Time to move on (March 22, 2018)

I decided to play it safe with my OK but at the same time unsettled stomach and eat a light, stomach-friendly breakfast of water and banana while others were busy grazing the huge breakfast buffet.

We had two fun adventures today. The first was taking a cooking class at the Lotus Chef, a women-run cooking school inconspicuously tucked away in the Old Medina. It was a first class experience and very fun. Our lessons started in the beautifully tiled courtyard of the riad with an explanation of the spices prevalent in Moroccan cooking: herbs like onions, garlic, parsley, and cilantro; locally grown saffron; sesame seeds and almonds; olives and preserved lemons; and spices like ginger, pepper, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, bay leaf, coriander, and turmeric.

Once that tutorial was over we watched a Saharan tea ceremony artfully executed by an enthusiastic fellow seated on a cushion. He was skilled in pouring tea into our small glasses from a distance as high as his arm was long. I decided to call it the ‘high pour.’ We had seen it many times by then but remained amazed that tea is not poured everywhere but in the small glasses. Quite a skill. In place of stirring, tea is poured from on high into a glass and returned to the pot twelve times and then returned to the heat to warm it for drinking. Sugar is added before all the back and forth begins. It was explained to us that performing a tea ceremony is a social event which allows time for conversation.

After the tea ceremony we were shown how to make the traditional flat bread that we had eaten in restaurants and seen sold on the street.

With all these formalities out of the way, we donned aprons and were assigned to cooking stations. We each had our own station as well as access to a TV monitor, so we could watch each step demonstrated. Chicken tagine was the main event. Once we had ours simmering away, we turned our attention to two side dishes. By the time the bread was baked in a clay oven on the roof of the building and the courtyard was set up as a dining space, our meal was ready. Everyone dug in enthusiastically and decided ours had turned out as good as the ones we had eaten at local restaurants. I say we, but I mean they since I stuck with tea and bread with a Pepto-Bismal chaser. I felt great but did not want to take a chance. We each left with a diploma, recipes, and a chance to purchase an apron.

There are three types of tagines: unglazed, glazed, and ornamental.
Couscous is typically only served on Friday.
You can arrange for a restaurant to cook a meal you have prepared at home.
Romans introduced pepper to Morocco.
Arabs introduced other spices in the 7th century.

Our second adventure today was visiting an argan oil cooperative between Marrakesh and our seaside destination of Essaouira. We drove out of Marrakesh through beautiful neighborhoods with wide roads, pretty street lights, and American and European stores. We were soon in the country enjoying views of beautiful fields being plowed by mules and donkeys. Adults and children alike waved at us as we passed. As we approached groves of argan trees, which look a lot like olive trees and are endemic to Morocco, we hoped to see goats climbing them to feast on the fruit, but sadly  it was a little early in the season for that.

The women’s cooperative we visited, Cooperative Marjana, processes the fruit of the argan tree the old fashioned way from start to finish in order to give employment to women who would otherwise have difficulty finding work. Think lucky-to-have-a-job meets tedious and repetitious. Here’s the deal: the fruit of the argan tree is small and has a thick peel which covers the fleshy pulp. When the time is right, one group of women cracks open and discards the thick peal leaving the pulp. This is done by resting a single piece of fruit on a large stone and wacking it with a small stone. Next the pulp has to be removed to expose the hard-shelled nut. Again one by one. Then the nut is cracked to expose one to three oil-rich kernels. Bingo, that’s what we’re after. Once the kernels are retrieved they are roasted or not, depending on if they will produce oil for cooking or cosmetics, and then the oil is extracted. Toward the end of the production process the ladies manipulate what looks like globs of peanut butter that eventually produce the oil. It is easy to see why it is an expensive oil no matter how it is used. Of course we stopped in the gift shop before boarding the bus.

Remember I mentioned we hoped to see goats in the argan trees, but we
were a few weeks early? Welllllll, get a load of this. Morocco’s famous goats,
who love to climb high into argan trees to eat the fruit and leaves, were traditionally used to speed along the first step of production … the ‘crack open the thick peal to expose the pulp’ step.  You see, the goats can’t digest the fruit, so they eat it and poop it out undigested but partially broken down and much easier for the ladies to crack open.
I kid (no pun intended) you not!

Argan is one of the world’s priciest edible oils
with a liter costing around $130.

After pictures, videos, questions, clarification on the goats, and shopping, we boarded the bus for the quick ride to the small, cute, seaside resort of Essaouira. Hotel Dar L’Oussia, our home for two nights, is a charming riad built around a beautiful blue and white tiled courtyard. Two hand towels folded in the shape of swans were beak to beak on our bed with red rose pedals scattered on the pillows. In spite of all this charm and heated tile floors, we had to giggle when we saw the chest-high window in the shower that looked out onto the common area. In spite of our potentially compromised privacy, no one could argue that we had had another wonderful day!




8 thoughts on “Time to move on (March 22, 2018)

  1. I love that you got to take a cooking class and do a tea cerimony! I love your fun facts

    Sent from my Sprint Phone.


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