Building Sand Castles

The other day, we made our way to breakfast with intentions of spending some time on the beach, but it was cloudy and lightly raining.  We took our time at breakfast (or as much time as Carter would let us take) just hoping that the clouds would clear a little and the rain would stop.  Luckily for us, it did just that!  Spending this time together as a family at the beach has been so much fun.

Carter still tries, and unfortunately succeeds at, eating way too much sand, but he loves knocking down anything Scott attempts to build.  This time I distracted Carter as much as I could so Scott could create his masterpiece, and I think it took him almost 2 hours!  Haha, so much time for such a little sand castle, but he did “redesign” it several times.  And his moat had a lot of detail.  When we finally gave Carter the go ahead to destroy it, he wouldn’t do it!  It was hilarious to see how hesitant he was, but after 15 minutes of coaxing he finally dug in and left no trace of what once was there.

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Here’s the video of Carter finally destroying it.  He was just a little excited.

 

The Most Touristy Thing We’ve Done So Far

Against Scott’s wishes, I booked camel rides for the three of us.  Scott was more than happy to have me go while he stayed behind, but I wasn’t going to let him miss out on this.  He claims that he’s ridden a camel before, but I told him he hadn’t done it in Morocco so he was doing it with me whether he liked it or not!  We chose to go with Ranch Diabat after reading some reviews and asking a friend her opinion.  All in all, the ranch offered us a wonderful experience with a taxi service to the ranch and back to town and a very funny guide.

My camel’s name was Ali Baba, the guide’s camel was Titanic, and I have no idea what Scott’s camel’s name was.  Also, I should note that these were in fact dromedaries, but everyone interchangeably calls them camels.  Ranch Diabat was a cute little ranch and we learned from our guide that they have about 25 horses and 9 camels that they have trained for several short distance and long term travel excursions.  We opted for the one hour trip and our backs and our behinds were very grateful we didn’t go any longer!

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We got to ride through the sand dunes and around the ruins of the palace of Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdellah al-Qatib.  It was so cool!  Our guide also had to mention (several times) that Jimi Hendrix visited Essaouira and lived in Diabat for a few years (there are a lot of mixed opinions about this).

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The funniest thing to me was that Scott’s camel was “playing” with Carter the whole time by chewing on his foot!  Carter fell asleep not even 10 minutes into the ride so he didn’t notice the camel eating his shoe at all.  I wasn’t too good at noticing either, so Carter ended up with a very soggy foot by the end of the ride.

Camel Cuisine

We ate at the fanciest little restaurant called La Decouverte the other night because a friend recommended a dish we just couldn’t pass up: camel couscous. You heard me. Camel! We figured if we’re going to ride a camel while in Morocco, we might as well eat one, right?!

The restaurant is closed from 3-6:30pm (the time we would usually like to eat dinner) so we had to keep Carter up later than usual to be there right at 6:30pm when they opened. We had heard some really great things about this restaurant so we figured there might be a line right when it opened, but we were the first ones. It made us a little nervous, but soon enough, within the hour it was packed and people had to go to nearby restaurants because this one was so full.

We ordered the camel couscous and the chicken pastilla. The only word we could think of to truly describe the food was sophisticated. It was delicious and the flavors were rich, but it was the fanciest thing, by far, we’ve ever eaten in our entire lives. The best part? We paid less than $20 USD for this gourmet meal! A big perk of being in Morocco.

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The camel couscous was covered in caramelized onions that were so sweet and full of flavor. The camel itself was soft and it melted in your mouth. The thought of eat such an exotic (to us at least) animal was a little weird, but the combination of it all was so good that I didn’t have a hard time overlooking it.

The rest of the food wasn’t so bad either… the chicken pastilla was different than anything I’d ever tasted before. It was a chicken dish, but it was wrapped in a pastry and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon! I’ve had sweet meat before, but never like this. Again, the combination of it all blew my taste buds away.

We’re not too keen on finding ourselves in fancy restaurants, but given that the grand total for two was less than it would cost for a half of one gourmet meal in our previous country (Italy), I think we might have another go. Maybe the next time we’ll order the king cobra sandwich.

Sunsets Never Grow Old

We planned an evening to eat dinner in the medina and then watch the sunset in Essaouira.  Before we found a place to eat, we stopped by the spice guy’s spice shop.  Scott recently took a Moroccan cooking class and the chicken tajine spices that he used were prepared by this spice guy so we had to go get some of the spices for ourselves.  Scott is eager to recreate his chicken tajine with preserved lemons and olives masterpiece for me while we have a tajine at our disposal and I’m excited to try it!

The spice guy was hilarious with Carter.  He kept trying to get him to laugh and talk, but Carter was hesitant at first.  Once the spice guy used the very little English that he knew and started making funny noises, Carter lit right up.  Carter even let the spice guy hold him!

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After spending some time with the spice guy and getting our chicken tajine spices, we wandered around the medina looking for a place to eat dinner.  We wanted something light and quick to make sure we didn’t miss the sunset.  We found this little place right next to the canons and enjoyed a very delicious soup.  Sorry for the blurry picture… the waiter kept pushing the power button instead of the shutter button and he didn’t speak much English so we were glad there was a picture at all!

