Come Eat With Us

It has been a while since my last blog! I’m here today to invite you all to come eat with me -us- in Marrakech. I am putting all my culinary skills into action that is rewardable in so many ways.

I had to go back to California for my mother’s funeral, it was a hard time for me and my family. But, that is part of life! right?!  I miss her terribly….I missed her, even more, when we were having family meals at home. She was the one making sure that there is a vegetarian option for me on the table. She had put up with me with my picky eating, back then it was called “picky eating” not vegetarian or at least where I came from! She supported and embraced my vegetarian lifestyle.

I do a lot of my creative thinking while traveling. Hey, when you’re on a fifteen-hour flight….you have all the time in the world to think. So, I have heard about these sites that one can register to host a meal to share with a stranger. Kinda like Airbnb for a meal!

I signed up with EatWith and Meal Sharing to share my food with the world and I am super excited about it!

I’ve always enjoyed making people happy and I ain’t bragging…but my food is good! what better way for me to socialize, meet new people and earn a bit of money in my pocket. Inviting people to my beautiful home -if I may so so- in the most incredible city Marrakech to share a meal with me. Making Moroccan, Middle Easter, Vegetarian and vegan fusion food is my specialty.

At first, it might sound weird to go eat with a complete stranger. The above websites are making easier for me to reach out to others from across the globe to offer them a unique experience.

So, last night I had my first demo type of event. I invited my friends and ask them to give me their feedbacks….not about my food!!! Duh, I already know and they have told me multiple times that my food is great. I ask them to rate me on presentation and the overall experience. The results are awesome, they all loved it and “I” enjoyed it so much that I didn’ take that many photos.

So if you ever find yourself in Marrakech, come on over for a friendly meal.dinner ramadanIMG_1276

 

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Finding comfort before going home – where is home anyway?

I go back home to California in two days to reunite with my family after the loss of my mother. I go back as a different person, not the one they thought they knew or created. I have changed a lot in the last few years and they never accepted that change. I’m panicked, anxious, and nervous.

Le Jardin restaurant Marrakech

 

My identity had been a problem all my life and I could never know where is home? I know say home is where my cats are! Home is where I can be myself to create and be me….home is Morocco at the moment!

 

I have not done much in the last few weeks, other than eat and keep my racing mind busy. I did go out with few friends and I made my weekly visit to the Flea-Market. Guess who I found there….Lady Liberty and Abraham Lincoln all ready for the fourth of July in Marrakech. I also found our Indian friend on a candle; he is also all ready for thanksgiving in April.

I find comfort in finding these odd items at the flea-market, they are probably like me. Got rejected and found themselves in Marrakech! I sure hope they do go to a happy loving home.

 

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Not happy about a pit stop and letting the world know about it

 

My cat MeowMeow is most likely the only creature that I want to be around these days. Yeah…call it depression…I don’t know?! He is the laziest, obese (by doctor’s confirmation) happiest son of a pussy that I know!

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At least I was still eating healthy and I did manage to make couscous. Started to take some online classes for Islamic Geometry Pattern, just so I can train my mind to focus on the positive things in life.

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I use to hate long layovers, now I embrace them and take advantage of little getaway for myself before I embark on my visit home or not home or whatever it will be called! Madrid – Los Angeles next week!

 

Losing my mom while traveling through Istanbul

I had a successful productive and fun time in Mumbai. I had twenty-one hours in Istanbul before returning to Marrakech. When I received a text followed by a phone call that my mom back in California had passed away. The news came after I had a fantastic time in my second favorite city Istanbul after Marrakech of course! Nothing can prepare you for this kind of news. The distance and the unfamiliarity of the place made receiving the news of my mother’s death even more harder. As I stood at the passport control later on that morning, surrounded by all these strangers, I felt like suffocating….I wanted to shout and tell everyone around me to shut the f**K Up! I couldn’t hear or see anyone…I just wanted a family, a friend to hug me tightly! I wanted to be there with my mom to say my one last goodbye, I wanted to hug my dad and be around my siblings! I had to comfort myself by accepting that it is the cycle of life, it was her time…but couldn’t she wait until I was at least at home with my husband?!

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All of this made me think twice about Istanbul! Nothing is coincident, everything happens for a reason and at the right time. Istanbul has food very similar to the one I grew up feasting on in Lebanon. Many words are still used in Lebanon that originated from the era of the Ottoman empire….something that Morocco lacks. Even before hearing this sad news, I stopped at many sweet shops and my mind was wondering in time to the old city of Tripoli where my dad and my uncle use to make these sweets. The chestnuts I bought from the street vendor, the (Kaak) Simit with the Sumac spice, the tea… all of this I grew up having access to. Missed it when we moved to the US but I was able to find these simple yet luxury items in some supermarkets in California. Not in Morocco!

