Thursday, October 18, 2012

Catching up...

It has been over a year since I last updated this blog of our adventures. Can I focus on updating on a regular schedule? I can try.
Blog posts to write:
- new years in the Sahara
- finishing my MSW and facing the future
- revisiting st. Croix for another rehabilitation
- return to Casablanca
- visiting Paris
- trip to Germany
- weekend with friends in Budapest
- upcoming adventures in Italy, Japan, and the uk.
But first and foremost, the long-promised post on khalia...
Hold me to it.

Catching up...

It has been over a year since I last updated this blog of our adventures. Can I focus on updating on a regular schedule? I can try.
Blog posts to write:
- new years in the Sahara
- finishing my MSW and facing the future
- revisiting st. Croix for another rehabilitation
- return to Casablanca
- visiting Paris
- trip to Germany
- weekend with friends in Budapest
- upcoming adventures in Italy, Japan, and the uk.
But first and foremost, the long-promised post on khalia...
Hold me to it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Part II: Volubilis, or the Hunt for the Ancient Phallus

Sometimes, having the humor of a 16-year-old boy can be an asset; the dogged determination to find the penis carved into the rock led us on a 2-hour search and covered most of the ancient site. Maybe that's what drives all great archeologists, the search for the perfect ancient dick joke. (Photo at end)

Which came first, the olives or the Romans?

Curiosity about Volubilis was the reason we took the foray into the center of Morocco, instead of driving up the Atlantic coast, which is a faster route to our final destination of Chefchaouen. You can read about Volubilis's UNESCO World Heritage designation. For those who have a shorter attention span, Volubilis is an Ancient Roman city, at the westernmost border of the Roman Empire. It was originally settled by Carthaginians. There are parts of the city that date back to the third century B.C. and the huge Arc d'Triumph was built around 213 A.D.
Some historians say that one point the city housed up to 20,000 people. The surviving mosaics and fountains evidence that it must have been stunning before the city was abandoned about 1000 years ago and much of its treasures were plundered for the building of Moulay Idriss and general thievery.

Our visit--

After a wonderful breakfast and another walk around Moulay Idriss, we bade our hostess at Dar Zerhoune farewell and headed toward the arches of stone down on the plain that are visible from up in the mountain city.

It was a hot day. Ramadan has passed slowly during the month of August, so the offers of guides were easily waved off and the men could return to laying in the shade. It's only 10 Dirhams (less than $1.50) per person to enter the site, I almost feel guilty paying so little. Val and I immediately turn off the main path onto a smaller path, a way I like to refer to as 'taking the we-didn't-pay-for-a-guide route.' Instead of walking around to the entrance of the town and working our way through the ruins of the residential sector and ending at the Basilica and governmental buildings we went straight for the big columns. Of course, it was the search for the rumored phallus carving that led us through the maze of stone walkways and over most of the expansive site.

Some people say that the penis carving points to the red light district, who knows if that is really true. As Val said, 'well, it's pointing at something.' Either way, if you are in Volubilis, remember, it's in the House of the Dog. We did eventually google it from Val's phone so that we could end our quest.

And then I got stung by a bee.

So, did the Romans bring the olive trees that dot the landscape because the climate was perfect for their growing, or were they already here?

As always, there are more photos on our Flickr site.
Volubilis photos
Moulay Idriss photos

Next up, Part III: Chefchaouen

Teaser: Khalia is coming shortly.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcome to Moulay Idriss, or "THOSE are olive trees!"

"Olive them?"

Trip #2 outside the Casablanca/Rabat area
Part I: Moulay Idriss

Moulay Idriss. Ever heard of it? Neither had we. We decided that for our second trip we wanted to venture out onto the winding mountain roads of central Morocco. We are trying to make Casablanca home, but it lacks the charm and mystique in the living medinas of the ancient cities. Destination was Volubilis, the most well preserved Roman ruins in N. Africa, but en route, why not explore the holy city of Moulay Idriss? It's just up the road and is finally open to non-Muslims to stay the night. Visiting during the holy month of Ramadan made it especially interesting as the small central square was bustling with activity late into the night.

We were introduced to a lovely guesthouse called Dar Zerhoune, named for the mountain range the city is nestled into. It was perfect for us and the proprietor, a Kiwi named Rose, gave us much insight into activities. Thank you again for being a wonderful hostess!

Arriving in Moulay Idriss, you leave your car in the small lot in the main square. There are no roads that will accommodate a full-sized vehicle, only foot traffic, donkeys, and small carts. The city is well over 1000 years old and the ancient design can be seen in the tiny winding streets that climb the contour of the mountain. The city is part of the mountain in a way that modern construction has lost. Almost every step you take to move in any direction is a stair step up or down.

