Monday, February 7, 2011

Roman Ruins and a White City

A few weeks ago, I had had it. I go through phases like this, where I feel inhuman because I’m in a rut, I’m stressed, or I’m simply out of balance. I need to go on a hike and go camping. So, I texted some friends, and just like that, the cloud lifted with plans for getting out of town.

We drove to Volubilis, which is a site of Roman ruins nestled between fertile rolling hills (grains and olive trees) and beneath a holy white city (Moulay Idriss).
Wandering around, I appreciated the wildflowers and columns. I admired the mosaic tilework that once made up dining room floors and now sit exposed to the elements.
From Meknes and Volubilis
From Meknes and Volubilis

Atop ancient foundations, we enjoyed a picnic lunch of sandwiches, good cheese, Moroccan olives, and a nice Bordeaux.
From Meknes and Volubilis
Our expedition continued with a drive through Moulay Idriss, which proved more challenging because it was market day. The streets were lined with pedestrians, shops, donkeys, and cars.
From Meknes and Volubilis
We found it difficult to find a camping spot for the night. Every potential spot was either in a ridiculously public spot, exposed to the elements, or...
From Meknes and Volubilis
... on someone's olive grove.
From Meknes and Volubilis
We were relieved to find a quiet spot next to a lake. A Moroccan man visited us at night, hiding a bottle of wine in his jacket and lighting up his kiff pipe. He sat with us for a bit, joking and passing the pipe around the fire. In the morning, a man with two mules, two dogs, and an old plow joined us. As we ate an elaborate camping breakfast of eggs, bread, and cheese, the man walked slowly along, yelling at his mules, and plowing that field the old-fashioned way.

The next day, we set out to find a good hiking spot. We wandered behind Moulay Idriss, crossing a river and scaling a rock face, disturbed a shepherd’s dog and sheep, and came to a stunning view of the city, with Volubilis below.
I had the perfect weekend- time with friends, a romp in nature, a historical perspective, and a bit of Moroccan culture.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Soup...Moroccan Style!

I was delighted when Imane, my coworker and fellow lover-of-cooking, presented me with a little organic pumpkin and a note: "Happy Early Fall & Happy Cooking." I spent two weeks deliberating over the most creative possibility for this charming vegetable.
From Making Pumpkin Soup

Of course, I emailed my dear friend and greatest cooking inspiration, Jenny, and we devised a plan. Choose a basic pumpkin soup recipe, adapt it to your liking, and share! I perused many recipes, and realized that aside from the pumpkin-apple sweet idea, none of these quite fit the bill for me. 

I devised a way to fill my soup with my favorite Moroccan spices: cinnamon, saffron, and cumin. Accompany those with the fun things I find in the market: quince, big yellow raisins. There you have it, a recipe of my own whim, and a day to make it happen. Here is my story of Moroccan cooking.

This rainy morning I wandered to the underground market, basket in hand, expecting a lull in activity. Not so, as I was pushed aside multiple times by the guy squeeging water from the walkway.  Here are my main ingredients.
From Making Pumpkin Soup
My nuss (that's half in Arabic) kilos of ingredients are weighed quickly on the scale and bagged up by efficient hands.

From Making Pumpkin Soup
Part of the adventure of cooking in Morocco is getting the ingredients. A woman cannot go to the market alone without a sense of humor. Trying to be careful about taking pictures of others, I asked this man if I could photograph his vegetables. What followed was a series of posed  shots, taken by the guy selling tomatoes, of the shopkeepers and I. 
From Making Pumpkin Soup
All said and done, I paid decent prices and walked, heavy with produce, back to my kitchen. After thoroughly washing my vegetables, which includes a bath of water and a dash of bleach (lesson learned from past experience), I attempt to capture the beauty of this food before I chop it all up! 

 An army of zucchini
From Making Pumpkin Soup

Moroccan celery
 Grumpy-faced quince
My adventure is almost complete. "There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the Real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other's cooking & say it was good."  As artist Brian Andreas so eloquently puts it, it's time to share this soup with the friends I've made in Morocco. 


Moroccan-spiced Pumpkin Soup
Karissa Swanson Moore
October 9, 2010

Vegetable Broth
·      Pinch of salt
·      Freshly ground black pepper
·      3 cinnamon sticks
·      8 garlic cloves, chopped
·      ½ head of a small cabbage, cut into large pieces
·      2 large green onions (5 small)
·      5 carrots
·      6 Celery stems and leaves
·      1 bunch of parsley, knotted
·      3 small zucchini, chopped into large pieces

Pumpkin Soup
·      Vegetable broth (see above) or Chicken Broth
·      1 small pumpkin (approx. 1.5 lbs), peeled and cubed.
·      2 quince, peeled and cubed
·      1 ¼ cup yellow raisins
·      1 medium yellow or Vidalia onion
·      3 T. butter
·      1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
·      ½ tsp. ground cumin
·      ½ tsp. ground ginger
·      Generous pinch of saffron, soaked in about ¼ cup of hot water
·      1 cup plain yogurt
        Crushed walnuts for garnish

Start with the vegetable broth. In a big kettle, bring water to boil with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, chop vegetables and put them in the water. Add water to cover, if necessary. Add spices. Once boiling, turn heat down to a simmer, cover, and allow simmering for 2 hours.

When the broth is almost finished, start preparing the pumpkin soup. Heat a large saucepan; add butter, and sauté the pumpkin, followed by the quince, then the onion.

Remove the carrots, cabbage, and zucchini from the vegetable broth and add them to the pumpkin mixture. Pour some of the broth into this mixture, making sure to not add too much or the soup will be watery.

Add the spices, except the saffron, and bring to boil. When the quince and pumpkin are nearly tender, add 1 cup of the raisins and the saffron-water mixture.

