As empty nesters, it’s not every day that we get to share in such a life-changing, wonderful and extended period in one of our kid’s lives, right in our very own home.
We can attribute this opportunity in large part to COVID as well as to other factors but, lucky for us, David’s daughter Lauren, her husband Anas and their Baby May are with us until they visit with Anas’ family in Morocco.
This time together has been joyous as one would assume with a new baby around and of course seeing our kids develop as adults with their own families is thrilling, too.
Shortly after they arrived, I was so happy to learn that Lauren wanted to be responsible for some of the meals for all of us. As you know from prior blogs, this food stuff can be an area of anxiety for me and with more mouths to feed, I had been wondering how it would all play out.
As pure happenstance, I had been lurking in the kitchen on multiple occasions while Lauren was whipping up lunch or dinner. I began to notice a handful of things: how happy she seemed to be when cooking; that she used copious amounts of vegetables, spices and herbs; that Anas was often the food taster; that I never actually saw her refer to a recipe; that I regularly heard Anas’ mom’s name, Nabila, in conversations that centered around Lauren’s preparation of the meal.
One night, Lauren made a meal in a tajine that was absolutely delicious. A tajine is a type of North African cookware made of clay or ceramic. The bottom is a round, shallow dish used for cooking and serving; the top is shaped into a dome or cone to seal in the flavors.
Loaded with vegetables, she also added chicken to the tajine for three of us, while tending to her pescatarian dad with lentil soup she also made fresh that night.
When she served dinner on the plate of the tajine, I assumed we’d each take a portion on to our own plates but, after watching them, I saw this wasn’t the case. They dipped their crusty bread into the stew-like blend not only for a heavenly mouthful but to also pull apart the chicken, all of which was shared from the tajine itself. This bread, I soon realized, replaced the need for utensils of any kind.
The very way we devoured it was fun and relaxing, contrary to some meals David and I have that are so quick to eat that 10 minutes in, we are starting to clean up, whereas this tajine meal couldn’t physically be eaten in under 20 or 30 minutes.
When I asked what the specific name of our dinner was, the answer made me more curious: “Tajine of the Road.” Lauren explained that it is the most widely available dish in Morocco, offered not only at most restaurants but also at rest stops and remote restaurants in the mountains or even on the beach. It’s not unusual to see construction workers making it on their lunch breaks using the tajine container, ingredients, spices, and a fire/heat source.
After feasting like a king and queen for days, one night we asked for a lighter kind of dinner and even suggested omelets. Of course I could just eat less of a bigger or heavier meal but I’ve had no willpower because everything looks and smells so yummy, and frankly I don’t want to miss out on anything. Lauren was quick to suggest Moroccan salads. That sounded perfect.
She went back to chopping huge amounts of vegetables with two or more pots on the stovetop. I was wondering why she was cooking the vegetables for our salads and why so many of her spices and herbs that I’ve seen for a larger presentation were also out, such as the cumin, paprika, garlic/garlic powder, cilantro and parsley (that she keeps frozen), ginger (powdered), coriander, saffron and salt and pepper.
When it came time to eat, as I eagerly looked for some kind of lettuce or spring mix, she placed two bowls on the table filled with warm concoctions: Taktouka (tomatoes and peppers) and Zaalouk (eggplant) and more bread, stating that in Morocco, salads can be warm or cool. They were fantastic.
Another delectable foodie experience was made in a cast iron skillet. It was a meatball tomato dish with sunny-side eggs on top called a “Kefta.” She had me with “eggs on top,” as I anticipated a runny yolk that would get all over everything. I scooped up every bite from the pan itself…again, with bread.
One day, I asked Lauren if Nabila taught her how to make all these foods. Yes, she learned by shadowing Nabila around the kitchen and taking notes as Nabila spoke in both French and Arabic about her mother and grandmother’s recipes that she mastered by heart, with nothing written down to refer to.
Lauren has been able to keep up with Nabila’s teachings given she had taken a French immersion program years ago and is also becoming familiar with Arabic – and the family talks to one another in multiple languages – but, for the sake of passing traditional Moroccan recipes to May, Lauren has begun taking her own notes.
Instructions for making these dishes aren’t difficult, she said, but they do require time and patience, as the cuisine is cooked slowly. A typical recipe when broken down is generally about 2/3 ingredients and 1/3 directions.
Since she is still in learning mode, there are hiccups along the way, often due to a lack of specifics. Here’s one conversation told to me by Lauren about her conversation with Nabila, instructing her how to make bread.
Nabila: Put flour in a bowl.
Lauren: How much?
Nabila: A good amount.
Nabila: Add water.
Lauren: How much?
Nabila: A good amount, little by little, till it’s enough.
Lauren: What temperature should I bake the bread on?
Nabila: In the middle
Lauren: For how long?
Nabila: Till it’s done
Lauren said sometimes a quick phone call to Nabila helps this process move along.
Food is a real source of pride for women in Morocco, Lauren said, with women spending a good portion of the day between shopping for the food and then preparing it.
“Here in the US, an accomplished woman balances work and kids; in Morocco, an accomplished woman puts all this food on the table for her family. There is so much love that goes into it.”
David chimed in that since Lauren can’t bring Anas to Morocco [right now], she has to bring Morocco to him.