June 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
Ever since seeing photos of Chef chaouen, a small Moroccan town in the Rif mountains outside of Tangier, I’ve had my heart set on going. Until the logistics of getting there looked complicated and I began to think maybe it was too much hassle, maybe this is one of those moments in life where it’s better to be flexible, do what makes sense instead of what you’re longing for, accept that the world will not end if you don’t get your way today. So as I started backing down, saying we could skip Chef chaouen in favor of the coastal Essaouira, which is much, much closer to Marrakech, Dan staunchly insisted there was no way we were skipping the once place I really wanted to go.
And so, that’s how we found ourselves dumped in a parking lot at the bottom of a hill, after a 7-hour bus ride from Casablanca, confident that we knew how to find our hotel from there, but really, not even beginning to understand the road that lead up to the medina. We walked that road up, and then back down, several times before finally finding the way (with a little help).
Once entering the medina, we were hit with an onslaught of blue, at once expected but in such a vibrant, calming hue that the entire town seemed lost in a permanent shade of cheer. Blue staircases melted into the walls of buildings, doors open jumping out in a different hue of blue. Once we stumbled upon a pot of dried paint, the same color as the rest of the medina – just add water and repaint the nearby staircase! I was in awe every time I emerged from the hotel.
The hotel, Casa Perleta, was probably the favorite of the trip. Chef chaouen had quite a large Spanish denomination, a vestige of its part in Spanish Morocco, and my French was virtually useless here. The Casa was run by a very helpful Spanish family and was, itself, lost in the blue hue. On the rooftop terrace overlooking the rest of the medina and the surrounding hills, we enjoyed bread with goat cheese, dates, olives, and a sugary-liquid orange marmalade, alongside coffee, Moroccan mint tea, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Breakfast began with a ring of fried bread each, I still wish I knew what they were called!
June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
The call to prayer begins at 4:30 a.m., a sudden awakening from exhausted sleep by a vaguely monotone voice over the loudspeaker, originating from the mosque rising above the roofs of the old medina, just a couple of buildings over. It lasts about ten minutes, in which we lay, in the darkness of our room, in silence, waiting it out before sinking back into sleep. Outside, shopkeepers might already be making their way to their daily posts, a small cafe selling miniature honeyed almond confections, or maybe a fresh-squeezed orange juice stand in the market square, Djemaa El Fna. By 8 a.m., we’re slinking out of our room at the top floor of the Riad Marrakiss, down two staircases to a pot of coffee and some bread with jam.
The breakfast might not have been as plentiful as those at our previous Riad’s (a small hotel in the old medina, ranging from a family home to a boutique hotel) but we made up for it with a lunch of those pretty almond confections, and one peanut-dense square of honeyed pastry. Our days in Morocco tended to follow my wandering pastry-nose and Dan’s unspoken quests for coffee, happily skipping over palace tours in favor of our stomachs.
More often than not, we were stopped by a dead-end alleyway, a young boy persistently offering directions (in exchange for money, of course, though this was less aggressively prevalent than in Fes), or the seemingly random operating hours of some of the more sought-after attractions. Occasionally, we fell into tourist traps; occasionally, into alleys dead-ending in the laborers’ district, where the air filled with the smell of polish and men bent over metal works.
Happily, our initial cab driver to the gates of the medina upon arrival in Marrakech was one of the more talkative, advising a trip to the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden in the Nouvelle Ville (otherwise known as the French district), partly a memorial dedicated to the designer Yves Saint-Laurent. Once entering the garden gates, the pressing noise of the city faded, the harking, bargaining of the vendors and the wizz of motorbikes replaced by plentiful displays of cacti, lily ponds, and bamboo forests. While many of the plants weren’t native to the region, many even brought over from South America, the calm and beauty of the garden was a welcome respite.
That evening found us amidst a cluster of locals in one of the narrow streets leading away from El Fna, stumbling over a sandwich order in front of a plastic case filled with ground meat and unidentifiable animals brains. After a highly confused conversation, in which we attempted to order something we had yet to identify, we had in our hands a circle of bread, much like the ones we were served for breakfast, stuffed with spiced ground meat, a fried egg, onion, and sauce piquante. Not bad for a second dinner.
In the evenings, I often went without a camera, feeling liberated without a need to be constantly checking that yes, my purse was still there. So there are no pictures of that dinner, or of the large huddle of women scooping soup into bowls at a low, dark table, street-side, or of the masses of young men beckoning you to their respective restaurant table in the square, an onslaught of aggressive noise, deals that never seemed to be followed up on, and some humorous expressions (“See you later, alligator”) delivered in Australian accents.
I will always be surprised at how quickly one can go from noise to silence in Marrakech. As we slipped back into our Riad in the evening, the city seemed to stop at the door and, in the calm, we overlooked the hundreds of roofs surrounding us in the hazy evening light from the rooftop terrace.
