Saturday, November 14, 2009

Morocco List Three: Love/Hate

(from my second day in Marrakech)

Things I love (so far):

  1. Fresh-squeezed orange juice from the Djemaa el Fna stands. And the cheeky salesmen who try to sell it to you.

  2. The men in the Fna who sell photos with monkeys, who, in their spare time, are sweet, affectionate, and tender with the adorable primates.

  3. Bright yellow babush on all the men in celebration of the new year (Eid al Fitr)

  4. The echos of the calls to prayer. [The main square of Marrakesh is outlined by five mosques that all have their own muezzins and stylized azans.  If you sit at one of the outdoor cafes on Djema el Fna and listen at prayer time, it's a delicious sound--five simultaneous but out-of-sync melodic chantings echo past and through one another weaving an audible tapestry of prayer.  In fact, one of the best parts of traveling around a Muslim country is to hear the vast varieties of azans from city to city and even mosque to mosque. Some are clearly recorded and replayed five times daily, while others are pure art.]

  5. Mint tea with extra sugar. [Mint tea is an ART in Morocco. The step by step of this is worthy of its own list.]

  6. Cafe au lait which is actually espresso (with two lumps).

  7. Tiny children prancing around the city in their fancy new year clothes (sharwal kameez mostly, but I've seen a few in perfectly tailored suits.)

  8. Free wi-fi (which they called wee fee) in the Cyberpark.

  9. Twisty-turny slim and windy alleys all around.

  10. The long heartfelt greetings friends give one another in the streets (made longer and sweeter by the celebration of the end of Ramadan).

  11. Hundreds of cats lounging, hiding, running about in the souks (and a few very hot, panting dogs).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Morocco List Two: Purchases

Things we have purchased so far:
  1. A gorgeous and expensive cactus silk and wool rug/throw for our bed [we later learned that we paid MUCH too much for this, but we still find it beautiful. And, even though the man promised us it was big enough for our queen sized bed, it is not.]

  2. Two pairs babouches.  Orange for me. Yellow for Joe. Camel leather soles and goat leather uppers. The orange coloring (we were told) comes from henna and the yellow from the roots of the saffron plant.

  3. One leather handbag. [okay, this wasn't actually purchased. it was thrown in as a "gift" by the rug salesman because he knew we were being robbed.  He actually threw in the babouches too. (see above.)]

  4. Three two-pack Halls throat drops. [I got a cold on the plane ride over, and it was compounded and made worse by the ever-present cigarette smoke, gas-oil fumes from motorbikes, and general dust in the air.]
  5. Much bottled water.

  6. Much mint tea.

  7. One cappachino and one double espresso.

  8. Two scoops pamplemousse glace. One scoop citron.

  9. Three glasses fresh-squeezed orange juice.

  10. Sticky, lucious dates, honey sesame glazed peanuts, salty roasted almonds.

  11. Two mixed kebab plates, two bowls of harira (soup), two bread circles, two cups mint tea (dinner).

  12. One faux guide tour of Mosque ruins. [This we paid what we decided was a fair price for the twenty minutes of a young college students' time. He argued with us and told us we hadn't given him enough money, so then we said that we wouldn't pay him at all. He took the offered funds.]

Things I did not want to buy, but did (sadly)
  1. Henna on my left hand (which I washed off, since it was the black henna that I had been warned by Lonely Planet might cause skin burns).
Things I did not buy, though I was told that I should
  1. One cartwheel by a small boy.

  2. One stupid (and probably fake) Gnaoua dance (with finger cymbols).

  3. Many (many) small packs of tissues from even smaller girls.

  4. The chance to hold a snake.

  5. The chance to hold a monkey.

  6. Another attempt to get henna on my hand before I realized what was happening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not Gladys' rolls

When I was growing up, my great-grandmother owned a cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota. Since her family (two children and their spouses, eight grandchildren and their spouses, 16 great-grandchildren) all lived in the Twin Cities and my great-grandmother lived in Underwood, North Dakota, this was a terrific place to meet up and spend some quality old-fashioned northern Minnesota time.

Every summer my parents would pack my sister and me into the back seat of the car (at first with Colorforms and Legos, later with Walkmans, books, and friends) and we'd drive the four hours to Park Rapids, where we'd turn off the paved road and into another world. This world was full of communal meals around a table buffeted by vinyl red bench seats, of swamping the canoe to swim in the center of the lake (where it was deep enough that the weeds couldn't strangle your feet), of adopting one of my grandfather's bait leeches to be my personal "pet" for the week (or a box turtle someone accidentally caught on a fishing hook), of mornings spent in rocking chairs around the fireplace, of late nights playing games around the kitchen table, of woodpeckers and woods and a funny old dog who hung around waiting for table scraps.  There was an old fashioned candy store in town, and an abandoned gravel pit down a nearby road where the hunt for agates often took place.

But the best part of the trip was when Great-Grandma would arrive. Grandma Gladys always, without fail, unpacked her things in the main bedroom off the kitchen (the rest of us slept in a lofted space filled wall to wall with beds of different sizes and mattress firmnesses which were accessed by one of those terrifically novel ladders that fold flat to the ceiling and squeak delightfully when you climb them), and then set immediately to making a double or triple recipe of her famous, amazing, caramel rolls.

She didn't use a recipe, she didn't measure the ingredients.  She did, however, have a completely captive audience of daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We'd sit at the table while she worked, chatting aimlessly to keep her company while she kneaded the dough, patted it out in a puffy rectangle that filled the entire (communal) kitchen table, and spread it full of an intoxicating mixture of evaporated milk, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon to roll into a beautiful spiral, which she'd slice using sewing thread.  Each roll would go, face down, into all the flat sided pans that could be found.  They'd rise again (three rises is torture for a kid, I'm telling you) and then finally go in the oven to fill the cabin with the smell of comfort: sweet, browned bread and sugar and butter.  And then, for the rest of the week, we'd feast on these enormous, sticky, incredible rolls. Sweet, doughy perfection.

So it's with this information that I have to tell you: these are not my great-grandmother Gladys' caramel rolls. My mother watched my great-grandmother make those rolls once desperately trying to get a fix on some kind of recipe (measuring things behind her back and estimating when she had to) and my sister and I have that recipe now--though it's my sweet Alaskan sister who makes them most often.  But I'm working on getting through my bread book, and these sweet little Miniature Chelsea Buns looked so festive and welcoming, I just had to try them out.

Don't get me wrong: they're really good. Flavored and sweetened with honey and brown sugar, and filled with dried fruit and orange peel, these rolls are sweet and sticky and perfectly tiny (you get to eat three!).  My husband Joe loved them. Moaned through each one with delight. Actually told me that he now expects that I'll make them once a month.  But I won't. And not just because they take all day, or we'd gain back all that weight we managed to shed in the Sahara.

It's because they're not Gladys' rolls. And though Joe met my great-grandmother, it wasn't until old age and too many strokes had rendered her confused and cranky.  He never went to the cabin; never put puzzles together on the porch or played Rook until three in the morning while fruitlessly trying to keep sticky caramel off the cards.  Never fished for sunnies and waited patiently for his dad to clean every tiny one so they could be rolled in breadcrumbs and pan fried to perfection.  So to him the Chelsea buns are fabulous. But to me they're yummy, but ultimately empty.