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July 3, 2013

In Morocco …

in life,travels

Currently, am sitting at what has quickly become our everyday ‘table’ — an extension of the stone counter in our new, light-filled, enormous kitchen — sipping a cup of coffee and nibbling on a pain au chocolat. These things are dangerous, I think, as I take another bite. I probably should stop buying them almost every day. And yet, in Morocco, do as the Moroccans do, non?


[The view from upstairs, July 2013.]

From where I perch, I can look out at the house across the street that’s partially hidden by flowers and what appears to be an oleander bush. Our own backyard is a bit scraggly — we’ve arrived only five days ago, and there’s no lawn mower here yet; it seems most people hire gardeners to take care of things like that, although the patch of grass that surrounds the house hardly needs more than a quick mowing. Plus, I’m not really sure we’re the ‘gardener’ types. — but there is a backyard, just begging for a dog to occupy it.

In just the few days we’ve been here we’ve already been internally (and between the two of us) debating if we might like to try to move closer in to town; there’s not much within walking distance here, but on the other hand it is a bit quieter, cleaner, and did I mention this house is larger than almost any other house I’ve ever encountered? With a yard? We feel a little intimidated by all the space — after all, we are coming straight from an admittedly roomy-but-still one bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and consider ourselves to be city folk after years of being used to the convenience that lifestyle affords. Where we are currently you must rely upon a car to take you in to work, which is a major change (there is a new tram system, but that could take even longer and it’s not too close by). We’ve agreed to table any decisions for awhile until we have more time to acclimate.

Anwyay, I’ve just finished my late morning snack and am contemplating tidying the kitchen. I’ve taken today off to unpack a little and sleep in, jetlag having come in strange waves. We did so much during the first four days after we arrived — found the local souk and stocked up on fresh, organic-by-default vegetables, an outdoor cafe, got a cell phone, got the Internet working (hurrah!), did a big shop at the Marjane (big Walmart-like grocery store that does not sell alcohol), went to another souk-like market and shopping area downtown, found a cab driver who will probably shuttle us around when needed until our car arrives, started our new jobs, gone to a new friend’s place for dinner, bought more vegetables at the tiniest organic market you ever did see; apparently they do carry organic butter and milk, just not … when we happened to be there? — that I need a day to take it slow.


[Dinner the second night, July 2013.]

It might seem strange to cook your first few days in a new country, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, starting with a quinoa (packed in my suitcase) and vegetable stir-fry with an ersatz tziki sauce. We’ve had oatmeal (also packed for the journey) for breakfast, a fried egg or two, toast and peanut butter (yep, also brought with), and tonight I’m planning to make white beans with roasted tomatoes and garlic served with brown rice. I’ll make a chunky cauliflower soup later this afternoon, with onions and carrots and potatoes; lacking a blender or most of my other cooking implements it may look a bit funnier than usual but I will do my best (rats – just realized I am also lacking vegetable broth. Water will have to do.).

And really, cooking grounds me. No matter where I go — close to home or abroad — I find myself in the closest grocery store within a matter of days (or hours), digging through the cupboards of the kitchen I’m lucky enough to have access to, planning what to make for the next night’s dinner. Even in Greece in summer of 2005 when my friend Simon and I were staying in a tiny cottage on the Halkidiki Peninsula I cooked on the hot plate — pearl couscous, red peppers, chickpeas. We supplemented with fresh bread and locally made tziki and our stomachs and hearts felt all the better for it. Eating out is nice, but eating in is better. At least, that’s how I feel about it, even with hardly any pots, pans or utensils …

The third night after arriving I baked a fruit tart to take to a dinner party. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out given that I think I bought some weird butter-margarine hybrid rather than regular butter (the French/Arabic on the package being totally incomprehensible to my jetlag-addled brain), the flour was my (irrationally) detested pastry flour (I think?), and it was my first time using my new oven. But it was not bad after all; I filled the crust with a mix of cut-up peaches and nectarines with a few hand-pitted cherries thrown in for good measure, tossed with a basic mixture of sugar and cinnamon and drizzled with honey. We sat on a balcony overlooking Casablanca, feeling the cool sea breeze and watching swallows dip and turn above our heads, eating the tart and fresh fruit, and it didn’t feel so awfully strange at all. Not California, no, but not terribly foreign either.