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After dinner we rounded the corner and made our way up the short hill to the canons.  We let Carter run around as we still had a little time before the colors started and we grabbed a nutella crepe for good measure.

 

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This wasn’t the best sunset we’ve seen here in Essaouira, so we’re excited to get out and see even more for the few weeks we’re here!

Cooking Up a Moroccan Storm

We knew off the bat that the food in Morocco was going to be a main feature of our time in this country. What we didn’t realize, specifically, was how much of a main feature it really was going to be.  Where Morocco does have wonderful people and beautiful sights, their food alone could power us through a satisfactory visit for the month.  There’s not a street we can walk down where the food doesn’t smell righteous and holy, to the point where I’m fully convinced the clouds we walk on in heaven is made up of the smoke from Moroccan barbecues.

It was our destiny to this end that we (or I, rather accidentally) would end up in a Moroccan cooking class, so that we could learn and someday perfect our ability to create such divine flavors and odors in our own home.  With some quick googling we landed ourselves into the lovely hands of Mona and Allison, the chef and the guide from l’Atelier Madada. Though Emily was the one who initially signed up for the course, I was the one who went, due to an incapacitation formed by an unfortunate cold. I am exponentially more directionless and hard-headed than Emily, and was concerned about my ability to remember everything about the class; thankfully, I took pictures to help refresh my knowledge of how it all fit together.

 

The Kitchen | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Walking into the restaurant, you’re greeted with this sight: the oversized prep area, waiting for its guests to come feebly attempt to conquer an ages-old tradition in a mere couple of hours.

 

The setup  | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

the restaurant | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

the decor | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

The setup was almost as refreshing as the smell of spices in the air; you could immediately spot the French influences in the interior design, with not-so-subtle insertions of beautiful Moroccan architecture as if to not confuse those who suddenly forget which country they’re actually in.

 

making tea | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Pouring Tea | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Mona (to the left) first taught us how to brew a proper Moroccan mint tea, which is practically a national pastime. On every street you walk down here you’d be hard-pressed to not find a man and his acquaintances with a glass of this stuff in hand and a pot nearby.  When it’s done right, it’s a fantastically refreshing taste.  Mona (through Allison’s English translation) taught us how to make the perfect tea, and showed us exactly why pouring it from such tall height isn’t just for showing off to your guests.

Now, on to the cooking:

 

Prepping Ingredients | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Spices | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Saffron | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Cutting Onions | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

The dish: chicken tajine, a common meal here in Morocco. The name of the food is more a reference to the dish it’s cooked in—a tajine—and is Morocco’s traditional answer to the modern western crock pot… or something like that. It cooks by way of steam, letting the items within the ceramic container stew together for hours, the unique shape of the tajine recirculating the evaporated water inside many times over. The result is a cacophony of flavors all working toward one goal: your imminent gratification.

While all the ingredients we used are cheap, the saffron (in picture #3) is not, weighing in at between $1-3 USD per SINGLE STRAND (or $2,000 to $10,000 for a pound of the stuff), it’s often said to be the most expensive ingredient in the world. I’m really not even worthy to be in its presence, much less cook with it.

 

Tajine | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

With the tajine ready, we threw it on the cooker and focused our attention on the next item: the briouates.

 

briouat | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Briouat Ready | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Being the only American of the 5 total chefs-in-training, I was successful enough at folding up these little triangular puff pastries to impress Mona a little… or at least enough to let her pass by me without forcing me to unravel the entire thing. I would like to attribute that skill to the many years I spent in the U.S. public education system folding paper footballs and kicking them between makeshift finger goal posts. Clearly the schools were thinking ahead.

 

Chicken Tajine | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

The food needed to cook, so we left the building for a spell and headed over to the nearby Essaouira Spice Market.

 

Indigo | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

Smelling Black Cumin | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

We were sniffing something called black cumin, which is—to my knowledge and defense—not an illegal substance in the country of Morocco.

 

Dangerous Spices | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

You can’t really see it, but the middle jar does in fact say “dangerous” in French.

It was time to head back and chow down, so we winded down the somewhat familiar streets back to the restaurant and made haste to the lunch table while our food was served to us (which seems a little backwards, since we’re the ones who cooked it).

 

Finished Briouats | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

The finished briouates.

 

Chicken Tajine Dish | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

The incredible chicken tajine in its second-to-final form. Try and guess what its last form is.

 

Our Class | Moroccan Cooking Class in Essaouira

And here’s the lovely team that pulled it all together. Good work, y’all.

With this newfound ability now under my belt, I’m ready to cook up my own chicken tajine for Emily and give her the experience she passed along to me.  I somehow doubt I’ll remember this skill long enough to add tajine to our regular dinner repertoire, but given the incredible outcome to such a simple meal, there’s no way I’d pass up an opportunity to at least have my current kitchen smelling like the restaurants and cafes dotting the medina.  And, if you’re strapped for cash and need an alternative to robbing a bank, just steal a pound or two of saffron. You won’t regret it.