From the main square it is apparent that foreign visitors are few as there are soon plenty of eager volunteers to show you to your hotel, to take you to see the “view panoramic,” or to see the rare cylindrical minaret. By “volunteer,” I mean “for a small fee” but, unless you are like Val and I and enjoy getting lost in a city, I recommend paying the pocket change for someone to direct you. An English-speaking older gentleman became our guide (without our asking, of course) and once we had walked around with him, it took us an hour of wandering the winding alleys to find our way back to our hotel. But, in the process we enjoyed the walk. Well, at least for the first 30 minutes of stairmaster action!

While you are up on the hill, visit the Scorpion House. It's a beautiful place to take in the view and have some delicious food.

Lastly, if you decide to visit Moulay, you must know that there are thermal-heated Roman baths up on the mountain just a short (and beautiful) walk along the river from the town. Visit them. You will not be disappointed. If you are, you should be more fun.

Coming Soon: Part II: Volubilis

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

First Visit to Marrakech

Now that we are back from our second trip out of town to visit Volubilis, Moulay Idriss, and Chefchaouen, I must do a quick write-up of our overnight trip to Marrakesh (Marrakech). Then I can allow myself to talk about our jaunt through the center of the country and the Rif Mountains.

Visiting Marrakesh can be done in a weekend, although, it will leave you wanting more. We will return, eventually. But there are so many more places to see.

I wanted to hate it – touristy, pushy sellers, and such – but I couldn’t. It was beautiful, it was fun, and our little oasis at Riad Bayti was just the relaxation we needed after a month in Casablanca.

First, I must mention the trains…

Morocco is a country with a wonderfully developed system of highways and trains. So, taking the train from Casablanca started out perfectly. We didn't get too ripped off by the petit cab on the way to Casa Voyagers; negotiating to use the meter helped considerably. We arrived early and since there were no seats next to each other in first class we opted to take our chances with second class. Now, we are always game for an adventure and I don't really consider myself a premier class sort, it’s generally twice the price, so I'd rather save the money and put it toward another trip. We knew we were doomed when the announcements started that the train (8:50am, first on Saturday) would be delayed. And delayed. And further delayed...

The train finally arrived at 10:50, the time of the usual second train of the day, so the chaos that erupted pushed us onto the train in standing-room-only for the three-hour trek. A smile will help get you someone's armrest to perch on, but it took hours before a woman got off at one of the intermediary stops, allowing me to sit. She had motioned for a man standing next to me to take the seat and seemed quite angry when he gave the seat to me.. I must get used to those cultural differences. Was it because I am clearly foreign, because I’m a woman.. I don’t know. I sat down and immediately fell asleep.

Once we arrived in Marrakesh we found another petit taxi and negotiated a good price to take us to the Bab Mullah - the Jewish quarter – and paid a local man a few dirhams to show us down the winding alleys of the souk to our riad. The heat was not unbearable and soon we were walking to the Djamaa el Fna Square and into the many souks to wander. The medina is manageable and relatively clean, cleaner than Casablanca anyway, and not so confusing that you necessarily need to hire a guide. It was the artisans who stole my heart; hammering iron lanterns, tanning leather, dying wool, the city is alive and while most of the crafts go to fuel tourist influx of cash, there was an authenticity. These are not cheap souvenirs.

So, we did end up finally buying a few pieces for our home that will remind us of our trip. I have a weakness for textiles and the carpets are just amazing. Through the long negotiation process Val got them down to below 1/3 the original asking price, so everyone was happy. The experience of carpet buying is fun; the setting was a beautiful old mansion, the tea was sweet and packed with fresh mint, and the salesman, Driss, was friendly and the haggling was tough, but going from 10,000 DH to 3,000 we felt satisfied with ourselves, and walked out with the most amazing carpet we had seen yet. Don’t try to haggle for carpets in Marrakesh if you aren’t up for the challenge.

For dinner, the lovely restaurant Tangia, near Riad Bayti in the Bab Mullah, is a wonderful option for a fancy meal out. If you are feeling a bit travel weary and are not sure your stomach can handle the food stalls in the square, Tangia’s pigeon pastilla is just perfect. Although, my sister once referred to the Moroccan pastilla as a chicken donut, the dusting of powdered sugar over the meat pie is really spectacular. The sampler of Moroccan salads will leave not one of your taste buds un-teased. We finished the meal with a lamb tagine with figs, no complaints to sip our tea and watch the belly dancers before retiring back to the terrace at Riad Bayti for the evening.

Sunday, we walked to souks, bought some fragrant spices and tea, and took a first-class train car home. I’ll go half as often if that means I have a seat and a drink cart to bring me some strong, hot coffee.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Last few days in the big house..

Pardon me while I ramble for a moment, I haven't quite organized my thoughts yet but I'm pushing myself to update this blog before I get out of the mode again. So, a mishmash will ensue.

My initial thoughts about living in Casablanca?

Val and I are not homeowners.