I think it’s a bit too early to really give impressions of how things are here, but I will cautiously say that while I am feeling homesick already (…) there is so much to discover and learn about and see here that is incredibly different from where we are coming from — and that is a good thing. What will be most difficult is the lack of nature — again, we are so spoiled in Northern California, even living in a big city, and I have become accustomed to that — though we are fortunate to be nearish to the Atlantic Ocean here, the lack of all the fun organic products I so love (although Amazon hopefully can help me out with my penchant for whole wheat flour, almond milk, and all sorts of other soy and whole grain-related things), the lack of that whole Bay Area vibe, the varied coffee shops, and man, the healthy living, vegetarian heavy, yoga-and-running lifestyle I adore. We are going to attempt a run down by the water tomorrow — we have seen some runners, including single ladies, which gives me hope — but let’s face it: it ain’t gonna be Golden Gate Park and the Pacific. Still.

For all that, everyone we have met here so far has been so welcoming and friendly. There seems to be a lot of pride by the locals in their country and who can blame them? There is a lot to be proud of, including some of the nearby towns (Marrakech I think is an hour and a half away; Essaouira may be drivable in a few hours or so) we hope to explore perhaps even this weekend. I will keep you posted.

Right now, I make soup. And work on my French.

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{ 10 comments }

Erin July 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

What a lovely post. Looking forward to reading about this adventure with you.

Marlene Dotterer July 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

This is a wonderful post. It’s so good to know you are safely there and getting settled in. It’s so true about the kitchen and cooking grounding you. It’s why I prefer renting apartments or cottages on vacation. Keeps me sane.

I got tired just reading about all the things you did in your first few days! I’m glad you’re taking a day off to rest. I hope this will be a wonderful adventure for you and Doug. You’ll miss home, yes. But that’s what Skype is for!

sonrie July 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

What a change! I too have a weakness for pain au chocolat — I can rationalize it when I spend a good part of a day walking. Good luck getting used to your new locale.

Pam July 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm

So glad to see this post and hear from you, Nicole! You have been in my thoughts, and I must admit I’m a bit envious of the adventure that lies ahead for you. The kitchen does ground us–isn’t that great? Take care!

helen July 3, 2013 at 10:44 am

Beautiful post…..sounds thoroughly exotic but slightly familiar. Can’t wait to experience Morocco with you and Doug! Keep on posting and cooking…we all await your words!

Denise | Chez Danisse July 3, 2013 at 10:35 am

“Eating out is nice, but eating in is better.” I so agree. What a shift in place. Enjoy discovering all your new neighborhood has to offer.

Laurie July 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

I was wondering (from my little New Jersey perch) how you were faring across the world. What an adventure! I’d be far too intimidated to even attempt to maneuver an “alien” stove. Always the fear that I’m not doing it right (which doesn’t make for good, adventurous cooking). So I love your site because I feel emboldened to attempt things I never would have before. Your reassuring tone and zesty recipes are so inspiring. I end up noshing far too much after I read your posts! Wishing you well; be safe and happy. Looking forward to your adventures in a spicy land.

Julie July 3, 2013 at 7:57 am

I think no matter where you are you will find peace and comfort…it’s you. Yes the people are warm and friendly and the surrounding are beautiful, but it has so much to do with the beauty you have in your heart. This is a wonderful adventure for you and Doug….make the most of it, time will go by very fast.

Keep posting and I will keep reading.

xoxoxox……Julie

Antonella July 3, 2013 at 6:41 am

Cara Nicole,

This post was so beautiful to read and so comforting to know you are doing so well already. I think you are on a good start! Enjoy your lifetime adventure. And keep us posted!

xxx anto

Rachel Dangermond July 3, 2013 at 6:28 am

Oh I’m so happy you are there because those flavors are what I grew up on with my Turkish Sephardic grandparents via Cuba via New Orleans (my mom) and so Moroccan encompasses most of my seasonings and exoticness in my flavors and I want to watch you come to own that vocabulary.