Gleaning the Lessons of Wandering

This summer is different from all other summers. This summer I’m signed up for a weekly basket of local, organic vegetables from the rented land of some starry-eyed young farmers. And this week’s bounty included four cucumbers ranging from Lou Costello plumpness to Bud Abbott skinniness, six carrots resembling the clown-twisted balloons available at all…

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* A Cuisine Created by Slave Women: A Review of Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets, and a Brief Word about Dadas**

Dealing with the death of beloved parents takes a great toll on people, leading them on journeys of self-discovery often not possible while parents still live and breathe and exert influence on their adult child’s life. Rarely does settling up an inheritance take sixteen years of patience and hair-pulling, constantly reminding the bereaved of their…

Another Holy Trinity of the Kitchen: The Magic of Milk, Eggs, and White Flour

Every time I pour crêpe batter into my 8-inch Teflon*-lined crêpe pan, I see deep scratches, the ones that Habiba made with the fork she used while cooking a three-egg cheese-and-herb omelet one wintry Moroccan morning. The scratches don’t affect the pan’s performance, just as wounds and scars don’t fundamentally change who we are and…

Two Moons and a Ksar

It’s funny how sights, sounds, and smells trigger memories, isn’t it? Tastes, too. When I photographed a blue moon the other night, a very specific image bubbled up for me.* Perhaps, in a way, you could deem it a Proustian madeleine moment. Although I didn’t really eat anything. Standing there, trying to keep the camera…

Belleville Revisited

The Belleville market -- straddling the crossroads of Paris's 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements -- presents the determined photographer with a tremendous dilemma: how to take pictures without being literally swept up in the crowds and jostled like a buoy bobbing in heavy seas? Although the market runs from the Menilmontant metro stop to…

Eating Around the Empire in a Day: The 1931 Paris International Colonial Exposition

To her sons who have extended the empire of her genius and made dear her name across the seas, France extends her gratitude. ~~ Inscription on the facade of the colonial museum, now the Cité Nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration Before EuroDisney, people who might never be able to go to Tahiti or Senegal or…

Couscous in France: It’s a Long Story

To look at all the Maghrebi/North African restaurants in Paris, you might be tempted to think the food they serve appeared only recently in France. It’s not hard to visualize this scenario when you consider the exodus of pieds noirs and Harkis (local men who served as soldiers for France) that occurred as Algeria fought…

Léon Isnard: Bringing the Cuisines of Africa to France

"It seems that the word couscous is a Gallic version of "rac keskes," which means "crushed small." ~ Leon Isnard Whether you think about it consciously or not, the nineteenth-century European drive for overseas colonies still molds our world. Ever since the Portuguese sailed for Prince Henry the Navigator out of Sagres, an ocean-facing place…

Fatéma Hal, Queen of Moroccan Cuisine in France

Fatéma Hal, a Moroccan chef with a penchant for busting female stereotypes, cooks traditional Moroccan food at her Parisian restaurant, La Mansouria (11, rue Faidherbe, 11th Arrondissement, Paris), opened in 1984. The restaurant began with only women working there, including Fatéma's mother, the cooking in "the hands of women." Unusual for France, non? One of…

Cooking with Saint-Pierre (John Dory)

As it fell on a holy-day, And vpon an holy-tide-a, Iohn Dory bought him an ambling nag, To Paris for to ride-a.* ~~ Child Ballad #284A: "John Dory" I first met John Dory at the open-air fish market in Rabat, Morocco. He's a solitary soul. Doesn't hang out too much with his own kind. And…

Buttering Up

Peppermint flavoring, almond extract, gooey candied fruit, thick dark molasses, perfumey cardamom … the list could go mouth-wateringly on and on. Christmas cooking and Christmas baking demand many ingredients not normally used in everyday cooking. And that’s what makes the holiday season such a sheer delight for those besotted with all things culinary. But one…

In Morocco, Kitchens

Kitchens, a form of material culture, often determine the shape of the cuisine. By the limitations imposed by the tools, the food cooked reflects the process. A case of the medium is the message?** In the kitchens [of Morocco] there was a great assortment of wood dishes, like low corn measures, scrubbed white, as in…

In Morocco, Travelers’ Tales

In the following passage, from R. B. Cunninghame Graham's Mogreb-El-Aska (1898), Cunninghame Graham describes  (in somewhat superior tones!) the spirit of communal eating in Morocco of the times (late nineteenth century):** Swani and Mohammed-el-Hosein were radiant, more especially because the Kaid had sent a sheep, which they had already slain and given to a "…

In Timeless Morocco

In 1917, American novelist Edith Wharton spent the month of September in Morocco. She wrote of her experiences in In Morocco (Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1920),  taking an apologist point of view for General Pierre Lyautey, the French governor of the day. Of Fes (Fez), she wrote: There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces,…