May 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
So I’m sitting trying to write one of my final papers, facing the window, watching white cherry blossom leaves blow in the wind outside. Yesterday, it poured and it poured. Anyway, I thought I’d go back and share some of the photos from a spring break trip to Paris. We ate well, we ate everything. You’ll mostly just see the desserts here (and breakfast!), but my boyfriend who actually likes to…like….eat normal things…like sugar-less things…actually had us sit down to meals twice a day. The escargot chocolat pistache is from Du Pain et Des Idées, the tarte tatin from a venture into La Goutte d’Or for a lunch of huge plates of paella on our final afternoon. Tartines of mozzarella and sweet chili sauce and coffees at the Tuck Shop, butternut squash soup and quiche (and a slice of lemon citrus bread to go for the walk up to Sacré-Cœur) at the Rose Bakery, a wonderful first meal at the cosy Verjus bar à vins, where the butternut squash angliotti, with roasted garlic, brown butter, sage, and parmigiano reggiano is over-the-moon twice good.
May 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m sitting in the backyard of my house in San Francisco, trying unsuccessfully to find a patch of sunlight streaming through the branches of the fir tree overhead, in which to dry my lemon-juice soaked hair. I’m commencing my summer rituals — which yes, include naturally lightening my hair — a bit early this year, and they could not be more welcome. If you’ve noticed the blog becoming a bit of a recluse compared to what it once was, it’s not that I haven’t been doing things, it’s just that every time I sit down to write about them, my mind is predictably elsewhere in the pits of fragile worries. But right now, there’s a loaf of coconut bread, studded with unsweetened coconut curls, a healthy swig of vanilla, stirred with browned butter, in the oven, the sun is out, and I’m wrapping up a weekend spent at home with barbequed scallops, pumpkin tofu curry over brown rice, and a walk on the beach in the late afternoon. But the best part of the weekend has been sleeping in my own bed, sitting at my desk by the window eating leftovers and planning summer travels — Portugal! Morocco! — with my parents’ seventies music drifting up from the basement and my little brother studying for the SAT subject tests at the dining room table.
Not surprisingly, as the end comes to what my mother calls my R&R weekend, I’m finally being able to sit down and write about something that isn’t required. To say it’s been a difficult month would be an understatement; I initially thought the stress would begin to fade when I finally handed my thesis over to the printers, but it just kept coming. Some days, it felt as if I was drowning in my own head, then my body took over and with it came a week of sickness and infections. But somehow, it all seemed to melt away this weekend — it’s a pretty magical feeling when peace finally comes, when you can just sit down, look out the window, with a couple of slices of warm bread — er, cake — and finally feel a bit more complete again.
And write. Even though I don’t know what to talk about really. Only that it felt good to be back in the kitchen, felt good to open the oven and feel successful, and that I’ll be very sorry to leave tonight. But while just sitting in peace is pretty great, that peace can follow you anywhere, it just sometimes doesn’t come as easily.
Word is I’m in the market for a place in Boston with a window-full kitchen.
March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today I took a “me” day. I slept in, didn’t set an alarm for once. I bought a pair of red jeans off the sale rack, which I spectacularly managed to squeeze into seeing as they were two sizes smaller than I generally buy. I also bought a lovable tribal print sweater — it pays to be “hipster” in Princeton because no one else is, so everything that would be flying off racks in San Francisco is $20 off here. I had a cranberry orange scone (my favorite) and latte at Small World Coffee and people-watched instead of hiding behind my laptop, writing my thesis. I walked down to the Whole Earth Center and stocked up on local Fuji apples, kale salad with almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds, and organic peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I wore sweatpants and no makeup, and realized people don’t really look at you any differently. Simply walking around a bit was uplifting — after the snowfall two nights ago, spring appears to have finally arrived; the sun was out, the snow melting, and I could have done without the jacket.
When I got home, I started looking up the top organic and biochemistry grad schools (not for me obviously!) and started mapping out a summer road trip down the West Coast. I tried to tack on the Grand Canyon to the end of the trip (figuring I should give it another shot after my adolescent disinterest consisting of about a five minute look into the canyon before I’d had enough) which added an extra eight hours of driving. For some reason, I find thinking about travel incredibly calming; it’s like a realization that walls were made for falling down. Even more, thinking about driving along the ocean brings me to my happy place, where things are hippie, spontaneous, wandering, and bohemian without effort, because you know, even being boho these days seems to require quite a bit of planning. The images here are ones I took in Big Sur, California on a family trip. I can’t wait to go back. These brown butter rhubarb bars are from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and are chewy like a macaroon without the coconut, crackly on the top with a brownie without the chocolate, and stuffed with stringy, sweetened rhubarb, which is finally back in season. Never having been a huge rhubarb fan myself, I always did enjoy eating the raw stalks, dipped luxuriously in white sugar, from my grandparents’ backyard. I handwrote the recipe for these bars on little cards for a couple of people, but alas the actual book is in my room in San Francisco so no recipe today.
That all said, there are parts of the very concrete future to be very excited about. I’ll be calling Boston home next year, and am incredibly delighted to share my new adventures surrounding food justice in the coming months.