Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Taste of Morocco

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.

Again...lucky us.  


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Deja VIew

My 2nd road trip to southwest Florida with Andrea, my daughter’s mother-in-law, went off without a hitch. Mostly everything about the 18-20 hour ride itself was on auto pilot from our last trip: a cooler filled with iced waters and egg salad and lots of fruits/vegetables and, much to Andrea’s chagrin, a huge supply of peanut M&Ms. We also kept a bag of masks, sanitizer and gloves accessible on the front passenger side floor.

And once again, we didn’t make bathroom stops to or from, but I don’t know if that makes us an impressive duo or a crazy one. 

Pulling up to the kids’ house around 4:30 pm on our 2nd day of driving, we ran in quickly – of course to go to the bathroom, but equally as pressing was to see our kids and of course 4-month-old Zoey. 

Proud grandmas who view everything she does as magic, we began our picture-taking spree immediately. We carried our phones from room to room so as not to miss one new and/or endearing second. After all, it had been 3 months since we had seen her, so we had to make up for lost time.

As we moved around the house day after day, I would often misplace my phone and then feel compelled to remind Andrea to send me the images she took, and vice versa. I found myself getting agitated when neither of us was prepared to photograph one of Zoey’s fancy new moves. It reminded me of how a girlfriend of mine felt cheated when she walked 10,000 steps but had forgotten to wear her Fitbit and missed out on the congratulatory vibration of the device for reaching that milestone.

One night after dinner, the 5 of us went on a walk together: Allison, Dave, Zoey, Andrea and me. Dave created a seat in his arms to hold Zoey facing outward, and she was wearing super cool sunglasses that Andrea had bought for her that matched Dave’s. 

Halfway through, Andrea said she wished she had brought her phone to take photos of us all together on the walk. I felt disappointed that I too hadn't taken mine and that the kids hadn't brought theirs either.      

“You don’t need to take a picture. Just enjoy the moment,” said Dave, sensing our disappointment.

H U H?

I had to let that sink in. I considered this thinking before, when I had taken my then-2 year-old granddaughter Eliana to a local gym to play on my babysitting Tuesdays. I’d be so busy taking one photo after the next that I couldn’t assist her as I wanted or even relish in her actions or reactions. It didn’t stop me, though, from joining so many others doing the same thing.

On this walk, however, I appreciated the idea of watching and enjoying without feeling the responsibility of  photographing everything Zoey did or videotaping her as she “talked” up a storm.   

There’s no doubt that trying to capture memories interferes with living in the moment, especially when I'm thinking about how to photograph a person or scene. Then by moving around to find the best vantage point, I've potentially become a distraction myself and run the risk of changing the scene, thus ruining the opportunity to get a good shot altogether anyway.

It becomes even more problematic when I look at the picture I just took and start assessing whether it’s acceptable or if I should try from another angle or for a better smile and if I want to add sequential pictures and so on. Before long, I find my energy being sucked up by the quality of the picture instead of the beauty of the current situation.       

While a good photo in my iPhone would always be nice to have as well as to show and send to others, once I relaxed without the phone in my hand as we continued on our walk, I was able to revel in the joy of my daughter’s family and the experiences we were all sharing.

Today was Eliana’s 3rd birthday party and guess how many pictures I took? Only 6!  

The rest of the time, I just watched and smiled. No better way to spend an afternoon!