My belated Thanksgiving

My day of food appreciation came late. I usually am sure to treat myself to a nice Thanksgiving meal whether I am home or on the road. But I somehow lost track this year, despite it being my favorite holiday.

I made up for it, though. I took a cooking class a couple days later. Morocco cooking seems to be the vogue in the Western world lately. How better timed than this trip and a cooking lesson?

The truth is tajines are easy to make. No real special cooking technique that any regular home cook can’t figure out between all the online resources of recipes and videos to search through. But, after a couple days of being inundated with aggressive vendors and being catcalled at to get my attention as if I were a call girl, being driven out to the edges of the countryside and surrounded by fellow food lovers was a lovely reprieve.

The kitchen, Faim d’Epices, was in a studio in the far reaches of town. Pretty much into the countryside. It was a gorgeous red concrete building, as is typical of the area. Inside, was a large kitchen for the staff, and an open area with a ring of cooking stations, and the teaching counter on one end. There was also a separate bar counter used to demonstrations where we would gather up close.

The business is owned and run by a French expat, Michel. I feel I’ve met more French in Morocco than any of my trips in France! Michel clearly has a passion for his job, and a sense of corny humour that never seems to go out of style. Who knows how many times he’s said the same jokes to each of his classes, daily. But as we are more often than not one-time clients, it never got old.

As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed as if we have visited him personal home. Shaken hands the moment we step off the car, served tea or coffee while we did introductions. After the hustle and bustle of Marrakech medina, the quiet countryside with such sincere friendliness was refreshing.

I also lucked out in having such a friendly group of classmates. We all had a lot of the same questions and complaints from our experiences in Marrakech. How to shop in the souks, how to find haggle when we didn’t care enough to bother, how to know when we were buying a true product.

The class included a spice smelling quiz, wearing blackened fake purple plastic Ray Ban sunglasses that made us chuckle as we put them on. It occurred to me later that I should have checked the mirror to make sure I don’t walk out with raccoon eyes from any residual black markings. But I didn’t see any on anyone else so I figured I should be OK. By the way, I would have failed the spice test miserably, were I graded.

We were given a demonstration on making bread, salad and crepes. I was especially delighted to be able to give it a go in kneading my own bread. A lot of work for something I would consume in 5 minutes, but making bread has been on my to-do list for a while in my venture into cooking.

We tossed together our tajines without much fanfare. The spices were already laid out in individual little bowls. All the effort it took was to split the portions into two and scoop them into a bowl to mix and marinate before cooking. As I said, nothing technical and nothing that couldn’t be looked up on the Internet. The tajine chicken marinated for about half and hour, and cooked in its container for about 45 minutes. The flavors were added on top of the marinade for the last 30 or so minutes, in our case, lemon peel and olives.

The main Moroccan spices are: parsley, coriander, ginger, turmeric, and a touch of saffron. For the sweets, cinnamon as well. I will need to decide if I want to bother with preserving lemons or curdling butter at home.. I have the sense I already do that unwittingly each time I travel anyway :)

We ate our meals outside on the patio to the side of the building, protected by the building’s shadow and some canvas awning above us. Yummy, I must say.

As Michel offered us wine to go with the meal, I sat back, reveled in how full I was and what a lovely sit down meal I was having. It then struck me: this *was* my Thanksgiving meal. Even if there weren’t any other Americans around me, and I had met these people only four hours earlier, I was sharing a happy meal, grateful for my company, and reveling in my good fortune as a whole.

I was so full from the mid-afternoon meal, I really didn’t need dinner. I took that lack of hunger as an opportunity to venture and try one of the delicacies of Marrakech street food: la tete du mouton. Yep, sheep’s head. I figured if I was totally grossed out, I could just walk away and not worry about searching for more food that may not go down well.

If I hadn’t watched the meat being pulled off the skull right in front of me, I would have thought it was just any pulled meat stew. It was served with bread, and an extra plate of simmering stock and sauce. We could get more sauce or bread if desired. Whooping 60 dihram, plus another 2 if you want to down the meal with a cup of mint tea, unlimited refills. Despite my not being hungry, I polished off the entire plate, eating with my bare fingers and getting my hand all soppy with oil. It was probably the best dish I’ve had in Morocco. I suspect the vendor was both amused and impressed by both the Italian tourist next to me and me.. we practically licked our plates clean.

Belated Happy Thanksgiving, world. I am reminded how lucky I am to be able to see and taste so much of it.

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