April 26, 2008

The House of Bedla

Soban's face has the mother love of India shining through it. Her veil comes off and on, off and on, curious and coy, respectful and shy. She is a graceful cook, her kitchen as clear and sweet as her smile. Vijay, a nobleman, was relaxed and happy to share his home and family stories. Udaipur has a long history of palaces and princes. The uncle, charming and entertaining was pleased to have guests and another opportunity to eat his favorite dishes. Karan, the son, stepped right from the the lineage of old photos of Rajput princes, yet was eager to help translate for his mother in the kitchen. The nephew from another brother, sweet and talkative, was the youngest player on India's polo team. He recently lost his father and lives now with his aunt, uncle and cousin. Soban could mother the world. "When the boys find their wives, you'll be invited to the wedding", said Vijay. I'm most excited and honored. Indian weddings are legendary.

The house was well appointed, yet simple. Family photographs of a different time and dress covered the walls. The house has screen doors and fans, a passion of mine and welcomed respite from too much air conditioning. When it's 100 degrees most of the time, the extreme temperatures don't jive. Sowan’s kitchen had two burners, old marble counters, a terracotta water jug, a spice cabinet and sink. She taught me "ladyfingers with tomato sauce and spices" and "spinach palak." The meal was elaborate, yet the table was simply set. The conversation was marvelous and we really hit it off. Sowan glided from dining room to kitchen in her beautiful saree, yet one hardly noticed. It was like a flash of color there but not there, quite like her veil. I learned that okra is not only a southern vegetable and I took a spice tin home by surprise. I had complimented her on hers, and the next thing I knew I had one "to go." I left quite touched in many ways.

April 20, 2008

Home away from home in Rome

When in Rome ... I like to stay at Portrait Suites. I've never had a favorite hotel in Rome, as the nice ones were always too expensive and full of fanfare. I don't need that. But I do like a good location, good design and friendly service. I get that and more at Portrait. It's part of the Florentine Lungarno Hotel line – owned and operated by the Ferragamo Family. In fact it seems as if Portrait is dedicated to Salavatore Ferragamo's early design days. The hotels are designed by Michele Bonan. I like his fresh, simple, liveable style with panache. Neutral color scheme, crisp white lenins, black and white photos ... I just never want to leave. It's small and intimate and with a small kitchen inside (even somewhat hidden) it feels like home.

Located on Bocca di Leone, 23, it's located over the Ferragamo shop on Via dei Condotti, just a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps. As they say, "if the shoe fits, wear it." This one fits me to a tee.

April 17, 2008

Recipe: Tanjia Marrakshia

Coming down from the village of Imlil, we saw clever capers peeping out of the rock walls waving to us as we flew by. The wind in Marrakech was ferocious for three days. The far distant fields were a massive wall, the color of terracotta. We made our way into the medina from Place Mokfed, past the familiar bamboo covered market, till we made our immediate left and quick right down to Riad Mezzouar. Nadia was there to greet us, get us settled in and ushered into the kitchen. Today was an important day. Tangia! Tangia is only made in Marrakech and only by men, for men. It's a treat prepared by bachelors for a party or an outdoor gathering accompanied by by music and card playing. I have also heard that it can be used as a peace offering if there has been a fight between couples. The man takes it home to his wife as a genuine gesture of love. It's a strong dish with a lot of cumin and preserved lemon rubbed on beef or lamb. What makes it so sought after is that it made and put in the ashes of the wood fire, used to heat the hammam (turkish bath). Our friend Rachid from the Riad took us around to the Hammam and we put our tanjia in the ashes of an underground fire pit.

Tanjia is not to be mistaken for Tagine. Tagine is a conical shaped terracotta lid that fits over a flat, but lipped, terracotta bottom. Tanjia is an upright terracotta vessel with two round handles.

Tanjia Marrakchia

3 lbs. beef or lamb
6 whole cloves of garlic peeled
2 T cumin
A good pinch of saffron
1 preserved lemon, split into 4
1 T of ras al hanout (44 spice blend found in the spice market)
2-3 oz of smen (preserved butter) or regular butter and a bit of olive oil.
1 glass of water

Place all the ingredients into the tangia (or heavy pot with a lid), add the water, mix well.

If it's a Tanjia, you must close the top with paper and and wrap around with string (if you are going to put in the ashes.) Take to the hammam and give it to the farnachi (the man who tends to the fire) and leave it for at least 4 hours. Shake it every now and then, so it doesn't stick. Poke holes in the top of the paper to let the steam escape after a few hours. Serve very hot.

April 6, 2008

Driving up to Imlil along the twisted road I become nostagic. The wild fig and caper branches growing out of solid rock give me a sense of place. I know soon that I will see Berber women tending their cows and young girls tending even younger children. The cows are always close behind, or ahead, depending on the temprament of the girl, or the cow. A halo of sticks bound to the old women's backs bend them low. The valley becomes more fertile and the stream more full of promise. It's coming from above. The Kasbah is full of old friends and often new. They want to talk. Everthing seems close to the heart.

April 5, 2008

spring morning's walk

White apple blossoms next to white snow on mountains~ green wheat with purple irises – girls walk with baskets of bread on their heads – the wood fired ovens bake not only the bread, but heat the hammam. Mothers and children come out from the hammam all clean with red cheeks. Heads are covered, mismatched patterns match stone walls and washing. Chickens hide in corners, cows bellow hello. High up at Hassin's we drink tea on the roof where we can see the whole valley and stand face to face with giant mountains. Coming down through terraced gardens to cross rushing streams and awe at the magic of the walnut forest.

Berber Bread

Up over the Haoz plain, we leave the ramparts of Marrakech headed towards the Ourika valley. We pass the kings gardens full of olive and orange trees and find ourselves driving straight towards the high Atlas mountains shining bright with snow. A welcomed sight in 85 degree weather.

We pass through the village of Tnin, to find the gates of Nectarome, my friend Jalil’s aromatherapy garden. Berber woman are busy baking bread in the traditional Tasalhit bread ovens. Stooped over, they bend from the waist and gracefully and straight legged as a yoga pose, pull bread from off the hot rocks. Corn and olive, barley with nigella seeds, wheat with fennel seeds..we eat it hot and dip it into an array of aromatic oils such as toasted argan, un-toasted argan, sesame, olive and nigella. The bread goes down easy. I know this bread will not boast or bloat, but satisfy in the most delicious way. Followed by a cup of steaming
herb tea from the garden, I feel once again at home in Morocco.

April 3, 2008

The winds of marrakech

It was snowing in Colorado when I left. I hopped a plane to Marrakech and felt the warm winds descend and envelope me, stripping coats, shoes, and winter blues right off my body as if they dissolved into thin air. Quiet stars and flowing palms
rocked me into dreaming. I am in the bosom of Jnane Tamsna, at home in the gardens and all is quiet well.

In the kitchen with Bahija we made a new tagine with chicken and pear. Some new recipes to follow. It's quite hot. Tomorrow we'll go into the mountains, but not before stopping at Jalil's aromatherapy garden. He's made a museum of Spice. The first one in any Arabic country.

I look forward to the air of Imlil; the smiling faces of Abdul and the Mohammed, the lovely Berbers who manage the Kasbah and the mystery of Toubkal.