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Istanbul made me think of the story my mom- may she rests in peace- use to share with us. The story of her educated father from Yafa who was a professor at the University Of Constantinople. The story of him being the only one who can read, neighbors will gather around him so he can help them write or read loved one’s letters.

I do believe in signs, maybe this was a sign for me to have more connection with Istanbul?! Maybe this was a sign that I need to dig deep into my roots and start accepting who I am instead of trying to invent an identity for myself?! whatever the reason was behind mom leaving us while I was traveling through Istanbul, I hope to find closure and accept the fact that she is no longer with us. It was her time, I asked God the merciful to have mercy on her soul.

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From Marrakech to Mumbai

Who would have thought a girl like me will end up living in Marrakech and lucky enough to visit Mumbai….. Yes Mumbai, Bombay INDIA!!!! The color, the culture, and the FOOD!

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My visit to Mumbai was part work, part fun. When you do good things, good things come to you. I was asked to help with the fundraising campaign for a UN accredited NGO that supports women and girls. I was thrilled to learn that the project that I will be working on is in Jordan empowering women and girls through knowledge and education. So how can I say NO?! right?!

Mumbai felt muggy even at 4 in the morning, on my way from the airport in an air-conditioned car I was excited like a little kid despite the fact the driver was driving on the wrong side of the road or the right side! At this early hour of the day, the city was empty with few people still sleeping on the sidewalks and few were jogging.

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We arrived at the Trident Hotel in Nariman-Point, everyone was speaking English not French like in Morocco, as a matter of fact, I didn’t hear or spoke a word in French up until I landed in Casablanca.

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For the first three days, I was immersed in the conference, but I was observing the staff hospitality and kindness.  The first thing I noticed my housekeeping staff were all males…hmmm ok why not?!? #HeForShe

The conference was a success and now t is time to go explore Mumbai!!!! Yay

Strolling down Nariman-Point or as the local call it the Queen’s necklace, the place is buzzed with locals and tourists. Locals from the posh couple walking their dog to the young lovers sitting by the sea. People, color, noise, and heat!!! Ok… I’m used to the heat in Marrakech but this is humid heat, not cool!

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I got to experience the street food along the beach, I was hesitant at first but then I reminded myself that if I don’t try something I will never know. It was very difficult to say no to the ice cream especially when it was pistachio and saffron but, I had to decline due to a bad ice cream experience years ago in Syria.

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I shopped till I dropped!!! Scarves, stationary, bags, little nick nacks and of course my very own meditation bowl. I’ve wanted one for a long time and couldn’t find it in Morocco and didn’t bother to look when I was home in the US.

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Everyone around me was getting sick….you see I’m immune! I was asked by a shop owner if I was a Punjabi? everywhere I go I blend in! Once in Spain I got asked why my parents didn’t teach me Spanish?! That confirm my answer to anyone who asks me where are you from? I am a citizen of this universe.

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I sat a hip cafe, ordered an Indian style pizza. The flower wreath that the lady tied around my wrists were giving this amazing fragrance. Later on at night when I took them off I had to lay them away from my bed as the smell was so beautifully strong.

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My last day was spent visiting the Dharavi Slum, ten minutes into the tour and my foot fall into the sewage water as I was trying to avoid falling completely into the dirty water. I have no words to describe the slum, other than how courageous and creative these people are. Despite everything, they managed to make their tiny living spaces, homes for their families, decorated in colors….something I really like!

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Here are a couple of things I noticed about Mumbai. 1- not many people smoke on the streets or in cafes. 2 – so many streets booksellers < Love It>

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I will have to come back again and make my ways to other cities in India. But until then, the memories will stay with me forever!

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Sweet Junk

I love junk and I love Morocco!

I prefer not to call my finds junks but, they are truly junk…items that are abandoned by their owner, pieces that are considered as having no use or value. Junk is a treasure to me! Last week’s find at the biggest flea market in Marrakech was an interesting find…okay….all the items I find are interesting!!!! this one was unique in its’ shape and history. I came home and shared my find with my Moroccan husband, who had no idea what was that out of space looking thing was?!?!? It is a sugar cone cover habibo, I said!

