still end up in the compost…but perhaps not always anymore.

A little something about my Greek Yaya. I think it will help you understand the great surprise I had a few days ago when my mom told me something of her I hadn’t known before.

Yaya was the matriarch of the family, and the only female in the house in which my dad and his three brothers grew up. By the time I met her, she was already in her late-60′s, early 70′s? I’m guessing here, because, being only ten-years-old myself, she looked pretty darned old! Besides her husband, our Papou, who was at least fifteen years her senior, she was by far the oldest person in my world. I wondered even then though, how does a person so old manage to be so full of life? So young? She was exuberant and outspoken. She knew what she wanted and generally just how to get it. She laughed big. She had a big heart, full of praise. That was Yaya. She always wore dresses, always! and they were always dark. She wore support hose with elastic tops that sometimes rolled down around her legs. And big black shoes. Her hair, which must have been very long, was always twirled into braided buns. (Her hair held an endless fascination for me! The thin ends of those long braids reminded me of an artist’s paint brush, dipped in yellow. They weren’t blond. They were a true and very beautiful lemon yellow! But the rest of her hair, the most angelic white! I always secretly wished to see her hair down around her shoulders, but I never did.) Yaya was, I guess you’d have to say, squat. Matronly. Big-bosomed. And she gave the most amazing hugs! Like a great feather bed with arms.  And she never hugged without at the same time cooing (or sometimes even shrieking) her delight in us! My brother Don and I would run up and down her staircase and slide down the bannister, and this made her so happy! She loved the loud noises of children!  “No make it them be quiet – is nice!” she would tell our parents.  Her Greek was vastly better than her English, but even so, she knew how to be funny in her second language, and she often was. Incense perpetually burned at a small altar in her bedroom, beneath the icons of patron saints and Jesus.  It was partly for that reason that her house always smelled so very different from our own. But it was also the bread baking, the homey “soupas” and “cassa-row-les” and other foods, quite exotic to me at the time. Much of what I first saw of Yaya was in the context of her kitchen, and as mother to my dad who adored her. I never considered who her friends were, or what she might do when she wasn’t with us (besides cook all day and pray – both of which were intriguing mysterious to me back then.)

So, do you now have a little picture of Yaya? Then can you imagine her sitting at the round wooden table in her parlor? With her lady friends from the Greek Orthodox Church? And on the table, plates of candied grapefruit rinds? And kourabiethes (a crescent-shaped butter cookie)?  And stiff, dark, thick coffee in short cups? And OUZO, that licorice-flavored liqueur, in thimble-sized glasses? And the ladies yakking loudly and laughing! Ha! I loved this new expanded picture of my Yaya!

The more I contemplated it, the surer I became that I simply had to find out what candied grapefruit rinds and ouzo taste like in the same mouthful. And that’s what brings me here, to this place where I’m ready to share with you some food.
(See following post – Kourabiethes cookie May 9.)

Orange Flowers

My mother reminded me of something yesterday that I’d nearly forgotten.  She said that when (our grandpa) Papou first came to this country (and to Oregon) from his sunny home in Greece, it rained and rained and rained. For thirty-nine days straight, it rained. And on that gray and soggy thirty-ninth day, Papou swore, “If it rains one more day,” because that, of course, would be the proverbial fortieth, beyond which no human could possibly endure another, “I’m going back home!”  And he spoke the words with such a Greek passion, who could have doubted him? When Papou woke that next morning, the sun shone and it shone with such a brilliance that he declared, “This now is my home!” And he stayed. And a young woman came to him from Greece and she became his wife. And together they raised a family of four strong boys. Who would have thought that one sunny day could change history? But for me, and my brothers, it did.

I was the first-born in a marriage that was troubled. And yet I was one of those rare and lucky oneswho, after my parents divorced, received a real Dad when a couple years later my mom remarried.  One of those four sons of Papou and Yaya, Jim, knew what it meant to be family. He fell in love with our mom, but he loved us kids instantly.  It took a little longer for us to realize we had in him a Dad. He was in no hurry.  He won us over with his humor, his faithfulness, his sincerity and patience, his teaching, his stories and sometimes even his food.

I was a shy ten-year-old when my parents married. One day, my new Dad brought me something. It was an orange. A simple, ripe, juicy orange. But when it came to me, offered in his hands, it was a gift! It was a little treasure, an opened lotus flower, offered up tenderly just for me, because he loved me. And I can remember back, it was in that instant that something turned in me. I knew that someone thought I was special. And in that moment something else happened, though I didn’t realize it until years later. I can look on that open-hearted orange flower as the first time I thought of food as a gift, as a language through which we can express love. And so it is, these decades later, I sometimes still think of my Dad when I am putting love on the table.

I offer this month of April in the fondest possible memory of my Dad, and in celebration of all things citrus! Spree would like to declare it Citrus Month (and I think she just did.) So keep coming back for main course recipes, pasta and rice dishes, salads, marinades, preserves, desserts and beverages.  Even a soup from my Papou and Yaya’s homeland!