When all ingredients are cooked, use a mixing wand or blender to puree the soup.

Present with a dollop of plain yogurt, crushed walnuts, and yellow raisins. Serve with crusty bread.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A "New" Instrument

Call me a dork, but I'm always intrigued by how instruments change over time and across cultures. Last summer while in Heidelberg, Germany, we heard a mesmerizing "new" instrument.

The instrument originated in the Caribbean, where it was a steel drum. The Swiss inverted the shape, made some adjustments, and created the Hang.

If you've never seen Steel Drums, check out this video I found on YouTube:

Rooting for the Bulls!

Last summer’s European road trip took us to Arles, France, which is a dumpy little town on the Mediterranean coast of France that houses quite an impressive array of Roman ruins. The town’s tradition twice each week is the Bull Races, housed in a Roman-era coliseum. 
From Bull Races

The coliseum is much smaller than the coliseum, but almost more delightful because one can wander the levels and the circular network of paths intended to facilitate the safe movement of thousands of spectators.
From Bull Races

And of course, one can sit on the old stone seats to take in the show.
From Bull Races
I was apprehensive about going to Bull Races, for I didn’t want to see animals being harmed. Apparently, though, this kind of race is different. The bull appears, a bit riled up, and 9 young men must get close enough to remove a small bow from the antlers of the bull. If the bull does something exciting, he wins the sounding of Carmen. Excitement builds when the men jump high, when the bull jumps the protective inner ring, or when the bull rips apart the fence. We found ourselves rooting for the bulls, over and over again.

From Bull Races

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


We visited a little town called Chefchaouen. It’s nestled in the Rif Mountains of Morocco. 

We went there during Ramadan, which is a month-long holiday in Islam in which people fast all day (no food and no water) and feast at sundown. This helps people to remember to be thankful for what they have, and empathetic toward people who have less. 

Here’s a photo of people waking early to buy all the food they need for the nights’ feast. Notice the people crowded on the right- they’re buying onions, peppers, and all kinds of other vegetables and fruits. The woman carrying the buckets is dressed differently than people in a big city like Casablanca; her straw hat is especially regional. Notice little blue poofs on it. 

From Chefchaouen
Not everyone in Chefchaouen has an oven in their home. A friendly host took us to this public oven, which was busy with hand-prepared food from all over town. 

In the old part of the city, called the medina, you can wander around a maze of little streets, all blue. Some blues were so bright it hurt my eyes!

From Chefchaouen

People are friendly- they greet you, invite you over for an evening of Gnawa music, or let you just shop without hassling you too much.

I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was!

From Chefchaouen

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Flamenco music in Granada, Spain

Jim, LuAnn, Tom, and I pay 6 Euros each to  cram into the small space of "Le Chien Andalou." We order some tapas and drinks, and wait. 

From Flamenco
The guitarist begins, playing a a mesmerizing melody with punctuated chords. His posture and passion makes me think of Picasso's Blue Guitarist. 

From Flamenco
The singer begins, his voice melismatic and powerful, his eyes passionate. The singer and guitarist exchange musical conversation, weaving their music expertly and beautifully. The song ends with intensity so great the singer must stand, clap, and stomp with a flurry.
From Flamenco

A new song invites the dancer, who adds rhythmic intensity with the complex rhythms of her feet on the wood floor and her hands snapping and clapping. The dancer also plays the role of musician and actor.  
From Flamenco
A fraction of the music and dance we saw: 

Montée la montagne

I love the French translation for climb the mountain. To my ears, montée sounds so similar to montagne; the words belong together!

La montagne Aaron, Allison, and I intend to climb is Mt. Toubkal, the tallest peak in North Africa (13671ft/4167m). We meet our guide, Hassan, and two mules in the tiny town of Imlil. We load our heavier packs of food and tents on to the mules, and begin hiking from an elevation of 5905 feet (1800 m). 

Aaron, Allison, and Hassan hike past Armd.
From Toubkal
Our mules pass us. We see them again at base camp.
From Toubkal
Along the way, we stop for refreshments in a makeshift shack. Our drinks are chilled by fresh mountain water. 
From Toubkal
I admire vegetation I've never seen before.
From Toubkal
We reach base camp after 5-6 hours of hiking on the first day. Aaron digs out the spaghetti he made, and we dive in enthusiastically.
From Toubkal

At our base camp: sunset followed by a stunning starry sky. 
From Toubkal

We wake on the second day at 6:00, before sunrise. Our big day, the forecasted 3-hour hike to the summit. My legs are exhausted from the day before. Another French phrase: j'ai fatigue. Literally translated: I have tired. Fatigue sounds so much more truthful at this point. As we hike up the scree (loose rocks), I had to remind my sleepy mind and tired body to keep going. I will do this. Berber guides stop and ask us how we are; I tell them in French and English that I am tired, but happy. I allow myself time to rest and breathe. A view of the summit gives me new motivation and energy. 

From Toubkal
From Toubkal

After the false summit (see above), we reach the real summit, marked by people who've celebrated before us. 
From Toubkal
From Toubkal

I love the view, the fresh air, the cold wind and the warm sun. 
From Toubkal
The descent is difficult, trying to maintain balance on sliding dirt and rocks while caring for my knees. We turn around and hike the whole way down, resulting in about 9 hours of hiking in one day. I lag behind, being careful, and make occasional small-talk with Hassan. 

For me, hiking this far brings me back to the basics of thinking, listening, and moving forward one step at a time. I celebrate where I've been and where I'm going to. I look backward and admire, forward with excitement and anxiety. I listen to my body. Sometimes it has energy, other times I have to push myself to keep going. 

J'ai fatigue, mais je suis happy.