It's not that we don't want to be, in that grand "someday" way, but when it comes down to it, we aren't really house people. Sure, this 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom, yard, sandbox, garage villa has been a nice place to campout. It's been fun chasing the cats up the big marble staircase. But really, it's a golden birdcage.

I like a small space. I like to have just what I need and some potted plants. I need my freedom to walk and explore. So, we move downtown tomorrow. Where will I keep my goats? Well, when I am ready to have my goats, I'll want that big yard, I'll be ready then. Someday.

Living small doesn't mean I like a small kitchen. Having this giant kitchen to play in makes me miss my small appliances and my cookbooks that are all awaiting me back in New York. All those recipes I never could try in the summer because turning on the oven in a tiny New York apartment when the temperature is over 80 only leads to grumpy, sweaty people. I wish I had my ice cream maker! I am dying to see if you can make Leben into a buttermilk ice cream... I love the Smitten Kitchen's write-up of this amazing buttermilk recipe - try it, it is to die for.

So, over the last few weeks in the big house I've made my own perogies, using a recipe similar to this one. It's a good and easy recipe, but unfortunately it does not use a potato dough. The perogies were delicious enough to let that slide.

Cooking Moroccan?
I've made my first attempt at a Moroccan tagine (I even used a preserved lemon!). However, I've also made some bad substitution choices: philo dough pizza (no, it was not delicious nor intentional) and separated pita halves used as tortillas come to mind. It's always an adventure.

Now, with all this domesticity I'm starting to get antsy.

There are adventures on the horizon. I'll tell you about marrakesh next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maybe it's time...

To start writing again.

It's been a long time since I updated this blog, sadly. Over a year has passed, a few CSA seasons, a few new adventures, a few continents. It may be time to chronicle some of these events so that we may look back on them, jog our memories in the years to come, and so that we can share them with the people we love.

Hmm. Yeah, I think it probably is.

I guess this will be my first dispatch from Casablanca.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Welcome back to CSA Season!

Welcome to the Summer 2010 CSA edition of Unplugging Desdemona. Yes, I did a winter CSA and there were some great food experiences that came out of that, but I wasn't in a writing mood. Next year I'll extol the joys of a winter of farm-fresh root vegetables, preserved goods, eggs, meats, milks, etc.. I worked on cheeses, ice creams, and as many ways as I could think of to prepare beets and cabbage.

New York is an amazing city for people who want to live in the center of it all, yet remain connected to agriculture. Sure, I have one sad rosemary struggling on my window sill, but I can support a myriad of local farmers through the many Greenmarkets, volunteering, CSAs, and by making my purchasing decisions support the small stores that stock responsibly. Red Jacket orchards is working to get fresh fruits and juices into bodegas in Bed-Stuy--I have to shoutout to "Not Eating Out In New York" for this one. I did hear from the Department of Health in Bed-Stuy about this one but I hadn't gotten the details. I'm glad that the word is getting out there. Just know that there is a kickstarter campaign to fund this initiative that is very, very far from reaching its goals.

If you would like to read more about the food system and health situation in Bed-Stuy to get you thinking about why it's important to support valuable programs like the Healthy Bodegas initiative, check out my work with City Harvest--Bed-Stuy Community Food Assessment. None of this work can be done without your support.

OK, now onto the CSA!

I'd like to give some love to Culinate who put out a recipe for buttermilk ice cream a few months ago. I was able to grab some buttermilk from the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday and some organic lemons and limes from whole foods (I'm looking for a local option, but the citrus is just so good). I doctored up the recipe with a little fresh mint from my CSA to give it just a little hint to compliment to lime and lemon zest. If the idea of a dessert creamier than lemon ice but lighter than ice cream appeals to you, this buttermilk sherbet will knock your socks off!

So, I hope you join me for the summer season.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Heritage Radio - Did Fancy Bacon Kill Vegetarianism?

I love this conversation on Heritage radio about how the sustainable/local food movement has changed the choices available for people who care about and want to change the food system. This came up during the Brooklyn Kitchen's Foodie Book Club meeting last week and to me it is the direction that food activism has taken: vegetarianism is not the only option anymore, soy is NOT the solution, and eating out of season produce and pineapples in new york has more environmental impact than a pork chop from a local, humane, diversified farm.

Now, is it better to "forget" our indigenous cultural roots foods or "forget" that in other parts of the world there are avocados, bananas, and mangoes? Granted, this is a simplified argument, there are so many factors at play, but I believe that the monocropping of soy is not good for the environment nor is too much consumption of it good for our health. I don't think it's "fancy bacon" exactly, but the larger spectrum of quality meat products available via the NY Greenmarkets that has given people an option that is beyond vegetarian.

That said, I finally went to Candle Cafe last night and I was impressed with the food. I haven't gone to as many vegetarian restaurants as I would have in previous years, but a good healthy meal always appeals to me. The enchilada special was out of this world and such a hearty portion that I will be making dinner tonight from the doctored leftovers. It's all about balance.