[Lisbon, July 2014.]
It’s not really a secret that living in Casablanca has been … challenging for me for many reasons. But rather than dwell on the negative I’d like to focus on a major positive, which is our proximity to Europe and the relative ease of slipping over to explore there. Par example, this past weekend we skipped town for Lisbon to drink (and drink) coffee and vinho verde, eat loads of delicious fresh cheese and not a few pastries, wander up and down hilly streets and sit outside, and even watch the rain yesterday morning with yet another cup of coffee. You know how sometimes you visit a place and it just feels like ‘your place’? Yeah. That was Lisbon for me. I was wholly and happily smitten.
Maybe I was digging it so much because it has a definite San Francisco feel to it (see: the bridge, the streetcars, the sloping streets) but I think it was more than that. It was experiencing a feeling of comfort and laid-backness that is slowly slipping away in the bay due to the shifting economic and demographics particularly in the city (see this interview for a rather depressing yet pragmatic take, though I have hope it will shift yet again!). It was the cobbled streets and the plentiful public transportation and the museums and live music being played almost everywhere. Or maybe it was just those really fantastic and not-too-sweet pastries. Or the architecture?
When we left yesterday and told the guy at the RAM ticket counter how we wished we could stay, he sympathized and said with a wry smile ‘Life is life’. And ain’t that the truth. I’ve decided to adopt that mantra for the rest of the year. It’s going to carry me through these hot, dusty Ramadan days in Casablanca until our next sojourn ‘cross the Atlantic.
Suddenly it’s July and the year is half over. Well — ‘suddenly’. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting the days (5) until we leave for our self imposed summer break in California. This seemed so very long in coming back in January but as these things go – life being life after all – we’re on the cusp. I have my little list of things I want to do and eat whilst there, namely lots of runs outside wearing shorts and putting Clover organic half and half in my coffee and taking Sierra to a park where she can ride in a swing for the first time and the most important thing of all: consuming many super vegetarian burritos. First I need to unpack and pack anew and try to keep everything straight in my mind.
Re that: my kitchen is a bit lacking in vegetables since we were away and I don’t have time to get to the store this week. Indeed, I haven’t seen spinach available anywhere in quite awhile. But if I had it, and/or (sorely missed) chard, I’d certainly toss it with whole wheat pasta with lentils for a simple and satisfying meal.
When I’m organized I’ll do a pot of lentils for dinner either in soup or just as they are with onion and garlic and maybe a chopped red pepper (served with quinoa or brown rice) and make extra so I can use them another night (or day – this dish makes a fine lunch, preferably with a small glass of white wine). Lentils are a vegetarian mainstay, managing to be hearty (one could even call them ‘meaty’) and heart-healthy at the same time. I think the first time I cooked this dish, admittedly with non-wbole grain pasta, was during the few weeks I spent in Iceland back in 2006. There I folded my spaghetti and lentils with red sauce and sauteed squash but I think I prefer my ‘Moroccan’ version more simply made with spinach and dressed with olive oil.
Iceland has been on my mind a bit of late, perhaps because I’m craving wide-open and empty space and quiet and you can find that in abundance there once you leave Reykjavik. But even the city in February was quiet; I’d go for my runs around the frozen lake and it was strangely peaceful if terribly chilly. Lisbon, too, was quieter and more mellow than you’d expect during the height of summer tourism travel, though perhaps I’m jaded by the constant chaotic noise and rush that is Casablanca. One of the things that has been reinforced to me during these past months – a week ago marked our one-year anniversary in N. Africa – is that a lack of nature can take a toll on someone who finds green and space (and green space) and empty vistas essential to a happy (or, happier) existence. In Lisbon we found it at the castle overlooking the city, in tucked-away parks, in hidden squares. I am grateful for it when it comes.
Then, life being life after all, I will have it in abundance come this weekend. Which leads me to: posting may be a bit sporadic these next weeks as we’ll be doing a lot of back and forthing and will hopefully be able to fling ourselves out-of-doors as often as possible. But I will pop in now and again with recipes and photos and litle stories. Maybe even word of a book event or two (!).
1 cup cooked lentils. preferably cooked with chopped garlic and/or onion
As much whole wheat pasta (spaghettie, ziti, rotini) as you can eat
As much fresh spinach or chard as you can stand
Salt and pepper
Make the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving a little (about a 1/2 cup) of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the lentil and spinach plus a splash of water, and cook over medium to low heat until the lentils are heated through and the spinach is wilted.
When the pasta is ready, add it to the skillet and turn up the flame to high until the pasta and lentils and spinach are hot. Add a little of the cooking water if it seems dry. Salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, drizzle a little olive oil over the top of each bowl. I wouldn’t say no to a generous spoonful of Parmesan cheese as well.