 

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My husband pouring tea 

 

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Moroccan tea is a sacred practice and one can’t just pour hot water over tea leaves to make tea….oh no no!!!! it is an art by itself! An art that I finally mastered, except for the pouring techniques. To achieve the perfect sweet tea – Moroccan tea must be super sweet or it’s not considered authentic – a special kind of sugar must be used, sugar that comes in a shape of a cone.

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Since moving to Morocco, I learned how important sugar it is in this culture. It is not just used to make sweets or sweeten tea. It is a symbol of prosperity! When a guy wants to marry a girl they take few of these shaped sugar cones to the bride’s house for the first time. When babies are born, neighbors bring sugar cones. When we moved into our first apartment together, family members brought sugar and milk. Sugar is sweet, sugar is white and it is a sign of wishing someone sweet, white future.

My silver sugar cone cover is something that was used in the old days. Ladies in particular from the Fez area liked to use this cover to hide the sugar cone. The shop where we found it ( I was with my friend K that day) had been closed for years. the shop owner was an old man who died four years ago and now his children just opened this treasure cove to folks like me searching for unique pieces. I am happy to report that the silver sugar cone found a home and now it’s sitting on display at my friend’s K home in Marrakech. Or, it might make its’ way to California if K decided to show off the housewives of California what we do and find in our spare time here in Marrakech.

Typically when you buy sugar cone in Morocco, one needs to break it into pieces. For that, you need a hammer, of course! Sugar hammers were popular at one point and I do find them all the time at the flea market from silver to wooden. Nowadays most people use the bottom of tea glass, a technique that I am not afraid to say I could never master, out of fear of breaking the tea glass and making a bloody mess!!!

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I love junk and I love being in Morocco…that’s all for this week!

 

Lunch For A Cause

Three families from Syria were the chefs of today’s lunch in Marrakech. We’ve been talking amongst ourselves, my two friends (Na and N) how can we help these three families that we’ve met a while ago?! We raised money donated clothes and tried to help in any ways possible. Then we tasted one of ladies homemade cooking and we were hooked! Authentic, home style middle eastern food in Marrakech….. what a treat?!


We sat down with the ladies, advised them to promote their food. They were like: but we don’t know how to cook? We have tasted your food and yes you know how to cook. But we are not chefs! We cook for our families only…. that’s how chef starts their journey!

I embarked with my friends to organized a lunch buffet to benefit these families and to give them wings. To empower them and encourage them to gain from their cooking skills.

The community responded tremendously and we had to turn people away as we were not sure our three ladies were capable of cooking for a large crowd.


I was very fortunate to have my friend N offer her not for a profit kitchen training center, for these three Syrian ladies along with staff and equipment! So now we have access to a kitchen and lunch area. The ladies are finally convinced that they can cook a meal for fifty people. Now, ingredients!!!! Not easily available in Marrakech Bulgur, Tahini, pomegranate molasses, cheese for the Kenafa!!!! We searched and we were able to find all of our ingredients with some that arrived the morning of the lunch, which made me panic!

The cheese you ask? These ladies made their own cheese. Yes, they did!


We started on Saturday afternoon, preparing the hummus, Baba Ghanouge, Fatouch and on Sunday morning the ladies impressed me with their Kibbeh technique. I have to admit, my cooking skills with middle eastern food do not include Kibbeh making. I’m the type who will spread it flat in a pan rather than make it into small balls.


The ladies had made enough Kibbeh to feed fifty people and had cored and stuffed back about one hundred courgettes (Koussa). Fatouch was made by a visiting chef who happened to be at the right place at the right time. Kenefe was made with fresh homemade cheese and assembled and baked by two of the women’s husbands.

As I stood in front of our hungry guests I realized that this day is a very special day for these families. I remembered the stories that my parents shared with me about the people that made a difference in their lives since their journey from Palestine to Lebanon to the USA.

The lunch was a huge success, we plan on organizing another lunch to benefit the Syrian Refugees in Marrakech with the help of many generous people who came and helped or who donated and to the ones that came to enjoy the food!

The Purple Chef Is In The House (Scorpion House) 

I was extremely delighted to have been asked by Mike the owner of two cultural cafes here in Morocco, to be his guest chef at his adventurous place “The Scorpion House”

The house sits on a hill… the whole town is basically a hill! Moulay Idriss Zarhoune is about 70 km from Fes. Many of the people that living here were born and raised in this town.Few tourists and a lot of worshippers who visits the Moulay Idriss shrine fill the main streets.

Once you arrive at the main square, you have to make your way up to the Scorpion House! Up is the only way to reach the house, you keep going until you arrive breathless at the green door.

Inside…or even before you get inside you will be greeted by two dogs: Pogo and Daster. Me, I’m not a dog person but these two creatures are so much fun! This cat lady was happy to be the dog lady during my stay.

The two main persons that will look after you if you are visiting for lunch or staying overnight, are Hamza and Rachida. These duos are the best! I was lucky to spend a week with them sharing my cooking techniques and recipes.

My whole week was spent creating vegetarian, vegan and Mediterranean dishes. I started by making mezze, hummus, baba ghanoug, black olives tapenade, and dried fig-ginger chutney with Moroccan harissa! Yes! Creativity and using local ingredients are my skills.

I was to prepare all meatless meals in a town where almost all part of the animal gets eaten! The market was full of fresh vegetables and fruits as well as beef, chicken, lamb and Rabbits! I opt not to include any of the meat market photos.

Rachida was super awesome at preparing fresh homemade jams and her famous Moroccan biscotti (Fiquas) I was happy to be her tasting student. This incredible house on a hill in this incredible city and the great staff made my job a lot easier.

I prepared comfy food for the stormy weather we were having, meatless shepherd’s pie, warm fresh spinach salad. No meal is complete without adding some purplelicious colors to my plate… a bit of beetroot for color and an extra boost of vitamins and antioxidant.

The recipe for almost vegan shepherd’s pie is simple and ingredients are available all year round ( see recipe below) because here in Morocco we get only what’s in a season.

I do hope I get invited to The Scorpion House again, to serve more of my creative vegetarian- vegan meals!

I don’t know when and where my next cooking journey will be? I look forward to being in a new kitchen, new city, and a new adventure.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

5- 6 medium potatoes

1 medium size head of cauliflower

2 tablespoon of olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons chopped green cilantro

Salt and pepper

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a pot add enough water with some salt to cover the skinned diced potatoes, cook until tender and water is almost gone.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop into very small pieces the clean dried cauliflower.

In a hot skillet, add olive oil, cauliflower, sauté until almost brown. Add the crushed garlic and fresh cilantro and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Mash the cooked potatoes in the same pot you used for cooking.

To assemble: in an oven prove glass dish, spread a layer of the mashed potatoes, layer of the cauliflower mix,  top with a layer of potatoes, finish with the shredded cheese. Bake in an oven for 15-20 minutes.

Skip the cheese and make it 100% vegan!

 

Moroccan Caviar

We all know olive is holy and the olive branch is a symbol of peace. Olives and olive oil are a must on any Middle-Eastern table and here in Morocco, they have the best olives!

So I set out to make my own olive Tapenade. Anchovies seem to be a must in most tapenade recipes, I don’t like Anchovies…so I will make my own with simple ingredients. Fresh black olives, garlic, dried oregano and olive oil!

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Since I am a person who likes to experiment with things and do things differently. I used my simple homemade tapenade to spread on traditional Moroccan fried bread (msemen)

That was my brunch today and I was on a roll to cook again but was too lazy to leave my little Marrakech cave. I had everything I need in my own little Riad, the love my life (aka husband will call him A) my cats (Meow Meow and Falafel) AND I have the beautiful sunshine to make sure I get enough vitamin D.

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This weekend I’m trying to stay home and challenge myself to make healthy satisfying meals from ingredients I have at home. I have everything except salt, that ok! the black olives I used in the tapenade had enough salt for my daily intake. I had some turnip that A had brought last week when I was in Moulay Idriss. I always find it difficult to use turnip in cooking, I usually used it to make pink pickle (see Queen of Falafel). Searched online for turnip recipes and came across this Turnip Spicy Curry Fabulous!!! I love curry and I’m all excited about visiting India next month for the first time so a curry was the right answer to my spicy craving. I have everything I need except the green peas because two nights ago A used it to make a Tagine. I used carrots instead of the green peas.

I started preparing the curry and then I realized I’m craving Naan!!! ok….I have no yeast. Another search got me to this two ingredients Naan

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Meow Meow trying to get his paws on our tagine! 

Dinner was amazing!!!! I love challenging myself to work with what I have! I think I’m going to spend tomorrow on my sunny rooftop terrace with a good book and leftover food.

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The Purple Chef Is In The House (Scorpion House) 

I was extremely delighted to have been asked by Mike the owner of two cultural cafes here in Morocco, to be his guest chef at his adventurous place “The Scorpion House”

The house sits on a hill… the whole town is basically a hill! Moulay Idriss Zarhoune is about 70 km from Fes. Many of the people that living here were born and raised in this town.Few tourists and a lot of worshippers who visits the Moulay Idriss shrine fill the main streets. 
Once you arrive at the main square, you have to make your way up to the Scorpion House! Up is the only way to reach the house, you keep going until you arrive breathless at the green door.

Inside…or even before you get inside you will be greeted by two dogs: Pogo and Daster. Me, I’m not a dog person but these two creatures are so much fun! This cat lady was happy to be the dog lady during my stay. 


The two main persons that will look after you if you are visiting for lunch or staying overnight, are Hamza and Rachida. These duo are the best! I was lucky to spend a week with them sharing my cooking techniques and recipes.


My whole week was spent creating vegetarian, vegan and Mediterranean dishes. I started by making mezze, hummus, baba ghanoug, black olives tapenade, and dried fig-ginger chutney with Moroccan harissa! Yes! Creativity and using local ingredients are my skills. 

I was to prepare all meatless meals in a town where almost all part of the animal gets eaten! The market was full of fresh vegetables and fruits as well as beef, chicken, lamb and Rabbits! I opt not to include any of the meat market photos. 


Rachida was super awesome at preparing fresh homemade jams and her famous Moroccan biscotti (Fiquas) I was happy to be her tasting student. This incredible house on a hill in this incredible city and the great staff made my job a lot easier.

I prepared comfy food for the stormy weather we were having, meatless shepherd’s pie, warm fresh spinach salad. No meal is complete without adding some purplelicious colors to my plate… a bit of beetroots for color and extra boost of vitamins and antioxidant.
The recipe for almost vegan shepherd’s pie is simple and ingredients are available all year round ( see recipe below) because here in Morocco we get only what’s in season.
I do hope I get invited to The Scorpion House again, to serve more of my creative vegetarian- vegan meals!

I don’t know when and where my next cooking journey will be? I look forward to be in a new kitchen, new city, and a new adventure.

Vegeterian Shepherd’s Pie
5- 6 medium potatoes
1 medium size head of cauliflower
2 tablespoon of olive oil
3-4 garlic
2 tablespoons chopped green cilantro
Salt and pepper
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In pot add enough water with some salt to cover the skinned diced potatoes, cook until tender and water is almost gone. 

While the potatoes are cooking, chop into very small pieces the clean dried cauliflower. 

In a hot skillet, add olive oil, cauliflower, sauté until almost brown. Add the crushed garlic and fresh cilantro and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper. 

Mash the cooked potatoes in the same pot you used for cooking.

To assemble: in an oven prove glass dish, spread a layer of the mashed potatoes, layer of the cauliflower mix,  top with a layer of potatoes, finish with the shredded cheese. Bake in an oven for 15-20 minutes.

Skip the cheese and make it 100% vegan! 


Sharing My Food in a New City

I am so thrilled to be bloggin this week from this amazing city in northern Morocco. Moulay Idriss Zarhoune is considered one of the oldest cities in Morocco. It was here where Idriss the I came from the Middle East to established his dynasty. It’s a sacred destination to many Moroccans and home to my friend Mike. Scorpion House sits on top of the hill overlooking Moulay Idriss and now it’s open for guests to enjoy lunch or overnight stay in this magical place. 

I was asked to spend a week with the staff to introduce them to vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Having access to fresh vegetables and fruits made my job a lot easy. 

Once you are arrive to this town via Meknas, you realize that time had stopped and all your modern daily routine and distractions must sto too!  Go on a stroll and make sure you greet everyone because they are happy to have you in their town. 

I was thrilled to know I will be spending time at Scorpian House to share my cooking skills and decoration ideas with the staff! But, I was more thrilled to spend time in this town and felt extremely honored to be able to go inside the mosque and the mauselaum. I was warmly welcomed as they realized that I come from the same land that brought them Idriss I.  

I started by going to the local market in order to prepare for my week long vegetarian kitchen 1.0! My strategy is to find local and in season ingredients, prepare them with minimum effort with different spices and herbs. My recepies are simple because one must taste each ingredient, nothing is overwhelming. A harmony of fresh vegetables mixed with spices or herbs and perhaps some dried or freash fruits to create a dish that is satisfying without feeling the needs for meat! 


And of course no trip of mine is complete without connecting with my furry friends the cats. And they are a lot of them in this hilly town…..and lots of color purple all around!

Stay tuned for next week, I will share with you my vegetarian and vegan recipes.